Chapter 37

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I move very slowly the morning of the trial. It’s hard to concentrate on anything and as I go through my purse for the third time to make sure I have everything, I realize half-way though that I haven’t actually been paying attention to the things I’ve been shuffling through. My head falls as I lean over the table, placing my palms against the cool, flat surface and try to force down the impending sense of nausea that’s been getting progressively worse all morning. Today has come much too quickly. I’m not ready for it. But, as I look up at my reflection in the mirror, I have to admit to myself that there’s no way that I could ever be ready for today.

“Christian!” I call in the direction of the great room, trying to keep my voice from shaking. I wait several seconds for his response but there’s no answer, and when I look around the corner, I don’t see him in the kitchen where I expected him to be.

“Christian?” I ask again, and I set my bag back on the table as I walk briskly towards our bedroom. I can see part of his outline through the open doorway of the closet, so I cross the room and peek my head inside.

“Hey,” I say gently, and he looks up at me in surprise. There’s a kind of distance behind his eyes that tells me he’s lost in thought. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” He nods, “I’m just… this is so stupid, it’s like I suddenly can’t remember how to tie a tie.”

“Here,” I step forward and take the ends of his tie in my hands and carefully begin to wrap them around each other, glad, for once, for my brief but passionate Avril Lavigne phase in middle school. “This is a good color on you,” I tell him, once I pull the knot into place against his collar.

“You can always trust a man in blue, right?” He says with a weak smile. I do my best to return it, but my bottom lip begins to tremble and it makes it impossible. I take a sharp breath as the dry ache of impending tears begins burning in my throat, but before I can fully break down, Christian quickly presses his lips into mine.

“Don’t, baby,” He says in between his sweet, tender kisses.

“You don’t have to do this,” I plead with him. “Mia understands, she doesn’t want this either. You don’t have to go through with this.”

He takes a deep breath and gives me a pained look. “Yes, I do. I didn’t think I had to do it last time and look what’s happened. She’s never going to stop, Ana, she’s never going to change. I let her get away with this last time and this is what she did. Someone else’s sister, or brother, or daughter, or son is going to be next unless I do what I have to do. I don’t have a choice.”

You’re somebody’s son, Christian. You’re somebody’s brother. You’re somebody’s everything. If you do this, it’s not going to go the way you want it to, and then she does win because she finally gets what she’s worked so hard to do all these years. Whatever happens to her in this trial is also going to happen to you. Please, Christian… I can’t lose you again.”

“Ana…” He says, pulling me into him and holding me tightly against his chest. He massages the roots of my hair comfortingly as I do my best not to cry into his shirt and leave wet marks all over him. “My dad’s a fighter. He’s the best there is… He’ll take care of me.”

He still has hope.

All week, I’ve felt like I’m two seconds away from having a complete breakdown. I’ve spent every second of free time I’ve had with him. At night, I’ve laid awake as long as possible watching him sleep, trying to memorize the feeling of him against me and his arms around me. When we made love, I stared into his eyes for as long as possible, studying him, so that I would always remember the way he looked at me during our most intimate moments.

He hasn’t had the same kind of reaction. Sure, he hasn’t complained about my need to be around him all the time, or my desire to constantly crawl in his lap and just kiss him until we’re both breathless. But he doesn’t seem to have the same desperate need that I do and I see now that it’s because he’s not living like we have a doomsday clock hanging over our heads, slowly ticking away the last seconds we have together. He still has hope and I don’t know what to do with it. If I thought that I could change his mind about going through with this, I’d tell him the confession Carrick made to me. I’d tell him that we’re facing the impossible. I’d tell him just how much the very idea of this trial has been slowly destroying me because I know it’s going to rip us apart and the only way to prevent that is to put a stop to all of this. But I’m not sure that I can. And maybe, if he still hopes, he’ll go into that courtroom today and find a way to work a miracle.

“We’re going to be late,” He says quietly as he releases me to pick up his cufflinks from where they rest on top of the drawer that holds his ties. I nod and turn back towards the living room to, once again, try to go through my bag and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything I’m going to need.

It’s pandemonium outside as we make our way out of the parking garage from underneath Escala. The group of photographers standing along the sidewalk, snapping pictures as closely to the darkly tinted glass as they can get, rivals the crowd from the night the news about the first trial broke. Taylor, though, is much more skilled at navigating his way through the hoard than I was, and after a few honks and jolting stops where he was forced to slam on his breaks, we’re able to get past the mob and turn onto 5th street towards the King Country Courthouse.

Carrick is waiting for us on the curb once we have finally fought our way through the morning rush hour traffic and arrived at our destination. We step out of the back seat of the SUV into a blinding barrage of camera flashes, but Carrick skillfully deflects all the questions being thrown at us until we’re safely inside the building. It’s a little dark inside and the air conditioner is on a little too high, which makes the hallways feel cold and sterile despite how beautiful the interior of this very old building really is.

Christian takes a deep breath and then reaches down to take my hand in his as we walk down the long marble floored hallway towards the open doors of the courtroom. It’s already very full inside, but only a few faces stand out to me. Ros is sitting in the row directly behind where Christian will sit on the other side of the bar, and Grace, Mia, Kate, and Elliot are all seated next to her. Gail is in the 3rd row from the front and Andrea is a few seats down from her. The left side of the courtroom is filled with people I don’t know, but I have a sickening feeling about the row of girls sitting in the middle pew because of their nearly identical dark brown hair. Elena is up front, already seated next to her very sharply dressed lawyer who is talking to her very seriously. I have to swallow the disgusting taste that creeps into my mouth at seeing her sitting there, looking relaxed and confident, when I know what she’s about to do.

“Can I take Ana with me?” Christian asks quietly as we approach the bar, but Carrick shakes his head.

“She needs to stay on this side of the bar,” He replies.

“She can have my seat,” Ros offers, quickly getting up from her place on the bench. “She’ll be right behind you.”

“No,” Grace interjects. “Please, I’d like to have you with me, Ana.”

I nod and then look up at Christian. “I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere.”

He leans down and kisses me once more, the first hint of strain I’ve felt in his lips finally apparent and it wounds me. When he pulls away from me, I wrap my arms around him and squeeze him as tightly as I can. When I have to let him go, I stand there and watch him walk through the wooden gate before taking my seat between Grace and Kate. We sit there anxiously, hardly aware of the low babbling of conversation around us, until the the loud creak of a door opening fills the chamber and the bailiff at the front of the courtroom calls everyone’s attention.

“All rise for the honorable Judge Palmer Ramsdell,” The bailiff says, and we do. This judge is much younger than I remember the judge of the last trial being. His hair is thick and dark, his eyes heavily lidded but made less severe by the fact that they are a warm, chocolate brown color. My first impression of him is that he looks trustworthy, and it’s a comforting feeling that I desperately cling on to. Once we’re allowed to sit again, the judge calls for opening statements from both Carrick and Elena’s lawyer and then Carrick is allowed to call his first witness.

