Chapter 39

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My chest feels empty sitting in the back seat of the SUV outside of the King County Correctional Facility. It’s been hours since I heard the loud, definite thud of the judge’s gavel fall against the bench and watched as the bailiff came forward, put Christian in handcuffs, and took him away. A lot of things happened very quickly after that. Kate came with me as Taylor whisked me away into the back seat of the SUV so we could meet Elliot at the bank to withdraw cash to pay Christian’s bail. She tried to get me to stop and eat something, knowing it was going to take Christian hours to be processed before he was released, but my appetite is non-existent. Instead, I asked her to stay with Elliot and then Taylor and I drove straight to the jail where Christian had been taken. Now, I’m waiting just inside the gate, far enough away from the street where, thankfully, the photographers waiting to get the first shot of Christian walking out of jail, can’t see me through the tinted glass of the SUV.

The waiting is the hardest part right now. I’ve prepared myself for this exact scenario, had a plan in place for what I was going to do, but this hours of not being able to do anything was never a part of my plan, and I think having things to do was the only thing getting me through this.

It shouldn’t have been this way. None of it should have been this way. As I stare at the doors to the jail that haven’t opened even once since I’ve been sitting here, I almost have to squint through the bright rays of sunlight beaming down through the empty space in front of me. The small digital screen in the dash tells me that it’s a beautiful 81 degrees outside right now, the perfect day to be walking along the waterfront or maybe even spending the afternoon on Alki beach. There’s a pre-season game for the Seahawks at Qwest tomorrow that Christian and I could have gone to, and maybe on Sunday we could have gone up to Rainier National Park and rode mountain bikes on some of the trails, like Elliot talked about all last winter. All in all, this weekend had all the makings of being an amazing way to wind down the summer, but instead I’m in the backseat of a car, not knowing what even the next few hours hold for me, let alone the last few weeks until term starts. Not that that matters now anyway.

I’ve already made the call to Harvard to inform the admissions office I won’t be returning for the fall semester. Kate fought me hard on that one. She pleaded with me for probably forty-five minutes, yelled at me, even threatened to write to Ray… but there’s no way I can go back to Cambridge and leave Christian to go through this alone. Any minute he and Carrick are going to come out those doors and we’re going to be facing one the toughest legal battles we’ve ever had to go through.

The memory of Carrick’s face in the foyer of Christian’s apartment in Escala flashes across my mind. The look of defeat, completely devoid of any hope.

“Miss Steele,” Taylor says, calling my attention from the driver’s seat. “They’re coming up the walk now.”

I turn my head sharply back towards the doors and see Christian and Carrick quickly walking towards the SUV. Carrick seems to be attempting to shield Christian from the blinding flashing coming from behind me, but I’m not sure how successful he’s being, so I preemptively turn off my phone to avoid the inevitable Google Alerts that will follow. Christian looks pale, a little gaunt even, like he’s just seen a ghost or something. He looks intently at the SUV, narrowing his eyes as if he’s trying to see through the dark glass, and I know he’s looking for me.

I’m here, Christian.

I take a deep gasping breath as I’m jolted awake from my nightmare, still haunted by the look on Christian’s face as he left the jail with his father. My heart is racing and my breathing is rapid and shallow, but relief washes over me as I realize that the second day of the trial hasn’t happened, and Christian hasn’t been charged with anything yet. It was a dream, but in just a few short hours, it most likely will be reality.

I turn to wake Christian, wanting desperately to feel his arms around me and to tell him again just how much I love him, but he isn’t in the bed next to me. A frown crosses my lips as I look over to the bathroom door, thinking perhaps he’s gotten up to take a shower, but the light is off. There aren’t any noises coming from the apartment either. I look up at the ceiling thinking perhaps he’s in the gym, or maybe in his office trying to take care of some last minute things before we have to leave. Either way, I need to get up and get ready to go.

I take my cell phone off the charger on the nightstand and when I glance down at it, I feel a rush of panic. It’s 8:15 and I’m already supposed to be at the courthouse.

“Shit!” I hiss as I throw back the comforter and run into the bathroom. I don’t have time for a full shower so I throw my hair up into a messy bun on top of my head and slip into the cascading water before it’s had time to warm up, just to rinse off. Once I’m done, I apply the bare minimum make up I can get away with, spray my hair with hairspray to tame any flyaways, and then race into the closet to get dressed for court. The whole process takes only eight minutes, but I’m so late that I don’t have any time to slow down. Why didn’t Christian wake me up?

“Christian?” I call as I hurry into the living room, throwing my bag over my shoulder. He doesn’t answer. I look back towards the kitchen, but it’s empty. There isn’t any music or noise from the treadmill coming down the stairs, but it’s so late, I know he can’t be working out. I turn around to check his office, but he isn’t there either. Did he… leave without me?

Taylor is waiting for me when I get back into the living room, looking expectantly at me. “Are you ready, Miss Steele?” He asks.

“Yeah, did Christian leave already?” I ask him, but he frowns.

“Mr. Grey? He’s not with you?”

“No.”

Taylor looks down at his watch and I watch the muscle in his jaw tighten. “We have to leave now or you’re not going to be able to get in the courtroom,” He says. “I’m sure Mr. Grey is already down there.” There is a hint of irritation in his voice that I recognize from the days when I used to ditch Prescott. Clearly, Taylor doesn’t approve of Christian being out on his own, but I suppose I understand him needing some time to himself to sort through this thoughts. I just wish I hadn’t lost this last morning with him…

“Well, let’s get down there then,” I say and Taylor steps aside so I can lead the way to the elevator.

Once we get to the garage, we make our way up the ramp to where the cars are parked, and I notice that my Lincoln is gone. I furrow my brow as I wonder why Christian would take my car instead of the Bugatti or his Mercedes. That concern is pushed aside though as I climb into the back of the SUV, and Taylor quickly navigates his way out into the tightly packed early morning traffic.

Carrick is waiting on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse again, pacing furiously back and forth as he waits. It’s 8:45 and I was prepared to have to run inside, so it’s weird that he’s still out here waiting for me.

Once the SUV comes to a stop, Carrick looks over at the car with obvious irritation but his face goes blank with confusion when I step out of the car and close the door behind me.

