Kate PoV: Commencement – A Beginning, Not an End.


Chapter 34

“Congratulations, sweetheart!” my mother exclaims. She’s the first person to find me once the ceremony is over and the hundreds of hats sailing through the air have settled back to the ground. The moment I step off the graduation stage, she wraps me in a lung crushing hug. “You did it, baby girl. We are so, so, so proud of you!”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Come here, sis!” My dad takes me from my mother and somehow manages to squeeze me even tighter while moving me back and forth. “Welcome to the alumni, kid. We’re so happy to have you.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” I hug him again, and over his shoulder I catch a glimpse of Ana in the crowd. She moves out of Carrick’s embrace into Christian’s, and the moment he has her wrapped in his arms, he presses his lips to hers in a deep, passionate kiss that is unconcerned with the hundreds of people milling around them. The red ring he gave her this morning glints in the sunlight and when they pull apart, they’re both smiling as broadly as they can at one another. Even from across the crowded theater, the love they share is apparent.

It makes my stomach clench uncomfortably.

“Hey, what about me?” Ethan asks. I blink and turn my attention from Christian and Ana to my brother, then take a breath before giving him my best smile and stepping into his arms. He groans slightly as he hugs me and my mother quickly clears a space around us to take a picture.

“Don’t let her go,” she says, squatting down, and then we’re flooded with a flash of light. “Okay, now, Ethan, put one arm over her and both of you look right here.”

Ethan rolls his eyes, but does as she says. We pose for three different pictures together, and then I take a few with my dad, then my mom, then my mom and dad, and then Harrison takes a picture of the four of us.

“You know, we need one with Carter,” my mom says, scanning the crowd. “Where did he run off to?”

“Oh,” I say hesitantly. “He’s probably with his family. I’ll see him later at the Arts Center.”

My dad raises an eyebrow. “You sure?”


“You don’t seem very excited. Everything okay, kiddo?”

“Fine. No, we’re great. It’s just crowded and I’m hungry and I don’t really want to stand here taking pictures anymore.”

“Well, we have to get one of you and Ana together in your robes. Where did she go? I saw the Greys during the ceremony.”

“Oh, she’s over–” I point in the direction where I saw her a few minutes ago, but she’s not there anymore. None of the Greys are. “Well, she was right there.”

“Ms. Kavanagh,” Harrison says, hanging up his phone and taking my elbow in his hand. “We need to get you back to the house, immediately.”

“The house? I thought we were going to the Arts Center from here?”

“No, ma’am. It’s not safe. If you’ll follow me.”

“Not safe, what happened? Where’s Ana?”

“Mr. Grey can explain everything once we return to the rendezvous point, but for now I need you and your family to come with me. Now.”

“Is she okay?”

“Ms. Kavanagh, please–”

“Just tell me that she’s okay and we can go.”

He frowns. “Miss Steele and Mr. Grey were escorted back to their vehicle by Mr. Taylor and Mr. Sawyer and we are not to go to the Arts Center. That’s all the information I have.”

I inhale sharply, trying to push the memories of last spring break away when I’d read that Google Alert saying someone had tried to take Ana off the street a few blocks from their apartment. At least I know that if Taylor and Luke have her, no one grabbed her. But being rushed away from graduation and told we can’t go to our party? That has to be because of him. Is he here? How do they know?

“Okay.” I nod at Harrison and reach back for my mom’s hand. My parents look at me with bewilderment, but Ethan, who I told all about what had happened over a frantic phone call on my way to the airport in Mexico, just takes my father’s arm the same way Harrison has ahold of mine, and starts walking briskly to the car. As we go, I scan the sea of faces looking for anyone I recognize. Ana, Christian, Elliot… but I don’t see any of them. Taylor and Luke had Christian and Ana, but what about the rest of the Greys? Who is going to make sure Elliot makes it back to the house safe and sound?

“Harrison, who is with the Greys? Christian’s family, I mean.”

“I’m not sure, ma’am.”

A shiver of trepidation runs down my spine as I step onto the asphalt of the parking lot and then make a beeline to the big SUV my parents rented in Boston. Once I’m buckled into the back seat, and my family is secure inside the vehicle, Harrison pulls out into the long traffic jam inching its way towards the exit, and I pull out my phone to text Elliot.

But there’s already a text there waiting for me.


They told you not to go to the Arts Center, right? Go straight home.


I feel a tangible sense of relief as I text him back.


Yes, we’re on our way home now. See you there?


Yeah, we’re on our way too. Christian and Ana are in the car three ahead of us.


I let out a long breath and relax back into the leather seat, staring diligently out the window until we make it out of the parking lot, looking for the face of a man I don’t know.

“Kate, where are we going?” my mother asks after we pass the Arts Center and continue on towards home.

“Back to the house. Ana and the Greys are meeting us there.”

“But what about your party?”

“It’s fine. We’ll go later, we just need to meet them at the house first.”

“What’s going on, Kate?” my dad interjects, and after a nervous look at Ethan, I take a breath and fill them in on the last few months and just exactly why Christian moved to Cambridge with Ana for the rest of the semester.


“So that’s why he got you a bodyguard,” my dad infers as we step through the back door and into the kitchen. I nod.

“He was worried someone would come after me to get to her. Ana would put herself in danger if she thought it would save me, so Christian hired someone to protect both of us.”

“Is that why you got the dog?” my mother asks, pushing Champ off of her as he runs into the kitchen to greet us.

“No, we didn’t know about any of this when we bought Champ. He’s here because Ana used to go to Seattle every weekend and Harrison wasn’t here before. I don’t like being alone.” I kneel down and rub Champ behind the ears, cringing slightly as he licks my face and slobbers on my graduation robes. “Hey, boy. Where’s Ana?”

He looks up at me with his wide brown eyes and wags his tail. I kiss him on the tip of his nose and then scramble to my feet, but when I come around into the living room, none of the faces that stare back at me belong to my best friend.

“Kate! Have you heard from Christian or Ana?” Grace asks.

I shake my head. “They’re not here yet?”

“No,” Elliot answers.

“I told you,” Carla says to Ray, her voice nearly hysterical. “I told you we should have kept her away from him.”

“I’m sure they’re fine, Carla,” Ray replies. “They’re probably just stuck in traffic.”

“They were in front of us!”

“They have Taylor with them,” Carrick says.

“And Luke,” Elliot adds. “They’re fine. Ana’s super pregnant, they probably had to stop so she could pee. Or… eat. Trust me, nothing is going to happen to her with Christian and Luke around.”

Carla shakes her head. “You all put way too much faith in him. Do none of you remember what happened in March? Have you forgotten that she was in his apartment, that these same bodyguards failed before? You have no idea what…” She stops, takes a breath, and turns once again to look purposefully at Ray. “She’s our baby girl. He puts her in danger over and over again. How can you just–”

“Carla, stop!” Ray exclaims, but before he can continue, Champ begins to bark at the sound of the back door sliding open and I turn on my heel to hurry into the kitchen.

“Ana? Christian?” When I turn the corner, I see them both standing there and the relief is immediate. I trudge forward and pull Ana into a tight hug. “What’s going on? Harrison wouldn’t tell us anything, just that we couldn’t go to the Arts Center.”

“He was there,” she breathes back in a shaky voice. “He called me right after the ceremony and told me he’d killed Leila. Oh my god, Christian…” She pulls out of my embrace and turns to face him. “Leila’s dead. It’s my fault. She saved me and now she’s… Oh my god!”

Tears start to pour from her eyes, so Christian wraps her tightly in his arms and starts to drag his fingers through her hair, trying to soothe her. “Hush, baby. It’s not your fault. Thank god she saved you, but she made the choice to get involved with this fucker in the first place. We tried to find her. She should have come to us. It’s not your fault.”

“She said we couldn’t keep her safe. She said he’d get to her, that he’d eventually get to me. She said we were never going to be safe.”

I bite the inside of my cheek, wanting so much to do something to calm the fear in her voice, but I have to leave that to Christian right now. He tightens his grip on her, holding her head against his chest.

“Hey, you’re safe right now. I’ve got you. No one is going to hurt you.”

She nods, looking slightly pacified by his words and his strong arms around her, but when she pulls away, she suddenly gasps and her hands shoot down to her side like she’s got a runner’s cramp.

“Ah! Fuck–”

Christian’s face melts with worry again. “Baby…”

“It’s just… ah, cramp again.”

“Come on, let’s get you to the couch.”

I step aside so that Christian can lead her into the living room, but the moment they round the corner, they’re berated with questions from the ten people still anxiously waiting in the living room.

“What’s going on?” my dad asks. “Why are we here? I thought we’d reserved the Arts Center for Katherine and Ana’s party?”

“It’s not safe,” Christian says, and then turns to face his own father. “He’s here.”

“What?” Grace says. “Here? How?”

“I don’t know,” Christian replies. He takes a step to move Ana toward the couch again, but Ray quickly gets out of his seat with his arms outstretched for his daughter.

“Are you okay, baby girl?” he asks. She nods but it doesn’t fool any of us.

“So, we can’t go there at all?” Mia asks. “What about the gifts? Taylor took the presents we got for Ana and Kate over there already.”

At all? Wait, we’re not just going to go together? Fuck, Carter was supposed to meet us there. I forgot all about him. “And Carter was going to meet us there,” I add.

“Taylor is on route to the Arts Center to collect Ana and Kate’s things,” Luke answers. “I’m sorry, but in light of the phone call Miss Steele received, he’s going to have to open and examine all of the gifts for anything dangerous.” He turns to me. “But I’m sure if he sees Mr. Reed, he’ll direct him here.”

I nod and then glance over at Elliot, who must have been looking at me through the whole conversation because the moment our eyes meet, he quickly diverts his to the floor. I can feel it in that moment, the same tension between the two of us. It’s awkward and it’s painful, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve brought up Carter’s name again or because he felt the same thing I did when I was in his arms dancing last night and he knows as well as I do that we’re moving towards something inevitable. I turn and look through the open blinds at the street, waiting, I guess, for Carter’s car to pull up along the curb at the front of the house and remind myself that I’m supposed to want it to. Repeating over and over again that I want him here right now.  

What the hell am I doing?

“I think you should lay down for a few minutes,” Christian tells Ana. “At least until Taylor gets back. This is too much stress right now.”

She nods again and turns to me, giving me a small, weak smile which I think is meant to assure me that she thinks Carter will be here soon. As she moves with Christian to the stairs, guilty heat floods my cheeks.

“I-I think I’m going to call Ellio– uh, Carter,” I announce awkwardly to everyone else in the room. “I’m going to call Carter. I’ll be right back.”

“Kate…” Elliot says, but I don’t stop to listen to what he has to say.

“I’ll be right back,” I repeat instead, and make my way up the stairs to my room, two at at time. Once I’m through my bedroom door, I dash inside, close the door behind me, and collapse against it. My chest heaves with every breath I take, preemptively holding back the tears that are sure to come. I can’t be like this. My family is here to celebrate graduation. Ana is going to need all the support she can get after once again being terrified by this crazed psycho coming after Christian. And I’m one week away from starting the biggest job of my life. But I know that I’m on a precipice and this fine line I’ve been walking with Carter and Elliot is about snap in half. I have no idea which way I’m going to fall and I have no idea which way I want to. Carter is safe. He comes from a good family, he’s a Harvard graduate, and he wants the same future that I do. But Elliot…

I feel things for Elliot that I just don’t for Carter, no matter how hard I’ve been trying. I don’t think I could feel them for anyone else but him. He’s like a piece in the puzzle of my life. Only he can fit there and when he’s gone, the picture just isn’t complete. His family loves me and accepts me as one of them — even months after we’ve broken up, while Carter’s parents treat me as something between a phase he’s going through and the reason he didn’t get into law school. Elliot was raised by a strong, successful woman so he doesn’t have any issues or feel threatened when I succeed. He encourages me. He pushes me. Carter accepts what I’ve accomplished, but always in comparison to his own victories and failures. Every achievement becomes a competition, a new goal that he has to set for himself. He’s never just happy for me. Elliot and I have so much in common. With him, I know I’ll travel the world and have the most amazing experiences. Carter and I can party together, maybe go to a few of the same concerts… but he doesn’t have the thirst for adventure that I have. That Elliot has.

But Carter wants a family. Carter wants a big wedding with all of his friends and family, and he wants to hold me on his arm at business soirees and charity galas as Mrs. Katherine Reed. He wants three kids (boy, girl, boy) and a big yard for Champ. Carter wants the future I’ve always pictured for myself.

Elliot may have been my greatest love, but he refuses to be my family. Carter is my future.

I’ve chosen Carter.

I inhale deeply, pulling the air all way down through my abdomen and releasing it in a long, slow exhale. Once I’m sure I’ve quelled the uncertainty swirling through my mind, I pull my phone out of my bra and search through my contacts for Carter’s name.

“Hey, what’s going on? I just got to the Arts Center and Taylor is here tearing open all of your packages.”

“Yeah, change of plans. Ana got a threatening phone call so we had to come home. We’re on lock down.”

“Fuck, was it the guy who tried to kidnap her?”

“Looks like it. She’s pretty freaked out, but Christian just took her to lay down. Hopefully she’ll feel a little bit better by the time Taylor gets back and we can open gifts. Or look at the gifts Taylor opened, I guess. That and a good dinner might take her mind off of this for a little bit.”

“So, I’ll see you at your house, then?”

“You’re still coming?”

“Yeah… I mean, if that’s okay. I have something for you too.”

“Oh. Yeah, of course. Obviously it’s okay that you come. I’ll see you soon?”

“I’m on my way. I love you, baby.”

My throat tightens and I have to swallow before I can speak again. “Stop it, you just saw me.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean I ever stop missing you.”

“I know. Me too. I’ll see you soon. Bye.”


I hang up the phone and toss it onto the bed, deciding I need a shower to clear my head. Carefully, I kick off my heels and hang my graduation robes in the closet before pulling my hair up on top of my head, stripping out of my dress, and stepping beneath the hot, cleansing stream of water from my shower head. Steam billows up around me and I breathe it in, allowing it to relax away my tension so I can think clearly. By the time the water has turned cold, I’ve pushed all thoughts of what happened between Elliot and I the night before away and committed myself to the path I’ve chosen.

After drying off and getting dressed again, I decide that I’ve given Christian enough time and am about to go check on Ana, but just as I reach for the knob, I’m stopped by two soft knocks on the door. When I open it, I find Elliot standing in the hallway, waiting anxiously.

“Can I talk to you for a second?” he asks.

Bad idea, Kate. “Uh…”



I pull open the door and he steps into my room, glancing around and thoroughly examining the space we shared for two years before finally turning back to me. “Are you okay?”

“Me? Oh, yeah. It’s a little scary, but I’m mostly just worried for Ana. She’s been freaked out over Leila for weeks. I can’t imagine what she’s feeling right now, knowing she’s… dead.”

“Yeah.” He nods. “I’ve been really worried about what’s going to happen next now that graduation is over and she has to come back to Seattle for the first time since she ran away. I think it’s going to be hard on her, but I don’t know what to do to help her, you know? It’s like, her home isn’t safe and if home isn’t safe, what is?”

My bottom lip starts to tremble, so I press them tightly together and nod. “Yeah.”

“Hey, Katie…” Elliot steps toward me and pulls me into a hug, holding me tightly against him while I work to once again gain control over my impending tears. Thankfully, his embrace is exactly what I need. His warmth and his scent wash away my fear, leaving me feeling a small sense of tranquility that wasn’t achievable before. I bury my face into his jacket and inhale, and as I do, he leans down and kisses the top of my head.


“I’m sorry,” he says quickly, releasing me. “I’m sorry, but I can’t pretend anymore, Kate. I can’t act like I’m fine with you and I barely talking. I can’t pretend like I don’t realize how awkward things are between us now. I can’t keep saying I’m fine with you and Carter being together. I’m not. I’m so jealous of him, I can hardly see straight. When I think about him touching you, it makes me sick. It makes me violent. I want to hurt him. I’m not okay, Kate. Not without you. I want you back. And not because of Carter, but because I am in love with you and need I you in my life.”

“Elliot, I-I–”

“You love me too, Kate. I know that. I felt it. Last night when we were dancing, I felt it. You can’t hide things from me. I know you, better than anyone else in the world. Better than I know myself.  I know what’s in your heart.”

“I’m with Carter now, Elliot.”

“Fuck Carter. Fuck everyone in the world that isn’t you and me.” He takes a breath and he jaw clenches, but when he continues, the determination in his voice is stronger. “I’m sorry about Gia. I should have never been with her. I should have never tried to replace you. There is no replacement. I love you Katherine Kavanagh and I want you to be mine again.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Yes it is. This is how easy it is.”  His hands move up into my hair at the back of my head and he pulls my lips to his in a deep, passionate kiss that I feel all the way down to my toes. He thrusts his tongue past my lips and tangles it with mine in a way that is immediately familiar and makes me homesick. His taste bears the comfort of a previously forgotten dream that I can suddenly recall with vivid clarity. The way his hands hold me against him feels safe and welcoming as he pours into me the love he so desperately wants me to believe in. Between each brush of his lips, he whispers again that he loves me.

It would be so be easy to say yes. It would be so easy to let myself kiss him back and let him take me for his own again, but nothing’s changed. And for how easy it would be now, it would be devastating later.

After allowing his kiss to linger far too long, I push myself away and stare up into his eyes through the tears welling in mine.

“Please, Katie…” he whispers.

“Kate.” The door opens and Ana sticks her head inside, so Elliot and I quickly jump apart. Her eyes widen with surprise, and possibly a little embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I just… I wanted to tell you that Carter’s here.”

“Thanks,” I reply, and then turn back to Elliot. His eyes continue to plead with mine, but as much as I truly want what is offered in that look, I’m not willing to make the sacrifice that giving in would entail. If Elliot would make me happy in the long run, we never would have broken up. “I can’t.”

Unwilling to look at the pain that’s immediately apparent on his face, I push away from him, then slide between Christian and Ana into the hallway and down the stairs. Everyone is still waiting, looking much more impatient now that there’s a pile of unopened gifts in the center of the living room and the promise of dinner once Ana and I have sorted through everything. Carter is sitting on a pile of Ana’s boxes labeled “books” by the door, and the smile that breaks across his face when he sees me coming down the stairs hits me like a punch to the heart.

“Hey, baby. Have I told you how beautiful you look today?”

“Yeah. Carter, can we…?”

“And there’s Ana,” Ethan’s voice sounds from across the room. “Now let’s get through the gifts so we can eat. That graduation ceremony was like three hours long.”

There’s a murmur of agreement so Carter takes my hand and leads me to the sofa to take my place next to Ana, then sits on the armrest next to me. There isn’t wrapping on anything piled on the floor in front of us, so each member of our family simply picks up their own gift and hands it to either Ana or I. My mother has given me a set of her best pearls, my father a briefcase with my initials engraved into the silver buckles. Ethan’s bought me an alumni sweatshirt, and Grace and Carrick give me a gorgeous custom frame, which I can use to hang my degree up in my office back in Seattle once it arrives.

“Here,” Carter says, picking up the white jewelry box I showed him last week and handing it to Ana. “This one’s for you.”

“From me,” I add. She smiles, opens the hinged lid, and then lights up when she sees the gold chain and diamond H I’d designed for the two of us.

“I have one, too,” I tell her. “They’re custom made, so there are only two of them. I thought it would be a good way to remember that you and I shared this together.”

“I love it, Katie,” she says. “And I’m so glad you’re the one I did this with.” We hug, both of us holding back the tears that come everytime one of us brings up the fact that living together and spending everyday together is quickly coming to an end. It’s silly, really. We’re moving back to the same city together and we’ve already made all kinds of plans for designated lunch days and girls nights, but both of us know it won’t be the same.

When she pulls away, she discreetly wipes the tears from her lower lids and turns to Christian, motioning to the scrapbook sitting on the floor. “Will you hand me Kate’s gift please?”

He does and when she passes it to me, her mouth pushes together in an chagrined pout. “I’m sorry, the lack of wrapping kind of ruins it…”

“A scrapbook?” I ask, flipping open the hardbound cover.

“Mhm. Of all four years we spent here. I’ve been working on it for months.”

I turn to the first page and immediately smile. There’s pictures of Ana and I in crimson sweaters together, pictures of my dad and I, and of the three of us together, surrounded by tiny little football stickers all around the page.

“Look, our first football game!” I flip the page and see the photo of Ana and I in our matching Mario and Luigi costumes that’s been on the wall of our living room since we moved in. “And halloween. Oh my god, Vegas! Will you look at that hair? What were we thinking?”

She laughs. “That the only way to make it through Sin City is to get as close to God as possible.” I flip the page again and this time see pictures of the two of us with Christian and Elliot together in the cabin and on the mountain in Aspen from that ski trip we took our freshman year. Ana and I are in the middle of the photo, sitting on a sofa together, but we’re both leaning into our boyfriends. My cheeks are pink, so we must have just come off the slopes, and my smile is radiant. Elliot has his arms around me, holding me tightly against him, and he grins just as broadly as I do. We look blissfully happy.

I have to close the book. I’ll look at the rest of it later when I’m alone.

“You’re amazing,” I say, turning to my best friend. “I’m going to treasure this forever. Thank you, Ana.”

“You’re welcome, Katie. I’ll be at your house every year on this day and we’ll crack open a bottle of wine and look at those photos together.”

“It’s a date!” She wraps her arms around me and we squeeze each other for half a beat, until Carter takes the book out of my lap, sets it on the table next to the couch, and glances around the room at the rest of the family.

“Anyone else?”

“Yeah. I’ve got one more.” I turn to look over my shoulder and watch Elliot come from the bottom of the stairs, pulling a small box out of the pocket inside his jacket to hand to me. It’s a jewelry box, that much is obvious, and after the conversation we just had upstairs, I’m not sure I want to open this in front of everyone. But Carter has seen it and he already thinks I’m hiding things from him about Elliot.

You are.

I press my lips together, ignoring the bitter voice echoing in the back of my mind, and pull open the lid of the box. Inside, there is a pair of sparkling diamond earrings resting on a bed of blue satin. They’re breathtaking.

“Elliot. I-I– I can’t accept this…”

He shakes his head. “I bought them a long time ago. Three years ago, actually. When you left San Francisco while I was still at Stanford. We were fighting when you left because I was mad you’d spent so much of your visit doing homework. We weren’t even talking when I dropped you off at the airport, but when I got back to my apartment… I found that you’d left this note on my pillow.” He reaches into his jacket again, pulls out a very worn piece of crumpled up paper, and gives it to me to read.


I’m sorry I didn’t have much time this weekend, but I hope you’ll forgive me and that you’ll be proud when all this hard work means I graduate Valedictorian. I love you, El. -Katie


“I bought those earrings that day and I vowed to give them to you when you proved yourself right. And you did. Congratulations, Katie.”

My stomach clenches again as I look at the stunning pair of earrings in my hand, and then up into the deep, blue depths of his eyes. “Thank you, Elliot. They’re beautiful.”

“You’re welcome. You deserve it, Kate. You deserve everything.”

And just like that, it’s like I’m back upstairs in my room with his lips against mine again. We stare at each other for a long time, or at least, it feels like a long time. Nothing else exists in that moment but him, and me, and the unspoken words lost in the eye contact we share. It’s almost as though I’m locked there, frozen, until Ana grabs my hand, pulls me off the couch, and drags me with her as she moves to hug Grace. She leads me around the room so that we can express our gratitude to each person sitting around us in turn, but as I smile at the hug shared between my mom and Ana, Carter gets off the couch to get everyone’s attention.

“I have a gift too.”

I turn in his direction and he comes directly towards me, taking both of my hands in his the moment he’s within reach. “Kate, a lot of great things have happened to me while I was here at Harvard. But nothing has been as great as these last few months with you. You’re smart, witty, fun… and the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. I love you, Katherine Kavanagh, and I want to love you for the rest of my life.”

My heart feels as though it freezes in my chest as he reaches into the pocket of his slacks, pulls out a black velvet box, identical to the one Elliot had given me moments before, and then slowly sinks down onto one knee.

“Will you marry me?”

There it is. The four words that have been so important to me that I tossed away the man I thought was the love of my life to hear them. My hand is shaking when I pull back the lid, and when I see the beautiful, three carat, princess cut diamond my mouth drops open. It’s beautiful. Perfect. But looking at it doesn’t bring me any sense of joy. I don’t feel the sense of elation that I’d always imagined would come with this moment. I feel empty. Void. And rather than process what this actually means, my brain is racing through different ideas of how to get away from the pointed stares coming at me from all different directions around the room.

Unfortunately, the distraction I’m practically praying for comes in the form of a blood curdling scream from Ana.

I turn and see her grabbing her side again, the way she did in the kitchen, only this time the pain reflected on her face is much more intense. Christian grabs onto her, asking her what’s wrong, but she struggles to stand, even breathe through the pain, so she doesn’t answer for several seconds.

“I–I think my water just broke,” she pants, and my eyes immediately shift to Grace. I didn’t think that was supposed to be painful.

Grace reaches for Mia’s arm as Ana pushes past the pain enough to pull up the long skirts of her dress, and the entire room gasps in horror when we see the dark, crimson blood that soaks the carpet around her feet. It’s astonishing, shocking, how much blood has pooled there in the few seconds that have past since she first screamed. My eyes flit up to her wide, panicked face, and then I let out a terrified shriek myself when her eyelids begin to flutter, then roll back into her head, and she collapses in Christian’s arms.


Elliot PoV: They’d Never Believe We’re Just Friends…

Kate and Elliot

End of Chapter 33

Mac’s is more crowded than I ever remember it being in the two years that I lived in Cambridge. It’s a little divy, but they have good music, a dancefloor, free pool tables, and a killer beer selection, which had Kate and I coming here every Thursday night back in the good old days. In fact, despite the crowds and the almost overbearing presence of Christian’s security team, tonight feels a lot like the good old days. Kate sits on the bar stool next to me, laughing at my jokes and beaming radiantly at me as I catch her up on everything going on in Seattle. She tells me everything she finds annoying about Christian living with them now, which mostly has to do with he and Ana fucking all over their house. There’s a glint in her eye as we talk that makes me hopeful, and when she gets up to sink a few more of the balls left on the table, I do everything I can to silence the voice in the back of my head telling me over and over again how dangerous that hope is.

She’s not mine anymore. I can’t give her what she wants. She has Carter Reed.

I take a drink of my beer, once again tasting the bitterness that name leaves in my mouth. I used to think Christian overreacted when it came to Reed, but now… I think he might have under-reacted. The guy’s a fuckface.

“Well, I may have missed but I blocked Christian’s best shot on the corner pocket,” Kate says as she takes a seat on the stool next to me again. “We’ve got this in the bag.”

I nod, then watch Christian lean over the table and glance at Anastasia before he hits the cue ball into the eight and it rolls smoothly into the side pocket.

“Ooh, bad luck, bro,” I say, shaking my head. The taunt beneath my fake pity is subtle, and clearly played far too well, because rather than throwing some biting response back at me, he simply shrugs and passes his stick back to Sawyer.

“That’s fine. Ana and I need to get home anyway, it’s getting late.” I nod, reluctantly accepting that Ana being so pregnant means we just can’t stay out like we used to, and tip the last swallow of beer into my mouth. But as Kate starts to gather her things, Christian holds up a hand to stop her. “Please, stay and enjoy the rest of the night. Your drinks are on me.”

I have to hide my smile. Free drinks and the rest of the night alone with Kate? And to think, I didn’t get him anything…

“Well, if you insist!” I reply merrily, turning to find his body guard in the crowd by the bar. “Taylor! The Russian Imperial Stout!”

Christian rolls his eyes but takes his jacket off the chair next to me and then hurries over to Ana, wraps her hand in his, and pulls her so purposefully after him that her very round, pregnant frame causes her to wobble slightly. Taylor hands me the beer I’ve asked for and nods to both Kate and I before hurrying after them, and when I catch Luke scanning the room with diligent eyes one last time as he leaves, I worry for a moment there’s something wrong. Christian is here because someone is stalking and actively trying to harm Ana. Are they here now? Is Kate safe?

“What do you think that was about?” I ask while Kate moves to the table to re-rack the balls for a game of one-on-one. She glances over her shoulder towards the door and then shakes her head.

“They’re going home to have sex. Christian can be impatient sometimes.”

“Oh… you’re sure?”

“Yeah, haven’t you been watching them for the past hour? Ten more minutes and I’m pretty sure he would have stripped her down right here and thrown her on this table.”

“No, I haven’t been,” I admit, and when she bends over the table to break, I glance down at her perfect rear end and sigh. “I’ve been a distracted, I guess.”

She laughs, then hits the cue ball into the grouping in the center of the table and watches as two striped balls roll into pockets on opposite sides of the table. After giving me a coy look, she begins circling the table until she finds her next best shot. I watch her bend over again and sink the ten in the corner pocket, but she misses her next shot on the fourteen. It doesn’t seem to shake her confidence though. When she stands upright again she gives me a challenging smile. “Stripes.”

I grin and move to the table with my cue, strategizing how best to tackle the solids still spread out across the table. I don’t have too many difficult angles so I’m fairly certain that, as long as I don’t fuck something up, I can probably run the table.  My first shot is on the six, and it rolls into the dead center of the bottom right-corner pocket. While the sound of the ball swirling around the cup rings around us, I turn and smile back at Kate again. “You’re toast, Kavanagh.”

“Bring it, Grey.”

We play three solid games, trading off wins, but we only make a few shots each before the fourth game is completely abandoned in favor of sitting at the table, sharing a few drinks, and talking again. And this, this is what I’ve missed so much…

“Oh my god, do you remember that weekend we spent in Pacific Beach, in that tiny little cottage rental that leaked and didn’t have any hot water?”

I laugh. “Yeah. How did we end up there?”

“Because you told me you had already made reservations at the resort. But you lied, and when you tried to get a room once we got there, they were all booked up! It took us two and a half hours to find somewhere to stay and that tiny little shack cost us twice what we were going to pay on our suite.”

“Oh that’s right,” I reply, narrowing my eyes. “I told you I’d make the reservation, but you said you wanted to pick the room so you told me not to worry about it and that you’d take care of it. Then when we got there and didn’t have a room, you tried to blame it on me.”

“That doesn’t sound like me.” She giggles before taking another drink of her beer.

“Uh huh.”

“Still, it turned out great, didn’t it? We were right on the beach so we had bonfires both nights and we built that giant sandcastle that took us hours, and hours, and hours.”

