Chapter 29

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Trauma is strange.

Just a few days ago I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, surrounded by friends and family who loved me. Today, I’m an island. Not because there aren’t people around me. I’m constantly surrounded by doctors, psychiatrists, police officers, my security team, and Christian, but just because there are people physically in my presence doesn’t mean I’m not alone. They all still have the before. I only have the after.

The most notable difference now is time. It’s no longer measured in hours, only when I’m thinking about it, and when I’m not. I spend most of the daytime feeling like a zombie. I can see and hear everything going on around me but it’s very difficult to find meaning in any of it. Like I’m trapped in a bubble and while the outside world continues to go on beyond the invisible shield, I’m stuck inside as some kind of passive observer. Nights are worse though, because while I feel like I’m sleeping during the day, I’m wide awake at night. I lie in bed shaking, unable to stop myself from replaying what happened over and over again, because my nightmares are no longer sequestered to my dreams. My nightmares are all around me.

“Miss Steele?”

I look up and realize that the officer sitting across from me has asked me another question, but I’ve zoned out. Christian squeezes my hand, rubbing his thumb reassuringly across the backs of my fingers, and I try to focus.

“I’m sorry, what?” I breathe back, my voice just as dull and lifeless as it’s been for the past two days.

“Did he make any demands?” the officer, whose name I think is Campbell, asks again. “Did he want you to perform any sexual acts on him? Did he ask for money?”

“No,” I whisper, shaking my head. “No, he just threatened me.”

“What did he say?”

My eyes fall into my lap once more as I hear the harsh voice of the man who attacked me echoing in my ears again.

“He…” I hesitate, losing even more strength to my voice if possible. “He was going to kill me.”

“Did he have a gun?”

“He had a knife. He held it to my throat and…” My voice cuts out as tears prick my eyes and my throat tightens. “He said if I didn’t stop screaming he was going to kill me.”

“Does that explain the wound on your neck?”

“Yes.”

I turn and stare at the picture on the wall while the officer starts making notes. I can feel Christian next to me, silently trembling with rage and anguish. This is the third time we’ve tried to have this interview, and I’ve gotten farther today than I have before, so Christian is hearing these details for the first time. It’s difficult sharing my pain with him because I know he feels it as acutely as I do, but I have no way to comfort him. I want to say to say something reassuring. I want to offer him some words of solace, but I don’t have any to give. So, instead, I stare at the wall and wait for the officer to continue.

“Is there anything at all about him that you’d be able to recognize? His hair color? His skin color? His age?”

“He was wearing a ski mask,” I whisper.

“What about his height? His build?”

The memory I have of the man who attacked me flashes across my mind, as quick and as clear as a cut scene in a movie. For a brief second, I can feel his weight on me again, the moisture of his breath on my face. I can hear his voice and it makes my chest tighten with panic until I feel as though I have to gasp to get enough air.

“I think she’s had enough for today,” Christian says. He reaches out for me in the same slow, careful way that he has since I’ve been in the hospital, but before he can help pull me up out of the chair, the officer stops us.

“I’m sorry, Mr Grey. I understand this is difficult but I need her answers to these questions now, while the memories are fresh, if we’re going to have any hope of apprehending the people responsible for this. Everyday, the trail goes colder.” They stare at each other for a moment, I think testing one another, until Officer Campbell eventually turns to look at me. “Take your time, Miss Steele. There’s no rush.”  

“I only saw the one who was… touching me. There were two of them, but I couldn’t… I couldn’t focus on the other one.”

“That’s okay, just tell us what you can.”

“He was, I don’t know, about the same height as Christian. Bigger though. Heavier.”

“How tall are you, Mr. Grey?”

Christian’s jaw tenses. “6’2.”

“Okay, and what about the girl? This, Leila Williams?”

“She didn’t try to hurt me,” I tell him. “She was the only one who didn’t try to hurt me. She had a taser and when my dog came back to try and protect me, she used it on the man who was holding me against the wall and helped me escape. She helped me hide. She got me out of there and brought me to the hospital.”

“Did she have a car with her, or did she steal a car?”

“She stole it, I think. I don’t know, I didn’t ask. I just needed to get here.”

“And what did that car look like? What was the make? The model? The year?”

“I don’t know. It was older, probably from the 90s… and it was tan. The inside was tan. All of it was tan.”

“We’ll check reports for a stolen car, see if that will give us a place to start.”

“No… I don’t want to press charges against her. She saved me. If it weren’t for her, I would be…”

“I do,” Christian interrupts.

“Christian…”

“Ana,” he cuts me off again, and this time, I can hear the strain in his voice from the patience he’s trying to force. “If she hadn’t been following you all year, keeping tabs on you, learning your vulnerabilities and reporting them back to whoever this fucking psycho is, you would have never been in that situation. She may have gotten you out of it this time, but she’s the reason your life was threatened. She knows who is behind this. I want to press charges.” The furious growl beneath his voice at the end silences me, but as I turn to look down at my hands in my lap, Officer Campbell speaks again.

“Miss Steele, did she give you any indication as to who may have hired her or the men she was with?”

“She said she couldn’t tell me. She said he would kill her. I told her that Christian would protect her…” Christian snorts. “But she said he couldn’t. That we couldn’t even protect ourselves. She said this is… this is just the beginning. They’re going to come after me again.” My voice breaks as tears bubble up through my eyes and spill down over my cheeks. I shake as my breathing rattles in and out of my lungs, and Christian squeezes tightly to my hand again.

“They’re never going to get to you again, Anastasia. I swear to you.”

“We’re going to do everything in our power to keep you safe, Miss Steele,” Officer Campbell agrees, but I know that his words are empty, so I continue to cry.

The interview goes on for hours as I’m forced to repeat every detail I can remember, three or four times. From beginning to end, I tell the story as though I’m there again, observing what’s around me, what’s happening, until I eventually can’t bring myself to speak anymore.

“That’s enough,” Christian says again. “She’s had enough.”

“Of course, Mr. Grey.” Officer Campbell finally agrees. “I think we have enough to move forward from here. We may contact you again, Miss Steele, possibly several times over the next few weeks, while we continue this investigation. But if you think of anything, anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

“We have your card,” Christian says briskly. He helps me up out of the chair and wraps a protective arm around me as he leads me out of the room. Both Taylor and a hospital security guard are waiting outside the door for us and they walk us back to my room, the room my psychiatrist said he didn’t want me participating in police interviews in so that it could remain a safe place. But it’s not a safe place. Nowhere is.

He, whoever he is, has taken that from me.

I’m in the hospital a total of three days, and I’m actually surprised when the nurse comes into discharge me Thursday morning. I haven’t been sleeping since they brought me here, and it hasn’t gotten any better. The psychiatrist who has had me under observation says it’s PTSD, that it’s common for victims of trauma like mine, but putting a name to the problem doesn’t make me sleep, and without having slept, that nightmarish day feels as though it’s never ended. But the doctor has ruled that I’m not a danger to myself or others, and as long as those aren’t true, they can’t keep me here.

“We could go somewhere,” Christian suggests as he helps me re-pack the bag Gail brought a few days ago. “We could leave the country, stay somewhere in Europe or French Polynesia if you’d rather…”

“And run forever?” I ask, lifelessly, as I hand him a long, thin sweater from the hook on the back of the door. “How do you know he wouldn’t follow us?”

“What do you want?” he asks. “What can I give you, Ana? What can I do?”

I glance up and see the torment reflected in his expression and it tugs at my heart again.

“This wasn’t your fault, Christian.”

“Yeah? Tell that to your mother.”

My stomach clenches as remember the phone call between Christian and my mom the first night I was here. She’d screamed at him for nearly ten minutes, non-stop, blaming him for everything that had happened, telling him that he’d brought nothing but pain and suffering into my life since the day I met him, and that now, if he didn’t let me go, he was going to end of killing me.

“She shouldn’t have said those things to you,” I whisper. “They’re not true.”

“Aren’t they?” he asks.

“No, they’re not.” I try to keep my voice firm, but it’s difficult because I’m still so hoarse. “Christian, this isn’t your fault. You didn’t know…”

“We knew someone was after you.”

“In Cambridge. Seattle was supposed to be safe!”

He shakes his head. “They came after you because of me. They know that you’re the only thing that can hurt me and so they tried to hurt you. Whether it’s my money or something personal, it always comes back to me. You’re a target because of me.”

“You can’t think of it that way.”

“I have no other way to think of it. Fuck, I shouldn’t have gone to work that day. I shouldn’t have left you alone, I shouldn’t have taken the security team to GEH…”

“And I shouldn’t have taken the dog out,” I interrupt him. “Okay, I shouldn’t have gone out by myself, I shouldn’t have chased after Champ when he ran away, I should have had the pepper spray Luke gave me in my hand, I should have had my cell phone, I should have screamed louder, I should have fought harder…”

“Ana,” Christian says, coming around the bed and wrapping me tightly in his arms as I dissolve once again into deep, gut wrenching sobs. “Ana, stop. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Neither did you,” I whisper once I get my breath under control. “So what do we do now? How do we move on from here?”

He swallows and then leans down to place a gentle kiss on top of my hair. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

“He’s there, Christian. Leila said he was there.”

“He’s not. Okay, we’ve searched everything. We’ve changed all the codes, we’ve changed the locks on the service entrance, my team has reviewed all of the security footage from the apartment since Leila went missing before you left school, and we haven’t found anything. You’re safe, and you’re going to be safe, because I’m not going to take anything for granted anymore. I’m not going to make any more assumptions or any more concessions. I will make sure that you’re protected, I promise you.”

“I want Luke,” I tell him. “Not Kommer, not Cardella, Luke. Leila said that the only reason this happened here, this week, was because Luke wasn’t with me. He would have never let me go out like that, he would have been there…”

“I know. Baby, please don’t cry,” he says. “He’s here. Sawyer is at Escala.”

“Okay.” I nod and Christian kisses my hair once more before moving back around the bed, zipping up my bag, and taking it in his hand while reaching for mine. I push myself tightly into his side as we exit the room and this time, it’s not only hospital security waiting for us along with Taylor. Ryan is there and so is Anthony and Cardella, and, as we walk through the halls towards the back entrance of the hospital, they form a tight pack around us.

“Is there press outside?” Christian asks.

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds.

“Good.”

“Good?” I repeat. “Christian, I don’t want to be photographed…”

“We’ll keep you out of sight, Miss Steele,” Taylor assures me. “But, right now, the press is your friend. They’re witnesses and they draw public attention. No one is going to attack you when you’ve got 30 cameras pointed at you.”

“Oh…”

Christian shrugs out of his jacket as we come to the end of the hallway and throws it over my head, then grabs tightly to the arm not in a sling under the jacket and guides me through the doors. The moment I hear them roll open, there’s a deafening cacophony of clicking cameras and the shouts of reporters.

“Miss Steele, would you like to make a statement to whoever it is that did this to you?”

“Mr. Grey, is she alright?

“How’s the baby?”

I close my eyes shut as tightly as I can under the jacket and try to block it all out until I hear the low sound of a car door being opened.

“Step up,” Christian says.

I reach my hands out and feel the edge of the leather seat and look under the jacket so that I can climb into the back of the SUV. Christian slides in behind me, continuing to hold me tightly to his side as though he’s afraid to let me go for a single second, and the moment the security team has piled in with us, the car starts moving.

I’m covered the entire way home so that, even when I get out of the car to get into the elevator at Escala, the reporters standing on the street can’t get any photographs of me from the sidewalk. Once the doors slide closed though and the new code even I don’t know is entered into the keypad, I tug the jacket off and fold it over my good arm.

“Everyone is here,” Christian says while we make the steady rise up to the penthouse. “I told them I didn’t want anyone coming and overwhelming you at the hospital so they all came here. But if you’re not ready to be around them yet, you don’t have to. We’re going to do this at your pace, Ana.”

“Okay.” I nod.

The doors slide open and, as we step onto the marble floor of the foyer, I glance into the great room and see everyone seated around the giant white couch. A hush falls over the room instantly, and while most of our family waits for me to make the first move, staring at me like I’m a cornered animal or something, Luke jumps off the couch and practically charges at me. I can see, just before he wraps both of his thick arms around my head to hug me, that there are tears in his eyes.

“What were you thinking, you stupid, stupid girl?” he roars angrily, despite the fact that his voice is thick and ladened down with tears. “What did I tell you? What did I say to you before I put you on that plane?”

“I’m sorry,” I sob, breaking down with him. “I wasn’t thinking… I thought Seattle was safe. The dog needed to go out but there was no one here and I- I didn’t think. I’m sorry!”

“You scared the shit out of me,” he says, and then, out of nowhere, he lets me go. I look up and he’s rounding on Kommer. “Where the fuck were you?”

Luke grabs ahold of the front of his jacket and throws him into the wall, and while I watch him hold him there by his shirt so he can get right up into his face, the flashbacks start and I begin shaking.

“Stop,” I whisper, but he doesn’t hear me.

“I leave her alone with you for three goddamn days and this happens? What part of your job don’t you fucking understand? You’re lucky I don’t fucking kill you.”

“Stop!” I scream, as the panicked sobbing starts to overwhelm me. “Stop, please!”

Taylor rushes forward to pull Luke off of Kommer and, as Christian pulls me protectively into his chest, he turns an angry glare on Luke.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he demands.

“Uh… I didn’t mean… Ana, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Enough,” Taylor says, sternly. “Now, we’re all a team here which means we all fucked up that day. I don’t want to hear any blame being thrown around because this isn’t on any one of us, it’s on all of us, and it isn’t going to do any good. It happened, it’s over, now we’re going to make sure it never happens again.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says bitterly.

“Come on, let’s get you into bed,” Christian says, shooting one last dark look at Luke as he guides me out of the foyer and into the great room. Everyone stands as I approach the couch, even Carrick, who looks like these past few days may have set him back some.

“We appreciate all of you coming,” Christian says. “But I think this might be a little bit too much for Ana right now. She needs some sleep.”

“That’s fine, sweetheart,” Grace says. “We just wanted you to know that we love you and that we’re here for you. For anything you need.”

“Thank you, Grace,” I whisper. Christian turns to lead me back to the bedroom, but as I look away from Grace, I realize, for the first time, that Kate is sitting on the end of the couch. Why is she not in Cabo?

“Kate?”

“Hey, Ana,” she says softly, dashing tears out of her eyes as she gets to her feet. “I came as soon as I got that Google Alert. I didn’t know… I-I… Can I hug you?”

I nod quickly as tears begin leaking over my lower lids and she closes the space between us to pull me into her. She’s the only other person in this room who knows what this feels like, who knows exactly what I’m going through, and to see the pain on her face and to feel her tears dampening my hair is somehow both validating and making everything that happened so much more real, and so much worse.

“I’m so sorry, Ana,” she cries. “I should have put Champ in boarding for the week.”

“No. If it didn’t happen like this, it would have happened another way and Champ saved my life, so… I’m glad he was there. You should be proud, Kate. You’ve got a real attack dog on your hands.”

She breathes out a small, broken laugh, and then pulls back so she can look at my face. “Look at you, making jokes. You’re so strong, Ana. I love you so much and I’m here for you, okay? Whatever you need. Just like you were there for me.”

“If I remember correctly, that involved a lot of you and Ana sharing a bed and not a lot of Ana and I sharing a bed,” Christian interjects, and Kate laughs again.

“Just like it should be,” she says, and she wraps her arms around me again.

“Okay,” Christian says. “Come on, I don’t want you up and around so much. Your blood pressure isn’t going down, remember? You need to be resting.”

I nod and hug Kate one last time before turning to offer a grateful smile to the rest of Christian’s family. Mia also has tears in her eyes, but she manages to smile as I walk away, and it’s then that I realize that Elliot isn’t here. I glance around the room, but don’t see him anywhere, and for Elliot… that feels really strange.

“Where’s your brother?” I ask Christian as he pulls the comforter back for me to climb into bed.

“I told him not to come.”

“Why?”

“Because he would have brought Gia and I thought it would be better if she wasn’t one of the first faces you saw when you got home. I only wanted you surrounded by people who really love you right now.”

“Oh… was he upset that you didn’t want him here?”

“Not really. Apparently Gia is being really melodramatic about this whole thing, worrying if they need their own security now, and Elliot honestly didn’t want to bring any of that in here either. He’s gone through this before with Kate so he understands what you really need right now.”

“What about you?” I ask. “Elliot’s always been such a rock for you. Don’t you need him?”

“I’m fine, Ana. Please, don’t worry about me.”

“I’m not. I mean, I am. I’m not saying that what you’re doing isn’t helpful or that I don’t need you to lean on, but… I just keep thinking about what those few hours must have been like for you. The not knowing…” I swallow back the tears that seem never ending as Christian climbs into the bed next to me. “It would have killed me if it had been you out there.”

“Come here,” he whispers, pulling me into him. I scoot across the sheets and allow him to fold his arms around me while I rest my head against his chest. He holds me there, just holds me, and for really the first time since this happened, I feel like I could sleep. In fact, I’m just about to when Christian’s voice pulls me back into consciousness.

“It was the worst three hours of my life,” he says, so softly his voice is like an echo. “From the second I answered Ros’s phone call until I got the call from the hospital, it was worst three hours of my life. I thought I was never going to see you again. I thought you were dead. I kept replaying that morning in my head over and over again. How I didn’t even really say goodbye to you before I went to work because I didn’t want to wake you. I just brushed your hair out of your face, kissed your lips as softly as I could, and then I left. That would have been our last kiss. Of all the kisses that I can remember so clearly that I can still feel them, that would have been our last kiss and you weren’t even awake. I had no idea when I left that morning that that could have been the last time I ever saw you.”

I look up when I hear his voice break and I see a single tear roll down over his cheek. It takes me by surprise because, for as long as I’ve known Christian, for everything we’ve ever been through together, I’ve never seen him cry. Not when he first confessed to his father about his relationship with Elena, not when I left him after we got back from New York, not after he’d finally admitted that he’d been abused, not even when we were certain he was going to go to prison for Elena’s crimes. Never. My throat constricts as I reach up to wipe away the bead of moisture, and Christian swallows so that he can continue.

“I think the worst part was everything that’s happened over the past few months. The time with you that I’ve sacrificed working as many hours as I did, the dates that I wanted to celebrate with you and didn’t… On October 21st you and I had officially been dating one day longer than we did before you broke up with me the first time. I wanted to give you something or do something for you, even just kiss you as deeply as I could and tell you how much I love you, but you were in Cambridge and I didn’t think it was the kind of milestone you’d want to celebrate, so I didn’t do anything. I let that moment go. Even this weekend we were fighting, or… not fighting, but we weren’t connected the way we are when we’re at our best. When I imagined you, scared and hurt, knowing that this was the end, I was terrified that maybe because I’d been angry with you that you might have had some kind of doubt, in that moment, about how much I really love you. That you were going to go not knowing that you are my entire world.”

“No,” I say with hitched breath. “That thought never crossed my mind. Not even for a second.”

“I love you,” he says again. “I love you more than I can tell you. You are absolutely everything that has meaning in my life and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that a not one more day goes by that you don’t know that.”

I turn so that I can move my body up and reach Christian’s lips with mine, ignoring the ache in my badly bruised elbow as I open my mouth to him. His hand moves up to the side of my face and gently caresses the side of my cheek before slipping into my hair and pulling me tighter into him. His tongue is needy against mine so I kiss him with all the hunger and fervor I can manage in the dissociative state that’s been my life for the past three days, and when we finally break apart, we’re both left panting for air.

“I know how much you love me, Christian,” I whisper against his lips. “Because I feel that same, consuming love for you. I would never forget that.”

“I’m going to help you heal, Ana, I promise. I’m going to find a way to make this easier for you. And I don’t care how many times they tell me it can’t be done, I’m going to find away to give you what I think you need most right now…”

“What are you talking about?” I ask, but he simply kisses me again, not deeply this time, just a series of small, soft pecks against my lips, before he shifts me back into his side.

“Sleep, baby,” he says quietly. “You need to sleep.”

 

The first full day I’m back home doesn’t go very well. I’m in and out of sleep all day, tormented by nightmares that make me relive it all over and over again. It seems like every time I fall asleep, I’ve only just closed my eyes before Christian is leaning over me, shaking me awake while my screams echo through our bedroom. By day two, it’s gotten so bad that he has a doctor come to the apartment to try to give me something to help me sleep. But, between my pregnancy and the complications with my blood pressure that I’m already experiencing, the best he can do is give me 3 milligrams of melatonin, which makes me tired but doesn’t do anything to help with dreamless sleep.

When Sunday finally rolls around, I feel despondent. I lie in the bed that I haven’t left for more than the time it takes to shower or go to the bathroom in three days, drifting in and out of sleep as I run my fingers through Champ’s fur. He came home from the vet yesterday and has been resting with me ever since. He’s healing too, and surprisingly, or unsurprisingly really, Christian doesn’t care at all that the dog wants to lay in the bed with me. In fact, every time he’s come in here to check on me, he takes a second to scratch Champ behind the ears and tell him what a good boy he is.

The dreams start again sometime in the late afternoon, but my brain protectively pulls me out of them before they go too far. I start awake and look around the room with confusion for a moment until I hear the low sound of Christian’s voice coming from the great room.

“She sleeps for a while but she wakes up screaming every time. I’m starting to really worry. She’s pregnant and she can’t sleep, she hardly eats, she hasn’t been out to run, not that I would let her, but..it’s like she’s fading away and I don’t know what to do to make this better for her. I thought I did, I’m trying to get her something that, I’m hoping, is going to at least bring some light back in her eyes, but I’m having more difficulty that I thought and I’m afraid she’s going to waste away before I can make it happen. I don’t know what to do.”

“There’s nothing you really can do,” Elliot’s voice responds. “She’s been through some shit that she’s got to find a way to work through and that takes time. You just have to give her time. Be there for her, let her talk to you, make sure she feels safe, and don’t give up on her. No matter how long it takes.”

“Of course not,” Christian says. “But it’d be a lot easier if I felt like some kind of fucking progress was being made to catch this motherfucker.”

“The police haven’t found anything?”

“No. Leila’s car was found abandoned with no indication where she went, they didn’t pull anything off of Ana’s clothes, and there was so much blood on the dog that all the samples they pulled off him were useless.”

“It’s only been a few days, though. Something could come up. Maybe someone saw something.”  

“Maybe. God, I just can’t stand seeing her like this.”  

“I know. It’s hard. And it’s going to be hard. Is she… is she going back to school?”

“I don’t know. She hasn’t said anything about it and… I hope she doesn’t. I hope she decides not to go, to stay here with me, because I don’t think I could let her go right now. The very idea of her being out my reach is unbearable. No. No, I can’t let her go.”   

“Is that your decision to make?” Elliot asks. “She might feel better if she gets out of the city. I mean, even you said that that girl that saved her told her she’d be safer in Cambridge.”

“You don’t think I can keep her safe? You don’t think I can protect her?” His voice is angry now.

“That’s not what I said,” Elliot says conciliatory, pausing for a moment before he continues. “You okay, Christian? You can talk to me you know.”

“I’m just… I’m so fucking angry. Someone out there tried to take her from me, Elliot. Actually take her from me. Forever. Someone tried to hurt my girl, and now she’s so terrified she can’t even sleep. I keep thinking about him out there, planning this, watching her like some kind of fucking peeping tom, stalking her, and then somehow convincing this group of thugs that he has at his disposal to put aside their humanity enough to grab a pregnant woman off the street, harm her, and threaten to murder her and her child. Every time I think about it, it makes me murderously angry. I could kill him, Elliot. I want to kill him.”

“I know. I know exactly how angry you are. I went through this too, knowing there was someone out there who wanted to do horrible things to the woman I loved, and that anger can’t be quantified. It makes you irrational. It makes you want to do stupid things and none of that is going to help her. So I’m going to say the same thing to you that you said to me.”

“Yeah? What was that?”

“That this is the time when you have to put your shit aside and really step up and be a man. You don’t get to sit here and be angry, you don’t get to go out and do something reckless to try and get revenge, because she is all that matters right now and she needs you. You have to let her dump everything onto you and just be whatever she needs you to be, carry it for her as much as you can. You have to be the strong one and if it’s too much, you come to me. You can complain to me, you can scream at me, hell we can put on some pads and you can throw punches at me, whatever you need, but when it comes to her, you never let her see you struggle because this is not about you. This isn’t about what you’re going through. This is going to be worse for her than it was with Kate because when that psycho came after her that night with the gun, Kate wasn’t alone. She didn’t see what happened, she didn’t have to fight to get away from him, and when that night was over, it was over. Ana was alone, and Ana did have to fight. Whoever this fucker is is still out there and she’s gotta be terrified. You have to make her feel safe now. Especially because she’s gonna have a baby to take care of in a couple months and she needs to be strong enough to do that.”

“I know. And I want to carry anything I can for her. I wish I could take it all. I’m not going to fail her like this ever again. I’m going to keep her safe. I’m going to heal her. And I’m going to find out who he is and when I do, I’m not going to fuck with police or my security team, I’m going to hunt him down myself and beat him to fucking death.”

“And I’ll hold him down for you.”

“Thanks, Elliot.”

“So, how’s work going? How are you dealing with all of that and being here? You haven’t been able to stop working for months but Mom says you haven’t left the apartment since Ana got home.”  

“I’m not doing anything,” Christian says. “Ros is back.”

“Ros? Really? How’d you manage that?”

“It wasn’t hard, it’s what she wanted. But I’ll tell you this, I don’t think I’ve ever gravelled to anyone the way I did to Ros that first night Ana was in the hospital.”

“What do you mean?”

“I just felt so stupid, being played like that. That’s what Elena used to do, like with that photograph she took of Harrington and Ana back in our freshman year. It’s like this fucker knows each and every one of our vulnerabilities, and exactly how to exploit them. Ros has never done anything to make me distrust her and the second my trust was tested, I turned on her. And when she was gone, and everything was up to me, I saw how much she really does for me. How much of my life and happiness is subsidized by her willingness to give up her time and to work for this company like she owns it. So, I begged for forgiveness for a while, and then I gave her a new title, a higher salary, and called the lawyers to start dividing up assets so that I can gift her a 25% ownership stake in the company.”

“Wait, you’re gifting her part of GEH?”

“Yeah. I’d originally proposed 80/20 but she negotiated to a quarter stake. She’s good.”

“Wow,” Elliot says. “What about Welch? Is he coming back too?”

“Welch is more difficult,” Christian admits. “We made an offer and he rejected it. Apparently he has some bad feelings about what happened and he’s got a new job now. Ros is counter offering, hoping she can draw him back with more money, but I’m going to call him personally later. I think I know what he really wants.”

“And what’s that?”

“Patent rights.”

“Wait… what?” Elliot exclaims. “Christian, you can’t give him that! Your technology division is the most profitable part of your company. You depend on those…”

“Obviously, not exclusive rights,” Christian interrupts him irritably. “But a clause in his contract stating that he will be adequately compensated for anything he develops under the GEH brand if he ever chooses to terminate his employment.”

“Wow, that’s… generous.”

“I need him. I think that’s what this whole thing has taught me, Elliot. I can’t do this on my own anymore. I can’t be an island. I need people around me, people I can trust and people I can depend on.”

There’s a pause.

“You have no idea long I’ve wanted to hear you say that,” Elliot says, and I can hear his smile in his voice. There’s a muffled clapping sound, which could be either a handshake or a hug, followed by the muted ping of the elevator.

Champ growls and I grip his fur with my fingers as my body stiffens and I listen as acutely as I can.

“Hey, Christian,” Kate’s voice says after a long beat of silence. “Oh… Elliot. I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were here.”

“No,” Elliot responds. “Don’t be sorry, I’m happy to see you. Come here.” She lets out a soft, pleasant sounding, half-laugh and then there’s silence while, I assume, they hug. “How have you been?” Elliot continues. “Are you going back to school?”

“Yeah, I’m on my way to the airport right now, I just wanted to stop in and check on Ana before I go.”

“She’s sleeping,” Christian says. “Don’t wake her.”

What? No. “Kate!” I call, and almost immediately, I hear the sound of her shoes cross the great room and come up the hallway towards the bedroom.

“Ana?” Kate says softly as she pushes open the door, and I prop myself up so that I can talk to her or hug her if I want to. She closes the door behind her and then crosses the room to plop down on the bed next to me and gives me a sad kind of smile.

“How are you doing, babe?”

I shake my head. “Not good. I can’t stop reliving it. Every time I close my eyes, I see that alley. I can still hear his voice, smell his breath…”

“Feel his touch on your skin,” Kate finishes for me and I look up at her in shock. “That never goes away. At least it didn’t for me.”

“How do you do this, Kate? How do you just… go on?”

“You make a choice,” she says. “It gets easier. You’ll never forget but, eventually, you’ll start thinking about it less. At first, you’ll make it a whole hour, then an afternoon, then a day. Sometimes now I go weeks without thinking about it, but I’ll never forget. The choice you have now is about you and your life. You can move on, learn the lessons about never taking a day of your life for granted that sound cliche but end up being true, or you can let the fear have you. But if that’s what you choose, then he wins. Then he did kill you that day, because he’s taken your future from you.”

My face crinkles as I hang my head again, and I feel her arms wrap around me.

“I’m not saying that you’re weak. You’re not, Ana, you’re very, very strong. And I’m not saying you need to put this behind you today. But the sun is going to rise tomorrow. Days are going to pass, the seasons are going to change… In a few short months, you’re going to give birth to my goddaughter. You have so much to look forward to, so much to be grateful for, and so many people who love you. Those are the things that are going to get you through this so don’t forget about them, okay?”

“I won’t,” I promise.

“So… I don’t see a suitcase. Are you, I mean… are you coming back to Cambridge?”

I swallow, take a deep breath, and then slowly shake my head. “I can’t. Christian needs me here. He needs to be close to me right now and see that I’m safe and okay, and he can’t come to Cambridge.”

“But what about school? There’s only eight weeks left, we’re almost done…”

“I know. Maybe I’ll see if I can finish from here, or maybe get a few weeks academic leave and then decide if things have calmed down enough for me to come back. I just can’t leave him right now.”

She looks like she has more to say, but instead she presses her lips together and takes a moment to think about her words carefully before she speaks. “That’s your decision, but I hope you change your mind. I know what Harvard means to you, Ana, and I’d hate to watch you let it slip away from you now that you’re so close.” I frown but don’t respond, and Kate leans over, kisses me on the forehead, then turns to scratch Champ behind the ears.

“I can take him with me if that’s what you want,” she says. “But if you want him here, you can keep him for as long as you need.”

“Thanks, Kate. I want him to stay.”

“Okay. Well, I should go. I don’t want to miss my flight.”

“I’ll walk you out.” I climb out of bed, hook my arm through hers, and walk with her back out through the great room. Christian and Elliot watch us cautiously as we approach, but when Kate stops and smiles at Christian, he gets off the couch to hug her.

“Call me if you need anything,” he tells her.

“Thanks, Christian. I’ll see you soon. Take care of my best friend, okay.”

“I will.”

“Elliot.” Kate turns to him and gives him a wistful kind of smile before she steps forward and squeezes him tightly. “It was really good seeing you. You should… you should call me sometime. We should catch up.”

“I’d really like that,” Elliot says. “Have great time at school, Katie. Knock ‘em dead.”

“You know I will.” She smiles and then reaches back for me to go the rest of the way to the elevator with her. While we wait for the doors to slide open, she hugs me again.

“Call me every day,” she says. “And Skype me whenever you can. We should watch movies together, and Grey’s on Thursdays.”

“I will,” I promise.

She pulls back and wipes away the tear rolling down her cheek as the ping of the elevator’s arrival sounds around us.

“I love you, Annie.”

“I love you too, Katie.”

Her fingers squeeze mine and then slowly drag away. I stand there, staring after her as she steps into the elevator and then disappears, going where I should be going. Leaving me behind.

“Oh, Miss Steele,” Taylor says, looking almost surprised when he comes out of the security office. “I’m sorry, I waited… I was trying not to startle you.”

“That’s fine, Taylor. You didn’t.”

“Good,” he says, and then he nods and heads back into the great room. “Mr. Grey? I have the phone records for Miss Matteo that you requested.”

“Matteo?” Elliot asks. “Gia? You’re checking up on Gia?”

“Leila told Ana that whoever’s doing this has access to Escala, which means they have the elevator code. There are very few people who have that code, Elliot.”

“Okay, so are you checking into my phone records too? Into Mia’s?”

“Do you think it’s likely that Mia is the one coordinating with someone who’s trying to murder my fiancé?”

“About as likely as it is to be Gia,” Elliot snaps back.

“Then she shouldn’t have anything to hide,” Christian says.

“Sir, he’s right…” Taylor interjects. “I went through her phone records, her texts, her email communication, her credit card statements, and her bank accounts. There’s nothing out of the ordinary that suggests she has had contact with anyone who has the kind of capabilities we’re dealing with, unless she has another phone that we aren’t aware of.”

“Does she another phone?” Christian asks, turning to Elliot, and his face immediately turns a fiery red.

“No, she doesn’t,” he says coldly. “She’s not the villain, Christian, no matter how much you want her to be. All she wants is to be received into this family, the way that Kate was, the way that Ana is. Why can’t you accept that?”

“Because someone gave out those codes, Elliot.”

“Well it wasn’t her,” he snaps, and he rips the records out of Taylor’s outstretched hand and stalks to the elevator. Christian sighs, and Taylor lets out a low cough.

“I’ll uh… I’ll get you another copy, sir.”

“Thank you, Taylor,” Christian says. “Any word on…?”

He nods. “In transit. We should expect arrival tomorrow morning sometime.”

“Good. Thank you, Taylor.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” He nods to me and then turns to leave while Christian reaches out for my hand so that he can pull me into him.

“How are you feeling?” he asks.