He stands from his seat, looking surprisingly calm as he gathers his notes and faces the judge. “Your honor, the plaintiff would like to call Amelia Grey to the stand.”

Mia slowly gets out of her seat and I feel my first pang of shock. There has been a lot of argument about whether or not Mia was going to testify. Carrick has been on the fence about putting her on the stand because she’s underage. She’s been so upset about everything to do with the trial, he’s not sure what she’s going to do once she gets up there, and making this case about underage girls being forced into prostitution is going to increase the severity of whatever sentence is eventually handed down when this goes to criminal trial, which Carrick fully expects to also be handed down to Christian. Unfortunately, she’s also the only real witness we have that has any information on the club from while it was still in operation, so her testimony is key to any chance we have at winning this thing. I guess Carrick has decided that’s what’s most important but the potential consequences of putting her on the stand have me tied up with dread more than I have been all morning.

I watch her walk through the gate nervously, but before she makes it past the table where Christian and Stephanie are still seated, Christian reaches out and takes her hand to stop her.

“Lying on that stand is the single biggest regret of my life,” He tells her quickly. “Please, don’t repeat my mistakes.”

She looks back at him and takes a breath, but no emotion registers on her face. Instead she squeezes his hand and then turns to take the witness stand.

“Good Morning, Amelia,” Carrick says gently after she’s been sworn in and taken her seat. “Would you mind stating your name for the court reporter?”

“Mia… I mean, Amelia Trevelyan-Grey,” She stutters, and her cheeks flush. She looks nervous.

“Thank you,” Carrick replies, smiling. “I can go with Mia if it makes you more comfortable.” She nods and Carrick continues. “Mia, how old are you?”

“Sixteen,” She says.

“So, you’re still in school?”

“It’s summer vacation right now but, yes. I’m starting my Junior year of High School in a couple of weeks.”

“And how is school?” He asks. “Are you a good student?”

“Yes,” She nods. “I’m in an advanced curriculum program and I have a 4.0 from Bellevue Christian High School. It’s the best private school in the greater Seattle area.”

“And what do you do in your spare time?” He asks.

“I volunteer a lot. Last year I organized a coat drive for underprivileged kids to stay warm during the winter, and I’ve been a part of a lot of marine conservation efforts with EarthShare Washington. I also play the Cello and compete in debate and my school’s academic decathlon. But, mostly, I dance. I was selected to join Seattle Ballet Company at the beginning of the summer.”

Mia’s testimony is long. Carrick has her recount every single detail that she can recall about her time in the club from her day to day schedule, to the clientele, to the girls who worked there. She is able to recount things in such detail that, even though I’ve heard almost all of this before, it still makes me feel sick.

He asks a lot of questions about Elena, what she did around the club, how often she was there, and what it was like working under her. It’s not a great picture, and once she starts talking about what happened the night I found her in the side alley, I chance a look at Christian and see him silently shredding a tissue in anger under the table as he listens to the things his sister has to say.

By the end of her testimony, Carrick has done a masterful job painting the picture of Mia as a bright young woman who Elena held hostage with lies about an NDA, and then lured into a false sense of security only to later attempt to force her into underage, non-consensual BDSM sex.

“If I ever find out who that fucker is…” Elliot growls under his breath as Mia starts to break down on the stand. Kate reaches over and grips onto his hand and I feel a slight flash of jealousy that I can’t offer the same comfort to Christian. He’s sitting at the table on the other side of the bar, out of reach, going through this alone. And, after an entire summer protecting him and fighting for him, it feels wrong, against all of my instincts, not to be at his side.

“Thank you, Mia,” Carrick says once he’s finally finished, and he turns to the judge. “I have no further questions, your honor.”

He nods and then faces Elena’s Lawyer. “Your witness, counselor.”

The woman sitting next to Elena gets out of her seat, smiling broadly as she picks up a legal pad and then very confidently walks towards the stand, the sound from her high heels echoing around the courtroom as they clack against the stone floor.

“Good morning, Miss Grey,” Elena’s lawyer says, but Mia gives her an annoyed look.

“Trevelyan-Grey,” She corrects her.

“I’m sorry,” the lawyer responds with a smile. “May I also call you Mia?”

“That’s my name,” Mia replies flatly. “But my last name is Trevelyan-Grey.”

“I apologize,” She says again, and then she opens the folder in her hand and continues. “Mia, you’re a girl with means, are you not?”

“Excuse me?”

“You have money,” Elena’s lawyer clarifies. “You come from a rich family?”

“I guess.”

“So… forgive me, but it seems odd that you would be working at all. Why does a girl who has a trust fund worth millions of dollars waiting for her, and whose brother is Christian Grey, one of the richest men in the country, need a part time job?”

“My mom wanted me to do something to fill my free time,” She says.

“Really? Because we just heard all about the volunteer work you do, debate, academic decathlon, ballet… You seem to be a fairly busy girl to me.”

“It was summer vacation,” Mia says. “My schedule was much more open.”

“Your parents didn’t think you deserved a break?”

“They wanted to keep me out of trouble.”

“Trouble? Why would they think you’d get yourself into trouble?” Elena’s lawyer asks. “Your father seems to believe you’re an extremely responsible, bright, well meaning young woman.”

“I’m a teenager,” Mia responds. “They’re always worried I’m going to get into trouble. Isn’t every parent like that?”

“Not without cause,” She says, and then she steps closer to the witness stand. “Mia, why was your family so desperately looking for you on the night of July 5th?”

“Because I snuck out of the house to go work at Mrs. Lincoln’s club.”

“But they didn’t know where you were going, correct?”

“Hence why they were looking for me,” Mia retorts and Elena’s lawyer gives her a tight smile.

“You live in Bellevue, right?” She asks.

“Yes.”

“Your friends live in Bellevue, your school is in Bellevue, even your ballet studio is in Bellevue, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Mia replies, more uncertain now.

“Tell me then, Mia. If your entire life is in Bellevue and your family didn’t know about your involvement with the establishment located at 710 Rainier Ave, why then was Anastasia Steele, Jason Taylor, and Lucas Sawyer looking for you in Beacon Hill?”

“Fuck,” Carrick hisses under his breath, and I briefly look over to him and see him whispering something to Stephanie, who begins furiously scribbling down notes, before I look back up to Mia.

“Uh… I don’t know,” Mia hesitates. “My brother lives in Seattle. Everyone knows he and I have a close bond. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that I would run away from home and go to him.”