“A miraculous feet of engineering. I actually can’t believe we pulled it off.”

“Luckily, one of us has an engineering degree from MIT so…”

I smile and shake my head, reminiscing. “The sunsets were great from the front porch, weren’t they? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful.”

“I know.”

“And at night, it got so cold that you had to snuggle up close to me and I’d wrap you in my arms and we’d stay like that, the whole night.”

She shakes her head. “We always slept like that. It was like, even in my dreams I needed to be close to you.” She takes another drink and I bite back the words that are fighting to bubble through my lips. I still love you. I want you back.

“It took me a long time to learn how to sleep without you again,” she continues. “I think you get accustomed to having someone in the bed with you, so when I was alone I wasn’t sleeping very well.”

“Until Carter.”

“Yeah… Until Carter.”

“How are you two doing?” God, I hope she can’t hear the desperation in my voice.

“Fine. Good. He’s really sweet, and very caring. Right after you and I broke up, he would come stay with me a lot while Ana was gone since I still really can’t be alone overnight. And when I had surgery last winter, he took really good care of me. My parents like him and he and Ana get along really well. Even Christian is coming around, I think. It’s good. He and I, we’re… good.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I mean, I wish… uh… I just…” I take a deep breath, foregoing my attempt to lie about how much it hurts to hear about her new relationship, and settle for what’s really important. “I’m glad you’re happy.”

She nods and gives me a strange kind of half-smile that’s hard to read, then takes an extra long pull from her beer.

“What about you? How’s life after Gia?”

I shrug. “Fine, I guess. I’ve been working a lot trying to get Christian’s building finished before the new fiscal year, and his house finished before Calliope comes, so that fills a lot of my free time. But Dad doesn’t need people around so much anymore, Christian and Ana are here, and Mia, well, she’s seventeen and would rather hang out with her friends at the mall than her clearly second favorite brother. Gia and I didn’t have a lot in common. She wasn’t interested in any of the things I like and all she ever really wanted to do was shop or work out. But, at the end of the day, she was someone to talk to. Someone to have dinner with and to tell how my day went. She was happy to see me when I got home. But now, there’s no one. It’s a little lonely, I guess.”

“Well, she’s not the only girl out there. You’re quite the catch, Elliot Grey. I should know…” She pauses, and bites her lip. When she speaks again, there’s a slight quiver in her voice. “I’m sure there are a million girls out there who would die to be the girl you came home to at night.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“So, you’re not dating anyone, then?”

“No. I think there are a few things I need to work out before I even think about having a relationship again.”

“Like what?”

That I’m still madly in love with you and no woman is ever going to measure up to what we had together. “I don’t know. I think I just need some time.”

“Elliot…” She pauses, letting the awkward way she says my name hang between us. I don’t know what she’s going to say next, if I want to hear what she’s going to say next or even if I can bear it, but the silence redirects my attention to the music and I note that the song has changed to one of her favorites.

“Hey, listen,” I tell her, and as she looks up into the open space around us, the look of pained conflict on her face melts away into a pale echo of the smile I love so much.

“I love this song!”

I laugh at the familiar excited squeal in her voice. “Yeah, I know.”

“Do you want to dance?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

I get up, take her hand, and lead her to the middle of the dance floor. It’s one of those songs that makes girls want to get up and shake their asses around, so there aren’t very many couples around us and everyone in the bar has turned their attention to the dance floor to watch the pretty, young girls sway their hips and drop low to the floor. The attention might have been awkward for anyone else, but not Kate. She carries on as if she were alone in her room with a pair of headphones in. It’s one of the things I’ve always admired most about her. She has this undeniable passion for life that is unencumbered by embarrassment or fear of judgement. The complete opposite of Gia, or of any girl I’ve ever met. She does whatever she wants, how she wants, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Just taking her hand as she twirls and pulling her into my body so I can dip her makes me feel more alive than I have in months. When she pushes into me and I can hold her, her scent swirls through my head and leaves me dizzy.

She’s laughing when the song stops but as the slow drone of Toby Keith replaces the upbeat tempo, her smile slowly fades away. My shoulders fall in disappointment, but as I turn to make my way back to our table, she reaches out to grab onto my arm and stops me.

“I like this song too,” she says.

I don’t move at first, but she steps forward, presses her body into mine, places my right hand on her waist, and takes my left hand in hers. We stand there like that for half a second, and then I take the leap and push her backwards to lead her across the dancefloor. As we spin and sway, her eyes never leave mine and the words of the song drift around us like a commentary of everything I feel, but can’t say.


You shouldn’t kiss me like this, unless you mean it like that

‘Cause I’ll just close my eyes, and I won’t know where I’m at

And we’ll get lost on this dancefloor, spinning around

And around and around and around

They’re all watching us now, they think we’re falling in love

They’d never believe we’re just friends

You shouldn’t kiss me like this, unless you mean it like that

If you do, baby kiss me again


I feel my throat tighten as I stare deep into her eyes, and in that moment, I can’t hold back anymore. I lean forward, intent on taking her lips with mine and pouring into her everything I want her know about these last few months, but before I can touch her with my kiss, a voice next to us calls out her name and we both freeze.


It’s Carter Reed, and he’s flocked by group of guys that look as though they’ve just stepped out of an SNL skit making fun of rich, douchey Millennials.

“Carter!” Her hand falls from mine and she takes a quick step back, looking guilty, and anger flares behind her boyfriend’s eyes.

“What the fuck is going on here?”

“We’re just dancing,” she says. “Christian and Ana just left, we were playing pool and talking, and then that Trace Adkins song I like came on. I asked if he wanted to dance.”

“Yeah, this looks real innocent.” His jaw tenses, and when I glance down, I notice his hands are shaking.

“You need to calm down, dude,” I warn him, and his eyes snap over to me.

“Don’t tell me what I need to do, Grey. Fuck you.” He turns back to Kate. “Get your ass in the car, we’re leaving.”


“Don’t fucking argue with me right now, Kate. Move!”

“Hey! You don’t get to speak to her that way…”

He takes two steps so that he’s right in my face, and now his entire body is trembling. When he speaks, I can smell the alcohol on his breath. “Say another word. Please. Give me a reason…”

“Are you serious right now?”

“Oh, I’m dead serious. You think I don’t know what you’re doing? You think I’m just going to stand back while you paw my girlfriend? I know your game, your brother did the same fucking thing to me and I’m not going to let it happen again. You even so much as look at her again, I’ll knock your fucking lights out.”

The threat triggers a rush of adrenaline and my body stiffens automatically. “That’s real big talk when you’ve got four guys standing behind you.”

“I don’t anyone else to kick your ass, Grey.”

“Really? Then why don’t you and I step outside for a second…”

“Stop it!” Kate moves around me to stand between Reed and I and uses her hands to push us apart. “Just stop it, you’re both being idiots.”

“Were you going to fuck him tonight, Kate?”

“No! Jesus, Carter. We’re friends. We’re just friends. You need to calm down.”

“And you need to go get your ass in the car.”

“I don’t think so,” I say, reaching out to grab Kate’s wrist. “She’s not going anywhere with you.”


“Kate, he smells like the inside of a whiskey bottle. I’m not letting you get into a car with him.”

“I’m not an idiot, Elliot. You don’t have to babysit me. Carter, I’m going to call a cab to take us home. Go wait for me outside.”



Reed’s nostrils flair but his body seems to relax as he takes a step back and shoots a death glare at me. “You’re on my list, Grey. Watch yourself.”

I snort, but Kate pushes him away before I can say anything more. My eyes follow them through the crowd as they make their way outside, clearly arguing, and not going after them is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Every instinct I have tells me not to let her go with him, to get her as far away from him as possible, but I don’t get to make that decision for her. If she had said no and he tried to force her to leave with him, that would be a different story. But she didn’t say no. She’s leading him out as much as he’s leading her.

Kate’s never been the damsel in distress type.

I press my lips together in frustration, then pull out my phone and find Christian’s name in my contacts. He doesn’t answer when I call, so I have to settle for a text message.


Kate and Reed are on their way back. If Kate doesn’t come home in the next thirty minutes, call me.


A minute passes, but there’s no response. I sit at the table, order another beer, and wait, deciding if I don’t hear back from Christian at all, I’ll go to Kate’s house myself. But as the twenty-ninth minute of my allotted thirty minute time frame rolls past, my phone buzzes on the table. It’s Christian.


Sorry, I just saw this. They got home about twenty minutes ago. You okay?


I let out a long breath, but I’m not sure if it’s relief or disappointment I feel. Christian is prone to overreacting, so if there was anything at all for me to worry about, he’d tell me. But having nothing to worry about means nothing will change, and having tonight with Kate has shown me just how much I want it to.

I was fooling myself with Gia. As much as it makes me sick to admit, I was using her to replace Kate and the resentment that built up between us had nothing to do with that Gresham guy or even tension between her and my family. It was because she couldn’t fill the Kate sized void in my life. Does Reed fill the void I’ve left in hers?

I shake my head, disgusted.

How could someone who would act like that make her happy, anyway? What is he possibly giving her that I didn’t?

Marriage. Kids.

Maybe he’s promised her the things I didn’t. After all, she made it clear to me last fall, marriage is her deal breaker. If I won’t propose, she would never be mine anyway. But if I propose…

I take another drink from my bottle and once again force myself to imagine my life as a husband and a father, but any great fantasy I’m able to conjure is replaced instantly by memories of the stupid, petty arguments my parents used to have when they thought we were asleep. Or even the nights they stayed up wondering where Christian was, only to get a call from the juvenile detention center late in the night telling them he’d been picked up for fighting and was charged with a M.I.C. After they brought him home, my dad would get so angry he’d practically fly off the handle but my mother was so protective over Christian that the two of them would always end up in a blow out and end up sleeping in separate rooms and not talking for days. My dad sacrificed a lot for our family, never did a lot of the things he dreamed of doing, and my mom has made herself so much smaller than she was capable of being for the sake of myself, Christian, and Mia. I don’t want to do that to Kate. I don’t want to do that to myself.

And I have very clear memories of my mother’s face when she found out about Christian and Elena, and about Mia working in that club downtown.  I can still picture the pain in her eyes so clearly that thinking of it now is just as devastating as it was then. I couldn’t handle that. Nor could I handle the battle my father went through in both of the resulting cases. I’ve never been so drained as I was after the whole trial ordeal when I had to fight tooth and nail every single day to keep my family from disintegrating, and always, always, coming up short. I can’t do that again. I don’t want more people to have to fight for. I’m so tired of fighting…

No, I don’t want marriage. I don’t want kids.

But it doesn’t make me want Kate any less. She’s my girl. She’s the one I’m supposed to be with. She’s the only girl who has ever made me feel like I’m doing something right, and I don’t want anyone else. I want her forever, and I would give her forever. So why does she need the stupid piece of paper? Why do we have to change what we had? She’s enough. Aren’t I?

With a sigh, I drain my bottle and pick up my phone again, ignoring the antagonizing looks I’m still getting from Carter’s friends from across the bar.


I’m fine. Just wanted to make sure she got home alright. See you tomorrow.

Next Chapter

Christian PoV: …’Til it’s Gone


Chapter 28

I’m lifting too heavy. I can feel it in my chest, my back, and my shoulders every time I push the bar up and away from me, but I’m too pissed off to care about how sore I’m going to be later or even about the danger of benching this much weight without someone in the gym with me.  

Ana and I have been fighting since Saturday night. She’s quickly heading into her third trimester so there won’t be anymore weekly trips home for her once she leaves at the end of this week, and I’ve spent what little time I have left with her arguing about Ros-fucking-Bailey. God, just thinking her name leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. She was always supposed to be on my side. Mine. Afterall, she was the one who pushed me towards Ana in the beginning. She was the one who helped me get GEH off the ground. Hell she’s the one who dragged me off the couch after Ana left me and made me fight to get her back. When other people have turned their backs on me, Ros never did. I didn’t realize that it was all just so she could use me later to get something better.

The bar clunks loudly as I set it back on the rest over my head and get up from  the bench to towel off. I hate how much this betrayal is bothering me. I’m usually so good at writing people off and shutting them out for good, without a second thought, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Ros. I think it’s because Ana won’t just let it go. All weekend she’s been badgering me about what Ros said to her at her fucking baby shower, emails being planted and servers being compromised. I’m sure it was a convincing pitch, and Ana has bought it hook, line, and sinker.

But it’s only because Ana doesn’t know Ros like she thinks she does. She knows social Ros. She knows the Ros who is fun to be around at parties and always has some kind of humorous anecdote, usually at my expense, to break the ice or any awkward silence. She can be warm, she can be friendly, and she can be caring. But she can also be cold, calculating, and ruthless. It’s what drew me to her in the first place. It’s what made me choose her to be my partner. If there’s anyone I would trust to go into a meeting in my place and get the same deal I would have, it’s Rosaline Bailey.

Maybe that’s why this is getting to me so much. I’ve lost a valuable resource.

Yeah, that’s it.

I pick up the remote to the speaker and turn off the TV playing the news on the other side of the gym, then toss the towel over my shoulder and make my way back downstairs for my shower. Ana is still asleep and she’s been so tired lately I do everything I can to keep from waking her until I’m dressed and ready to head out the door. Standing at the edge of the bed, I take a moment just to stare at her. She looks peaceful. Serene, even. In this moment, it doesn’t feel like we’ve spent half the weekend yelling or shooting biting comments back and forth. She’s just my Ana. My sweet, perfect, beautiful Ana.

As gently as I can, I lean over, brush away the flyaway strands of hair covering her face, and press my lips into hers. She responds with a small, soft moan, but her eyes don’t open and she doesn’t stir. The moment I pull away from her, she turns on her side and is once again lost in deep sleep.

“I love you, baby,” I whisper, then creep through the door as silently as I can with Kate’s dog following right behind me.

Most of the security team has already left for the office by the time I’ve finished breakfast. After Taylor has gone downstairs to retrieve the car, it’s only Kommer and I left in the apartment and he hovers a little too closely as I check the remaining few emails on my phone and wait for the elevator to return.

“Did Sawyer forward you a call in number?” I ask, just to break his insistent stare.


“For the security meeting this morning. It’s mostly for the new building but I believe Taylor has a few agenda items for when you return to Cambridge.” He continues to look at me blankly, uncomprehending. It’s irritating. “Because of Leila Williams’ disappearance…

“Oh, yeah. I mean, no he didn’t, but I’ll be in the office for the meeting.”

I raise an eyebrow at him. “I thought you were assigned to Anastasia for the day?”

“I am, but we’ve made other arrangements for the meeting. Taylor thought it was more important that I attend the briefing because of the situation with Miss WIlliams. He sent an email last night.”

“Did he?” I look him over once before glancing back down at my phone and scanning through the emails I’ve received since last night. “I don’t have anything.”

“You weren’t copied?” He too pulls out his phone, directs it at me so I can see the screen, and sure enough there’s an email from Jason Taylor at 02:33 AM directing Kommer to attend the security meeting in the office this afternoon and that he’s covered Miss Steele’s watch for the time he’ll be out of the apartment.  

The elevator pings, redirecting my attention. “Very well,” I say dismissively. “I’ll see you in the office.”

“Yes, sir.”

He pivots to let me move into the open elevator and then continues to watch me until the doors close. For the first time, I feel a small sense of empathy towards Ana, who has always complained about how her security can feel overbearing at times. Kommer is intense, but I know that’s a good quality in a CPO. Taylor was this way at first, too, before he and I developed a more functional relationship. Eventually, they’ll grow accustomed to one another and, knowing Ana, ultimately become really close friends. Although, I hope not too close. I don’t know that I could handle another Sawyer situation.

The moment I step out of the elevator and through the door to the backseat of the SUV, which Taylor holds open for me, my phone buzzes insistently in my pocket. It’s Andrea calling to inform me about a problem my finance team has uncovered in the books of a large client GEH is days away from closing a sale on. Apparently, they’ve been hiding some of their more dire financial issues to make them appear more desirable for acquisition. It’s a gigantic oversight that takes me all morning to sort out, forcing me to cancel two client calls and delay my security meeting by over an hour. In fact, it’s almost lunch time when I hang up the call with the head of my legal team, only to be immediately interrupted again by a knock on my office door.

“What?” I call irritably, and a very nervous looking Andrea steps inside. I narrow my eyes at her as she approaches my desk. I’ve issued strict instructions that I was not to be disturbed this morning and Andrea isn’t one to ignore what I’ve told her.

“Excuse me, sir… I have Miss Bailey on line one for you.”

My jaw clenches. “I told you not to disturb me, Andrea.”

“Yes, sir. But, she’s very insistent.”

“She’s always insistent. It’s one of her worst qualities.  I’ve told you before that Miss Bailey is to be directed to Kramer or Menke.”

“Yes, sir. But…”

“I won’t tell you again.” My tone is firm and vaguely threatening, but, despite the nerves I can see clearly reflected behind her eyes, she doesn’t back down.

“I understand, sir. But she said she needs to talk to you about Anastasia and that it’s an emergency.”

I let out a dark, humorless laugh. “That’s low, even for her. I’m too busy to play games with her right now. Forward her call to my lawyer and get out of my office.”

“Christian, you need to take her call!” My eyes snap back up to her and for a moment, I’m taken aback. Andrea has never dared to use my first name, let alone yell at me, and I’m not sure exactly how to take it. I’ve fired other subordinate employees for much less, but there’s an urgency in her eyes that’s hard to ignore.

Slowly, I reach over and pick up the receiver to my desk phone, then press my finger into the button next to the blinking hold light.

“I swear to god, if you say anything to me right now that isn’t about Anastasia…”

“She isn’t here,” Ros interrupts me.


“I’m in your apartment right now, and Ana isn’t here.”

“What do you mean she isn’t there? Why are you in my apartment?”

“I talked to her on the phone this morning and she told me to come over so we could talk, but when I got here, she wasn’t here. I figured she’d stepped out for a minute, but then half an hour passed and she never came back. She knew I was coming, and she didn’t call to cancel. Christian… I think something might have happened to her.”

Suddenly, I feel very cold.

“Have you tried calling her?” I ask urgently.

“Of course I called her. Her phone is on the kitchen counter.”

“I’ll call you back.”


Before my name is even fully out of her mouth I hang up the phone and start looking wildly around my desk. Where would she go? Kate flew to Cabo with Reed yesterday. Sawyer is in Cambridge. I pick up my phone and begin dialing.

“Hey, I’m on the jobsite, I can’t talk,” Elliot answers.

“Have you heard from Ana?”

“No, why would Ana call me?”

“She’s supposed to be at Escala, but she’s not and she doesn’t have her phone. I’m trying to figure out where she would go. What’s Mia doing today?”

“Mia? She’s at school.”

“Fuck. I have to go.”

“Is everything okay?”

“I don’t know.” I pause, feeling the need to catch my breath. “I don’t know. Ana’s… not where she’s supposed to be.”

“I’ll call Dad. Mom’s at work today, but Dad’s at home. Maybe she went to check on him.”

I don’t think that’s likely, not if she was expecting Ros at Escala, but I nod anyway. “Good. Let me know what you find out.”

I hang up the phone and dial Ana’s number, but when Ros answers and confirms again that Ana doesn’t have her phone, the sickening feeling inside my stomach grows more intense. I glance back up at Andrea. She’s still nervous, but it’s clearly for a different reason now. There’s fear in her eyes, and not directed at me. More for me.

I don’t like it.

“Taylor!” I shout, jumping out of my chair and storming towards my office door. He meets me there, looking perplexed. “Have you heard from Anastasia?”

“No, sir. Is everything okay?”

“I don’t know. Ros called. She’s at Escala and she said Anastasia’s gone. She doesn’t have her phone.”

“Gone?” His brow furrows for a moment, then turns on his heel and stalks quickly down the hallway towards the conference room. I follow anxiously, and when we come through the door, I find my entire security team waiting around the table.

“Kommer?” Taylor barks. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Waiting for Mr. Grey, sir. Miss Parker said the meeting had been postponed while Mr. Grey dealt with a client issue.”

“I mean here. In this building. Why aren’t you with Miss Steele?”

“You told me to be here. I figured you’d asked Cardella to be with Miss Steele this afternoon.” He glances at Ana’s second CPO, then pulls out his phone and slides it across the table towards Taylor and I, showing us the same email I saw this morning.

“I didn’t get that…” Cardella says defensively, and Taylor shakes his head.

“That’s because I didn’t send it.”

Kommer sits up straighter in his chair, his face twisting with confusion and mild panic. “But…”

I don’t wait to find out what he’s going to say. I turn and practically run to the elevator. Andrea calls out to me, but I don’t hear what she says. My mind is racing, trying to come up with someone to call or something to do, but I keep coming up empty. I know she didn’t leave. I know her, and if she didn’t have security with her, or at the very least someone she knows and trusts, she wouldn’t go anywhere. Something is wrong. I can feel it.

Taylor squeezes through the doors as the elevator closes and I jab my finger into the garage key over and over again The wait from the elevator until we’re in the car and out of the garage, where I can finally make a call again, feels interminable. So once I finally have Sawyer on the line, I’m more agitated than I should be.

“Mr. Grey?”

“When was the last time you spoke with Anastasia?”

“Uh…. I don’t know that I’ve talked to her since she left. Oh, no, she texted me a couple days ago that she was annoyed with Kommer when she was out running with Kate and Reed, but that was it.”

“You haven’t talked to her today?”

“No. Why?”

“She’s missing. She’s disappeared from the apartment, no one knows where she went, and she doesn’t have her phone.”

“What? Where’s Kommer?”

“He wasn’t with her,” I growl through clenched teeth and then hang up the phone without another word.

I collapse back into my seat and run my fingers through my hair.  I’m starting to realize that, despite my growing sense of panic, I haven’t actually accepted that something real has happened. There’s been a lingering, yet potent hope in the back of my mind that Elliot will call back and say she’s been with my father, or Ros will call and say she’s back–that she went down the street to her favorite restaurant because pregnancy cravings sometimes outweigh common sense. But that hope is getting harder and harder to hang on to with each failed attempt to find her.

As we approach the entrance to the parking garage below my apartment, I’m filled with a kind of energy that I’m not sure what to do with. My hands shake and my knees bounce in my seat. Being stuck inside the car, even though it’s still moving, is unbearable. I need to be doing something to find her, and sitting here makes me feel anemic. Thankfully, Taylor feels the urgency of the situation just as acutely as I do, so he speeds through the garage and lets me out at the entrance of the elevator.

“I’ll be right behind you, sir,” he says. I give him a curt nod before I fly out of the backseat and step into the elevator. Each number that rolls past on the panel above the door is agony and when I finally come to a stop and am released into the foyer of my apartment I immediately start calling out her name.

“Ana! Ana!”

“She still isn’t back,” Ros says, coming around the corner, but I don’t take her word for it. I start tearing through the apartment, throwing open closet doors, looking under beds, everywhere. But she isn’t here.

“Ana!” I call again, more desperately this time, and Ros reaches out to place a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“Should I call the police?”

“I–I…” I can hear the elevator ping and rush to the foyer, hope building inside my chest again, but when I come around the corner from the great room, it’s Taylor I find, not Ana.

“She’s not here,” I tell him.

“Her car is in the garage, so if she left, she’s on foot. I’ll call Kommer and Cardella, have them set up a perimeter around Escala and begin working their way out.”

“We should call the police, right?” Ros repeats, this time to Taylor, but he presses his lips together with hesitation.

“When did you last speak to her?”

“I don’t know… uh, 10:30. I got here at about 11:00.”

Taylor looks down at his watch. “It’s almost noon, that’s about an hour and a half.”

The elevator door pings again and Ryan, Kommer, and Cardella step into my apartment. Subconsciously, my body tenses, and it’s because for the past few days every time the ding from the elevator has sounded inside my apartment, it was met with the booming bark of Kate’s dog.

“Wait, the dog,” I say quickly, turning to look through the living room. “Where’s the dog?” Taylor looks past me as well, but Kommer steps to the table in the middle of the foyer and gives it a quick glance over before turning back to us.

“His leash is gone, and the waste bags. Miss Steele must have taken him for a walk.”

Relief springs inside my chest for a millisecond, but is squashed almost as quickly as it came. “For an hour and a half, with no security, when she was expecting Ros to meet her here?”

“It’s a start though,” Taylor says. “We’ll check the security footage. That will tell us if she left the apartment, or if someone forced her out.”

I nod and turn to Ros. “Will you find Gail, please? Bring her to me?”

“Yeah. Of course.” She dashes off in the direction of the stairs while I follow Taylor into his office and hover behind his desk, staring intently at the monitors that show every inch of my apartment while he rewinds the footage recorded from this morning.

“Alright, we’re at 10:50 this morning and there she is,” he says, slowing the footage down so we can watch Anastasia’s movements throughout the apartment.


He plays the footage in real time and adjusts a knob until we can hear the audio on the feed. The five of us lean in intently towards the screens as we watch Ana walk around the kitchen counter to the dog standing near the back windows.

“Do you have to go potty, buddy?” she asks, petting him, and then stands up to lead him toward the elevator. We watch her leash him up, then wait for the elevator, and once it arrives, she steps inside and disappears from view of the cameras.

“See, she’s walking the dog.” Kommer says, but Taylor shakes his head.

“I have a street view, but there’s no audio.” With a few presses of a button, he changes to the recording from the exterior camera, rewinds to the correct time, and waits until Ana comes through the front doors of the building with the dog’s leash in hand. They pace up and down the street, coming in and out of our view for several minutes and then we watch the dog streak in and out of the frame while Anastasia chases after him. We can follow them all the way to the corner, but once they’re in the street, they’re no longer in sight of the camera and we’ve lost them.

“It looks like he got away from her and she chased after him,” Taylor says.

“Son of a bitch,” I hiss, though I have to admit I feel a deep sense of relief to learn she’s not missing, just out on some wild goose chase. Or… dog chase. “All of you, go find her and bring her back here, now.”

The room is filled with the sound of chairs scraping against tile as every member of my team flies out of their seats and runs to the elevator. I watch Taylor pressing the call button repeatedly until the doors open, and then usher everyone inside. As they disappear from view, Ros rounds the corner with Mrs. Jones at her side.

“I’m so sorry, sir, I don’t know where she went,” Gail says. “I went to the market this morning and she was still asleep when I left. When I returned, Miss Bailey was here.”

“I know. It looks like she took the dog out and he got away from her. Once she returns, she’s not to take him out again. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Will you make some coffee, please? I have a few more meetings this afternoon, but I’ll call in from my office here.”

“Right away, sir.”

She turns to make her way back to the kitchen but Ros steps into Taylor’s office and closes the door behind her. She waits for half a beat, then takes a deep, bracing breath. “Can we talk?”

I stare back at her, befuddled. “Talk? What is there to talk about? You think you can just come in here and put on your little I’m sorry act and everything will just go back to the way it was before? That you can use Anastasia to worm your way back into my good graces? I know that’s been your angle and to be frank, I don’t appreciate you wasting what little time I have with her right now by asking her to bring this shit between you and I up over and over again. Especially because it’s not going to work. I’ve done this before. I know your game. If you want to try and manipulate me into bringing you back, to giving you anything, you’re going to have to be a hell of a lot more creative than this. I survived Elena Lincoln, Ros. You’re out of your depth here.”

“Christian, I don’t want to manipulate you, I want to talk to you. I didn’t do what you think I did and I don’t know how you could ever believe that I would.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

She takes a step back, looking as if my words have wounded her. “Because you’re my best friend.”

Friend? Really? Does a friend go behind the other’s backs to try and sabotage him? Does a friend use the other’s name and credibility to snake a ten million dollar deal out from under him just to get herself the top job at company that doesn’t have near the potential that GEH does? You betrayed me, Ros. I’ve given you free reign for years, listened to you, let you make decisions that any other person in your position would have no business making, all because I believed that you thought of GEH as yours, the same as I did. But you’ve just been using me. Everything you’ve ever done for me was just to get you to PixC.”

“That’s not true! Christian, I do care about GEH. Very much. I sat next to you in your dorm room and helped you build it. I showed up every day while you were basically comatose on my couch that first summer. I don’t know where those emails came from, but I never sent them. I swear to you.”

“Your word doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, Ros.”

“After all these years, how can you not trust me? After everything we’ve weathered together, after everything I’ve stood by you through, haven’t I earned a little bit of trust? The benefit of the doubt? I know how it looks, but I would never do this to you. Not because of the potential GEH has or because I think about it as my baby the same way that you do. I do, but I would never do this to you, Christian. Maybe I overestimated how important I was in your life, but you are my best friend. My family isn’t like yours. We don’t have brunch on Sundays and my parents don’t call me unless it’s a holiday or something is wrong. You are my family. You and Gwen are the only people I have to turn to, to celebrate with or to lean on. That is more important to me than PixC, Christian. That’s more important to me than GEH. Why would I throw all of that away?”

I stare at her, trying to find some biting words to throw back at her that will make her leave my apartment, but there’s nothing. I don’t like the unnamed emotion I see in the depths of her eyes. Something in it is too familiar for me. But thankfully, my phone buzzes in my pocket again, so I have a reason to turn away from her. Part me hopes that I won’t recognize the number displayed on the screen. That it’s from a pay phone or maybe a number from a local business that Ana is using to try and get ahold of me, but it isn’t. It’s Taylor.

“Did you find her?”

“No, sir. And, um… I think it’s time to call the police.”

I freeze. “What?”

“We found the dog. He was trying to get back to the apartment, I think, but he’s…” He pauses and I have to push him to get him to speak again. “He has multiple stab wounds. Miss Steele isn’t with him.”

It must be shock. I hear the words, I understand their meaning, but they don’t make me feel anything. Nothing. Not cold. Not pain. Not fear. Absolutely nothing.

“Mr. Grey?” Taylor prompts me.

“Find her, Taylor,” I breathe back, the strength in my voice gone. “Find her and bring her home.”


I hang up and slowly turn back to Ros. She stares at me with wide eyes. “Did they find her?”

“I uh… I need to make a phone call.”

“What’s happened?”

My hands start to shake as the shock wears off and the severity of what Taylor has said hits me. Stab wounds. Somewhere, Ana and the dog were attacked, violently. The dog escaped. It appears as though Ana did not.

My stomach clenches painfully and there’s a strange kind of pressure growing inside my head that I’ve never felt before. It’s disorienting, and when I look down at my phone to dial the number for the police, the numbers displayed on the screen suddenly look foreign to me.

“What’s the…um… what’s the number for the police?” I ask.

“911?” Ros answers. I nod.