“Like the world is spinning too fast for me to hold on anymore.”

“Then let me slow it down for you.” He leans down and kisses me, slowly, tenderly, so that warmth washes over my entire body. “Are you hungry?” he asks when he pulls away.

“No.” I shake my head.

“I really wish you’d eat. You have to eat, Ana…”

“I’m not hungry,” I repeat. “I’m tired. I’m going to go back to bed.”

“I’ll be in in a minute,” he sighs, and I nod as I worm out of his arms and make my way back to our room.

 

It’s another mostly sleepless night for me, until the morning starts to creep in through the windows and the shadows of dreams begin to dance across my eyes. For the first time in a long time, I don’t immediately see the entrance to that alley behind my eyelids, so I nestle deeper into my pillow and let sleep have me.

It’s wonderful. Peaceful. There’re no screams, no sharp spikes of pain, or cold whispers in the dark. There’s only warm sunlight shining down on my face, fine white sand curling around my toes, and the gentle rumble of the tide washing in and out.

“There you are,” Christian’s voice says behind me, and I blink through the sunlight until I find him standing over my towel with two cold tropical drinks in his hand.

“My hero,” I reply, taking the blue drink that matches the crystal clear color of the water.

“You look like you’re getting too much sun,” he says. “Let me help you.”

He nestles down on the sand behind me, picks up a bottle of sunscreen, and squeezes a dab into his hand. I watch, fascinated, as he rubs his palms together before he places them on each of my shoulders and begins to massage me.

“Mmm, that feels nice.”

“Good.” His lips press into the slender part of the back of my ear. “I only ever want to make you feel good.” I moan as his lips are quickly replaced by his tongue and he begins tracing a line down my earlobe to my neck. Once he starts to nibble and suck on the sensitive skin there, I place my drink in the sand and turn to kiss him. His lips are warm and his tongue gently teases mine. I move my hands up into his hair and tug gently, making him moan too.

“Oh, Ana,” he says. “Ana. Ana. Ana!”

I wake up with a start, see Christian leaning over me fully dressed, and groan. The light coming through the windows is entirely too bright for the early morning, so I must have been sleeping for a while, but not long enough to feel well rested.

“Wake up, baby,” Christian whispers.

“No,” I groan.

“I have something for you. Something I hope is going to make you feel a little better.”

“Is it a fruity cocktail and a warm beach?” I ask.

“No,” he laughs.

“Then I choose sleep.”

“Trust me, baby. You want to wake up. There’s someone here for you.”

Someone?” I check.

“Yes, someone. Wait here.”

“It’s not another doctor is it?” I check as he turns to leave the room, but he just shakes his head and disappears through the door. I groan and think maybe I’ll just go back to sleep anyway, try to salvage the dream Christian ripped away from me, and I almost think that I have when I hear the next voice.

“Annie?”

My body freezes. I slowly pry open my heavy eyelids and then feel my mouth pop open with complete and utter shock when I see the man standing in the doorway, still dressed in his army green fatigues.

“Daddy?” I whisper, and he smiles.

“Hey, baby girl.”

 

Chapter 28

7e0796a234c0d4624db74557fbae45ca

The following is intended for mature audiences and may contain material that is not suitable for some readers. Discretion is advised.

Kate sits by my side with a pad of paper to take notes for thank you cards while I open gifts, and before we even make it to the presents my family has purchased, she’s already filled two pages. Receiving gifts like this has a whole other kind of meaning when you’re not in need, the gesture becomes purely about love and support, and after the year we’ve had, experiencing that reassurance over and over again has me feeling slightly overwhelmed.

When I finally get to the gifts from my family, I start with the packages from Grace because I think she might spontaneously combust if I don’t. It takes nearly thirty minutes for me to unwrap everything and in the end she’s given us dozens of clothes, high tech video baby monitors, the most advanced stroller on the market, a year subscription to a diaper service that delivers clean cloth diapers daily and packs away the used ones to be laundered, an entire pack of bibs that all have some variation of Grandma Loves Me Most written on them, and a gown for the baby’s christening.

I give Christian a sideways glance as I pull the white gown and hat from the box, and he rests his hand reassuringly on my knee before turning to his mother and thanking her. While I also offer my thanks and get off the floor to hug her for everything, I wonder if the whole baptism thing is something Christian and I will talk about or if that’s not my choice to make just because Grace is Catholic. The latter I’m not sure I’m comfortable with…

Next I open Gia and Elliot’s gift, and I’m actually surprised by how much I love the floral printed Roberto Cavalli diaper bag. It’s white with pastel flowers all over it and black impressionist drawings of birds and butterflies. It’s so cute that it’s actually something I would happily carry around as a purse, and as I examine everything, I find that it’s also very functional.

“Thank you, Gia,” I tell her, sincerely.

“You’re very welcome, Anastasia,” she replies, and for the first time I don’t really hear any bitterness or resentment in her voice. She smiles at me and I smile back, until Elliot interjects.

“Thank you, Gia?” he repeats, as though he’s hurt. “You think this was Gia’s idea? You think I didn’t walk into Roberta Cav-a-lee all by myself, look at that purse thing, and say to myself, that’s exactly what Anastasia needs for my new niece?

“Surprisingly, I don’t,” I say wryly.

He holds his hand to his chest and lets his mouth fall open with fake shock, but Gia rolls her eyes and turns back to me.

“Elliot’s gift is inside.”

The corner of my mouth upticks and I reach into the bag. When my fingers close around some kind of soft fabric, I pull it out, and, once I read the print on the onesie he’s bought for us, I give him a hard, sardonic look, shake my head, and then toss it to the floor.

“What is it?” Christian asks, picking it up and turning it towards him so he can read the text that says:

My Dad is a Mother Fucker

“Real nice, Elliot,” Christian says, balling up the onesie and tossing it at his brother, who is almost beside himself with laughter. I roll my eyes and reach for my mother’s gift, which ends up being a beautiful homemade quilt for the baby’s nursery.

“Thank you, Mom,” I tell her as I squeeze her tightly against me. “It’s gorgeous. I love it so much.”

“You’re very welcome, Ana,” she says. “I was hoping to stitch the baby’s name into the blanket but…”

Her voice trails off airily as Christian and I look at each other, and I bite down on my lip, trying to hold back a smile.

“Actually, Christian and I decided on a name. Just now.”

“Amelia?” Mia chirps excitedly. I laugh and shake my head, then turn to Christian.

“Do you want to tell them?”

“No, you go ahead.”

“Okay. Christian and I have decided to name her Calliope, after the Greek goddess of eloquence and poetry.”

“Oh,” Grace coos. “Oh, that’s so beautiful!”

“Thank you,” I smile at her.

“Cal…” Elliot begins, his voice trailing of as if he’s having trouble with the word.

“Kah-Lie-Oh-Pee” Christian says, over phonetically, but Elliot doesn’t seem any more pacified.

“So, Callie then?” he asks, and when Christian shakes his head the look of satisfaction on Elliot’s face at finding another easy way to irritate his brother becomes obvious.

“What’s her middle name?” Carter asks, though the curiosity in his question is very quickly replaced with something much more awkward once he catches Elliot’s very irritated glare.

“Katherine,” Christian says. “Calliope Katherine.”

I turn to look at Kate and watch the pouty look of adorable-overload slowly melt off her face until her expression is entirely blank.

“Katherine?” she repeats. “Like… after me?”

“Yes,” I reply, beaming at her. “After you. It was Christian’s idea.”

A huge grin slowly creeps across her face and her eyes turn glassy as she throws herself forward, bypassing me and wrapping her arms tightly around Christian’s neck.

“Uh…” Christian says uncomfortably, his whole body tensing under the sudden, unexpected contact.

“I know, I know,” Kate says, through her tears. “You don’t like people touching you, but just deal with it for a second, okay? Thank you, Christian!”

Slowly, Christian relaxes, and even reaches around to hug her back, and as he turns to whisper something private into her ear, Gia gets out of her seat.

“Excuse me,” she huffs, and storms out of the room.

“Gia?” Elliot calls after her, but when she doesn’t stop or turn around, he sighs. “God damn it,” he says, groaning as he gets off the floor and disappears after her.  

“Are we supposed to wait for her?” Mia asks, annoyed, but Grace shakes her head.

“No, this day is about Ana, not Gia. Go ahead, dear. I think those ones are from Mia.”

I smile and take the gift bags next to the blanket my mother made for us. Mia’s gifts are mostly clothes, though I’m obsessed with the tiny Dior peacoat she’s found, and once Christian and I have both gotten up to thank her properly, I move on to my last gift, which is from Kate.

“Baby’s first Chanel,” I say airily as I slide the pale pink ribbon off the black box in my lap. She smiles at me.

“I thought she could wear this home from the hospital.”

“Really?” I start digging through the white tissue paper inside, and when I find the tiny infant sized onsie, pants, and socks that are all covered in Seahawks logos, my eyes widen with excitement.

“You know me so well!” I chirp, and then pull her into me, giggling as we hug each other.

“There’s real Chanel back at the house,” she promises. “I just thought you’d like this more.”

“Is it bad if I agree with you?” I ask, and we both laugh again.

With everything unwrapped, we begin packing what we can into the car or into the nursery upstairs, and then hug and kiss everyone but Kate and Carter good-bye, thanking them again before we go. I feel calm as we make the drive back to Escala, content, and above all else happy. Before Christian, I had my mom and Bob, and I had Ray, but that was the entire extent of my family. Christian has given me so much more than that, imbibed my life with so much more love and support, and to see it all on display today leaves me with a resounding sense of peace.

At home we have dinner with Kate and Carter and then spend a few hours seated around the huge white couch in the living room, listening to the horror stories of Elliot and Carter’s stand off all afternoon and the endless barrage of questions Elliot threw at him, until Christian finally decides he’s had enough with company and drags me back into the bedroom to be alone. I’m still in the flowy pink dress Kate put me in this afternoon, so my first priority is to strip it off in favor of some sweats and one of Christian’s t-shirts, but I’ve only just gotten out of the dress when I feel his arms wrap around me from behind.

“Did you enjoy your shower?” he asks, and I hum my approval as I turn to face him.

“Very much. There’s a lot of love in this family.”

“Well, you’re very easy to love.” He leans down to kiss me but, as he begins pulling me back towards the bed, another thought pops into my mind and I stop him.

“Um… Ros was there this afternoon.”

He frowns. “Ros? Why?”

“I don’t know, I guess Kate invited her.”

He lets out a very unattractive snort as he turns away from me and makes for his dresser, and I bite down on my lip nervously as I watch him go.

“She, uh… she and I talked a bit,” I begin. “She kind of told me some things that I want to talk to you about.”

“Oh, I’m sure she told you a lot of things,” he replies bitterly. “She’s never been short on things to say.”

“Christian, I think you should listen to her. She told me she didn’t send those emails and when I listened to what she had to say… I– I believe her.”

“You believe her because she’s a professional con-artist. Her job is to sell a shitty deal like it’s the chance of a lifetime and she’s very good at it. It’s why I’ve kept her around so long. I bought her lies too, but I won’t be that naive again.”

“That’s harsh, Christian. She was your best friend, don’t you think you owe her…”

“I don’t owe her a goddamn thing, Anastasia,” he interrupts me, angry now. “I gave that woman everything and she betrayed me. She was just using me as a stepping stone to get power. Does that sound like a friend to you?”

“But that’s the thing, Christian, I don’t think she was. She told me that she talked to Welch and…”

Welch?” he snaps, interrupting me again. “The man who tried to have me ousted from my own company? You think that makes any of this better?”

“Will you please just listen to me?”

“No, I don’t want to talk about Ros Bailey, Anastasia. I’m done with her. I’m done with Welch, I’m done with all of it.”

“But what if you’re wrong?”

“I have the proof, Ana.”

“You have emails on a server that god only knows who has access to. She said she thinks GEH has been compromised, what if she’s being set up?”

“I have the best technology team money can buy, Anastasia. That server is very well protected.”

“By who, Welch? He was the first one gone, wasn’t he?”

“Do you think I don’t know how to run a company? Is that how you see me? Incompetent?”

“No, I just… I-I just…”

Christian’s jaw tightens and he presses his lips together in a thin line. “I’m done having this conversation. I’m gonna…  go check my email.”

“Christian…” I say, but he ignores me, turning instead for the door and disappearing into the hallway. I let out a heavy sigh but decide it’s better to try again tomorrow rather than follow him into his office and continue to pester him, so instead I turn out the lights and crawl into bed.

I fall asleep before he returns.

 

Kate and Carter leave early the next morning for Cabo, but being alone together doesn’t make Christian want to talk about Ros any more than he did on Saturday night. So, once he and the team have gone into work on Monday morning, I make a plan to get Christian to talk to Ros whether he likes it or not. Still, I find myself walking through the apartment, checking around corners and peering into rooms people don’t even go into before I make the call.

“Hey, Ana,” Ros answers. “How are you?”

“I’m good. I was just calling to let you know that… well, I tried to talk to Christian.”

“And he wouldn’t listen to you,” she guesses with a sigh.

“No.”

“It was a long shot, but I had to try. God, he’s so fucking stubborn. I don’t know what I’m going to do, Ana.”

“Ros, I think I can help you. But if you’re lying to me…”

“Ana, I swear to you. Look, I know how it looks and I can understand, given everything he’s been through, why he doesn’t trust me. I mean, after Elena Lincoln, I can’t imagine he trusts anyone really… But you know me. You know that I stood by him during the hardest times of his life, that I fought tooth and nail to not let any of the things that happened in his personal life last year affect his company so that he wouldn’t lose it, that I’ve sacrificed my time and sometimes my sanity to be a support system for him and to make sure he was able to spend as much time with you as possible while you were at school this year. I’ve been his confidant, I’ve been his punching bag, I’ve been his best friend. Why would I defect now when everything was finally going so well?”

“I know,” I concede. “And it’s for those reasons that I want to trust you, but if I let another person into his life who is just going to let him down…”

“Then you’ll lose his trust too,” she finishes for me. “I know what I’m asking you, and if it’s too much, then I’ll understand if you don’t want to help me. But I promise, Ana, I just want my job back. I just want my life back.”

I take a deep breath. “Okay. Anthony and Cardella are in a meeting at GEH right now about the new security protocol for when they move into the new building. Cardella is supposed to be back in an hour, but if you can get here before she does then you can wait for Christian here. When he gets home, the two of you can sit down and talk.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Oh my god, thank you so much, Ana. I’ll come right now.”

“The elevator code is 040410. Hurry,” I tell her, but the only response I get is the clicking of the phone as she hangs up.

“Okay,” I say aloud, trying to reassure myself as I work through everything I need to do before Christian gets home now. Food is probably a good place to start, he’s always in a better mood after he eats and thankfully, I know his favorite meal. I make my way to the kitchen and pull some chicken out of the freezer to thaw and then make my way back to Christian’s wine stores to find his favorite bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. If food won’t do the trick, surely alcohol will…

I’m just going through the cupboards to see if I’m going to have to send Gail out this afternoon to get anything for the dish I have planned when I hear Champ’s paws scraping against the marble floor, and then the following scratching sound against the glass wall.

“Champ,” I call, but the the scratching continues. With a sigh, I close the cupboard and walk around the counter. When he sees me, he starts whining so I lean down to scratch him behind the ears.

“Do you need to go potty, buddy?” I ask, and his ears perk at the familiar word. I smile, stand, and then pat my leg to get him to follow me to the foyer, where I hook his leash through his collar and drag him with me into the elevator.

There isn’t a ton of great options for my backyard loving dog to find a place to relieve himself in the concrete jungle of downtown Seattle, so I end up taking him up the block a couple times, trying to guide him to the few patches of dirt that surround the trees on the edge of the sidewalk. But now that we’re outside, he’s much more interested in following the smells of the new city than trying to find a place to go to the bathroom.

“Come on, Champ,” I say impatiently, but he seems to care very little about my priorities right now. After sniffing the side of a newspaper machine, he begins moving down the sidewalk again, nose pressed to the ground, dragging me along behind him. I yank back on his leash, trying to get him back onto the dirt patch, but he’s stronger than I am and more determined. So when a stray cat pokes it’s head out of the alley just across the street from the corner we’re standing on, I don’t stand a chance of holding him back.

“Champ!” I shout over his barks that echo over the sound of car horns and surprised screams around me. “Fuck!”

I shoot an apologetic glance at the woman with her young daughter walking up the street next to me and then sprint into the street after him, thinking the whole time what a weird paradox I’ve suddenly found myself in. The cat is faster than Champ is but Champ is committed, which means that they’re just getting farther and farther away with every passing second and there’s no sign of Champ slowing down. On the other hand, I think if Champ were to catch the stupid cat, which would be the only thing to make him stop, the resulting carnage would give me nightmares for weeks. I’m not sure which option I want to happen least…

“Champ!” I call again, but nothing.

The cat takes a sharp left turn into an alley, now several blocks away from my apartment, and they both disappear, leaving me with only the sounds of Champ’s barking to follow.

“Shit, shit, shit,” I say as I round the corner and find that they’ve already made it around another corner at the end of the alley. I’m going to lose him. I’m going to lose Kate’s dog the first day she trusted me to watch him. Gritting my teeth together, I run up the alley and then make the decision to turn right, towards the echoing sounds of Champ’s barks, and it ends up being a mistake.

Standing there, watching me at the end of the alley, is Leila Williams.

“Leila?” I say, through the panting breaths that seem harsher now that they’re mingled with a sudden spike of fear. “What… what are you doing here?”

“I told you that you had to be careful,” she says. “I told you he was always watching.”

It’s like her words have a direct line to whatever part of the brain triggers terror and as she takes her first step towards me, I back away and instinctively place my hand over my baby bump. But when I turn and find that the path directly behind me leads to a dead end, and that the alley I just ran up is now occupied by two very burly looking men walking up towards me, each pulling ski masks over their face, that terror turns to hysteria.

“No!” I scream. “Help! Help!”

The men start sprinting at me and I turn to run, but I’m trapped. There’s nowhere to go and instead of my mind sharpening in this moment of absolute panic and helping me sort through what to do, it goes completely blank. I’m a shaking mess as I hear them come around the corner at me, helpless to do anything but scream.

I try to jerk away the moment I feel the first set of hands on me, but I’ve only just slipped out of his grip when I feel the second set. They quickly take hold of my arms and legs, and no amount of kicking or struggling can break me out of their grip as they drag me to the wall. There’s a weird sense of deja vu as I feel the same horror that has woken me up on countless nights because of this exact scenario, but it’s not a dream this time. Christian isn’t going to wake me up. This is really happening, and the feeling of fear is so intense my vision starts to blur.

“Shut the fuck up, bitch,” one of them growls at me.

“Please, please don’t hurt me. My fiance has money,” I say, going immediately to pleading. “Lots of money. He’ll give you whatever you want if you let me go. Just please, please don’t do this. I’m pregnant. Please!

“What part of shut the fuck up don’t you understand?” he demands. He moves his hand up to cover my mouth but I twist my face out of his reach.

“Help!” I scream again, using so much force it feels as though I’ve ripped something in my throat. “Please, help me!” He grabs my face and shoves my head back into the brick wall, temporarily dazing me while his hand secures around my mouth. The pain from the blow is so intense, I almost don’t hear what he says next.

“You want to die today?” he asks, but all I can do is whimper in response. “Then shut. The fuck. Up.”

His partner releases me, leaving only the man threatening me to hold my body against the wall, so I try again to struggle out of his grip but it’s no use. He’s insurmountably stronger than I am. Tears begin pouring down my face as I watch the man no longer holding me pull a backpack around to his front and then reach inside to remove a bunch of long, thick cable ties. I jerk my body again and scream into my captors hand, but the sound is too muffled. I doubt Leila, standing only 20 or so feet away, can hear me, let alone anyone on the noisy street.  

There is an almost instinctual severity to the fear the sight of the cable ties brings out of me, one that tells me that I need to get away from him, that I need to do everything in my power to prevent them from getting those cable ties around me, because if they are able to successfully restrain me and get me out of this alley undetected, I know, in the deepest part of my soul, that I won’t make it out of this. There is an overpowering certainty growing inside my gut that tells me that these men don’t just want to harm me, they’re going to kill me. They’re going to use me to torture Christian, probably get money out of him, but they will have no intention of ever letting me go. Leila let me see her, which means they can never let me talk to the police. If I ever have any hope of holding my baby in my arms, of seeing the man I love ever again, I have to get out of this alley. Now.

“Give me her arms,” the man holding the cable ties says. The man pinning me to the wall shifts his hold on me to bring my hands together, and it means my mouth is free again. I scream as loudly as I can, ignoring the intense pain in my throat, but it only lasts a second before he’s silencing me again.

“Do you think I’m fucking around?” he asks menacingly, leaning in so closely I can feel his hot, wet breath on my face. His body presses into me, holding me to the wall while his hand moves down to his pocket. The next thing I know, I feel the sharp, cold edge of a steel blade against the skin on my throat. “If you make another fucking sound, I will cut this baby out of you and leave it on Grey’s fucking doorstep.”

A horrible gut wrenching sob explodes out of me as the tears of fear begin pouring down my face. I continue to try and struggle out of his grip, but I can’t. Still, my unwillingness to cooperate seems to be wearing on him. He increases the pressure of the blade against my skin and I scream as I feel hot, wet blood drip down over my throat.

“Don’t fucking move,” he says. “Don’t make a fucking sound, or you will die.”

He moves his hand from my mouth but I don’t scream this time. Not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t. The fear has my throat so tight, it feels as though I can’t breathe. I stand there bawling, the rough surface of the brick behind me scraping my arms as I continue thrashing violently against his grip. My eyes dart through the alley, praying for a miracle, and when I see Leila coming towards us again, I do the only thing I can think to do.

“Please, Leila,” I sob. “Please help me.”

The man holding me down lifts my wrists as his partner unfurls the first of the cable ties, but as he reaches forward to wrap it around me, I suddenly hear a loud, vicious sounding snarl and something big and tan streaks past me. The man with the cable ties is forced to the ground, Champ’s huge paws pinning him to the asphalt while he growls, snarls, and barks in his face.

“Fuck,” the man holding me says. I start to struggle again now that his attention is diverted, but he shoves me hard back into the wall once more, making everything around me dim for a split second as my head impacts with the wall again, and turns to Leila.

“When is that fucking van getting here?” he demands. “Help me tie her up!”

She swallows and then steps towards us, holding her arm out like she’s going to try and help hold me down, but her hand doesn’t reach me. Instead, she wraps her fingers around the man’s bicep and when he gives her a look that tells me he doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing, she pulls her hand out from behind her back and quickly thrusts something hard and black into the man’s neck. I realize, as his body starts violently convulsing, that the thing in her hand is a tazer, and after a few seconds of having electricity jolting through him, his grip on me slackens and I’m able to slide out of his hands.

“Run!” Leila screams.

I try to follow her command, but in my frenzied rush to get away, I trip over the still convulsing man in front of me and am only just able to pivot my body in time so that my shoulder and face take the entire brunt of the fall, rather than my stomach. I can feel the sharp pain of road rash on the side of my face as I try and scramble to my feet, and an even more intense pain in my elbow, but I’m able to quickly pick my stride back up to sprint down the alley after Leila. The sounds of Champs barks echo through the closely packed brick walls and just before we turn the corner that will take us into another back alley, I stop and turn to look at him.

“Champ,” I whimper.

“Are you kidding me?” Leila screams. “Forget about the dog and fucking run, Anastasia!” I swallow and then turn to follow her again, leaving Kate’s dog, the dog who probably just saved my life behind.

As we run through the wet alleyway, I start looking for an opening to the street, but Leila stops me halfway down the backstreet and yanks me behind a dumpster that is surrounded by piles of boxes and trash.

“Calm down,” she hisses. “You have to be quiet now, they’ll hear you.”

“We-we have to get back to Es-cala,” I stutter back at her.

“No.” She shakes her head. “You can’t go back there now. He knows that this was his chance to get you and now that we’ve blown his cover, he won’t be so careful in his next attempt. He’ll stop at nothing to get you. If you try to go back there now, people will die.”

“He can’t get me there. It’s safe there. There’s codes, and security…”

“It’s not safe there, Anastasia,” she interrupts me. “It’s not safe anywhere. He’s everywhere.”

“Wh-what?” I breathe out, the hysteria clear in my words.

“We have to get you somewhere safe, somewhere out of the city where he can’t get to you.”

“Bellevue,” I stutter. “Grace and Carrick.”

She lets out an angry huff. “What don’t you get? He’s done a lot of bad things, Ana, and there’s more he’s going to do, but more than GEH, more than Grey’s money, the thing he’s obsessed with getting, is you. He wants to destroy Grey and he knows that he has to take you from him to do that, so he’s going to try to get to you now by any means necessary. Today. That means you can’t go anywhere he would suspect you may go. You can’t go to the Grey’s, you can’t go to Elliot’s, you can’t go to Kavanagh’s, you can’t go to GEH, you can’t go to the airport…”

“The police then,” I suggest, but she shakes her head.

“No, you won’t make it there,” she says. “And I think he’s already bought a few of them…”

Bought? What do you mean… bought?

“People will do anything for money, Ana. No matter who they are. He has a lot of resources and he’s very motivated.”

“Who is he, Leila? Who’s doing this?”

She stares at me, silent and uncertain, and eventually shakes her head. “I can’t tell you that. He’ll kill me.”

“We’ll protect you. Christian will protect you,” I argue, but again, she shakes her head.

“You can’t even protect yourselves. This isn’t the end, Ana. This is just where it gets bad. Why do you think I’ve been sitting outside your house in Cambridge? To keep your security on high alert.”

“You were–you were protecting me?”

“Yes!”

I swallow and then feel my face crinkle as the fear spikes again and I start to cry, but as the first tears begin rolling down my cheeks, we hear loud, pounding footsteps coming up the alley.

Leila twists, sheltering my body with hers while we listen to the steps coming closer and closer. I don’t allow myself to move, or to cry… I don’t even breathe, because each thud against the pavement feels as though it could be counting down the last few seconds of my life.

“Leila!” a booming voice shouts, and the sound reverberates against the walls over us. Something heavy that must be made of metal slams hard into the dumpster, making the loud metallic bang echo so loudly it’s hard to stay silent with the sound pounding into my eardrums. But I do, I stay silent, even after the man screams for Leila again.

I feel her fingers grip tighter to the exposed skin on my arms, digging into the cuts and scrapes there, but she doesn’t respond. We stay there, crouched behind that dumpster, hidden only by waste and mess, trying to remain absolutely still and absolutely mute. The seconds drag on like hours, my heart beats so furiously it feels as though it may explode right out of my chest, but, eventually, the footsteps begin again, and then disappear.

“I need to find a way to get you out of here,” she says.

“Where?” I ask.

“Well, I’ll start with a car.” She pulls her own backpack off, but instead of removing cable ties, she takes out a black sweatshirt with a hood and hands it to me. I slip my arms inside of it, ignoring the screaming pain in my elbow, and pull the hood over my head, doing everything I can to hide as much of my face as possible. I try to get my legs to stop shaking long enough so that I can stand, but when I rest my hand against the wall to help me get to my feet, Leila places a hand on me to keep me down.

“Wait here,” she says.

“You’re not going to leave me here!” I exclaim.

“I can move easier without you. I’ll be fast. Just stay here, stay quiet, and stay out of sight.”

“Leila,” I hiss, but she ignores me as she throws her backpack back over her shoulder and slips into the alley. Once she’s gone, a whole new wave of panic crosses over me. If they find me now, without Leila as a witness, no one will know. How long will it take Christian to realize I’m actually gone and not just out? Or Ros… fuck, Ros! What will she do when she shows up and I’m not there? Maybe she’ll send Cardella and Anthony out for me. Maybe they’ll find me before Leila gets back…

And then people will die.

Was Leila serious when she said that? I have a brief flash of being under Anthony’s arm as he tries to take me through the front doors of Escala but is then thrown aside by my attacker from the alley, only this time his knife isn’t just a threat and I’m left to scream as a river of crimson flows over the white concrete. A shiver of terror washes over me and I reach down to feel my baby bump again. I can’t even bring myself to think of the specific threats that man made against me, made against my baby, but the fact that he made them makes me feel as though Leila wasn’t exaggerating. And then the vision of going back to Escala plays in my head again, only it’s not Anthony getting thrown aside, it’s Christian, and this time, I can hear his screams.

Tears threaten to choke me once more as I shake my head to try and dispel the horrifying image, but I force myself to hold them back. I can’t afford tears right now. I can’t make any sound. The lives of everyone I love, including my daughter, depend on it.

I grip tightly to the sweatshirt covering my bump, and then slide my hands underneath it so that I can feel my skin. She hasn’t moved since I was grabbed, and the longer I wait here, the more and more worrisome that becomes. I fell… hard. And now, she’s not moving. I need to get to a doctor… because she’s not moving.

Come on, Calliope…

I don’t know how long I sit there shaking behind that dumpster, terrified to move, terrified every second that Calliope doesn’t. My muscles are screaming with pain from being crouched down for so long and not allowing myself to shift my weight or even move my joints, but I don’t care. Every ounce of discipline I posses goes into remaining statue still behind that dumpster until I hear the roll of tires over asphalt coming up the alley. The car comes to a stop in front of the dumpster and I clamp my eyes down as tightly as possible as I say a silent prayer that it isn’t one of them.

“Ana?” Leila’s voice whispers and I heave a sigh of relief, then groan as I force myself to stand up. She comes around to grab ahold of me, continuing to look up and down the alleyway until she’s brought me to the driver’s side of the car.

“Okay,” she says. “Just get out of the city. Don’t use any credit cards, don’t make any phone calls…”

“I don’t… I don’t have anything.”

“Good, they won’t be able to track you then. Don’t get pulled over and don’t stop to contact Grey. They’ll be watching him now because they know he’ll lead them to you.”

“You’re not coming with me? I can’t do this on my own, I don’t know where to go…”

“I can’t go with you. They’re going to be looking for me too now and if I stay, I might be able to draw them away. Just find somewhere safe, somewhere they won’t think to follow you. Then and only then can you contact Grey.”

“I need to get to the hospital, Leila,” I tell her, and her eyes widen.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“She’s not moving. I fell down… she hasn’t moved…” Tears spring to my eyes again as she looks down at my baby bump.

“Fuck,” she hisses. “God damn it, get in the car.”

She takes me over to the passenger’s side and then reluctantly climbs into the driver’s seat. I try to crouch down low so that no one can see me through the windows, but it’s difficult because the pain of the assault I endured is really starting to hit me.

“I’m going to take you into the emergency room,” Leila says, as she pulls out of the alley and onto the crowded street. “There’s cameras there, hopefully that’ll scare them off. Grey already knows you’re gone, I just heard a news bulletin about your disappearance on the radio when I pulled into the alley, so they should contact him once you go in. Don’t stop for anyone who approaches you. Speak only to the people sitting behind the desk.”

“Okay,” I agree.

“Traffic is bad,” she says. “It’ll take awhile to get there.”

I sniff, nod, and bury my head into the canvas that covers the passenger’s seat, soaking it with a fresh wave of tears that sting the road rash on my face. Leila is silent as she drives, focusing on scanning the streets and the cars around us, but when we make it onto the I-5 north, which will take us to the hospital, she looks down at me again.

“When you get out… you should leave this city,” she says.

“And go where?”

“Home, back to Cambridge. He doesn’t have the resources there that he does here, especially now that I’ve defected, and Sawyer has been a real pain in our ass trying to get to you… I can’t tell you how many times this almost happened, but then Sawyer came out of nowhere at the last minute to stop us, without even knowing. He watches you very closely, better than anyone else. That’s why this had to happen in Seattle, when he wasn’t here. When he had more people… Go home, Ana, and stay close to Sawyer’s side.”

“I can’t just leave…”

“You don’t realize what you’re up against! You don’t know what he’s willing to do, how far he’s willing to go.”

“Then tell me.”

She swallows. “Do you remember that accident in November, the car that went through your house during that snowstorm? It wasn’t an accident.”

“What?”

“I had been watching you all week, waiting for you to go back to Seattle. They’d sent someone with my phone back to Connecticut in my car so Sawyer would think that I’d left Cambridge, but I hadn’t.  I was supposed to find a way to get your bag and I had a plan to have your flight delayed so I could get it out of the cargo hold while you were on the tarmac… Hyun, was going to dress like an airline employee to get to the plane, but then the storm hit and the plane never landed. You went home and we knew you had your bag with you. It was me and two other guys and we waited for hours to see what you were going to do until… he got impatient and told Huyn to drive the car through the wall. It worked. You left the house and you left your luggage behind, so while Hyun went with you to the neighbor’s house and then to the hospital, Billy and I broke into your house and found your laptop. He used it to build some kind of connection into the GEH server so that he could use a VPN and access the system from a remote location. We planted some emails about Welch, then we cleaned the whole house so you wouldn’t find any fingerprints if you called the cops, and then we left. They’ve been using that connection to try and break GEH apart from the inside ever since. First it was Welch, then it was Ros… next it’s going to be the security team.”

“Taylor,” I repeat, remembering what Ros had said, and Leila nods.

“So, that’s why my laptop was on my desk when I got back to Cambridge… I didn’t leave it out. You’d moved it.”

“Yes,” she says, and then shifts so she can reach into her back pocket. Next she holds out her closed fist to me and when I raise my hand to hers, she opens her fingers and the pair of white gold cufflinks that went missing from my bathroom fall into my palm.

“I’m so sorry, Anastasia,” she says, her voice breaking. “I didn’t realize what he was at first. I just wanted to break you and Grey up… but it got out of control. He’s out of control, he’s crazy and… I was scared. I’m so sorry.”

I pause and stare down at the cufflinks before I finally look back up at her, trying to blink away my tears. “I forgive you,” I tell her. “You saved my life today, I owe you everything…”

“You don’t owe me anything,” she says. “I deserve whatever happens next.”