“Where’s Christian?” He asks, looking around to the other side of the SUV as though he’s expecting someone to be walking around. When Taylor pulls away though, Carrick’s eyes widen and he turns a more stern look back on me. “Where is Christian, Anastasia?”

“Isn’t he here?” I ask, and Carrick shakes his head.

“If he was here, why would I be out here?” He demands, but as I stand there gaping back at him, struggling to find the words to respond, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cell phone. I watch him as he holds the phone up to his ear and then almost immediately yanks it away again. “His phone is off,” He says angrily.

I bite down into my lip as I reach into my purse for my own cell phone and scroll through my recent calls for Christian’s name, but just as Carrick said, it doesn’t even ring before I hear the robotic, “You have reached the voicemail box of…

“Did Taylor say anything?” Carrick asks me as I pull the phone away from my ear dejectedly, but I shake my head.

“He didn’t know he was gone either. He’d already left by the time I woke up. I just thought he needed some alone time before…” I pause, my thoughts now racing through the consequences of his absence. “What happens if he doesn’t show up?”

“Well, since he’s already testified, the judge isn’t likely to dismiss… He’ll most likely allow Elena to present the evidence she has, but depending on the what the judge decides… I might not be able to cross examine her.”

“So we’ll lose?” I clarify, and Carrick nods.

“I can’t see any way we wouldn’t, and if charges end up being brought against Christian, which is what we expect, the court will issue a warrant for his arrest.”

I shoot a nervous look down the street, hoping to see my Lincoln coming towards us, but the streets are only filled with the typical morning traffic jam.

“Come on,” Carrick says, after another minute or so. “Let’s get inside and see if we can stall.”

He hooks his fingers around my arm and leads me inside, which is good because my eyes are trained on the road behind us rather than where we’re going. Once we’re in the building, he releases me and we hurry up the corridor towards the courtroom we were in yesterday. To my surprise, we see Elena’s lawyer pacing back and forth in front of the doors hissing angrily into her cell phone.

“Just get here,” She snaps. She hangs up the phone and takes a deep breath before turning around towards Carrick and I.”

“Grey,” She says, a little surprised, but that shock quickly wears off and is replaced with a smug smirk. “You know, the entire time I was a prosecutor, I’d wanted to go up against you in court? In fact, you moving to general practice was the thing that made me finally make the leap to defense. I thought you were the best. They told me you were a shark in the courtroom, but it seems to me you’re nothing more than… chum.”

“Not everyone is so adept at fabricating narratives and manipulating evidence to tell lies, Novik,” Carrick replies. “That’s not the way I practice. I don’t win on deceit.”

“Oh please,” She says, rolling her eyes. “You’ve lost your nerve. You used to be a force to be reckoned with but ever since you’ve lost your firm, you haven’t been the same. Your blood’s in the water, Grey. And me? I am a shark.”

She struts past us into the courtroom, but Carrick doesn’t seem to be affected much by her arrogant attitude. He simply glances over his shoulder one last time, looking towards the main doors, and then ushers me inside after her.

“Where’s Christian?” Elliot asks once we’ve walked up the aisle to where Christian’s entire family has already taken their seats.

“He’s not here,” Carrick replies tersely, and Elliot frowns and then looks up towards Elena’s lawyer.

“Elena’s not here either,” Elliot tells us and we both look up to the front of the courtroom to the empty seat next to Anne Novik.

“Fuck,” Carrick hisses. His hands ball into fist as he takes a long, shaky breath. “He’s with her. He’s going to do it again…”

“No,” I shake my head, unwilling to believe that Christian would ever even consider what Elena proposed, but Carrick ignores me and turns to scan the courtroom.

“Where’s Ros?” He asks.

Kate shakes her head. “She didn’t come.”

“Find out where she is,” He says and I nod, reach into my purse for my phone again, and dial the number for Christian’s office.

“Christian Grey’s office, Olivia Blandino speaking. How may I direct your call?” Christian’s new receptionist answers.

“Olivia, this is Anastasia Steele. Can I speak with Ros Bailey, please?”

“Oh, Miss Steele! I’m sorry, Miss Bailey isn’t in the office this morning. Can I take a message for you?”

“No, is… uh, is Christian there?” I ask, hopefully.

“No, ma’am. He’s been out all week.”

“What about Andrea?”

“Yeah, Andrea’s here. Hold one second please,” She says, and I listen to her muffled voice for a second until Andrea’s voice comes through the speaker.

“Hi, Ana. What can I do for you?” She asks.

“Do you know where Ros is?” I ask.

“No. Mr. Grey sent her somewhere on his plane early this morning, I think around 5 AM, but I wasn’t sent an itinerary.”

I can almost feel all the blood draining out of my face as I look up at Carrick and slowly shake my head. “Thank you, Andrea.”

“Sure thing, Ana. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.”

“I will. Bye.” I hang up the phone and put it away without making eye contact with Christian’s father. “He put her on a plane this morning.” I say quietly and all I hear in response is his sharp inhale.

“He’s hiding her because he’s going to take the fucking deal. God damn it! I can’t believe he’d do something like this,” Carrick says incredulously. “I really thought he’d changed.”

“Something like what?” Elliot asks. “What deal?”

“Elena’s deal,” Carrick says and as Elliot’s mouth pops open, I step forward.

“So don’t let him,” I say emphatically. “He’s scared and he’s trapped. I was ready to take the deal too until I found out what it was and I’m not even the one facing prison. But if you fight for him, if you go into this with everything you have and you make this court see that Elena is guilty, then he doesn’t have to take the deal. Just fight for him, Carrick. Please don’t give up on him.”

He looks down at me with an emotion I can’t quite get a read on but before he can answer the bailiff calls the court to attention and asks for everyone to rise for Judge Ramsdell. Carrick hurries forward through the gate and whispers something into Stephanie’s ear while we all file into the benches and stare apprehensively at the judge, who looks between the two empty tables in front of him, perplexed.

“Counselors, where are your clients?” He asks, and Elena’s lawyer steadily rises out of her seat.

“There’s an accident on the I-5, your honor. Traffic has been almost completely shut down, but my client is on her way here. She should be here any min-“

Her words are drowned out by the loud creak of the doors to the courtroom opening behind us, and we all turn to look in the direction of the sound. Christian is standing at the back of the courtroom, holding open the door while Elena strolls past him and I immediately feel an unwelcome surge of deja vu that has my stomach seized up in knots. Please don’t do this, Christian.