With a great deal of difficulty, I manage to press the three numbers in the correct order and lift the phone to my ear. It only rings once before someone answers, but even that one drawn out tone creates enough time for the fear of reality to take hold of my throat and lungs until it feels as though I can’t breathe.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Yes, my– my fiance is missing. She’s gone and I… I need help.” The words come out sounding disjointed, broken, and full of fear and sheer panic.

“Sir? You’re reporting a missing person?”

“Yes. Yes, missing. Her name is Ana. Anastasia Steele. She was in my apartment and now she’s gone and I think something has happened to her.”

“How long has she been missing?”

“Uh… I don’t know. An hour. Maybe a little more.”

There’s a pause. “Sir, are you sure she’s not just… out?”

I shake my head furiously. “No.”

“Did the two of you have an argument?”

“No, I wasn’t even here. She took the dog out for a walk, without security. She knows she’s not supposed to leave without security, THIS IS WHY I HAVE SECURITY!”


“We found the dog, and he’s injured. He’s been stabbed, but she’s not with him. They were attacked. Please, she’s in danger. You have to help me.”

The operator wastes a great deal of time trying to calm me down and asking questions I don’t have answers to. So, after she takes my name and address and informs me she’s dispatched police, I hang up and throw the phone angrily down on my desk. The police are coming to me. They shouldn’t be coming to me, they should be going into the city, looking for her. Every minute they’re not looking for her, she could be getting farther away from me. With each passing second, the likeliness that she’s been injured or kille—

It hits me fast and hard. My hand flies up to my mouth to hold back the vomit trying to force its way out of me and I have to sprint to the bathroom. I barely make it, and as I wretch again and again into the porcelain bowl, I feel Ros’s hand on my shoulder again.

“Hey, calm down,” she says softly. “Let me get you a towel.”

She begins fumbling behind me, opening cabinets, while I close my eyes and try to force myself out of this nightmare.

“She’s not dead,” I whisper. “She’s not dead. She’s not dead.”

“Dead?” Ros asks behind me. “Christian, what happened?”

I swallow, push down the silver lever on the toilet, and get to my feet, facing away from her. “Call my brother.”


“Call my brother. Call my father. Call my mother. We should all be out looking for her.”

“Out looking where?”

“Just call!”

“Okay. Okay, I’m calling right now.” She scurries out of the bathroom and I hear her shaky voice as she’s connected with whichever one of my family members she’s dialed first. I fight against the deep, powerful chill that has taken hold of my body, and push away all the dark thoughts swimming around my head. I don’t have time to panic now, or to fear what may happen, or to feel anguished over what she might be feeling, or what I may have to face… I have to find her. She needs me, really needs me, and I can’t let her down. I can’t fail her.

After leaning over the sink to rinse out my mouth, I dab the corners of my lips with a hand towel and then stare at my reflection in the mirror.

“Find her, Grey,” I command myself, then turn and head back into the great room.


My family gets to Escala in record time, but none of them think it’s a good idea to just go off into the city with no leads. It’s infuriating, especially once the police arrive and agree that it’s better we establish a home base while the officers on duty begin their search. I’m pulled aside to be interviewed at my dining room table, and my father sits by my side to counsel me while Elliot hovers anxiously near the back windows.

In the half hour between my call to the police to moment the first officers came through the elevator doors, the media has been alerted and my publicist has released a statement offering a reward. I’ve been assured several times as I’ve sat at this table that every officer in King country is scouring the streets of Seattle with the most recent picture of Ana I have, looking for her, and yet, it doesn’t feel like enough. I don’t want to be here answering questions, I want to be out on the streets with Taylor, searching every block of pavement for her until she’s back in my arms. With the number of bodies standing and waiting around, it feels like we’re doing nothing and I’m going out of my mind.

She’s not dead. She’s going to be fine. She’s not dead.

I repeat the words over and over again, clinging to them like a life preserver.

“You haven’t received any strange phone calls today, Mr. Grey?” the officer asks. I shake my head. “No letters, no messages through employees or maybe the building staff? No ransom demands?”

“No. Nothing.”

I want nothing more than a demand for ransom. Something as simple as an exchange of money to have her back, safe. That would be doing something. An answer. A course of action. This, no leads and no explanation as to why this happened, has me feeling utterly helpless and the pain I’m experiencing over what I fear may have happened to her, or may be happening to her right now, is indescribable. Intolerable.

“Does your fiance have any enemies, Mr. Grey?”

I nod, robotically. “Leila. Leila Williams.”

“Was there an argument? Bad blood?” He waits for an explanation but I can’t give him one. Not because I don’t know how to answer him but because I can’t force my voice anymore. With each passing second the images I have of Anastasia alone, bleeding, in pain, terrified, possibly being violated, become clearer and clearer. And it’s not just her. She has my daughter with her. If I lose her today, I lose them both. My entire life is out there, missing. Why does no one understand this?

She’s not dead. She’s not dead.

“Miss Williams was an ex-employee,” my father answers for me. “She was his receptionist a little less than a year ago, and she had been harboring unrequited feelings for him, which made Anastasia a threat to her. Christian ultimately fired her for displaying inappropriate behavior towards Anastasia at work. Afterwards she tried to claim Christian had sexually harassed her, but the case was thrown out. She’s attempted to exact revenge against both Christian and Anastasia a few times since then and this year she transferred to a school near Anastasia’s. They’ve had several run-ins this year.”

“But she lives in Connecticut now, not Seattle,” I counter. “And we think she’s been working for someone…”

“Mr. Grey?”

I shake my head. “I don’t know who it is. But I know someone has been following her.” My father reaches over for my hand as my voice breaks again, but I quickly yank it out of his reach and push away from the table. “Excuse me.”

Elliot rushes towards me as I stumble into the living room, so I hold up a hand to keep him at bay. My mother is on the couch, clutching a teary-eyed Mia into her chest while they both stare at the TV. There’s a reporter outside my office building offering a description of Anastasia to the general public, announcing her pregnancy because it’s an important identifier, and once again reiterating the million dollar reward I’ve offered to anyone who can give information that will lead to her safe return.

“It isn’t enough,” I say. “A million isn’t enough. Ten million. Twenty. I want everyone in this city looking for her. I want the person who has her to see the amount I’m offering to get her back and realize that hurting her, that keeping her, isn’t worth it. We need to increase the reward, someone get me Jacqueline on the phone.”

“We’re going to find her, Christian,” my dad says, coming up behind me and wrapping an arm over my shoulder. I shrug him off again and glare at him.

“When? I don’t need vague promises, I need answers. I need solutions.”


“The dog was almost dead, Dad. You heard the call from the vet. Whoever has her is armed and violent. What if she…” my voice cuts off.

She’s not dead. She’s not dead. She’s not dead.

“Don’t think like that,” Elliot says. “She’s going to be just fine. Ana is one of the most kind and gentle people in the world. No one has any reason to harm her.”

“Except to hurt me,” I snap and then turn away from both of them, from the TV, from the police officers gathering their notes and tape recorders, and step through the door to the balcony for some fresh air.

My eyes scan the streets, like I could somehow overcome the 31 story height and pick her out of the crowd of people and cars below. I want to scream her name, even if it just means that she could hear me and know that I’m looking for her.

I double over, resting my arms and forehead on the cold metal railing, silently begging any divine being who may be listening to bring the woman I love home to me. I’ve been analyzing this day non-stop, trying to find where we went wrong, where I was careless, where we could have stopped this from happening.

No one was here with her, and I still don’t have an explanation for why that happened. If it was Kommer’s fuck up, Cardella’s, or Taylor’s. Maybe it was mine. I should have never left Sawyer behind in Cambridge this week. As much as I find the closeness between he and Anastasia disconcerting, there’s no way he would have left her her alone, no matter what Taylor said. Ana was always right. She’s safest with him because he cares about protecting her as more than just a job. He protects her the way I would. The way I should have.

I should have never gone to work this morning.

I should have never taken the security team out of this building.

I should have hired someone specifically to take care of the dog.

I. Should. Have. Been. Here.

The memory of leaving her this morning flashes through my mind. We didn’t speak. She wasn’t even awake. I don’t even know if she knows that I kissed her good-bye. A soft, quick kiss that she wasn’t even conscious for. That could be our last kiss. The last time I got to touch her. The last time I ever saw her and she didn’t even hear me tell her that I love her.

What was the last thing I said to her? She went to bed before I did, but what did I actually say to her? I close my eyes, forcing myself to remember, but when I do, the nausea returns full force.


“I don’t understand why you can’t just pick up the phone and TALK to her,” she argues, placing her hands on the back end of my desk and leaning over my keyboard to draw my attention away from my work. “What if you’re wrong? What if you’re putting yourself through hell and risking losing so much of the progress GEH has made for nothing, all because you refuse to have a conversation with your business partner?”

“I have nothing to say to her, Anastasia.”

“You’re being a child!”

I glance up, anger flaring deep in my gut. “A child? I’m a child because I refuse to engage in conversation with a woman who may have committed corporate sabotage and violated her contractual fiduciary responsibilities as the chief operations officer of my company? I’m a child for following the advice of my own legal counsel and not speaking to her without a lawyer present?”

“Jesus, Christian. She’s your best friend.”

“Yeah? And with friends like her, who needs friends, right?”

She stands up, her lips pressed together in a thin, angry line, but I’m not going to waste any more time arguing with her over Rosaline Bailey. I’m not backing down on this and I have work to do.

“This conversation is over, Anastasia. I’m not talking to you about this anymore. If you can’t handle that, you can leave.”

“Fine. Then, I’m going to bed. Goodnight, Mr. CEO.”

She turns so quickly, her hair fans out behind her and I watch every step she takes out of my office until she slams the door closed behind her. With a calming breath, I shake my head and return to the document still open on the screen of my laptop.


If you can’t handle that, you can leave.”


That was the last thing she heard me say. She was asleep by the time I went to bed and I left before she woke up. I have no idea if she was still angry with me this morning or if she thought I was still angry with her. Maybe she took that fight more seriously than I did. Perhaps she feels that the reason I haven’t found her yet is because I’m not even looking for her. What if she dies today thinking that I don’t care?

My body starts to shake, and this time when I repeat the mantra that’s brought me back from the edge of crisis over and over again today, I say the words aloud.

“She’s not dead. She’s going to be fine. She’s not dead.”


I turn, and see Ros standing in the doorway, looking at me cautiously, but once I recognize her I immediately turn back to look at the city again.

“I thought you left,” I say into the open air.

“I went to take her picture to the local hospitals and the women’s shelter. I don’t know, I’m trying to think of anywhere we may be overlooking. I just can’t handle standing around waiting.”

My brow creases. “You’ve been out looking for her?”

“Of course I have. Ana is very important to me, Christian. I can’t just sit back and do nothing.”  I turn back to face her and, for the first time in a really long time, I actually see her. Not my business partner, not the person who has betrayed me. Ros. I can more than just see the worry and heartbreak in her eyes, I can feel it radiating off of her, and as she steps onto the balcony and closes the door behind her, I nearly break down.

“What am I going to do, Ros?” I ask. “What if I don’t get her back? How will I live a single day without her? I’m lost. I mean, what’s the point? She’s the only thing that makes me feel anything. She’s everything. She’s the air that I breathe. Nothing has any meaning without her. Nothing.”

She nods and steps closer to me. “You can’t let yourself think that way. You’re going to get her back, today, and she’s going to be fine.”

“But what if I don’t?”

She lets out an anguished breath and then closes the distance between us, taking my face in either one of her hands and forcing me to look at her.

“Close your eyes.”


“Close your eyes, Christian.” I do as she says, reluctantly, but she doesn’t pull away. “Find her.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Not out there, in here.” She moves her hand down from my left cheek and places it over my heart. I wince involuntarily. “You two are a part of each other, I know that. So I want you to stop thinking about her out there, and feel here right here.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“Will you just not fight me this one time, please?” I sigh, then take a deep breath and focus Anastasia inside my mind. Her smile, her laughter, the clear blue color of her eyes. I imagine the radiant way she looks when she wakes up every morning and her playful smile as she ducks under the sheets to hide from the sun so that she can stay in bed a little while longer. I recall the feel of her hand in mine. Her grip when we first looked at a live ultrasound together, when I pulled her body into mine and twirled her around my great room floor to Adele last summer. I picture the beautiful pink color her cheeks turned on the mountain in Aspen or next to that frozen lake in Vermont, then the shine of her skin, browned and slick with freshly applied sunscreen beneath the Tahitian sun. I summon a picture of her perfect lips and imagine them forming the words I love you over and over again.

And I as hear the pale echo of her voice whispering those same words in the back of my mind, I feel it. I feel her presence, deep inside my heart and it sends instant relief though my body like an analgesic applied to a wound.

“Ana,” I whisper.

“Hold on to that,” Ros tells me. “When you feel like you’re losing her, remember this. As long as you can feel her, she’s out there.”

I open my eyes, stare into her imploring gaze, and, in that moment, I know. I know she didn’t do this thing to me. I don’t know where those emails came from, the same as the email Taylor says he never sent to his security team this morning, but I am certain that Ros did not betray me.

“Ros, I’m so sorry…”

“For what?”

“For–” There’s a buzz deep inside my pocket that stops me instantly. I fish out my phone, my eyes widening at the unrecognizable Seattle number, and the adrenaline spike is so intense, I struggle for a moment to answer the call.

“This is Christian Grey.”

“Mr. Grey, my name is Shannon Tomlinson. I’m calling from emergency services at Northwest Hospital. I’m contacting you on behalf of Anastasia Steele. She has just been admitted into our Emergency Room.”

“You have her? Is she okay?” Ros’s eyes widen and she turns for the door, waving frantically at the rest of my family.

“I’m sorry, she’s currently being evaluated by our medical staff. I don’t have any information for you about her condition, except that she did come into the hospital under her own volition.”

“But the baby…. She’s pregnant, how is the baby?”

“Again, I don’t have that information for you at this time, Mr. Grey.”

“Fine. I’m on my way.” I hang up the phone and stand frozen for a moment, overwhelmed by the rush of a thousand different emotions burning through me at one time. She’s alive. She’s safe in a hospital.

She’s alive.

“Christian?” my father asks, poking his head through the door.

“Northwest. I have to get to Northwest.”

“Taylor isn’t back yet,” Elliot interjects. “I can drive.”

I nod and then move forward after him, looking over my shoulder to call back to Ros. “Will you call the security team? Have them meet us at Northwest.”

“Of course,” she says.

“And I have a meeting with the R&D team this afternoon about the PixC expansion. Will you sit in for me?”

“What? Me?”

Elliot pushes the elevator call button and, thankfully, the doors open immediately. I step inside, beating Elliot to the button for the garage, and then glance back up at Ros. “I’ll call you tonight.”


Thankfully, I don’t have to put any pressure on Elliot to get us to the hospital quickly. He flies out of the parking garage onto Virginia and swerves deftly through traffic until we hit the I-5 north and he pushes the pedal to the floor. Thankfully, we’re not pulled over so we make it to North Seattle in record time. When we pull into the parking lot of Northwest Hospital, Elliot doesn’t even look for a parking space. He drives straight up to the emergency room entrance and stops at the doors to let me out.

“I’ll text you the room number,” I tell him, hurrying as best as I can to get out of the car.

“That’s alright, I’m going to head back. I think it’s better that it’s just you for awhile. You don’t know how she’s going to be.”

I pause, then nod. “You’re right. Thank you, Elliot. I’ll call you when I know something.”

“Okay. Give Ana my love.”

“I will.” I close the door and then sprint through the automatic doors into the emergency room. They look fairly busy and there’s a line of people standing before the check-in desk, but I push past each and every one of them to get to the front.

“Anastasia Steele,” I say urgently and the woman behind the counter looks up at me with confusion.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m looking for Anastasia Steele. Her room number.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t recognize that patient’s name and I can’t verify whether a patient has been admitted unless I know who you are.”

Shit. I hadn’t considered this. What if that call was fake, a ruse to distract me so he could get farther away. Fuck! “Christian Grey,” I tell her, my voice weak again as a new wave of panic washes over me. “My name is Christian Grey.”

Her face goes slack. “Do you have ID?”

With shaking hands, I pull my wallet out of my back pocket, find my driver’s license, and pass it across the counter towards her. She examines it closely, more closely than I’ve ever had anyone look at my ID before, and then hands it back without even glancing at her computer.

“Miss Steele is in room 227. Straight back and to the right.”

They’re protecting her.

They’re not even willing to risk letting anyone think she may be here without verifying who they are, which means they didn’t get him. From the moment I answered that phone call telling me where she was, I hadn’t even given a thought to him, to what had become of the person who tried to steal her. Apparently, he wasn’t apprehended. Ana must have escaped and he’s still out there, probably looking for her…

“Thank you,” I tell the woman behind the counter, and then rush through the emergency room doors towards room number 227. When I come around the corner, the first thing I notice are two hospital security guards stationed outside her door. They look at me as I come down the hall, preparing to stop me.


“Grey,” I interrupt him. “Christian Grey. This is my f-fiance’s room.”

The man nods and steps aside to let me pass, and the moment I push through her door, I feel the wind knocked out of me.

She’s battered. The abrasions on her face look as she may have been dragged across asphalt, she has a cut across her neck that looks too precise and purposeful to have been done with anything other than a sharp blade, and she’s absolutely filthy. But it’s none of those things that hit me with the force of a wrecking ball. Not the way her tiny frame seems to recede in on itself or the pain in her beautiful eyes. It’s the abject horror that is etched into every inch of her face.

She’s terrified.

“Baby, oh my god…”

She looks into my eyes and immediately breaks down into tears so I push off the door and cross the floor to her as quickly as I can, pulling her into me. But she screams when I touch her.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, pulling away and looking over her body for some injury I’d over looked before.

“My elbow,” she replies weakly.

“Has anyone looked at that?” I turn and notice for the first time that there’s a doctor in the room with us. She reaches down for the clipboard at the bottom of the bed and starts to flip through it. “It’s not in your chart.”

Ana shakes her head, so the doctor frowns and begins making a notation on the page. “I’ll send someone in right away. Try and stay upright until we’ve made sure that head injury is superficial.”

She gives us a reassuring smile as she hooks the clipboard back onto the bottom of the bed, and then moves quickly and quietly out of the room. I turn to look back at Ana, forcing myself not to reach out and touch her until she gives me some kind of signal that she’s ready.

“You’re face. What happened to your face?”

“I fell,” she whimpers. “I was trying to run and I fell.”

Fell? How? “The-the baby?”

She shakes her head. “She’s fine. We’re okay.”

Oh thank god. “What happened? Ros called my office and said… she said you were gone. That you’d told her to come over but that you weren’t there when she arrived. The security team couldn’t find you. They found the dog and he was bloody.”

Her eyes widen and for a brief second, the terror that hasn’t moved from the creases around her eyes and lips disappears. “Champ? You found Champ?”

“Taylor did. He was limping up the street toward the apartment and Gail took him to the vet. He’s been stabbed. We thought you… I thought you’d…” I can’t finish the thought. Now that I have her safe, in front of me, it’s too much to go back into the dark, desperate headspace I’ve been in all afternoon. But she knows me too well to let me get away with simply refusing to say the words. She can read them on my face and as I break eye contact with her, she dissolves into tears again.

“Champ saved my life. He was going to kill me, Christian. He was going to kill me and then Champ… He saved me.” She leans into me so that she can cry into my shirt, so I finally let myself wrap her in my arms and hold her against me. Her whole body is shaking and the sobs come from a place so deep inside her that there’s an almost ghostly echo to each and every one. She’s shattered, and the carnage is so blatant that it feels as though, if I let her go now, she’ll fall apart.

“Ana, what happened to you?”

Next Chapter

Christian PoV: Dear Captain Steele…


FOB Sykes

APO AE 09351

Attention: Captain Raymond Steele


Dear Captain Steele,

You don’t know me, but I am in love with your daughter. Believe me, that’s not the way I’ve always imagined I’d introduce myself to you, which is actually something I’ve thought a lot about. I wanted to take you and Ana out to dinner or maybe even something more extravagant. A vacation, where you could relax after your long years of service, have some much needed time with Ana, and you and I could get to know each other over several days so that I could show you just how much your daughter means to me. But Ana’s pregnant now, and she couldn’t bear to keep that from you. Much in the same way I can’t bear to see her so upset over the argument the two of you had over Thanksgiving. So, I think it’s better that I reach out to you personally and try to show you who I am so you might have more faith in the love your daughter spoke about over the phone, in spite of all the secrecy.

My name is Christian Grey. I would tell you that I was raised in Seattle, but even that has its own complicated history. At the age of four, I moved to Bellevue and have lived here ever since with my mother and father, my brother, and my little sister. My mother you know, Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey, and my brother Elliot. My father, Carrick, is a retired defense lawyer, who is currently battling cancer, and my little sister, Mia, is still in high school. Of course, I’m sure none of that really matters to you, but I tell you because at one time, it didn’t matter much to me either.

That is the first impact your daughter has made on me.

For most of my life, I haven’t been much for family. My mother, father, brother, and sister were all a part of my life, but more out of habit than desire. I was always distant with them, I think because I knew once I was out on my own, I wouldn’t have much to do with them at all. In high school I stayed away from them, or locked myself away in my room as much as I was able. I kept secrets from them. I lived a life they knew nothing about. In college, I wouldn’t come home unless I was forced to. I felt better being alone. I never envisioned myself as the type of man who would find a wife and would start a family. Then, on my second day at Harvard University, I met your daughter, and my life changed forever.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. She’s so beautiful, she had me immediately enraptured. She probably had me then, at first sight, and I would have been content to simply love her for her beauty. But then I got to know her, and I discovered that she was so much more than physically stunning. Her soul is somehow, impossibly, even more beautiful. Anastasia is warm and wholly good. When I first spoke to her there was an alluring quality to her voice that drew me in like nothing ever had before. At first I tried to ignore her, because I didn’t want to let her into my life to ruin all of the things I had planned for my future. I think I knew subconsciously that she could derail me, and at that time in my life I was so focused on business and success that I couldn’t allow anything to distract me from that. But, I couldn’t ever stop thinking about her.

Since the day she ran into me on the third floor of Grays Hall in 2007, she has occupied every single thought I’ve had. It would have been easier if I kept distance between us, I think, if I was ever going to resist her charms, but I couldn’t stand not talking to her or not being around her. She’s intelligent, and talking with her and hearing her ideas and seeing her perspective of the world was both refreshing and mesmerising. She’s the perfect blend of determination and innocence. Eternal optimism. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a cynic. Never once did I believe there was goodness in humanity, but through her eyes I could see people and their actions in a whole new light. It was freeing in a way, and I almost became addicted to the levity and happiness I felt being in her presence. She has an aura around her that is nearly divine in its warmth. So, I stopped trying to avoid her. Truth be told, I never really wanted to in the first place.

As I became her friend, it was obvious very quickly that friendship would never be enough. I fell for her hard and fast. I’m nearly convinced there hasn’t been a day I’ve known her that I haven’t loved her. When I began courting her I brought her home to Seattle, on a break she would have spent alone in Cambridge, to meet my family. I asked her on a few dates at school, I tried to dote on her and give her gifts I knew she would never be able to afford herself, but none of it worked. Your daughter is very self-aware. She knows what she wants and who she is, and she never compromises that. It’s something I respect very much about her, and it only made her all the more alluring. So, I pursued her harder. I went to visit her in Vegas while she was staying with her mother over Christmas that year, but it wasn’t until I let myself be open with her and confessed how much I wanted her in my life that she finally returned my feelings.

That was New Years Eve, 2007, and I can trace everything that has made me the man I am today to that one night. All to Anastasia’s enormous ability to love. She cares so much for the people around her and she’s both fiercely protective and absolutely loyal to those she loves. Where I always tried to pull away from my family, she led me back to them. She helped me accept and move on from some of the difficult things in my past that made me cold, jaded, and sometimes hateful.

That’s the second impact your daughter has had on me.

She’s taught me how to love, and that love can be safe, even though it never had been safe before. She’s showed me how to look for the goodness in others and helped me reconnect with the people who are the most important to me. She’s made me a better man. I am better for everyday that I have loved her, and I’m not only grateful for that, but it makes me love her all the more. I cannot understate that, Captain Steele. I am truly, and wholly in love with Anastasia.

I told you before that I never envisioned myself as a family man. Now, with your daughter in my life, it’s all I want. I want to build a home and a life with her. I want every moment of my future to be with and for her. I want to create traditions with her that we can pass down through our child. I want to show her the world, and provide for her and our family, and make sure that she experiences happiness every single day for the rest of her life. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her, no sacrifice that could be too great. Put simply, she means more to me than anything else in the entire world. Even my own life.

I’ve tried before and failed to express in writing just how much I truly love her, but what I can promise to you is that I will never hurt her. I will never betray her. I will treat her the way she deserves to be treated. I will support her and all of her ambitions and dreams. I will respect her. I will care for her and protect her. Most importantly, I will love her. More and more each day. She is the love of my life, and I will never give her, or you, reason to doubt my absolute commitment to her and to our family.

On that I give you my word as a man.

I’m sorry that you found out about me and the baby the way you did. I imagine you must have felt completely blindsided and I hope that you know Anastasia wasn’t being malicious, keeping you in the dark. She talks about you often and I know very well how important you are to her. Her silence was because of me. Because I have made mistakes in our relationship that made her not want to share what we had with you for fear of causing you pain by reading of hers. I’ve owned those mistakes, and I will spend the rest of my life proving to her that I will never make them again. You’ve raised a strong, intelligent, kind, caring, wonderful woman who would never do anything to intentionally hurt the father she loves. She loves you Captain Steele, absolutely. I hope you’ll remember that when you call again this Christmas. Don’t let the sour feelings this revelation has given you affect any of the love the two of you share. You mean far too much to her for her to feel as though she’s disappointed you in anyway. She won’t handle that well. She’s not now. She was devastated after you hung up the phone on Thanksgiving and it’s painful for me to see her suffer in anyway, especially when I can’t do anything to help her. Although, I hope I can. That’s why I’m writing you now.

If you must be angry, I am the one you should be angry with. I am the one who deserves the blame. I will happily take responsibility for the way this has panned out if it means that the two of you can move on and spend the last few months of your deployment focusing on all of the good in the special bond you share. It’s that important to her, and she is that important to me. You’ll soon be a grandfather, and I know that Ana can’t wait to introduce you to our child. Much in the way she can’t wait for you to finally be home. She misses you. She loves you, and her love is a gift that should never be taken for granted. I know, I cherish it daily.

I greatly look forward to meeting you in person, Captain Steele, and I hope the remainder of your deployment is quick and safe.



Christian Trevelyan-Grey

Next Chapter

Leila PoV: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You… Who Are You Kidding? This is Going to Kill You.


Billy and I sit huddled in someone’s yard behind the moss green electric box, frozen, but not because of the mountain of snow piled around us or the blistering cold. Neither one of us can believe what just happened. It’s been only four hours since we set up watch outside of Anastasia’s house and, while we knew Lincoln was getting irritated that we hadn’t gotten access to her laptop yet, I could have never believed he’d take it this far. Now we’re staring nervously at the hole in the side of the house and I feel as though I’m waiting for flames or some kind of explosion. What if he dies? What if he hit Anastasia, or Sawyer, or Kavanagh and one of them dies? I was told she would suffer, that she would lose Grey and that she would finally get to feel some of the pain she has put me through. I didn’t sign up for this.

“Fuck it’s cold,” Billy says, shuddering next to me. “If he doesn’t get them out of the house in the next twenty minutes, we’ve got to get out of here. We’re not going to make it long out here without my car.”

“Is that seriously what you’re worried about right now?” I hiss.

“Leila.” The voice crackles as it comes through the satellite radio in my hand, and for the first time I feel a real sense of foreboding when I hear it. With a calming breath I push a frozen finger down on the intercom button and bring the speaker up to my mouth.

“H-he’s in,” I stutter through my chattering teeth. “N-no sign of A-ana-st-tasia yet.”

“Get. Me. That. Laptop,” he says firmly.

“We will.” There’s no response so I let the radio fall to my side again and then try to wrap my coat tighter around me.

“I think it actua-lly might be t-too cold to snow,” Billy says after a long few minutes of silence. “Everything is just f-freezing now, including us. We should go.”

I look up at the blanket of clouds above us, which are still shocking white even in the shroud of night. This storm isn’t over yet, it’s only just starting.

“They can’t st-tay in there forever. There’s no power, they don’t-t have heat, and the house isn’t going to prot-tect them anymore. They have to leave soon.”

“Then we’ll come back.” He grabs my arm and pulls me up, but just as we stand we see a dark figure trudging through the snow towards Anastasia’s house.

“Get down,” I hiss.


We both throw ourselves to the ground and it’s actually painful when my hands sink down into the wet snow. It’s too cold. I think I might be going into some kind of shock.

“Jesus Christ, who the fuck is out walking right now?”

I glare at him. “We just drove a car into the side of a house. It’s probably a neighbor checking to see if they’re okay.”

Billy puts an arm over me and pulls me into his side, trying to huddle up as close to me as possible so we can keep warm, but it’s no use. I’m not sure what the temperature is but it has to be single digits at this point, and with our jeans in the snow and our fingers exposed to the cold, biting air, our teeth start chattering so loudly I’m afraid Sawyer will hear it from inside the house half a block away.

“I’m getting impatient,” Lincoln’s voice says through the radio again, but this time it’s Billy who reaches for it and answers.

“We’re going back home. They’re not leaving the house and Leila and I are going to freeze out here. We’ll come back in the morning.”

“In the morning?” Lincoln repeats, and there’s a new dark quality to his voice that seems to make the temperature around us drop a few degrees more. “I can’t do anything with the morning.”

“Wait.” The sound of a door slamming closed echos up the street at us so I risk a peek over the top of the electrical box and see two people huddled together, wading through the snow down the street. Neither Billy or I even dare to breathe and in the dead silence of the snowy night, I can hear the voices of the two women as they make their way back to the house across the street.

“Almost there, Ana. There’s a fire inside.”

“Anastasia is out,” I whisper softly down to Billy, then wait with bated breath for three or four more minutes until Kate and Sawyer come out of the house with Hyun’s unconscious body being carried between them.

“Fuck, is he going to be okay?” Billy asks.

I shake my head. “I don’t know.”

“What’s going on?” the radio crackles again, and both Billy and I cringe. Thankfully though, neither Sawyer nor Kavanagh look our way. They must not be able to hear us over the sounds of their own panting as they struggle with Hyun’s weight and the slippery snow and ice beneath their feet.