It’s quiet until we pull up to the emergency room entrance at Northwest Hospital. Leila parks, but only long enough to help me get out of the car, and after I’ve hugged her goodbye and thanked her again for what she’s done, she slides back into the driver’s seat and disappears.

It’s strange walking into the waiting room because there are TVs on in almost every corner and all of them have my name splattered across them. As I wait behind a woman holding onto a child who looks as though he’s bleeding from his head, I glance up at the TV over the small waiting room and read the subtitles scrolling in front of the news reporter.

Miss Steele is believed to have disappeared from Mr. Grey’s downtown Seattle residence sometime between 10:30 AM and 12:00 PM this afternoon. Police say there were no signs of forced entry into Mr. Grey’s apartment, but foul play is suspected at this time. Miss Steele is 22 years old, five feet, five inches tall, approximately 135 lbs, has long, dark brown hair, blue eyes, and is currently six months pregnant. A representative for Grey Enterprises Holdings has released a statement from Mr. Grey offering a $1 million dollar reward to anyone who can provide any information to Seattle police that will lead to the immediate, safe return of Miss Steele.

“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice says, and I turn to see the woman behind the desk looking expectantly at me. “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” I croak. “My name is Anastasia Steele. I’ve been attacked. Someone tried to kidnap me.”

Her eyes widen. “Anastasia Steele?”

“Yes. Please, I think… I think something may have happened to my baby.”

There’s a lot of commotion as I’m immediately whisked back into the emergency room, not only by a nurse in lilac colored scrubs, but by hospital security and two police officers that were on site. While the nurse takes my vitals, takes pictures of my wounds, has me remove all of my clothes to put in a plastic bag, and cleans the blood from my skin, the police ask me several questions to verify who I am, and when they’re finished they leave to make the call to Christian while I’m led back to a private room that has a security guard standing at the door.

While I wait for the OB consult to come down and examine me, I work very hard not to think about my fears for the examination I’m about to undergo, but it just means that my mind starts obsessing over Christian. I keep picturing him sitting in the great room of our apartment, having absolutely no idea what may have happened to me, or if I’m okay, or if the baby is okay, and having no way of contacting me. He must be going out of his mind, but the worst part is that when he gets the call from the police and they tell him they’ve found me, all of his worst fears are going to be confirmed. Well, maybe not his worst. I am still alive. That’s something.

I’m still alive.

“Miss Steele?” a voice calls, accompanying a slight knock on the door.

“Yes, come in,” I reply.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Berg, I run the ER here. Your OB Consult is going to be Dr. Robinson, she’ll be down momentarily, but I just wanted to check in with you and let you know what’s going on. Mr. Grey has been contacted and he is on his way here. Once we have confirmed you and your baby are stable, the police are going to come in and ask you some questions.”

“Okay,” I nod.

“I need to ask you, would you, for any reason, feel uncomfortable or unsafe if we were to allow Mr. Grey to come back here and be with you?”

His question takes me off guard and it almost takes me a minute to process it. “Wait, you don’t think that Christian…”

“I’m not here to make any assumptions, Miss Steele,” he says. “I’m only here to ensure your safety. If you don’t want him to see you, we can ensure that he doesn’t.”

“No, Christian didn’t hurt me. I was grabbed…” my voice falters as once again tears prick my eyes. “I was grabbed off the streets. It was a stranger, someone who wanted to hurt me… Christian would never hurt me.”

“Okay,” Dr. Berg says. “Okay, then we will allow Mr. Grey back to see you, if that’s what you wish. Until the police have cleared you, only he and your next of kin will have access to this room.”

I nod and he gets up just as another door opens and a woman in salmon, pushing the heavy ultrasound machine I’m so used to, comes inside.

“Take good care of her, Dr. Robinson,” Dr. Berg says. “Poor thing has had a rough day.”

“Of course,” she says, turning to smile at me. “Miss Steele, I’m Dr. Robinson. I’m going to take a look at your baby, okay?”

“Okay,” I reply, nodding furiously. “I fell down. I was running and I fell… I didn’t fall on her but, but she hasn’t moved since I fell.”

“Okay, then let’s take a look.”

I flinch as she lifts my shirt and squirts a blob of blue goo onto my belly, then lowers the wand onto my skin and shifts it back and forth. I wait for the most agonizing few seconds of my life before I finally hear the steady thrumming sound of her heart.

“There she is,” Dr. Robinson says. I turn to face the monitor and see her. She’s still but she looks perfect. The doctor looks around my entire belly, searching for any lesions or abruptions, but she doesn’t find anything. For all accounts, Calliope is perfectly fine.

“Oh, thank god,” I say, breaking down into tears once the doctor gives me the all clear. She smiles down at me, trying to be reassuring as she looks through my chart to continue with my examination.

“I do want to talk to you though about some of the other things I see here,” she says. “Your blood pressure is high, but I hear you’ve just been through quite the ordeal. How’s your vision?”

“Umm…” I hesitate, and then feel my muscles tighten as my regular OBs warnings run through my mind in congruence with some of the things I’ve had happen today.

“It’s fine now,” I tell her, “But… it was blurry. I can’t remember, I hit my head. I don’t know if that’s why or if it… Owe!” I reach up to touch my head where it had hit the wall, and find that it’s tender, extremely tender, and that my hair is matted with blood.

“It’s okay, Ana,” the doctor says. “Don’t overexert yourself now. We’ll have someone come take a look at all of your injuries and I’ll run some tests, just confirm that everything is going exactly the way it’s supposed to.”

“Okay,” I nod, and as she begins tapping at the tablet in her hand to order her tests, I hear another commotion just outside the door.

“Grey,” Christian’s rough voice says from on the other side of the door. “Christian Grey. This is my f-fiancé’s room.”

There’s a beat and then a very pale looking Christian steps inside. The moment he lays eyes on me, his face crinkles with pain.

“Baby,” he whispers. “Oh my god.”

I break down again as he flies across the room and takes me into his arms, but the movement makes me cry out in pain and his entire body seizes.

“What’s wrong?”

“My elbow,” I whimper.

“Has anyone looked at that?” Dr. Robinson asks. “It’s not in your chart… “ I shake my head and she frowns. “I’ll send someone in right away. Try and stay upright until we’ve made sure that head injury is superficial.”

I nod when she smiles and then moves around the bed, quietly stepping out of the room to give Christian and I privacy.

“Your face,” he whispers. “What happened to your face?”

“I fell,” I tell him. “I was trying to run and I fell.”

“The-the baby?”

“She’s fine,” I assure him. “We’re okay.”

“What happened?” he asks. “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.”

“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…”

My face crinkles again and tears pour out of me. “Champ saved my life,” I cry. “He was going to kill me, Christian. He was going to kill me and then Champ… He saved me.”

“Ana,” Christian whispers, pulling me into him again, more carefully this time and holding me against his chest so that I can cry into his shirt. “What happened to you?”

I can’t answer. I’m not ready to answer. The only thing I can do is shake and cry, and, until the doctor comes back, Christian lets me do just that. He holds me and rocks me back and forth while I unravel into a torrent of tears and pain.

Next Chapter

 

Trigger Warning

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I know that several people have a difficult time with certain topics, so before I post the next chapter, I wanted to put out a warning. Chapter 28 contains material that may be sensitive to some people. If you are someone who would like to avoid difficult subject matter, I would encourage you to reach out to me privately (which is actually easiest through Facebook) and after the chapter is posted I will give you the basic information you need to know in order to move on in the story from here, without all the gory details.

Additionally, for those of you who are having difficulty with the pronunciation of Calliope, please see the helpful video below:

xoxo

WishingMrGreyWasHere

Chapter 27

The Nursery at 6850 Chantilly Dr., Dallas, TX 75214

 

It’s difficult going home on Sunday, but not nearly as difficult as getting through the next few weeks. Christian’s workload isn’t letting up, if anything, it’s getting heavier, and without Ros, he’s travelling more which means I’m spending fewer and fewer weekends in Seattle. By the time midterms roll around at the end of March, I’ve only been home twice, and while it’s been nice spending some time with Kate and building a real friendship with Carter, I’m starting to miss Christian so much that it almost feels like it’s causing me physical pain. Thankfully, today is the last day of classes before Spring Break and, after finishing my Kaleidoscopic Romanticism midterm, I’m off to the airport with Luke, Kate, Carter, and Champ.

As of today, I’m six months pregnant and with only fourteen weeks left until my due date, Kate has decided it’s time to throw me a baby shower. She and Grace have been on the phone making plans all week, so this weekend we’ll be entertaining friends and family at the Grey Mansion before she and Carter continue onto Cabo for the rest of Spring Break. It’s the first time Carter has ever been to Seattle and his nervous kind of elation becomes tangible as we pull onto the tarmac and into the shadow of Christian’s private jet.

“Fancy digs, Steele,” he says, eyeing the plane through the window as we come to a stop.

“It’s top of the line,” I reply. “Doesn’t make the flight shorter though…”

“Good,” he says excitedly, and then he scrambles out of the back seat to retrieve his luggage from the trunk before Luke even has the time to get out of the car to open the door for us.

“Carter, will you grab Champ, please?” Kate calls, holding tightly to his leash while he desperately tries to escape the car.

“Sorry, babe,” he says. He comes back around to guide Champ out of the back seat, while Kate gathers the last of her things and Luke finally makes it around the car to help me out.

“Be good, okay?” he says, the worry apparent in his voice. “Listen to Kommer and Cardella, and don’t do anything stupid.”

“Stupid? Who do you think you’re talking to?”

“Anastasia Steele,” he says bluntly. “The girl who notoriously ditches her security the moment they become inconvenient to whatever she wants to do.”

I frown. “Yeah, well I have a baby to look out for now.”

“I just wish you cared as much about protecting yourself. You’re important to people too, Ana.”

“I know,” I tell him, and he nods.

“Alright, be safe. And have a good break.”

“You too. Call me when you figure out where Leila went.”

“Will do,” he says, and then moves to the back of the car to take my bags to the cargo hold while I turn to follow Kate and Champ up the stairs into the plane.

“Why isn’t he coming again?” she asks once we’ve taken our seats.

“He’s getting his concealed carry for Massachusetts this week. He’s got to take a bunch of classes and a practical test and it’s just easier to get that done when he doesn’t have to worry about me being back at the house alone. Taylor lives in my apartment in Seattle so I guess they agreed it was better for him to stay behind now while I’m on break and have the boss man around than to try and get it done while I’m in school.”

“What about your other security?” she asks, nodding in the direction of Anthony and Cardella, who are sitting on the opposite end of the plane from us. “Don’t they need concealed carry permits, too?”

“No… Christian’s not crazy about guns and he’s not comfortable with them enough yet to have them armed around us. He’s not even crazy about Luke having a gun, but he trusts him and he trusts Taylor’s judgement.”

“And what about Leila?”

I shake my head and roll my eyes. “She just disappeared like two days ago. Luke checked the registration on her car to find out where she lived but when they went to her apartment, she wasn’t there. Kommer has been camping out there for the past couple days, but she hasn’t come home once. Luke can’t track her cell phone… she’s just disappeared.”

“That’s… uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” I agree.

“I can’t believe you complain about having to fly back to Seattle all the time,” Carter says, plopping down across from Kate and I. “This plane is amazing. It’s better than my house! I’d actually move in here if I could.”

I let out a blunt sounding laugh. “Well, have fun flying around with Christian all the time. This jet is never stationary for more than three days.”

“Worth it,” he says.

“But it’ll be flying you away from me,” Kate pouts. “That’s really why Ana hates it. It’s the flights back from Seattle more than the flight to Seattle. It’s the flight away from Christian. Are you saying that wouldn’t bother you?”

“Will I get to come see you every weekend like Ana does?”

“Is that enough for you?” Kate retorts. “A couple days a week?”

“No,” he says. “You’re right. I have everything that I need right here.” She smiles at him as he gets out of his seat and moves to the sofa that she and I are sitting on so that he can wrap her in his arms, but their cute moment of canoodling is quickly interrupted by Natalia.

“The captain is ready to take off, Miss Steele.”

“Great, so are we.”

“Can I get you something? Some tea perhaps? Orange juice?”

“A Diet Coke, please. And some champagne for Kate and Carter.”

“The Bollinger?”

“Please.”

“Right away, ma’am.” She smiles her very toothy smile at us and then disappears into the nook at the front of the plane. Once we begin taxing over the tarmac, Natalia returns with my Diet Coke and two flutes filled with bubbly pink champagne, and when she hands a glass to Carter his eyes widen.

“Nope, I changed my mind,” he says. “I’m moving in.”

“Shut up,” Kate laughs, and she elbows him in the ribs.

Despite Carter’s excitement, the fight seems longer than usual because Champ doesn’t do very well once we’re in the air. The five and half hour flight is filled with his constant whining and uncomfortable fidgeting, so by the time we land the three of us are about ready to go out of our minds.

“Looks like you weren’t exaggerating about the rain,” Carter says gloomily as he looks out the window at the dark gray sky.

“We’ll be in Cabo on Sunday,” Kate reassures him. “You can handle the rain for a couple days. Especially since we’re staying in Christian’s apartment. It’s difficult to be upset by the weather when you’re spending the weekend in a luxury penthouse.”

“Truth,” Carter says, and then turns to me. “You’re sure Grey is okay with me staying with you over the weekend?”

“Of course,” I lie. In reality, saying Christian was less than thrilled when I asked if Kate, Carter, and Champ could stay at Escala is probably the understatement of the century, but since Kate’s mom has cats and has always stuck firm to Grace’s abandoned stance that boys and girls who aren’t married shouldn’t share rooms, her house wasn’t really an option for them this weekend. At first, I thought about finding them a hotel, but since I’m watching Champ for the week once Kate and Carter leave for Cabo anyway, and Christian is now of the mindset to not deny Kate anything she could ever want or ask for, he eventually consented to having them stay with us. He’s just not very happy about it.

“And limo service from the airport,” Carter says, looking out the opposite window now as we prepare to deboard the plane. “The way the other half lives.”

“Limo service?” I repeat, and, after I too look out the window and confirm that there’s a limo waiting there for us rather than Christian’s SUV, I hurriedly move for the doors. The back door of the limo opens when I exit the plane onto the stairs that reach down to the tarmac, but it’s not Christian that steps out, it’s Ryan, and my stomach immediately drops with disappointment.

“Welcome home, Miss Steele,” he says, stepping to the side to hold open the door for me.

“Where’s Christian?” I ask.

“He’s still in Chicago, ma’am.”

“Still? I thought he was flying home last night?”

“That was the plan, but there were some last minute problems with the deal he’s there to close and he’s been delayed. He asked me to ensure you’re comfortable and have everything you need. He’ll be home early tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow?”

“I’m afraid so, ma’am.”

I sigh and then turn back to Kate and Carter, who are both now trying to pull a still anxious Champ down the stairs. I help them get him into the back of the limo with us and once the flight crew has stowed our luggage in the trunk, we pull away from the jet and follow the signs to the freeway that lead us into downtown Seattle.

“Escala,” Carter whispers in a mysterious, vaguely spanish accent as we pull up in front of the building, and when we’re inside and he gets a first hand look at the opulence of the lobby and the immediate attention from the staff, he starts walking with an arrogant kind of swagger.

“Stop it,” Kate says, laughing as she pushes him away from the elevator doors.

“What?” Carter replies. “We’re going to the Grey residence, Kate. We’re very important people now.”

“You’re a loser,” she says. He gives her a devious grin as he pulls her into his arms and then makes vicious sounding snarling noises while he nibbles on her neck. She giggles and squirms, but doesn’t seem to be fighting too hard to get out of his grip. I feel the corner of my mouth tick up as I see her face light up with delight in a way that it didn’t for so long and then step to the side, next to Kommer, to try and give them a little privacy together until the elevator arrives. Once we step inside, I wait for the doors to close and then press the button for the penthouse.

“Please enter your passcode,” the robotic voice says, so I reach forward and enter the code on the keypad.

“You changed the code,” Kate observes as the elevator hums to life and whisks us up towards the 31st floor.

“Yeah,” I reply. “I didn’t like Gia having the elevator code, but we changed it and it only took like two more weeks for her to get it again. You can’t give it to Elliot without her finding out.”

“Yeah… he’s pretty easy to get stuff out of if you’re motivated enough,” she says. I roll my eyes as the elevator dings and the doors slide open, and then motion forward for Kate and Carter to enter the apartment first.

It’s a pretty quiet night with just the three of us. I give Carter a tour of the apartment, which he seems overly astonished with. Especially Christian’s office, which I have to pry him out of with a death grip to keep him from messing with anything. I show them their room and give them a minute to unpack and then we all sit down for a late dinner that Mrs. Jones has prepared for us.

“So, you could just ask her to make you anything, at anytime, and she will?” Carter asks, once Mrs. Jones has disappeared again.

“Yep. She’s seriously one of the nicest people I know. I don’t think I would have ever stopped puking my guts out if she hadn’t found those anti nausea lozenges at Thanksgiving.”

“And you have how many extra bedrooms upstairs? Because, fuck the plane, I’m moving in here.” I roll my eyes as he takes a bite of the pasta on his plate. “Oh my god, this is delicious. How do you leave this place every weekend, Ana?”

“Because she remembers that I’m in Cambridge,” Kate says, emphasizing again that he seems to be forgetting her.

“Oh, right.” He nods but the second Kate looks down to take another bite, he shakes his head and mouths, never leave this place again, at me.

I laugh.

After dinner we sit down to watch a movie, but since the long stretches of time I’ve spent in Cambridge over the last few weeks haven’t been punctuated by weekends home, I’m no longer acclimated to Pacific time and find myself falling asleep only a few minutes into the movie. Kate and Carter seem content to stay up and stick it out though, so I wish them both a good night and then make my way into mine and Christian’s bedroom alone.

 

I’m up earlier than I want to be the next morning and I’m not sure if it’s because of the time difference or the vast amount of empty space in the bed next to me. As I lie there, I stare longingly at the place where Christian should be until eventually I pull his pillow towards me and hug it close to my body, inhaling his lingering scent that still clings to the pillowcase. It’s comforting but doesn’t chase away the loneliness that fills the darkness around me, so the moment the sun comes up, I climb out of bed to start on breakfast for Kate and Carter. Unfortunately, it seems Gail has beat me to it.

“Good morning, Miss Steele,” she greets me. “Can I get you anything?”

“Some tea, please,” I sigh. She smiles as she reaches for the kettle.

“He’ll be home soon,” she says reassuringly. “Taylor asked to have me arrange a pick up at the airport for 9:00 AM.”

I turn to the digital clock on the stove, see that it’s already 7:15, and smile. Two more hours. I can do two more hours.

“Good morning,” Kate chirps behind me. I turn to see her coming down the stairs in a fluffy pink bathrobe that contrasts with the clothes that Carter is wearing. She settles down into the chair next to me, looking perfectly comfortable and at home as she reaches for one of the freshly made cranberry scones Gail has laid out on the counter.

“What?” she asks as I give her a pointed look, but I just smile, shake my head, and reach for a scone of my own.

After breakfast Kate agrees to go on a run with me, mostly because Champ is getting antsy and hasn’t been outside all morning. It is a good way to show Carter downtown however, and it actually pushes me to go farther than I normally would. It is weird not having Luke with us though. Kommer is fine and he runs along behind us without complaint, but his perfect professionalism and stoic nature have still prevented me from warming up to him and his presence now is just a reminder that Luke isn’t here, which makes me miss him more.  

When we make it back to Escala, I’m in a hurry to get upstairs and get in the shower before Christian gets home, but Carter, who isn’t used to running everyday, is dragging behind us.

“You doing okay there, babe?” Kate laughs as he trudges through the lobby.

“I don’t know what hurts worse,” he says. “My body, or the fact that a girl who is six months pregnant just ran circles around me.”

We both laugh as I reach for the button to the elevator, but nothing happens when I press it. I can see the illuminated letter g over the doors that tells me it’s in the garage, and I can hear that it’s on and working, moving even, but we wait over a full minute and the doors never open.

“Should we ask the front desk?” Kate asks, pushing the button again, but no sooner do the words come out of her mouth then we hear the high ding and the doors slide open.

“That was weird…” I say as we step inside and push the button for the penthouse. I think we’re all a little cautions as we rise through the floors, wondering if something is wrong with the elevator and we’re about to break down any minute and drop to our death, but I realize exactly what happened when we get to the top floor, the doors open, and we find Taylor standing in the foyer waiting for us.

The elevator can’t be called once you put in the code for the penthouse.

Christian’s home.

“Welcome home, Miss Steele,” Taylor greets us and I begin beaming so brightly that I almost want to hug him.

“Hi, Taylor,” I say as I quickly move through the foyer to get to the bedroom.

“Your shower is in two hours!” Kate calls after me. “And we have to go all the way to Bellevue. You need to get ready!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I mumble under my breath, but I don’t falter in my stride. I’m single minded in my destination. But when I open the bedroom door, I find that the room is empty and I frown.

“Christian?” I check, but he doesn’t answer. I step further into the room, thinking maybe he’s in the bathroom unpacking his dopp kit, but before I get there, I hear the door close behind me and I jump. When I turn around, Christian is standing in front of the door, giving me a wolfish grin.

“Take your clothes off,” he says, and I smile as I practically leap at him. His arms close around me when I reach up to claim his lips, and while we kiss, I feel the burden of three weeks of longing melt away in an instant.

“I’ve missed you,” I whisper against his mouth.

He moans. “I’ve missed you too. So much.”

His hand moves down and creeps under my t-shirt, but the moment I feel his fingers touch my skin, I squeal and worm out of his grip.

“Christian, I’m all sweaty.”

“Good. You taste better that way.”

“Stop,” I protest, giggling when he moves to touch me again. “I’ve got to get ready to go to your parents’ house. I need to take a shower.”

“But… it’s been three weeks.”

“I know, but I’m the guest of honor. I can’t be late.”

“But it’s been three weeks,” he repeats, more emphatically this time, and I laugh.

“Later.” He pouts as I turn away from him, but I only make it a few steps before I turn around and eye him again. “Well, maybe I can be a little late,” I tell him. He smiles as I dig my fingers into his shirt and drag him to the bathroom and into the shower with me.

 

He’s still inside of me when Kate begins banging on the bathroom door forty five minutes later, and the ensuing argument between them eats fifteen more of the minutes I have to get ready. Once I’m finally in the ethereal looking baby pink gown that Kate had special ordered for the shower and she’s finished with my hair and makeup, she, Christian, Carter, Kommer, Taylor, and I head down to the parking garage where Christian directs me to the front seat of his Lamborghini, while everyone else piles in the back of the SUV.  

Pulling into the long driveway of the Grey Mansion in Bellevue immediately tells me how much effort Kate and Grace have put into the shower. Each of the lamp posts that edge the drive have pink and white balloons tied to them and the pillars beneath the overhang before the front door are wrapped in soft, pink gossamer, which is a theme that continues into the entrance hall and through the living room. The oversized sectional that usually dominates Grace’s living room is gone now and has been replaced by enough chairs to accommodate what looks like thirty or so people. There’s a long table that stretches the entire length of the back wall that is draped with a white tablecloth and is covered in tiny pink cakes and treats that rest in front of a chalkboard that says, it’s a girl! There’s another table off to the left that’s mostly empty, except for the silver trays resting on different levels of platforms and the same vases overflowing with peonies that cover everything else in the room, and a final table to the left that is already overflowing with gifts, despite the fact that the guests haven’t arrived yet.

“It’s perfect,” Kate beams as she takes everything in. “Carter, will you put this on the gift table for me. I’m going to look for Grace in the kitchen.” She hands him a flat, black box tied with pink ribbon and scurries off to the kitchen while I move further into the room to get a better look at the decorations. Before I get too far from him though, Christian grabs a hold of my hand and pulls me back to him.

“There’s a surprise for you in the guest room,” he says, and I raise an eyebrow at him.

“What kind of a surprise?”

“One you’ll like very much, I suspect.” I stare at him suspiciously for a moment, analyzing his tone for any kind of innuendo, but before I’ve made up my mind, he turns and leads me by the hand back into the entrance hall, towards the downstairs guest room.

“After you,” he says, stepping aside to let me walk in first. I narrow my eyes at him and push open the door just in time to see a woman step out of the en-suite bathroom, securing an earring in her left earlobe.

“Mom!” I cry. She turns around, smiles broadly, and then holds her arms open for me to rush into. I hug her as tightly as I can until she pulls away and stares down at my bump with a mixture of radiant happiness and astonishment.

“Look at you, you’re so big! Oh, you’re glowing!”

“Well, it’s been a wonderful day,” I reply, and then reach forward to hug her again. “Thank you so much for coming.”

“Of course. You don’t think I’d miss my only daughter’s first baby shower, do you? It’s your fiancé over there who you should be thanking. He made all of the arrangements.”

I turn and move to give Christian a quick kiss, before helping my mom gather the large pink gift bag in the corner and heading back out to the living room. As we round the corner into the entrance hall however, the front door opens and Elliot steps inside with Gia holding tightly to his hand.

“Mom?” he calls, but stops when he sees us. “Hey there, prego!”

“Hi, Elliot,” I say, and then step forward to hug him. Gia gives me a tight smile before leaning forward and giving me a quick, very awkward hug herself and then reaches out to hand me a chocolate colored box with gold writing over the top that says Roberto Cavalli.

“Thank you, Gia,” I tell her, trying not to be insincere even though she looks as though giving something to me is actually causing her physical pain.

“You ready to go?” Elliot asks turning to Christian, and I immediately round on him with wide, panicked eyes.

“You’re leaving?”

“Today’s about you,” he says. “I don’t want to detract from that. Besides, I have my own gift for you but it’s not finished yet.”

“Poor fella,” Elliot sighs as he reaches up to rest an arm on Christian’s shoulder. “Needed the help of a real man to get the job done right.”

“Which is why I’m bringing Reed,” Christian replies pointedly as he shrugs him off. Elliot furrows his brow.

“Reed? Carter Reed?”

“Yeah,” Christian confirms.

“Why?”

“Ana,” Kate’s voice says behind me, accompanying the sound of her heels clacking against the marble floor of the entrance hall. “You have to come see…” Her words cut off when she sees us standing there with Elliot, and both of them seem to be taken back a bit.

“Kate,” Elliot breathes in surprise.

“Hi… Elliot,” Kate replies, and then looks to the now very irritated woman standing beside him. “Gia.”

“Katherine,” Gia replies through clenched teeth. The tension between them is so thick it feels like it can be cut with a knife, and the awkwardness of the situation isn’t lost on anyone, not even my mother who, thankfully, intervenes.

“Well, let’s get these gifts on the table and get you situated, Ana,” she says. “You shouldn’t be on your feet so much.”

“Right,” Kate says. “The caterers are putting out the food. You have to see how cute everything is. Grace went all out.”

I nod and then follow Kate and my mother, ignoring the hissing argument between Gia and Elliot that we leave behind.

We find Grace standing in the living room, looking completely in her element as she directs the men in white jackets, who are laying out trays of English tea sandwiches, pastries, strawberry and goat cheese crostinis, stuffed mushroom caps, shaved tuna on fried rice, and prosciutto wrapped melon balls. She turns as we enter the room and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her happier than she is the moment she lays eyes on me and my very obvious bump while she’s standing in a room that is filled with baby themed food and gifts.

“Anastasia,” she says, the tears in her voice already obvious. “You look so beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I reply, hugging her. “This party already looks incredible. Thank you, so much.”

“It’s my pleasure,” she assures me. We smile at each other for just a moment until the doorbell rings and her attention is distracted once again. “That’ll be the first guests,” she says.

“Which is my cue to leave,” Christian says, wrapping his arms around me. “Have a wonderful afternoon, baby.”

“You too. I’ll see you in a few hours?”

“Of course.” He leans over and kisses me very deeply and then turns to Elliot, standing on the other side of the room, and motions for him to follow him. They move to leave, but before they completely exit the room, Christian turns back to Carter.

“Uh… Reed, I assume you don’t want to spend the afternoon with the girls. There’s a project my brother and I are working on for Ana and we could use your help if you’re interested.”

“Sure,” Carter says, looking simultaneously astonished and overjoyed by the invitation. “You’ll be okay here if I go, won’t you, baby?”

“I’ll be just fine,” Kate says, and Elliot frowns again.

“Baby?” he repeats, but there isn’t time to explain before Christian ushers him out of the room. I frown as I start at the empty doorway they just walked through. Poor Christian is now going to have to deal with that revelation, and then spend the entire afternoon with Elliot and Carter being in the same room with no planned escape route.

The guests are slow to trickle in at first, but at Grace’s insistence I’m not to leave the chair they have specially designated for me. She says I’m absolutely not to lift a finger all day and so I sit and smile as she introduces me to each and every one of her friends. It’s nice though, Mia comes to sit next to me so that we can talk when there’s downtime, and I get to meet Christian’s Grandmother Trevelyan for the first time. Carrick, who’s coming fresh off his latest round of chemo comes downstairs to give me a hug and kiss, but is too weak to stay out of bed for too long. I insist though, that he at least take some of the food as I’m passed off to another one of Grace’s friends.

“Anastasia?” a familiar voice asks. I turn away from Mrs. Hanover, Grace’s favorite tennis partner at her country club, and then feel my mouth drop open when I see Ros and Gwen standing a few feet away, holding onto a package wrapped in silvery paper.

“Hi, Ros,” I reply, unsure of how I’m supposed to feel with her standing there.

“How are you?”

“Well, it’s been a difficult few weeks with Christian being so busy managing GEH all by himself. Being away from him all the time is hard.” My tone is more biting than I mean for it to be and she presses her lips together before taking a step closer so that she can lower her voice when she speaks again.

“Can I speak with you, please?”

“Right now?”

“Just for a moment,” she promises. I take a quick, sweeping glance around the room and find that most everyone is engaged in conversation, including Kate and Grace, so I nod and then lead her to the family room off the side of the entrance hall that is very rarely used.

“Okay, what?” I ask, crossing my arms as I turn to face her.

“Ana, look… I know Christian thinks he knows what happened, but he’s wrong. I never contacted PixC, I never pursued any kind of position with them. I mean… why would I? Why would I leave my position as COO of the top performing company on the west coast, a company that I helped build, to take the top job at an organization that was months away from bankruptcy and that I know Christian would take away from me anyway?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “But the emails…”

“I never wrote those emails!”

“Then where did they come from?” I demand. “I was there the night Christian got the call. PixC was backing out of his deal because they were pursuing you for CEO. It wasn’t something they were considering, it was something already in motion. So, if you never sent those emails, how did that happen?”

“I don’t know who he talked to or why they would say that, maybe they were trying to take some of his leverage away to get a better deal, more control, I don’t know… but I swear to you, I never sent those emails, Ana.”

I purse my lips. It’s difficult to believe what she’s saying when there are multiple parties verifying the evidence that Christian found, but the vulnerability and the brute honesty I hear in her voice is hard to ignore.

“Look,” she continues. “When he… when I left GEH, I talked to Welch. Christian found emails from him on the server too… emails to the different department heads trying to stir up support for forming a board within GEH. He said he never sent those emails either and I talked to some of the department heads who he supposedly contacted and they never received any of those emails. There’s something going on here. GEH is under attack but Christian is so used to people he trusts betraying him that he’s being blinded to what’s really going on. Welch was our best line of defense to protect the GEH servers and he’s gone. I’m the person who has the most access to Christian, the only person who can share his workload, and now I’m gone too. If they could get to me, they could get to anyone. Taylor could be next, and that leaves him open to so much more than corporate espionage. Someone needs to open his eyes to what’s going on and since he won’t talk to me, there’s only one person who can get through to him.”

“Who?”

She gives me a look like the answer should be obvious.

“Me?” I ask, and she nods. “Ros, I don’t know the first thing about any of this. I mean, I honestly don’t even know if what you’re telling me is true…”

“Ana, you know me. You know how much I care about GEH and how much I care about Christian. So, just ask yourself, what would I have to gain from doing something like this? After all the legal trouble, after Christian bars me from ever breaking back into the only world I know… what would I have to gain? And if there’s nothing to gain, why would I throw everything away?”

I frown again, so she quickly jumps in before I can say anything.

“Just… get him to talk to me. If I can just have one real conversation with him, I know that I can make him see reason. Please, Ana. GEH is my entire life’s work.”

I take a breath and nod. “Okay, I’ll try to get him to talk to you, but I can’t make any promises. I know everyone thinks I have the ability to convince Christian to do anything, but at the end of the day, he always does whatever he believes is right, and what he believes is right, is that you betrayed him. That’s been really hard on him, Ros. You couldn’t possibly understand how hard.”

“I do though. I know him, Ana, better than I know myself sometimes, and I would never do this to him.”

“Okay,” I agree. “I’ll talk to him tonight.”

“Thank you,” she says, reaching out to pull me into a hug, and while I hug her back, I suddenly feel a whole new sense of dread cross over me. Either Ros is lying to me right now, or someone is trying to sabotage Christian, isolate him even, and neither of those options mean good things.

“Ana?” Kate asks, behind me. I turn around to see her glancing worriedly between Ros and me. “We’re about to start some games.”

“Okay.” I nod, and then turn to Ros. “Shall we?”

“Of course. After you.”

 

The rest of the shower is absolutely wonderful, despite the fact that most of the people in attendance are Grace’s friends and I’ve actually never met any of them. The food is amazing, the atmosphere is light and fun, and, even though I’m not opening anything until later this evening when I’m with Christian, the gift table is overflowing.

Kate is in charge of games and some of the things she has come up with have the entire room bursting with laughter, while others turn out to be quite useful. We play two or three games that are aimed at helping Christian and I finally chose a baby name, and while I would never seriously consider 99% of the names that come up, it does at least give me motivation to start taking the whole name thing seriously.

