Chapter 30

Bellevue Skyline and Lake Washington

“Daddy!” I throw the comforter off my body and scramble out of bed so quickly, I nearly trip over my feet in my rush to get to him. He catches me under my arms and pulls me into a lung crushing hug while I dissolve into tears and press myself against him as hard as I can, digging my fingers into jacket so that he can’t pull away from me, until the force knocks us both to the ground. I can feel his lips press in my hair and my forehead, and the side of my face, anywhere he can reach, but I can’t tell if the erratic breaths I hear him take are from laughter or tears.

“What are you… How did you get here?” I ask through the uneven sobs forcing their way out from deep inside my chest.

“I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d drop in,” he says with a laugh, and when I pull away and attempt to give him a hard, sardonic look, he smiles, wipes the tears from under my eyes with the pads of his thumbs, and continues. “Your uh… um… you know, that guy in the other room. He had his… people get ahold of my superiors and explained to them what happened. I thought they were going to give me a few days leave but they offered me early separation.”

“Early separation? Wait… so, you’re back? You’re home?”

“I have to finish out the last six or so weeks in the guard and spend a few weekends up in Everett but, yes. I’m home. I’m not going back.”

“Oh my god, Daddy!” I laugh as I launch myself at him, crying again and wrapping my arms tightly around him while he rocks me back and forth. “I can’t believe you’re here. I’ve been so worried about you, I’ve hated every second that you’ve been over there. Oh my god, you’re home, you’re home, you’re home!”

“I’m home, baby girl. I’m home.”

“I’ve missed you so much!”

“I’ve missed you too, Annie. Every single day.”

I bury my head into his jacket and inhale as deeply as I can, letting the warm familiar scent I’ve been missing for so long wash over me and drown all of the tension in my body. I can’t stop myself from instinctively pulling myself even closer to him, as tightly as possible, for as long as possible, while I turn my head to kiss him hard on the cheek. He kisses me back and when I pull away and see the tears in his eyes and the broad smile across his face, I can’t hold back the joyous giggle that forces its way out of me.

“Hi,” I laugh.

“Hi,” he replies.

“This ruins your homecoming, you know,” I tell him as I sit back and smile. “I had this whole plan where I was gonna pick you up from the airport and have this big sign that said Welcome Home and when you came through the doors I was going to drop the sign and run into your arms and you would spin me around and we would cry and everyone around us was going to start slow clapping and someone would get it all on their phone and post it on YouTube… it was going to go viral.”

“Well, I’m sorry about YouTube.” He smiles and puts both of his hands on my shoulders so he can lean me back and give me a once over. “But there’s nothing about this moment that’s ruined. God, look at you.”

“Ugh, don’t look at me,” I reply, reaching down to cover my baby bump with my arms. “I feel like a marshmallow.”

“Well, I warned you that all that sweet tooth of yours was going to catch up to you once you stopped having the metabolism of a teenager. Now look at you.”

“Dad!” I slap him playfully on the shoulder and he laughs.

“I’m just kidding, baby girl. You look so beautiful. It is weird, though, seeing you… pregnant. I just can’t believe it… May I?” He reaches his hand up in front of my stomach, pausing as he waits for permission, and I nod.

“Yeah, of course. She hasn’t moved very much today, but she’s in there.” I move my arms so he can lay his palm flat over my bump, and as if she knows her grandfather is waiting to feel her for the first time, she responds with the tiniest kick right where his hand lays on my t-shirt.

“Oh!” my dad exclaims, his eyes immediately lighting up with wonder. “She kicked.”

“Yeah! I guess she can’t wait to meet you either,” I giggle. “Don’t tell Christian, it took her weeks to finally kick for him.”

“Christian,” he says, and the moment I hear the uncertainty in his voice, my smile falters.

“Yes, Christian. You have to get along with him, Daddy. I love him very much.”

“I didn’t say a single word against him,” my dad says defensively.

“Yeah, but I know that look. And I know this is hard for you, and probably really weird because everything is so different, but you’ll really love him too if you give him a chance because he loves me, Daddy. Like really loves me, and he makes me very happy. Besides, he’s also my baby daddy so he’s not going anywhere.”

I laugh, but my dad doesn’t. Instead, he lets out a low groan before finally nodding. “Alright, I’ll give the boy a chance. One chance. He did get you pregnant out of wedlock so, strike one.”

I roll my eyes. “We’ll see if you still say that after Calliope is born.”

“Calliope?”

“That’s her name. Calliope Katherine Grey.”

“That doesn’t sound like Ray to me, which I can only assume is because of your guy out there so… strike two.”

“Daddy!”

He laughs and then shifts me off his lap so that he can get up and help me to my feet. “So what do you say, kiddo? Hungry? I could definitely use some food that doesn’t come de-hydrated in a package right about now.”

“Sure.” I smile. “Come on.”

I entwine my fingers through his and then lead him through the hallway back out towards the kitchen where we find Christian pacing in front of the windows against the far wall, talking on the phone.

“That’s great news, Ros. Bring him back on as quickly as we can, tomorrow if possible. I want him to comb through every bit of data we have and find everywhere this guy has been in our server. They’ve been using a connection through Ana’s laptop to navigate through the system so he can start with anything accessed using her permissions.”

He turns back to face us and his eyes widen slightly when he sees me standing there with my dad.

“No, that sounds perfect. Thank you, Ros. I’ll call you in the morning.” He hangs up, slips his phone in his pocket, and give us both a nervous kind of smile. “Hey, baby. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, we’re just thinking about getting something to eat. You hungry?”

Relief immediately mixes with the joy suddenly apparent on his face. “Eat? Yes, great…”

“I was thinking,” my dad says. “We should go down to Taxi’s. It’s actually a beautiful day outside and just thinking about those grilled onions on that cream cheese has my mouth watering.”