“Good of you to join us,” The judge says, tapping his fingers on the bench as Christian and Elena walk up the aisle and through the gate towards their respective sides of the courtroom. He doesn’t look at me as he passes and it brings up the dry ache in my throat that I’ve so far managed to repel.

This is part of the deal. A small, condescending voice says in the back of my mind. He has to leave you now.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Carrick hisses as Christian takes his seat but he just shakes his head as he pushes his chair into the table.

“I’m taking care of things,” He says flatly, and I can see the fire ignite behind Carrick’s eyes.

“Please tell me you didn’t make a deal wi-” Carrick pleads, but he’s cut off by the judge asking for Elena’s lawyer to call her first witness.

Elena’s lawyer stands and calls someone named Madeleine Moreau to the stand. I turn and watch one of the brown haired girls seated in the benches across the aisle from us stand and make her way through the bar and towards the bailiff. Once she’s sworn in and takes the stand, Elena’s lawyer identifies her as the girl from the security video she’d entered into evidence the day before. It’s a short testimony as the only thing Elena’s lawyer asks of her is to confirm that the meeting she had with Christian in his office was sexual in nature, which she does. Once Elena’s lawyer is finished she thanks Madeleine for her testimony and we anxiously turn our attention to Carrick as he rises out of his seat to begin his cross examination.

“Good morning, Miss Moreau,” Carrick says as he walks towards the bench. “Can you tell me how long you’ve worked for Mrs. Lincoln?”

“About eight months,” She replies.

“And how often do you work?”

“Three or four nights a week.

“Do you see any other clients besides Mr. Grey outside of the club?” Carrick asks and the girl shakes her head.

“No, he’s a special client.”

“Special?” Carrick asks.

“Yes, Mrs. Lincoln said he couldn’t go to the club because he’s a high profile businessman. His presence would attract attention so girls had to be brought to him.”

“But he is a client?” Carrick clarifies. “Not an owner.”

The girl pauses. “Uh… Well, no. He’s… I mean, Mrs. Lincoln said that he was the owner, I just think of him as a client.”

“Right,” Carrick says nodding. “Because your job isn’t to know about the business side or how the club works. Your job is to satisfy the customers.”

“Yes,” She says.

“And Mr. Grey is one of your customers?”

“Yes,” She repeats.

“So, just so I’m absolutely clear here, you have had sexual relations with Mr. Christian Grey?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“In his office.”

“Where in his office?”

“Uh…” She stammers, looking a little uncomfortable as she glances over towards Elena. “On his desk.”

“How?”

“Excuse me?”

“How did you have sex?” Carrick repeats and Elena’s lawyer gets to her feet.

“Objection, your honor. Surely the witness shouldn’t be forced to answer such deeply personal questions that have no relevance to the outcome of this trial whatsoever,” She says.

“I’m sorry, are these not the same kind of questions Anastasia Steele was asked yesterday?” Carrick interjects. “I could have the court reporter read Ms. Steele’s testimony back to you if you’ve forgotten, Ms. Novik. I thought you agreed that Mr. Grey’s specific sexual preferences were in fact relevant to this case?”

“Overruled,” The judge agrees, motioning for Elena’s lawyer to sit down. Carrick nods and turns back to the girl on the stand, looking at her expectantly.

“Um…” She stutters again. “He bent me over his desk.”

“And was Mrs. Lincoln in the room with you the whole time?” Carrick continues, throwing questions at her so quickly after she’s answered the previous question, I wonder how she has time to gather her thoughts to answer them.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“In case things got out of control.”

“Is that standard practice? Having Mrs. Lincoln in the room with you.”

“No.”

“Then why was she there that day in his office with you?” He asks and the girl stammers once more as she tries to answer the question.

“Uh… I don’t…” She says, struggling again, so Carrick continues with more rapid fire questions.

“I’m sorry, I’m just having trouble understanding the purpose of Mrs. Lincoln’s presence, or her role in the club at all if Mr. Grey was the one running things.”

“She mostly dealt with the girls.”

“What do you mean dealt with?”

“She looked out for us and made sure none of the clients pushed us too far or broke any limits, and she punished the girls who weren’t doing their jobs.”

“Punished?” How?”

“Uh… I don’t know. Um, she would…” The girls eyes flit over to Elena again as she’s clearly getting a little discombobulated by Carrick’s line of questioning.

“Did she ever punish you?” Carrick asks.

“No.”

“But she would have had you not pleased Mr. Grey?”

“Yes.”

“So why didn’t she punish you when you didn’t have sex with him in his office?”

“Because she didn’t really expect him to agree to have sex with…” The girl begins but her hand flies up to her mouth as she realizes too late, what she has admitted. “I mean… She.. we… I-“

“You’ve never had sex with Mr. Grey have you, Miss Moreau?”

“I-I..” She stutters again.

“Please remember you’re under oath,” Carrick reminds her and her face falls.

“No,” She says at last. “I was supposed to. That’s why Mrs. Lincoln brought me there, but when we got into his office, he said no. He just left me by the door and talked to Mrs. Lincoln about some girl who wasn’t answering his phone calls.”

“So he never asked for you to be brought to his office?” She asks, and the girl shrugs.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so, he seemed surprised and a little angry when he saw me.”

“Thank you, Miss Moreau,” Carrick says and he turns to the judge. “I have no further questions, your honor.”

The judge dismissed the girl and she climbs off the stand as Carrick walks back towards Christian and Stephanie. The judge turns towards Elena and her lawyer, but the two of them continue to whisper quietly to one another until the judge finally insists that Novik call her next witness.

Novik gets out of her seat and swallows hard, like she’s having a little difficulty taking the blow of losing her first material witness, but once she’s calmed herself, she looks up at the judge and continues in a clear, confident voice.

“The defense would like to call Leila Williams to the stand, your honor,” She says.