When the party is over, I receive several hugs and wishes of congratulations, and I thank each person graciously for their company and their gifts as they leave the Greys’ house. I’m preparing myself for the clean up as we meander back into the living room, but before I can even reach the table covered in discarded plates and napkins, the catering staff comes in to do the work for us and Grace and Kate both begin ushering me towards the door.

“What in the…” I begin, feeling confused by their persistence as they shove me through the front door.

We’re not done yet,” Grace chirps happily.

“We still have Christian’s gift,” Kate adds.

“Oh, right.” I smile and then turn to look at the limo pulling up the drive through the gentle spritz of spring rain. When the car stops in front of me, Grace opens the door and begins ushering everyone in side.

“I’m sorry,” Gia interjects. “I thought it was just family from this point on.” She shoots a glare in Kate’s direction and Grace immediately goes on the defensive.

“It is,” she replies harshly. “Kate, after you dear.”

Kate smiles with a little bit of embarrassment as she moves around Grace into the limo and I glare back at Gia as I follow after her, making sure to sit right next to her and even hold on to her hand as we pull back down the driveway and for the remainder of the ride.

“Wait…” I say, when I start to recognize the surroundings of our destination. “This is… this is my house.”

“Yeah,” Kate nods. “Christian’s already here.”

The driver presses the button on the box at the end of the driveway and the gates swing open for us, but before I can get out of the car, Kate wraps a blindfold around my eyes.

“Don’t be scared,” she says as she tries to guide me out of the car.

“Are you sure?” I ask, lowering my voice so that only she can hear me. “You did say Christian was inside and everytime I’ve been blindfolded around him there’s at least a little reason to be nervous.” She laughs and then takes both of my hands to lead me toward the front door.

I can tell we’ve stepped into the house by the smell of sawdust in the air and the echos of our feet moving over the exposed subflooring in the entrance hall. I know all about the extensive renovations being done to update the house, but I haven’t actually been in here since Christian bought it, and now I wish Kate hadn’t blindfolded me so that I can see everything that’s been done.

“Oh good, you’re here,” Christian’s voice echos from above us, and the moment I hear him, I immediately begin reaching for him, even though I can tell he’s on the stairs by the echos of his steps on the wood.

“Christian?”

“I’m right here, baby,” he says. “Take my hand.”

I feel his hands slide into mine and then it’s him pulling me forward instead of Kate. The footsteps of his family continue following behind us until Christian stops and scoops me in his arms.

“What are you doing?” I ask, panicked by the sudden, unexpected movement.

“We’re going up the stairs and I don’t want you doing that blindfolded,” he explains. I grip tightly to his neck as he makes his way upstairs and then continues carrying me down the hallway.

“Ready?” he asks as he sets me down.

“Yes,” I reply, and I feel him reach up to take my blindfold off. While I’m still unable to see, I reach forward and touch the smooth wood in front of me, which tells me we’re standing outside a closed door and not next to a wall, and then reach down for the handle. The moment the blindfold is gone, I twist the knob and push the door open, and what I find takes my breath away.

This is the room Christian and I agreed would be the nursery and the room we’ve spent hours and hours fighting about because I didn’t want to hire someone else to get it ready for our daughter. I wanted to do it myself. I wanted her to know that even though we have money, we will never be the kind of parents to pass the responsibility of raising her off to anyone else. That she will always be our main priority and that we will do anything for her. Unfortunately, once my doctor told me I shouldn’t paint, I assumed what I wanted would be immediately dismissed and the completed room in front of me seems to be proof of that. New cream colored carpet, softer than I’ve ever felt, has been installed. Bright white crown molding has been laid into the wall just above the carpet, at the conjunction of the wall and the ceiling, and around the raised circle over the center of the room, which now includes soft, recessed lights that cast a soft glow around the entire room.

The walls, which were once a horrible saturated yellow color, are now a soft taupe, and there’s a new crib framed in a veil of sheer white fabric, a chair that looks perfect for rocking a baby to sleep in, a changing table, and a wall filled with children’s books. Above it all is a magnificent crystal chandelier.

“Christian,” I breathe as I step further into the room. “It’s beautiful.”

“I may have taken inspiration from you Pinterest board…” he admits. I smile and turn around to thank him properly, but stop when I see him. There’s paint on his t-shirt, the same color as the walls, and caulk residue on his fingers and caked over his knuckles.

“Wait… you did this?” I ask.

“Well, Elliot did a lot of it while I was travelling but we painted and brought everything in here today. I assembled the crib.”

“I love it,” I tell him. “This is the best thing you could have given me. Not just the nursery, but that you did it. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He kisses me and then turns me in his arms so that we can look at the room together again. “Did you enjoy your shower?” he asks.

“Very much. I met a lot of your mom’s friends and got to watch her gush with excitement over being a grandmother.”

He laughs. “Yes, I can imagine she’s just about on cloud nine.”

“Mmm. We need to figure out a name for the baby. I guess it’s weird that we haven’t come up with one yet, so Kate organized some games to help give us ideas.”

“Anything you liked?”

“Well, we played one where everyone had 30 seconds to come up with ten names that started with a different letter of either one of our names… this is what your sister came up with.” I reach into my pocket and hand him the paper I saved.

 

S A

 

  • Amelia
  • Amelia
  • Amelia
  • Amelia
  • Amelia
  • Amelia
  • Amelia, the second
  • Amelia
  • Amelia
  • Amelia

 

 

“I appreciate the one she changed,” he laughs. “It’s different, but not really.”

I laugh too. “She certainly has your persistence. But, seriously. Any real ideas?”

“Not really. I’ve thought of a few, but none that I’m overly attached to.”

“What have you thought of?”

“Phoebe?” he suggests, but I nix that idea immediately. “What’s wrong with Phoebe?”

“She’s my least favorite friend,” I reply. “Do you want kids singing Smelly Cat to her all the time?”

He rolls his eyes. “She’s not going to school for several years. I doubt her schoolmates in 2016 will even know what Friends is.”

“How dare you,” I say, accusatory. “Besides, by kids, I meant your brother.”

“Okay, Phoebe’s out,” he concedes. “What about… Elizabeth?”

“Meh,” I say, and he frowns again.

“What’s wrong with Elizabeth?”

“I just feel like it’s so common, you know? How many Elizabeths do you think she’s going to have in her class when she goes to school?”

“You’re not going to try to sell me on something ridiculous like Apple or Sunday, are you?”

“No, I don’t want it to just be weird,” I tell him. “I want it to mean something. I want something strong, unique.”

“Such as?”

“Ummm…” I hesitate, knowing he’s going to think weird is actually the perfect word to describe the name I’ve been stuck on for weeks. “Calliope?”

“Calliope?” he repeats, and the doubt is clear in his voice, so before he rejects it, I quickly begin to explain.

“I first read about her when we were in Paris, in the Louvre. She’s the goddess of eloquence and epic poetry and she was the wisest and most assertive of all of the Muses. And that’s part of it, she’s a Muse… It’s said that she inspired Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey, and Virgil’s Aeneid. I’m a writer, I kind of like the symbolism of that. She’ll always be my Muse.”

“Calliope,” he says again, more thoughtfully this time. “I don’t hate it.”

“Is that a yes?” I ask, and he moves his head from side as he weighs the name in his mind.

“What would her middle name be?’

“You choose,” I tell him, but then hold up a stern finger. “But not Amelia.”

“Okay, what about… Katherine?”

“Katherine? You mean… after Kate?”

He nods. “She saved my father’s life, Ana, and I won’t ever be able to repay her for that. We may never have another daughter, I’d like to honor her.”

“Calliope Katherine Grey,” I say aloud, and Christian smiles.

“That’s our daughter’s name,” he says.

“Yeah, I think it is.” I smile and then lean up to press my lips into his, but as his kiss intensifies and his fingers reach down to the straps on my dress, I quickly step back to stop the heat between us from progressing any further.

“We can’t have sex in our daughter’s room,” I tell him. He looks around, frowning, and then reluctantly nods.

“Yeah, I think you’re right. Come, they’ve been bringing in your gifts from the car and my mother is probably dying downstairs waiting for you to unwrap all the things she’s bought for you.”

“Okay,” I agree excitedly, and then wrap my hand in his so that he can lead me downstairs where the rest of the family is waiting.

Next Chapter

 

 

 

Memorial Day!

Hey everyone,

I just wanted to give you all a heads up that I’m going into the mountains for the long weekend and will not have any internet access, so I will NOT be posting chapter 27 on Monday. I will have access to jet skis though, so at least we all know that Elliot would be proud.

I will also be taking the full week off so that I have extra time to make sure that I have everything set up the way I want it before we move into this next arch because, for those of you who have been waiting for the first big move, it’s coming…

(More on this in a couple of weeks)

I hope you all have a great Memorial Day weekend, and thank you to all of my new subscribers!

xoxo,

WishingMrGreyWasHere

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Chapter 26

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Despite the fact that I’ve been running for thirty minutes to an hour every day, my morning jog never gets easier. I keep trying to convince myself that it’s the cold, that once spring finally comes I’ll be able to enjoy running through the neighborhood again, but I know that, in reality, it’s only going to continue becoming more and more difficult the further into my pregnancy that I progress.

“Okay, little girl,” I pant, reaching down to rest a hand on my belly as I round the corner that will take me back to my house, “Let’s keep this belly high and tight so I can keep this up, okay?”

There’s a small movement inside of me that feels like a response and it makes me smile. It gives me the last bit of motivation I need to keep up the pace to get me home, but that determination soon vanishes when I look up again and see the bourbon eyes and brown hair of the girl waiting for me at the end of the street.

I stop instantly.

“Always watching,” she says. “Always waiting.”

Suddenly, a hand appears from behind me and closes over my mouth to muffle my scream. I feel whoever it is wrap an arm around me, too strong for me to break away from, and begin pulling me back towards the street. I try to kick, I try to struggle, but as I fight I feel another set of hands on me.

“Ana!”

I try to scream again but the sound is muffled. No one is going to hear me. No one is coming for me.

“Baby, wake up!”

I’m jolted awake by a very concerned looking Christian, but I’m not immediately comforted by him hovering over me. If anything, I’m disoriented.

My eyes move wildly around the room, taking in my surroundings, and, as the previous night slowly seeps into my consciousness, my body finally begins to relax.

I’m not in Cambridge.

I’m in a hotel in Seattle.

Leila is 3,000 miles away.

No one will get to me here.

“Are you okay?” Christian asks, sliding into bed next to me, despite the fact that he’s still wearing a suit, and wrapping me in his arms.

“It’s just a nightmare,” I tell him, and he presses his lips into my hair.

“It’s the pregnancy hormones. The books say some pregnant women experience lucid dreams…”

“I keep dreaming about Leila,” I tell him. “That she’s waiting for me. She stands there, staring at me, and then someone grabs me.”

I hear him swallow. “That’s not going to happen. You’re very well protected, no one will get to you.”

“She was outside my house when I left. It was four o’clock in the morning and she was just sitting there. They said that she’s been there every night. She’s looking for a weakness, Christian.”

“And she’s not going to find one. I promise you, Ana. I won’t let anything happen to you. It was just a dream, baby.”

I take a deep breath, inhaling his familiar and comforting scent as I nestle into him, but when my cheek rubs against one of the buttons on his jacket, reminding me that he’s still in a suit, I pull away and look up at him.

“What time is it?”

“Almost two,” he says, and I frown.

“And you’re just getting home?”

“I’m sorry, I really tried. I’ve got three new contracts out right now, two companies in transition from acquisition, eight others that I’m chasing and are waiting on a response to their RFP, and at least six board members from PixC that I have to convince to vote for a merger with GEH rather than hire Ros.”

“Wait, you’re still chasing PixC?”

“Of course I am. You think I’d let her have it after she tried to sabotage me? After she turned her back on all of the work that we’ve done together with a second thought of the damage she’d leave behind? She’s not getting anywhere near PixC. I’m going to take it and then I’m going to turn it into something astronomically successful, the way only I know how to do. She can watch GEH thrive and grow… without her.

I frown. “I just can’t believe she’d do something like this. I mean, Ros isn’t the kind of person who’s ever been shy about confronting you, so I don’t know why she’d do all this behind your back and act so shady. Besides, she’s ALWAYS been there for you. Through everything. Why would she leave now when you’re both so successful?”

“People get greedy,” he says. “No one is ever satisfied being second. Everyone wants to be on top. Everyone wants the big job. Everyone. People use you to get what they want and then they toss you aside the second they get a better offer. Elena was right all along, I shouldn’t trust anyone.”

I sit up and turn back to look at him, suddenly furious. “What did you just say?”

“No, not you,” he says quickly. “I meant in business…”

“I don’t care what you meant,” I snap. “Don’t you ever say that Elena Lincoln was right to me. About anything. The only thing that she is, is a pedophile and I don’t even want you to speak her name.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” he says, shaking his head slightly. “I’m just tired. It’s late, we should go to sleep.”

I take a deep breath, nod, and then turn my cheek to him as he leans over to kiss me. He sighs at my less than warm reaction to his kiss, but when he gets out of bed and begins stripping out of his clothes, my irritation with his mention of Elena quickly fades away. Watching each tantalizing inch of the well defined ab muscles he reveals with every button he undoes reminds me of the silk nightgown I put back on after Luke left and the pantyless surprise waiting for Christian underneath, but when I hear him groan slightly as he climbs back into bed with me, the hope I had of maybe finally getting into the plans I had for this weekend fades away. He really looks wrecked, more so than I’ve ever seen him before.

“Come here,” he says softly while settling down into the pillows. He lifts his arm and I nestle into him, resting my head on his chest and curling my arm and legs around him. His lips press into my hair, but it’s only a few more seconds before I feel his entire body relax and his breathing slows and grows more steady.

“I love you, Christian,” I whisper, then close my eyes and allow his warmth to lull me back to sleep.

I wake up the next morning to the sound of rain rapping furiously against the windows and the low rumble of thunder. Most people find a storm brewing overhead to be ominous, a sign of trouble or something to fear, but I’ve always found a certain calm to the turbulence. The muted light through the dark clouds, the smell of rain in the air, even the thunder sounds therapeutic to me. I sit up in bed to gaze through the large windows that look out over the city to the sound, but when I’m not met with any kind or resistance from the blankets, I turn and look down at the space next to me only to find it empty.

A quick glance at the clock tells me it’s just after 7:30, but, even though he was out past two, I guess Christian is already awake, and since he let me sleep, I have a bad feeling he’s thrown himself into work again. There is a vain hope though that he’s just waiting for me to wake up on my own, or that he’s already finished whatever he’d left for this morning, but with the storm roaring through the windows, I can’t hear well enough to listen for any indication of what he may be doing, so I have to crawl out of bed to investigate.

I find him pacing back and forth in front of the windows in the dining room talking on the phone, his laptop and a few files open on the table behind him.

“GEH has the ability not only to sustain what PixC is, but to make it grow,” he says. “Our servers are already capable of handling an active user volume of over four times greater than what was detailed in your most recent subscription report and since the technology is all in house, we’ll operate at less than half the cost of what you’re currently spending in overhead. My developers are some of the greatest technological minds in the country and they understand the market. I’m fully confident that we could change the game here, do to Instagram what Facebook did to MySpace, but only if you agree to come on board.” He laughs. “Believe me, I can’t run everything on my own. I need people, people who understand the business, and people who are invested in the company’s success. I have no intention of firing anyone who can prove their worth. Excellent, then we’ll talk more after the paperwork is signed. Thank you, Holland.”

He hangs up the phone and lets out a long sigh of relief before turning back for his computer, but when he sees me standing in the doorway to the bedroom, he stops.

“Good morning.”

“You’re working again today?”

“Not all day,” he assures me. “I just a have a few more things to get settled and then I’m all yours.”

“Okay, then I’m going to take a shower. Breakfast afterwards?” He gives me a closed lip smile so I cross the room, kiss him quickly on the lips, and then turn back to the bedroom. By the time I close the door behind me, I can already hear him answering another call.

When I get out of the shower, I take extra time to dry and straighten my hair so that hopefully Christian will indeed be finished by the time I make it out to the sitting room, but when I’m finished, and I emerge from the bedroom, I find him on the phone again, schmoozing what sounds like another PixC board member while his fingers move over the keys on his laptop.

“Yes, I’m very excited about what the future is going to bring to PixC,” he says. “We’re going to accomplish great things together. Thank you again for your support.” He hangs up the phone and turns his full attention to whatever he’s typing until I come up and close the screen of his laptop on his fingers.

“What would you like for breakfast?” I ask, but instead of answering he looks up at me with almost a little shame reflected in his eyes. “No,” I complain. “You said you just had a few last things.”

“I do, I’m just… going to need a few hours.”

A few hours?!”

“And then I’m yours for the rest of the weekend.”

“You mean until I leave tomorrow? I came early to spend an extra day with you’re giving me less than half of the time I get on a normal weekend.”

“Ana, do you think this is what I want?” he snaps. “Do you think I like being in my office until two o’clock in the morning when I know you’re here waiting for me? Do you think it makes me feel good to know you’re here enjoying one of the very few nights you spend in Seattle with Sawyer instead of me?”

“Well, no…”

“I want to stop working,” he interrupts me. “I want to be able to put all of this way, take you into that bedroom, and spend the rest of the weekend in bed making love to you, but I can’t. I am running this company completely on my own now and I have over 30,000 employees relying on me to keep us functioning. I’m sorry but I don’t have time to come home for dinner or go out to breakfast right now. I don’t even have time to fucking breathe…” He pauses to quell the frustration growing more and more apparent in his voice and when he speaks again, his tone is conciliatory. “Call Mia. Take her out to breakfast and go shopping. She’d love to spend the day with you and by the time you get back, hopefully I’ll be finished.”

I take a breath, weighing his words until I eventually shake my head. “No, I’m not going anywhere.”

I turn away from him and head back into the bedroom for my suitcase, looking for my laptop, and after I’ve retrieved it, I return to the sitting room and set up next to him on the dining room table.

“What can I do?” I ask him.

“What?”

“You don’t have to do this alone. You can’t do this alone. So, give me something to do and I’ll do it. Let me help you.”

He stands there, motionless, considering me for a moment, but eventually nods.

“Alright,” he says. He pulls out my chair for me at the table and waits until I’m able VPN into the GEH server through the app that is still on the desktop from my internship over the summer. Once I’m logged in, he drags several things into my secure user file and then moves his chair over next to mine to walk me through what to do.

It’s mostly contracts with changes made by his legal time that I’m supposed to review, but there are also a few requests from clients he’s currently chasing, asking for details about whichever GEH service Christian has entered in a bid to provide for them. I’m actually surprised, as I being responding to those requests, that Christian would trust me to take on this task, but once I start digging through old proposals that Ros had drafted and sent to clients, using them as examples but customizing them to the specific needs the client has listed in the RFP, I actually find that I’m not only kind of good at this, but that I’m enjoying it. Not just the feeling of accomplishment I get when I’m able to complete each request with no help from Christian, or the satisfaction of getting to write something with no academic purpose for the first time in so long, but sitting here with Christian while he’s in his element and feeling as though I’m a part of it, that we’re once again conquering something together, that’s the real gratification.

I look up at him, sitting at the head of the table next to me, and smile at the look of focused concentration on his face as his fingers fly over the keys on his laptop. Even without the suit and tie, and despite the stubble still splattered across his cheek, he looks every bit the CEO. Calm, confident, and in control, like he was born for this.

“Can I help you?” he asks, glancing up from his laptop when he realizes I’m staring at him, and giving me a sardonic look.

“No,” I reply with a smile. “You just look kinda cute over there, that’s all.”

Kind of cute?” he asks, as though the vague qualifier has hurt his feelings, and I laugh.

Very cute,” I correct myself. “Extremely cute. Handsome. Sexy. Like the man I love more than anything else in the world.”

He smiles. “Well, you’re not so bad yourself.”

I place my elbow on the table and rest my chin in the palm of my hand so that my fingers cover the grin that the playful tone in his voice elicits, and then unfold my leg out from under me and reach it under the table between us so that my foot is in his lap. He sits back in his chair and turns his focus back to his screen, but his hands come down and massage my foot under the table. When I let out a low, appreciative moan, his eyes flit back up to me and he smiles.

“How’s it going over there?”

“Good, this is my last one.”

“Already?” he asks, suddenly sounding dubious, and when I nod, he moves his hand away from my foot so that he can use the touchpad on his laptop. I deduce from the sounds of him clicking the mouse but not typing anything that he must be reading over the work I’ve done, so I shake my head before I continue reading through the document I have open. After a minute or so of silence, he leans back again, smiles, and lets out a small, unintelligible noise that sounds almost impressed.

“This is good, Ana. Very good. But where did you get these performance metrics for the technology development?”

“Oh… out of the R&D file. That client just seemed really concerned about performance guarantees in their Statement of Outcome Standards so I thought concrete numbers would help GEH stand out. Especially because they’re so good. They’re bidding for new service because the last company they contracted with had a security breach after all, and these metrics show that GEH can prevent that from happening again.”

“No, I know… this is great… I just wonder, how do you have access to the R&D file?”

“What?”

“Your profile should be set up under SIP, so you should only have access to the user folders that pertain to that division. That’s why I had to drag all these files into your personal folder… You shouldn’t be able to see anything for research and development.”

“Oh, well… it’s all here.”

He gets out of his chair and comes around the table, clicking back through the portals to each different division of his company and then frowning as every icon he clicks reveals several files, including ones that only he is supposed to have access to.

“Hold on,” he tells me, reaching across the table to pick up his phone. I watch as he selects a contact and begins pacing back towards the windows of the suite, staring out at the rain until whoever he’s calling picks up.

“Walker,” he says briskly. “I’m with Anastasia right now and she’s VPN’d into the GEH server on her company laptop. She should only be able to view the SIP portal but it seems like she has access to the entire server. Yes, thank you.” He pauses for a moment, and turns back to me. I raise an eyebrow at him and he pulls the phone away from his mouth, covering the microphone with his hand.

“He’s looking at the permissions on your profile,” he says, and then immediately turns back to the call. “What? No, why would her profile mirror mine? Well, then Welch made a mistake. Yes, remove her. If she loses her laptop, then whoever finds it will have access to confidential information in every single division of my company and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take. Who else has that access? Well, find out. I’m going to need an audit done on every profile on the GEH server. If there’s one mistake, there could be more. Yes, I understand how long that will take but if people are accessing things they shouldn’t be, I need to know. Thank you, Walker. Have a good weekend.”

He hangs up the phone and I turn around in my chair to face him. “So, Welch thought I was more important than I really was, huh?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way, but… I guess. I don’t know what he was thinking.”

“Maybe because I started out as kind of your PA? Does Andrea have the same permissions you do?”

“She shouldn’t,” he says. “But I suppose we’ll find out.” He takes a deep breath and then rejoins me at the table, only this time he takes the chair next to me.

“Do you have anything else you need me to do?” I ask.

“No, I think I actually may be caught up. Thank you for your help today, baby. You never cease to impress me.”

“I learned from the best.”

He smiles. “You want a job? I need a new number two.”

“Mmm, tempting… but no.”

He breathes out a soft laugh through his nose and I smile as I climb out of my chair and into his lap, straddling him so that my knees are on either side of his legs.

“Does that mean that we can get back to the Valentine’s Day weekend I had planned?” I ask.

“That depends,” he says. “What are your plans?”

“Oh, they’re very, very dirty, Mr. Grey.”

“How dirty?”

“Mmm,” I hum, pressing my lips into his for a quick but sensual kiss before I answer. “I want you to tell me about your most forbidden fantasies and then I want to act out each and every one with you.”

“I like the sound of that,” he says huskily, and then leans forward to kiss me again, deeper this time. His tongue invades my mouth as his hands come up and slide into the roots of my hair on either side of my head. My hips begin gyrating over him as he kisses me, and in return, I feel his erection growing inside his pants.

“So, start talking,” I tell him. “What are your fantasies, Christian?”

“You mean besides fucking you on this table right now?” he whispers back, but I shake my head.

“Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy. This game isn’t just about sex… it’s about intimacy and trust. I want us both to be open enough and comfortable enough to share our deepest desires with each other.”

“So you’ll be sharing too?”

“Should I start?”

“Abso-fucking-lutely.”

I smile and then place one last kiss on his lips before leaning back and looking into his eyes. He waits expectantly, but even though this was my idea and just kissing him and touching him already has me unbelievably turned on, I’m suddenly a little trigger shy. But I meant what I said about building trust between us, and in order to do that, I have to allow myself to be vulnerable with him. So, after a bracing breath, I force myself to maintain eye contact with him and begin.

“Well, lately I’ve been thinking about being with you at a party or an event, like a wedding or something. Somewhere public, but also somewhere where no one really knows who we are. Where we’re just two people in a crowd.” I bite down on my lip as the memory of this particular fantasy begins swirling around in my mind, and then reach down into his pants to begin stroking my hand softly over his erection. He moans slightly, but doesn’t break eye contact.

“And what happens at this event, Anastasia?”

“We’re dancing,” I tell him. “And you’re being a little brazen with your hands on my body for having so many people around us. Your gripping onto my ass, reaching around me to hold each of my breasts in your hands… you kiss my neck in that way that immediately gets me wet.” I moan. “You’re torturing me, getting me so hot and ready for you that we both know there’s no way that we’re going to make it home.”

“Oh, baby,” he whispers as my hand tightens around him. He reaches down to undo his fly and releases his erection, allowing me full access to pleasure him while I continue.

“When it becomes too much for either of us to take anymore, you pull me off the dance floor and into a little room off to the side. There’s only a thin wall between us and hundreds of other people, but we’re too lost to care. All we can think about it tearing into each other, and that’s exactly what we do. You rip my clothes away from my body because you’re too impatient to undress me properly and, once I’m naked, I wrap my body around you and you carry me to a couch that is the only thing in the room for us to fuck on.”

“Keep going,” he says. His hands move up my bare thighs and under the shorts I’m wearing, and his fingers start teasing me through my panties while I continue to work him over with my hand. It takes all the strength I possess, but somehow I manage to stop myself from giving in and ravaging him right here and now so that I can go on.

“You start by going down on me and, oh god, it’s amazing. In fact, now I might have to add some stubble to your face when I imagine it because it feels so incredible.” I lean forward and lightly run my tongue through the coarse hair on his chin, and he groans.

“Let me do it now,” he breathes, but I shake my head.

“Not yet.” I swallow the lust building up inside of me and continue. “Once you make me come, I can’t get you out of your pants fast enough, but while I fumble with your belt and the buttons and zipper, you start sucking my nipples. Pulling at them with your lips and your teeth, fuck!” I yell out, as the fingers on his free hand move up under my t-shirt, under my bra, and begin pinching my nipple hard. After a few panting breaths while he toys with my breast and my clit, I start again, stroking him faster now and trying to mirror what I’m describing to him with my hand.

“I finally get you out of your pants and I drop to my knees and start sucking you like my life depended on it. Your hands twist in my hair, forcing me to take you deep in my throat, even holding me in place while you fuck my mouth, until you’re just about to come.”

“Baby,” he says in a slightly shaking voice. “Let me fuck you now.”

“Not yet,” I reply. “When you pull out of my mouth, you throw me onto the couch and your hands grab each of my thighs really hard and force my legs apart. You stroke your cock against my clit for minute, bringing me right back to the edge before you plunge inside of me and the second you break through my lips, I come hard around you, but you don’t stop fucking me as hard as you can. You have me screaming for you and so, just as I start to come down from my orgasm, the door opens and several people come inside.”

“So you want be caught?” he asks, but I shake my head.

“Not just caught…” His brow furrows for a moment, so I lean forward and kiss him again, tangling my tongue with his while my thumb drags the bead of precum leaking out of him around the head of his cock. “Once they come into the room,” I continue, “You stop for a moment, but you haven’t come yet and you can’t stop now. They gape at us for a moment but, after the initial shock of finding us wears off, they just shut the door and you start fucking me again. You’re like an animal uncaged, taking me hard and rough, like you’re trying to prove something to our audience, and it makes me come again. I call out your name, making sure they all know that you’re making me come and then you explode inside of me, filling me to the brim until you’re completely spent.”

“Exhibitionism, huh?” he asks, and I nod slowly. A slow smile creeps across his lips as his finger moves through my lower lips and sinks inside of me, making me moan. “That’s kind of hot.”

“Just the tip of the iceberg,” I admit.

“Then do go on.”

“Okay, well… sometimes when I go to sleep at night when I’m in Cambridge, I’ll close my eyes and then imagine that you show up in the middle of the night. I’m asleep, but I wake up to you touching me. I try to open my eyes but you’ve blindfolded me so the only way that I know it’s you is by your breathing, your smell, and the way you touch me, the way that only you can. You take my hand in yours and try to tie it to my headboard, but I yank it out of your grip and try to struggle away from you. You’re on top of me though and your body is holding me down, pressing me into the mattress, and you lean down and whisper in my ear, telling me not to fucking move.”

“Mmm, but I’d love to have you try and resist me. To fight back. Force me to overpower you.” His voice is rough now, like gravel, as he bucks his hips up into my hand, trying to draw more friction from my fingers still gripped tightly around him.

“And I do, for as long as I can, until you have me tied to the bed. Once I’m subdued, you’re not gentle with me. You take everything you can from me and still demand more. You use my body in any and every way you find pleasurable, even if it hurts me a little. Oh, and your dirty talk… god I love it when you talk dirty to me when you’re really fucking me. You spank me, you pull my hair, your hand wraps around my throat… you do whatever you want to me, because you can.”

“Because you’re mine,” he growls.

“Because I’m yours,” I agree.

“You want me to treat you like a whore, baby?”

“Yes,” I breathe in reply, and he sinks a finger inside of me and begins swirling it around.  

“What else do you fantasize about?”

“Well…” I pause, tightening and loosening my grip around his erection while I attempt to work my way through the lust filled haze clouding my mind with his fingers hitting that important place inside of me with every tantalizing stroke. “I’ve um… I’ve never been with a girl before…”

A harsh, visceral growl erupts from deep inside his chest and suddenly we’re not in the chair anymore. He practically throws me onto the table before he begins attacking my clothes with the fervent hunger of a starving, wild animal. I lift my hips for him to remove my bottoms, and once he’s flung my shorts and panties across the room, he’s inside of me. It’s sudden and unexpected, and the lack of any kind of preamble actually makes me cry out in surprise, but the high pitched noise gives way almost immediately to a well satisfied, feral moan that comes from deep inside of me.

“That’s it, baby,” I encourage him. “Fuck me harder. Oh god!” My nails dig into his forearms, which are rock hard from the strain his putting into holding me as tightly as he can. His fingers dig into my hips while he holds me above the table and pulls me back into him with each, hard thrust. It almost feels as though he’s trying to drill through my pelvis, and in this moment I want him to. I want him to give me everything he’s got, to satisfy every one of my darkest, most forbidden desires, and to get off while he’s doing it.

“You’re so wet,” he says through his labored breathing. “God, I love you like this. I love seeing in your eyes how much you need my fucking cock.”

“Please, Christian,” I whimper. “I need to come, please make me come.”

He growls again and then flips me around on the table, more carefully this time so that I can catch myself on my hands and keep my belly from slamming into the table, but once he’s sure that I’m steady his hand disappears from my hips and comes down hard on my ass. I cry out in pain as the force of the blow reverberates through me and then whimper when I feel his tongue brush over my hot skin.

“You said you wanted it rough,” he says.

“I do.”

“Then, you’re going to get it rough. Tell me if it’s too much.” He hits me again, with the same force, and while it’s almost enough for me to stop him, I don’t have to because he thrusts inside of me again, and his hand moves back to my hips. I press my palms into the table and push back on him, greedily taking everything I can from him until I feel the stirrings of an orgasm building inside of me.

“That’s it, baby,” he groans. “Give it to me. I want you to come.”

“I’m so c-close. Don’t stop.”

I feel a sharp bite of pain as his fingers really start digging into my skin, and when his hand moves up my back, twists through my hair, and yanks roughly so that my head falls backwards, I let out a primal kind of yell and then come hard around him.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he hisses through bare teeth. “You’re so fucking tight when you’re coming, baby. Oh fuck, you’re going to make me…”

“Come for me, Christian,” I whine as the pleasure continues to overwhelm me. “Come with me.”

“Not yet. I’m not… fuck!” I hear him grunt as he moves in and out of me, keeping me flying while trying to delay his own release, but when I come down and stop convulsing around him, the increasing urgency inside of him doesn’t recede.

“Fuck, I can’t stop,” he pants. “You want to give me your mouth, baby?”

“What?”

“Get on your knees. Oh, fuck…” He pulls out of me and yanks me up off the table. I turn quickly and sink to the floor, and the second my mouth closes around him, he thrusts into the back of the throat and explodes. The warm liquid of his release fills my mouth and drips down my throat, but I don’t shy away from the bitter taste. The temporary discomfort of swallowing the thick liquid is overshadowed by the satisfaction I take from the look of complete and utter euphoria on his face. The way his mouth drops open, the way all the tension in his muscles releases at once, and the deep, gratified sound that rattles in his throat.

“Holy shit, baby,” he breathes. “Fuck, you’re incredible.”

“Mmm,” I hum in response, dragging my tongue over his length as I slowly pull him out of my mouth. “Right back at you, Grey.”

I drag my hands up his thighs, but he reaches down and entwines his fingers with mine and pulls me up to kiss me. My body presses into his as he reaches for my hips and lifts me so that my legs wrap around his waist and I have to hold myself tightly around him to keep from falling backwards.

“I’m not ready to be done with you yet,” he tells me. I smile against his lips as he turns and leads me back into the bedroom, caressing my tongue with his until we’re standing before the bed. He kneels down on the edge of the mattress and slowly lowers me onto the bedding without breaking our kiss, but once I’m flat on the bed, his hands begin to roam around my body.