“They’re out,” I tell Lincoln once we hear the door to the neighbor’s house close. “They’re in the house across the street.”

“Luggage?” he asks.

“No. They didn’t take anything with them.

“Then go get me that laptop.”

Billy and I look at each other, he switches the radio off, puts it in my backpack, and finally moves out from behind the electric box. I follow him as quietly and swiftly as possible, worrying the entire way that we’re going to be caught. This is so stupid, even with the street lamps off from the power outage, the snow is so bright beneath us that our dark clothes make us easier to spot, not harder. With every sound we hear crossing the street and jumping the fence into Anastasia’s backyard, I’m certain we’re going to be caught.

We aren’t though. Billy helps me over the fence and then there’s nothing in front of us except the tall dark house which conceals us from the street.

“Stay in my footprints,” he warns me. “We’re going to have to cover them up before we leave.”

It’s slow going and extraordinarily difficult to move as carefully as we need to through the deep snow. Each step we take is meticulously calculated, and just as much as he has to reach back to help me while I place my foot in the hole he’s left behind, I have to help him move forward. By the time we get to the back door, we’re both sweating beneath our coats.

“Moment of truth,” he says, and then reaches out for the handle on the sliding glass door. Amazingly, it opens easily. They forgot to lock it between the chaos of the storm and Hyun’s diversion.

“Well that’s good luck,” Billy says with a smile. I narrow my eyes at him.

“As if we couldn’t get in through the giant gaping hole in the side of the house. Go!”

We’re both careful to knock as much of the loose powder clinging to our clothes and boots off as possible while we come into the kitchen but the moment we close the door behind us and turn towards the car still making small clicking sounds in the middle of the dining room, we have to cover our mouths and noses with the sleeves of our jackets. The air is thick with gasoline fumes and it makes me nauseated and dizzy all at once.

“Let’s go,” I tell him. “The faster we find the luggage, the faster we can get out of here.”  

He nods and motions me forward around the car into the living room and, as luck would have it, there are three large suitcases there waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

“Which one belongs to Steele?” Billy asks.

“The pink one is probably Kavanagh’s,” I say, wrapping my hands in the cuffs of my sweatshirt as I push it aside so I don’t leave fingerprints. “And I’d say it’s more likely that Ana has the purple bag than Sawyer.”

He kneels down next to me as I pull the zipper around the exterior of the luggage and then lift the lid. It’s mostly clothes, which makes going through the bag more difficult as they’re not neatly folded and we’re trying to do everything with our hands covered by the sleeves of our undershirts, but eventually we find the laptop in a zipped inside pocket.


He takes the laptop from me and glances around for somewhere to work, but with the fumes still hanging in the air we ultimately decide we’re going to have to do what we have to do upstairs. There’s one door open, which is one less thing we have to touch, so that’s the room we choose. But as Billy sets up at the desk and starts pulling out the power sources, hotspot generators, and other hightech gadgets that go way over my head, I realize that this is Anastasia’s room. Her walls are littered with pictures of her with Kate, or Sawyer, or an older man who I don’t know, but, for the most part, Grey is absent. In fact, the only picture of him in the room at all is on her nightstand. A framed 4×6 photo of the two of them holding drinks and smiling at the camera on a beach, probably from their Hawaiian vacation last fall.

I have to stop myself from reaching down and picking up the photo to get a better look. We’re not supposed to leave behind any trace of our presence, so instead I kneel down and look at it as closely as possible without touching.

God, he’s so beautiful.

Seeing him this way, looking so light and happy, doesn’t fit with the memories I have seeing him every day in the office, but it’s nice. I can imagine myself in this photo with him, that it’s because I’m next to him that he looks this way. I wonder what it would have been like to be the one he whisked off on long, romantic vacations in paradise? Does he like to go out and explore? To hike, or zipline, or snorkel in the crystal clear water of the sea? Or is he more of a sun lounger on the beach kind of guy? A smile crosses my face as I picture that, being stretched out under the warm Hawaiian sun on a fluffy towel draped over my chair, while he rubbed suntan lotion into my skin and whispered about all the inappropriate thoughts touching me was giving him. Perhaps he would even fuck me there, in the middle of the public beach where everyone could see, not caring because part of him loved to be staking the claim.

My eyes move to the bed on my left and I bite down on my lip as I think about how this is where he fucks Anastasia when he’s in town. He’s been naked in this bed and just thinking of that makes me want to strip out of all of my clothes and roll around in the sheets. What in this room has he touched? Perhaps he has clothes here, or a toothbrush?

I glance over my shoulder at Billy, but he’s plugged into the laptop and not paying any attention to me, so I move over to the closet door across from the bed in search of a souvenir. Unfortunately everything in here is Anastasia’s. He doesn’t have spare socks or underwear in a drawer and when I go into the bathroom, I don’t find an extra razor, toothbrush, or even a bottle of shampoo that I could be sure was just for him. Going through the cabinet under the sink and finding only tampons, extra shaving cream, and a box with over the counter cold medicine and tylenol in it has me thoroughly deflated until I stand, glance over the counter, and see a pair of silver cufflinks on a plastic container made of drawers. When I pick them up to examine them more closely, I find that one has a small letter C engraved into the otherwise smooth metal, and on its match is a G.

These are his.

Warmth rushes through me as my fingers tighten around them and I pull my closed fist up to my lips to kiss them. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. A connection to him. Something tangible for me to hold onto and to keep with me. I’m practically giddy over finding something so personal and easy to take, but as I uncurl my fingers to look at them again, the door opens behind me.

“What are you doing?” Billy asks.

“What? Nothing.”

He narrows his eyes at me. “Well let’s clean up and get out of here. It’s cold as shit and I want to be home before the next wave of the storm hits.”

I nod and stuff the cufflinks in my pocket, then find some Clorox wipes under the counter and both Billy and I get to work. He’s in more of a hurry than I am at making sure that no one can tell we’ve been here, but that’s why Lincoln insisted I come along. I have him wipe down the laptop and the desk he was working on while I clean the knobs on the closet and bathroom, and all of the handles on Anastasia doors. When it’s time to leave the room, I send him out first so I can sweep over the carpet to get rid of any footprints we’ve left behind.

He’s already outside by the time I get down the stairs and I almost just leave with him, but I notice he didn’t zip up Anastasia’s suitcase when he put the laptop back. I do up the bag myself, scan the living room and dining room, and clean up the water footprints by the door before I finally step back out into the frigid night air. From there we tread back through our footprints, covering what we leave behind, jump the fence, and take off through the alley toward his apartment.

“You should stay here,” he says when I turn to leave him at the front door of his building. “It’s freezing and your apartment is at least two miles away. Besides, once it starts snowing again, you’re going to be stuck until the emergency crews come and that could be days. You sure you want to do that all by yourself?”

I too look up and frown. He’s right about the cold. My body is already stiff and sore from being out here so long already and I don’t know that I have another two mile walk in me.

“Yeah, thanks,” I tell him.

He takes me upstairs and gives me some of his clothes since we’re both wet from being in the snow all night. Everything he has is way too big for me, but just having something dry against my skin  does make me feel a little warmer. His apartment is only one bedroom, so he brings out extra blankets and a pillow for me to crash on the couch, and then we both sit down with a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a bag of chips. Without heat it’s hard to stay warm, but we make do with the small fire we build in a big metal pot out of old newspapers and popsicle sticks.

“I keep expecting Grey to come knocking on the door,” I admit. “For some reason, I feel like we’re going to get caught.”

“No one saw us,” he says, tossing another stick on the fire. “Grey would have to know exactly where to look to find the tunnel I built and with the shit Lincoln is going to feed through it into the server, the only guy who would find it will be gone by Monday. Trust me, your guy is going to be so pleased with this job he’s going to give us a permanent gig.”

“Only if you’re more careful. You forgot to zip up Anastasia’s bag. It would have been a dead give away someone had been in there if she went to pick up her suitcase and all of her stuff fell out on the floor.”

“Why am I responsible for closing it? You opened it.”

“But you put the laptop back in.”

“No I didn’t.” At first, his words are defensive, but off handed. The moment he hears them out loud though, his mouth goes slack and his eyes widen. “Fuck, no I didn’t.”

“What do you mean no you didn’t?”

“I-I cleaned it but I didn’t put it back. I left it on the desk.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”

“No. Shit, what do we do?”

“We have to go back!”

“We can’t go back. That’s a three mile round trip and it’s only getting colder. We can’t keep traipsing around outside all night, people die doing shit like that.”

“And when she goes home and finds her laptop on her desk instead of in her suitcase down-fucking-stairs?”

“I mean… what are the odds she’s even going to notice? It’s been a crazy day with the storm and Hyun… She’ll probably think she just forgot to pack it.”

I huff and look at the door, unsure of what to do. I really don’t want to go back outside again. Without my body heat against the wet fabric, my jeans have frozen and all I have to wear now is this baggy pair of sweats. I’m getting hypothermia just thinking about trudging through the snow like this. Besides, going back only increases our chances of beings seen. Suppose a neighbor thinks we’re breaking in or looting and somehow contacts the police, or worse, Grey. What if Sawyer comes back to get Ana’s things? No, going back isn’t a good idea, but neither is doing nothing.

“We’re going to have to tell him,” I say quietly.

“Him?” Billy repeats. “Wait… you mean, him?” I nod, and he starts shaking his head. “Are you crazy?”

“He’s going to need to prepare, just in case. Otherwise, all of this was for nothing.”

“He won’t pay us if we do tell him and then all of this really will be for nothing.”

“And if we get caught, who’s name do you think he’s going to give to the police?” He opens his mouth to argue, but can’t say anything. So, eventually, he nods to my backpack across the room where the satellite radio is still tucked away. I pull it out, flip the switch to turn it back on, and take several long seconds to prepare myself for whatever reaction I’m going to get before finally pushing the intercom button.

“Lincoln? Are you there?” Nothing. “Hello?”

Billy gets up and takes the radio from me, and after examining it for a moment and pushing a few different buttons, he shakes his head.

“It’s dead.”

“Great. What do we do now?”

“We… wait until the roads are cleared. Grey is going to get her out of here the moment he can. Hopefully, she doesn’t look through her bags before she leaves and once she’s gone, we go through the house and take the laptop and some other obviously valuable stuff. She’ll think it was just a burglary. The tunnel is built in her GEH profile, we don’t need the laptop anymore.”

“Unless the laptop being stolen makes Grey check into her profile and he finds what we’ve done.”

He frowns. “Then we leave it by the door. Drop it or slide it under something so it looks like it got left behind. It explains why it wasn’t in the bag, but since the laptop never made it out of the house, he wouldn’t have any reason to think it was gone through.”

I take a deep breath, not fully satisfied with the plan but not having anything better to suggest myself. Billy goes back to the fire, trying to keep it going, and motions for me to come sit next to him again so we can keep warm together, and for the rest of the night we perfect his idea until we’re both absolutely certain the plan is foolproof.


The power doesn’t come on the next day, or the next. By Monday, we’re down to living on cold cans of chili and dry ramen. No snow plows have made it through the city yet, so we’re still stranded and we’re so bored out of our minds that we’re constantly at each other’s throats. On Monday night we’re fighting with each other so loudly, neither one of us hear the knock on the apartment door until the person on the other side starts banging against the wood.

We freeze and look nervously at one another. Is it Grey, or someone who works for him? Were we not as careful as we thought?

Billy grabs a metal bat from behind the door in his bedroom and walks cautiously towards the door. “Who is it?”

“It’s Kommer, open up.”

“Kommer?” I repeat, confused. “He’s supposed to be in Seattle. How did he get here?”

Billy shrugs and opens the door, and when the severe looking man steps inside, I feel a weird sense of dread. Like I’m in a mob movie and the Don has just sent his goon.

“Hyun was released yesterday, we’ve got him. You two need to come with me.”

“Is he okay?” I ask.

“He’s fine. Get your shit and let’s go. I’ve got a chopper waiting downtown.”

Billy and I glance at each other and I wonder if he’s thinking the same thing I am. Heat. Glorious, healing, wonderful heat, and food that has been cooked.

I hurry though the door out into the hallway and follow Kommer as he leads us out of the building onto the street. For the first few blocks, I don’t even care that the air is unbearably cold against my legs under the billowy sweatpants I’m still dressed in. But soon, that cold seeps into my bones.

“Where are we going?”

“Marriott,” he says and then stays quiet for the rest of the long walk to downtown Cambridge. Once we get to the hotel, we go up the service entrance all the way to the roof where there is a helicopter and pilot waiting for us. Kommer takes my hand to help me inside, then climbs up front. Billy takes the seat next to me, and after the pilot has closed us both inside, we’ve harnessed ourselves in, and slipped a pair of headphones over our ears, the pilot finishes his pre-flight checks and we rise slowly into the air.

Perhaps it’s the fresh wave of heat coming from the vents in the cockpit, or maybe just the relief of finally being out of Billy’s apartment, but rising off the ground and flying into the night feels as though a weight has been lifted off of me. Like I’m escaping from prison or a horrible nightmare. But after a half-hour passes, I realize, I have no idea where we’re going and I’m not wearing the type of headset you can use to communicate with the pilot.

I turn and tap Billy’s shoulder to get his attention. “Where are we going?”

His brow furrows and he points to his headset, signaling he can’t hear, so I slow the words down and over annunciate, hoping he’ll read my lips. He must understand me that time, because he looks away through the front windshield with confusion, then turns to me and shrugs.

The flight lasts a total of 2 ½ hours, but the bad weather means I have no idea if we’ve gone a long distance or we’ve just had to fly more carefully. When we step out of the helicopter I don’t recognize any of our surroundings and I don’t see any signs giving a hint to where we may be. The only thing I see is a car waiting not far away from the airfield where we’ve landed.

“Let’s go,” Kommer says.

We follow him to the car and he gestures for Billy and me to get in the backseat while he moves around to the front passenger’s side. I’m far too busy looking around through the dark windows for any kind of indication of where we may be to be too concerned with the driver, until Kommer gets in the car and leans over to kiss the woman sitting behind the wheel.

“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?”

“I’ve missed you,” she whispers between her near ravenous attack on his face. They continue making out for several minutes, and as the woman’s breaths and moans become more and more desperate, the empty space surrounding Billy and I become more and more awkward.

“Umm… where are we going?” I ask, and finally the woman pulls away and rounds on me. She’s beautiful, really beautiful, but I’ve never seen her before.

“Why don’t you just relax, huh? I wouldn’t be in a real big hurry to get where you’re going anyway.”

“Excuse me?”

She doesn’t answer. Instead she turns back to the wheel and shifts the car into drive. Billy shoots a look across the seat towards me, his eyes wide and nervous, and as I let the meaning behind her words sink in, my hand slowly shifts to the handle on the door. When I pull it, nothing happens. The child locks are on.

“Where are you taking us?” Billy demands, but neither of them respond. The woman turns on the radio and signals to get on the freeway, while Kommer kicks a leg up on the dash and starts scrolling through emails on his phone.

“Grey’s got her back in Seattle now,” he says. “I just go the GEH security email. Ryan says Grey’s been out of work all week.”

“I know. Elliot went to meet the plane when they got back. He’s barely called me since then, which I bet has something to do with Kavanagh. I swear to god if that little whore ruins all the hard work I’ve put into this loser…”

“Well, I can’t say I’d be disappointed if you had to stop fucking him.”

She looks away from the road, and gives him a soft, pleading glance. “We talked about this, Anthony. He’s our way in. Dating Elliot means I’ll have access to security codes, clearance to get into Escala, invitations to vacations and weekends spent on the boat. Grey will never be out of our sight.”

“I could get us those things without you having to open your legs for another man.”

“Not until you get out of GEH security and into personal security. We all have our jobs, baby. You work on Taylor, I’ll work on Elliot. At the end of this, you and I are never going to have to work again.”

He nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I know that…”

“And I love you. I only love you.”

“I love you too.” He leans over and kisses her gently on the cheek, then finally glances back at Billy and me. “Ten more minutes.”

Eventually, I’m able to glean enough information from signs and buildings to deduce that we’re in Albany, though why, I’m still not sure. There does seem to be power here though, which is exciting, until I realize we’re driving right past the city and into a more industrial looking area that’s much less populated.

“Where are we going?” I ask again, more nervous now.

“Here,” Kommer says. The woman pulls into a dark alley and kills the engine outside a heavy metal door set in a nondescript brick wall. He turns to smile at both of us. “The boss has a surprise for you.”

I swallow, suddenly feeling a swift rush of terror. He knows about the laptop. He has to know about the laptop. How did he find out? What is he going to do?

“Don’t say a word about the laptop,” Billy hisses the second Kommer and the woman driver are out of the car. I don’t have time to answer him though, because my door opens and Kommer reaches inside to pull me out. The woman waits to escort Billy behind me, and then we’re both pushed through the door into a dimly lit open space that looks a lot like a warehouse. The only thing that gives me any kind of peace as the heavy door closes behind us is the number of people in the room. I recognize a surprising number from GEH, including Jack Hyde, a guy who I remember from the few times I met with Elena Lincoln, Isaac I think his name was, and Hyun, who is sitting in the center of everyone on chair looking weak and exhausted.

“Hey,” I say, coming up and kneeling next to him. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” He nods and then looks tentatively around at the small crowd of people around us. They’re all talking amongst themselves, speculating what’s going on from the sound of it, so he leans in close to me and speaks softly into my ear.

“He saved my life. Grey. They said if I’d have gotten surgery even a few hours later, they wouldn’t have been able to save me. I-I… don’t think I can do this anymore. No amount of money Lincoln has promised us is worth what we’re doing to the man who is the reason I’m here today…”

“Which is exactly why we’re here,” a voice rings loud and clear through the open room, echoing off the walls and forcing everyone to fall silent. I rise to my feet, turn toward the direction of the sound, and watch as Andrew Lincoln ambles carelessly towards us. The crowd parts as he moves, as if his importance is the equivalent to the power of God against the Red Sea. He stops a few paces ahead of us then begins circling Hyun’s chair, like a shark.

“I’ve brought you all here today because you’re all very important players in this little game we’re playing. It’s a bit like domino’s, you see. Each and every one of you is a piece who has a part to play in the whole. As long as you do what you’re supposed to, we all stand tall. It only takes one weak link for the chain to break. One domino topples in the line and we all fall. Now, I don’t know about any of you, but I’m not ready for this game to be over yet. I’m not quite ready to fall.” He stops in front of Hyun and narrows his cold gaze in on him. “So you feel indebted to Grey, do you?”

Hyun swallows. “Yes. I do. He saved my life and I can’t in good conscious continue to help ruin his. I’m sorry, but I’m out.”

“You see, that’s where you’re wrong,” Andrew continues. “There is no out.”

The room falls dead silent. No one moves. No speaks. No one even dares to breathe until a shrill jingle breaks the tension.

“Sorry,” the woman from the car says, reaching for her purse and digging through its contents. The irritation apparent on Lincoln’s face is chilling. “It’s Elliot.”

Lincoln takes a breath, but waves to her and as she holds her finger up to her lips to tell everyone in the room to stay silent. She answers.

“Hey, baby. Nothing. Just catching up on Gossip Girl and enjoying a face mask. What are you doing? Oh… tonight? I’m sorry, I wish I could, but my bestie is coming over and we’re going to have a little girl’s night. Lunch tomorrow? Perf. And, do I need to bring anything to your parents’ house on Thursday? Awh, babe. You’re so sweet. I’ll see you tomorrow? ‘Kay, bye.”

She hangs up the phone and then turns to Lincoln. “We need to hurry this up, I have to get back to Seattle.” She then turns and shoots a smug look at everyone in the circle. “I’m spending Thanksgiving with the Greys.”

“You see, this is commitment,” Lincoln says. “This is the dedication I need. That you all signed up for. Not. This.” He turns back to Hyun, who cowers slightly in his chair.

“Look, I’m not going to say anything.”

“No, you’re not. But you are going to do something very important for me tonight. You’re going to show every person here what happens when they stop being committed. You’re going to show everyone what happens when they start to feel like maybe Grey isn’t so bad after all.”

“What do you—” Hyun’s voice cuts off as Lincoln reaches into the back waistband of his trousers and removes a pistoL. Hyun’s eyes grow wide with fear and he begins to tremble. “Okay, okay. I changed my mind. I’m in. I’m very dedicated. Whatever you need, I’m your guy.”

“Ah, that’s very comforting to hear, Son,” Lincoln says. “But… what kind of lesson would that be?” He pulls back the hammer to the pistol and Hyun jumps out of his chair to run, but Kommer has him in the next second. The woman picks up a rope and brings it to him, and after Kommer has fully tied up and subdued Hyun, he tosses him carelessly to the floor.

“Anytime any of you think about talking to someone or not following through with what I’ve asked you to do, I want you to remember this. I want you all to remember that none of you are alone. Someone is watching you, and anyone who comes to me with news of someone’s dishonesty or disloyalty is going to be rewarded. The person who has double crossed me, well…” He raises the gun and points it directly at Hyun.

“Wait, no! Please!” he begs, and for a moment, I think the look of sheer terror on his face may have actually gotten through to Lincoln. He hesitates, then lowers his gun, and Hyun starts bawling uncontrollably.

“This isn’t right,” Lincoln says. “This isn’t how this should go.” He lets his arm fall to his side, and then he turns back to the woman standing next to Kommer.

“Gia, my love. I think it’s time you got your first.”


“Yes. Come here. Help your father.” She stands there for a moment, gaping at him, and his look of proud adoration falters. “Unless, you’re not as committed as you say you are.”

“No, I am!” she says quickly. “I am.”

“Then come here.”

Her shoulders rise and fall as she takes a deep breath and then slowly moves towards Lincoln. He gives her the pistol and then places a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Just like I taught you.”

She nods and then faces Hyun. Every muscle in my body tightens as I watch her raise the gun and then hear the horrified pleas that start bubbling out of the boy in front of her. He begs for his life, but she doesn’t seem to hear him. Kommer puts him on his knees in front of her, facing away so she won’t have to look in his eyes, and she squares up, adjusts her grip on the gun, and halfway through one of Hyun’s desperate, sob broken sentences, she squeezes the trigger.

The gunshot echoes loudly through the open warehouse and I scream as I’m standing close enough to Hyun that the blood splatter hits me across the face. My ears are ringing and my entire body goes cold. Shock sets in.

He’s dead.

Hyun is dead.

Lincoln murdered him right in front of me. Right in front of all of us.

Gia is still. The gun still held up in front of her as she watches Hyun’s body slump to the floor, and in the next second Lincoln is on her again, wrapping her in his arms. “How does that feel, baby?”

“I-uh…” She’s stammering, so he turns her away from the body and forces her to look into his eyes. “You did well, Gia. I’m very proud of you. How do you feel, sweet girl?”

“Powerful.” Her voice is only a pale echo of a whisper, but every person in the room can hear her just as clearly as they would have if she’d yelled it. Lincoln’s face lights up.

“Yes. That’s good. Remember that. Use that.” He hugs her tightly and I watch a strange kind of emotion cross Gia’s face over his shoulder. A kind of pleasure that’s sickening and terrifying. When Lincoln pulls away, he smiles again and kisses her lips. “So pretty.”

She beams, then slips the gun back in her father’s hand before returning to Kommer’s side. He doesn’t look as comfortable with what just happened as Lincoln or even Gia herself does, but he opens his arms for her all the same, and when she squeezes him around the middle, he kisses the top of her hair.

“Anyone else having feelings of remorse or second thoughts?” Lincoln asks, scanning the crowd. No one replies, no one even moves, and it makes him smile. “Good. Then we shouldn’t have to come here again. Although, I’m sure my darling daughter could use the practice.” He pauses, and glances proudly back at her again. “Just remember, we’re always watching. And I don’t give second chances.”

He slips the gun back into the waistline of his trousers and turns away, and there’s a mass shuffle for the door. I stand there, frozen in disbelief as I stare at Hyun’s body. I thought we were going to be yelled at, have our pay taken away, maybe even be given a few extra watches as punishment for the laptop. I never expected this… and this didn’t even have the possibility of getting him caught the way our fuck up did.

“Let’s get out of here,” Billy hisses, yanking on my arm. I nod and turn to follow the flow of people, but am stopped when I hear Lincoln’s voice calling my name.

“Leila, dear. Come back here please.”

I stop, but Billy doesn’t. He glances back at me but unapologetically continues his way out of the room, and I stand there helpless until it’s just me, Lincoln, Gia, and Kommer left.

“Come here, sweetheart,” Lincoln says, and I have no choice but so swallow my fear and turn back to him.

“Yes, sir?”

“You’ve had a rough couple days in Cambridge. I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I’m fine.”

“I know you are, because you are a strong young woman and I applaud you for it. But, all the same, I’d like to do something for you. We’ll keep you here for a few days, in a suite in a wonderful hotel. Any restaurants you want to go to, any shopping you’d like to do… just charge it all to me. We’ll fly you back to Cambridge once the clean up from the storm is over.”

“Really? Uh… thank you.”

“Of course. Just as I punish those who defy me, I reward those who are loyal. You are loyal to me, aren’t you Leila?”

I nod furiously. “Yes. Absolutely.”

“Good, because I know very well that your grudge is against Anastasia, not Christian, and I know very well how you feel about him. So, going forward, I want you to remember today. I want you to think about this every single day.”

“I won’t be a problem, I promise. I am committed to doing what has to be done, I swear. Grey is nothing to me. He deserves this. They both do.”

“That’s all I want to hear.” He smiles and turns again. “Gia, let’s get Leila here set up at the Renaissance. She’s spent the past few days being very cold, make sure she’s comfortable.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“And Kommer, take care of that.” He motions to Hyun’s body. “Leave his body in his own car, but not here. I want Grey to think it was necessary to conduct the violence elsewhere so that he won’t heighten security around Cambridge. Anastasia is the most important piece of my plan and I don’t want to make Leila’s job any more difficult than it already is.”

“Yes, sir.”

Linc winks back at me, then turns to leave the room, and I’m left to help Gia and Kommer dispose of a body. To wrap it in plastic and store until it can be returned to Cambridge where his car has been left. From there, I have no idea what they plan to do, but I resolve as I’m finally put in a car and taken to the swanky hotel in downtown Albany, that I’m never going to let that be me.


Next Chapter

Christian PoV: Oh, Baby…


Beginning of Chapter 09

I’ve never wanted to leave Cambridge less than I did late Sunday afternoon. Whatever Ana has doesn’t seem to be getting better and she’s refusing to go to the doctor. I’ve called to check on her every spare second I’ve had, but despite her assurances that she’s getting better, today is the second day she’s stayed home from school and Ana never skips class. It also doesn’t help that I’m still internally boiling with rage and reluctant jealousy over Kate’s slip up about Ana exposing herself and trying to tempt Sawyer into sleeping with her while we were still separated. She says he turned her down, but I’ve seen Ana’s body. There’s no way he wasn’t at all interested. Protective of his job, maybe, but definitely intrigued. Does he still think about what he saw? Does he picture her when he’s alone at night? Does he daydream about what might have happened had he said yes? When they’re together, when she wraps her arms around him and he can breathe in her intoxicating scent, does he ever think about broaching the subject again?

A vile taste creeps up into my mouth as I shake the uncomfortable thought away and turn my attention back to the agenda in front of me. Ros is nearly finished with her updates on the newly re-branded Grey Publishing, and I can’t afford to be caught focusing on anything other than this meeting right now. Not with the current internal unrest brewing in my most important departments.

“Thank you, Elizabeth,” Ros says. “And thank you for your hard work on the Keith Brooks signing. I thought we were going to lose him to Greenwich, but you really came through for us in the end. Now let’s just get his novel edited and prepare Jack to get out there to help him sell his work.”

“Absolutely. Thank you, Ms. Bailey.” Elizabeth smiles as Ros nods, then they both turn to me. I glance down at my watch, mentally calculating the time until I get out of this meeting, then look back at my agenda.

“Welch, we got the call from Rosenstein and Associates this morning, they’ll be faxing over a signed contract this afternoon. I want you to assemble a team to get started on a full systems integration overhaul before end of business today. They expect their technology to be up and running by January 1st, so we’re not going to have a lot of turnaround time on this one.”

“January 1st?” Welch repeats back, baffled. “Sir, it’s November. A full system overhaul in that amount of time would mean dozens of hours of overtime for my guys and they’re already swamped with our acquisition load…”

“I understand what it means, but Rosenstein is an important client that will open up a whole new pipeline in New York. This is a huge get for GEH and we need this implementation to go off without a hitch.”

Welch presses his lips together, looking at first as though he’s just going to accept what I’ve told him, but ultimately can’t. “Mr. Grey, the holidays are coming up. With the current attitude of some of my developers after that audit, I think this has the potential to turn a small problem into something big. I can’t put anymore on my guys’ plates.”

“Are you telling me you can’t handle your team?”

“No, sir. I just…”

“Then there shouldn’t be a problem. Hire if you need to, but not for Rosenstein. Only the best for this one. I’ll send you over the details this afternoon, and I’ll expect your email regarding who you’ve selected for your implementation team before I leave this evening.”

He takes a deep breath and nods. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Alright…. Elliot. Where are we on the new building?” My brother blinks at me, slightly taken aback by the change of subject, but he recovers quickly and begins reading the updates he and his foreman have put together for the meeting. While he once again readjusts the timelines he’s given me over and over again, I look at my watch.

Why hasn’t she called me?

Finally, the meeting ends, and I’m the first body out of the room. Andrea scurries out of the conference room after me, asking about meeting notes and follow-up appointments with some of the department heads, but I wave her off.

“Olivia, has Anastasia called for me?” I ask the receptionist. She shakes her head, and I frown. “Fine. Andrea, forward me the outstanding items from the meeting and cancel everything else on my calendar. I don’t have time for anymore meetings today.”

“Uh… yes, sir.”

I give her a sharp nod and take the folder off the top of the stack of documents she holds in her hands, then disappear down the long hallway to my office. Once I’m shut away inside, I put the “Do Not Disturb” on my email, reach for my desk phone, and begin dialing Ana’s number.

“Hello?” she answers after a few drawn out rings, and, instantly, my gut clenches at the weakness apparent in her voice.

“Hey, did I wake you?”

She yawns. “No, but you probably would have if you called me five minutes from now. I’m so tired. I haven’t been able to stay awake for more than a few hours all day and it’s really not helping my missed homework situation.”

“Are you eating?”

“A little. Kate brought me some oatmeal this morning, but I threw it up almost immediately.”