“But Miss Steele lives with your brother, doesn’t she? If she thought you’d run to Mr. Grey, why would she leave her apartment? Furthermore, if that was in the realm of possibility, as you say, why then did Mr. Grey go to Bellevue?”

“Objection, your honor,” Carrick says, leaping to his feet. “Surely Miss Trevelyan-Grey cannot be asked to give testimony as to the reasoning of another individual. Any answer she gives to this question will be purely speculation.”

“Your honor, I have reason to believe that the witness knows exactly why there was a party looking for her down in Beacon Hill rather than in her hometown,” Elena’s lawyer interjects.

“Overruled,” The judge says, “Please answer the question, Miss Trevelyan-Grey.”

“What was the question?” Mia asks, shaking her head as though she’s trying to orient herself.

“Why were Anastasia Steele, Jason Taylor, and Lucas Sawyer looking for you down in Beacon Hill on the night of July 5th?”

Mia looks up at Christian, her face pained as she wars with the decision over to heed his warning or do the thing she’s threatened to do since day one. I stare at her anxiously as I watch her make the decision whether to lie or tell the truth, but when she takes a deep breath and hangs her head, I know which decision she’s made. “They thought I was buying drugs,” She admits.

“So, you have a history of a drug problem?”

“No,” Mia says, quickly shaking her head but Elena’s lawyer simply turns back towards the table to pick up another file.

“Mia, what is the name of your ballet company?”

“Seattle Ballet Company…”

“The same Seattle Ballet Company who had no less than 13 of its dancers arrested for drug use on the night of May 21st at a party in the university district?”

“I wasn’t arrested,” Mia says defensively.

“But you were at that party, weren’t you?”

“Y-yes… but I-I didn’t…”

“I’d like to enter item 1-A into evidence for the court,” Elena’s lawyer says, and she pulls a few pieces of thick, glossy paper from her folder and places it on the bench for the judge. “These are photographs taken on the night of May 21st and posted to the Facebook accounts of Anita Bryant and Alexander Woods, both dancers for the Seattle Ballet Company. The first image depicts sixteen year old Amelia Grey drinking from a bottle of Grey Goose Vodka. In the second image, just barely visible in the top right corner, she is holding what appears to be a water pipe used for smoking marijuana. And, in the background of the third image, she is… I’m sorry, Miss Trevelyan-Grey, could you clarify what that white powder is? It’s a little unclear from the photograph.”

“I-I..” Mia stutters, shooting a panicked look towards Carrick, but he just looks down at the pad in front of him and starts writing notes because there isn’t anything he can do to help her.

“Mia, if you were at this party on May 21st and you we’re consuming recreational drugs the same as the other 13 people who were arrested on that night, why did you walk free?”

Mia takes a breath. “Christian came to get me.”

“Because your brother takes care of you right? That’s a personal thing to him?”

“I suppose…”

“After you were found with drugs at this party, he was the one who suggested you got a job to fill your time and keep you out of trouble, isn’t he?”

“Yes, but it was my mom’s decision.”

“Still, you ended up working in a place with connections to Grey Enterprises Holdings, the company your very protective brother is CEO and Sole Proprietor of. Is it possible, Miss Trevelyan-Grey, that it wasn’t a coincidence that you ended up there? That you ended up there specifically so that your brother could use people on his payroll to keep an eye on you and make sure you stayed out of trouble?”

“No, he didn’t know anything about that place. Elena was the one who asked me to come work there. I was specifically told not to talk to him about the club…”

“That’s right!” Elena’s lawyer says, as though she’s just remembered something. “You were given an NDA.”

“Which Elena lied about and told me was binding even though I was only sixteen.”

Elena’s lawyer smiles and then turns back to the table behind her again. “Since Mr. Grey was so kind as to provide the court with a copy of Miss Trevelyan-Grey’s NDA, I won’t submit it again, but I would like to present item 1-B into evidence, a copy of the standard NDA given to each person employed by GEH. Should the court wish to examine these documents, they would find that they are identical down to the punctuation.”

“Objection!” Carrick cries, again. “Your honor there are countless reasons those documents could be identical that have nothing to do with my client. Perhaps Mrs. Lincoln hired the same lawyer to draft them, or even simply made copies of the non-disclosure agreement she was asked to sign as an executive of Grey Enterprises Holdings herself.”

“Or this NDA came directly from Mr. Grey…” Elena’s lawyer adds, but the judge shakes his head and hands the document back to her.

“The counselor’s objection is sustained. Item 1-B will be stricken from the record.”

“Mia, can you describe for me one more time the duties you performed under your employment?” Elena’s lawyer asks, not missing a beat after her evidence was refuted by the judge. Mia does, going over the same things she’d said to Carrick only minutes ago, and to both Christian and I the night we all found out.

“But you had no involvement in financials, strategy meetings, or operations?”

“No.”

“And without being a part of the actual business side of the club, you’re comfortable testifying that Mr. Grey had no involvement in the club whatsoever?”

“Yes,” Mia says, definitely. “He didn’t know about it.”

Elena’s lawyer frowns. “Did he offer you a job at GEH?”

“Yes, he said that I could work as an interoffice courier if I wanted to, but I didn’t. I was mad at him and I didn’t want to work for him.”

“How did he take that?”

“Uh… I don’t know. He wasn’t very happy, I guess. But he got over it.”

“So when he approached you directly with a job offer, you refused him because you were angry with him?”

“Yes, that’s what I just said,” Mia retorts.

“When you started working as a waitress, did Mr. Grey know which restaurant you worked in?”

“Yes.”

“Right,” Elena’s lawyer nods, and then turns back for the table to lay her notepad down, looking as though she’s mulling something over. “Mia, would you say your brother is a man of influence?” She asks, not turning back to look at her.

“What do you mean?” Mia asks.

“Your brother. Would you describe him as a man of power or great influence, specifically over those whom he employs?”

“I mean, if he’s their boss I would guess that he has influence over them, yes.”

“And Mrs. Lincoln works for Mr. Grey, doesn’t she?”

Mia’s face falters. “Uh…”

“If Mr. Grey wasn’t happy, as you say, about your employment at an establishment where he had no way to keep an eye on you, isn’t it possible that he used his influence over one of his employees, whom he knew you trusted and whom he knew he could persuade to keep an eye on you, to meet with you in private to offer you a position that he could maintain a certain degree of control over?”

“No, he wouldn’t do that,” Mia argues, but Elena’s lawyer raises an eyebrow at her.

“You’re sure?” She ask, but Mia hesitates.

“No, I-I mean, yes. I’m sure. He wouldn’t do that to me, he would want to protect me from all of that. That’s what he does… He didn’t know about it,” There is a long moment of pause as Elena’s lawyer lets Mia stew in the uncertainty she’s stirred up with this new accusation.