“Your breasts are bigger,” he notes as he kneads them purposefully.

“Everything is starting to feel bigger,” I reply ruefully.

“I love your body, Anastasia,” he says. “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

I smile and then pull his mouth down to mine again, pushing my tongue past his lips and tangling it with his. He matches my enthusiasm, pouring his love into the connection created through our lips, until he eventually begins moving down my body. He leaves a trail of soft kisses against every inch of my skin on his way south, stopping only when his face moves between my legs and only then to admire the sight before him.

“Oh, baby,” he whispers, and then leans forward to place a gentle kiss against my clitoris. A shudder runs up my body as I feel his tongue, and then his lips again. He moves deliberately, carefully, allowing the pleasure to build slowly until it’s burning in my skin.

“You taste so sweet, Anastasia,” he says.

I moan. “Don’t stop, Christian. Oh god, you’re so, so good.”

He groans and the sound sends vibrations through me, heightening the already euphoric sensation that drags me, inch by inch, closer to the edge. My body begins writhing over the bed, moving independently of any thought or ounce of control I possess, but Christian’s strong hands hold my hips to his face so that I can’t escape his mouth. I grind against him, growing greedier and more audacious with each passing second, until eventually the heat boils over and creeps through my bloodstream with such intensity it’s like physical, molten pleasure.

“Christian!” I scream as it begins to overwhelm me.

“Yes,” he hisses. “That’s it, give it to me. Come on my tongue. Fuck, baby.”

His mouth seems to envelop me, sucking, licking, teasing, even nibbling at me, until he’s seen me all the way through. I pant harshly as I come down and then moan as I feel him brush the tip of his erection against my opening.

“Again?”

“Yes. Fuck me again, Christian.”

“No,” he says. “No, this time, I want to make love to you.”

He sinks inside of me, stretching me slowly and allowing me to feel every inch of him until he’s buried to the hilt inside of me. Once I’m filled, he lays over the top of me, takes my hand in his, and begins pulling out with the same achingly slow rhythm. It’s maddening, and bewildering, and extraordinary all at the same time. It’s not the friction or the lust that drives me towards release this time, it’s the feel of his skin against mine. It’s the heat of his breath on my neck. It’s the sweet words of love and reassurance that he whispers into my ear. And, though it takes longer to get there, the eventual promising rise of my orgasm is stronger, more intense than before, and I revel in it as the warmth unravels and begins to spread through my body.

“You feel so good, Anastasia,” he says, his voice tight as his rhythm grows less and less controlled. “Do you think you have one more in you?”  

“Yes,” I reply. “But I want you to come with me.”

He moans and his fingers tighten around mine as he begins to really move inside of me, each hard thrust punctuated by my sharp, keening cries. As the perfect metric pace of his cadence changes and his breathing grows harsher, it’s almost as though I can feel him building towards his final release and my body instinctively paces my rise with his. He stares down into my eyes, holding my gaze as the heat envelops us both and when I watch his mouth fall open again in a silent gasp of pleasure, the quivering inside of me intensifies to the full blown shudders of an orgasm. His gasps are no longer silent as he tumbles over the edge after me and for a moment we soar together, experience the pinnacle of the physical manifestation of our love together. It’s perfect, life affirming even, and the glow of our mutual indulgence surrounds us long after the final pulse of either of our orgasms fades away.

“I love you, Anastasia,” he whispers against my lips. “You are my everything.”

“I love you, too,” I tell him. “So, so much.”

He kisses me again, softly, and brushes his fingers against my cheek. I fight the smile his touch elicits so that I can relish in his mouth and his tongue, but I’m eventually pulled away from this kiss by an entirely different distraction.

“Oh,” I gasp, and then smile as I feel the rolling movement inside of me. “I think you’ve woken your daughter up.”

“Oh, really?” Christian asks. I nod, so he moves his hand down to my belly, but the moment he touches the bare skin on my bump, he immediately yanks his away as though he’s been burned.

“Oh my god,” he says.

“What?”

“I-I felt that.”

My eyes widen. “You did?”

He nods and then slowly places his hand on my belly again, and when I feel her movements shift back across my belly once more, his eyes widen and a disbelieving kind of smile slowly begins creeping across his lips.

“I can feel her,” he whispers. “I can feel her!”

I beam at him and the excitement becoming more and more obvious in his expression the more I too feel her moving inside of me. He moves so that he can place both of his hands on my bump, and we both lay there, as still as possible, while we wait for any further shift or change. When it comes, we laugh together.

“I can’t believe it,” he says, awed. “It’s like… it’s real now. She’s really in there.”

“She’s really in there.” I giggle.

He looks up at me, grinning so widely I can practically see the joy radiating off of him, and I reach down to brush my fingers through the strands of his hair just above his forehead.

“You know, you never told me YOUR fantasies,” I tell him.

“You really want to know?” he asks, and I nod.

He takes a breath. “I fantasize about having dinner with you on a Tuesday. About waking up next to you every morning and going to bed next to you every night. I like to think about introducing you to people as my wife, not my girlfriend or my fiance, and I dream about watching you holding our daughter in your arms, singing to her as you put her to bed. I love fucking you, and I love making love to you. I love that you can be so dirty between the sheets with me, and I love indulging in every one of the things we both find pleasure in, but the thing that I fantasize about, is a life with you.”

I bite down on my lip, but as I attempt to pull him up towards me, he stops me and gives me a devilish grin.

“Although, I am fully in support of watching you live out your fantasy of being with another woman…”

“Of course you are,” I giggle, and then drag his lips to mine.

“I love you,” he says.

“And I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day, Christian.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, baby.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 25

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Normally, I have packing for Seattle down to a science. I know exactly what I’m going to take, exactly where it’s at in my room, and exactly how to fit it in my suitcase. Unfortunately, this isn’t a normal trip home. I’ve been shopping all week, trying to find lingerie that looks sexy despite my now obvious baby bump, because this weekend is Valentine’s Day, and my Harvard t-shirt and sweatpants now have to make room for the various colors of lace and satin that I’m hoping will drive Christian crazy. Or rather, they would if I could find that stupid pink bag.

I begin tearing through the mess of unpacked clothes all over my room, wondering how something I just had in my hand an hour ago could have grown legs and walked away, when my door opens and Kate comes in and flops down on my bed.

“Look at you being proactive,” she says. “I thought you always put off packing until the last possible minute?”

“I do, and I have. I’m flying out of Boston tomorrow morning at six,” I tell her distractedly. “I’m skipping classes tomorrow to try and surprise Christian for Valentine’s Day by getting to Seattle early in the morning.”

“That’s adorable. Did you get him anything?”

“I booked us a suite at the Fairmont Olympic.”

“And?”

“And… Once we get there, I’m going to fuck his brains out for the rest of the weekend. Happy Valentine’s Day, Christian.”

“You’re so romantic it kills me sometimes,” she says, rolling her eyes, and I laugh.

“Well, I might not do anything if I can’t find that stupid shopping bag!” I yell with frustration. She shakes her head.

“Then we definitely need to find it because I’m going to need you to be out of the house this weekend.”

“Why’s that?”

“I had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon to get everything checked out and he says I’ve recovered very well. He thinks I can go back to school on Monday and if I’m well enough to go to school, then I think I’m well enough to make this thing with Carter… you know, official.”

“What do you mean?”

She gives me a pointed look. “I mean that I’m going to sleep with him. It’s Valentine’s Day, I think it’s very fitting.”

“I don’t understand how that makes things official. You’ve already slept with him.”

“Yeah, but not when we were together. I don’t know, it feels different, meaningful, and I’m actually… a little nervous about it. Sex hasn’t meant anything to me since… well, since Elliot.”

“Oh. Well… I think Carter’s great. He’s been amazing since you’ve had your surgery, taking care of you and everything. I can tell how much you mean to him. You two are really good together.”

“I know.” She nods. “And I really like him. He’s sweet and funny, and he makes me feel comfortable. I’m just anxious, I guess. Breaking up with Elliot was really hard, I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready to put myself out there like this again. It doesn’t seem like we’re moving too fast to you, right?”

I shrug. “You’re the only one who can know that.”

“I guess you’re not really the best person to ask anyway. Every time you and Christian have made it official, you slept with him immediately.”

“That’s not true!” I snap. “I slept with him before I got back together with him the last time.”

She laughs. “And then a week later you move in with him, and then four months later you’re having a baby with him, and then three months after that you’re getting married…”

“Okay, okay, I get it. Christian and I move fast.”

“Yeah, but I like that about you guys,” she says, more seriously now. “You’re both usually so careful and you overthink everything way too much, but when it comes to each other, you’re not too cautious or afraid to do what feels right. You truly live your life when you’re together and I love that.”

“Awwwww.” I crawl onto the bed next to her and wrap my entire body around her, making sure to be careful as she’s still just a little sore. She hugs me back for a moment, but when she tries to pull away, I don’t relinquish her.

“Ana, let me go.”

“Never.”

“Anaaaaaaaaa!” She tries to give me a tortured look, but the effect is dampened by the smile she can’t hold back, and as she attempts to struggle out of my arms, I tighten my hold on her.

“Stop fighting me! Let me love you!”

She devolves into a fit of giggles as she lets her entire body go limp and I pin her down. Now that I’m victorious though, I’m not really sure how long I’m supposed to hold onto her, but I still have packing to get done so I don’t hold her there long. When I do get up from the bed and start looking for the lingerie bag again, she rolls over on her side and looks purposefully at me.

“How’s Christian doing anyway? He left here so suddenly last weekend. I was shocked when we woke up on Saturday and he was gone.”

I frown. “I don’t really know. I’ve only talked to him twice this week and both times it was only for a couple minutes. All he’s told me is that he’s busy and he misses me. I talked to Taylor briefly and Mrs. Jones and they both told me that he’s been going into the office between six and seven every morning and staying past midnight.”

“What about Ros?” Kate asks.

“He fired her. He had the new technology guy dig into her profile on the server and found some emails between her and some of the board members at PixC. Apparently she was trying to sway them towards hiring a new CEO before Christian even got involved. She’d actually used Christian as a bargaining chip… like a threat. That they should hire her or GEH would take over the company and they’d all lose their jobs.”

“But, why? That just doesn’t seem like Ros.”

“I know. I don’t understand either.”

“What did she tell Christian?”

“He called her into his office on Monday morning and told her what they’d found and she got mad that he’d gone into her emails, but when he confronted her about the deal with PixC, she just tried deny everything. She said she’d never contacted PixC prior to their negotiations with GEH, but he had the proof in his hand. So, he told her she was done and had Taylor escort her out. He hasn’t talked to her since. I guess he’s thinking about taking legal action against her now.”

“That’s so crazy, they were like… best friends. I can’t believe she would do that to him.”

“Well, he hasn’t exactly been the best friend to her over the last few months,” I admit. “When I was there for Thanksgiving, they got into an argument and he basically told her that she wasn’t as important to GEH as she thought she was. Maybe that was enough to make her want to leave.”

“Yeah, Christian’s a dick when he gets mad, we all know that. She knows that better than even probably you do, and she’s known that since she started this with him. So, what? She just put up with that long enough for him to make her rich and powerful enough to take over a company and get the big job and now she’s just going to leave Christian to deal with the fallout at GEH by himself? That’s the real dick move, and I hope he does sue her. I don’t care how pissed you get, you don’t fuck over your friends like that.”

“I just rather they worked it out,” I tell her. “You’re right, he can’t run GEH all on his own, but he’ll try and he’ll either work himself into an early grave or he’ll fail, and he doesn’t do well with any kind of failure. He won’t admit it, but he needs her.”

She shrugs but I can tell by her face she doesn’t really agree with me. Kate’s always been a fiercely loyal friend, but she’s also not the kind of girl you’d want to get on the bad side of. I think that whole “a woman scorned” saying is actually her life’s mantra.

“Well, since you’re leaving me again, I’m going to have a sleepover in here with you tonight, cool?”

“Whatever makes you happy, my dear.”

She smiles and shifts back onto the pillows as though she’s going to crawl under the covers and settle in for the night, but the moment she leans back, she frowns and looks back at the pillow behind her.

“What in the world?” Her hand reaches under the pillow and after struggling more than she should, she pulls out a shiny, pink bag.

“There it is!” I exclaim.

“Glad I could help,” she smiles as she tosses the bag to me. “Just remember that when you’re having your first orgasm this weekend. It’s literally because of me.”

“Shut up, Kate,” I laugh, and I pull out the sheer lavender chemise and put it in my suitcase.

 

Luke wakes me up at four the next morning, being careful as he moves around the room not to wake Kate while I begrudgingly get out of bed. I do take note when I get out of bed that my pillow, which is the match to the one I bought as a Christmas gift for Christian, isn’t glowing, which either means he isn’t using it, or he hasn’t gone to bed yet. But, since I’m flying to Seattle this early to try and surprise him, I don’t want to call and find out which it is.

“Alright, is it just this bag?” Luke whispers once we’re back out in the hallway.

“Yeah, I’m ready to go,” I reply. “We’ve got to hurry. This plane won’t wait for me like Christian’s will.”

Luke nods and takes my bag with him as he heads for the stairs, but as we make our way past a very sleepy Champ in the kitchen, Anthony, the new security guy, comes in through the back door to stop us and I immediately freeze. I haven’t gotten comfortable with the new security team yet, especially Anthony. He’s very tall and bulky, with a severe jaw line and angular features. He’s bald, but there’s usually a shadow on his head that tells me that he purposefully shaves all of his hair off. He kind of reminds me of a hit man you’d see in old gangster movies and even though he took the time to introduce himself, and insisted I called him Anthony or Tony rather than Kommer, since that’s how I address Luke, part of me is a little afraid of him. I guess that’s good though. He’s intimidating and maybe that will scare off whoever he is…

“Sir, we have a problem,” he says to Luke.

“Problem?”

“Down the street, about five hundred feet, there’s a white Toyota Camry with a Massachusetts license plate number 643FW7. It’s been parked there every night this week so Harrison finally called in to have the plates run. It’s registered to Leila Williams.”

“Is she alone?” Luke asks.

“I’m not sure, sir. He’s doing a sweep of the block now, but, yes, she appears to be alone.”

“Well, let’s get Ana to the airport and call Harrison back. He should be ready to fall into pursuit in case Miss Williams follows us.”

“Yes, sir.” Anthony steps aside and lets Luke move through the back door, which has been replaced with french doors rather than the sliding glass door so that they could put deadbolts in them, but once I follow after him, they both surround me until I’m shut safely away in the back of my Lexus. It feels ridiculous and way over the top, but it’s what Christian needs to feel safe and, with as much stress as he’s under at home right now, I don’t want to do anything to make things harder for him and that means following security protocol to a T.

Anthony takes the driver’s seat while Luke slips in the front, and they both look very attentively through the windows surrounding us as we pull back down the driveway. Their attitudes make me paranoid and almost a little worried to be leaving Kate behind, but I can at least feel better knowing that, in addition to Carter and Champ, Kate will have Harrison and Cardella, my new female CPO, remaining behind with her.

 

We arrive in Seattle just after nine o’clock, which gives me time to go home, take a shower, and get ready before I head to GEH to see Christian. I’ve secretly blocked a half hour out of his schedule today, the maximum amount of time Andrea could help me secure, and as we make our way out of the parking garage under Escala and up 5th avenue, I dial the number to the front desk of Christian’s office to make sure that half hour is still on his calendar.

“Christian Grey’s office, this is Olivia speaking, how may I direct your call?”

“Hi, Olivia, it’s Anastasia. Can I speak with Andrea please?”

“One moment.” There’s a beat of silence and then Andrea’s voice comes over the phone.

“Hi, Ana.” She sounds exhausted.

“Hi, Andrea. I’m on my way in. I just wanted to make sure we’re all set.”

“Umm… yes,” she says hesitantly. “But, I have it on the calendar as an extension of the meeting he has with his brother at 10:30 and he’s asked me to cancel the extension three times. I haven’t yet, but I don’t know if he’s filled the time with something else.”

I feel my heart sink. “Well, we’ll see. I’ll be there in about five minutes.”

Once I hang up the phone, I turn and look gloomily out the side window and realize that we’re stopped at a light on the same corner where Christian’s new building is going up. I haven’t come down this way to see it since last fall and the difference between then and now is staggering. It looks… complete. No longer is there just a shell of iron beams and concrete floors on each level, the building standing before me is an architectural marvel of glass and steel. It looks like there are workers on the inside, putting up what looks like a giant screen in screen in the lobby but from the outside, Elliot’s vision has come to life, right down to the Grey House mounted proudly over the front doors. I smile to myself as we pull away and I think of all the times Elliot taunted Christian by telling him he was going to put his name on the building.

I really miss that Elliot.

When we get to GEH, Luke takes me up the elevator from the parking garage and after he’s swiped his badge against the electronic pad next to the door to let me through the security doors, I immediately feel the tension filling Christian’s office. Andrea is surrounded by boxes of files piled so high you can barely see her over them and Olivia hangs up one call and answers another in the four seconds it takes us to get from the doors to her desk.

“Anastasia,” Andrea greets us, saying my name as though it’s the first chance she’s had to take a breath all morning. “Mr. Grey is on a phone call…”

“That’s okay, I can wait. I’ll just…” I point back to Christian’s office as Olivia answers yet another phone call, and Andrea hesitates for a moment, as though she wants to stop me, but ultimately decides objecting isn’t worth the time away from her work. Luke ducks into the security office down the hall and I wave at Taylor as I pass before gently easing open the doors to Christian’s office and stepping inside.

He’s behind his desk, on the phone, and the first thing I notice is how exhausted he looks. His hair is in disarray, his face is covered in what looks to be a day or two of stubble, and even though he’s dressed in an impeccable suit, he looks a little disheveled with his tie hanging loosely around his neck.

“So, when’s the vote?” he asks, pausing for a moment and then following up with, “And how many board members are going toward GEH? Jesus… what the fuck did she sell them?” He sighs. “Give me some names, I’ll make some calls.”

He turns in his chair and the moment he sees me standing just in front of the closed door, his eyes widen and his back goes stick straight.

“No, I can handle it,” he says, talking to the person on the phone again. “This isn’t my first hostile takeover. Thank you, I’ll talk to you soon.” He hangs up the phone and looks back up at me.

“Well if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain…” I say, but the tension in his face doesn’t relax.

“Why are you here? What happened?”

“Well…” I begin, trying not to let the almost accusatory way he says why are you here get to me as I lower my voice seductively and saunter towards his desk. “Time has gone on, days have past, and now, it’s Valentine’s Day weekend. I flew here early to surprise you with an extra day and now that I’m here, I thought maybe you’d like to take a break.”

A brief flash of conflict washes over his face as he watches me reach for the top buttons on my coat, but he lets out a hard sigh and regretfully shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Ana. I don’t have time right now. I’ll see you tonight, okay? I’ll try to get out of here early.”

“Oh.” The shock of rejection I feel is more poignant than I’m prepared for. Never before has Christian turned me away or said no. He’s always made me his number one priority, at all times, but… that’s because he used to have Ros. She was always willing to step in for him when he needed her to so that he could free up his schedule to be with me and his family. Now, he’s at the helm alone, and if he’s not here, no one is. He’s an island and, as I see the fatigue and the frustration behind his eyes again, I suddenly feel the quick anger that I’d seen from Kate last night for myself. He needs Ros, she knows that, but she went and did this terrible thing anyway. Maybe Kate is right and she was just using him.

And that’s when it really hits me. It’s not just exhaustion that I see in him right now, it’s hurt. I’ve been thinking about the business perspective, that Ros saw an opportunity and jumped at it. It was a shark kind of move, but she’s learned from Christian and that’s exactly the cutthroat attitude he’s always had. Act now, apologize later. Except, that this isn’t just climbing the corporate ladder, this is using her position in GEH, the position that Christian put her in, to get what she wants with absolutely no concern for the consequences to him. In fact, it’s almost specifically to spite him. And now that she’s just so carelessly moved on, tossed everything she and Christian have built together aside as if it were nothing, one can’t help but wonder if ever meant anything to her at all. Perhaps she was using Christian, and if that’s true, their entire friendship, the friendship that was all he had for so long, has been a lie.  

Elena… Ros…

He’s once again had someone he allowed himself to be open with prove that they never cared about him, and that thought hits me like a bullet to the heart.

“Christian…” I say softly, but he cuts me off.

“I really don’t have time right now, Ana, I’m sorry. I’ll be home tonight.” The phone on his desk rings and he immediately reaches over to answer it. I stand there for a moment, watching and listening to him bark a few orders to some department head over the phone, before I turn around, but when I hear the phone slam down on the receiver behind me, there’s a brief moment of silence before his agitated voice cuts through empty space between us.

“Fuck it. Come back here.”

I turn cautiously and see him get out of his seat, pulling his unknotted tie from his collar and moving to the top buttons of his shirt as he moves around his desk and stalks towards me. He doesn’t even reach for me to pull me into him, he just lets his entire body crash into mine, his hands only reaching up to my face to keep my lips against his as I stumble backwards a few paces.

“On my desk,” he whispers against my mouth. His hand takes mine and he pulls me roughly back with him to the desk. I quickly close his laptop and move it, along with some files and stacked papers, to make some room, and when I glance over at him, a huge smile crosses my lips as he very purposefully picks up his desk phone, pulls the cable out of the back, and sets it down on the floor.

“We can’t ever be to cautious with you, can we, Miss Steele?” he asks lasciviously as he comes around the desk, but when he reaches out for me, I move deftly out of his reach. The sudden spark of lust I see in his eyes has given me the opening I was waiting for to do what I wanted to for Valentine’s Day, namely play out every one of his fantasies. Starting with a little office role play…

“Mr. Grey,” I say firmly, reaching out to stop him, and he does, but he looks at me confused.

“What’s wro-”

“I’ve been told by my superior that I’ve broken GEH policy,” I interrupt him. “But you have to understand, I didn’t realize when I left the house this morning that my outfit didn’t adhere to the dress code.” I reach up and open the long trench I picked out specially from my closet back at Escala and when he sees the short, lacy, champagne colored babydoll lingerie I’ve been concealing underneath, his expression twists with desire for a moment before the CEO shutters come back down.

“Well, Miss Steele,” he says. “Let’s take a look shall we?”

He moves to a file cabinet on the wall next to his desk and removes a paper bound book, which he brings back and drops it on the desk in front of me. I stare down at it for a moment as he lowers himself into his chair again and gestures at the book.

“Your um… outfit does seem a little short. Why don’t you find what the handbook says about skirt length?”

“Yes, sir,” I reply. He smiles at the emphasis I put on the last word and, as I step between his legs and bend over the desk right in front of him, I hear his sharp intake of breath and the sound of his fingers tightening on the leather arms of his chair as he tries to stop himself from reaching up to touch me.

“Let’s see…” I continue, flipping through the book. “This says that skirts and dresses may fall no less than four inches above the knee.”

He clicks his tongue, and even though the lace of my lingerie isn’t even covering my behind with the way I’m bent over the desk, he says, “I suppose we’ll have to measure.”

“Whatever you say, Mr. Grey.”

He reaches around into one of his desk drawers and pulls out a metal ruler, and my breath hisses through my teeth when he presses it into my skin.

“Cold, Miss Steele?”

“A little…”

“Well, perhaps you should be covering more of your skin.” His tone is chiding as he marks the place on my thigh where the ruler ends with his finger, and then slides the metal further down my leg to continue measuring. “Sixteen inches. That’s a foot too short…”

“I’m sorry, sir,” I tell him, but he simply clicks his tongue disapprovingly. The ruler slides up my leg, catching the hem of my lingerie, and as he continues to move it higher, he begins dragging the lace along with it.

“Such a grave violation should lead to immediate termination…”

“No, please, sir!” I beg. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”

“Miss Steele, I can’t simply look the other way. You knew the rules, and you’ve chosen to break them.”

“There has to be something I could do… some other way you could reprimand me.”

“Perhaps there is,” he says huskily. “How badly do you want to keep your position here at GEH, Miss Steele?”

“I have to, sir. I need this job. I’ll do anything…”

“Then don’t move.” He flips the hem of the skirt over my behind and then smacks me with the ruler. I let out a small, surprised yelp and he stops. “Too much?”

“No,” I reply. He hesitates for a moment but then pulls the ruler back to hit me again. When I moan this time, he doesn’t pause before he brings the ruler down on me once more. The crack of the pliable metal on my skin sounds threatening, vicious even, and the sting is biting, but not so much that I can’t handle it. He hits me four more times before the final blow makes me whimper again, and this time, rather than pausing to check that I’m okay, he simply lets the ruler fall to the floor. While I listen to the metal thud against the rubber mat under his chair, his fingers curl beneath my panties and he pushes them deftly to the side, his mouth making contact with me in the next second.

The stubble on his face scratches against my lips, contrasting and heightening the sensation of his tongue swirling softly around my clitoris, and it immediately has my legs shaking. I moan and gasp as I writhe over his desk, wishing I had something to sink my fingers into rather than the hard, unrelenting surface beneath me, but he seems encouraged by the sound of my fingernails scraping desperately against the wood.

“Oh god,” I whisper as I feel the building heat inside of me. “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop!”

His lips begin pulling at me, sucking my clitoris between the long, tantalizing strokes of his tongue, and soon, the shaking in my knees seems to migrate up my thighs and between my legs, adding pressure to and ultimately unwinding the concentrated ball of pleasure inside of me waiting to explode. I cry out as my orgasm hits me and Christian pushes his face harder into me, between my legs, and it sends the shockwaves coursing through me rebounding back, intensifying my orgasm. Fuck, he’s so good at this.

“Holy fuck, Christian,” I pant as I start to come down, the roleplay I’d set up now completely pushed out of my mind. He kisses me one last time before he gets out of his chair, stands behind me, and I hear the promising jingle of his belt. Taking a deep breath to prepare myself for round two, I move so that I’m in the best position for him, higher off the desk, but he reaches down for my hips and flips me onto my back.

“I want to see you,” he says, and then he thrusts inside of me. My mouth falls open in a silent scream of delight as he pushes in and out of me, harder and more viciously with each thrust. Our harsh breathing synchronizes, filling the air around us, and as I look up in his face and see the serenity there that has replaced the uncertainty, I know he’s losing himself in me, and I want to go along.

“Kiss me,” I plead. He leans over me, pressing his body into mine as he claims my lips, and I reach up to tangle my fingers in his hair. He allows me free reign to touch him for only a moment and then reaches up for my arms and pins them to his desk, next to my head. His fingers entwine with mine and it’s more intimate than I would have supposed. A long time ago, when he used to restrain my hands to keep me from touching him, I could feel the distance in the gesture, but this feels less like he’s pushing me away and more like he’s trying to connect. There’s tenderness in the way his hands hold mine and it makes it seem that, even though he’s fucking me in a carnal, instinctual way, we’re somehow still making love.

“I love you, Christian,” I whisper, and he moans.

“And I love you. Give it up for me, baby. Come with me.”

I bite down on my lip as his mouth moves down my body to the swells of my breasts above my lingerie. His sure hands hold tightly to my sides, lifting me from the desk, holding me firm while he moves in and out of me. I can see the muscles in his jaw tensing and his eyebrows furrowing as he climbs closer and closer to release, trying to hold off for me to join him, and once again the thought of his pleasure is enough to push me off the edge and send me tumbling into the warm abyss of welcome madness. He lets out a strangled kind of groan as he feels the force of my orgasm clenching tightly around him and then he too lets go.

“Oh… fuck, I needed that,” he says when we’ve both come down and he’s pulled out of me. I smile up at him as he straightens his clothes and then moves to put the phone back on his desk. Once I too am wrapped back in my trench coat and decent to be in public again, he takes me by the hand to walk with me back out to the elevators, but I stop him before he even unlocks his office door.

“I booked a room for us this weekend. I was kind of hoping we could spend the next couple days just getting lost in every one of your fantasies.”

“Mmm,” he hums. “I want that too. I might be here a little late tonight, though.”

I want to sigh, but to try to hold it back. “That’s okay. I was going to go see your dad this afternoon and I still have to go for a run so I’ll just meet you at the Fairmont Olympic tonight?”

“I can’t wait,” he tells me, and then kisses me once more before we open the door and Luke comes out of the security office to follow us up to reception.

I remember the phone call I had with Andrea on my way into the office this afternoon, so I half expect to see Elliot waiting in the lobby, but I’m disappointed when I see that it’s Gia who practically leaps out of her seat when we come around the corner.

“Good afternoon, Christian,” she says. “And… Ana, what a surprise. You’re… early, aren’t you?”

“No, not really,” I say coolly. “There isn’t a time I’m supposed to be here so how could I be early?”

“I just thought you usually get here late on Fridays,” she says, brushing me off as she turns to look at Christian. “I assume she’s leaving, though? We have an 11 o’clock.”

“No,” Christian says irritably. “I have an 11 o’clock with Elliot.”

“Right,” she nods. “He’s just a little busy this afternoon, so he asked me to fill in. He wants to make sure everything is wrapped up at work before we take off for the weekend. He’s taking me to St. Barts for Valentine’s Day.”

Christian’s expression hardens. “Look, I know that you have a personal relationship with my family that may make it feel like the lines between us are blurred, so let me make things real clear for you. I’m the CEO of one of the largest companies in the country and I do not have meetings with salaried employees. The meeting I have scheduled is with Elliot Grey and that is the only meeting I will be taking.  You do not belong in this office and you should remember that going forward. Now get your things and go.”

“Christian…” she protests, but he cuts her off with one biting word.

“Go.”

She gives him an indignant look but she gathers the briefcase and folders she left on the chair next to her and moves towards the doors that lead to the elevator regardless.

“That was kind of harsh,” I tell him once we watch her disappear behind the elevator doors.

“Well, that’s how I would handle any subordinate employee who came into my office. No special treatment. Grey Construction is no longer a part of GEH, and I only ever meet with the executive management team of other companies. I never deal with anyone who would need to confirm with their boss before giving me a concrete answer. It’s waste of everyone’s time and time is not a luxury I have now.”

“Yeah… but he’s not just another CEO, he’s your brother.”

“I’ve been lenient on procedure for people close to me before. With Elena, with Ros… and I’ve been burned every time. Not anymore. I’m happy to do business with Elliot, but when he steps through those doors, he isn’t my brother anymore. He’s the owner of a company I have under contract and when he schedules a meeting with me, I expect him to show up, not an Interior Designer.

There’s a definite note of disdain in his voice when he says Gia’s title but I’m not sure I want to get to the bottom of that with Andrea and Olivia standing only a few feet away, so I don’t reply, and Andrea takes my silence as an opportunity to get Christian’s attention.

“Mr. Grey? Miss Bailey has called for you three times this morning…”

Miss Bailey is to be directed to my lawyer or HR,” Christian says through clenched teeth.

“Yes, sir, she has,” Andrea continues. “And the lawyer, David Kramer, has called for you as well.”

“Alright, get him on the phone. I’ll take it in my office.” He turns to me and I give him a sad kind of smile before I reach up and give him a quick kiss on the corner of his mouth.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” I promise him, and he nods.

“And I will get to you as soon as I can.” He squeezes my hand as I turn for the glass doors with Luke and when we step into the elevator, Christian stare at one another, holding eye contact, until the doors close and I can’t see him anymore.

It’s only 11:30 by the time we get back to Escala, but since I’ve technically been up since one AM local time, I’m in desperate need of a nap. It’s a good way to kill a couple hours and by the time I get up, finish my run with Luke, shower, repack, spend a little time in Bellevue with Christian’s family, and make it to the Fairmont Olympic, it’s after six, which I hope means Christian is going to be arriving soon.

There’s a menu for room service next to the hotel phone so I order dinner for Christian and I and have them set up the dining table in the suite with candles and flowers, but by 7:30, I’m still sitting at the table alone. There’s a clock in the sitting room adjacent to me that ticks away the seconds I sit there, staring at the wall across from me, until I finally pick up my phone to call him.

“Grey,” he answers quickly.

“Hey, where are you?”

“Oh… Ana. I’m sorry, I’m still in the office. I’m trying to get out of here but I’m just so buried…”

“Is something wrong?”

“No, not really. I’ve just had to take on all of Ros’s clients and it’s a lot to go along with the acquisitions I’m already working on. I’ve got a million things going on at once.”

“Oh, well… I ordered dinner.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, and at least I can hear the true regret in his voice. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, I promise.”

“Okay, I love you.”

“I love you too, bye.” He hangs up and I stare solemnly down at the phone in my hand. Not only is he not almost here or on his way, it doesn’t even sound like he’s leaving any time soon.

I look down at the food in front of me, cold now, and push it away. I know that Luke is in the room next to me, so after pacing the floor of my suite a few times and deciding that I’d rather have company than wait for Christian to get back by myself, I change out of the sexy nighty I’m wearing, throw on a pair of leggings and a t-shit, and then make my way down the hall to his room.

“Ana?” he asks curiously when he opens the door.

“Christian’s not going to be here for awhile and I’m kind of lonely. You wanna come watch a movie?”

“Uh… sure.” He picks up the keycard on the table next to the door and then follows me back to my suite. I let him order the movie while I call down to the front desk to ask them to bring popcorn and as many packages of Scooby Doo fruit snacks as they can possibly haul up here and then settle down on the couch in front of the TV with the comforter from my bed.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Sure. What bloody, gory, ridiculously implausible action movie do you have planned for us tonight?”

“The bloodiest, goriest, most implausible once I could think of, of course.”

He lifts the remote and points it at the TV and hits play, and a smile crosses my face when I see the main title card come up.

It Happened One Night.

“Awh, I knew this was your favorite movie,” I say, pushing him slightly as he reaches into the bowl of popcorn on my lap.