A door opens off the side of the courtroom and I inhale sharply as I turn and watch Leila walk into the courtroom. It’s still a shock to see her, despite the fact that I’d already considered her testifying against Christian as a possibility. But, after Carrick exposed Madeleine, I don’t know what Leila can say that will be more damaging to Christian’s case, so her appearance doesn’t immediately cause me to panic. I do know she is willing to lie though, and I’m a little unsettled by the purely vindictive smile she shoots at both Christian and I as she approaches the bench and raises her right hand for the bailiff.

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

“I do,” Leila says in a clear, ringing voice, and she climbs up onto the witness stand and looks directly at Elena’s lawyer.

“Miss Williams, what is your relationship to Mr. Grey?” She asks.

“I was his secretary for 11 months,” She says.

“But you’re not anymore?”

“No, I was let go earlier this summer.”

“Let go? You were fired?”

“Yes.”

“Why were you fired, Miss Williams?”

“Because I raised some ethical issues about Mr. Grey having sex in his office during business hours.”

“So you have personally witnessed Mr. Grey actually having sex in his office during GEH’s hours of operation?”

“Yes,” She nods. “Well… we heard it. He’s not exactly subtle.”

“I see,” Elena’s lawyer says. She pauses for a moment and then turns back towards her table. “Miss Williams, you were involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit with Mr. Grey earlier in the summer immediately following your termination, correct?”

“Yes.”

“But that was thrown out when the media got hold of some text messages between Mr. Grey’s assistant and yourself stating your claims against Mr. Grey weren’t entirely truthful, correct?”

“Yes,” Leila nods, and she hangs her head in shame for a minute. “I went about that the entirely wrong way. Originally I had intended to sue for sexual harassment for being subjected to Mr. Grey’s inappropriate behavior day after day and then wrongful termination, but I didn’t have any way to prove how bad it was. Everyone who works in his office has to sign an NDA and they’re all so terrified of him and of getting fired… I wouldn’t be able to get anyone to back me up.”

“I see,” Elena’s lawyer says. “Your honor, I’d like to submit item 1-G into evidence, the text messages between Leila Williams and Mr. Grey’s assistant, Andrea Parker. Please pay special attention to the highlighted messages where Miss Parker expresses fear over losing her job if she were to say anything about how unfairly she was treated by Mr. Grey.”

She hands the evidence to the judge and then turns back to Leila. “Miss Williams, if you were worried that no one in Mr. Grey’s office would verify your truthful stories about Mr. Grey, why is it that you chose to lie?”

“Because I’d hoped that if I came forward, it would give the girls who were forced into sexual encounters in his office the courage to come forward themselves. It was supposed to be about them. I didn’t realize at the time that he was paying for them to keep quiet.”

“Objection your honor,” Carrick says. “Speculation.”

“Sustained, will the court reporter please strike Miss William’s last statement from the record?” The judge asks, and then he nods for Elena’s lawyer to continue.

“Miss Williams, when these girls came into Mr. Grey’s office, did it ever occur to you that they had perhaps been in a relationship with Mr. Grey?”

“No, actually Mrs. Lincoln had informed us that the girls were there for an interview. And I guess, maybe they were now that we know what their real jobs were.”

“So you didn’t know about the club or about the services these girls provided?”

“Not exactly. I didn’t know about the club, but the girls…” She hesitates and then changes direction. “Mr. Grey very rarely meets with people in his office. The only staff he interviews directly are those on the executive team. Lower level employees are interviewed exclusively by HR or the supervisors of the department they are applying to. I never even interviewed with Mr. Grey, and I was his personal receptionist.”

“So the interviews seemed suspicious to you?”

“Yes, and so I looked up a few of the girls names, trying to figure who they were and what they could be interviewing for, and that’s when I found out that they were…” She blushes as her words cut off.

“Prostitutes?” Elena’s lawyer infers and Leila nods.

“Specialized prostitutes, they practice BDSM.”

“And how many of these girls did you witness being brought into Mr. Grey’s office?”

“I don’t know, ten maybe.”

“So why did it take so long for you to come forward if you knew what was going on?”

Leila looks down at her hands before she answers. “I was like everyone else at first,” She says. “I was intimidated by the NDA I’d signed and… I didn’t want to be fired. Eventually though, I couldn’t keep quiet anymore and Mr. Grey made an example out of me. He may not have had sex with that last girl, but there were plenty others. I’ve heard him myself.”

“Thank you, Miss Williams,” Elena’s lawyer says. “I have no further questions.”

“Miss Williams,” Carrick says, getting out of his seat before the judge even invites him to begin his cross examination. “Will you please describe the events that led to you being fired for the court?”

“It’s like I said, I said something about Mr. Grey’s inappropriate behavior and I was fired.”

“Could you be a little more specific?” Carrick asks. “What was the inappropriate behavior you witnessed?”

“He was having sex in his office.”

“With who?”

“Uh…” Her eyes flash to Elena and she frowns. “Well, that specific time it was Anastasia Steele, but…”

“His girlfriend?” Carrick interrupts her.

“We didn’t know that she was his girlfriend at the time. She was just his intern. We’d thought he’d exerted his authority over her to force her into allowing him to perform sexual acts on her,” Leila replies defensively. “Just like he did with the other girls.”

“But that didn’t end up being the case because Mr. Grey and Anastasia Steele were, in fact, in a relationship at the time, weren’t they?”

“I-I guess so.”

“And…” Carrick’s brow furrows with confusion. “How is it that you knew what was happening in Mr. Grey’s office that afternoon anyway? There is quite a bit of distance between your desk and Mr. Grey’s office, isn’t there? A long hallway, several offices… How is it that you heard what was going on in his office over the noise of a typical office when your desk is so far removed?”

“It came over the speaker in the phone,” Leila says, sourly. “They had accidentally hit the intercom button on the phone which pages the reception desk. It was pretty clear what they were doing.”

“Then how is it you know Mr. Grey had sexual relations with the other girls who were in his office?” Carrick asks, his tone more demanding now.

“Because I heard it,” Leila says.

“No,” Carrick shakes his head. “You just said that the only reason you heard the encounter that occurred between Mr. Grey and Miss Steele was because they accidentally paged the front desk and you heard everything over the intercom on your desk phone. Are you expecting this court to believe that Mr. Grey had “accidentally” hit that intercom button every time one of the girls Mrs. Lincoln had brought to him came to his office?”

“Well no… but.”