“I think it was just the honey, though. You know how much I hate honey and I haven’t really been nauseous at all since the oatmeal. This is the last of the nausea, I’m sure of it. I’ll be fine by tomorrow morning.”

I grind my teeth together. At first it was food poisoning, next it was just a benign stomach bug. But she’s been sick for days, ever since she surprised me in New York, and for all her excuses, she sounds worse every time I talk to her.

“You should go to the doctor.”

“I’m fine, Christian. Really.”

“You don’t know that,” I argue, and for good measure I pull up WebMD on my laptop.

“Really, I’m okay. I think the nausea is starting to go away. I’ve only thrown up once this morning. I’m mostly just tired now.”

I find fatigue on the list of ailments on the screen in front of me and click on the checkbox. Next I find nausea and a pop-up box appears, so I read it aloud as a question to her. “How many days have you been nauseated?”

“I don’t know, four or five. There’s a flu going around and you know me, if there’s something to catch within 100 miles of me, I’ll get it.”

Oh no you don’t, Ana. I click five days and a second pop-up box appears, which I also read to her. “Is the nausea made worse or better when you eat?”

“Uh… better, I think.”

The next pop-up asks if it’s possible she’s pregnant, but I answer no without checking with her because I’ve seen first hand how diligent she is in taking her birth control. A small working icon appears and then another pop-up box. “Have you been ingesting excessive amounts of acetaminophen?”

She’s quiet for a beat, which I use to answer the last of the questions based on what she’s already told me, but as my eyes sweep over to the resulting list of diseases, she speaks again and her voice is accusatory.

“Are you on WebMD?”

“You could be having acute kidney failure, Ana,” I reply, reading the third result from the list.  

“It’s the flu, Christian.”

“You don’t know that until you go to the doctor!”

“I know what the flu feels like and if I go to the doctor they’ll just tell me to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids, and I’m doing both of those things already. There is nothing a doctor can give me to make me feel better.”

My fingers tighten around the mouse as I listen to her arguments and continue to read through the list WebMD has populated. “What if you have Meningitis or Typhoid… or Dengue Fever? Jesus, this says you could be having a brain aneurysm.”

“Christian.” She sighs, and I can hear the patience in her voice beginning to wane, like she’s tired of arguing with a disobedient child. It pisses me off. “I promise you, I’m fine. Get off the internet and get back to work or I’m going to call Ros and have her come take your phone away.”

Oh sweetheart, I can handle Ros. “Go to the doctor, Anastasia.”

“I love you, Goodbye.”

“Anastasia!” There’s a click and the phone goes silent. I stare at it in disbelief for a moment and then feel the frustration her previous arguments stirred in me begin to boil out of control. If she thinks she can just dismiss me because I’m on the other side of the country, she clearly doesn’t fully realize just who she is dealing with.

I swallow and push aside all of the residual anger and irritation I’ve been harboring towards Anastasia’s CPO and pick up my phone again.

“Mr. Grey?”

“Sawyer, Anastasia is still ill. I want her to go to the doctor.”

“Yes. I know, Mr. Grey. I’ve suggested she go to student health myself but she thinks it’s best to just try to wait it out and see if she gets better on her own.”

“I don’t care what she thinks, I want her to go to the doctor. You’re going to take her to the emergency room.”

“I can try, but…”

“No, you’re going to take her. Even if you have to pick her up and carry her to the car. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.” He takes a breath. “I think she’ll throw a fit if I pull up to the hospital though. There’s a student health clinic on campus that will be able to treat her today without an appointment. I think she’ll be more receptive if we start there.”

“That clinic is not equipped to deal with Typhoid.”

There’s a pause, and when he speaks again, I can tell that he’s choosing each of his words carefully. “While that might be true, they do have the ability to determine whether or not she really does have the flu, and she won’t have to wait as long to see a doctor as she would if I took her to the ER. If it’s more serious than she thinks it is, I’ll take her to the hospital immediately, and we’ll have a doctor call ahead so she’s seen right away.”

I pause to consider. “I suppose that’s true. And if it is serious, they could transport her by ambulance to Boston, which would be better equipped than the general hospital in Cambridge. Fine, take her into the clinic, but call me if she’s being moved.”

“Will do.”

I hang up the phone without another word and turn my attention back to my laptop screen, letting the satisfaction I feel knowing Anastasia is finally getting proper medical care get me through the first few outstanding items in my inbox. As I continue through my work though, my mind starts to wander back to the list of conditions I’d scanned on the internet. Dengue Fever is fairly improbable as it’s spread through insect bites and the cold winter climate of Cambridge isn’t ideal for a thriving mosquito population. Some of the others though are more concerning and as I send off my 6th email, I can’t help but look back at the list again.

“Aortic stenosis,” I read aloud. With my mouse, I navigate to the link that takes me to an article about the disease and begin reading.  


Aortic valve stenosis — or aortic stenosis — occurs when the heart’s aortic valve narrows. This narrowing prevents the valve from opening fully, which reduces or blocks blood flow from your heart into the main artery to your body (aorta) and onward to the rest of your body. Left untreated, Aortic valve stenosis can lead to heart failure, stroke, blood clots, bleeding, heart rhythm abnormalities, infections that affect the heart such as endocarditis, or death.


Death? Quickly, I close the window and return to the list. Iron Deficiency Anemia, Thrombocytopenia, Celiac Disease, West Nile… I have to physically close my laptop screen when I start reading through another screen that details all of the complications that can arise through the treatment of Leukemia. My breath comes out in short huffs and my fingers begin impatiently tapping on the wood of my desk. It’s been a little more than an hour, so she should be there by now, and I haven’t heard anything from Sawyer.

“She’s going to be fine,” I tell myself, taking a few deep breaths. “She’s probably right. It’s just the flu.”

In truth, the only reason the paranoia is getting to me is because she’s so far away. I’d feel better if she was here where I could ensure she was being taken care of. Where I could feel her forehead and know if she was still running a fever. Where I could make sure she was regularly taking medicine, eating well, and resting enough. Where I could see for myself how sick she really was, and not have to trust what she’s telling me or take clues from the way her voice sounds. These are the parts of the distance that are unbearable, and as I sit there trying to get back to work I can feel the tick in my jaw that starts every time I consider asking Ana again to come home.

I know she won’t. I know she shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to physically stop myself from asking her to stay every time she has to leave.

My phone buzzes and I look down at the text from Sawyer.


They just took her back to see the doctor.


They just took her back? So much for the clinic meaning she wouldn’t have to wait… I grit my teeth as I prepare to reply to his text, but I’m distracted by a knock on the door. It’s Andrea, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and yet another stack of papers in the other.

“The contracts were just faxed back from Rosenstein and Associates, but they’re unsigned. They’ve… made some changes.”


She looks nervous as she places the documents in front of me, and as I glance down at the text on the plain copy paper, I see why. The document in front of me doesn’t even closely resemble the terms to which we agreed last weekend in New York. From the responsibilities of my team to what they’re willing to pay for GEH’s services, the contract has been greatly skewed in Rosenstein’s favor and it only serves to intensify the anger that’s plagued me all afternoon.

“Get Ros in here,” I tell Andrea through clenched teeth. She nods and quickly scurries from my office.

As irritating as this unexpected roadbump is, it keeps me from obsessing over Anastasia. Ros is just as outraged as I am over the changes to the contract and after we both tear through it line by line, we call our legal team into my office and get Rosenstein on the phone. Apparently, their CFO and a few key board members weren’t pleased with the deal the company president had agreed to, so they were hoping they’d sneak most of this through without me either noticing, or caring enough to argue. I’m young, so this isn’t the first time a client has tried to take advantage of what they presume to be inexperience, but getting caught red-handed using unethical business practices works in my favor. In the end, Ros and I are able to renegotiate terms to almost exactly the way our deal was previously structured, and over half of the changes agreed to benefit my company more than theirs. By the time I’ve sent the new contracts over via email and hung up the phone, Ros is practically beaming.

“You know, Christian, you never cease to amaze me.”

I nod, but turn to my lawyer. “When they return the signed contracts, I want them reviewed by legal. Let’s be absolutely sure we’re not setting ourselves up for a petty contract dispute before we begin administering services. A lawsuit is the last thing GEH needs right now.”

“Yes, sir,” he says. He gathers his notes from the phone call before getting out of his chair and leaving my office. I glance down at the clock. It’s been nearly two hours, and I haven’t heard from Anastasia yet.

What could possibly be taking so long?

As if in answer to my question, my cell begins buzzing on my desk. I look down and see Ana’s name spelled out across the screen.

“Hold on a second, Ros,” I tell her, then answer the call. “What did the doctor say?”

“Christian…” Her voice is shaking, and it immediately has me on alert. “I–I need you to come to Cambridge.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I just need you to come here, okay? Please?”

“Okay.” I look down at the screen of my laptop and then quickly pull up my calendar to glance over what I have on my schedule for the next few days. Most of this can be pushed, or done remotely, but I have a meeting with the Oregon State Committee for Technology and Economic Development tomorrow regarding a statewide fiber optics overhaul similar to the one we did for the State of Washington last year. It’s a multi-million dollar deal, so I can’t miss it. I could take my plane to Salem though, rather than Charlie Tango, and fly to Cambridge immediately after. “I have an important meeting tomorrow at three but, once it’s over, I’ll get on a pl–”

“No,” she interrupts me. “I need you to come here, right now. Tonight.”

My stomach drops and my body turns cold. Tonight? Fuck, this is serious. She’s not going to tell me on the phone, which means that whatever the doctor told her is bad. Really bad. It has to be. I know she’d never call me away from work if it wasn’t.

It’s difficult to speak at first because the possibility of every wild theory I came up with after  what I read online earlier actually coming to fruition makes my mouth go completely dry. But after I manage to swallow the lump obstructing my throat, I find my voice again. “I’ll be there in seven hours.”

“Thank you,” she replies. I can tell by her voice that she’s crying and it makes every hair on the back of my arms and neck stand up. When I speak again, my voice is shaking too.

“I love you.”

“I love you too. I’ll see you soon, bye.”

The phone clicks off and suddenly I feel like I’m stranded alone on a desert island. I can’t move quickly enough, though there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to rush to whatever devastating news I’m about to receive. But Ana is alone right now, and whatever this is she needs me to fight it with her.

“I have to go to Cambridge,” I tell Ros as I jump out of my chair. “I won’t be back for the rest of the week.”

“Cambridge? Christian, you can’t go to Cambridge right now. We have the state meeting tomorrow…”

“Cancel it. Or go without me. I don’t care, I have to go.”

“Cancel it? Christian, this deal is worth millions, hundreds of millions. What’s wong?”

“Ana. There’s… something wrong with Ana.”

“What?” Her voice is suddenly shrill and it grates on me. “What happened?”

I shake my head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ll call you tomorrow. Maybe– maybe we can have Andrea set up a Lifesize number and I can call into the meeting. Or maybe we can just reschedule. I’ll figure it out once I know what’s going on.”

“Okay. Don’t worry about what’s going on here, I’ll handle it.”

“Thank you.” She nods and then leans over to kiss my cheek as I reach down to pick up my briefcase. I raise an eyebrow at her and she gives me an awkward smile before stepping aside to let me leave. Taylor’s office is only a few steps away from my door, so I stop there first and knock to get his attention.


“We need to get to Cambridge. Now. Call ahead and make sure my jet is ready to take off.” Good man that he is, he doesn’t ask questions. He simply takes his jacket off the back of his chair and pulls out his phone to make the necessary calls. Ros has rushed ahead of me to call the elevator and I give her a last grateful nod as Taylor and I step inside and make our way down to the parking garage, where we climb inside my Mercedes SUV and tear out onto 5th Ave.

The rain beats loudly against the roof of our car while we make our way down the highway, but I hardly notice it. We’re driving towards Boeing, not SeaTac, as that was the only way to ensure my plane was ready immediately. It’s unfamiliar though, so it takes us awhile to navigate onto the airstrip and board. Neither Taylor or I have anything but the clothes on our backs, not even a phone charger, but that all seems very inconsequential. Now that I don’t have the physical act of moving from point A to point B to occupy my thoughts, the only thing I can think about are the “what ifs.” What would be terrible enough that she couldn’t tell me over the phone?

My mind is already full of ailments from my web research earlier, and the first thing that my mind recalls is Meningitis. It pops up all the time over college campuses, and if not caught soon enough it can lead to any number of brain issues, even death. But I know from stories Elena has told me about her sister that you have to progress pretty far before you reach the point of no return, and Ana was completely coherent on the phone. Scared, yes, but she didn’t slur or have any difficulty speaking. That could mean it hasn’t progressed far enough to be life threatening. But if that were the case why wouldn’t she tell me over the phone? No, meningitis doesn’t seem likely.

One by one I go through each and every ailment I can remember. I’m able to dismiss most of them in the same way I did meningitis, until I remember Leukemia. Fatigue was the main symptom and she’s been complaining about being exhausted for a while, even before New York. I thought it was just school and travelling but, maybe not. She’s lost weight, she’s been nauseated, she had a low grade fever when I left… I pause, trying to remember the other symptoms from the list I read on Mayo Clinic.


Leukemia makes the patient more susceptible to infections, and her allergies a few weeks ago developed into a severe sinus infection out of nowhere.

Leukemia. It’s Leukemia.

Once I’m sure, it’s incredible how fast I work through the resulting emotions. Panic, fear, and pain all give way to determination. This isn’t an automatic death sentence. I won’t let it be. I won’t let her leave me. I’ll find her the best oncologist in Seattle. No, fuck that. In the world. We’ll do everything right. We’ll have her on the right medication, and I’ll make sure she takes it absolutely diligently. We’ll speak to a nutritionist to make sure she’s eating exactly the right foods. Once I get her home, I will ensure there is absolutely no stress in her life to make the battle she’s about to fight any more difficult than it already will be. I will help her heal. I will get her through this because there is absolutely no other option.

For the remainder of the flight, I repeat that last thought over and over again, trying to keep the mental images of Ana suffering through treatment out of my mind. She’s strong, she can do this. I’ll help her do this. I’ll carry as much of it as I can for her. I won’t let her down and I won’t let her go.

We touch down in Boston late, but the moment I slide into the passenger’s seat of the rental car Taylor ordered for us from Seattle, I pull out my phone to text Ana.


Just landed in Boston. I’m on my way.


She must be watching her phone, because her response is nearly immediate.


I’m waiting. I love you.

I love you too, Anastasia. So very much.


Seeing the words on the screen and knowing how scared she must be is painful. I slide my phone into my pocket and then turn to look at Taylor. “Get us there as quickly as possible.”

“Yes, sir.”

Thankfully, the late hour means the highway between Boston and Cambridge is mostly deserted. So, ignoring all posted speed limit signs, Taylor pushes the pedal to the floor and we fly over the wet pavement, getting to Ana’s house in record time. As we pull into the driveway on the side of the house, I notice all of the lights downstairs are on, but I can’t see Ana through the kitchen window. The moment the car is in park, I hit the pavement and practically sprint into the house.


“I’m in here.” Her voice is tentative, shaky, and I imagine it’s because she’s paralyzed with fear. Don’t worry, baby. I’m here.

When I come around the corner from the kitchen and see her standing in the middle of the living room, looking helpless, I pause for just a second to take inventory of her. She’s pale, incredibly pale, and I remember from my reading that it could be because the blood cells damaged by the cancer can lead to anemia like symptoms, including abnormally pale skin. The evidence is there, right in front of me, and suddenly my own assurances about how we’re going to get through this seem weak and almost foolishly optimistic. I can’t bare the distance between us anymore. I need to hold her.

I cross the room with long strides and pull her into my arms. She hugs me back, but the gesture is weak. I can feel her trembling beneath my hands.

“I’m here,” I reassure her. “What is it?”

“Have a seat,” she says. I step backward toward the sofa, keeping my eyes trained on hers, and then slowly lower myself down.

“I don’t really know where to start…”

Then I will. “Is it cancer?”

She blinks. “What?”

“Is that what’s wrong with you? Is it cancer?”

“No!” she says, her voice both emphatic and incredulous. “No, I’m not dying, Christian. I’m fine.”

Not dying? Not cancer? It takes a second for those words to sink in, for me to accept them, but as I search for a lie in her eyes and come up short, I feel an entire day’s worth of tension leave my body and I’m suddenly overcome with relief.

“Oh, thank god. Don’t you ever do that to me again, Anastasia. Do you have any idea how terrifying the last few hours have been for me?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d go right to death! I just… I didn’t want to tell you over the phone.”

Fuck. Just because it’s not cancer doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. She did still call me all the way out here. “Tell me what?”

“Just… I just need you to… what I mean is that…”

Her reticence is maddening. “What is it, Ana?”

“I’m… Christian, I’m pregnant.”

The words hit me like a slap in the face. At first, they sound foreign, and it takes me a second to work out what she’s actually said, but certainty over the word doesn’t make what she’s said make anymore sense. “What?”

“I’m pregnant. About eight weeks. Apparently, the antibiotics I was taking when I had that sinus infection made my birth control fail. I got pregnant on my birthday.”

Antibiotics. Antibiotics! I’d been so focused on the illness that made them a necessity that I hadn’t even thought about the side-effects.

“I’m sorry,” she continues, tears welling in her eyes. “I didn’t know. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I know you said you wanted to wait and I did too, but it’s happened now and… and I want it. I didn’t know I would, but I do. I want this baby more than I’ve ever wanted anything.”

Baby. That’s the word my brain picks out. Not pregnancy, baby. We’re going to have a baby. An infant that is going to live with us, and need constant care. Who will grow into a child, and a teenager, and an adult… I’m going to be a father. In the blink of an eye, I’m suddenly going to be responsible for an entire human life, not just in terms of existence, but in shaping and molding that life into a person with character and morals. How do you teach a baby to talk, or walk? Fuck, it’s going to need to learn how to hold a spoon, and how to match socks… Match socks? No, it’s going to need to learn colors! Everything! We’re going to have to teach it everything. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to be a father. Hell, I didn’t know how to be a child!

My breathing starts to come in panicked pants. What the fuck am I going to do? This isn’t just my child, this is Ana’s child and I can’t…

Suddenly, my train of thought stops. Ana’s child. I am the father of Anastasia’s child. No matter what happens, she’s tied to me because we are going to share a son or daughter. We’re going to be a family, not just by marriage, but by blood. This one uniting factor that cannot be undone or taken away.

She can’t leave.

“You’re pregnant,” I repeat, looking up at her, and she nods nervously.

“I’m pregnant.” The moment the words pass her lips I leap to my feet, take her in my arms, and kiss her hard. What I feared was going to be devastating has actually turned out to be miraculous. She’s mine, irrevocably. I’m not ever going to lose her. When I pull away from the kiss, I’m beaming.

“You’re not mad?” she asks, a single tear rolling from the corner of eye, down her cheek.

“Mad? No. Anastasia, we’re having a baby. You and I… We’re going to be a real family. Forever. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. How could I possibly be mad?” Forever. The word is really true now, and when I say it outloud, a wide smile stretches across her face.

“You said you wanted to wait. You said you weren’t sure you even wanted kids.”

“You know me,” I say, my happiness radiating down over her. “I never know what I want until it hits me right in the face, or at least runs into me in a dormitory at Harvard University.”

She laughs at my joke, and then shakes her head, trying to reign in her smile so she can speak. “So, you’re happy? Really? You’re not just in shock?”

“Oh, I’m definitely in shock. And I’m probably going to be in shock until I hold our baby in my arms, but I promise you, I am more than just happy right now. I love you so much, Anastasia.”

I can’t hold back the joy bursting out of me, so I pull her into me and claim her mouth with mine once more. She accepts my tongue as I push it past her lips and then tangles her fingers through my hair, tugging lightly at my roots in the way she knows drives me crazy.

This perfect woman, who I feel I’ve spent an eternity chasing and fighting to hold onto, is now, and forever will be, mine. Now that she’s pregnant, there’s no reason to wait for us to marry any longer. I don’t have her ring with me, but we don’t need it to get married. It’s only Tuesday, so we can go to the courthouse first thing in the morning, sign the necessary documents, and when I give her the ring I designed specifically for her, I’ll be giving it to Mrs. Grey. My wife. She’s going to be my wife and she’s happy about it. I can feel the elation in her kiss. We’re going to be a family, and she’s absolutely jubilant. That’s the sweetest part of all of this. She wants me just the way I want her. Forever.

I step back and stare back at her in near disbelief over how perfectly tonight has turned out. “Well, let’s get you packed. We’ll take whatever you’re going to need for the next few days and then Sawyer can bring the rest. I’ll find someone to marry us first thing tomorrow and then we’re going to find you the best Obstetrician in Seattle.”

Her smile falls as her face crinkles with confusion. “Wait… Seattle? What do you mean?”

“You need a doctor, Anastasia. A good one. I only want the best for you and for our baby. But don’t worry, my mother knows everyone. She’ll make sure we have the best.”

“Yeah, but I’m not going home, Christian. I’m not dropping out of school.”

What is this? “But… you’re pregnant.”

“It’s not a disability. I have six more months until I graduate and the baby isn’t due for seven. I’ll have to find an OB in Cambridge, or Boston maybe. I’m not leaving Harvard.”

“What do you mean you’re not leaving Harvard?” I demand, my anger flaring again. “Of course you are. I’m not leaving you across the country while you’re pregnant.”

“That’s not up to you.” I open my mouth to argue, but she cuts me off with a sudden look of realization. “Wait, is this why you’re happy? Because you think I’m going to move home?”

“Of course not.” My tone is dismissive, but she sees through my easy lie. “Okay, fine. Yes, a little. You’re having a baby. That’s wonderful and I’m happy, but I also want you home. What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with that is that you don’t care what I want at all. Why can’t you understand what Harvard means to me, Christian? I worked hard to get here I’ve worked hard to stay here, and I made a promise to my dad and to myself that I would graduate. I’m not going to give up my dream of graduating from Harvard six months before I achieve it. Not for anything.”

I narrow my eyes at her. “Don’t say that I haven’t supported you finishing your education. I didn’t try and stop you when you said you wanted to come back here. When you said you wouldn’t stay, I accepted it. I don’t want to take this away from you, but this pregnancy isn’t just about you, Anastasia. That’s my baby, too.” And I need you both close to me far more than you logistically need your degree.

“I never said it wasn’t,” she argues.

“Well, if you stay here, I’m going to miss everything. Doctors appointments, lamaze classes, the first time it kicks… what if you go into labor and I’m 3,000 miles away?”

“First of all, if I go into labor and I’m still in Boston, we have bigger problems than you being in Seattle because it will mean I’ve gone into labor more than a month early. And, I know that this isn’t ideal and the timing of this sucks, but I’m not going to throw away my dream so that you can go to lamaze classes.”

“So I just don’t get a say in that?”

“Do you really think you’d be there anyway?”

The ember of anger burning inside of me suddenly roars to life. “I got on a plane at a moment’s notice and flew across the country for you today, Anastasia. Are you really questioning my commitment to you right now?”

“No, but you thought I had cancer. Not every doctor’s appointment is exciting or life changing, Christian. Most of the next few months, I’m just going to go in there to get a regular check up. Can you honestly tell me that you would cancel a lunch with a client, or your operations meeting, or a business trip so you could hear a doctor tell you nothing has changed or so that you could go practice breathing exercises with me?”

“No, you would run all of your appointments through Andrea first so we can align your appointments and classes around my schedule.” The words come out of my mouth before I can call them back, and as I hear them fall flat in the charged space between us, I can’t help but cringe. “That came out wrong…”

“I don’t think it did,” she says through clenched teeth. “Our lives can’t be all about you and GEH, Christian. I’m not giving up my dreams and everything that I’ve worked for to structure my life around what is convenient for you. I’m sorry that you may miss things, that kills me, but I’m not leaving.”

“Well I don’t agree with that.”


I glare down at her but she stares back into my eyes with petulant defiance. I’ve never wanted to put her over my knee more than I do in this moment but this is not my first rowe with Anastasia. I’m not going to win this fight by shouting at her or dishing out punishments. She can be logical, I just need to find a way to make her see reason.

“Don’t act like I’m not home three days a week,” she says, cutting me off before I can speak. “Or that I’m not going to be home for over a full week later this month, more than four weeks between December and January, and another week in March. I will make sure that you get to experience this pregnancy with me as much as possible, but I’m not going to drop out of school with six months left just so you have the choice to go with me for a checkup at the doctor’s office if it’s convenient for you.”

What the hell am I supposed to say to that? That three days a week in Seattle still means four days a week in Cambridge? That I don’t care about her Thanksgiving or Christmas or Spring breaks because no matter how much we both want them to be, they’re never enough? That the distance is so much harder than I anticipated it would be and with how difficult it’s been up until now I know it’s going to be impossible now that I know she’s carrying our child? I turn and move to the couch, letting my head fall into my hands as I summon the strength to follow Flynn’s advice. Try seeing things her way.

She didn’t ask for this anymore than I did. She took the proper precautions to ensure this didn’t happen to the best of her abilities, I didn’t. She’s the one who is at risk of losing something here, whereas I’m only looking to gain, and that’s not right. As much as it kills me everytime I come home to our empty apartment, when I see the blank space in my closet where her clothes used to hang, when I stare at her vacant pillow at night, all of those things are temporary. A brief blip in time that will be over for good in May. If she leaves Harvard now, she’ll never get to come back, especially once the baby is here. This is it, her last shot at her dream, and if I take it away from her, force her to give it up, I will be going against every promise I’ve made to her. I’ve always said I wanted to give her the world. Right now, it looks like that means my world. Or, at least, the very best parts of it.

I turn a look up at her, defeated. “Fine. Stay.”

She bites down on her lip and then moves onto the couch next to me, lifting my arm and placing it over her shoulder so she can cuddle into my side. “I know this hard. I’m sorry. I wish this would have happened six months from now so that we could do this the way we both want to, but if I’ve learned anything over the past three months it’s that we can make this work. We’re so great now. We’ve learned to communicate and to compromise… we know how to make each other a priority without abandoning everything else in our life. I love you, Christian, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you don’t miss anything. I promise.”

Surprisingly, her words are comforting, and I think it’s because the part of this that is so wonderful, the part where this child cements my future with Anastasia, hasn’t changed. She’ll still be mine. The mother of my child. We will be a real family. Forever. Even if that forever is delayed until the baby is actually born.

I pull her more tightly into my side and then lean down to plant a soft kiss in her fragrant hair. “Okay. I love you, too.”

“Mmm,” she hums in return. “You know, the doctor told me today that my due date is on June 18th. Our baby could be born on your birthday.”

I smile. “I couldn’t think of a better gift. Do you have a picture or something I can see?”

“Oh, yeah.” Pushing out of my arms, she scrambles off the sofa and disappears into the kitchen, returning several seconds later with an envelope in her hands. I take the picture she pulls out and stare at the black and gray static displayed there, focusing on the small white blob in the center.

“Right there?”

“Mhm.” She nods and I reach down to brush my fingertip over the bright spot. It doesn’t look like anything. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was just a disturbance in the photo. A flaw. But it isn’t. It’s a child, my child, and while I stare at it, my previous doubts and nerves begin to take hold of me again.

“We’re having a baby.”

Ana laughs softly at my side. “Yes, we are.”

“You know… I just proposed to you and you haven’t said anything yet.”

She narrows her eyes again. “That’s funny, I never heard a question.”

I blink and run through the conversation in my mind again. She’s right, technically. I told her we’d find someone to marry us, but I never actually said the words, will you marry me? She wants a proposal. How I’m supposed to do that without a ring, I’m not sure, but after tonight, and the things I’ve given up amidst this debacle, this is the thing that will make it alright.

After placing the picture of our child on the table, I reach out to take both of her hands in mine, and then stare deeply into her eyes. “Anastasia–”

“No!” she practically shouts, yanking her hands out of mine. My eyes widen with horror. “No, no, no. Not like this.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t want you to propose to me just because I got pregnant. What about all the other stuff you said before about not wanting us to be apart for our entire engagement and asking my father?”

It’s not me who wants us to be apart right now at all. “I think it’s a little late to ask your father, don’t you?” I ask instead, shifting a pointed look down to her stomach. She shakes her head.

“No, I don’t. We might be going out of order, but I don’t want us to go into marriage feeling like there’s a shotgun coming up the aisle after us. I want you to propose to me only because you love me and you want to spend the rest of your life with me, not because I got knocked up. I want us to be ready and with me living here and you living there and all of the stress that this pregnancy is going to add to our situation, I don’t feel ready. Especially if even your proposal comes as an afterthought to the baby.”

I feel the last of my elation deflate. She really doesn’t understand what she means to me. How the idea of marrying her was never an afterthought, but always my end game. But I suppose, even in my own fantasies, this isn’t how I proposed to her. I’ve always wanted it to be big. Something she would never forget and that would make her eyes well with tears when I finally pulled out the ring I so desperately want to give to her. I’m asking her to marry me, not negotiating an acquisition.

“You want romance.”  


I take a breath and nod, silently chastising myself for ruining this moment for both of us. “I do love you, Anastasia. More than anything. I do want to spend the rest of my life with you, but you’re right. You deserve the perfect proposal. I don’t even have your ring on me. So I’ll wait for the right moment.”

“Thank you,” she says, and the tension melts away from her lips before she leans forward and kisses me again. The warmth of her kiss washes away the harsh sting of rejection, but as I bask in the feel of her body pressed against mine, the adrenaline of the unknown and the excitement of this news begins to wear off and I suddenly feel tired. But on the bright side, this unexpected pregnancy has bought me an extra night with her in my arms.

“It’s late,” I tell her. “We should go to bed. Your body needs all the rest it can get.”


She yawns as I get to my feet and reach out for her hand to lead her up the stairs to her bedroom. My thumb caresses hers as we walk. Somehow, it feels much more secure there now than it ever has before and even when she pulls away so she can undress and get ready for bed, the warmth of her hand still lingers in my palm. Everything feels much more permanent now, and it’s serene. When she returns and snuggles into my embrace in her bed, I feel content. Happy. Home.

My hand slides down to her stomach, and although I know it’s just my imagination, I believe for a moment that I can feel our child’s heartbeat through her skin.

The best of her.

The best of me.

Our love made tangible.

As her breathing slows and I hear her drift off into peaceful sleep, I bury my face in her hair and take in her warm, comforting scent. I didn’t think it was possible, but somehow, tonight, I’ve fallen even more in love with her.

Next Chapter

Elliot PoV: They Said Move On, Where Do I Go?