“He wouldn’t do that,” Mia repeats again, but she looks up at Christian, an almost pleading look in her eyes and adds, “Right?”

I feel my heart sink as a small smirk plays in the corner of Elena’s lawyer’s lips.

“You don’t sound so certain…”

“I-I…” Mia stutters, but Elena’s lawyer cuts her off.

“Thank you, Mia,” She says. “You can get down now.”

Mia seems to flounder there for a moment, like she isn’t sure what just happened, and when she finally shuffles off the stand, she looks dazed. I bite nervously down on my lip as I look at Carrick who is squeezing the pen in his hand so hard, I’m afraid it might break in half. Christian, on the other hand, looks as though he’s in pain. I can tell by the way he stares at Mia as she shambles through the gate to retake her seat next to Elliot, that he wants to go to her, to hold her and promise her that her instincts were right and he would never betray her that way. But he can’t, the same way I can’t go to him, and so his hands shoot up and scrub angrily against the roots of his hair as the judge invites Carrick to call his next witness.

The next three hours are filled with testimonies from practically everyone who knows Christian. Ros gets on the stand to discuss the audit that was done on the salons and his professional relationship with Elena Lincoln. Elena’s lawyer unravels any good that does when she gets both Ros and later Andrea to admit that the majority of the meetings Christian had with Elena took place outside of GEH where no one else could be privy to their conversations. I know that’s because Christian only reached out to speak to Elena when he was struggling with something emotionally, and those meetings were held outside the office because he didn’t want to have a moment of weakness in front of his staff… Unfortunately, neither Ros or Andrea know that.

Taylor and I are next, and Carrick has us recount the night we found Mia with a few other questions peppered in that attempt to illustrate Christian had no knowledge of the club. Elena’s lawyer seems fairly unconcerned with our testimony as she mostly asks Taylor questions about what it is like working for Mr. Grey and me what our relationship, including our sex life, is like.

I feel a slight sting of humiliation when Elena’s lawyer finally lets me off the stand. Carrick had done what he could to try and prevent me from having to answer any of her very pointed questions which included things like, “Has he ever hit you or restrained you while you were having sex?”, but, due to the nature of the case, the judge deems Christian’s sexual preferences relevant and so Carrick’s objections were overruled. When I walk through the bar and take my place next to Grace, I feel as though I can’t even look at her.

“You may call your next witness,” The judge says to Carrick and he slowly gets out of his chair.

“I’d like to call Christian Grey to the stand,” He says and Christian takes a deep breath, exhaling very slowly, as he gets up to make his way to the stand. I make eye contact with him as he approaches the bailiff and he gives me an uncertain, almost regretful look that twists my stomach into knots before he faces the bailiff and raises his right hand.

“Do you swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you god?” The bailiff asks.

“I do,” He says, and the bailiff motions for him to have a seat.

“Mr. Grey, can you tell me when you found out about the club run by Elena Lincoln?” Carrick begins.

“About a month and a half ago…” Christian responds. “Beginning of July.”

“And how did you find out about it?” Carrick asks.

“My sister told me. She worked there and she had been…” He swallows, like he’s having a hard time saying the word. “She had been assaulted that night.”

“The same assault she told us about earlier?” Carrick asks and Christian nods. “How did you react when you found out?”

“I was pissed off,” Christian says bluntly. “I wanted to go down there and burn that building to the ground.”

“But instead…?” Carrick presses him.

“I called the police,” Christian says. “But by the time they got down there, Elena had the building cleared out. I had enough though, to know what had been there. I’d seen the proof of what was in that basement and the money that had been laundered through my company. I filed suit the next day.”

“I see,” Carrick says, and he picks up another folder and reads from it as he paces back and forth across the floor. “The money that was laundered, that all went through the salon Mrs. Lincoln manages, correct.”

“Yes.”

“Your company mostly deals in fiber optics, information technology, and telecommunications… how is it that you got involved in Escala.”

“It was a favor,” Christian says. “Elena was a… friend. She owned the one location and it was failing. I had the ability to help her but I told her that if I was going to save her business, she needed to give me control. She sold the salon to me and once I had implemented new policies and did some re-branding, I put her in charge. When we turned a profit again, I basically handed it back over to her. She joined my executive team and I got monthly updates and quarterly reports on the status of the business. It was very hands off for me.”

“It was successful though?” Carrick asks.

“Obviously, she was laundering money from an illegal prostitution ring.”

“Can we strike that from the record, your honor?” Elena’s lawyer asks, jumping to her feet. “The claimant has provided no proof as to my client’s involvement in the money laundering. As far as this court is concerned, Mr. Grey’s statement is speculation.”

“So stricken,” The judge nods. “Please continue, counselor.”

“Mr. Grey, do you know how much money was laundered through the salons each month?” Carrick asks.

“No, not definitively. Between the two Seattle locations, the salon brought in just over $160,000 in revenue for the month of June and our best estimate based on the records from the salon is that 30% of that came from the club.”

“So… just about $50,000?”

“Correct.”

“Have you done market surveys to determine the average revenue intake for salons that offer similar services to Esclava?”

“Of course I have.”

“And how does Esclava compare to those other salons?”

“We… uh, Esclava operates at about 18%-24% higher in revenue intake than it’s closest competitors.”

“And that didn’t strike you as odd?” Carrick asks.

“That’s what I do,” Christian says, “I make failing business profitable again, help them thrive and rise to the top of their industry. It’s why GEH is one of the fastest growing companies in the United States.”

“So the high profit margin was not an indicator to you that anything suspicious was going on with Esclava?”

“No, I didn’t think so. I trusted the people I put in charge. My Chief Operations Officer, Ros Bailey, took over Esclava at the beginning of the summer and had an audit done. The accountants didn’t find anything that raised concerns.”

“Really?”

“There was a high number of cash transactions, but the books were flawless. Mrs. Lincoln’s paper trail was good. The records we were able to pull on transactions made between the club and Esclava proved that quite the effort had gone into covering this up. There were fake sign in sheets, guest cards that had been filled out for people who don’t exist, tens of thousands of dollars in falsified transactions. She even disposed of product to match the volume of business she claimed to be doing so her ordering habits wouldn’t be called into question.”

“Again, your honor, the witness is speculating, not providing concrete proof for the court,” Elena’s lawyer interjects.

“She signed the fucking forms,” Christian snaps back at her. “I’m not speculating about anything.”

“I’d like to enter item 4-A into evidence, your honor,” Carrick says, calmly slipping a thick stack of papers bound together with a binder clip from the folder in his hands. “These are the records of the transactions between Kink and Esclava. Item 4-B shows the forged client records Mr. Grey mentioned, and 4-C contains the purchase orders and expense reports signed by Mrs. Lincoln.”