“You only ever heard the encounter between Mr. Grey and Miss Steele. Isn’t that right, Miss Williams?”

“I-I..” She stutters, but Carrick’s line of questioning continues very quickly.

“The truth is you have no idea what went on behind the closed doors of Mr. Grey’s office whenever Mrs. Lincoln brought those girls in to see him. For all you know, they could have been there for an interview.”

“No, they’re prostitutes!” Leila argues.

“You’re a secretary right?”

“So?”

“So, do you answer people’s phones everywhere you go? Take minutes and write down everything everyone around you says in your personal life? Do you get coffee for every person you encounter?”

“Well, no but…”

“No, you don’t,” Carrick interrupts her. “Because your career choice doesn’t dictate your actions in every situation. In this case, you’ve simply made an assumption based on research no one asked you to do, which I may add is an extraordinary violation of privacy and an abuse of the access you have to that security check in list which in itself is a fireable offense, and prejudice and jealousy you felt after you witness an encounter between Mr. Grey and Miss Steele. Isn’t that right, Miss Williams?”

Leila stares back at him, red in the face, but unwilling to answer, so Carrick pushes her again.

“You have no idea what went on in his office with the exception of what you heard between Mr. Grey and Miss Steele. Isn’t that right, Miss Williams?”

“I don’t know,” She says at last, a hint of anger beneath her voice, and Carrick turns to the judge.

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

The judge tells Leila she can get off the stand, which she does reluctantly, and I’m grateful when she exits out the side door she entered through rather than take a seat in the gallery with the rest of us. Again, Novik looks shaken a little by having yet another witness dismissed without doing anything to help her case, but whatever Elena says to her seems to ease her concern because the uncertainty is quickly removed from her expression as she gets out of her seat.

“Your honor, at this time I’d like to invite Mrs. Elena Lincoln to the stand,” She says, as she looks down to flip through some of the papers in the folder open on the table in front of her, and Elena slowly rises and walks up to the witness stand. I roll my eyes as I listen to her swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and even hear a sarcastic snort come out of Elliot as she turns and climbs onto the witness stand and turns to look expectantly at her lawyer.

“Mrs. Lincoln, how long have you worked for Mr. Grey?” Novik begins.

“A little over a year. About 14 months,” Elena replies.

“And how is it that you came to work for Mr. Grey?”

“I owned a salon in South Seattle, and it wasn’t doing very well. Mr. Grey bought it from me, moved me into a new locations and restructured the business model to accommodate growth… and then he came to me with an idea.”

“An idea?”

“He told me about an idea he had to open an underground BDSM club. Most of the clubs in the city that revolve around the lifestyle are mostly retail or social in nature, a place for people to meet others in the lifestyle, to buy props and instruments, or for Submissives and Dominants to be connected with one another, but they don’t provide any real service. Mr. Grey wanted to create a place where people would come to practice BDSM. He was specifically interested in creating an environment where people who wanted to be Dominants could work with experienced Submissives and have experts around so they could learn how to fulfill that role properly before really venturing out into the community. Undoubtedly because he was interested in becoming a Dominant himself.”

“And what did you think of that idea?”

“I honestly didn’t really know what it had to do with me,” She says.

“Did he tell you?”

“Yes. He told me that he bought the salons from me to serve as a front and a way to circulate the profits from the club into his company without raising concern. He told me that salons are so difficult to gauge in terms of profitability, increased revenue output would be less suspicious going through the salons than any other division of his company. He never really publicized the connection between Esclava and GEH as a way of trying to keep it low profile and prevent any red flags from popping up. He was too high profile to have anything to do with the clubs in person, so he had me running the day to day operations while he controlled the business side behind the scenes.”

“And you agreed to have your salon operate in this capacity?”

“I didn’t really have a choice,” Elena says. “He bought my business, my only livelihood, and he only wanted it for this one purpose. If I didn’t cooperate he’d shut it down and I’d be left with nothing. Besides, I’d… I guess, overvalued my friendship with Christian. I’d shared intimate details of my life with him that I wouldn’t share with anyone else and he made it clear that if I refused to help him, that those details wouldn’t stay private any longer.”

“He blackmailed you,” Novik infers and Elena nods.

“Essentially. I guess I didn’t realize it at the time, he’s very charismatic and has a way of wording things to make it sound like he’s trying to help or that he’s on your side, but yes. I guess he did.”

“Did you ever express your reservations to Mr. Grey during the course of your business relationship?”

“Several times. The way the club operated was definitely outside the norm of a typical BDSM relationship where two people are matched on several levels of compatibility, desire, and consent. Generally, a BDSM relationship is a mutually beneficial relationship in which two people can explore their sexual desires safely and with someone who has similar interests, but there is a connection and a bond that develops. In the case of the club, a man would come in, pick a woman he found aesthetically pleasing, pay for her, do as he pleased with her, and then he’d leave. It wasn’t a relationship, it was prostitution.”

“So why didn’t you report him?”

“Like I said, everything I had was tied up into this business and Mr. Grey had threatened to expose personal details of my life and sexual preferences if I didn’t agree to help him. He has a lot of power and I wasn’t sure that reporting him would result in anything, and after some of the things I’d witnessed working in the club, I felt the need to stay so that I could protect the girls. I didn’t know what kind of person would be brought in to replace me and some of the policies Mr. Grey had attempted to enact over my tenure suggested he cared very little for their welfare.”

“Such as?”

“Once client preferences became more well-rounded and better known, girls weren’t allowed to include certain acts involving those preferences in their limits. The policies put in place to handle dominant men who broke the rules or pushed a girl past her limits were severely relaxed, almost non-existent. And the screening process for girls hired to work in the club were extremely inadequate, specifically when it came to age verification. When he’d asked me to bring in his little sister, she was only 16 years old.”

“I’m sorry,” Novik says, stopping Elena with a note of surprise. “Mr. Grey asked you to employ his little sister?”

“He thought he’d be able to control her better and she’d learn a better sense of discipline if she came to work in the club. She’d gotten into trouble a few times over the summer and he knew she was trying to find ways to rebel against her parents. It turned out he was right. When he sent me to the restaurant she worked at to speak with her, I’d only half-heartedly suggested she come work for me, and she accepted without hesitation. I don’t think he’d intended for her to be there forever, I think it was more of a scare tactic, but he’d asked for her to come all the same.”