“I can’t help it,” he says. “That scene where she lifts up her skirt to show her knee and flag down the passing drivers, whew… it just really gets my blood boiling.”

I laugh and then reach for a pack of fruit snacks, and he shakes his head.

“I can’t believe you’re eating those again,” he says. “How many fruit snack have you consumed over the past six weeks?”

“A million,” I reply while I chew.

“You know those things are loaded with artificial flavoring and corn syrup, right? You should at least get the ones with actual fruit juice in them.”

I shrug. “The baby wants what the baby wants, and the baby likes the ones that look like Shaggy and the gang.” He rolls his eyes as I plop another opaque fruit snack in my mouth and then turn my attention back to the TV.

Next Chapter

Chapter 24

Untitled

I’d really hoped that Christian already being in Cambridge meant that he’d want to stay for the whole weekend. His unexpected arrival had been doubly exciting because not only did it mean that I’d get to spend more time with Kate and Ethan, but also that I was going to get a week off from the long, arduous flight to Seattle. When I get home from class on Friday though, all of that excitement vanishes when I walk through the sliding glass door and find my suitcase leaning against the kitchen counter, packed and ready, next to Christian’s.

I have to actually hold back a groan when I see it. I know that he’s got a lot going on at work right now and that he probably is still worried about being away from his dad for too long, but the idea of getting on a plane and flying five and a half hours when it feels like I don’t have to is about the absolute last thing on the planet I want to do today. So, even though I understand his reasons for wanting to go, I decide I’m going to try and plead my case to stay. But, when I follow the sound of his voice into the living room, I find him, Taylor, and Luke sitting around the coffee table in deep discussion.

“I mean, it’s enough for when she’s on campus…” Luke says. Taylor nods, but looks as though he’s weighing something in his mind as he turns to Christian.

“I just don’t think one more person is going to be enough.”

“That’s what I have,” Christian says. “Just you and Ryan. If she has a driver, Sawyer doesn’t have to leave her side.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Luke says. “I think we need a female. The issue is Leila getting her alone and I can’t go into public bathrooms or locker rooms with her. What if she and Kate want to go to a spa or something? That’s exactly the kind of place Leila would be able to corner her and she’ll be vulnerable.”

“She doesn’t do well with female CPOs,” Christian says, but Luke shakes his head.

“She didn’t do well with Prescott, and, honestly, I don’t blame her. That woman was awful.”

“We’ll have to go outside the GEH security team,” Taylor says. “I don’t have any female security officers on staff right now.”

Luke nods. “I know some people in Boston who could give me some names. And, l can do the vetting this time. I know which personalities she’ll gel with and which she won’t. She’s more likely to follow security protocol if she likes her CPO.”

Taylor nods. “And I think we need someone who can watch every point of entry on the house throughout the night. We don’t have the protection here that we do on Escala.”

“I also don’t think it would be a bad idea to change the locks and add a second deadbolt to the front door. I’d even go as far as replacing the sliding glass door in the kitchen with doors that can have multiple locks put in them and that aren’t made of glass.”

“I agree,” Christian says. “And that driveway is dark at night and you can’t see it from inside the house unless someone has their headlights on. We need motion sensor lights so the cameras will pick up anyone moving around the exterior.”

“That’s simple.” Taylor nods. “We can have all of the infrastructure items installed by the end of the weekend. I’ll just need to find an additional man to Kommer for the overnight detail.”

“No, two more,” Christian says, shaking his head. “I want someone assigned to Katherine as well. She’s a vulnerability. If Leila goes after Kate then Ana will put herself in danger to try and protect her.”

“Agreed,” Luke nods.

“Two, then, and the female officer Luke will find in Boston,” Taylor says. “I’ll let Kommer know he’s being transferred to Cambridge tonight and then go through the names I’ve already vetted to fill the other spots. It shouldn’t take more than a week to find someone suitable but we’ll need to get them set up with apartments and transportation here. Do we all agree that Luke should move in here and take the guest room?”

“Absolutely,” Christian says. “She shouldn’t ever be alone with only Kate in this house.”

“Alright,” Luke agrees. “Then I’ll make some calls to have the locks changed and the lights installed while everything else is being done. I can stay behind to keep on eye on things while you’re gone if Taylor wants to stay on duty tonight.”

“Of course.” He nods. When it’s clear no one has anything else to add, they all rise from their seats but stop when they turn and see me lurking in the archway between the living room and the kitchen.

“Hey, baby,” Christian says awkwardly. “How was class?”

“Fine. Can I talk to you for a minute?” Christian nods to both Taylor and Luke, dismissing them, and once they’ve left the room I step forward and wrap my arms around him. “So, it’s really about to get tighter around here, huh?”

“That was the deal.”

“I know. Thank you for thinking about Kate. It would destroy me if something happened to her because of me.”

“Then you understand how I feel. Part of me still wishes you would just come home. Leaving you here now, knowing what we know… I think I’m going to go out of my mind.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior,” I promise. “And Luke won’t let anything happen to me.”

He nods and then leans down to kiss me. “I’ve missed you all day,” he whispers. “I can’t wait to have you alone tonight.”

“About that… Do we really have to fly back to Seattle?”

“Why would we fly back to Seattle?”

I look up at him with confusion. “But… my bag is packed. Our suitcases are by the door. I thought…”

“They’re coming to put in the security system this weekend and in order to get it done by the time Taylor and I leave on Sunday, they need us to vacate the house. We’re staying in a hotel for the rest of the weekend and Kate will go stay at Reed’s house with her brother.”  

“Wait, you’re making Kate leave?”

“I hardly think asking her to spend the weekend with her boyfriend is the same thing as making her leave.”

“Yeah, but she shouldn’t…” I stop and begin chewing on the inside of my cheek. I want to tell him that she’s supposed to be on bedrest and moving her to another house might be a little too much strain on her, especially with the amount of pain she experiences just going down the stairs some mornings. Unfortunately, I can’t say any of that and since Kate has managed to keep her surgery a secret from Christian this far, I doubt she’s going to say anything either. Still, she only has one more week before she’s supposed to be able to get back to school and move around again and I don’t want to set her back because we tried too much too soon. I suppose though that they did move her from Seattle to Cambridge much earlier in her recovery and she seemed to do fine…

“What’s wrong?” Christian asks, clearly seeing my hesitance, but I shake my head and smile up at him.

“Nothing’s wrong. I’m just going to go talk to Kate real quick, okay?”

“Alright. I have just a few more things to see to for work and then we can go. I have dinner reservations for us tonight.”

“Can’t wait.” I kiss him softly and then hurry up the stairs, pausing to rap my knuckles against Kate’s door, but not actually waiting for her response before I open it.

“What are you doing?” I snap when I see her standing in front of her closet going through a bin full of scarves, tossing the few she likes over her shoulder into the duffle bag open on the bed.

“Hey, Ana,” she replies casually. “Do you think this pattern is too much to go with that black sweater I got in New York a couple months ago?”

I shake my head with exasperation. “Why are you out of bed?”

“I’m packing. Christian asked if we could stay at Carter’s for the rest of the weekend while he installs security cameras in the house. You don’t think he’s going to put cameras in here do you? Because if he is, I’m going to need the names of everyone who will have access to that footage…”

“Kate, you’re supposed to be resting!” I walk forward, take the bin out of her hands, and set in back on the shelf in her closet, but when I turn to help her get back into bed, she stops me.

“I’m fine, Ana. I’m feeling really good today. The painkillers are doing their job and it’s nice to be up and around. I’m actually excited to spend the weekend at Carter’s. I’ve been in this house around the clock for over a month and I’m going a little stir crazy.”

“You have one more week,” I tell her. “The doctor said you needed to be on bed rest for six weeks and then you could ease back into regular routine. I don’t want you to strain yourself now and end up making it more.”

“I feel fine,” she assures me. “And I’m only going a couple blocks. Once I get to Carter’s house, I’ll get straight back into bed, I promise.”

I take a deep breath, not wanting to give in but knowing I don’t have a choice. Kate isn’t the kind of girl you can talk out of something once she’s decided on it, and if I try to fight her too hard, Christian will notice. “Alright, at least let me help you pack then.”

“Fine.” She turns back and sits on the end of her bed while I remove the scarf she’s thrown in the bag.

“And yes, I do think this is too much to go with that black sweater,” I tell her. “I think it’s too much to go with anything. This scarf is hideous, Kate.”

“How dare you, that’s Gucci.”

I laugh and toss the folded scarf back into the bin, then begin following her instructions around the room to get the things she wants to take with her. It’s like she’s packing for an extended three week getaway when in actuality, she’s only going to be gone two nights, but it’s nice to have the time alone with her. We talk and fold as we try and cram as much as possible into her duffel bag and soon we’re laughing so hard together that we almost don’t hear Champ’s barks coming from downstairs.

“Well, Carter and Ethan are back with the dog,” Kate says, and the moment the words are out of my mouth, I hear Champ’s barks turn to snarling growls.

“Champ, no! Bad dog! Knock it off!” Carter yells, and Kate giggles.

“Why does my dog hate Christian so much?”

“Probably because he took his place in my bed last night” I say. “Hopefully Christian takes that as him being a good guard dog and doesn’t say we have to get rid of him.”

“Luke would be so devastated,” she says. “It would be like that scene in Homeward Bound when they’re driving away and the little boy is waving through the back window of the car… except, Champ is kind of dumb so I don’t think he’d make it back to us. He’d just find the first family that would take him and call it good.”  

We both laugh.

Once we’re finished packing, I heave Kate’s bag up onto my shoulder and then help her out of bed. She grimaces slightly as she stands, but once she’s upright, the pain in her expression fades and she’s able to keep it away as she moves slowly down the stairs. Christian looks at her suspiciously as I hand her bag to Carter but he doesn’t say anything. I wonder though, if I’m going to have to come up with some excuse later for why she’s being so reclusive. Or making me carry her bags…

“So, what’s the plan for tonight?” Kate asks.

“I don’t know,” Carter shrugs. “Hang out, maybe play some games. My roommate went home this weekend so we should have the house to ourselves.”

“Oh my god, we should have a Mario Kart tournament!” Kate says.

“I’m into that,” Ethan agrees, but Carter shrugs.

“With just the three of us?”

“No, the five of us. Christian and Ana are coming for tonight, aren’t you?” Kate asks. The three of them turn to look at us, and I frown, feeling a deep stab of regret in the pit of my stomach.

“Sorry. I think… I think we’re just going to go to the hotel, Kate.”

“Aw, come on, Ana!” she pouts. “You’re never here on weekends. Come hang out! It won’t be nearly as fun if you’re not there.”

“Sorry, Katie,” I tell her. “We’ll do something, just the two of us, next week, okay?”

She frowns, but, after glancing at Christian, nods. “Alright, have a good night.”

I lean over and very tenderly hug her before turning to Christian and following him out the back door where Taylor has already started warming up my Lexus.

Christian stops to open my door so that I can climb into the back seat and out of the cold while he stows our luggage in the trunk. Once he’s slid into the seat next to me, Taylor looks up in the mirror.

“Where to, sir?”

“Oleana,” he says, and Taylor nods before shifting the car into reverse and backing down the driveway. Before we can turn to continue down the road, I look back up at the house and see Carter and Ethan come through the sliding glass door, wrestling with Champ, who doesn’t seem eager to get back into Carter’s car after having just got home. Kate is laughing at them as she steps out of the house, but when our headlights turn off the driveway, she turns to look at our car. The humor on her face fades slightly as she lifts her hand to wave goodbye, and even though I know she can’t see me through the dark. I curl my fingers at her and then slump back into my seat.

“You okay?” Christian asks.

“Yeah. Part of me just wishes we were staying home so we could hang out with Kate and Ethan, but it’s probably better this way anyway.” I sigh. “You packed my laptop, right? I need to work some more on the article I’m writing for the Crimson next week.”

“Yeah, it’s in your bag,” he says. I nod and turn to stare out the window again, feeling the lingering sense of guilt that plagues me every time I leave Kate now, because it makes me replay Ainsley’s words from that boutique in Seattle in my mind.

Your best friend is moving on without you.

This weekend could have been the perfect way to include her without sacrificing time with Christian, but I guess that’s just one more thing Leila is taking away from me. Security. Freedom. Time with my best friend.

And all because Christian chose me, not her.

When we pull up outside the restaurant a few minutes later, Christian wraps his hand around mine and takes me with him through his side of the car. The early February air really is biting cold, so he pulls me in tight under his arm as he leads me inside and doesn’t release me until we’re led to a secluded table near the back. I’ve been here with Christian before, a long time ago when he still went to school here, and it looks the same now as it did all those years ago. The dim light is interrupted by a single votive in the middle of the small table, casting soft, flickering candlelight over the white tablecloth. It’s very romantic and I smile at him as he pulls out my chair out for me and then leans down to kiss the top of my hair.

Once we begin to glance over our menus though, it’s quiet between us, almost uncomfortably so, so once the waitress has taken our orders and left us alone again, Christian reaches across the table and takes my hands in his.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Mmm,” I hum. “Of course I am, I’m with you. I’m just… thinking about Kate. I need to find a way to make time for her during the week, but there never seems to be enough hours in a day anymore. Especially now that she has a boyfriend again. I wish I was more like you and could manage my time a little better.”

“You two should start running together again,” he says. “That’s an easy way to spend time together and get to talk. I think you need that. You’re happier when you and Kate are in a good place.” I give him a tight smile and take a drink of my water as I once again have to pretend there isn’t a reason Kate’s behavior has suddenly and inexplicably changed. I hate that I can’t just tell him, especially because I know that he’d want to show her his gratitude, but I made a promise. So, to prevent an accidental slip, I change the subject.

“How’s work going? Ros seemed a little anxious when I was talking to you on the phone after my appointment the other day. Everything alright?”

“Yeah,” he nods. “She always gets that way when we’re on the verge of something big and this looks as though it could be one of the most lucrative deals we’ve ever had.”

“Ten million dollars,” I repeat, remembering Ros’s panicked pleas to get Christian off the phone.

“And that’s just to start,” he says. “Have you ever heard of PixC?”

“You mean like the website? It’s like Instagram, right?”

“Yeah, it’s the second largest photo sharing application in the social media world. Their CEO was in a plane crash a little over a month ago.”

“Oh my god! Is he okay?”

“No, Ana. He died.”

“Oh… Did you know him?”

He shakes his head. “I knew of him, but, no, I didn’t know him personally. Anyway, their company is bleeding because they’re not equipped to go on without him and so they’re quietly looking to sell.”

“So, you’re going to buy it?”

“Their financial advisor used to work for a company I acquired and he’s really good. I had tried to bring him into GEH before, but he want to PixC instead. Anyway, he called me and told me their situation, so I looked into it. The name is recognizable, they have seven million active monthly users, and now that their stocks have plummeted, they’re cheap. With my technology division, I think we can not only save the company, but we can make a run at becoming a social media giant. That could mean two to five billion dollars in annual revenue, and from only one division of my company.”

“Every year?” I ask, astonished. He smiles and I give him an accusatory look. “Are you secretly trying to take over the world?”

“It’s a secret?” he replies, and I laugh.

When we’re finished with dinner, I snuggle again into Christian’s side to try and avoid the cold as we make our way to the Lexus parked a little ways down from the door. Once we’re inside, Taylor turns back to us and asks if Christian intends to go straight back to the hotel, but he shakes his head.

“I think we’re going to be spending the rest of the evening at number four Merrill Street,” he says and I furrow my brow at his sudden change of plans until I recognize the address.

“Carter’s house?” I ask.

“I hear they’re having a Mario Kart tournament,” he says. “How could we possibly miss that?”

“Thank you,” I say, and then lean over to kiss him in a way that is probably a little inappropriate with Taylor being only a few feet away in the driver’s seat.

When we get to Carter’s house, we’re immediately greeted by Champ’s loud barks that don’t stop after Carter opens the door to let us in. He growls and snarls at Christian as he worms his way between us but, while Ethan grabs Champ by the collar to drag him into the back room and Kate begins apologizing from the couch, Christian waves them off.

“I’m perfectly fine with that dog acting aggressively towards men he doesn’t know being around Anastasia.”

“Oh, he knows you,” Kate says. “He just doesn’t like you. Champ is an excellent judge of character.”

“Is that why he sleeps in Ana’s bed?” Christian retorts. Kate’s mouth pops open, but quickly changes into a broad smile.

“Solid burn, Grey.”

I laugh and lean up on my tip toes to kiss Christian on the cheek before I move over to the couch to sit with Kate.

“You want a beer, Christian?” Carter asks hesitantly, and to everyone’s surprise, Christian nods. He even follows Carter into the kitchen and when they come back several minutes later, they’re talking to each other. Pleasantly.

Kate gives me a shocked look as they sit down at the table in Carter’s dining room together, but, as we sit and eavesdrop on them talking about Christian’s new Lamborghini and a few other expensive sports cars that are expected to be released later this year, her look of disbelief turns to smug satisfaction.

“I told you he just needed to get to know him. Look, you’d think they were best friends.”

“I honestly don’t believe it,” I say. “It feels like we’ve entered some kind of bizzaro world and now I don’t know what to do with my hands.”

“Grab a WiiMote,” Kate says. “The boys are occupied and, now that I’ve got you all to myself, you’re going down, Steele.”

It ends up being one of the best nights I’ve had in a really long time. Ethan puts on some music while Kate and I race each other on Mario Kart and the guys hang out in kitchen behind us. I’m almost floored by how long Christian willingly sits at the table with Carter, and not even just keeping up polite, shallow conversation either. He listens to Carter going over some of the things they’re currently talking about in his business classes and gives his take things, offered him some career advice for once he graduates, and when Carter asks him the question I didn’t even dare at the beginning of the year, about him possibly coming into guest lecture, he doesn’t immediately turn him down.

Maybe Kate and Elliot were right and it is a good idea to have some kind of secret handshake to ensure neither of us gets taken over by aliens. As it is, hearing him laugh at one of Carter’s jokes, I’m going through my mind to think of three questions only Christian Grey could answer, just to be sure.

After about an hour, the boys have started drinking and playing Quarters on the dining room table, which Christian doesn’t seem to be very good at and results in him taking several shots. The more he drinks, the more lascivious his glances across the room at me become. At one point, when we make eye contact, I see his tongue swipe tantalizingly over his lower lip and, along with the look he’s giving me, it actually makes me blush. I remember very clearly what happens to Christian when he’s intoxicated… and so does my behind.

“Good lord, how much alcohol are they giving him?” I ask, and Kate laughs.

“Don’t worry, not enough that he won’t be able to perform later.”

“That’s not a concern,” I tell her. “Although, if he keeps drinking I might need to be concerned about how sore I’ll be tomorrow.”

“I bet I’ll still win that contest,” she says, wincing slightly as she readjusts her position on the couch.

“Are you feeling okay?” I check.

“I’m fine, sorry. I think the painkillers I took this afternoon are wearing off, but I don’t want to take anymore until I’m ready to go to bed. It’s late and they’ll knock me out, but I’m having a really good time with you tonight, Ana.”

“Me too,” I tell her, but she winces again and I frown.

I glance over my shoulder at Christian, who is watching Ethan take a turn at getting the coin into the shot glass between them, and I wonder if part of the reason that she doesn’t want to take more painkillers is that she doesn’t want to risk Christian seeing her with a pill bottle.

“Do you want to do something else?” I ask. “This game makes you move around a lot, maybe that’s making it worse.”

“Yeah,” Kate nods. “Let’s play something with the boys. I’ve let your guy boggart my guy’s attention long enough.”

She calls out to Carter and asks them to come join us in the living room, and they tell us they will once they finish their game. Ethan goes through the movies to find something for us to watch while Carter and Christian come take their places next to Kate and me. The moment Christian’s pulled the blanket in my lap over him so that it’s covering both of us, his hand moves down over my thigh. I glance quickly over at Kate and Carter, worried they may have noticed something, but they’re currently arguing with Ethan over whatever DVD he’s pulled out of the cabinet.

“You’re so beautiful, baby,” Christian whispers as his hand moves between my legs. “God, I can’t wait to get you alone tonight.”

“Alone being the key word,” I whisper back as I clench my thighs together.

“Don’t,” he groans. Carter gets up to turn the lights out and once it’s dark and the movie starts, Christian’s hand becomes slightly more aggressive under the blanket. He presses against my thighs, opening my legs for him again, and then his fingers get to work once more. I bite down on my lip, nervous to be caught fooling around at first, but eventually giving in as the feel of him touching me overwhelms my good judgement.

“That’s it, baby,” he whispers softly. “Just don’t give me away.”

His hands begin to roam my body, becoming bolder the further into the movie we get. I let out several silent gasps as his fingers clamp tightly around my nipples beneath my bra or his teeth graze softly against the lobe of my ear. My eyes shift to Kate and Carter again, and then to Ethan lying on the floor in front of the TV, but they’re all far too engrossed in the movie to be paying any attention to Christian and I. The longer he touches me, the more I want from him, and so, when I’m sure we’re not going to be caught, I slowly move my hand over into his lap until I find the bulge in his trousers. His body stiffens when I wrap my fingers tightly around it and I begin moving my hand back and forth, but when I move to open his zipper, he reaches down to stop me.

“I don’t want your hand,” he whispers to me. “I want to fuck you. Right now.”

I react immediately to the feel of his breath against my skin and the raw need I can hear in his tone. I turn slightly towards him, moving as little as possible to avoid the off chance that we may attract someone’s attention and give him a coy smile.

“Should we leave?”

“No,” he says. “Right now. I don’t want to wait to get you back to the hotel.”

“But…”

“Excuse yourself. You’re pregnant. Pretend you’re going to be sick and go into the bathroom. I’ll come check on you in a minute.”

The shiver returns as he squeezes my leg tightly once, and then leans away from me. I take a deep breath and settle back into the couch, waiting a few seconds before reaching forward for the glass of water in front of me, bringing it up to my lips, and then letting my face shift with sudden urgency.

“Oh god,” I moan, brushing Christian’s hand off my leg and bolting out of my seat for the bathroom.

“Ana?” Kate says, looking worried as she turns away from the movie.

“I’ve got it,” Christian says.

I duck into the bathroom, which is coincidentally the first bathroom I actually ever did get sick in because of my pregnancy, and then wait three or four seconds before Christian slips inside behind me, closes the door, and then twists the lock on the handle. His arms are around me immediately, bringing me into him so that his lips can find mine with a hungered, fervent kind of urgency. I moan into his mouth and he pulls away.

“You have to be very, very quiet,” he warns me. “Which is going to be difficult as I intend on being very rough with you.”

He turns me back towards the vanity and simultaneously bends me over the counter while he kicks my feet apart. His hands hook under the band on my leggings and begin pulling them off of me, all the way off rather than just far enough for him to get between my legs, and as he separates my pale pink panties from the black fabric he tosses carelessly to the floor and tucks them into the pocket of his pants, a smile crosses my lips. Apparently, he intends for this to be memorable.

I glance up into the mirror and watch as he pulls a silk tie from the back pocket of his jeans, and then raise an eyebrow at him.

“Why do you have…”

“A man has to be prepared, Anastasia,” he says as he curls the fabric around his hands and then moves it in front of my face like he wants to tie it around my head. “Open,” he commands.

“What?”

“I said you were going to have to be quiet,” he says. “I’m going to ensure you are. Open your mouth, Anastasia.” I do as he asks and he slides the silk of his tie between my lips, then quickly wraps each end around my head, over my hair, and secures them together in a tight knot. I move my neck, testing the freedom I have with his makeshift gag, and then let out a muffled, anticipation filled moan into the fabric as I hear the low jingle of his belt.

He leans over me again. “We don’t have a lot of time. You’re going to come quickly.”

I nod and then grip tightly to the countertop as I feel his erection brush against my lips. He thrusts forward in one hard motion that rockets me forward so violently that I would have crashed face first into the mirror had his hand on my shoulder not been simultaneously pulling me back into him. I readjust my grip on the countertop as he moves forward again and again, pistoning in and out of me as quick and as hard as possible. His hand moves from my shoulder to tangle in the roots of my hair and he pulls harshly, eliciting a sharp cry of pain that is lost in the fabric set firmly in my mouth.

Without breaking his relentless pace, he makes eye contact with me in the mirror to make sure I’m okay, but since I can’t respond to him, I simply move my hands further up the counter, gripping tightly to the inside of the sink for better leverage, and push back on him. A smile crosses his lips as he gets the message and his hand tightens even more around my hair as he continues to pummel in and out of me.

He wasn’t wrong before. We’ve only just begun but it’s not long before I feel heat blossoming inside of me like the bloom of a lotus flower, quickly spreading through my heated blood and reaching to the very tips of my fingers. My toes curl over the tile floor as my body forces me to surrender to the rapidly unravelling pleasure, my fingernails scrape against the porcelain on the sink, and my insides begin to shudder. All of it together tells Christian that I’m getting close, and he leans over me, pressing into me, until his lips brush against my ear again.

“That’s it, baby. Let go. I want you to come,” he whispers. I whimper in response and his hand slips down between my legs, his fingers finding my clitoris and moving in time with each of his strokes.

“Like that?” he asks, huskily. I nod and whimper as my  body begins to writhe and I hear him groan. “Fuck, I want to spank you. Really let you fucking have it.”

His hand moves down from my hair and grips tightly to my ass. His fingers sink into my flesh so hard, I imagine he’ll leave behind five dime sized bruises, but that thought doesn’t deter me. In fact, I hope he does. I want the reminder, the proof of where he’s been, and as his hands open me further, allowing him to stroke deeper into me, the pressure twisting tighter and tighter inside of me collapses in on itself like a supernova and sends shockwaves of warm pleasure rolling through my entire body.

“Fuck, Ana,” Christian hisses as my orgasm forces me to clench tightly around him. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

His hand disappears from my ass and wraps around mine on the counter as he tries to hold himself up while the force of his own orgasm hits him. I can feel his release filling me as he continues to move in and out of me, and when I look up into the mirror and see the cocktail of pleasure and strain in his face as he struggles to stay as quiet as he’s kept me, I feel a new wave of heat wash through me. Not another orgasm, simply deep, genuine satisfaction. The uninhibited pleasure he’s experiencing right now is because of me, because of my body, and I love that I do that to him. I love that he does this to me. I love that having this with him proves over and over again how perfect we are for each other.

It takes him a moment to regain control of his breathing, but once he does, he removes the tie from around my head, pulls out, and crouches down behind me. I feel a small pang of embarrassment as I feel the shift of his release, but as it begins to drip out of me, he groans.

“So fucking hot.” His lips connect with my inner thigh, leaving a small, gentle kiss against my skin, before he stands up, picks up a towel off the rack behind us, and uses it to clean me up.

“I’m sure Carter is really going to appreciate that,” I tell him wryly as he tosses the towel into a hamper a few feet away from us.

“I care very little about what Carter does and does not appreciate,” he says, and I frown.

“I thought you were starting to come around with Carter. You two have been getting along so well tonight.”

“You think I got where I did in business by not being able to fake pleasant conversation with people I can’t stand?”

“But, why would you do that? If you hate him so much…”

“He’s important to Kate, and Kate is important to me.”

I smile, taken off guard for a moment by his sweet confession about my best friend, and then turn to wrap my arms around him. “She is?”

“Of course she is. She’s the person closest to the love of my life, the godmother of my daughter… and she donated part of her liver to my father.”

My face falls. “What?”

“You don’t have to pretend anymore, Ana,” he says. “I know you know that she was the donor who saved my father’s life.”

“But… but how do you know?”

“She’s not drinking, she winces every time she moves, and she hasn’t got up to dance with you once tonight even though her eyes have lit up a dozen times at different songs that have been played. She didn’t go to school today but she’s been hiding from me, which is not something that is usual for her, and when she moves too quickly, she holds her side, the same way my father does. I’ve known her for three years, you don’t think I can tell when something’s off with her?”  

I press my lips together, unsure if it’s still breaking my promise to Kate to talk to him about this now that he actually does know. But there really is no sense in denying it anymore and he’s expecting me to answer him, so I take a deep breath and nod.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because she didn’t want you to know. She doesn’t want anyone in your family to know.”

“Why?” he asks, and I narrow my eyes at him. “Elliot?”

I nod again. “She loves your family, but she’s moving on. You know what would happen if everyone found out. You know what Elliot would do. She doesn’t want him showing up here and making things awkward with Carter… or Gia.”

Gia,” he huffs irritably, but when his eyes meet my pleading gaze, he nods. “Fine. I won’t say anything.”

I lean up and kiss him, but he only allows my lips to linger against his for a second before he pushes me away.

‘I love you, but we’ve been in here too long. They’re going to wonder what we’re doing. Get dressed.”

“Okay.” I turn to pick up my leggings from the floor, aware of the fact that he hasn’t given me my panties back, but as we begin to put ourselves back together, Christian’s phone begins vibrating loudly.

“Who’s that?” I ask as he reaches into his pocket to pull out his iPhone. “Isn’t it a little late for work calls?”

“Ros, probably,” he replies, but when he looks down at the screen of his phone, he frowns. “Or it’s California…” He looks confused for half a second, but that quickly vanishes and is replaced immediately by alarm. “Fuck, PixC.”

I glance nervously to the door as we can both still hear the faint sounds of gunshots and explosions coming through the door from the movie, but Christian doesn’t seem to be deterred enough by the noise not to answer.

“Grey. No, that’s alright. What can I do for you, Hausman?” He’s quiet for a moment, having to concentrate very hard on listening to what the person he’s talking to is saying because he’s still a little inebriated, but the longer the other person speaks, the deeper the crease in Christian’s forehead gets. “What do you mean? Their stock is in free fall. They know they won’t survive fourth quarter, what makes them…?” He pauses again, presumably as the other person answers his panicked questions, and while he waits, the confusion in his expression turns to anger. “Who are they going to find in the next thirty days? Very motivated? Who is it?”

The tension in his face relaxes, but it isn’t replaced with relief. If anything, it’s shock, and it takes him a moment to speak again.

“Thank you, Hausman. I’ll be in touch.” He hangs up the phone, staring at it in disbelief for a moment, before finally looking back up at me.

“What was that?”

“That was… that was Richard Hausman, the financial advisor on the board of PixC that I was telling you about earlier. They’re backing out of our deal, out of our ten million dollar deal.”

“What? Why?”

“They think they can reclaim the company if they get the right leadership, so they’re going to try and replace their CEO rather than merge with GEH. They’ve already got an interview lined up.”

“Who is it? Would I know them?” I ask, and he nods.

“It’s Ros.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 23

IMG_2661

Dr. Baker’s office feels much more empty without Christian’s family huddled around me, anxiously waiting to find out the gender of the baby. It’s only me and Luke now and since this appointment is just a regular check up, I’m anxious to get out of here and get on with everything else I have to do today. Kate being fully committed to school again and having hours and hours of nothing to do while she recovers at home means that she’s invested a great deal of time into The Crimson again, and she’s asked me to replace one of the paper’s regular contributors, whose bi-weekly column has been suffering lately. I was ecstatic at the time and enthusiastically accepted, and it has been nice having something to write for again, but it’s made my workload a little heavier than I would like.

On top of everything else, the only opening Dr. Baker had for me this week was smack dab in the middle of a Thursday, and between my meeting with Dr. Ralston early this morning and the three classes I have to attend today, I barely have time to eat, let alone spend an hour in a waiting room 30 minutes from campus. Thankfully, I at least had the foresight to bring some homework along with me to my appointment to keep me preoccupied while I wait.

“Oooh,” I say, dropping the pen in my hand and sitting up straighter. I lay my hand over my belly and Luke gives me a questioning look.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Fine.” I nod. “She’s definitely getting more active. We may have another Mia on our hands with the way she’s been dancing around all morning.”

He smiles at me. “Can I feel?”

“Sure.” I open my coat a little wider and lean back so Luke can place the palms of his hands over my t-shirt, but after a few seconds of staying absolutely still, he leans back and frowns.

“I don’t feel anything.”

“Sorry,” I sigh. “Christian hasn’t felt anything yet either and he tried for over an hour last weekend.”

“Soon though, right? I mean, you’re getting pretty far along.”

“Hopefully.” I place my hands over my stomach again, no longer just a small protrusion, but a fully fledged baby bump. I popped very suddenly in the middle of last week and when I went home to spend the weekend with Christian, he couldn’t get enough of it. Every time we had a spare moment to be alone together, his fingers immediately went down to my belly and began tracing a line back and forth across it. I’d giggle and try to struggle away from him when the tickling sensation became too much, but that only seemed to encourage him. He thought for sure it would wake the baby up and he’s been desperate to feel her move ever since that night in Paris on the love lock bridge.  

“How did your meeting go this morning?” Luke asks. “Did you make a decision on what you’re going to do about your book?”

“Mhmm,” I mumble as I pick up my pen and start working again. “I’m not going to use a pen name.”

“You’re not?”

“No. It’s important to me that the dust jacket say Anastasia Steele, so I’m not compromising on that.”

“But I thought that was the deal? Either you agree to write about Grey or you publish under a pseudonym?”

I shake my head. “I’m not making any deals. I have the head of the English Department of Harvard University behind me, that should be enough. He’s got connections in the publishing world and if he can’t find a way to use them to get me a deal, then I’ll find someone else who can. My book is going to be published the way I want it to be published, and when it’s in print, I’ll be very clear in my acknowledgements about who made that happen and who didn’t. With that knowledge, Dr. Ralston can decide how hard he wants to fight for me.”

Luke smiles, though he’s trying to hide it, so I raise an eyebrow at him. “What?”

“You sound just like Grey,” he says.

“Yeah, well, he’s very influential. Wwe talked about it last weekend and he told me not to settle. He said I should never accept less than I deserve and I deserve greatness. We’ve always got SIP as a backup, so I don’t need to compromise where I don’t want to.”