The judge looks through the documents for a long minute, and then pushes them aside to look at Elena’s lawyer. “Mr. Grey’s testimony will stay on the record. Counselor, you may continue your questioning.”

“Mr. Grey, you said before that you’d found out about the salons from your sister, Amelia Grey, who has worked in the club for the past few months.”

“Yes,” Christian responds.

“Are you close with your sister, Mr. Grey?”

“Yes,” Christian nods. “She’s one of the people I care most about in the entire world.”

“But you didn’t know that she was working in a BDSM club over the summer?”

“How could I? I didn’t know it existed,” Christian says, and when Carrick turns back to look at him, he sighs and starts over. “No, I didn’t know. She told me she was working at a restaurant.”

“And you took her word for that?”

“For the most part,” Christian says. “I didn’t have any reason not to believe her.”

“For the most part?” Carrick asks.

“When she first told me she got the job, I called the manager of the restaurant to verify, and once I was sure she had secured employment there, I left it alone.”

“So, it sounds like you didn’t trust her,” Carrick adds.

“Not implicitly, no,” Christian responds. “After she’d been caught with drugs at the beginning of the summer, I thought it was best to double check. She’s a good kid, I know that, and I thought having a job so that she didn’t have as much time to hang around her friends would help her stay on the right course. I was afraid they were bad influences on her. Once she got a job, I backed off. Well until…”

“Until?” Carrick presses him.

“Mia had been difficult this summer, especially towards me and my mother. We were resolving some family issues and they affected her a lot. She was lashing out. We planned a kind of mini vacation over the Fourth of July weekend and when I arrived and found out that Mia hadn’t come, I called the restaurant she worked at to speak with her. They said she didn’t work there anymore, and we all panicked so I flew home to pick her up and bring her back to my family. But, when we got back, she wouldn’t tell us what she’d been up to. We thought it was drugs. She snuck out of the house a few days later, which is why Anastasia and my security team were out looking for her when they found her with Mrs. Lincoln.”

Carrick nods, then walks back to his table to take a USB drive out of his briefcase. “Your honor, I’d like to introduce item 5-A into evidence.”

He walks over to a projector set up near the witness stand and plugs the USB into the port. When the machine hums to life, a video begins playing and I immediately recognize myself running across the street towards a scene that has haunted me for weeks.

Get your hands off of her, you evil, vile bitch!’ I scream at Elena in the video as I storm angrily into the alleyway. The camera shakes a little as Taylor runs behind me, and then the view is slightly obscured once his arms wrap around me.

“This is video taken from a body cam Jason Taylor was wearing the night Amelia Grey was discovered outside of the club,” Carrick says, and as everyone turns their attention back to the projection, I look at Christian. He tenses as he stares at the footage that I don’t think he’s seen before, and when the video cuts off with us getting into the car, he begins shaking again, the way he did that night when he found out what had happened.

“Do you recognize any of the surroundings in the video, Mr. Grey?” Carrick asks.

“No,” Christian shakes his head.

“Can you identify any of the people in the video?”

“Yes. That’s Anastasia Steele, Amelia Grey, Lucas Sawyer, and Elena Lincoln. The voice off screen belongs to Jason Taylor.”

“And it was just after this that Amelia Grey told you about what she’d really been doing all summer and what was hidden in the basement of that bar.”

“I believe so,” Christian says.

“Thank you, Mr. Grey,” Carrick says. “That’s all the questions I have for you.”

Carrick turns and walks back to take the seat next to Stephanie as the judge looks over to Elena’s lawyer. “Your witness, counselor,” He says and she gets out of her seat and again, walks very purposefully towards the bench.

“Mr. Grey, have you ever been a part of the BDSM lifestyle?” Elena’s lawyer begins.

Christian takes a deep bracing breath as this is clearly a question he doesn’t want to answer. “Yes, a few years ago.”

“For how long?’

“About four years.”

“But you’re no longer in the lifestyle?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because I fell in love. I met my girlfriend and she wasn’t involved in the lifestyle and had no interest in it, so I left it behind me. I moved on.”

“Your girlfriend, Anastasia Steele?”

“Yes.”

“You broke up with her for a while, didn’t you?”

He swallows. “Yes, but we’re back together now and have been for several months.”

“And while you were separated for those two years, did you ever consider going back to the BDSM lifestyle?”

“No.”

“And to clarify once more, your sexual relationship with Anastasia Steele does not involve BDSM?”

“No,” Christian repeats, agitated now. “It doesn’t.”

“Hmm,” Elena’s lawyer hums, as though she’s confused. She turns around and reaches into an accordion file to remove a few sheets of glossy paper. “I’d like to enter item 1-B into evidence for the court.”

She places the papers on the bench and as the judge flips through them, Christian turns to glance at them as well. When he sees what’s in the judge’s hand however, he freezes.

“These are photographs taken on June 8th by TMZ. They depict Anastasia Steele leaving a BDSM themed sex shop. If your sexual relationship isn’t of a BDSM nature, why is it that Miss Steele was photographed at this store?”

“Uh…” Christian stutters, clearly trying to come up with a plausible explanation since we both know that I actually had gone to that shop to look at BDSM equipment. “That store is not exclusively tailored to the BDSM community. They cater to all sexual tastes and preferences.”

“Right,” Elena’s lawyer nods and she slips another sheet of paper out of the folder in her hands. “Your honor, I’d like to submit item 1-C into evidence. These are purchase orders for the establishment located at 710 Rainier Ave. Please note that the equipment purchased came from the same store that is pictured in evidence item 1-B.”

“Also notice those purchase orders are signed by Elena Lincoln,” Christian says.

“The woman you clearly trust your business to,” Elena’s lawyer adds and Christian rolls his eyes.

“I trusted her with a salon that she started,” Christian snaps. “She’s the one involved in the BDSM community, she’s been a Dominatrix for years. It’s her club.”

“Mr. Grey, you own your company right?” Elena’s lawyer asks. “You’re the sole proprietor and fiduciary?”

“Yes.”

“And when you need something for your company, say a laptop or a new set of business cards, do you fill out a purchase order, or do you buy what you need?”

“I-I…” He stutters. “I would buy it but…”

“You would buy it,” Elena’s lawyer repeats. “You would buy it because as owner and primary fiduciary, filling out a purchase order would essentially be redundantly asking yourself for money, isn’t that correct, Mr. Grey?”

“Well, yes…”

“So why then would Elena Lincoln need to fill out a purchase order to buy items for a club that she owned?”

“I don’t know, maybe she just wasn’t thinking clearly. She’s not very good at business.” Christian argues.

“Exactly. She isn’t. The only business she ever owned failed until, by your own admission, you took control and turned it around. Yet the club in question is somehow successful enough to pump tens of thousands of dollars into your company each month.”