“Did Mr. Grey ever visit the club?” Novik asks.

“Only the one time that you saw on the video yesterday. He knew going down there was a bad idea. He didn’t want to be seen there in case the location of the club ever leaked. If he wanted to see one of the girls, he’d ask to have them brought to him. Discreetly. Sometimes he wouldn’t be pleased with the choice of girls I brought to him and he wouldn’t do anything with them. Sometimes, he’d have a girl brought back several times.”

“I see,” Novik says, and she turns back to the table to retrieve several documents from her desk.

Most of the rest of Elena’s testimony is spent going over financials as Elena traces every dollar GEH invested in the clubs through Esclava and gives a long detailed account of Christian’s supposed involvement in the entire financial process. It’s obvious she’s put a lot of thought and preparation into her testimony and if I didn’t know 100% that she was lying out of her teeth, I think even I might have hesitant feelings about Christian’s involvement.

Surprisingly though, Christian remains fairly stoic during her entire testimony. I’m having a hard time gauging him. Clearly, he hasn’t worked out a deal with Elena because Ros’s name hasn’t been brought up once and Elena has been very specific about it being Christian who opened the club. But, if they haven’t worked out a deal, it means that unless Carrick pulls some kind of miracle in his examination of Elena, we’re going to lose. Even after Madeleine and Leila’s testimony. Our worst fears are about to be realized and he seems as though he couldn’t care less. Is that because he has that much faith in his father? Or has he simply come to terms with what’s going to happen?

Just before the end of Elena’s testimony, Christian jumps a little in his seat and reaches into his pocket to remove his iPhone. He glances at it for only a second before stowing it away again and leaning into whisper something to his father.

“Just trust me,” He says, as he pulls away and Carrick takes a deep breath and nods.

“That’s all the questions I have, your honor.” Elena’s lawyer finishes at last. The judge nods and then turns to Carrick.

“Your witness, Counselor,” He says.

“Your Honor, we’d like to request a ten minute recess,” Carrick says as he rises from his chair and the judge nods again.

“Granted,” The gavel slams down on the bench and Christian immediately shoots out of his chair and bolts up the aisle. I look after him and then back at Carrick in shock.

“Where is he going?” I ask but Carrick shrugs.

“I have no idea,” He says, and then Stephanie diverts Carrick’s attention back to her so they can prepare for Elena’s cross examination.

“So… that was bad right?” Elliot says quietly, leaning in so that only we can hear. “I mean, I even found myself wondering-“

“She’s lying, Elliot,” I say firmly.

“No, I know that. But… the judge doesn’t.”

I take a deep breath and turn nervously back towards the doors and stare at them while I say a silent prayer over and over again. After only a minute or so, Christian returns, walking back into the courtroom with all the confidence of a world class CEO. And to my surprise, he isn’t alone.

“Luke?” I whisper under my breath as I watch my best friend take the first available seat in the back of the courtroom. His eyes scan the benches in front of him but before we make eye contact, I’m distracted by Christian walking through the gate and leaning down towards his father. I can’t hear what they’re saying to one another but Christian hands him something and Carrick’s eyes widen with shock.

“Go get her, Dad,” Christian says as he takes his seat and for a brief moment I feel something close to hope rise inside of me. What is that?

“Order! Order!” The judge calls from the stand as he bangs his gavel against the bench to silence the surprisingly loud rumble of the people in the courtroom. “Mr. Grey, are you ready to question the witness?”

“Yes, your honor,” Carrick says as he slips whatever it is that Christian handed him into his pocket and walks briskly towards the witness stand.

“Mrs. Lincoln, you claim that Mr. Grey instructed you to open this club and operate it in his place under threat of blackmail, correct?” He begins.

“That is correct.”

“And the personal information Mr. Grey had to reveal about you that would have such devastating consequences on your life that it caused you to go against your moral conscience, he’s the only person who could reveal this information about you?”

“Yes,” She says.

“And is the information you’re talking about is your involvement in the BDSM community?”

“Previous involvement,” She says, “Personally at least. I gave all of that up many years ago, outside of my responsibilities in the club.”

“So nobody else, in this entire world knows about your past with BDSM? Not even an ex-Dominant, or an ex-submissive, or perhaps, your ex-husband?”

“Okay… there are some people who knew,” Elena says, “But they had never threatened to expose my lifestyle choices to the world.”

“What about the people who came into your club every night? Weren’t you concerned that they would reveal something about your presence in the club? You claim Mr. Grey had the foresight to be concerned enough that he made sure he was never seen there. You didn’t have the same concerns as he did?”

“I didn’t have a choice,” She says, but Carrick narrows his eyes.

“I’m sorry, maybe I’m not understanding the logic here but it seems to me that you were risking having your lifestyle exposed by operating this business and meeting with customers face to face in order to prevent your lifestyle being exposed?” Carrick asks.

“The clients at my club signed non-disclosure agreements,” She says.

“Your club?” Carrick repeats, and she inhales sharply through her nose.

“I’m sorry, I misspoke. What I mean to say is the club in which I operated for Mr. Grey,” Elena corrects herself quickly.

“I don’t think you misspoke,” Carrick says. “I think you purposely tanked your salon business knowing Mr. Grey would reach out to help you as a friend, and once he had possession, you flipped the switch on your BDSM club to make it look like Grey Enterprises Holdings had once again created a miraculous turn around while you made your fortune and provided yourself a place to practice BDSM sex in an illegal underground BDSM club.”

“That’s absolutely not what happened,” Elena says emphatically. “That club is wholly owned and operated by Grey Enterprises Holdings and its sole proprietor, Christian Trevelyan-Grey. I’m nothing more than middle management.”

Carrick stares at her for a long beat and then nods his head. “Well, then…”

I watch him reach into his pocket and walk slowly over the projector on the other side of the courtroom.

“Your honor, I’d like to submit item 6-A into evidence, please,” He says, and upon the judge’s approval he plugs a small USB into the port on the side of the projector and flips in on. I gasp as suddenly the image of the interior of Elena’s bar flashes on the screen and I immediately recognize Isaac standing behind the bar. Seconds later, I walk through the door.”