Getting back to work after Kate has officially left me is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My suit is pressed, my hair is slicked back, and my face has been cleared of the stubble I let build up over the weekend. I look like I would any other day. Except that today, I’m completely falling apart. As if losing her wasn’t bad enough, she isn’t even speaking to me right now, so there’s nothing I can say to change her mind.

I have to find a way to change her mind.

My eyes once again well with tears as I step into the elevator, and I’m so distracted dashing them away that I run head first into a small woman holding a stack of papers in her arms. When I look over to apologize, I almost have to do a double take. Her hair is exactly the same shade of blonde, and her eyes are the same pale green. She’s wearing quite a bit more makeup than Kate normally would, her body is a little slimer, her breasts slightly larger, and her beauty doesn’t have the same sweetness to it, but she could be her sister. My body reacts to the glitter in her eye when she looks up and sees me, as if she really is the woman I love.

“Mr. Grey! I’m so sorry, excuse me.”

“No, it was my fault. Here, let me help.” She gives me a wide, sparkling smile as we bend down to gather the files on the floor, and when I pick up a piece of loose paper to slide back into the manila folder it came from, I recognize the layout of Christian’s building.

“You’re on the the GEH project?” I ask.

“Yes, sir. I’m Gia Matteo, the uh… designer.”

“Oh… Right.”

“I’ve actually been trying to schedule some time to meet with you for a few weeks, but you’ve been booked solid. I have some design proposals for the Grey Executive Suite, I wanted to run them past you.”

“I’ll take a look at my calendar. You’re here until…?”

“Until after our meeting.” She smiles again, broader this time. It’s infectious. I can’t help but smile back and as the elevator pings at her floor, and it’s not lost on me that this is the first time I’ve smiled since I had Kate in that hotel room a few weeks back.

She steps off the elevator and I hit the button to close the door behind her. When I get to my office, I immediately pull up Outlook and find an open time to schedule for Miss Matteo. Unfortunately, there isn’t much available right now except for the later hours in my work day.


From: Elliot Grey

Subject: GEH Design Meeting

Required: Gia Matteo

When: September 22nd 2011, 05:00 PM

Location: CEO Office

Miss Matteo,

I hope this fits in with your schedule.

Elliot Grey

CEO, Grey Construction


I send the invite and start going through the other emails I have waiting for me this morning, feeling a little of the crippling depression this break up has left me in lift as my mind is temporarily distracted by each and every crisis I read in my inbox. I’m just responding to the foreman on the SoDo project when the acceptance of the calendar invite I sent to Miss Matteo comes through.


From: Gia Matteo

Subject: RE: GEH Design Meeting

Date: September 19th 2011, 08:49 AM

To: Elliot Grey

I’ll get take out. I have a lot of really great ideas.

Gia Matteo

Interior Designer, Grey Construction


With the meeting on my calendar, I don’t give much thought to it until Thursday rolls around and the reminder pops up on my screen. This week has been hell between the constant rejection of trying to get Kate on the phone and Christian checking in on me every 45 minutes. For as bad as it hurt when Kate officially broke it off, the separation from her now is becoming unbearable and the distance makes it more difficult to handle everything. My workload and the stress that come with it are starting to weigh on me.

I miss her.

So much.

And all I want in the world is to hear her voice and have her back in my arms.

“Mr. Grey?” I look up and see the same blonde hair and green eyes that met me in the elevator earlier in the week, and just like before it strikes me hard how much she looks like the girl I’m desperate to talk to.

“Come in, Miss Matteo,” I say, waving her over to the chair on the other side of my office. She has a plastic bag in her hand that sends the delicious scent of Chinese food wafting over to me, reminding me how hungry I am. When did I last eat?

“This is very kind of you,” I tell her, as I take a seat and glance over the cardboard containers she opens. “Give me your receipts and I’ll expense this out for you.”

She waves a hand dismissively. “It’s my pleasure. Honestly, it’s nice to have someone to eat with.”

“Hm.” I hope the subtle response is enough to cover up how much I agree.

“Alright. So, I’ve been going over this for weeks and I’ve done several mock-ups because I’m not really sure what Grey… er, Christian Grey would feel matches the culture of his organization aesthetically.”

“Well, he’s pretty uptight and takes everything very literally. The building is going to be called Grey House, we can probably just paint everything gray and he’ll be over the moon.”

She laughs, and at first I think it’s a placation because I’m her boss, but there’s something genuine in the sound, and in the way her hand brushes over my arm before she continues. I return my attention to her materials, pointing out the things I like, the things I don’t, and make a few jokes as we move from concept to concept. She laughs every time, and I can’t deny that it feels nice. As we dig into the chinese food she’s brought, the conversation becomes lighter and steadily less and less about the project in front of us.

“Oh, good lord. It’s almost six thirty. Your wife’s not going to be mad that I kept you, is she?”

I shake my head. “I’m not married.”


It hurts, like being punched directly in the diaphragm. “Nope. No girlfriend.”

“Really? Wow, I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

“You?” I ask, trying to be polite, but she shakes her head the same way I did. “No, I uh… just haven’t been able to find the right guy. Looking though, definitely looking.”

“Looking,” I repeat. “God, I never thought I’d be back here. I uh… I just got out of a really long term relationship. I thought that was gonna be it, but she’s gone and it’s… miserable.”

“Any chance of a reconciliation?”

I let out a defeated sigh. “I really want one, but I don’t think so. She’s a pretty stubborn girl and once she makes up her mind about something, there’s no changing it. It’s funny. I used to love that about her.”

“Why did you break up? I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“We’re on different paths.” I tell her, the disdain in my voice obvious as I quote Kate. “I guess I underestimated how important some things were to her. Things I can’t give her.”

“Well, then maybe it’s good you found that out now, before you invested anymore time. I’m sure it feels like the end of the world now, but it would hurt more later. Trust me, I stayed way too long with my last boyfriend, and then too long after we broke up feeling bad about it. You’re never going to be younger than you are now, you should be out there taking advantage of that.”

I don’t know why, I hardly know this girl, but for some reason I feel comfortable talking to her. She’s my employee, so it feels like there’s a fine line I have to walk, but just the way Kate was always able to get me to open up, so it seems can this girl. Maybe it’s the wide, green eyes.

“I really don’t even want to right now. I can’t imagine that there’s anyone out there who would come even close to her.”

“There’s only one way to find out. You’re a Grey. You’re hot, and young, and successful. This city is filled with girls who would love to go out with you.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. And you’re single now, it’s not a crime to look.”

I stare at her for a long time, reflecting on the blunt honesty of her statement. Christian has told me over and over again that the best way to heal a broken heart is to take some time for myself and reflect on what I want from here, but he was miserable over Ana for years. What does he know about healing a broken heart? Maybe the answer is to not think. Maybe the answer is to just… do. I wasn’t looking for Kate when I found her, maybe the next girl I’ll love is out there just waiting for me to show up. At least getting out and letting myself be open to the idea will help with the loneliness. It’s easier when I’m not alone because I think about her less. Maybe, in order to get over her, I have to force myself to move on.

“Thank you, Miss Matteo, for your presentation and the free counseling.”

“Free? I’m sending you my bill.”

I laugh, and then pick up one of the mock-ups still on the table in front of us. “Look, there’s a lot of work to be done on GEH and not a lot of time left to do it. It might be good for us to meet on a regular basis. Thursday nights at 5?”

“Really? Oh, that would be so great, Mr. Grey. Thank you!”

“Elliot,” I correct her. “Honestly, whenever I hear Mr. Grey I look around for my dad… or my brother.”

“Elliot,” she says, smiling again. “Then, please, call me Gia.”

“Alright. I’ll see you next week, Gia.”

“Next week, Mr. Grey. I mean… Elliot.” I smile and help her gather her things, then walk her to the door. Once she’s gone, I head back for my desk, find my phone, and quickly dial Christian’s number.

“Hey, Elliot,” he answers. “How are you doing?”

“Good. Really good, actually. Hey, what are you doing tonight?”

“Well, it’s a Thursday, so no plans… Why?”

“Because we’re going out. Meet me at Montana in half an hour.”

Montana? Isn’t that a bar?”


“So… you’re going to get drunk with people around now? I’m not sure that’s a positive step.”

“No, I’m going to talk to some girls.”

“Girls? You’re sure you’re ready for that?”

“Dead sure. See you soon.”


Over the next few weeks Christian and I hit every dive bar north of King Street, and while he’s an exemplary wingman, I find that Gia was perhaps a little too right about finding girls in this city. I’m open to the idea of casual dating, sharing dinner with someone, spending a night out, maybe sex… but I’m nowhere near ready for a relationship. But it’s like every woman I meet hears my last name and immediately starts picking out china patterns and wedding stationary. So, rather than trying to pick up overly available girls in bars, I start taking Christian with me to strip clubs where the girls have a very clear idea of why I’m there and don’t try to make us into something we’re never going to be. Unfortunately, we only get to go a few times before Ana finds out and Christian’s availability for nights out on the town comes to a sudden and abrupt end. I try for a while to go out with some of my old buddies from High School, but it’s just too damn depressing hanging around the same guys I was friends with before Kate only to find out that they haven’t changed at all from who they were at eighteen. Eventually, I’m right back to where I started. Having dinner in my now too big house, alone.

Except Thursday nights.

My Thursday night meetings with Gia quickly become the highlight of my week. She has an electric kind of personality that draws you in and the more I get to know her, the less I find comfort in her similarities to Kate and instead find enjoyment in what makes her unique. She’s a little shallow, that becomes obvious very quickly, but she’s also a really great listener. Each week our conversations become more and more engaging until we’re hardly meeting to talk about business at all. By November, every meeting begins to feel like a date.

“I don’t know,” she says, sipping a glass of the white wine that Christian recommended to go with the cod I’d had my secretary bring in before she left tonight. “Maybe the whole idea of soulmates is just bullshit. Maybe there isn’t one person out there for everyone. Maybe there isn’t really any point to anything beyond the chemical attraction that exists to make us fuck each other in order to continue the human race. In which case, what’s even the point of relationships or marriage at all? We should just be having sex, right?”

I don’t think she’s being serious, so I chuckle as if it’s a joke, but after I take a sip of my wine she leans in and gently presses her lips against mine.

I freeze, unsure of exactly how I’m supposed to react. Her lips are soft against mine, and her tongue tastes faintly of wine. It’s intriguing, but inappropriate. We work together. In fact, I’m her boss. This kind of relationship between the two of us would be… wrong.

But that’s kind of hot, too.

When she pulls away, she looks at me with fear in her eyes, like she’s afraid of how I’m going to react. “I-uh…”

I don’t wait to hear what she’s going to say. Instead, I lunge at her and take her mouth with mine. It’s a rush, like adrenaline, knowing what I’m doing is so taboo, and that rush is strong enough to truly lift the weight of my depression off of me for the first time in nearly two months. I can’t stop myself. I really kiss her, and she responds. Soon, our hands are flying over each other, tugging at clothes and hair, until she’s actually panting in my mouth.

“You can leave,” I tell her, giving her an out just in case this is all only because I have a very definable amount of authority over her and she doesn’t know how to say no. “Really. If you don’t want this, you can go and nothing will change. We’ll move on from here as if this never happened.”

“I want this,” she whispers back. “I’ve wanted this since the first time I saw you in the elevator.”

It’s all the green light I need. I push her back onto the sofa and let my hands explore her body, pleased with everything I find. She’s in amazing shape. She’s small, but strong. Her tits are full, her hips narrow, and her ass is high and really, really tight. I can feel that through her slacks. And, as I hitch her leg over my hip and really get a feel, I know that I’m going to take her from behind right here so that I can see that ass bouncing against me.

Her tongue is fierce and confident in my mouth, ravaging me. It’s hot and primal. Dirty. And it makes my head swim with fantasies about everything I want to do to her. But it’s been a long time now since I’ve done this with someone who I even remotely cared about that wasn’t Kate. I’d perfected the art of pleasuring her to the point where that’s all I really know how to do anymore. I have no idea if what works for her is going to work for Gia, and I want to pleasure her. As I start to obsess over her reaction to each and every one of my touches, I get so in my head that the heat building between us fizzles and dissolves away.

“Everything okay?” Gia pants, sitting up slightly so she can look at me better.

“Yeah, sorry. I uh… I’ve just been in a relationship for a long time. This all, weirdly, feels a little new for me.”

“Well, let me help…”

She gives me a coy smile as she wriggles out from beneath me and falls to her knees on the floor. I pivot to face her, then she reaches up and starts slowly unfurling my belt from the buckle. I’m entranced by the precision with which she undoes the buttons, then the zipper on my pants, and when she reaches through my boxers and grips my erection, my breath hisses between my teeth. She moans.

“Thick. Mmm, this is going to be really, really good.”

She sits up, simultaneously pulling my dick out of my pants, and then leans down to take me into her mouth. I hum my approval, letting my head fall back against the sofa as she sets to work. She’s got skill and not much of a gag reflex. Between her tongue, the suction of her lips, and the tightness at the back of her throat, she soon has me gasping and my thighs clenching with unexpected pleasure.

“That’s it, baby. Oh fuck!”

“Mmm, you taste amazing, Elliot. Your cock is incredible. I can’t wait to have this monster in me.”

She starts sucking harder and uses her hand to cup and tug my balls as she devours me. I lose myself in her rhythm, taking pleasure in each and every pass of her tongue across the base of my cock until I’m ready to explode.”

“Shit, baby. You’re going to make me come.”

“How fast can you rebound?”

I look down into her wide, green eyes, those eyes, and know I’m at the point of no return. Even if she stopped now and let me start fucking her, I’d explode immediately. But I can draw this out. And, if I’m going to screw myself over by screwing the staff, I might as well do it thoroughly.

“Pretty quick,” I growl. “If you don’t want me to come in your mouth, stop now.” Her lips tighten around me so I grab the hair at the back of her head, push her down on me, and erupt into her throat. Her mouth continues to suck the length of my shaft, tightening with each pulse of my orgasm, until it starts to overwhelm me and I have to pull her off.

She straightens and starts kissing me again, rolling her tongue with mine as she pushes me back onto the couch. Once I’m lying down, she pulls away and stands over me. Keeping her eyes on mine, she undoes each button on her blouse slowly and peels it away from her smooth, creamy skin. Next she sashays out of her pants, turning away from me as she pulls them down her hips, and my breath actually catches in my throat when I see her perfect ass framed by the tiny lace thong she’s wearing.

I can’t stop myself. I sit up and bury my face into her, reaching with my tongue to brush over the small triangle of fabric that conceals her clit from me. She moans and arches her back, pushing herself back into me. I reach up and grab both her breasts, holding her still while I work to get my tongue under her panties. It’s hard to breathe, but that just turns me on.

Once I have her wetness on my tongue, I’m like a shark that’s tasted blood in the water. It sends me into a frenzy. The way I start to eat her is ravenous and sloppy, but she quickly goes from small mewling moans, to screaming and gasping. With one hand she reaches back and grips my hair, clawing into my scalp, egging me on. She drained me only minutes ago, but just hearing the sounds she makes and feeling the way her body quakes for my tongue already has me hard again.

“Come, Gia,” I say into her pussy, rolling my tongue with each word. “Give it up for me, baby.”

She trembles, and when I tug down the cups of her bra with my hands and tighten my fingers around each of her nipples, she starts convulsing. My mouth is filled with the slickness of her release, but I swallow it hungrily, desperate for more.

“Oh my god,” she says, breathless as she comes down.



I yank her arm to pull her back onto the couch then maneuver between her legs. Thankfully, I always keep a condom in my wallet for emergencies, so, after fishing it out of my pants and rolling it on to my erection, I slam into her without even bothering to fully remove her panties. She screams, but doesn’t ask me to stop. This isn’t like the sex I had with Kate. I don’t care about creating a connection with her. I don’t care about being tender or gentle. I care about getting off, about getting her off, and she’s right there with me. She meets me, thrust for violent thrust, crying out my name and clawing the sofa to keep herself anchored. I move my hands between her tits and her hips, marveling at the perfection in front of me. Damn, this girl is so fucking hot. She’s gorgeous, her body is outrageous, and she’s seemingly completely uninhibited. I’ve had sex with my fair share of girls over the years, but it’s never been like this. She isn’t shy, or coy. She doesn’t bother trying to make this about love we both know isn’t there. She takes from me what she wants and gives me back what I need. And that’s it. Simple. Animalistic in its very nature. I’m enraptured, instantly addicted, and… unexpectedly possessive. Now that I’ve had her, I don’t want to stop. And I don’t want to hand her off to someone else.

It’s confusing. Painful and filled with pleasure all at once. But when I see her mouth fall open and her screams become silent as the orgasm I’m building her up to starts to take over, my mind is set. I wait just until her orgasm hits then let go myself, continuing to thrust in and out of her as the waves of pleasure wash over me. It pulls me into her, more than just physically, and I know the deal is sealed.

I didn’t think I wanted another relationship. I don’t really, but being around Gia feels better than being alone. If Kate has made up her mind, which seems to be the case based on what I’ve seen splashed across every tabloid and gossip site about her exploits in New York, then maybe this is okay. Maybe spending time with Gia, not just on Thursdays, but everyday, will keep life from hurting so bad. Maybe this is how I move on.

I realize that doing this means I’ve accepted what’s happened and that I’ve given up on trying to fix it. Well, no… Kate’s given up. She won’t see me and she won’t talk to me, so I don’t know how I’m supposed to fight for her, or even if she wants me to. Truth be told, I don’t even know that I should. She’s told me what she wants, what will make her happy, and I can’t give those things to her. If someone else will, then maybe loving her means that I have to let her go and find the person who will make her happy. It feels like a knife being thrust into my heart even considering that, but what other option is there? I guess that’s what Kate was telling me all along. There’s no way forward from here unless one of us gives up what will make us happy in the future, and if either of us has to make that sacrifice, we’ll never be truly happy together the way we were before it got to this point.

We’re on different paths.

Gia said she didn’t believe in soulmates or marriage earlier. Maybe that’s true, and if it is, maybe I could be happy with her. Maybe.

“Oh fuck,” Gia moans, rolling around on the cushions of the sofa with a pleased smile spread across her face. “That was incredible. You, Elliot Grey, might just be a sex god.”

“I do what I can.” I slip out of her and remove the condom, knotting the end and tossing it onto the floor to deal with later. Then, I crawl over the top of her and settle down on my elbows so that we’re face to face. “What are you doing on Saturday?”

“I’m… having dinner with you.”

“Good. Then I’ll call you.” She smiles and pulls my lips down to hers again. I let the kiss linger for a long time, testing it. It feels good, and good is better than anything I’ve felt in over a month. I don’t know that I’m ready for this, maybe I’m making a mistake, but everyone has told me for weeks I need to find a way to move on. That felt like such a pointless phrase. “Move on.” Where did they want me to go? Now, I have a destination. Gia. And, hopefully, this won’t just be an end to the epic chapter of my life that was Katherine Kavanagh, but the start of new grand adventure.

Next Chapter

Kate PoV: Big Girls Don’t Cry

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End of Chapter One


September 10th

I feel a little giddy on the elevator ride up to the suite of the Four Seasons. Christian has always loved surprises, but I’m not usually on the receiving end of the fanfare. I fully expected to have to lock myself away in my bedroom all weekend with something to study and pair of headphones, or even to retreat down to my office at the Crimson and get a headstart on next week’s issue, but instead, I’m finally going to get at least two gloriously uninterrupted nights with Elliot.

I don’t know who is more excited over that prospect. Me, or my vagina.

When the doors open, I fiddle with the key card I’d gotten from the front desk as I step into the well lit hallway and glance at the room numbers and signs to figure out where I’m supposed to go. Of course, we’re as far from the elevator as humanly possible, but it’s a corner room and I’m pretty sure this side of the building has a river view. With an excited smile, I slip the plastic card into the lock, wait for the electronic chime, and push the door open.

“Elliot?” I call, stepping into the warm glow that fills the room. There’s a loud creak as he leans back in the chair at the desk against the long, scenic wall so he can see me in the small entryway. The moment our eyes meet his face breaks into a smile.

“Hold on, Mike,” he says, then places his hand against the mouthpiece on the phone. “Come over here and kiss me.”

Some of the disappointment I feel over the fact that he’s clearly still working wanes a bit as I cross the room, wrap my arms around his neck, and softly press my lips into his. He moans and swipes his tongue across my bottom lip, but I pull away. Until he’s off the phone and fully focused on me, the good stuff is going to have to wait.

“Are you almost finished?” I ask.  

He nods. “Yeah, I think so. Why don’t you go change into something much less comfortable and once I’m done, I’ll help you take it off?”

I can’t help the smile the salacious promise in his bright blue eyes brings out of me, so with a last quick peck, I hurry back to the bathroom in search of the naughty lingerie he’s brought for me to model for him. But the bathroom is empty. So is the closet, and the cabinets in the bedroom. There’s no bag on the bed, or in the armchair, or even in his own suitcase. There’s nothing, and since he’s fully absorbed in his conversation on the phone again, I simply remove my bra and the flannel I’ve been wearing all day, slip one of his t-shirts on over my leggings, and wait.

And wait…

And wait…

Twenty minutes pass and instead of wrapping up his conversation, Elliot has to conference more people in. So, rather than stare at the back of his head any longer, I fish the remote out of the drawer next to the bed, turn the TV to an old re-run of Friends on TBS with the volume way, way down, and scroll through the article submissions waiting in the inbox of my email on my phone. I get through every single one of them before he finally finishes his impromptu meeting and hangs up the phone. When he turns around to face me, his face falls in disappointment.

“That’s not dirty lingerie…”

It’s been two weeks since we’ve seen each other. Two long weeks where we’ve gone from sleeping next to each other every night to a few brief phone calls throughout the day, and I’ve been sitting behind him for an hour and twenty minutes and… he hasn’t even turned around to look at me. Not even once.

“No, I didn’t find it and I didn’t want to interrupt your work so…”

His brow creases in confusion. “Find it?”

“The dirty lingerie you brought.”

“I didn’t… I thought you and Ana went to Agent Pro— uh… you know, the fancy lingerie store this afternoon?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t buy anything.”

He stumbles backwards in mock shock. “Okay, first question. How dare you?”

I’m not quite ready to be done being mad at him for his less than warm reception, and his response makes me wonder if he’s aware of that. The Office? He’s pulling out the big guns.

“Ana and Luke were with me the whole time. You’ll have to forgive me for finding a lack of sex-spiration.”

He smiles and then leaps onto the bed, crawling over me with his eyes fixed on my lips. “Oh, baby. You know how your puns drive me wild.”

I laugh but the sound is cut off by a sudden, deep kiss that burns through the last of my anger. Reluctantly, or maybe a little too willingly, I surrender and let myself enjoy the feel of his weight pressing me into the bed. Fighting is pointless now anyway. I miss him too much to waste any of the time I have with him now doing anything but this.

With a soft moan, I wrap my arms and legs around him, pulling him into me and opening my mouth for his tongue in one smooth motion. His hands move up to the side of my face, cradling my cheeks tenderly while his mouth moves aggressively against mine. Soon, we’re out of breath, panting. When my lips break from his, he doesn’t relent. Instead, he captures my bottom lip between his teeth and tugs gently before he sucks it into his mouth. It has me instantly wet, and my breath shakes as I tilt my pelvis up for him, silently begging for his attention.

“You need to lose some clothes,” he whispers into my mouth. I nod and his hands move down to the hem of the t-shirt I’m wearing, but instead of hastily yanking it up over my head, he slips his hands beneath the fabric and slowly moves them up my skin, dragging the material with him as he goes. A trail of goosebumps lie in the wake of his touch, brought out by the intimacy of the gesture and the gentle caress of his kiss against my lips. When his hands finally reach up and cup each of my breasts, my whole body shudders and the muscles between my legs clench.

“No bra.” His tone is approving as he toys with my hardening nipples.

“Mmm, Elliot,” I moan. “Use your mouth. I want your mouth on me.”


“Everywhere.” I reach up, tangle my fingers in his hair, and push. He doesn’t fight against me. He moves easily down, kissing me along my jawline and neck, then collar bones, until he can trace the deep valley of my cleavage with the tip of his tongue.

The moment he’s at my tits, his hands go wild. He kneads each of my breasts so intensely it borders on painful, and his lips latch against the inside swell with enough suction that I’m sure I’ll have a hickey when he finally pulls away. That doesn’t bother me though. Elliot has always been good about never leaving proof of a wild trist where it can be seen outside the bedroom. But I not-so-secretly love it when he marks me.

“That’s it, Katie,” he growls into my breast. “Moan for me.”

“Keep going. Further down.”

I can feel him smile against my skin. “You want me to eat your pussy, you’re going to have to say it. You know how I like it when you talk dirty to me.”

“Eat me, Elliot. Fuck me with your tongue.” The words leave my body in nothing more than a breath, but the moment the sound crosses my lips Elliot’s hand dips down into my leggings. I grind against his fingers, lifting my hips so he can pull my leggings down as he nestles between my thighs.

“Oh fuck, Kate,” he whispers, dragging the pad of his thumb against my clit multiple times, making my body jump and convulse with anticipation. “You’re already so wet.”

He leans in and flicks his tongue over me again and again. When he pulls away, his breath hisses between his teeth. “Like fucking honey.”

“Don’t stop, baby. Make me come.”

He hums in approval at the desperate lilt to my voice and uses his thumb on me again. “All in good time, but I need a minute to get reacquainted with you, baby. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to look at your gorgeous little cunt.”

“Elliot!” I whimper.

“Oooh, saying my name like that though–” His voice cuts off as his phone starts vibrating furiously on the desk a few feet away from us, and he turns to look at it. “Son of a bitch, hold on…”

“What? No!”

He gets off the bed, glances down at the number on the screen of his phone, and curses under his breath. Then, to my horror, he answers it.

“This is Grey. What? When?” He pauses and listens intently to whatever the person on the other end of the phone is saying. I wave my arm in frustration to get his attention, then gesture up and down my body to remind him he has me fully naked and waiting for him. He gives me an apologetic look, mouths that he’s sorry and that he’ll be done in a second, and then returns to his phone call.

Are you fucking kidding me?

“And it’s good?” he says into the phone. “They are? That’s great. That’s really, really great! Send it over to me now, I’ll look over it tonight, and send it back to you by tomorrow morning. No, it’s going to be tight with GEH but we can manage. Thanks, Julia.” He hangs up the phone and turns back to me.

“Babe, we just got Microsoft!”


“Microsoft. They’re completely re-doing their campus in Redmond, so Grey Construction submitted a bid and they selected us.”

Suddenly, the burning want between my legs is extinguished, and I have to fight to keep my face from showing the horror his words ignite inside of me.

“I-I thought you were doing Christian’s building?”

“I am. It’ll take a few months to get the right permits in place and for us to be able to break ground. By then, most of the engineering work for Grey House will be finished, or at least nearly finished, so I’ll be able to step away and let the interior-build staff and designers take over while I focus on Microsoft. This is a huge contract, Kate. This one client alone is going to keep Grey Construction solvent for… years, all on its own. Give me time to develop some of those sustainability projects I’ve told you about. Not to mention the other business this will draw. This is just like Christian’s first contract with Amazon, the big one that gave him capital to expand. Fuck, this is so great! We’re going to be set, babe.”

“Elliot…” I hesitate, like I’ve been hesitating ever since he took the helm of Grey Construction. “Don’t you think you should… I don’t know, pace yourself?”

“Pace myself?”

“Yeah. You have a ton on your plate already, are you sure you can take on any more?”

“Of course I can.”

“I don’t know, Elliot. You’re already so… uh, busy.”

“A little, I guess. But that’s good. I think I’m on the right track. Before my first day as CEO, I took Christian out to lunch to get some advice and he told me the biggest thing I had to focus on was not being afraid to succeed. That’s his secret. He never accepts that something is too big and that the only small startups that exist are the ones who view themselves as small. I took that to heart, and now look!”

“Okay, but Christian has a partner. You don’t. With just GEH and the inner city housing developments you’ve been working on, you’re already just barely treading water.”

“You think I’m in over my head?”

“No, of course not. You are brilliant and you have the potential to be very successful in the next few years. I’m proud of you. But I don’t think you’re weighing the personal cost of growing at the same kind of rate GEH did with what you’re giving up.”

“I don’t think I’m giving anything up.”

“Really? Because ever since you’ve taken over at GC, I almost feel like I’ve lost you. You didn’t come drop me off at school when I came back, like Christian did with Ana, we don’t have any plans for upcoming weekends, and when I do get to talk to you on the phone, you give me like two minutes and then you have to go. I understand that this is all new for you and it takes time to adjust to your new responsibilities, but I expect that you are going to adjust and eventually, all of this work you’re putting in all the time is going to slow down. Right now, with me here and you in Seattle, it’s good that you’re busy, but once I graduate and move home, I want to start our life together, Elliot.”

“And we will. Baby, what do you think all of this is for? I want to start our life together too, and I want it to be perfect. I want to be able to take you anywhere in the world you want to go. I want us to have everything we could ever want and never need for anything. I want to give you the life you deserve.”

“Yeah, but when? After five o’clock, or seven if you’re busy? On weekends? On the one week a year you can pry yourself away from work long enough to take a vacation? You think that’s the life I want?

“Kate… I don’t know what to say to you right now. I can’t just not work, especially now that I have a company to run. People’s livelihoods depend on me, I can’t purposefully slow Grey Construction’s growth just so I can spend more time at home.”

“I know, and that’s not really what I mean. I’m really impressed by how well you’ve taken on this new role. I just…” I stop, not really sure what it is that I do mean. He moves to the bed and places his hand on my still naked leg, rubbing his thumb reassuringly over my skin, just above my knee.

“I didn’t know you felt like this. I know I’ve been busy, but believe me, the last thing in the world I want is for you to feel neglected.” He presses his lips together. “But I didn’t make the decision to stay home when you left for school… You told me not to come back to Cambridge with you, remember?”

“Yeah, but only because I was mad at you, not because I didn’t want you here to say goodbye to me. You were supposed to come anyway.”

“Mad? Why were you mad at me?”

Oh right. He doesn’t know.

This is a very difficult subject for me to talk to him about, mostly because I’ve avoided talking to him about it for too long.

His not proposal.