Christian stutters for a moment, and Elena’s lawyer jumps in again.

“Mrs. Lincoln had to fill out a purchase order to buy the items needed for the club because she needed approval from you. Didn’t she, Mr. Grey.”

“Objection your honor,” Carrick says. “A purchase order signed by Mrs. Lincoln in no way implicates my client’s knowledge of the club or involvement in its financials. To suggest otherwise is entirely fallacious.”

“I’d like to submit item 2-C into evidence, your honor,” Elena’s lawyer says quickly. She pulls out a small stack of papers from her folder and places them on the bench. “These are reimbursement records from GEH to Esclava salons. Please note that the highlighted dates and reimbursement amounts for the miscellaneous expenses perfectly match the purchase orders from the sex shop in evidence item 1-C.”

“Those reimbursements are for salon expenses,” Christian says defensively. “Esclava is a business, it incurs expenses.”

“Such as?” Elena’s lawyer presses him.

“Product, furniture, supplies, magazine subscriptions…” Christian lists, but Elena’s lawyer cuts him off.

“The majority of those are numerated expenses on the reimbursement record, Mr. Grey. Do you expect this court to believe that Esclava salons incurred over $5,000 in magazine subscription charges for the month of June?”

“Of course not,” Christian begins but she stops him again.

“Because that’s not what it’s for, is it, Mr. Grey?” She says. “Those miscellaneous expenses are approved by you and intended for the club located under the establishment at 710 Rainier Ave.”

“No,” Christian says firmly, but Elena’s lawyer moves on.

“Let’s backtrack a little, Mr. Grey,” She says, walking back to her table and setting down her file before picking up another one. “I’d like to readdress your claim that the relationship you share with Anastasia Steele is in no way connected with BDSM.”

“I’ve already said that it isn’t.”

“Your honor, I’d like to submit item 1-D into evidence for the court,” She says, and even I feel a wave of exasperation as I watch her pull out another small stack of papers. “These are phone records for Elena Lincoln. Please note the highlighted call at 10:15 PM on June 18th of this year.” She takes out a second copy of the phone records and hands them to Christian. “Mr. Grey, is that your number on the highlighted line?”

“Yes,” Christian says tersely.

“And could you tell the court what that phone call was about?”

Christian grits his teeth again, but doesn’t answer. However, Elena’s lawyer seems undeterred by his reticence. “I have a recording of the call, if you’d like for me to play it for you, Mr. Grey.”

“I-I…” He stutters, and my eyes widen as I realize what that call was about. Christian’s eyes shoot to Carrick, but Elena’s lawyer presses him again.

“Should I play the call, Mr. Grey?”

“No…” Christian begins, but he’s cut off once again.

“Then please tell the court what the phone call that occurred between you and Mrs. Lincoln on the night of June 18th was regarding,” Christian doesn’t answer right away so Elena’s lawyer jumps in again. “I’d be happy to have Mrs. Lincoln explain the phone call to the court when she’s on the stand, Mr. Grey, but you’ll miss your opportunity to give us your own account. If you’d like to leave it up to her…”

“Fine,” He says, shaking his head. “It was my birthday, my girlfriend and I were trying some new things and we… I encountered a problem. I contacted Elena because she was an experienced Domme.”

“No…” Grace whispers under her breath, and I have to look away when she turns her head sharply in my direction.

“To be clear, you called her because you encountered a problem while practicing BDSM sex with your girlfriend on the night of June 18th.”

“Yes,” He says, quietly.

“So you haven’t lost your interest in the BDSM lifestyle?”

“It was something I tried with my girlfriend,” He says defensively. “My girlfriend and I share an exciting and wonderfully fulfilling sexual relationship that in general is unrelated to BDSM. This was a one time occurrence.”

“Right,” Elena’s lawyer says. She returns to her table and pulls a USB out of her accordion file and carries it over to the same projector Carrick used.

“Jesus Christ,” Christian says, shaking his head and scrubbing his hands over his face. Elena’s lawyer gives him a tight smile.

“Your honor, I’d like to submit item 1-E into evidence. Security footage from the executive suite at GEH on April 8th of this year. Mr. Grey’s suite.”

The footage we’d watched on Taylor’s computer of Elena entering Christian’s office with the brown haired submissive in toe, flashes on the screen. We watch it in its entirety, remaining silent through the long 10 minutes until Elena and the girl return into the shot of the camera. When the footage cuts out, the courtroom is silent.

“Mr. Grey, do you know the name of the woman in the video accompanying Mrs. Lincoln into your office?”

“No,” He says quietly.

“I’d like to submit item 2-E and 3-E into evidence, Your Honor,” Elena’s lawyer says, and again, she places papers on the bench. “2-E is a copy of the security sign in sheet from Mr. Grey’s office on April 8th. The name Rebecca Davis is highlighted and her sign-in matches the date and time stamp on the security footage. Item 3-E is Rebecca Davis’s employment records at Kink, the BDSM club in the underground rooms of the establishment located at 710 Rainier Ave.” She turns back to Christian. “She’s a sexual submissive who works in an establishment you claim to know nothing about but that launders tens of thousands of dollars into your company and seems to cater to your sexual desires. And she spent ten minutes alone with you in your office. How do you explain that, Mr. Grey?”

“She came with Elena,” Christian says, and to my surprise, his tone is even. I knew this was coming and it still feels like it’s hit me with the force of a wrecking ball. He doesn’t seem to feel the same sense of defeat that I feel rising inside this courtroom like a poisonous gas. “Elena was my friend, my closest friend. I confided in her, we spent time together, we talked…” He pauses. “I took my break up with Anastasia hard and she was trying to help me move on. She said I needed get back out there so she tried to introduce me to some girls. I politely refused. I had no idea where that girl came from, and Elena never told me. There was no reason for me to believe that she was a part of an underground prostitution ring that was laundering money into my company. For the millionth time today, I did not know about the existence of that club in any regard.”

“Really, Mr. Grey?” Elena’s lawyer says, “I have one more piece of evidence I’d like to present, your honor.”

She turns around and reaches back into her accordion file to pull out a second USB drive. “I present to the court, item 1-F. Security footage taken from the front entrance of the establishment located at 710 Rainier Ave on December 31st 2009.”

She plugs the USB drive into the projector and we all sit a little straighter as we turn to watch the footage roll. For the first few seconds, we see nothing but a fairly empty street with the occasional set of headlights speeding past. Eventually though, a black town car pulls up alongside the curb and when the back door opens, Christian steps out onto the sidewalk.

I gasp, my hand involuntarily shooting up to cover my mouth as I watch him look up at the bar and then back down at his phone. He shakes his head slightly and then walks forward, opens the door, and then disappears inside.