“What is this?” Elena asks very suddenly, sitting up straighter in her chair. “Where did you get this?”

But Carrick ignores her and simply lets the footage roll. We all watch and listen as I ask Isaac to get Elena for me and he exits the room through the same door Elena walks through a few moments later. Elena flashes a warning look at her lawyer whose eyes are darting back and forth as she tries to think of something to stop the recording from playing.

“Objection, your honor,” She says after a minute. “There is no way we can even be certain that is my client represented in the video.”

And Carrick rolls his eyes as not only is it clear as day that it’s Elena sitting next to me on the barstool drinking gin, but immediately after she finishes speaking I address her by name.

“I think it’s pretty clear your client is depicted in the video footage, Miss Novik. Your objection is overruled,” The judge says sternly and he turns his attention back to the screen. I feel an overwhelming sense of excitement creep up inside me as I listen through Elena’s childhood story, knowing what’s to come. Elliot looks over at me with shock and I realize he doesn’t know about the recording. I reach over and take his hand and nod reassuringly and we both turn back to face the projection screen.

“Blackmail, Mrs. Lincoln?” Carrick asks quietly as Elena starts giving me her demands, and he clicks his tongue disapprovingly.

“That doesn’t… That’s taken out of context,” She stutters, but the judge quickly silences her so that he doesn’t miss any of the evidence.

She has nothing to do with any of this,’ I argue on the screen as she reveals her plans to divert the blame onto Ros.

Neither does Christian. But Ros… well, she had me audited.’

Grace gasps, her hand flying up to her mouth and Elliot squeezes my hands so tightly it’s painful, and a wide, victorious smile spreads across his lips. I look up at Christian, but he isn’t celebrating like Elliot, he doesn’t even look relieved. He simply continues to stare at at the projector.

The video footage rolls for a few more minutes until I dart out of the bar and Elena disappears through the office door once again. Carrick reaches out to power down the projector and turns to face Elena.

“Would you like to change your testimony, Mrs. Lincoln? Or would you like to add perjury to the list of crimes you’ve committed?”

“That evidence can’t be valid,” Elena says, and for the first time there is a slight edge of panic in her voice. “It’s stolen footage. That’s private property, I didn’t give my permission for that footage to be used, I want it off the record.”

I turn to Elena’s lawyer, suddenly panicked, but she simply shakes her head and rests her forehead in her hand looking extremely defeated.

“But… I thought you didn’t own the business?” Carrick asks. “You’ve testified, under oath, to this court that Mr. Christian Grey owns that establishment, in which case that video footage belongs to him. Unless, you’re admitting that you’ve lied and you are in fact the owner and sole operator of the property located at 710 Rainier Ave. In which case, I will be happy to strike the evidence from the record for you.”

“I-I…” Elena stutters.

“I’ve heard enough,” The judge says sternly. “Never in my 10 years serving on this bench have I seen such audacity, Mrs. Lincoln. Your utter lack of respect for both the law and the process of justice is sickening.” He picks up his gavel. “This court finds in favor of Mr. Christian Grey and awards him the state maximum penalty of $5,000 for fraud and misallocation of company assets. Furthermore, this court charges Elena Lincoln with twenty one counts of prostitution, one count of underage sex trafficking, and class-two felony money laundering. Bailiff, please take the witness into custody.”

The gavel slams down on the bench and Grace and Kate both let out squeals of celebration while Christian finally lets his emotions break through his stone facade and he leaps out of his seat, jumps the bar between us, pulls me into his arms, and kisses me, hard, on the lips. I’m so overcome with emotion and actually shocked at the way this unfolded, I feel disoriented. It’s hard to return the same level of intensity Christian pours into me as tears of joy and relief begin pouring down my cheeks and I struggle to keep the smile off my face so that I can kiss him back.

“I love you,” He says, “I’m never going to leave you.”

I let out a laugh of pure joy and the sound is deeply cathartic as I realize this is now a promise he can make to me, and I feel unrelenting happiness at the idea. “I don’t ever want you to,” I tell him. “I love you so much, Christian.”

He kisses me again and it’s easier this time for me to return his passion, but we’re quickly pulled away again by the celebration of his family. I turn to the front of the courtroom and watch as Elena is put into handcuffs and read her rights. There is a small vindictive part of me wants to take out my phone to take a picture.

“Christian, I can’t believe it. Oh thank God! Thank God!” Grace cries as she wraps him in a hug and begins sobbing into his jacket. Carrick turns around and walks through the bar towards us and I immediately weave past Mia and Kate to wrap my arms around his middle.

“Thank you for not giving up on him,” I say gratefully, as I hug him tightly.

“No, thank you for reminding me of what I’d almost forgotten,” Carrick says. “He’s my son, and nothing he could do could ever change that. There is no giving up.”

Christian passes his mother to Elliot and turns around to hug his dad. “Thanks, Dad,” He says, and Carrick squeezes him tightly and then claps him on the back.

“Of course, but you know… you didn’t have to put me through so much of the dramatics. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know if we’d get it. We were having trouble breaking through the encryption to the recorded footage, I’d only just got it before you examined Elena.”

“How did you get it?” Carrick asks, and Christian turns his head and nods behind us.

“Luke.”

I turn and see Luke standing in the aisle, looking at all a little awkwardly. “Luke?” I ask and he nods.

“In the flesh, if you’d believe it.” He replies and a broad smile crosses my face as I maneuver around Carrick to wrap him in a hug.

“I can’t believe… I mean, you… you helped. You saved Christian.”

“Of course I did, Annie. I couldn’t let you lose your guy,” He says and I feel my eyes well with tears as I hug him again.

“So…” Elliot says, as Christian reaches out for me again. “Why were you with Elena before the trial then? If you weren’t making a deal with her…”

“Well, we were parked outside the bar when Luke was trying to hack through the encryption on the security footage. I had brought Ana’s car hoping it would make me less noticeable but it didn’t work. Elena saw me this morning when she started to leave and so I got out of the car as quickly as I could to prevent her from seeing Luke. I didn’t know what else to say to her to explain why I was there, so I asked her if we could talk and she agreed. We went to the courthouse together and I listened to the same deal she proposed to Ana and then told her I couldn’t agree to that. She argued with me some more and so I told her to forget about it and we went into the courthouse.”