In the beginning, when he was in Stanford and I was in Cambridge, I really didn’t want to take our relationship too seriously because, well I knew his reputation, and as hard as we fell for one another, and as much as I really, really loved him, long distance relationships never work out and I was always prepared for him to call, say he couldn’t do this anymore, and then just… disappear. But he didn’t. He moved here and it would have been the perfect time to talk about our future together, except that then, his family fell apart. He was so devastated by what had happened and by the fighting between Christian and Carrick that the only thing I felt I could do was be his support system. He was already the only thing holding his family together, I didn’t want to add more pressure on him. Now, we’ve been dating for three years and the marriage thing feels somehow more delicate, like even bringing it up will make him feel like I’m fishing for a ring or pushing him to ask me before he’s ready. I don’t want that. I want him to propose, but I want him to want it just as much as I do. Only, time keeps passing and he’s had ample opportunity to propose in exactly the right way, but he hasn’t yet.

I swallow. “You know, Christian bought Ana an engagement ring. Months ago.”

“Yeah…” His voice trails off, telling me that he has no idea what I’m talking about. “So?”

“So, he’s going to propose to her. It’s her birthday today, he might even propose tonight.”

“I don’t… Is this you changing the subject? Are we done fighting?”

“We’re not fighting, Elliot. I just… I want to know how you feel about Christian and Ana possibly getting engaged tonight.”

He continues to stare at me, unsure for a moment, until he finally shakes his head. “They won’t. He won’t propose to Ana until she moves home. If I know one thing about Christian, it’s that he won’t drag out their engagement. He’ll want to be married within a week after he proposes, even the same day if he can manage it, but he knows Ana won’t marry him until after she graduates.”

“But he has the ring. I’ve seen it. They’ve only been back together for like four months and he already has the ring. Hell, he’s had it since June.”

“Yeah, but that’s Christian. He needs to lock her down and he’s not going to feel comfortable until he does. Which is stupid as fuck. From what I can tell, they’ve got a good thing. They’re happy. I don’t know why he wants to change it.”

“Because he loves her and he wants to be with her for the rest of his life.”

“Okay, but you don’t have to get married to be together forever. In fact, half of marriages end in divorce so it kind of seems like getting married and spending your entire life with someone is an oxymoron.”

“Wait, are you telling me that you don’t believe in marriage?”

“Not really. I mean, out of all of the friends I had growing up, my parents are the only ones who never got divorced. And divorce has been a real possibility for them several times. Recently, even.”

“Yeah, divorce is always a possibility, but you shouldn’t avoid the whole institution just because it might fail. I mean, what about when you have kids? Don’t you think it’s important to be married to the person you have children with?”

“I guess, but I don’t think Christian wants kids. He and I have always told my mom that if she wants grandchildren, she needs to invest heavily in Mia.”

I’m stunned. It’s like he’s hit me with a one-two punch. He doesn’t want to get married. He doesn’t want kids. If both of those things are true, what the fuck are we even doing?

“Wait, stop.” I’m shaking now, holding back the flood of tears I know are imminent, and possibly even vomit. “Are you telling me that… you don’t ever want to have kids with me?”

He stiffens. “Wait, I thought we talking about Christian and Ana?”

“Answer the question, Elliot. Do you want kids someday?”

“I— I thought we were on the same page about this. I mean, you’ve never talked about having children…”

“No, you’re right. I haven’t. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want them, or that I don’t want to marry you. I do. I need both of those things in my future. I’ve been waiting for you to propose all summer.”


“Are you being serious right now?”


“When you say you don’t want to get married and that you don’t want kids, does that mean you don’t want them now or that you don’t want them ever?”

“Kate, I–I thought you felt the same way I did. I didn’t try to hide this from you. I thought you were happy the way things were, that we wanted the same things–”

“I am happy. Right now. But, I won’t stay that way if you’re never going to give me children. So I need you to tell me the truth, Elliot. I need you to put your feelings for me aside for one second and be honest. Do you think this is just the way you feel now and that in a few years you’ll change your mind? Or is this really, really how you feel?”

He takes a long pause, and I watch his adam’s apple bob in his throat before he eventually shakes his head. “No. No, I’m not going to change my mind.”

Neither of us move as his words hang between us. He’s waiting for me to react. I’m waiting for the impact of what he’s just said to hit me. When it finally does, my body feels like it’s collapsing in on itself and a horrible, devastated sob forces its way out of me.

“Excuse me,” I cry, turning away and hurrying for the bathroom before my legs give out and I’m no longer able to hold myself up anymore. He follows after me. I can both feel and hear him a few steps back, but I can’t stop. I’m seconds away from completely falling apart and I don’t want him to see it. For the first time in our entire relationship, he doesn’t feel safe.

“Katie, please wait…”

I slam the door to the bathroom behind me, lock it, and then sink to the floor. The sobs coming out of me are so deep and powerful that after only a few seconds crying on the bathroom floor, my abs start to hurt. I can hear the pain almost as acutely as I can feel it.

How did this happen? How could I have misjudged him so entirely? I do my best to wipe my eyes, even though the moisture I’m able to wick away is almost immediately replaced by the continuous wave of tears pouring out of me. Tears that won’t stop because I know exactly how this happened.

It’s his family.

Time and time again, I’ve watched him sacrifice little pieces of himself for each and every one of them. He never misses family get togethers. He looks for reasons to spend quality time together, especially with Christian and Mia. He’s always there when they need him. I’ll never forget the anger that only I saw after he found out about Christian and Elena, or the guilt he was riddled with because of what Mia went through last summer. The first time I ever saw him cry was sophomore year, when Christian didn’t show up for Christmas. He is the quintessential family man. How can he possibly not want a family of his own?

“Katie…” I hear him call through the door. “Please come out and talk to me.”

Talk? About what? This is an impasse. I know that no matter what happens in my life, I will not feel fulfilled if I never have children. It’s what I’ve wanted my entire life. From the first time I picked up a baby doll, I knew that being a mother was something I had to experience. It’s a calling too powerful for me to ignore and I’ve never been the kind of girl to give up on a lifelong dream. It’s not in my blood. So if he’s not willing to give me babies, we’re wasting our time together.

With a long, painful breath, I quell my tears and slowly peel myself off the floor. Everything feels as though it’s moving in slow motion as I twist the knob and pull back the door, and when I see him standing there, waiting for me and looking hurt, confused, and terrified all at once, it knocks the wind out of me. The love I have for this man isn’t something that can just be callously tossed aside. What we have is powerful, life-changing, and rare. If he isn’t it for me, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to find anything close to what we have together again.

He’s my soulmate.

Or at least, I was really sure that he was.

“Is there a compromise here?” I ask quietly.

“What do you mean?”

“Five years?” His face crinkles, and tears start to prick my eyes again. “I can’t not have kids, Elliot. It’s a deal breaker for me. I can give you some time. You can build your company and we can travel and we can do everything that you want to do before we settle down, but… I have to have kids. I’ll give you five years.”

He presses his lips together, then looks down at the floor, and for a terrifying second, I think he’s going to tell me no.

“Can I think about it?” he asks at last, and while it isn’t a no, it hurts just as bad as one. How did we get here? Five minutes ago, his face was buried between my legs and now we’re talking about whether or not we can even be together or if we’re going to break up.

Break up.

Holy shit, we might be about to break up.

“Yeah,” I croak. “Of course.”

He nods, takes a deep breath, and reaches out for my hand. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now…”

I swallow the lump in my throat and try as hard as I can to at least wipe the doubt and devastation off my face. It’s not as easy as I’d hoped.

“Julia was sending you something to look over, right? You should… do that. I’m just going to take a bath and think for a little while.”

“Okay. Can I, um… Can I get your anything?”

“No. I’ll be okay, thanks.”

But I’m not okay. I’m not okay at all. I fill the tub with nearly scalding hot water, but it can’t burn away the cold feeling that grips me like a frost in the dead of winter. I sink down low in the tub so the water covers my ears and try to force the kind of cavernous echoing sound of being under the water to drown out my thoughts, which run on a kind of continuous loop of everything Elliot and I have shared that makes our relationship so important to me. Like that time Grace and I were flipping through old photo albums and she told the story of his first science fair, where he’d won first place for a capillary bowl he’d built that he said was going to revolutionize the way energy was utilized in the United States.

At eleven years old, he’d created perpetual motion,” Grace says. “Of course we didn’t have the heart to tell him that perpetual motion didn’t actually exist and even the capillary bowl had an energy source in the form of low boiling point gases… but I always knew he’d grow up to be my little engineer. And he did.”

“Perpetual motion, huh?” I ask, smiling as I turn to face Elliot. “Aiming high.”

He rolls his eyes. “Well, I’m sorry that I didn’t fully grasp the laws of thermodynamics at the age of eleven. Full understanding of that didn’t come until I was at least twelve.”

Even just remembering the embarrassed pink that colored the tips of his ears as his mother gushed about every one of his primary school accomplishments makes me smile, but that smile disappears as quickly as it came. I have so many amazing memories with him. Like, sitting in the passenger’s seat with the windows down and the radio turned up while we drove along the beautiful coastline in the late months of summer, soaking up the sun. His smile and laughter as I clung to his middle while the jet ski he was piloting skimmed across the water. The feel of his hands wrapped around mine on the very first night we spent in the house we bought this summer. He’d pulled me around the kitchen island, dancing with me in the glow from the refrigerator and the electronic clock over the range. No music. Just him. Just me.

I pull the plug on the drain, step out of the bath, and wrap myself in one of the towels folded on the shelf near the counter. I expect Elliot is going to be buried in work, possibly even back on the phone with his colleagues in Seattle, but he isn’t. When I open the door, I find him sitting on the edge of the bed, his elbows on his knees, and his head hung below his shoulders. He looks up at me as the sliver of light from the bathroom cuts through the darkness just enough to pull him out of the shadows, and after we gaze deeply into each other’s eyes for a long, drawn out moment, he gets off the bed, wraps me in his arms, and kisses me more deeply and passionately than he has in years.

“I love you, Kate,” he says.

“I love you too, Elliot.” We kiss again, but this time, he doesn’t stop at holding my body close against his. He sweeps me into his arms and carries me back to the bed, and there, we make love, showing each other everything we can’t say with words. When we’re finished, wrung out and exhausted, I lie there wrapped in his arms and think that everything is going to turn out okay. Elliot and I are meant to be, and while this seems insurmountable now, we’ll work through it. We always do. As long as we love each other, we’ll always find a way. His hold tightens around me and I allow the comfort I feel in his embrace to pull me into a deep, comforting sleep.

But when I wake up in the morning, he isn’t in the bed next to me anymore. He’s sitting in a chair across the room, his packed suitcase at his side, watching me sleep.

“Hi,” I whisper, my voice still thick with sleep.

“Good morning,” he replies. “I didn’t want to wake you, but… I have to go.”

“Go? Where?”

“Back to Seattle. I got an email early this morning. The GEH building failed an impromptu city inspection yesterday afternoon, I have to go handle it. I’m sorry, but I have to go.”


He gets out of his chair and walks over to me, falling on one knee next to the bed and leaning in to kiss my lips as softly as he can.

“Don’t… don’t make any decisions, okay? I’ll come back next weekend, or maybe you can come with Ana the next time she flies home… we’ll talk. We’ll work this out.”


“I love you, Katie.”

“I love you too.”

Another kiss and he’s gone. I watch every step he takes until the door closes behind him and the electronic sound of the lock clicking back into place fills the room. In his absence, I don’t feel any of the hope I was filled with the night before. Somehow, everything looks different in the pale gray light of dawn, and as I pull back the sheets and re-dress in the same clothes I wore shopping with Ana yesterday afternoon, I realize that something was broken last night. Maybe we put a bandaid over it when we needed to, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to put it back together again.

And as I gather my purse and glance back at the sheets that still smell of him, I feel utterly and completely alone.


Middle of Chapter Four


September 17th

The car ride is tense. Ana is fidgeting in the back seat, glancing anxiously at the tightly packed traffic around us, and Luke is stewing in the seat next me, furious with her. We’re nearly two hours late getting her to the airport and both of them are lamenting what Christian is going to say about their late arrival in Seattle tonight. Personally, I’m happy to have the extra time.

Elliot was supposed to fly back here this weekend so he and I could talk, but surprise, surprise, something came up at work. He asked me to come with Ana back to Seattle, but flying 3,000 miles and then being asked to wait around until he’s finished with whatever new crisis has come up at GC doesn’t seem like a good way to start the conversation about how seriously he’s taking the future of our relationship. Besides, I have things to do here too. Ana may be willing to sacrifice her time studying or fulfilling her school obligations to fly to Seattle every weekend because of Christian’s work schedule, but I’m not. I won’t make myself smaller for Elliot, or for anyone for that matter.

Taking a breath, I try to push away the anger that’s been slowly festering inside of me since last weekend. Elliot has been the greatest boyfriend I could have ever dreamed up, he doesn’t deserve the kind of thoughts I’ve had about him this week. I need to remember that he didn’t do this on purpose. I need to remember that he’s made sacrifices for me in the past. I need to remember that I love him. Nothing is set yet. Maybe he did think about what I told him, and maybe he’s changed his mind.


The music we have playing at a background level suddenly cuts off and is replaced by a loud ring from the bluetooth connection through Ana’s phone. I glance over at the LED display on the dash to read the name on the caller ID then glance at Ana in the rearview mirror.

“It’s Christian,” I tell her.

“Answer it,” she says, continuing once I do. “Hi, you’re on speaker.”

“Why aren’t you in the air?” Christian’s angry voice demands without greeting. “My pilot just called to tell me you haven’t even arrived at the airport yet.”

“I know, I was going to text you just before I took off. I’m running late…”

“Two hours late?”

I watch Ana’s reflection cringe at the bite in his tone. “My meeting with Dr. Ralston went long, and it took me longer to pack than I expected, and now we’re stuck in traffic.”

“How close are you?”

“Ten minutes,” I answer for her, then reach down to flick on my blinker so I can merge into the exit only lane that will take us to the airport.

“Fine,” Christian says. “I’ll call and have them prepare for take off so you can leave the second you board the plane.”

“Thank you,” Ana says. “I’m sorry I’m late. I love you.”

“I love you too. I’ll see you in a few hours.” There’s a clicking sound before the music starts playing again and as I pull up to a dead stop behind the car in front of us once again, I feel a strange tightening in my stomach. That usually happens because I don’t really like the way Christian talks to Anastasia when he’s angry, but this is different. It’s difficult to hear Christian and Ana express their love for one another right now because I know how much they mean it. I have zero doubts about how much Christian loves Anastasia. Even though I believe Elliot when he said that Christian doesn’t want kids either, I also know that if Ana told him that she needed children to be happy and that their relationship would be over if he wouldn’t give them to her, she’d already be pregnant.

Maybe that’s selfish of me to expect. Maybe I’m being selfish. I don’t know. I never thought in a million years we’d end up here, and now that we are, I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know what to think or feel…


Getting to the airport is like getting a front row seat to the influence of Christian Grey. We drive up to the private entrance to the tarmac and all Ana has to do is give her name for us to be waived through and directed to the huge jet with GREY etched in huge letters on the side. The moment we stop, Luke jumps out of the passenger’s seat, pulling Ana out of the car before I’ve even given her a proper hug good-bye.

“See you Sunday!” she calls to me as she’s being dragged to the stairs leading into the plane. I open my door and stand on the plastic covering on the edge on the inside of the car so she can see and hear me over the roar of the engines.

“Love you, Ana! Fly safe! Text me when you land!”

She can only nod in return before she disappears through the door and they close her inside. A few crewmen scurry around the cargo hold, tightening bulkheads, but only seconds pass before everyone begins backing away, and waving to the pilot that they’re clear for take off.

“Ma’am, you’re going to need to get off the tarmac!” one of the employees calls to me. “For your own safety.”

I nod and give him a small smile before slumping back into the car and navigating my way off the airfield and back towards the freeway. Traffic doesn’t seem to be so bad going into Cambridge, probably because it’s after eight now, so I make it home in okay time. But once I come through the back door into the dark, empty house, an unwelcome, familiar sense of foreboding comes over me.

“Hello?” I call uncertainty, but the only answer is my own weak voice echoing through the kitchen and living room. It doesn’t make me feel better, so I immediately start going through every room in the house, flipping lights on.

There’s no one here. I know that. But if I’m upstairs, my brain starts conjuring images of someone picking the lock on the door and sneaking undetected into the laundry room, or maybe the bathroom, to hide and wait until I fall asleep. If I’m downstairs I can’t shake the feeling that someone is hiding in Ana’s closet. Before I know it, I’m googling Dylan Abernathy’s name to make sure that he wasn’t released from prison and I somehow wasn’t notified.

I thought enough time had passed that I would be able to do this, but clearly I was wrong. So, after scouring the internet for proof that someone is coming after me and coming up empty handed, I go into my bathroom, lock the door, and dial Elliot’s number.

“Hey, baby,” he answers, and, instantly, I’m in tears. “Kate? What’s wrong?”

“Ana’s gone and I can’t do this… I can’t be in this house by myself. I’m freaking out right now. I can’t stop thinking about somebody breaking in.”

“Hey, hey, hey. Baby, you’re okay. No one is coming to get you, okay? Calm down. Take a breath.”

I do, and it helps a little. “I can’t do this, Elliot. I know that I’m overreacting, but I just can’t. I can’t stay here by myself.”

“Okay, what do you want me to do? Can I call and book you a hotel room for the weekend? Would that help?”

“I want you to be here with me.”

“I do too, but I can’t. Is there… someone you can call and have come stay with you?”

My breath hitches as tears pour down my cheeks. “I-I don’t know.”

“Do you want to go stay at the Hyatt?”

“No. No, I’ll be okay. I’ll figure it out.”

“You’re sure?”

No. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Okay. Call me before you go to bed. I love you.”

“I love you too. Bye.” I hang up and let my head slump against the back wall. I know that he’s right. I know that being locked in my house on a very well lit street with very attentive neighbors means that I’m safe staying here alone, but knowing that doesn’t make me feel better. This fear that I have is irrational, but unshakable.

I try a bath first, hoping the hot water and lavender will calm me down, but the drip from the faucet onto the smooth plane of water in the tub just makes the silence all around me seem somehow louder, and more unsettling. So, I decide to get rid of it. After getting out of the bath, I turn on some music in my room, lock the door, and try to focus all of my attention on the paper I have to write before next weekend, but the music just means I can’t hear anything going on outside of my room and after twenty minutes I’m convinced there’s someone sneaking around downstairs.

This is what it’s going to be like every time Ana leaves. What the fuck am I going to do?

Thinking maybe the best thing for me to do is just go to bed and try to sleep, I log off my computer, change into my pajamas, and crawl under the covers, but getting myself to go to sleep is impossible. I stare into the darkness, shaking, listening hard for any kind of sound, and sometime around two in the morning, there’s a loud thump that sounds too much like someone walking up the stairs.

I scream and leap out of bed, checking that the door is locked before I turn back to my nightstand and pick up my phone to dial the number of the only other person I know well enough in Cambridge to ask to come stay with me.

“Kavanagh?” Carter’s very tired voice answers after several rings.

“Hey, Carter. Um…. Ana’s in Seattle and I’m kind of freaking out being by myself. Would you… um… would you come over here?”

“You want me to come over to your house at two o’clock in the morning?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have anyone else to call. Please?”

He sighs. “I’ll be right there.”

“Thank you. Oh my god, thank you so much.”

“Yeah. See you soon.” He hangs up the phone and I immediately feel a wave of relief. The doors are locked downstairs, which means I’m going to have to let him in when he gets here, so I once again go through the house and turn every single light on before I settle down on the couch and hug my arms tightly around my body, waiting for him to arrive. When he knocks on the door, I jump and then hurry to answer it.

“Wh-who’s there?” I call nervously through the door.

“Carter,” he replies. With a deep breath, I unlock the door, pull it open, and when I see him standing there, I have to stop myself from throwing my arms around him.

“Thank you,” I tell him, stepping aside to allow him through the door.

“Sure, your house is nicer than mine is anyway. Are you okay?”

I shake my head. “No. I thought by now I could spend a couple nights by myself, but clearly… I can’t. Ana’s going to be gone all the time this year, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

He shrugs. “Call me.”

He takes my hand and leads me into the kitchen, pushes me down into a chair at the dining room table, and then goes to the fridge. “You’ve got some wine in here, do you want it?”

I nod, and then wait while he pulls the bottle from the fridge, finds the wine glasses, and pours me a full glass. When he hands it to me, I down it in one long gulp.

“Jesus, you really are freaked out.”

I nod. “Yeah, I don’t know why I thought I’d be able to handle this.”

“Because of that guy, right? The one that shot a bunch of people in your dorm freshman year?”

“Yeah. Because of him.”

“That sucks, I’m sorry. He’s in jail though, isn’t he? So he can’t come after you again.”

“You know that. I know that. But the part of my brain that keeps me from being terrified about it apparently doesn’t.”

“Well, you got any weed? That’d probably calm you down.”

I shake my head. “No, I don’t smoke, and if we brought any in here, Christian would have a heart attack and then I’d be homeless. I’ll be okay, I just need people around, I guess. Thank you for coming. You didn’t have to and I really, really appreciate that you did.”

“Of course. I’ve always been able to get more work done over here anyway, like when I came to study with Ana all the time last year. This way, with her out of the house and me still here, she won’t think I was stalking her all that time.” I laugh, and then reach for the bottle of wine again.

“I have no idea how I’m going to get through this year if she’s going to be travelling back and forth. I might have to talk to her about us getting another roommate.”

“Why didn’t you go with her? I mean, your boyfriend lives in Seattle too, doesn’t he? Don’t you want to go see him?”

I raise my eyebrows as I take another long drink from my glass. “Things are a little, tense between Elliot and I right now.”

“Long distance relationship getting to you?”

“No, it’s not that. I um…” I pause, and examine him closely. “Carter, do you want to have kids? In the future, I mean.”

“Uh… yeah, I think so. Maybe. I think I have to find a wife to do that first but that means I’d have to find a girlfriend and you’d be surprised how hard that is.”

“Probably because you’re stalking Ana.”

He laughs. “Probably. I think… fuck, I think I might have made what she and I had bigger than it was, you know? We were only together for a couple of months, but… I really liked her and I still do. She’s great and I’ve wondered a lot over the past couple years if she was, like, the girl I was supposed to be with. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to find anyone else. I don’t know… maybe I just never got over feeling like Grey stole her from me.”

I raise an eyebrow and give him a hard look. “She broke up with you because you were an asshole.”

“Nah,” he shakes his head and pours his own glass of wine. “I’m pretty sure it was Grey.”

I roll my eyes. “Well, I hate to break to break it to you, but if soulmates exists, then Christian is Ana’s.”

“You don’t believe in soulmates?” He’s smirking as he asks the question, but he doesn’t understand the real chord he’s struck.

“I did,” I reply, my voice a little more sullen now. “I thought I found mine. Now, I’m not so sure…”

“Well, if it’s not the long distance, what is it?”

“I just… think we might be on separate paths.” I take a drink, and stare at the liquid swirling around in the glass after I place it back on the table while I continue. “I’ve been waiting for him to ask me to marry him and he told me last weekend that not only will he never propose, but that if I choose to stay with him, we’re never going to have children.”

“Which you want?”

“More than anything.”

“More than him?”

I take a deep breath and finally look up from my wine glass, searching his eyes for the answer to the question I haven’t even asked yet. “How do I answer that?”


I don’t like the way that word falls on me. It makes me feel hot and unsettled, like I’m suddenly guilty of doing something I know I shouldn’t. But Carter doesn’t offer me any reprieve from the discomfort. He stares at me in silence until I finally reach for the bottle of wine again and tip the last three drops into the bottom of my glass.

“I guess we killed it,” I say softly.

“Well, then I’m going to get to bed,” he says. “You good?”

“Yeah, thanks. The uh… the guest bedroom is up the stairs and on the left, at the end of the hallway.”

“Thanks. I’ll… See you tomorrow?”

I nod and he picks up the backpack he left on the floor by the door before moving up the stairs and leaving me alone in the warm glow of the kitchen. The overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety is gone, which I’m grateful for, but with Carter gone to bed, it’s quiet again. And in the quiet, I have too much space to think.

I know that I can’t hide in the timeframe I’ve given Elliot to make his choice forever. Eventually, he and I are going to have to face this and because this is my issue, I’m the one who will most likely have to push it. But I don’t know that I’m ready for the consequences of this talk yet. I’m fairly certain the hot flash of guilt I felt when Carter told me I needed to be honest about my feelings over the future means that, if Elliot’s going to make me choose, I’m not going to choose him. There are a lot of things I would sacrifice for Elliot Grey, but having a child is not one of them. If he tells me no, then he and I have gone as far as we can go with one another and we’ll have to break up.

But I’m not jumping for joy at the thought of being single again. Not because I’m afraid of being lonely, but because I’m afraid life won’t be as bright without Elliot in it. He’s the man who taught me that a life that isn’t filled with adventure isn’t really a life that has been lived, but that has merely been survived, and because of him I’ve lived every second of the last three years without regret. Because of him, I’ve experienced things I never world have. Because of him, I’ve worked to improve myself and the way I treat and respond to others. Because of him, I’ve truly loved. He’s seen me at my best and he’s seen me at my worst, and yet he still loves me as much as he did the first time he ever said the words. I know that. And I know that even though work is an issue for him right now, his heart is in the right place and it hurts him to be away just as much as it hurts me. That’s something we would work through, because above all else, we love each other.  

And leaving him would mean leaving his whole family. Grace and Carrick have been like second parents to me. We’ve spent holidays together, we’ve gone on vacations together, and Carrick was the one who held my hand in the courtroom the day Dylan Abernathy was sentenced. I really love them. Mia has grown to be one of my closest confidants and best friends, as if she were my sister. And Christian… he’s somehow gone from the biggest pain in my ass to a man who I’m proud to know and who I am grateful for everyday because of the happiness he brings into my best friend’s life. They’re all family.

But they’re the only family he’ll ever give me.

I know what I have to do, and if I wait until I want to do this, it’ll never happen. And as I finally feel resolution in my decision, my phone rings. When I look over at it, I see Elliot’s name and picture displayed on the screen. Like fate.


“Hey, you never called me. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I called Carter Reed and he’s going to stay here with me until Ana gets back.”

“Oh, well… that’s good, I guess.” But his tone does not suggest he believes that having a single guy staying with me alone in the house for the weekend really is a good thing. “Are you going to bed, then? It’s almost three there.”

“Yeah, I haven’t been able to sleep. I was actually thinking about you.”

“Really? Sexy things?” He chuckles, and my heart suddenly seems to thud more heavily in my chest.

“No, about what we were talking about last weekend. I gave you a compromise, have you thought about it?”

“Kate… do you really want to do this on the phone?”

“No, but I need to do it right now. Have you thought about it?”

“I mean, what you gave me isn’t a compromise, it’s an ultimatum.”

“It’s what I can live with, Elliot. I’m willing to give you some time, but I’m not willing to give up having a family.”

I hear him take a deep breath. “Kate, I love you. And I want to make you happy, I think that I can make you happy, but I have no interest in raising children. I don’t want to be a father and if I were to go along with this and do the whole marriage thing and have a few kids… I think I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I don’t think I would find fulfillment in that life, and quite frankly, I’m already tired from raising the family I already have. I have nothing left to give to anyone else, and that’s not fair to you or to any children we may have. But, I do believe that we can be happy just you and me. I’m never going to grow complacent in our relationship, I will always treat you like I’m still trying to win your heart. I want you to be my partner in life and I want us to really go out into the world and live our lives to fullest. I want to go off the beaten path and try things we never thought we could or would try. I want to experience this world, and I want to do it with you. Only you. You’re enough for me, Kate. You’re all I want.”

I press my lips together and blink back the moisture that’s beading in my eyelashes. “That’s the problem, Elliot. I don’t know that you’re enough for me. Not because I don’t love you, but because I feel that part of my purpose in this life is to be a mother. I can’t turn my back on that.”

“Look, I don’t want to devalue your feelings about this, I understand that this is something you’ve wanted for a long time, but if we don’t have kids it doesn’t mean we won’t have children in our lives. Ethan wants kids, Mia wants kids, the odds are pretty high that Christian and Ana will have an accident someday, so we’ll have nieces and nephews. Maybe you and I could volunteer in some impoverished country somewhere and help build a school for some kids and get to know them. We could do outreach programs, take some underprivileged kids out for the time of their lives whenever we can. I think we can fill this need without giving up our freedom.”

“That’s why I was giving you five years. So we can go do all that, and experience what you want to experience, before we settle down.”

“But that’s the thing. I don’t want to settle down. Okay, I can agree with you and say, yeah, let’s give five years a shot, but when those five years pass, I know, deep down, that I’m not going to feel any differently about this than I do right now. This isn’t something you change your mind about.”

“No, it’s not.” My voice breaks, and the tears pooling in my waterline break over the edge and begin pouring down my face. “So, I think this is over.”

“Good, and look. I know this is hard for you, but I swear…”

“No. Not this conversation. Us. I’m breaking up with you, Elliot.”

He’s silent for a long few seconds, and when he finally speaks again there’s a definite note of panic in his voice. “Breaking up? Wait… No, Kate–”

“I’m sorry, Elliot. I love you, I really do, but for as certain as you are that you’re not going to change your mind, I’m not going to change mine. You were right before. I guess that was an ultimatum. I’m not negotiating with you. There’s nowhere for us to go from here and not calling this what it is now and going our separate ways isn’t going to change anything. It’s just going to make it that much more painful in the future.”

“No, you’re wrong. This isn’t insurmountable, we can work through this. I know we can, I believe that we can. Look, you’ve had a hard night. I’m going to book you a flight back to Seattle for tomorrow morning and then I’m going to clear my entire schedule so I can devote the next two days only to you and we can talk, okay? Just go to bed, don’t make any decisions, and we’ll talk when you get here.”

“I’m not coming to Seattle, Elliot. You know as well as I do that there’s nothing left to talk about. You’ve made your decision, I’ve made mine. I’m sorry, but I’m done. This is over.”

As my tears start to come more freely, I hear him getting choked up too. “Please, just get on the plane…”

“I’m not going to do that, I’m sorry.” He tries to argue again, but his words come out in an incoherent torrent that is too easy for me to cut off. “It’s late and I’m tired. I’ll call you later, okay?”

“No, don’t hang up the phone. Just… stay. Please. Talk to me, let’s figure this out. We just need more time to figure this out.”

“Goodbye, Elliot.” I hang up and turn off my phone, and the moment the screen goes black, I feel a crushing sense of loss. Maybe it would have been easier if he’d been on the same page as me about ending things, maybe it would have hurt more. I don’t know. But the pain I feel building inside of me is incredible. Unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I made this decision, I know it’s the right decision, and yet, I’m devastated by it.