Grace’s hand clamps down around mine, squeezing tightly, but my immediate reaction is to turn to Carrick. He’s staring at the projector, mouth agape in shock, and as I watch the realization dawn on him, and his body seemingly begins to deflate as the weight of the crushing blow finally hits him, I feel a sudden wave of nausea.

“You didn’t know about the club, Mr. Grey?” Elena’s lawyer asks, a slight ring of victory in her tone.

Christian doesn’t answer. His eyes dart back and forth as though he’s trying to remember something, and after a long minute or so of silence, he looks up at Elena and the confusion in his expression melts away and is replaced by anger.

“You set me up,” He whispers, incredulously. “You told me you picked that place because it was an out of the way dive bar and no one would recognize me there.”

“Mr. Grey…” Elena’s lawyer says, but this time, Christian is the one to cut her off.

“No, I was there because New Year’s is always a hard time for me. It was our… and we were broken up… and Elena didn’t want me to be alone. She asked me to meet her for a drink and I agreed. She picked the bar, she sent me the address, she asked me to meet her there. I called a town car because I’d already been drinking. I don’t remember most of that night, except that I had a drink with her, several drinks with her, and then I went home. I didn’t even know where the bar was… But, it was just a bar.”

“Just a bar that moonlights as an underground BDSM club,” Elena’s lawyer says, her voice harder now. “A lifestyle that you spent four years being a part of and have admitted to the court that you find arousing.”

“No,” Christian shakes his head. “I didn’t know…”

“Mr. Grey, do you actually expect this court to believe that you had no knowledge of an illegal business pumping tens of thousands of dollars of profit into your company each month, profits that you used to benefit your entire company as a whole, when those profits came from a salon chain that up until a year and a half ago was on the verge of bankruptcy?”

“I didn’t know,” Christian repeats.

“You admitted yourself that those salons operated at an extremely high profit margin, even compared to your closest competitors in your area. None of that rang any warning bells for you?”

“No, I’ve already said that,” Christian snaps, clearly getting angrier the more Elena’s lawyer pushes him. “I had those salons audited and the audit came back clean.”

“No, you didn’t have those salons audited,” Elena’s lawyer argues. “Your COO did. But you made sure that you were in the room, that you were involved in every step of the process so that you would have control over how that audit went, didn’t you, Mr. Grey?”

“Of course I was there, Esclava was a division of my company. I make it my business to know everything about my company.”

“You were making sure that your secret wasn’t uncovered,” She accuses him.

“No.”

“Kink is your business isn’t it, Mr. Grey?” Elena’s lawyer asks, practically yelling now. “You opened this club to bolster the profits of your company while also satisfying your own sexual perversions.”

“No, that’s not…”

“You used Mrs. Lincoln’s connections in the BDSM community to find submissives that fit your tastes and then you used your position of authority over her to force her to operate this illegal business for you. You had her hand deliver the girls you took an interest in to your office, you forced these girls into prostitution, including your sister, so that you could feel power over them all because you couldn’t get over your break up with Anastasia Steele and domination has become an obsession for you. Isn’t that right, Mr. Grey?”

“Carrick,” Stephanie hisses, elbowing him in the side. “Do something.” But Carrick still looks as though he’s working through the shock as he watches the scene unfolding in front of him. Christian seems a little too flustered, maybe too angry to answer, so Elena’s lawyer continues on her tirade.

“And when you and Anastasia Steele got back together, and she had caught you and found out what you’d done, you threw your most loyal employee under the bus and tried to pin it on her, didn’t you?”

“I-I…” Christian stutters.

“Didn’t you, Mr. Grey?” Elena’s lawyer shouts, but Stephanie leaps to her feet.

“Objection your honor, Counsel is badgering the witness. Mr. Grey cannot be expected to provide accurate and truthful testimony under Ms. Novik’s hostile line of questioning.”

“Sustained,” the judge nods. “Please remember yourself, counselor.”

Elena’s lawyer backs away from the stand, straightening her suit jacket as she turns to look at the judge.

“I have no further questions, your honor,” She says, and she turns and walks confidently back to the table where she takes the seat next to a very satisfied looking Elena Lincoln.

“Wait, I-I…” Christian says, but the judge turns and raises a hand to silence him.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, your testimony has been concluded. Please step down.”

Christian’s face is blank as he turns to look at his father but Carrick is a mirror of his son right now. I can see it in his face. He doesn’t know what to do, there isn’t a step forward from here.

“Counselor,” The judge prods him when Christian finally takes his seat on the other side of Stephanie. “You may call your next witness.”

He sits up a little straighter, quickly sorting through his papers, clearly scrambling for something to move onto, but there isn’t anything. We’ve presented everything we have…

“Mr. Grey, do you have any further witnesses to call or evidence to present?” The judge asks, but after another second’s pause, Carrick lets out a defeated breath and shakes his head.

“No, your honor.”

“Then we will adjourn for the day,” The judge says. “The defense will call its first witness when we reconvene tomorrow morning at 9 AM.” He slams his gavel down on the stand and the bailiff once again calls for everyone to rise. Once the judge has exited, the courtroom is filled with the loud drone of people talking and moving as they begin to file out. Christian is through the gate very quickly, and as soon as he’s within reach, I wrap my arms around him.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

“I didn’t know, Ana. I swear to you,” He says, pleading, and as I look up into his steel colored eyes and see the sincerity reflected there, I nod.

“I believe you, Christian,” I tell him.

His arms wrap around me again as he pulls me tightly into his chest, and I feel his lips press into my hair as I listen to the sound of his heart beating furiously in his chest.

“Let’s get home,” Carrick says, sounding a little shaken up. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Christian nods and we make our way through the gap between the benches and the bar towards the main aisle. When we get there though, Elena and her lawyer are just stepping through the gate.

“It’s not too late, Christian. It doesn’t have to be this way,” Elena hisses very quickly. “Meet me for a drink tonight and we can discuss how to get you out of this mess.”

“Fuck you, Elena,” Christian says angrily, but Elena simply gives him a tight lipped smile.

“When you change your mind, you’ll know where to find me. You’ve been there before.” She shoots a cold look at Carrick before turning and following after her lawyer and we all stand and watch her leave with a mixture of disbelief and overwhelming fear.

“How could you not tell me you’d been there before?” Carrick yells once we’re back at Escala. He’s pacing across the great room floor, his hands running through his hair and leaving it in the same chaotic mess Christian’s is in.

“I didn’t know that I had,” Christian says. “I’d only been there the one time and I was already a little drunk. I didn’t even remember that night until I saw that video. How was I supposed to know that that was the bar she owned? I didn’t even know she owned a bar!”