“No, you don’t, and I’m glad you took his advice to heart. There’s a reason he’s so successful, he doesn’t take no for an answer. You shouldn’t either. You’re too talented for that.”

“Thanks, Luke.”

“Anastasia Steele?”

I look up to see Dr. Baker’s nurse standing at the door that leads to the back offices, so I wave and then squeeze Luke’s hand as I get out of my seat to follow her. She asks me to step on the scale so she can take my weight and, as she moves the slide over the measure, I look away, unwilling to see just how much all of this extra belly has increased the number.

After taking my vitals and asking the now expected pre-check up questions, the nurse leaves me alone in the examination room for several minutes and, while I stare at the pictures on the wall of the different stages of pregnancy and one landscape photograph with a corny inspirational quote scrawled across it, I feel a wash of regret over leaving my homework in the waiting room with Luke. Right now, ten minutes feels like an hour and I’ve got a lot to finish before I leave for Seattle this weekend.

“Good afternoon, Anastasia,” Dr. Baker greets me when she finally enters the room. “How have the last couple weeks been?”

“Better, actually. My breasts are pretty sore and I’ve had some heartburn, but I think my body is finally adjusting to the pregnancy. I haven’t been as tired.”

“They do call the second trimester the honeymoon period,” she says. “You should be normalizing a bit, getting into a groove. Have you felt the baby move at all?”

“Yeah, she moves all the time, but Christian hasn’t been able to feel anything yet.”

“Well, you’re…” she looks down at her chart. “Twenty one weeks? It shouldn’t be too much longer. She’s still pretty weak so her movements are fairly light, but she’s going to hit a growth spurt here over the next few weeks, so he should feel something soon.”

“Good,” I nod. “I think he’s feeling left out.”

She smiles and then looks down at her chart again. “How are things at home? You said your father-in-law has cancer, didn’t you?”

“Well, he’s not my… uh.” I stop, realizing the clarification is unnecessary. “Yeah, he does.”

“How is his treatment going?”

“Good. He had transplant surgery about five weeks ago and the doctors say he should be ready to start chemo by the end of February.”

“That’s wonderful to hear. How’s school?”

“Great. My best friend also just had surgery so she’s on a temporary disability program through the university that’s allowing her to take classes from home until she’s able to get to school on her own, but she’s going out of her mind with boredom. It’s been smooth sailing for me though. Just kind of busy.”

“Mmm,” she hums as she makes a note on her chart. “You live on the west coast, right? Are you still travelling back and forth?”

“Yeah. I mean it’s only been one weekend so far but I’ve flown home once and I’ll fly home again tomorrow. I actually wanted to talk to you about painting… Christian and I recently bought a house and we’re just about to start renovation. I wanted to paint the nursery myself but he’s concerned about fumes.”

“Unfortunately, the jury is still out on that one,” she says. “There hasn’t been any definitive research as to whether or not painting a room is enough exposure to the chemicals and solvents found in most commercial paint brands to warrant concern. Personally, I’d recommend having someone else do the painting if you can, but if you need to do it, make sure the room is well ventilated, don’t eat or drink, wear a respiratory mask, and stop immediately if you feel dizzy or nauseated.”

“So, no,” I sigh, and she nods.

“I think that’s a good idea. Your chart shows that your blood pressure is still elevated, higher in fact than it was the last time I saw you. Have you eaten anything today?”

“Uh, I had some toast and avocado this morning. And some orange juice.”

“Do you mind if I take it one more time?”

“Of course not.” I quickly yank up the sleeve on my shirt and stick out my arm for her. She wraps the velcro cuff around my bicep and then quickly begins pumping the round ball on the end of the plastic tubing running down my arm. When the pressure in the cuff gets to it’s tightest point, she looks carefully at the reading and then frowns.

“150/100.”

“Is that bad?”

“It’s… high. Normally, we’d like to see something below 140/90. Have you been experiencing headaches or problems with your vision?”  

“Um… no. I don’t think so.”

“How about pain?” She reaches forward and gently presses her fingers into my upper abdomen, just below my ribs. “Anything here?”

“Not pain,” I say hesitantly. “Maybe some pressure. Especially when you push down right there.”

“Okay.” She gets off her stool, takes my hand in hers, and starts examining my wrist, then reaches down for my foot and does the same thing to my ankle. Once she’s finished she moves over to the cabinet where all the supplies are stored and pulls out a plastic cup to hand to me. “I’m going to call a phlebotomist in here to take some blood and have you take this cup into the bathroom and give me a urine sample.”

“Is something wrong?”

“I just want to take some labs,” she says, holding the cup out further for me. I nod and hop off the examination table.

It’s worse waiting in the room after the phlebotomist has left because, aside from the anxiety over what Dr. Baker is running labs for, my appointment is now going much longer than I had anticipated. It looks like I’m going to miss my Kaleidoscopic Romanticism class, for which I have an exam coming up in the next week. I decide it’s best to email my professor now, before I miss class, to explain my situation so that hopefully he’ll take pity on me and send me his lecture notes, but I’m only about halfway through typing out the email on my iPhone when Dr. Baker re-enters the room.

“How’d it go?” I ask immediately.

“Well, Ana, your blood looks good, but you urine did show some slightly elevated protein levels.  I think you’re showing early warning signs of pre-eclampsia.”

“Pre-e… what? I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a complication. It causes high blood pressure, damage to your kidneys and liver, and it can be dangerous for you and your baby.”

The curiosity in my expression vanishes, replaced instantly by blank dread as I feel my entire body go cold.

“So… you’re saying that I have it or that I might get it?”

“Generally we see pre-eclampsia developing in your last trimester but if we don’t start a course of treatment now, at the onset of your symptoms, it can become very severe, very quickly.”

“What’s the treatment?”

“Mostly lifestyle changes. I’d like you to start taking a low dose aspirin before bed to try and help lower your blood pressure. It’s important that you are very careful going forward with your diet, particularly with salt. I’d like for you to try and limit your daily sodium to less than 1500 mg a day and increase your water intake to somewhere between 64 and 72 ounces. Are you still exercising?”

“Yeah, I run three times a week. Outside, not on the treadmill.”

“You should bump that up to between five and seven days a week. The further into your pregnancy you get, the more rest you’re going to require, but for now, 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise everyday can help your symptoms from progressing.”

“Okay,” I agree. “30 minutes a day, every day.”

“Good. And when you are at home, it’s a good idea to keep your feet elevated and find time to relax. It sounds like you have a lot going on at home so I really want you to focus on reducing your stress levels over the next few months.”

“Okay.”

She gives me some pamphlets and tells me that she wants to see me once every two weeks now, rather than the once a month we’d previously scheduled. I agree and then thank her as I leave the room, stopping at the desk to schedule the additional appointments before returning to Luke in the waiting room.

“So, how’d it go?” he asks the moment he sees me come through the door, but when I don’t respond right away, his face falls. “Ana? What’s wrong?”

“She thinks I might be developing a complication.”

“What complication?” he asks wearily.

“Pre-eclampsia. She said that it normally won’t develop until the third trimester and we can try to prevent it, but if I do get it, it can be bad for me and the baby.”

“How bad?”

“I don’t know.”

He presses his lips together, clearly choosing his words carefully before he speaks. “Are you going to call Grey or wait until tomorrow?”

“I’m gonna call him, he’ll be mad if I wait. I just need to think of a way to tell him without freaking him out too much. As if 3,000 miles of distance wasn’t hard enough, right? Let’s add high risk pregnancy on top of that.”  

“You two are never easy,” he agrees. “Come on, we can still get you to your last class if we hurry. You can call him from the car.”

When we pull out of the parking lot of Dr. Baker’s office and start making our way back to Cambridge, I take out my phone, find Christian’s name in my recent calls, and dial, feeling guilty for adding this on top of his already too full plate, but the phone rings twice and then goes straight to voicemail.

“What time is?” I ask aloud, realizing too late that my phone is literally in my hand.

“01:30,” Luke answers.

“He’s probably just working then. I’ll call him tonight.”

“With how distracted you get? I don’t think so.” He presses his thumb into the button on the steering wheel and prompts the car to dial the front desk at GEH. Two rings later, Andrea’s voice comes through the phone.

“Christian Grey’s office, this is Andrea Parker speaking. How may I assist you?”

“Hi, Andrea, it’s Luke. I have Anastasia on the line.”

“Hi, Luke. Mr. Grey and Miss Bailey are in a client meeting right now, can I…”

“It’s urgent,” Luke interrupts her. “Ana just got back from the doctor’s office.”

“Oh, hold on just a minute. I’ll let him know.” There’s a click followed immediately by generic sounding hold music, and I turn an annoyed look on Luke.

“You didn’t have to pull him out of a meeting. It’s not urgent and saying it is isn’t going to help the whole don’t freak him out thing I’m going for.”

“We’ll let him decide if it’s urgent or not.”

I roll my eyes and then wait a few more seconds until Christian’s voice breaks through the hold music. Predictably, he doesn’t take the news well but I don’t really get the chance to talk him down before I hear Ros desperately trying to coax him off the phone.

“Christian, I’m begging you. This is a ten million dollar merger. Please. Please go back into that room. “

“I’ll be there in a minute, Ros,” Christian hisses at her.

“No, not in a minute. Now. They’re going to walk away, please!

“Ros, I’m not-” I yells, but I cut him off.

“Christian, it’s fine. I’m about to go into class anyway. Call me this afternoon when you’re available and we can talk more.”

He sighs in frustration. “I’ll be done soon, I promise. I love you.”

“I love you, too. Bye.” I hang up the phone and glance out the window as we pull into the parking lot closest to the English building on campus, trying to help Luke spot an open parking space, which has become an elusive concept since the cold really took hold of Cambridge. As we’ve come to expect, there isn’t one, so, after checking that campus security isn’t trolling around, looking for tickets to dish out, he pulls into a loading zone, shifts into park, and leaves the car idling as he gets out to hurriedly walk me to class.

“Alright, you got everything?” he asks as we approach the main doors.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’m going to go move the car, but I’ll be right here when you get out.”

“Thanks, Luke.” I lean in to give him a quick hug as I turn and climb the steps that lead to the front doors of the building and then make my way to the classroom. There’s still a few minutes before the lecture starts so I take the opportunity to drop off my things, strip out of my too bulky winter coat, and make a beeline for the bathroom. It’s getting more and more difficult to sit through a whole lecture with my daughter snuggling against my bladder all the time so, hopefully, a preemptive bathroom trip will get me through the next hour.

Unfortunately, the bathroom next to the lecture hall I’m in is closed for cleaning, so I have to hurry awkwardly to the one all the way on the other side of the building, which means by the time I’ve washed my hands and started back, I’m officially late for class. Dr. Chelli is notoriously difficult with people walking in after his lecture has started so I find myself rushing through the deserted hallways so fast that I almost run straight into the girl standing in the middle of the hallway when I come around the corner. I manage to stop in time though and the moment I realize who it is, I stumble backwards so quickly I nearly fall over.

“What are you doing here?” I ask cautiously as I regain my balance, but she doesn’t respond. Her bourbon colored eyes focus in on the very visible bump beneath my t-shirt, and then widen with realization. Instinctively, I place a protective hand over my stomach and take several steps backwards.

“Leila?”

The sound of her name seems to bring her out of the almost trance like daze she’s staring at me with, and as she makes eye contact with me, her bottom lip begins to tremble.

“You’re pregnant?”

I swallow, knowing I can’t deny what’s obviously right in front of her, and try to summon whatever courage I can muster. “Yeah. So, you just stay away from me, okay?” It comes out weak, more like a plea than a command, because seeing her for the first time since New York has the all too clear memories of the fear I felt being chased from that coffee shop washing back over me, magnified now that it’s not just me I have to be scared for.

“Oh my god,” she whispers. “That’s why you… and why he…” She shakes her head as she struggles to get a full sentence through her increasingly choppy breathing and then glances up and down the hallway before turning wide, glassy eyes back on me. She looks lost, helpless, and it almost makes me want to grab ahold of her and lead her to a chair.

“Leila?”

“I can’t do this,” she says.

“Do what?”

“I can’t…” Her fingers reach up to cover her lips as she turns away from me and hurries down the hall, but before she turns the corner, she stops, shakes her head again, and then comes back towards me. I stumble backwards into the wall, debating whether or not I should scream, but as she approaches me, I don’t see any degree of malice in her eyes. In fact, there’s almost genuine concern reflected there.

“Ana, you need to be careful,” she says quickly. “He’s crazy.

“What?”

“He’s watching you. He’s always watching you, waiting…”

“Who?”

She shakes her head. “It’s already begun.”

I stare blankly at her as I start to wonder for a moment if she’s actually gone off the deep end, but before I can get anymore out of her, she begins backing away from me and then runs down the hallway once more and out of sight. I wait for a second, frozen in place as I worry that she may come back again, but she doesn’t. She’s left me alone and the adrenaline I feel from her sudden appearance doesn’t crash after she’s gone. In fact, it almost seems heightened now. I don’t know where she is or if she’s alone, and her ramblings, incoherent as they may have been, make the silence of the empty hallway feel menacing. Like there’s someone here with me who I can’t see. Suddenly, every classroom, every alcove, every garbage can becomes a possible hiding place and as my eyes shift wildly through the open space, I can feel my heart beating so hard it feels as though it’s going to pound right out of my chest.

I need Luke, now, so I reach into my pocket, pull out my phone, and dial his number.

“Ana?” he answers on the first ring.

“Where are you? I need you to take me home.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now. Right now. Come inside and get me. I want to leave. I want to go home”

“What happened?” he asks.

“I just saw Leila.”

There’s half a beat of silence before he responds, and when he does his voice is flat and deadly serious. “I’ll be there in four minutes.”

The phone clicks off and I take a deep breath to try and calm the nerves running through me as I turn back for the classroom. Twenty pairs of eyes shift to me when I open the door and Dr. Chelli makes a point to stop his lecture to shame me for being late, but I’m so wrapped up in the anxiety Leila’s words have left me with that I don’t even feel embarrassed as I gather my things and leave again.

Luke is coming through the main doors when I step back out into the hallway. The moment I’m within arms reach, he grips tightly to my shoulders and looks me dead in the eye.

“What happened?”

“She knows I’m pregnant,” I tell him. “She saw and it made her upset and then she said that I needed to be careful. She said that somebody’s watching me.” I glance around the hall again, and so does Luke.

“Come on, let’s get you out of here,” he says urgently. I nod and then allow him to wrap a protective arm over my shoulder as he leads me out of the building.

***

“Still no answer,” Luke says, hanging up his phone with frustration while he paces the floor behind the couch. I take another drink of tea and lay my head back against the arm of the sofa. Now that I’m home, wrapped in a blanket on the couch with Kate next to me and a slobbery, sleeping dog curled up with his head in my lap, I’m feeling less exposed and therefore, much calmer. Luke on the other hand has been furiously dialing Christian’s cell phone every fifteen minutes for the last hour.

“He’s in a meeting,” I remind him. “I’ve left a message, you’ve left a message, he’ll call when he’s done.”

“I’m calling, Andrea,” he says, shaking his head.

“Luke, we’re fine. If you pull him out of this meeting again, he’s going to have a heart attack. We can wait a couple hours. It’s not like he’s not going to call me back.”

Your job’s not on the line, Anastasia.”

“Neither is yours. I’m fine.”

“Yeah, thank god. But Leila still managed to get you alone. Again. She shouldn’t be able to get to you, but somehow, she manages, and now you’re telling me that there’s some mystery lunatic out there keeping tabs on you? I’m not equipped to deal with this, Ana. I’m alone here, there’s no team, and we have no remote surveillance on this house. Hell, I don’t even have a license to carry a firearm in the state of Massachusetts. Grey isn’t the only one who wants to protect you!” He begins pacing again. “I knew something like this was going to happen. I should have never kept what happened in New York from him.”

“Okay, let’s take a second to breathe,” Kate insists. “I do seem to recall hearing something about how stress is something we’re supposed to be avoiding.”

Luke takes a deep breath through his nose while his jaw clenches shut and then crosses the living room to slump down into the easy chair across from us.

“Good,” Kate says. “Now, we’re all home and we’re all safe, so what’s important right now is to take care of Ana and get her comfortable and relaxed. We can deal with what just happened when Christian calls you back, but until then, our priority is to follow doctor’s orders and keep Ana calm.”

“Thank you, Kate,” I say.

“You’re welcome.” Her phone buzzes on the coffee table and she sighs before holding tightly onto her stomach where her scar is and bending over to get it. The pain is obvious on her face when she moves so I quickly push Champ off my lap to help her, and he snorts indignantly as he jumps off the couch and saunters over to Luke.

“Thank you,” Kate says when I hand her phone to her, and while she reads the text message open on the screen, I glance back over at a much more relaxed Luke, who is now leaning out of the chair to scratch Champ lovingly behind the ears. I swear, this dog is has him wrapped around his adorable little paw.

“Who’s a good boy?” he asks while Champ licks his face.

“Carter’s on his way back from the airport,” Kate says. “He’s got Ethan with him.”

“Ethan!” I exclaim. “Oh my god, I totally forgot he was coming this weekend.”

“He’s coming to snoop,” Kate says wryly. “He fed me this whole long story about how he wanted to check up on me and see how I was recovering but I know he’s here to check out Carter. My mom has been berating me about him for the past couple weeks, she’s probably behind it.”

“Or he just loves his little sister.”

“Highly unlikely,” she says, and I laugh.

“What are we going to do about sleeping arrangements tonight?” Luke asks. “If Carter is staying the night here, I have to stay in the guest room.”

“Why?” Kate asks.

“Christian,” I sigh. “It’s one of the new rules. Carter’s not allowed to be in the house if Luke’s not here.”

“Are you serious?” Kate asks, clearly annoyed.

I nod. “Of all the guys in this town you could have chosen, you had to pick Christian’s mortal enemy.”

“I think that’s extreme,” she replies. “Christian just needs to get the chance to know Carter.”

“Yeah? Good luck with that.”

About half an hour later, we hear the back door slide open and Carter and Ethan’s voices float in from the kitchen, which makes Champ jump off the floor and sprint to the door to attack whichever intruder has entered his domain. The barks give way to excited scratching on the tile floor though, when he sees who it is.

“Hey, Champ!” Carter says, jingling his collar as, I assume, he leans down to pet him and calm him down.  

“Katie?” Ethan calls.

“In here,” she shouts back, and, a second later, he rounds the corner into the living room.

“Oh man, it’s so good to see you!” he says excitedly. Kate holds open her arms for him but he makes a very obvious show of pivoting around her and pulls me up off the couch into a tight hug. “Banana, I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you!”

“Ha ha,” Kate says, clearly not amused, and Ethan turns back to his sister. “I’m just kidding. How you feeling, Sis?”

“Oh you know, like someone cut open my body and ripped out half of one of my vital organs.”

“Sounds terrible,” he says, leaning down to give her a gentle hug.

“Ethan!” Carter calls from the kitchen. “You want a beer, man?”

“Please.”

“How about you, Ana?”

He can’t see me, but I roll my eyes. “Sure, I’ll take two. One for me and one for the baby.”

“Ah, fuck,” he says, coming into the living room to hand an open bottle to Ethan. “I keep forgetting. It’s so weird. You have like… a person inside of you.”

“Trust me,” Kate interjects. “If you knew Ana and Christian, you wouldn’t think that was weird.”

“Katherine Kavanagh!” I exclaim, shocked, but she just gives me a satisfied smile in response.

“You want a beer, Luke?” Carter asks.

“No, I’m on duty.”

“You’re always on duty. Come on, man. Live a little.”

“That’s not how it works. I’m on duty,  and I don’t drink on duty.” His voice is cold, more so than is necessary, and Carter frowns. He’s been trying to bond with Luke ever since we came back from Christmas break, but he’s not gained any ground and I have a feeling that might have something to do with Christian.  

“Here,” I say, hoping to break the tension as I untangle myself from my blanket and get up off the couch. “You can sit next to your girlfriend.”

“You don’t have to get up, Ana,” Carter says.  

“Actually she does,” Ethan says. “You get to sit next to your girlfriend. I’m gonna sit next to mine.”

“You can’t say stuff like that anymore, Ethan!” I exclaim as I plop down on the couch next to him. “I have a fiancé now who I literally just got in a fight with about letting girls flirt with him.”

“Yeah, he may be your fiancé, but I’m your husband, remember? We took vows, Anastasia.”

“We were six and seven and that marriage only lasted as long as my ring pop, which I’m pretty sure you stole from me after the ceremony.”

“To be fair, I only went through with the marriage because Kate promised me the ring pop. It was a dowry.”

I laugh and shove against him before taking a long drink from my mug of tea.

It’s nice with the boys here with us, much more relaxed, and it feels good. We spend the next few hours talking and laughing, telling stories about some of our most memorable college experiences. Kate has more stories over the past few months than I have for my entire four years, and, as she details some of her more risque escapades with Ainsley and Eliza in New York, I actually find my mouth dropping open with shock several times.

“Okay, okay,” Ethan says finally. “You have to stop now. God, my little sister! Ana, was supposed to be a better influence on you than this.”

“Hey, don’t let her sweet little face fool you,” Kate says defensively. “Ana’s had her fair share of wild nights.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I reply innocently.

“Well, shall we refer to exhibit A?” she asks, gesturing to my belly. I narrow my eyes at her and pull the blanket in my lap up over my shoulders, but before she can detail anymore of the scandalous things she knows about me, we hear Champ’s deep bark echo out to us from the kitchen, followed by the sound of his claws scratching against the sliding glass door. Luke immediately sits up straighter while Kate and I turn to look through the window in the kitchen. It’s dark out, so we can’t make out much, except there seems to be a light outside that goes out once we all turn to the window.

“What was that?” Kate asks, nervously.

“Ana…” Luke gets out of his seat and walks over to me, and I get up to stand behind him.

“What’s going on?” Ethan asks, but Kate quickly shushes him. Luke’s eyes move between the front door and both the living room and the kitchen windows as he edges me to the stairs, Champ’s loud barks continuing to reverberate back at us. The confusion in both Carter’s and Ethan’s faces is obvious, but it’s Kate who I turn to look back at, and I feel my stomach drop as I see how pale she’s gone in a matter of seconds. I want to grab her, take her with me upstairs while Luke deals with whatever or whoever is outside, but it takes so much to move her right now. I can’t just pull her after me without seriously hurting her.

As the nervousness between Kate, Luke, and I grows more and more palpable, I see both Carter and Ethan unconsciously inch closer to Kate, which makes me feel a little better, until Luke pushes me gently against the wall between the stairs and the kitchen and then slips around the corner.

“Champ, NO!” he yells as I hear the low groan of the wheels on the sliding glass door opening. I take a deep breath, preparing for some kind of confrontation, but instead, feel my entire body relax as I hear Christian’s voice.

“Jesus, fuck!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Luke says. “Champ, get down. Get down!”

“Where’s Ana?” Christian asks, and I push off the wall to move as quickly as possible into the kitchen. Luke is holding tightly to Champ’s collar while he growls and struggles to get back at Christian, Taylor is hovering protectively in the way, but Christian isn’t paying attention to any of them. His eyes move only to me.

“Hey,” he breathes. I move quickly across the room and launch myself into him, finally feeling truly safe for the first time since this morning as his arms wrap around me.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

“What do you mean? You can’t just call me and tell me that you’re developing a pregnancy complication and not expect me to get to you as quickly as possible.”

“Christian,” I whisper gratefully, and then lean up on my toes to kiss him. His fingers brush softly against my cheeks, and when I pull away, he looks purposefully into my eyes.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” I tell him. “This whole thing… it’s just a possibility, something I have a chance of getting, but I’m fine right now. The doctor gave me all kind of things I have to do to prevent it.”

“Like what?”

I repeat the long list of things Dr. Baker told me this afternoon, trying to explain everything in the same comforting way she was able to. “Really, it’s the same kinds of things she told me last time.”

“Well, you need to take it seriously now,” he says. “I read through a dozen different articles and medical journals on my flight here, and they said this can damage your kidneys and your liver… I can’t handle anymore liver complications.”

“I know.” I nod. “I will.”

His arms tighten around me again. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too.”

“Sir,” Luke interrupts. “I think there’s something more pressing we need to discuss.”

“What do you mean?” Christian asks. Luke turns to me, giving me the chance to tell him myself, and I take a deep breath before looking up at him.

“I saw Leila today.”

“What? Where?”

“She was in the building where I had class. She was waiting there for me.”

“Waiting for you?” He turns an angry glare on Luke. “Where the fuck were you?”

“He was parking the car,” I say quickly in Luke’s defense. “I was supposed to be in class but I left to pee and she was in the hallway when I came out.”

The muscle in Christian’s jaw twitches. “Anastasia…”

“I’m sorry! I haven’t seen her in months, it didn’t occur to me that she would be on campus. She’s supposed to be in school too.”

He turns an angry glare back on Luke. “If Ana’s on that campus, I don’t want her alone. Not for a second.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke agrees. “I absolutely think it’s necessary to increase our resources here in Cambridge. As soon as possible.”

“Increase?”

“She…” I hesitate, knowing the reaction to what I’m about to say isn’t going to be good. “She said that someone is… watching me.”

The red already coloring Christian’s face deepens and I watch him take a few deep calming breaths before he responds. When he speaks again, the careful calmness he’s working to keep in his voice is extremely obvious.

“What do you mean, someone is watching you?”

“I don’t know, she wasn’t very coherent. She just said, ‘he’s watching you’,” I tell him.

“Pack your bags,” he says, without a second thought.

“What?”

“If I can’t absolutely guarantee your safety, you’re not staying here. If someone is watching you, they’re doing it for a reason, and I’m not interested in finding out what that reason is. Pack your bags, you’re coming home.”

“Christian!”

“This is not a discussion, Anastasia. Go pack your fucking bags, or Taylor can do it for you.”

“Christian, please…”

“Goddamn it, will you please just do what you’re fucking told?”

I take a step back from the anger radiating off of him, which is enough that Luke actually takes a step forward like he’s going to move between us.

“Is everything okay in here?”

I turn and see Ethan hovering in the archway between the kitchen and living room, looking between Christian and I as though he’s debating how involved he wants to get.

“We’re fine, Ethan,” I tell him.

He doesn’t look like he believes me. “You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Alright,” he says. “But, I’m just in the other room. If you need me…”

“We’re fine,” I assure him again. He nods, but gives Christian a warning look before he turns back into the living room.

“I can’t come home, Christian,” I say calmly as I face him again. “Leaving school isn’t an option, remember?”

“You can finish school from Seattle. I’ll call the University.”

“That’s not what I want,” I argue. “Sure, I could write papers from Seattle and do my homework, but that’s not what this experience is for me. I’m not finished here yet. Dr. Ralston and I are working on my book again, I just started writing full time for the paper, and I want these last four months with Kate. Four months, that’s all I’ve got left. So, I need you to find a way to give them to me. That may be asking the world, but you promised me the world before. So give it to me, Christian. Find a way to give me the world.”

“Ana, you know that I want to. More than anything, I want to give you everything you’ve worked for, everything you deserve, everything you want, but more than that, I have to keep you safe. I have to protect you.”

“Then protect me,” I challenge him. “Protect me here. You have the resources to do that. I know that’s uncomfortable, but that’s what I need from you. Keep me safe, keep whoever is out there away from me, do whatever you have to do, but keep me here.”

He stares at me for a very long, uncomfortable minute until he eventually turns to face Luke.

“What would it take?” he asks.

“Cameras,” he says immediately. “I need every inch of this house under 24 hour surveillance. I need a license to open carry in Massachusetts, and I need back up. At least one more body to have around when I can’t be.”

“I don’t like guns…” Christian says, but after glancing back at me, he nods. “Taylor, Sawyer has my full approval, whatever he needs, he gets. Spare no cost and don’t cut any corners. If Ana is staying in Cambridge, I want her security to make the Secret Service look like a joke. And, if either of you even get wind of a threat, I want her back on a plane to Seattle, immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” Taylor says.

“Thank you,” I say, wrapping my arms around his middle. He exhales and then presses his lips into my hair.

“Please don’t make me regret this.”

“I won’t,” I promise. His finger moves to my chin, tilting my face up to his, and as he presses his lips into mine, I hear the refrigerator door open behind me.

“Well, aren’t you two adorable?” Carter interjects.

“Why are you here?” Christian asks, annoyed.

“My girlfriend lives here,” he says. “We’re about to start a movie, you two lovebirds want to join us?”

“No,” Christian says shortly, but I place a gentle hand on his arm and step in front of him before he can say anything else.

“I think we’re just going to go to bed. Enjoy your movie.”

“Alright,” he says as he closes the refrigerator with two more beers in hand. “You two have a… good night.” He gives us a knowing smile and the suggestion in his voice makes Christian’s muscles tense, so I take his hand and lead him out of the room and pull him towards the stairs.

“Good night, Christian!” Kate calls after us, but he doesn’t respond. Instead, he lets out a disgusted kind of scoff and moves more quickly up the steps.  

“It just had to be fucking Reed,” he says, once we’re in my bedroom. “100,000 people in this town and that’s the one she picks. What did I ever do to her?”

“She likes him,” I tell him. “And she’s happy. More so than I’ve seen her in months. Carter’s been really good to her.”

“He could be good to her at his house.”

“But I like her here.” He rolls his eyes, and I frown. “It’s okay though, right? Carter being here, I mean. I know that I freaked out about Gia so, if you’re uncomfortable…”

“I trust you, Ana,” he assures me.

“I trust you,” I argue. “That doesn’t mean I liked her being around you.”

“Look, if you want to send Reed away, I will gladly help you throw him out of this house, but I know how important Kate is to you. I don’t want to start something between the two of you and I know that’s what getting rid of Reed will do. Believe me.”

“Believe you? What does that mean?”

“Nothing, Elliot just..” He stops and shakes his head. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

I furrow my brow at him as he reaches for the back collar of his t-shirt but am distracted by the tantalizing view of his abs stretching and contracting as he pulls it over his head. I decide we can talk more when we get into bed so I move to my dresser to find my Harvard t-shirt to sleep in, but as I strip down, he comes up behind me and places his hands on my hips.

“I really have missed you. Having you for so long over Christmas break almost made me forget how hard this is.”

“I know,” I agree. “It’s taken some adjustment getting used to sleeping alone again. Well, not alone…”

“What?” he snaps, and his hands drop from my hips. I smile and turn back to face him.

“Yeah… I didn’t know how to tell you this, but I’ve been sleeping with a very handsome boy for the past couple weeks.” His expression goes blank, his eyes widen, and the color drains from his face.

“He’s a real Champ,” I giggle, and Christian frowns.

“That’s not funny.”

“Then why am I laughing?” I ask, pulling myself into him and reaching up on my tip toes to gently graze my nose against his.

“Because you’re mean.” His voice is softer now that he has me in his arms, warmer, and I use my advantageous position to kiss him. He immediately deepens the kiss, keeping his lips gentle against mine as he languidly slips his tongue into my mouth. I wrap my arms tighter around him, enjoying every second of this contact between us, until he very suddenly lifts me into the air and walks backwards towards the bed. I squeal as he drops me onto the comforter and then crawls over the top of me like a predatory animal to take my lips again.

The warmth I feel radiating off of him as his body completely envelops mine soothes away any residual tension I’m feeling and I moan in pleasure as I reach up and tangle my fingers into his hair, holding him to me, refusing to let him go. This is one of the things I love most about him. No matter what we’re going through, no matter what the outside world throws at us, the feel of his lips against mine is all I need to feel at peace.

He kisses me for a long time and I’m perfectly content to let him. Eventually though, he begins to move down my body and, just as I think he’s going to reach for the band of my yoga pants, he stops, grips the bottom hem of my t-shirt, and pulls it up just over my belly. His lips touch my skin again and his hands move to either side of my bump.

“She’s growing,” he says.

“Mmm,” I hum back. “The doctor said you should be able to feel her any day.”

He glances up at me, then flattens his palms on my stomach and waits. I try not to move, try not to even breathe so that hopefully the he’ll be able to feel even the smallest movement inside of me, but there’s nothing.

“She’s sleeping,” I say, conciliatory.

“She’s stubborn,” he corrects me. “Just like her mother.”

“Oh, I’m stubborn? I’m sorry, I forgot that you’re widely known for being so flexible and accommodating.”

He lets out a low, breathy laugh, and then waits again for any movement under his hands. Still, there’s nothing.

“Well, if she’s sleeping,” he says, giving me a mischievous look, “perhaps we need to wake her up.”

“What do you-” I begin, but my words cut off as his fingers hook under my panties and he eases them down my legs.

Next Chapter

Chapter 22

Image result for rainy seattle

The first day of 2011 starts out cold and rainy but I can hardly feel the chill of the air against my too hot skin. My feet are pounding the pavement that winds its way around Kerry Park, but, despite the great view of Seattle and of the gorgeous man a few paces ahead of me, I simply don’t have the motivation to drag myself any further.

“Okay,” I pant, as I come to a stop, bend over, and place my hands on my knees to try and catch my breath. “I can’t anymore. I’m done.”

Christian stops and jogs back to me, a cocky smile plastered across his face as he takes a long pull from his water bottle and then hands it to me.

“You need to move back to Seattle,” he says. “Kate doesn’t push you hard enough. You’ve gone soft on me.”

“What happened to taking it easy?”

“Core and cardiovascular strength are key to an easy delivery and I intend on you having a very easy delivery.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say, rolling my eyes as I take another drink of water.

“Just give me two more laps and then we’ll go home and shower.”

“Ugh…” I groan. “I changed my mind. You can have Gia back as a workout partner.”

He laughs. “But I like getting sweaty with you so much more.”

He leans over and kisses me gently on the lips and then turns to start running again. Thankfully, I haven’t even had the chance to work up the gusto to follow after him before I hear the electronic ringtone of his iPhone sound from inside the pocket on his shorts.