“But what about Ros?” I ask.

“What about Ros?” He replies, sounding confused.

“Andrea said you put her on a plane this morning. We thought you were hiding her because you’d made the deal with Elena.”

His eyebrows remained furrowed for a minute until recognition suddenly dawns on his face. “Oh,” He says, as though he’s just remembered something. “No, her sister went into labor this morning. She asked to take the jet back to San Francisco and I made the arrangements for her to fly out as early as possible.”

“Oh,” I say, the relief amplified as all the pieces fall into place.

“We need to get you a new car,” He tells me. “I didn’t think about it before, but the red draws a lot of attention. In fact, that might be part of the reason the paparazzi have been following you everywhere this summer. You stand out too much.”

“Not a Lincoln though, right?” I ask him and he laughs.

“No, definitely not a Lincoln.”

“Alright, let’s get out of here,” Carrick suggests, nudging us out of the aisle a little and I look around and find that most the courtroom has completely emptied out.

“Yeah, let’s get some food,” Elliot says.

“Let’s go to my place,” Christian offers. “I’ll call Gail and have her prepare a lunch for everyone.”

There isn’t any argument so I pull myself into Christian’s side, still needing to be as close to him as possible, and we walk up the aisle and out of the courthouse towards the car, leading the way back to Escala.

Gail has champagne waiting for us when we get back to Christian’s apartment and as she passes the flutes around to each member of Christian’s family, she finds herself being swept into a series of over jubilated hugs, which she gracefully accepts. Christian asks her, Taylor, and even Luke to take glass and then he takes my hand and raises his flute into the air.

“To Luke,” He says. “You saved my company, my livelihood, and you gave me a future with the woman I love. I’ll forever be in your debt.”

“It was really nothing, Mr. Grey, I’m happy to help. You don’t have to…”

“Please, Luke,” Christian implores him and Luke’s mouth closes into a thin line as he looks uncomfortably around the circle to everyone’s eyes on him. I nod encouragingly and he takes a bracing breath and then raises his flute into the air.

“To me,” He says awkwardly and there’s a small echo of laughter as everyone takes a sip.

“And… to my Dad,” Christian says. “You went into a losing battle with me and even though you tried to talk me out of it, you never said no. Thank you for fighting with me.”

“I’ll always fight for you, son.” Carrick says, clapping his hand on Christian’s shoulder. Grace raises her glass into the air and again, we drink.

“And, most importantly,” Christian says. “To Anastasia, for never giving up on me, for remaining by my side, and for being willing to do whatever was necessary to protect me. What you did for me last night not only gave us what we needed to win this case and finally put this whole Elena thing to rest once and for all, but the love that I saw in what you did gave me the courage to really fight. I’ve shouldered a lot of the burden of what almost happened to Mia. I felt responsible and so I just stopped caring what happened to me. But you made me feel… you gave me a reason to fight, Ana. Thank you for making me feel worthy.”

I smile up at him and lean in to press my lips into his, whispering I love you every time our lips part for even just the briefest second.

“To Anastasia,” Carrick says, after a cough and an exaggerated awkward look over at us.

“To Anastasia,” Christian repeats, and he raises his drink and tips the glass against his lips.

“Okay, enough with the toasting,” Elliot says, making a show of draining his glass. “I’m starving, let’s eat.”

“Good, I can skip you,” Christian laughs and Elliot reaches out to shove him as we make our way back towards the kitchen.

After lunch, we sit around the couch with the family having the first light conversation we’ve had in what feels like months. Kate’s last day at Kavanagh Media was Wednesday and she got a glowing letter of recommendation to add to her resume which prompts Elliot’s snide comments on the kind of recommendation letter Christian will write for me.

“She’s done an exceptional job this summer. I have nothing but commendation and praise for Anastasia,” Christian says and Elliot’s smile broadens.

“I bet you do,” He says, the innuendo clear in his voice and Grace hits him with one of the pillows on the couch.

“Okay, okay,” Carrick says. “I think we’ve imposed on Christian and Ana long enough. Why don’t we give them a little time to be alone?”

He gets off the couch and Grace follows after him, moving across the space between her seat and Christian’s so she can wrap him in one last hug before she leaves.

“Call me tomorrow,” She says and he promises he will. We follow everyone towards the elevator, saying our goodbyes until the doors close and they’re gone. Christian leans over and kisses my hair.

“Let’s go get in bed and stay there for the rest of the day,” He whispers and I laugh as I look up at him.

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, Mr. Grey.”

He smiles down at me and presses his lips into mine one last time as he takes my hand in his and leads me back into the great room where Taylor and Luke are helping Mrs. Jones clean up the last of the lunch dishes from the dining room table.

“Luke,” Christian says, and he looks up and walks over to us.

“Mr. Grey?” He asks.

“I uh… Anastasia has had Taylor as her personal CPO over the past few weeks, but I think I’m ready to take him back. I can’t very well leave her without someone to watch over her so if you’d like the job… it’s yours.”

“Really?”

“Really,” Christian nods and Luke smiles.

“It’d be an honor, sir.”

“Good, then we’ll see you Monday,” Christian says.

“Yes, sir,” Luke turns to me. “See you later, Ana.”

“Bye, Luke,” I smile at him, but as he turns back towards the dining room to help Taylor carry the empty lunch dishes to the kitchen, Christian stops him again.

“Luke,” He says, and Luke turns back around to face us. “Don’t let me fire you again.”

“No, sir,” He says with a laugh, and Christian tugs on my hand to lead me back towards our bedroom.

“You know, I wish we could have done more this summer,” Christian says, a little regretfully, almost echoing the thoughts I vaguely remember from my dream this morning as he begins undoing the buttons on his shirt.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s your last summer break. After graduation, summers will mean something entirely different. I hate that you wasted most of it on this fucking trial.”

“Well we still have thirteen days left,” I shrug.

“Let me take you somewhere,” He implores me, and I give him a weary look.

“You’re not going to surprise me with anything like you did in New York, are you?” I ask and he laughs.

“No. Any surprises I have for you from here on out will be only good, I promise.”

“Okay,” I agree. I turn around so he can unzip my dress for me, and once I slip it over my shoulders, we climb into bed together.

Next Chapter

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