“Do you understand how fucked we are, Christian? How fucked you are? The best we had for this trial was Mia, and Novik made her look like a spoiled drug addict who didn’t know what she was talking about, and you… ” He shakes his head. “You look guilty, Christian.”

“But I’m not… nothing they have proves I knew anything. It doesn’t look good, I’ll admit that but they don’t have proof…”

We don’t have proof. The money went through your company, Christian. Don’t you understand what that means? Why would someone launder money into another person’s business? What does Elena get out of that?”

“A place to practice BDSM,” Christian says. “A way to feel power over other people… Besides, we only know about the money she tried to make legitimate. We don’t know how much money she’d siphoned off to the side. And, I might own Esclava, but she runs it. The more money the salon makes, the more money she makes. There are plenty of reasons for her to do what she did…”

“But none that we can prove, and they did an excellent job of making you look responsible, Christian. The justice system isn’t perfect, this is going to come down to the decision of that one man sitting on the bench. Appearances are often just as important as facts in a legal proceeding and you appear to be guilty. All Novik has to do is put Elena on the stand tomorrow and let her tell some sad sob story about how you threatened her livelihood or to expose her predilection to BDSM to the world if she didn’t help you. You have power over her and it’s going to be the thing that lets her go free.”

“What do you mean go free?” Christian asks.

“Elena is not going to be arrested for this, Christian. You are,” Carrick says and Christian’s eyes widen.

“But, you said… both of us.”

“That was before. We’re not in the before anymore.”

“But I’m innocent,” Christian argues. “I didn’t know anything about that club. I did the right thing. I called the police the moment I found out about it, I shut it down, I gave testimony knowing that I could face repercussions… I did the right thing. There has to be something we can do.”

“I don’t have a way to clear your name, Christian,” Carrick shakes his head. “I warned you this could happen. I told you we shouldn’t have gone to trial.”

Christian stares back at his father blankly, looking utterly and completely shocked. He really had hoped, and now Carrick has taken that hope away.

“What am I looking at?” Christian asks, the first real note of defeat apparent in his voice.

“Money laundering, Prostitution, and underage sex trafficking?” Carrick muses. “25 to life. I can probably swing you parole after five years, but you’re going to lose your company, all of your assets…”

“Is there a way we can transfer control of GEH to Ros?” He asks.

“Maybe,” Carrick shrugs, “I’ll try.”

Christian nods and then is quiet for another long moment. “Well, you all wanted me to face consequences for what I did two years ago. I guess that’s what this is… This really is my fault.”

“No,” Carrick shakes his head again, and when he looks up there are tears in his eyes. “Christian, I’m so sorry. I should have never shut you out the way I did. You needed my help and I turned my back on you because I was angry. You went to her because I drove you to her. Again. This is my fault. I’m so, so sorry…”

“Stop,” I say, looking between the two of them in disgust. “Stop talking like we’ve already lost. This is not how this is going to end. There has to be something we can do…”

“Ana, we’ve done…”

“Taylor!” I yell, and then turn towards the foyer to wait for him to appear.

“Yes, Miss Steele?” He asks.

“Get Luke and Welch on the phone. Tell them to start digging for anything that can connect Elena to the club and proves that she, and only she, owns it. Tell them not to stop until they find something.”

“Yes, Miss Steele,” Taylor says, but by the time he turns back to his office, I’ve rounded back on Carrick.

“Elena’s going to testify tomorrow, and you’re going to get to cross examine her. Christian looks guilty because Elena’s lawyer made him look guilty, now it’s your turn to do the same to Elena.”

“Ana, she’s obviously been preparing for this for months, years maybe. I doubt I’m going to be able to…”

“Just do your fucking job, Carrick!” I yell at him and he looks at me surprised for a moment, but surprisingly, instead of retaliating, he gets up and nods.

“I’ll… be at my office if you find anything,” He says, and I nod. Christian doesn’t move until we’re alone again and once we are, he gets off the couch and wraps me in his arms again.

“Ana,” He whispers. “I love you…”

“Don’t!” I snap. “Don’t you dare say good-bye to me.”

“You heard my dad, Ana…” He says. “What am I supposed to do?”

I step back, removing his arms around me so that we’re no longer touching and then look very purposefully into his eyes as I try to fight back the tears that begin to well at the prospect of what I’m about to say.

“Call her,” I tell him, and he raises an eyebrow at me.

“What?”

“Elena. Call her, meet with her, talk to her. She says she has an out… take it.”

“Ana…” Christian says very carefully. “You know that whatever she has planned is going to hurt someone, someone that I love. I can’t hurt someone else just to protect myself. I did that once and it nearly ruined my life, and the lives of everyone around me, including you. I won’t do that again.”

“I can’t you lose you, Christian. Please,” I beg, but he just looks back at me with a pained expression before wrapping me in his arms again.

“I’m going to take care of you, Ana,” He promises. “I’ll find a way.”

The dam bursts and I let out a long, choking sob into his pristine white shirt. He holds me for a few minutes, letting me cry and trying to find a way to comfort me without telling me it’s going to be okay. Because we both know, at this point, that it won’t be.

“Give me an hour,” He says at last. “I need to make some phone calls to make sure everything is in order before…” His voice cuts off as he’s seemingly unwilling to say the words out loud, and it causes me to break down all over again.

“One hour,” He promises. “And then the rest of the night will just be you and me, okay?”

“I need some time,” I tell him. “I need to process…”

“What do you mean?” He asks.

“I need to get out of this apartment. I need to get out of here.”

“Ana… There’s press outside.”

“I’ll just, I’ll go downstairs to my old apartment. I’ll wait there for you to finish whatever you’re going to do. Just let me know when you’re done.”

“You’re sure?” He asks.

“Please.”

I can tell he wants to argue, but he doesn’t. He just nods his head and leans down to kiss me. A long, lingering kiss filled with the weight of all of the words hanging between us that neither of us can bring ourselves to say.

“I love you,” He whispers when he pulls away.

“I love you, too,” I tell him. His arms untangle from around my waist again and I watch as he slowly makes his way across the great room. Once I hear the door to his office close, I head into the foyer, step into the elevator, and press the button for the 14th floor.

There isn’t much left in my old apartment, mostly things Christian had bought to furnish and decorate the place, but there are a few clothes still hanging in my closet and box in the back that is filled with a few of my personal keepsakes and a wad of $20 bills. I take the cash and then make my way out of the apartment and back towards the elevators. My car is under surveillance via a camera feed that goes directly into Taylor’s office, so rather than push the button for the garage, I head down to the lobby and then out to the street so that I can hail a cab. With one last look up at towards the top floor, I take a deep breath and climb into the back seat.

“Where can I take you Miss?” The taxi driver asks.

“Beacon Hill,” I respond. “710 Rainier Avenue.”

Next Chapter

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