“Saved by the bell,” I gloat as he stops to pull it out. He rolls his eyes and then answers.

“Hello? What?” His expression morphs with sudden shock and urgency, his eyes darting back and forth as he listens to whatever the person on the phone is saying. “How? Right now? No, I’m in Queen Anne, Kerry Park, Ana and I are running. Okay, I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

He hangs up the phone.

“What was that?”

“They’ve got a liver,” he says, sounding almost astonished. “The donor is in surgery right now and Mom and Dad just got to the hospital.”

“What?”

“He’s getting a liver today.”

“Well, what are we… we gotta go.”

He nods and reaches out for my hand, pulling me quickly up the path to the parking lot where the Reventon is waiting. When we come through the gate in clear view of the car though, we find it surrounded by dozens of reporters.

“Miss Steele, over here! Show us the ring!”

“How big is it?”

“How’d he ask you?

“When’s the wedding?

“Does this mean you won’t be returning to Harvard?”

“Miss Steele, how does it feel knowing you’ve bagged Seattle’s richest and most eligible bachelor?”

The questions come at us a lightning speed and from every direction as we’re suddenly swarmed. Christian moves his body protectively in front of mine and, automatically, I reach down to pull the fabric of my t-shirt away from my stomach.

“I thought this is why we came to Queen Anne to run,” I say nervously. “To avoid the press.”

“They must have followed us,” he hisses. “Fuck, I knew not bringing Taylor was a bad idea.”

“And you say I don’t take security seriously…”

“Mr. Grey!” another one of the photographers calls. “Do you intend for Miss Steele to run the foundation you announced at your charity gala last night?”

“I’m not answering any questions,” Christian snaps. “Get the fuck away from my car.”

“Christian, don’t…” I try and warn him, but he silences me by pulling me swiftly into his side, holding me securely under his arm, and pushing through the crowd to get me to the passenger’s side door. As he moves me to pull open the scissor door, one of the reporters calls my name and reaches out to grab onto my arm, but, before he can actually touch me, Christian’s hand closes around his wrist and the man winces slightly.

“Keep your motherfucking hands off my fiancée or I will put you on your ass,” he shouts at him. Suddenly, the lights of the cameras around us intensify and, as Christian releases me so that I can duck into the car and then closes the door behind me, I feel an unwelcome sense of foreboding.

“Jesus Christ,” Christian hisses as he slides into the seat next to me and yanks his own door back into place.

“Don’t get into fights with the paparazzi,” I warn him.

“They shouldn’t be touching you.”

“No, they shouldn’t. But yelling at them and getting physical with them isn’t going to help either of us. Just ask Sean Penn what fighting with the Paparazzi can cause.”

“I’m not a celebrity, Ana,” he says, rolling his eyes.

“No, worse, you’re a high profile business man who actually has something to lose.”

His jaw tightens but he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he starts the engine, looks over his shoulder, and slowly backs through the crowd of photographers still trying to get our picture through the darkly tinted windows.

When we make it onto the I-5 North, Christian hits the gas and begins weaving through traffic towards Northwest Hospital. We pull into the parking lot in record time and, after I’ve once again securely locked his fingers between mine, we dash inside.

“Where’s Dad?” Christian asks when we get to the surgery floor waiting room and find Grace and Mia already there, waiting anxiously.

“They just took him back,” Grace replies. “He’s going straight into surgery prep. The donor is in this hospital so we don’t have any transport time. The liver has already been removed and examined… it’s beautiful, and a perfect match. He should be going into surgery any minute.”

“That’s great, Mom,” Christian says, the overwhelming relief in his voice apparent as he leans in to hug her. Mia gets out of her seat and comes to me, wrapping her arms around my middle as tears well in her eyes.

“It’s actually going to happen this time,” she says. “No more false alarms, no more waiting. He’s getting his liver today.”

“I know, Meems.”I beam at her.

“Where’s Elliot?” Christian asks when he releases his mother. “I’m surprised I beat him here.”

“I don’t know where he is,” Grace admits. “I called him this morning but he didn’t answer and when I called Gia, she said he’d gone out for coffee early in the morning and hadn’t gotten back yet. She said she’ll bring him here as soon as she gets home.”

Christian nods and then tells us he needs to go call Ros and let her know about the surgery so they can plan his time between home and GEH, and Grace decides to get a cup of coffee from the cafeteria, leaving me alone with Mia.

“So, I heard about what happened last night,” Mia says. “With Kate and Elliot. I can’t believe he said that right in front of her.”

“I know,” I reply, regretfully. “It was awful. Seeing her standing there, staring between Gia and Elliot, it was like I could see her heart breaking.”

“I tried calling her this morning, but I just kept getting voicemail,” Mia says.

“She needs time,” I reassure her. “She’s just gotta find a way to pick herself back up right now.”

She looks at me with hesitant eyes. “If I tell you something, will you promise not to get mad?”

“Why would I get mad? You can tell me anything, Mia.”

“Well, I don’t want you to think that I’m not so excited to have you as a sister, because I am. I really, really am. But, you were gone for a long time. All that time that you and Christian were broken up, you never called me once. You never came to visit, you never sent me a text message, or responded to any of the messages I sent you on Facebook…”

“I’m sorry,” I say quickly. “I don’t actually use my Facebook. I honestly don’t think I’ve even logged onto it since before I started college.”

“No, I know that, and it’s fine… now. But back then, it kind of hurt. I have two older brothers and I love both of them so, so much, but brothers aren’t exactly who you want to go to when you have your first real crush or the girls at school are being catty bitches. I’ve always wanted a big sister, for exactly those reasons, and when you were gone, all I had was Kate. I could call her at any time and talk to her about anything, even personal stuff, and she was always there for me. I used to send her pictures of outfits that I wanted to wear to get her opinion on them or forward her the angry text messages I was going to send to people so that she could tell me whether or not I was being unreasonable. I even skyped with her for a whole hour once because I got a huge zit the day we were taking pictures at school and I’m helpless with concealer. She sat there and walked me through what to do, step by step. Kate was the big sister I’ve always wanted, and now she’s just… gone.”

“She’s not gone, Mia,” I tell her, but she shakes her head.

“I mean, for awhile, maybe not. But as time goes on, our phone calls are going to get fewer and farther in between and eventually, they’ll stop. She’ll move on with her life and the new family that comes along with her next boyfriend. She’s going to forget about me and that kills me. Especially because Gia is not a replacement for Kate, not even close! I don’t even know what Elliot sees in her.”

“I know you mean a lot to Kate. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, but she really does love you, Mia. She loves your whole family. I know Kate very well, I know the Kate you just described to me very well, and that’s why she’s my best friend. And because I know her so well, I know that no matter what happens, if you ever needed her, she’ll be there. She’ll always be there.”

“You really think so?”

“Yeah, I do. And so will I.”

“Well, you have to be,” Mia says, cracking a smile. “You are going to be my big sister so you’re stuck with me for life.”

“And I can’t wait,” I beam at her.

Waiting in this hospital is beginning to feel like some kind of purgatory punishment. We sit in the same chairs we’ve sat in several times before, stare at the same fuzzy TVs, and read the same boring magazines. Christian at least has work to keep him occupied on his phone but, between the anxious energy radiating off of Grace and the seemingly interminable minutes that tick by like hours, I’m very quickly going out of my mind.

We sit there for just under two hours before Elliot and Gia finally show up, but once they come into the waiting room, any happiness we have to see them is replaced with concern when we see the shiner Elliot is sporting over his left eye, and I immediately feel my stomach drop.

“What happened to your face?” Christian asks, alarmed.

“Nothing,” Elliot says, quickly shaking his head. “I just… ran into a pole while I was out running this morning.”

“You don’t run,” Mia says.

“And now you know why,” he replies, pointing at his black eye.

“Well you should put some ice on it,” Grace says. She tries to reach out to bet a better look at his face, but he reaches out to stop her.

“I’m fine, what’s the news on Dad? Anything?”

“He’s in surgery right now. The doctor said everything looked really good from the donor so he’s not expecting any complications.”

“But he’s in surgery?” Elliot checks. “He’s actually open, on the table, having a new liver sewn into his body as we speak?”

“Yes,” Grace says, and Elliot lets out a long sigh of relief.

“Oh, thank god. Thank. God.” He collapses in a chair next to his mother while Gia runs to the cafeteria to get him some ice. When the waiting game begins again, I spend a little time playing a game with Mia on her phone until Elliot eventually gets up to use the bathroom and I excuse myself to go after him.

“Elliot!” I call once we’re out of earshot of the others. He turns and, once he sees that it’s me following him, he ducks into the corridor that leads to the bathrooms and waits for me to catch up.

“A pole?” I ask suspiciously.

“Ethan,” he admits. “I wasn’t getting coffee or going on a run this morning. I went to talk to Kate.”

“And?”

“And I got punched in the face by her brother.”

“Well, did you really expect a warm welcome? You hurt his little sister.”

“I know that.” He nods. “That’s why I went over there to talk to her. To apologize to her. ”

“And? What did she say?”

“Nothing.” He shakes his head dejectedly. “She wouldn’t see me. Worse than that, she wouldn’t even come downstairs to tell me that she didn’t want to see me. She just had her brother feed me some bullshit lie about how she wasn’t there even though I could see her fucking car in the driveway. You know, I did that for you for two years and now that I know just how shitty that feels, I hate that you made me do that to my brother. Just, the helplessness of not being able to do anything…”

“Yeah, it hurts,” I agree. “But there’s plenty of hurt to go around right now. Believe me, Elliot. You didn’t see her that weekend she left you a few months ago, you didn’t see her last night.”

“Did you talk to her?”

“Yeah, I did. I got a front row seat to my best friend lying on top of her bed crying her eyes out, feeling like her world had been destroyed, because, even though she gave you everything she had to give for three years, stood by you and your family through the roughest time that you’ve ever faced, and supported you through it, you still replaced her as quickly as you could. Two months, Elliot. The amount of time it took you to get over her could be measured in weeks! I mean, did you ever really love her?”

“Of course I did,” he says, angry at the insinuation. “I still love her.”

“Well, she was there to tell you that she wanted you back. She came to tell you that she’d made a mistake and that she wanted to get back together.”

“She was?”

“Yeah, but not anymore. She’s done now. There’s no going back after last night because in her mind, you’re either in love with another girl or you’re a liar. So, which is it Elliot? You said you were in love with Gia. Are you?”

“Ana… please.”

“Which is it?” I demand.

“I’m not bad guy, Ana. You have to understand, she wouldn’t talk to me. She never gave me the chance to fight for her.”

“You mean like I never gave Christian a chance? Somehow he found a way to fight, and maybe you didn’t have two years in you like he did but… two months? God, after Christian and I broke up, it took me two months to just accept that it was over, that I wasn’t going to just wake up and find that everything that had happened between us had been a horrible dream. You’ve already fallen in love with someone else.”

He frowns and looks away from me for a moment, almost looking as though he’s going to walk away entirely, but he doesn’t.

“Christian knew that he could make you happy, Ana. He wants the same things that you want. Kate and I just… don’t. She wants kids and I don’t want her to give that up for me. I want her to have everything her heart desires. I want her to be blissfully happy and live life without regret. I can’t do that for her. That doesn’t mean that her absence doesn’t hurt me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss her like fucking crazy. That doesn’t mean that the idea that she’s one day going to find someone else, that she’s going to let another man put his hands on her body, doesn’t make me sick to my stomach. I love her more anything else in the world, Ana. I’m always going to love her. I love her enough, to set her free.”

“I just don’t understand how you could love someone so much but not be willing to have a family with them. Why are you so adamant that you don’t want kids, Elliot?”

“Because I don’t have any more in me to give, Ana. Look, I love my brother, and my sister, and my parents very, very much. I can’t begin to tell you what they all mean to me, but I have spent my entire life taking care of them. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been constantly trying to bring Christian back from the brink of self-destruction, trying to keep Mia on the right path, trying to keep this family together and happy, and I’m exhausted. Happiness to me doesn’t mean having more people to be responsible for. Happiness to me means having the ability to drop everything to go backpack Europe for a couple months, go to a country in Southeast Asia and try some really freaky looking food, or sit on a beach in Cabo with a bucket full of Coronas and Kate looking tan and fine as fuck in a lounger next to me. That’s the future I want. That’s the future that will make me happy, and it doesn’t include kids.”

“So, how does Gia fit into that future?” I ask, and he shrugs.

“Gia’s chill. She likes to travel. She likes spontaneity. I know you’re not her biggest fan, and I know that she can be a bitch and that she’s a little hard to take a lot of the time, but… she’s the only thing that’s made me feel normal since Kate left. She’s smarter than people give her credit for and when she wants to be, she can be really sweet. And, she’s beautiful and great in bed, and, at the end of the day, I’m glad to see her when I come home from work.”

“Do you love her?” I ask again.

He sighs. “I don’t know. The only thing I have to compare her to is Kate, but how does anything compare to Kate? I’m never going to love anyone the same way I loved her, that I love her. But I don’t have Kate anymore, I have Gia, and I’m going to try to love her as best I can.”

“And if she wants to get married or have kids?”

“Then I won’t be able to love her the way she wants me to and she’ll have to find someone else.”

“Have you told her that?”

“Yeah. She’s knows that’s why Kate and I broke up.”

“Well, I think you need to tell her again. Kate and I were shopping the other day and we ran into Gia downtown, and she told Kate that she should expect a wedding invitation by the end of the summer. She has expectations of you, Elliot, and those expectations are punctuated by a diamond ring.”

He rolls his head backwards for a few seconds and takes a deep breath, then calmly looks back down at me, nods, and says, “I’ll take care of it.”

“Good.” I give him a once over and turn to step through the bathroom door opposite him, but he calls out to stop me. When I turn back to face him, his expression is torn.

“I know this whole thing with Kate has put you in awkward position with me, but I don’t want to be at odds with you, Ana. You’re going to be my sister and I’ve already told you what family means to me. I don’t want it to be awkward or tense so… what can I do so that we’re cool?”

“We’re fine, Elliot. This isn’t how I wanted everything to go, but, you’re right. If you’re not willing to compromise on the things that Kate needs to be happy, you shouldn’t be together. I happy that you’re mature enough to realize that. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish that it could have been different.”

“Me too,” he agrees, and then reaches out to wrap me in a hug. “Love you, Ana.”

“Love you too, Elliot.”

He tightens his arms around me and lifts me off the ground, grunting slightly as he shifts me back and forth. The movement forces all of the pressure into my bladder and, suddenly, I have to struggle out of his arms.

“Elliot, put me down! Put me down!”

“What?” he says, setting me back on the ground and looking at me with panic. “What did I do?”

“You can’t squeeze a pregnant woman! What are you trying to do? Make me pee all over you?”

He snorts, trying to hold back his laughter, as I turn and sprint for the bathroom door at the end of the hallway.

He’s waiting for me when I get out of the bathroom and, as we walk back to the rest of our family still seated in the waiting room, I see a spark of his old self. With every step we take across the linoleum tile, he sticks his foot out in front of me, like he’s trying to trip me, but when I shoot an indignant look at him, his eyes widen with false concern and he grabs onto me.

“Ana! Don’t fall!”

“You’re so annoying!” I laugh, and then stick my foot out in front of him. He gives me a challenging look in return and we spend the rest of the walk back trying to make the other stumble.

Unfortunately, when we get back to the waiting room, I find that Gia has taken my seat next to Christian and is leaning over the armrest to talk to him while he looks intently down at his phone.

“It starts up at Husky Stadium and then goes south along the lake to Columbia City and then back up to Safeco Field. It’s like, 13.5 miles and if we start training now…”

“No,” Christian says abruptly, not looking up at her, and she leans back a little in surprise.

“No?”

“No, I’m not interested.”

“Oh, well… there’s a few other courses that are longer, we could maybe…”

“I’m sorry,” he interrupts her again. “I’m not being clear. I’m not interested in going with you.”

“Christian!” Elliot snaps. “What the fuck, dude?”

“I have a lot to catch up on after the gala last night,” Christian dismisses him, but Elliot reaches down and slaps his phone out of his hands so that it falls into his lap. Christian inhales slowly through his nose and then looks up at his brother with the forced kind of patience that someone dealing with a toddler’s temper tantrum would use.

“I don’t speak to your girlfriend that way, you could return the courtesy.”

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Christian argues, and, as Elliot lets out an incredulous sounding huff, Grace gets out of her seat and moves between her two sons.

“Boys, enough. You are adults now, will you please act that way? Christian, cut the attitude.”

“Yes, mother,” he says, and then picks up his phone again. Elliot rolls his eyes and then reaches out his hand for Gia, but after glancing a few times between Christian and Elliot, she sucks her bottom lip beneath her teeth and her face falls dejectedly.

“Maybe I should go,” she says softly.

“No, babe…” Elliot says, and then turns a pointed look on his brother. “Christian!”

Christian looks up at him again and Elliot motions to Gia with his eyes, silently asking him to say something to her. Christian takes a deep breath as he turns to face her.

“You’re in Ana’s seat.”

Gia lets out a hurt scoff and then scurries to her feet, covering her mouth with her fingers as she hurries from the waiting room.

“Real fucking great. You know, you can be a real dick sometimes, Christian.” Elliot says, and he turns to follow after Gia.

I take a breath and re-take my seat, my eyes focused on Christian while his fingers continue to fly over the keyboard of his iPhone.

“What?” he asks at last.

“I don’t want you to fight with Elliot.”

“Are you… you just told me last night that…”

“I know, and I’m not saying that I want you to be best friends with Gia, I just don’t want you to push away your brother.”

“Clearly you don’t understand how protective the Grey men are of the women we love,” he says, but when I raise an eyebrow at him, he takes a breath and nods. “I’ll talk to him.”

“Good,” I say, and then lean over to kiss him softly on the lips before turning back to Mia and allowing him to get back to work.

It’s another hour before Elliot finally comes back into the waiting room and when he does, he makes it a point to move to the other side of his mother so that he’s no longer next to Christian.

“How’s Gia?” Grace asks.

“She’ll be fine,” he says shortly. “No thanks to my loving, supportive family.”

“Elliot,” Christian begins, trying to be conciliatory, but Elliot silences him with a hard glare.

“I’m sorry, I’m not being clear. I’m not interested in talking to you.”

“Grey,” someone calls behind us and the tension building between Christian and Elliot suddenly vanishes as we all turn and recognize the surgeon who has been operating on Carrick standing just a few feet away.

“Yes!” Grace says, hurrying to her feet. “I’m Grace Grey, Carrick’s wife.”

“How is he?” Elliot interjects.

“He’s doing very well,” the surgeon responds. “It was one of the easiest transplants I’ve ever done. No complications, clean lines, and the organ pinked immediately once we unclamped him. Right now, he’s stable and in a private recovery room.”

“Is he awake?” Christian asks.

“No, but if you’d like, you can wait with him.”

Grace nods and takes Elliot’s hand as the surgeon motions for a nurse to take us back to Carrick’s room. When we get there, Carrick is in the bed, looking as though he’s lost in peaceful sleep, while another nurse tends to the incision on his stomach. I’m actually shocked when I see the angry line that stretches from just below his sternum and curves around his side, looking more gruesome now than I imagine it will after it heals because of the staples currently holding his skin together. It’s hard, seeing him there, wounded, and I have to bury my face in Christian’s shirt as the nurse continues examining the incision site.

Grace moves to read the monitor beeping next to his bedside, and, as she glances over the chart on the end of his bed, the nurse smiles at her.

“He’s doing very well. He should be awake in the next few hours.”

“Thank you,” Grace says, and after the nurse leaves, she motions around the room. “Well, get comfortable. We’re going to be here awhile.”

We take our seats and wait, occasionally flipping through the channels on the TV or answering questions Mia asks from a trivia app on her phone. The passing hours aren’t so bad now that we’re in the room with Carrick and we know everything went well, which I think helps the Elliot and Christian situation. Once Mia and I are fully engrossed in the latests Pirates of the Caribbean movie playing on TV, they both step out of the room to talk, and are gone so long that I’m asleep by the time they return. When Christian retakes his seat and gently eases me under his arm though, I’m glad to find that at least some of the animosity between them seems to have dwindled. Elliot at least isn’t looking at him as though he’s plotting his death anymore.

“You kids should go home,” Grace says, when the clock ticks past one AM. “He may not wake until the morning.”

“I want to be here,” Mia argues. Christian nods in agreement and then turns to me.

“Do you want to go home? I can have Taylor come get you.”

“Are you staying?” He nods. “Then I’m staying.”

He purses his lips together and, for a moment, I think he’s going to argue with me, but he simply wraps his arm over my shoulder and pulls me into his side, holding me there while my eyelids start to droop. I’ve almost succumbed again to the overpowering urge to sleep, when I’m abruptly brought back to reality by Grace’s shaking voice.

“Carrick? Are you awake, sweetheart?”

We all sit up straighter and stare at Carrick as he groans softly, his face crinkled with discomfort before he slowly opens his eyes.

“What time is it?” he whispers, hoarsely.

“Just after one in the morning,” Grace says, smiling. “Your surgery went really well.”

“It doesn’t feel  that way,” he groans.

“Are you in pain?” Christian asks. “We can have the nurse come in and check your meds.” Carrick nods so Elliot reaches over and pushes his finger into the call button.

 

My final weeks in Seattle are long and difficult as we deal with Carrick’s recovery. He’s got at least two months before he’s going to be able to do anything, even chemo, so our job is to make sure that he’s resting enough and getting everything he needs to keep his body as healthy as possible in the meantime. It’s scary because as he goes through the natural healing process, slowed and made more complicated by the cancer still running unchecked and untreated through his body, he seems to get worse, not better. Seeing him so ghostly pale and weak all the time has everyone feeling helpless, but Grace is quick to assure us that once he’s healed from his surgery and the doctors are certain that chemo won’t cause him to reject his new organ, he’ll be quickly on the road to recovery. In the meantime, life is just a little hard.

I end up spending the night more often than not at the house in Bellevue to try and help as much as I can, so I only see Christian after he’s able to pry himself away from the long hours at the office to join us at his parents’ house. Not only is it the beginning of the calendar year, which is when a lot of his contracts renew, terminate, or are implemented, but we’re coming up on fourth quarter, and that means, on top of trying to be with us as much as possible for his Dad’s recovery, he’s slowly sinking deeper and deeper into a mountain of work that seemingly has no end. I can see how much he hates being away right now, watching us all deal with the consequences of his Dad’s recovery and not being there to be a pillar of strength while his father seems to waste away in bed. But he doesn’t have a choice. He’d only just managed to quell the near uprising in his company last fall after he fired Welch and he doesn’t want to risk another because he’s not giving everything he has at their busiest time of year. It’s made him colder than usual, more aloof, and it’s done nothing to help the growing tension between him and his brother.

After Carrick’s surgery, I wait about a week, but then start calling Kate at least twice a day to check up on her. It takes several days of worried voicemails before she finally answers one of my phone calls, and when she does, even her voice sounds frail. She won’t really talk to me, and she won’t say anything at all about Elliot, so I don’t think she’s doing any better, and after two weeks of listening to the thin veil of pain covering every word she speaks, I’m actually glad to be going back to school so that I can be there for her the way I want to be.

Christian, however, doesn’t share any of my anticipation to get back to Cambridge. As he rides with Luke and I to the airport in the early afternoon on January 22nd, he’s completely silent, clinging to my hand and staring through the front window from the back seat of the SUV like he’s turned to stone. He doesn’t even reach for his phone the several times I hear his email chime in the 30 minutes it takes us to get to the airport from Bellevue, and that has me extremely worried.

“I’ll come back next weekend,” I promise him as we step out onto the tarmac in front of the jet, but he only nods and wraps me in his arms. “I love you, Christian.”

Still, there’s only silence from him, so I pull away to look up at him. When my eyes meet his, I almost wish that I hadn’t.

“Hey…” I begin worriedly, but he releases me and takes a step back.

“I can’t say goodbye to you,” he tells me. “If I try, then I’m going to end up asking you not to go, so just… go, okay?”

“We’re down to four months,” I remind him. “More than half way. It’s almost over.”

He nods, then kisses me on the forehead and pushes me slightly towards the stairs leading down from the plane. I let out a heavy breath and then turn, but before my hand can touch the railing, he calls out to me.

“Ana!” His hands clasp my arms and he spins me back to face him, bringing his lips crashing down onto mine before I even know what’s happening. It’s not a chaste kiss, nor is it brief. He holds me for a long time, his tongue exploring my mouth carefully as if he’s trying to memorize every part of me. Eventually though, he lets me go and I hug him, pressing my nose into his shirt and inhaling deeply one last time, before I turn and board my flight.

 

Surprisingly, I feel a sense of welcome calm once we get to Cambridge and an almost guilty sense of relief in being separated from everything going on in Seattle right now. The familiar streets of the neighborhoods surrounding campus, now covered in significantly less snow, have a comforting quality to them, and when I pull into my driveway and see the lights through the kitchen window that tell me Kate is already here, it actually feels like coming home. I can’t wait to get inside, put everything away, change into more comfortable clothes, and just sit on the couch and find out exactly where my best friend is now that a few weeks have past. I can’t take the distance between us anymore, I need to know that she’s at least on the road to being okay, but, when I follow Luke through the sliding glass door, my concerns over Kate immediately take a back burner to the loud, booming bark coming from the living room.

“What the fuck?” Luke exclaims, pushing me back into the glass and shielding me with his body as a huge, wrinkly faced dog comes bounding out at us. I scream as the dog bounds up onto Luke and growls viciously, and my fears aren’t alleviated when we hear a male voice shouting from the stairs.

“Champ, what are you doing?” From behind Luke’s imposing figure, I can hear whoever it is coming down the stairs and into the kitchen, and the moment I peek over his shoulder to see the man I assume is going to probably murder us, the fear is overtaken by confusion. It’s not a stranger, it’s Carter Reed. What is he doing here?

We make eye contact and an apologetic look crosses his face as he hurries forward to pull the dog off of Luke.

“Bad dog, get down,” he scolds him firmly, and, once the dog is on all fours again, he kneels down and rubs his hands over the fur behind the the dog’s ears. “Sorry, he’s protective…”

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

“Oh, Kate asked me to come stay with her until you got home. She needed help with the dog.”

“Wait, Kate needed…? This is Kate’s dog?”

“Yeah, she didn’t tell you?”

“Kate!” I yell and then squirm my way out from behind Luke and stomp towards the stairs. Christian is going to have a conniption when he finds out Kate has moved 130 pound dog into the house he intends on selling in a few months and if there’s one thing I need less of in my life, it’s the number of Greys feuding with my best friend.

When I reach her room, I throw open the door to find her sitting up in bed and looking entirely too pleased to see me for how angry I am with her.

“Hey, Ana. How was your flight?”

“A dog, Kate?”

“Isn’t he cute?”

“I don’t know, it was hard to really focus on what he looked like while he was pinning us to the sliding glass door and snarling over us like he was going to eat Luke’s face off.”

“Yeah…” she hesitates. “That’s kind of what he’s here for.”

“To eat Luke alive?”

She takes a breath. “I’m done with Ainsley. After that day we were shopping in Seattle, I just don’t really want anything to do with her anymore. I’ve decided that I need a serious detox in my life, but that means no more trips to New York. You’re gone a lot and you take Luke with you, so I’m going to be here alone most weekends. I got Champ to make me feel safer.”

“Oh.” I hesitate because, even though I was hoping Kate was really going to distance herself from Ainsley and Eliza, I hadn’t really thought through what that meant for her being isolated back in Cambridge when I went home to be Christian.

“He’s really sweet though,” she continues. “Once he gets to know you. He’s actually kind of a big goober.”

“I just… I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sell a dog to Christian, Kate. Not one that big anyway.  He wants to sell the house once we’re done with school and a dog like that…”

“He’s very well trained,” Kate interrupts me. “Ethan got him from a breeder that specifically raises this breed to be guard dogs for families with children, so he’s really docile with the people he considers his pack. He follows commands really well and he doesn’t chew or dig. He’s a good boy, and he makes me feel safe.”

I sigh. “What kind of dog is it?”

“A Bullmastiff.”

Mastiff? More like Massive. I chew on the inside of my cheek as I walk further into the room, intent on crawling into bed with her to talk more about this, but as I approach, her eyes widen and she hold out her hands to stop me.

“No, no! Don’t touch me.”

“What’s wrong?” I ask, freezing and staring down at her with confusion.

“I’m still recovering.”

“From what?”

She swallows. “Can you keep a secret?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you can’t tell Christian, or Elliot, or… anyone.”

“What are you talking about? What did you do?”

She takes a deep breath and then winces slightly as she leans back into her pillows, slides her comforter down past her hips, and then eases her t-shirt over her stomach, up to her sports bra. My eyes widen and my mouth drops open as I see a puckered scar, identical to the one carved into Carrick, slicing its way down her torso.

“Bye bye bikinis, huh?”

“Kate,” I breathe, looking up at her with wide, unbelieving eyes.

“I was a match,” she explains. “I got tested when I came back for Christmas and they called me on New Year’s Eve to tell me that I was an ideal candidate, but that they’d already found a donor. I thought that was going to be the end of it but then they called me at like five the next morning and told me the other organ had fallen through and asked if I was still willing to donate. I was at the hospital forty five minutes later.”

“So when Elliot went to your house the next morning and Ethan told him you weren’t there…”

“I wasn’t,” she finishes for me. “I was having surgery.”

“Why?” I have to stop as tears begin to prick my eyes and my voice starts to tremble. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because I didn’t want this to be about me and Elliot,” she says. “It’s not. I didn’t do this to get him back and I don’t want him showing up here, and I don’t want to put his family in a weird position where they feel like they have to pick sides. I did this because I love Carrick, and I love his family, and I could help. Knowing that he has a fighting chance now, that’s enough.”

“Kate,” I say, actually breaking down into tears now. I want to hug her, pull her out of bed and show her just how much this really means to me and to Christian and his family, but I can’t. So, instead, I carefully lower myself onto her bed and then hold tightly to her hand. “I can’t believe you did this. I mean, I can, because I know how big your heart is, but doing this for your ex-boyfriend’s family, it’s… selfless, and I don’t have the words to tell you how much this means to all of us. Watching Christian going through this, seeing Carrick slowly getting worse… it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Thank you isn’t enough.”

“It’s also not necessary. I’m happy that I could help. Relieved even.”

I nod, and then fight back the urge to hug her once more. “Can I do something for you? Can I get you something?”

“No, I’m fine. Carter’s been very attentive all day. He even went down to the store to get me a Cosmo when he took Champ for a walk. Speaking of which, do you and Christian want 100% hotter sex, because Cosmopolitan has some suggestions.”

I laugh and then push away the magazine she holds out to me. “How long have you been here?”

“About a week. I flew back literally as soon as I could sit up even though that was probably a really stupid idea. My parents came with me and stayed for a couple days but they were driving me insane so I asked Carter to come stay so they could leave. He’s studying for the LSATs so he’s been in Cambridge pretty much the entire Christmas break.”

“Well, I’ll have to thank him,” I tell her, then take a deep breath, squeeze her hand, and ask the question I’ve been wanting answers to for weeks.

“How are you? I mean, about what happened on New Year’s?”

“I’m good,” she says, nodding. “You know, being stuck in bed has given me a lot of time and the more I think about Elliot and I, the more I realize that I was ready to jump back into things with him just because I missed him. But what I miss isn’t the romantic part of our relationship or the sex, that’s all fine, but what I really miss is the friendship. He knows me better than anyone else in the world and I can talk to him in ways I cant’s talk to anyone else. I miss the sound of his laugh and his stupid jokes. I miss the side glances he used to give me when someone said something stupid, like Jim from The Office, and  I miss our secret handshakes. Those are all things that I don’t have to lose just because I’m not with him anymore.”

“Wait, you had secret handshakes?”

“Well, yeah. How else could we be absolutely certain the other person wasn’t a victim of invasion of the body snatchers?”

I roll my eyes. “You two really are perfect for each other.”

“I think you’re right,” she says with a shrug. “Just in a different way than I always thought. I really do think Elliot and I will grow old together, but only as really great friends. I’m okay with that.”

“You’re sure?”

She nods. “Yeah, I am. Besides, I uh… I think Carter might be around a little bit more.”

“What?”

“He’s been texting me a lot since we hooked up on Halloween and… I think I’m going to pursue it. He’s a good guy, and he’s sweet, and, I don’t know… I think I might really like him. That’s not weird for you, right?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head quickly as I try to process this. Kate and Carter? “I was just worried about how I was going to explain the dog to Christian but now I’m much more concerned about having to tell him Carter Reed will be hanging out here all the time.” I pause. “You sure you don’t want to tell him that you donated part of your liver to Carrick? That would really help me out in this case.”

She laughs and shakes her head.

“Alright,” I sigh. “Then I guess I better go call him. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” she says very seriously, and I squeeze her hand as I get out of bed and make my way back down the stairs.

Carter and Luke are in the living room talking, and since Luke is knelt down onto one knee and is running his fingers enthusiatically through Champ’s fur, I think he’s probably winning him over. When they turn and see me though, Luke immediately gets to his feet.

“So?”

“So, it looks like we’re going to have to sell a dog to Christian Grey.”

Luke smiles. “We can do that. Tell him Champ here is security team approved. I think it’s a great idea having him around at night when I’m not here.”

“I think that’s the only angle,” I agree, and then bend down and hold my arms open for Champ. “Come here, puppy.”

Champ wags his tail and then comes over to me, and as I grab onto the loose fur around the base of his neck and upper shoulders and massage his skin, he leaps up to place his front paws against my collar bones knocks me to the floor before he attacks my face with his slobbery tongue.

“Champ, get down!” Carter commands, but I giggle and wave him away.

“Yeah,” I say lovingly, staring into his big, brown eyes. “He can definitely stay.”

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