Just a few days ago, I thought I knew exactly where my life was headed, and now I feel as though I’m floating in an endless ocean, alone, with no sense of direction, and nothing on the horizon. The loneliness in the sentiment is so poignant, it might drown me, and for a moment, I can’t breath. My body feels heavy, but I drag myself up the stairs and into my room. Once I collapse on my bed, the gut wrenching sobs take over, and I cry until I fall asleep. When I wake up the next morning, I cry again. I don’t eat and I don’t speak to anyone. When Carter comes to knock on my door, I don’t answer. I just cry, and sleep, and ignore the piercing sound of the phone ringing down in the kitchen.

Next Chapter


Elena PoV: Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen…


There is no sense of welcome in the dark windows that greet me upon my arrival home after the interminably long day I’ve spent in the King County Detention Facility. When I woke up this morning, I hadn’t even considered that this was how today was going to turn out. It was supposed to be Ros, not I, who was taken into custody. Anastasia would be gone, the rest of the Greys would be so appalled with Christian for making another deal with me that they’d cut him out again, forever this time, and he and I would finally be back on track. It was never supposed to be me in handcuffs. Hell, it should have even been Christian himself before me.

That was the less ideal scenario, but his father would have made some kind of backdoor deal to get him a plea bargain, or possibly even reduced charges so he wouldn’t serve any time at all. It didn’t really matter either way, whether it was from spending time in prison or because of Anastasia’s absence at Harvard in a few weeks, Christian was once again going to be alone. Right where I wanted him. From there it would only take six months or a year and he’d be back in my grasp. We’d pick up right where we left off. But none of what was supposed to have happened, happened. It’s not Ros or Christian who is facing prison time now, it’s me. Somehow, he and that noisy little bitch who just can’t stay off his dick have bested me. I’ve lost, and even my lawyer, who is the absolute best that money can buy, doesn’t have any hope for how I’m going to get out of this.

This isn’t how I raised him.

Thankfully, Isaac was able to pull enough money out of the accounts for me to make bail and spend what few days I have left before the trial in the comforts of my own home, though even that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. My eyes shift down to the blinking light on the ankle bracelet that will keep me locked within the walls of my house until the beginning of September.

House arrest.

Apparently, I’m a flight risk.

“Alright, Elena,” Ms. Novik says when she finally kills the engine of the car. “We’re here. Do you need anything before I leave you?”

“No, Isaac will be here.”

“Alright then, you have my number. Remember, you’re not to leave the house for any reason, under any circumstances. If you need anything, call me, and I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you, Anne.”

She nods. “I’m sorry, Elena. I really thought we had them.”

“Don’t be, it’s my fault. I should have never taken Anastasia’s bait. I got cocky. I should have known better.”

She gives me a tight smile as I reach for the handle on the door and then step out of the car. Momentarily, my attention is captured by the light that suddenly comes to life in the previously dark car that Novik had pulled up beside, and a small amount of relief fills my chest when I see Isaac climbing out of the driver’s seat and making his way around to me. This house may be its own kind of prison over the next few weeks, but at least I’ll have my submissive with me. I’m looking at a long stretch of time without any kind of sexual release or gratification. So, until I’m taken away, I plan on using him as often as possible to get it all out of my system. And possibly to work out some lingering frustrations I’m feeling towards a certain ex submissive.

He puts an arm around me as we make our way into the house, then takes my coat and my bag to put away while I trudge dejectedly into the sitting room.

“Can I get you anything, ma’am?”

“Bombay. Lime. Neat.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I collapse onto the sofa as he turns to make his way into the study off the side of the sitting room where I keep a very well stocked liquor cabinet, but before he even gets through the glass french doors, a lamp flicks on across the room from me. I blink as my eyes adjust to the light, and once I see who is sitting in the armchair beneath the window, my entire body seizes with trepidation.

“I’ve already taken care of that,” Andrew says, holding up a tumbler filled with clear liquid and a wedge of lime. “It’s not as cold as it was. You took longer to get home than I planned for.”

His gaze is imploring as he tries to hand the alcohol to me, but my eyes are not fixed on the gin gripped between his fingers. Instead, I’m transfixed by the woman at his side. Young. Thin. Beautiful.

“I see you haven’t lost your penchant for blondes,” I tell him ruefully. He glances sideways at the girl, and then shakes his head.

“It’s not like that. Elena, this is Gia. She’s my daughter.”

Daughter? The word takes the breath out of me. This girl looks as though she’s nineteen or maybe twenty, but I would guess based on her clothes and the way she holds herself that she’s more like twenty-five or twenty-six. Andrew and I have been divorced now for just over two years, but before that we’d been married for twenty-five. There’s no way this girl is older than that. So, in one word, almost thirty years of suspicion is confirmed.

I swallow the bitter taste in my mouth and sit straighter on the sofa. “Well, then. I’m glad that while I spent countless nights here waiting for you to come back from your business trips, you didn’t have to feel the same loneliness that I did.”

“Were they lonely though? I think Christian Grey might have something else to say about that.” I feel my lips press together into a tight line and he smiles. “You’re not the one to lecture me about extra-marital affairs, my love.”

“Is that why you’re here, then? To gloat? Christian turned on me, I’m undoubtedly going to prison, and you’re here to say I told you so?”

“Hardly. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of you spending what’s left of your prime years locked away in a jail cell after what you’ve put me through is extraordinarily vindicating, but you’re not the only person who should have to pay some kind of restitution for the crimes in your past. Christian isn’t innocent either, and yet he’s going to walk away unscathed with everything he’s ever wanted and more.”

“So,” I counter. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re here in my sitting room, Andrew. I won the house in the divorce, you don’t get it back just because I’ll be in prison.”

“I’m here–” he begins, his patience wearing thin. “Because I’m going to ensure that Christian Grey does not walk away from what he’s done unscathed. Because of what you two did together, I’ve lost my company, a sizable portion of my fortune, my marriage, and a great deal of my self-respect. When I’m finished, he won’t have any of those things either.”

I snort. “Oh really? And what is it that you plan to do, exactly? Let’s face it, Andrew, this is my arena, not yours. You don’t get to know people well enough to understand what will best hurt them and Christian is not as vulnerable as you may think he is. Believe me.”

“I know what my strengths are, Elena, and that’s why I’m here. Because you’re right. This is your arena. You do know how to best destroy him. You’ve done it over and over again. Your fatal mistake is that, despite this hard exterior you try to put on for the world, deep down you’ve always cared about him. And you’ve always wanted something from him. I don’t. I only want his pain. I only want to destroy him, and I will stop at nothing to make that happen. I want his company. I want his money. I want his reputation. And I want Anastasia.”

“Ana? Really?” I turn and glance at Isaac who is hovering uneasily in the doorway behind me, then snap my fingers and point to the floor at the side of the sofa. Without hesitation, he moves to his knees on the carpet at my feet. Gently, I run my fingers through his hair as a reward and then move out of my seat to fetch the drink from Andrew. My eyes narrow in on him as I take a long pull of the burning liquid and settle back down into my seat. “She’s innocent, you know. She had no part to play in what happened two years ago. In fact, she’s the only thing that might have prevented it. Hurting her isn’t vengeance, it’s cruelty.”

“And you care about that?”

“No, but you said you were after Christian because he deserved retribution for what he’s done. Anastasia didn’t do anything.”

He lets out a dark laugh. “I respected Anastasia Steele for quite some time, because she chose to leave Christian after what he did. I’ve only seen him a few times over the years, but even through the mask he put on for business events and charity balls, I could see the pain he was in. I could only presume that was because of Ana, and it almost felt like justice in a way. He had won the battle, but lost the war, so to speak, and I had made peace with that. And then she came back here, and she took him back, and now he’s a man on top of the world. She gave him everything I wanted to take away. Anastasia has been my biggest disappointment.”

I raise an eyebrow as I take another drink, considering what he’s said.

“So, I need you to tell me how to get to him, Elena. He’s got security and money, I need you to tell me how I get past all of that and take what I want from him.”

“Me?” My eyes narrow. “Have you missed the part where I’m going to prison, Andrew? I tried to beat him and I couldn’t. He won.”

He shakes his head. “No, you weren’t trying to defeat him, you were trying to control him. This isn’t about some power play, this is about destruction. Most of that I can handle, but I need you to tell me how to get to him. How can I hurt him the most? Who will turn on him? Who won’t? How do I get into his life without him knowing I’m there? You made mistakes after the trial, I’m here to learn from them.”

“And what do I get?”

“Excuse me?”

“By helping you. What am I going to get out of giving you all of my inside secrets to the vulnerabilities of Christian Grey? He has more power than you, more money… it seems to me it’s smarter to invest my loyalties in him and focus my energy on bringing him back under my control. It’s always worked for me in the past.”

“You’re delusional,” the girl at Andrew’s side, Gia, says. I turn a sharp glare on her. To her credit, she doesn’t falter. She stares back at me calm, confident, and poised. “You’ve been exposed. Not just for what you’ve done to him, but for what you’ve done to all of those young women you’ve had working for you, including his little sister.  He’ll never forgive you. All that money and influence is going to be put into making sure that you stay in that prison for as long as possible. What you get out of helping us is protection from everything else he will inevitably do to you to make you pay for what you’ve done to him.”

Again, I glance down at Isaac. He’s staring dutifully at the floor between his legs, displaying no outward reaction to what’s being said. I can’t help but make comparisons between him and Christian. I never have, and it’s always been a touchy subject for him. He doesn’t like living in my first submissive’s shadow. Still, I wonder if my participation in any retribution against Christian will frighten him. As much as he hates it when I make comparisons, I’m sure he’s made his own fair share, and I don’t want him to be fearful of me because of the way I have behaved towards my ex. I’m going to need him more than anyone else for the foreseeable future and if I’m going to keep him, I have to make sure he trusts me.

“Isaac, my pet,” I say, and he turns to look up at me.

“Yes, Mistress?”

“What do you think about what Mr. Lincoln has said? Be honest with me.”

“I think he makes a fair point. Christian Grey is not a good person, and bad people deserve to have bad things happen to them. He’s certainly ensured enough bad things have happened to us.”

“You see?” Linc adds.

I take a long breath and re-cross my legs, ignoring the extra weight from the ankle monitor, which adds stress to my calf muscles.

“Fine. You want to get to Christian, I’ll help you, but it’s not going to be easy. Unfortunately for you, Christian has an intrinsic distrust of people and expects that everyone is out to get him. You have to find a way around that and it takes time. GEH will be easy, so long as we can get people on the inside…”

“I’ve already begun that process,” Linc interrupts. “I’ve got a tech guy who worked for a sideline I invested in years ago and he was just hired in the GEH R&D division, and Gia here is already employed with Grey Construction. She’s going to be on the construction team for that skyscraper he’s building downtown.”

I settle back into my seat with my lips pursed together and swirl the liquid in my glass. I’m impressed. “I have a few more names that may be useful, and some dirt that will help you persuade a few others. The real challenge with GEH is going to be Ros. And Welch. Those two hold that company up just as much as Christian does. Anything that gets past him, they’ll be all over. If you’re going to get anywhere, you’re going to have to find a way to get rid of them.”

“I may know some people in New York who could offer Bailey a job. She’s good, right?”

I shake my head. “Ros Bailey helped build GEH and she and Christian have a very rare working relationship that she has to know she won’t find anywhere else. You won’t find anyone who will pay her more than Christian does, or who gives her the same amount of freedom or input. She’ll never leave willingly.”

“Then what do you suggest, Elena?”

I purse my lips together in thought and take another drink. My mind runs through a few different ideas, each of them more implausible than the last, until I lock eyes with Gia again. The insider.

“You said you have someone in R&D? What does he do?”

“He’s working as a programer,” Andrew replies.

“Right, but what does he do. What makes him useful to you?”

“He’s a hacker. Once he gains some trust within the company and is given a little more freedom, he’s going to work on a few of the GEH security systems for me. Get me access so I can start undoing things from the inside.”

I smile. “Perfect. Except Welch will find you the second you end up anywhere you’re not supposed to be. He’s phenomenal at his job and he watches that system like a hawk.”

“So, him before Ros?”

“Yes, and luckily for you, I’ve already planted the seeds to help you oust him.”


“My fail safe for Kink was to entwine it as thoroughly as possible with GEH while still keeping it secret, so that if it were ever exposed, it would look like Christian himself had set it up and was using his own company to launder the profits. It’s the defense we tried to use in court, and while it failed, it will lead to an investigation. Welch is very protective of the work GEH produces. He keeps his value by ensuring he, and only he, can produce the kind of technology that sets GEH apart from its competitors. He’s not going to like auditors going through his systems and taking notes for public record. Perhaps the people in his department could make those feelings more… potent.”

“And what will that do?”

“It’s like I told you. Christian thinks everyone is out to get him. If Welch expresses his own displeasure and the negative reaction of his team, Christian is going to feel attacked because it’s essentially his fault the audit is going to take place at all. It’s a trigger for him, and he when he’s angry, he makes rash and illogical decisions. He lashes out, and Welch isn’t the type of man to just take shit from Christian. It won’t ruin their relationship, but it will place a seed of doubt in Christian’s mind that you can exploit later. Perhaps by having your hacker place some damning evidence against Welch for Christian to find, evidence that shows he was planning on betraying him, we might end up with something. Betrayal is very hard for Christian to deal with, second only to abandonment. It was usually what I used to turn him against Carrick. It’ll work the same here. Fabricate something, plant it in the system for Christian to find, and he won’t even listen to Welch’s excuses. He’ll be fired, and you’ll have free reign over the system.”

Andrew stares at me for a moment, considering what I’ve said, then turns to Gia. “Make a note to have Walker try and subtly create bad blood in the R&D team over the audit.”

Gia rolls her eyes, but takes out her phone and starts typing. The screen illuminates her face and as I stare at her, I can’t help but think how familiar she looks.

“You know, Andrew. Gia looks an awful lot like Kavanagh.”


“Katherine. Elliot’s girlfriend. Consequently, he’s your second biggest hurdle. It was always easiest for me to manipulate Christian when he felt alone, and with Anastasia going back to school, you have the perfect opportunity to prey on that very deep rooted insecurity. Except for Elliot. I don’t think even a crow bar could separate him from his beloved brother. I tried everything I could to get rid of him, but he sticks around like a fucking cockroach.”

“So, what do you suggest I do?”

I purse my lips for a moment, then take another sip. “Gia, how well do you flirt?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never really had to work that hard to get men’s attention.” She uncrosses and recrosses her legs, then nibbles on the end of her thumb, and even Isaac sits up straighter. I reach forward and twist my fingers harshly into the roots of his hair.

“I saw that.”

“I’m sorry, Mistress.”

“Mhm. Here, go get me another drink.” He fumbles with the tumbler I thrust into his hand and scurries out of the room to the bar in the parlor, while I settle back into my seat and stare appraisingly at Gia.

“Katherine will be going back to school too. If you could find a way to seduce Elliot, break him and Kavanagh up, and even have him take up with you, then…”

“Then he’ll be very easy to control,” she answers for me.

I let out a breathy laugh through my nose and give her a pointed stare. “You do realize what I’m asking you, don’t you?”

“To win Elliot’s affection and use that influence to keep him away from Christian. Maybe even come between them.”

“I’m asking you to fuck him,” I say bluntly. “Repeatedly. Over and Over again, for as long as it keeps him happy. Is that something you’re comfortable with?”

She smiles. “I’ve been promised ten million dollars at the end of all of this. There’s not a lot I’m not comfortable with.”

“Good. You know, it’s a shame I didn’t know you before. You would have been a very welcome addition to a business I used to run. We could have made a lot of money together.”

“Alright,” Andrew says, cutting me off. “Welch, Ros, Elliot. Anything else?”

I narrow my eyes. “Is that not enough? Must I mastermind the entire plan for you?”

“I asked you for GEH, his money, his reputation, and Anastasia. You gave me GEH.”

“A quarter of the way there. You’re welcome.”

His jaw tenses and he slowly gets out of his seat. I sit, unmoving, watching him stalk towards me, then I climb to my feet to take the drink my submissive brings back to me. “Issac, my pet. Why don’t you show Mr. Lincoln and his daughter out?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Isaac moves around the couch, stepping aside to create a path for Gia and Andrew to take in front of him, but when Andrew moves, it isn’t towards the door. His hand flies up and wraps tightly and securely around my throat, making me drop the drink. I wheeze and start to struggle against his strong, crushing hold, then look to Isaac for help, but before he can move, Gia pulls a small pistol from her bag and places it firmly against his temple.

“I wouldn’t move if I were you,” she says softly, and he freezes, pleading to me with his eyes.

“Perhaps I should tell you the other places I’ve managed to get inside access,” Andrew sneers. His fingers flex around my throat, loosening only enough so that when he tightens his fingers again, more this time, it feels as though he’s going to squeeze the life out of me. “The Washington State Women’s Correctional Facility, for example. I promise you, Elena. If you don’t give me the things I want now, willingly, I’ll find another, much more painful way to get them out of you. I can make your sentence easy, or I can make it very, very difficult. In fact, I could make the few years you’ll be sentenced to more time than you have left on this earth. Understand?”

I try to answer, but I can only make a horrible, shallow wheeze as I struggle for air.

“Money. Reputation. Anastasia,” he demands. I nod, fighting the dizziness and pain exploding in my head from oxygen deprivation. His fingers instantly unfurl from my neck and I collapse to the floor, panting. Each breath feeling like fire as they move down my windpipe.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you insane?” He kneels onto the floor in front of me, bringing his face a few mere centimeters from mine.

“I’m not playing games with you, Elena. I am here for information and I’m not leaving without it. I meant what I said before. If you want to fight me, if you want to defy me–” He pauses to grip my face roughly between his thumb and fingers. “I will fucking kill you.”

I’m practically thrown to the floor with the force he uses to pull his hand away from my face. Slowly, he gets up and moves back across the room, settling down in the sofa where he was seated before and motioning for Gia to join him. She shoots a cocky kind of smirk at both Isaac and I, and then returns to her previous spot.

“Mistress,” Isaac says, moving as quickly as he can to my side and helping me back on the couch.

“I’m waiting,” Andrew says.

With my hand, I motion for Isaac to take his place next to me again, then work to swallow several times so I can speak more clearly.  

“Christian’s financial advisor was a client of mine. A top secret client who I can help you persuade to do whatever you need. To give you whatever you want. Even access to Christian’s fortune.”


“He’s one of the more vicious dominants that I’ve ever worked with. A sadist, to say the least. And his preference in submissives was always young women. Too young. Underage. The last girl I tried to provide for him was… Mia, and I have proof that he tried to rape her.”

“Jesus, Elena,” Andrew says darkly, and I glare at him. The man who just had me by the throat, who has threatened my life, and who had his little blonde psycho holding my submissive at gunpoint only a few seconds prior to this very conversation, is implying I’ve gone to far.

“Christian double crossed me. He needed to be punished.”

Andrew shakes his head in dismay. “So we have the money then. What about Anastasia?”

“She won’t leave him.”

“That’s fine. I’ll just take her. She’s small, she shouldn’t be hard to overpower.”  

“It won’t be that simple. She has her own security team and she’s about to move all the way across the country. How do you intend to get to her?”

“I don’t know, Elena. How do I intend to get to her?”

I press my lips together, and Gia lets out an impatient sigh and lifts the gun again, pointing it directly into Isaac’s chest. “How much for his heart, Daddy?”

“Oh… ten thousand?”

She smiles and pulls back the hammer.

“Leila Williams!” I scream, feeling and ignoring the pain ripping through my throat with the same thought. “Leila Williams despises Anastasia Steele. She’s only too willing to do whatever you want so long as it means Ana suffers. Her parents live in Connecticut, which means you have the perfect excuse to get her to the East Coast and she’s one of the best liars I’ve ever met. Set her up in Cambridge, give her a plausible cover story, and she’ll do whatever you need. I promise you.”

“Leila Williams,” Andrew repeats. “Gia, make a note.” She does, and once she sets her phone down again, they look expectantly at me. “Reputation, Elena. Whenever you’re ready.”

“I don’t know,” I say, shaking my head. “He’s not the same person he used to be. He doesn’t live the kind of scandalous life that you can expose. He’s surprisingly ethical in his business practices, despite his line of work, he’s charitable, he doesn’t cheat on his girlfriend or have late night rendevouz with transexual hookers. I don’t know what you’ll be able to dig up on him.”

He’s still sitting across from me for a long beat, and then, slowly, a smile stretches across his face. “I do. There’s a very important event in his life that the public doesn’t know about. A trial.”

I swallow. “Those records were sealed. You can out him but he’ll deny it. Anastasia will vouch for him, Carrick will defend him, his publicist will spin the story to make you look like a jilted man seeking revenge for your lost company… You don’t have proof, Andrew.”

“No, you’re right. I don’t. Which is why I’m not going to be the one to tell the world his secret. You are.”

“Me? You think I’m going to tell the world about my past with Christian? About the things I did to him? That we did together? What do you think I’m stupid?”

“No, I think you have a very strong sense of self preservation. Or do I need to remind you again of the predicament you’re going to be in with my people while you serve your time?”

“Or that little Isaac is going to be in once you’re no longer here to protect him,” Gia adds with a malicious glint shining in the pale green of her eyes.

I glance down him and see his head hang, undoubtedly in fear, and then swallow back my own trepidation.

“If it’s you who lets the cat of the bag, he won’t be able to fight it,” Andrew says. “Telling your own story isn’t defamation. If you expose him to the world, what will he say to defend himself? That you’re lying about molesting a teenager? No, it’s perfect that it’s you.”

“And how exactly do you expect me to out myself in this grand way that will capture the world’s attention and destroy his reputation? Hold a press conference from prison?”

“No. You wouldn’t be able to share near enough detail in a press conference and I want it to be explicit. A book. An autobiography. You can give some background on yourself, try to make it look like you’re trying to explain why you did what you did or became the person you became, and then you’ll lay out everything the two of you ever did together and how you convinced him to lie about it under oath so that you could take my money and avoid prison. Well, until you got caught again.”

“I’m not a writer.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll make do. After all, you’re going to have a lot of time to yourself, Elena.”

I take a deep breath, pushing down the mixture of nausea and humiliation tonight has brewed inside of me. “How do I know you’re going to have any kind of power over me once they take me away? How do I know that this isn’t all some lie to try and terrify me into giving you what you want?”

He shrugs. “You don’t. And, if you want to find out how serious I am, by all means, ignore me. That’s your choice.”

I don’t respond, but instead focus on his eyes, looking for any hint of a lie or a bluff. I don’t see one. Could he be manipulating me? Yes. But I know the kind of power he’s wielded in the past, the kinds of connections he’s capable of making, and I’m not sure testing what he’s telling me is a good move for either Isaac, or myself. But is writing a tell all any better?

For Isaac, yes.

“Come, Gia,” Andrew says, finally getting out of his seat. “Let’s give Elena here some time to mull over what we’ve discussed.”


“Gia!” She’s silenced by the harsh bite in his tone, and reluctantly gets out of her seat. Her glare follows me as she leaves the room, but I don’t watch her go. My eyes stay transfixed on Andrew.

“We’ll talk soon,” he tells me, then looks to Isaac. “And you, you I may be able to use. Perhaps you could even… make life easier for Elena on the inside. I don’t know. We’ll see how well you cooperate going forward.”

He gives us both a sadistic smile as he moves past us and out of the room after Gia, and both Isaac and I wait in tense silence until we hear the front door open and close. Several second pass as we wait through the silence to make sure we’re alone, but no sound travels up the hall towards us.

“Mistress, what do we do?’

I stare back at him, speechless. I don’t know how to answer him. For the first time in a very long time, I’m helpless.

Next Chapter

Fifty Shades Freed: Don’t Miss the Climax (He He)

Obviously, for those who haven’t seen Fifty Shades Freed yet…


A few weeks ago, I won a drawing to attend an early pre-screening of Fifty Shades Freed. It was built up to be this big media event with press, and studio executives… turns out it was really just like going to see any other movie. But that’s fine because it was free and I got to see it a day earlier. Take that, countdown app!


So, Wednesday night, my cousin and I got all dressed up, went and had dinner at the Space Needle (for the most Seattle-y experience one could have, obviously), and headed off to the movies. But standing there, in the long line of other contest winners, the pure, unadulterated excitement that consumed me prior to seeing both Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker was not there. I was happy to be there, I was looking forward to seeing the movie, but there was absolutely no chance I was going to pee my pants.

It was an odd moment.

I think it was because of Fifty Shades Darker. It’s my favorite book of the trilogy and after the interminably long wait between 2015 and 2017, I was out of control with anticipation. I said in my last review that I obsessively stalked filming updates with near religious conviction, and it wasn’t an exaggeration. I’m pretty sure I’m the reason the Fifty Shades Darker trailer broke the Star Wars view record. I think my phone might STILL be playing it on repeat…

But when I left the theater after Fifty Shades Darker, I was feeling let down. Upon retrospect, I did it to myself. I overloaded before I even got to see it until it was built up to this great big thing that nothing could ever actually have measured up to, and it ruined an experience for me that, two years prior, was amazing.

Note: In order to test this theory, I am also willing to have sex with Jamie Dornan. Just to see if you really can over hype something into mediocrity.


I made a promise to myself with Freed. I wasn’t going to ruin it this time. I wasn’t going to DVR all the talk shows or live stream the premier. I wasn’t going to watch the trailer 50,000 times or even watch any of the promo clips that were released in the weeks leading up to it. I was going to go into this movie with absolutely no expectations.


And here’s how that turned out:


You guys. It’s so good. Like, SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO good. I left the theater last night unable to stop talking about it (Sorry, husband). I’m actually mad that I’m not watching it right now. I want to go into my bedroom, turn on my TV, pull up my Amazon library, and scream at both Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker for NOT being Fifty Shades Freed.


Let’s discuss, shall we?

The Good.

Jamie Dornan:


I know you’re all going to take this with a grain of salt because of the source material, but he was so good. I feel they changed Christian’s character a bit from the books, but I love every second of it. He was so funny and warm in this movie. He made me fall in love with Christian in a whole new way. Spoiler: There’s a scene at the end where he’s trying to cook Anastasia dinner and he burns everything, including my loins, and while Ana gives him a bit of a hard time for it, he just pushes the pan aside and says, “Fuck it, let’s get take out.” I. Die.



I love Dakota Johnson, and this is in no way a dig at her (since I put Jamie and not Christian), but I LOVE Anastasia’s character in this movie. Anastasia Steele might have been meek and shy, but Anastasia Grey is a badass. She will knife you if you stare too long at her husband, she will run your ass off the motherfucking road if you want to chase her on the highway, and she will get FINALLY get on her knees and do the deed for her very giving man. She’s still hilarious and warm and cute, but I loved the strength of her character so much in this movie. 10/10, Ana. Get it, gurl.

The Honeymoon Montage: 

This was just cuteness overload. Most of what came before the beach scenes was just quick flashes of them running through Paris, but it was seriously SO sweet. Spoiler: There’s a quick scene of them running through the pouring rain into this little cafe and Christian is shielding them both with his jacket. When they sit at the table, Ana has to dump water out of her shoes, but they both just laugh. They’re both clearly so happy and in love. Ugh, I loved it so much. Even the sex during the honeymoon was romantic and sweet, not gratuitous. It might be one of my favorite parts of the movie.

The Sex: 


Apparently there was some outcry about Ben and Jerry’s and Ana not being included in Fifty Shades Darker because we get it in the Aspen scene, and it’s just as hot as it was in the books. We still didn’t get the D, but Jamie’s pants were not present for every sex scene the way there were in Darker. It was explicit and prevalent. Freed is only like an hour and a half long and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least 30 full minutes of that was sex.

The Soundtrack:


I think that the music has been good in every movie, it’s something the Fifty Shades franchise has really excelled at. In fact, for all of my friends who hate Fifty Shades (don’t be too hard on them, everyone is wrong about something or another) I always refer to the first movie as Oscar Nominated Fifty Shades of Grey, because Earned It got a nomination for best original song. Anyway, Freed killed it. The music was perfectly chosen and really just made the whole thing cohesive. Unlike I Don’t Wanna Live in Darker, I was never wishing they would turn the music down so we could hear the dialogue better.



They actually filmed a lot of the aerial/car chase scenes IN Seattle, so that felt really nice to me. No fake 12 flags to report this time, folks.

The Pacing: 


I think this is actually where the first two movies have their biggest weakness. Well, this and the scripts. The first two dragged in some places and were too rushed in others. But this movie felt really well paced the whole way through. Honestly, because of how well this was edited and put together, I think it’s my favorite of all three movies.

I could go on, I want to. Jack Hyde, more scenes of the entire ensemble, Luke Saywer’s gorgeous blue eyes… But I think it’s time we get to:

The Bad.


Fifty Shades Freed Trailer screen grab

But for literally the opposite reason this was my least favorite part of the book. In the book, this part just drags on and on without any purpose or reason. In the movie, it’s really not long at all. BUT the club scene where the guy feels up Ana on the dance floor and Christian punches him out, you know, the one we saw in the trailer, that’s not in the movie at all. Elliot proposes, then everyone dances a little bit, Ana kisses Christian and suddenly it goes into this weird spliced scene between Ana and Christian in the red room and Ana in her office the next Monday. It’s a very jarring transition and honestly made the whole club thing pointless. I’m hoping we’re going to get more of this scene in the extended cut, because, as is, it’s baffling.

I’m pregnant: 


The scene where Ana tells Christian she’s pregnant fell flat for me for the same reason the Christian submissive scene fell flat in Darker. It was SO rushed. There was no shock, realization, anger… it was just:

Ana: I’m pregnant

Christian: Instantly furious.

But also, not really furious. Jamie toned Christian down a lot, so he gets mad and storms off, but not in a Christian Grey epic meltdown kind of way. The table didn’t even get flipped. There wasn’t enough build up to this scene and so his following actions just didn’t seem realistic for me. That might not be an issue for anyone else, but if I was going to point to one pacing issue, that would be it.

And that’s it! THAT’S ALL OF THE BAD.

It really was such a good movie. The best of the three in my opinion and I can’t wait to see it again. I’m a little devastated that this franchise is coming to a close. I’m going to miss the anticipation for these movies so, so much. I really hope Jamie and Dakota both go on to have amazing, lucrative careers, and make plenty more films for me to indulge in for years to come.

Thanks for the ride, EL James. It truly has been remarkable.