“You mean… you want to go out?” I ask. “Like, down to the market?”

“Sure, why not?”

“There’s just… there’s a lot of people down there,” I say hesitantly, and when I turn to Christian, he gives me a reassuring look before turning to smile at my father.

“My parents have actually planned a barbeque this afternoon in Bellevue for your homecoming. My family are all very excited to meet you. Perhaps we could try the market a different time.”

“Well, I never say no to good barbeque,” my dad says.

“Great, then I’ll just confirm with my mother and let security know we’ll be leaving the apartment. Excuse me.”

My eyes follow him the entire way across the great room and down the hallway to my office as he turns to leave the room, and as his words about leaving the apartment echo in my ears, I feel myself start to tremble. We’re really going to leave? Am I ready to… leave?

“Everything okay, kiddo?” my dad asks and when I turn to face him, his smile immediately fades away. “Annie, what’s wrong?”

“I… I don’t think I’m ready to go out there yet. I can’t leave, he’s still out there.”

“Ana…” he says, his face reflecting the pain suddenly evident in his voice. “Come here.” He pulls me over to the couch, sits me down next to him, and tucks me into his side. I push my face into his jacket, trying to keep myself from crying  again as he gently moves his hand up and down over my shoulder.

“They didn’t tell me much,” he begins. “When I was in Iraq, they told me that you’d been attacked but that you were okay, and when your boyfriend’s security guy… uh, Taylor, picked me up from the airport, he told me a little more. He said that it was someone who had been following you, someone who wanted to hurt you, but they hadn’t caught the guy. I asked him again if you were okay and he told me you were, but… are you, Annie? Are you okay?”

I look up at him and then shake my head. “I’m so scared, Daddy.”

“Of course you are,” he says. “We’re all scared. I don’t think anyone of us likes to think that we may have almost lost you, but the important thing now is to be grateful that we didn’t. You’re sitting here today with me, your baby is fine, you didn’t get hurt. Those are all miracles and you just need to keep reminding yourself of that, because the bad things are always going to be bad and dwelling on them isn’t going to help you not be scared. I know a thing or two about being scared. I spent a lot of nights over there being scared.”

“So how did you deal with it?” I ask. “How do you do what you know you have to do when you feel paralyzed?”

“You think of everything you have in your life to go on for. The thing that’s most important to you that is going to make you get up everyday and do what you have to do because whatever it is makes failure not an option. For me, that was you.”

“Daddy…”

“So, what’s it going to be for you, kid? What’s the thing that’s going to keep you going?”

I swallow. “I suppose… Calliope. I mean, she’s going to be here so soon and she needs a mom. She needs me. It’s gotta be Calliope.”

“Well that’s perfect because Calliope needs you to eat right now and that’s what we’re going out there to do. So, let’s get ready to go to dinner, huh? We can talk more later. Come up with a plan to make you feel better and get you back to school. Can you do that? For Calliope?”

I take a breath and nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I can do that.”

He smiles, leans over to kiss me on the forehead, and then takes my hands so that he can help me off the couch. I give him one last hug as tightly as I can possibly manage with my belly in the way and thank him for talking to me. Somehow, he always knows what to say to make me feel better and I hope that’s something I’ll have with my own daughter.

After he kisses me one last time, I feel his eyes watch after me until I make it down the hallway towards our bedroom, but the moment I close the door behind me, the feeling of confidence the conversation with my dad gave me seems to vanish and those nerves only intensify with every step I take toward the bathroom to get ready to leave for the Greys’. There’s not much I have to do, I’m not really interested in make-up right now or doing anything with my hair besides brushing it out and twisting it up into a messy bun, I’m still much too tired from my mostly sleepless week to worry about anything like that, but as I think more and more about leaving the apartment, even the simple task of brushing my teeth begins to feel overwhelming. The more the panic starts to build in my chest, the more I think that I’m just not ready to do this yet, but both my dad and Kate told me that moving on isn’t something that just happens, it’s a choice you make. Today is a choice to put aside my fear and spend an afternoon with my family, and my dad is right. For Calliope, I need to start making those choices.

“Are you doing okay in here?” Christian asks behind me, and I look up to make eye contact with him in the mirror.

“Fine, I’m just… I’m fine.”

“You still look so tired.”

“I’m very tired,” I agree. “But we’re going to go have a dinner with our family.”

He frowns and steps into the bathroom. “We don’t have to go if you don’t want to. I could have them come here, Gail could order in, I could even have Taylor go get those hot dogs for you and your dad. You can sleep more if that’s what you want. It’s up to you, Ana. Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

“No, I want to go,” I say quickly. “I need to go. Just give me a few minutes, okay?”

He presses his lips together, and then places his hands on each of my forearms. “You know, before he came in to see you, I asked if he could try to get you to eat something. Twenty minutes later, here you are. People have been telling me for years that no one understands you like your dad, but I didn’t want to believe them. I like to think that I know you better than anyone else does, but here you are, getting ready to leave to have dinner with my family and I’ve hardly been able to get you out of bed for days. I guess he is the best thing for you.”

“It’s not a contest,” I tell him. “And he has an advantage. It’s kind of hard to say no when this is the first chance I’ve had to spend time with him in years.” I stop and turn around to face him, looking deeply in his eyes so he can see my sincerity. “Thank you, Christian. Thank you so much for bringing him home. This means the absolute world to me.”

“Of course. You know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to see you happy, and I just thought you really needed your dad right now.”

“I do, so thank you. I love you, so very much.” I reach up to wrap my arms around his neck so that I can pull myself up to his lips and kiss him. His returning kiss is hesitant at first, but grows softer and more tender the longer my lips linger against his. When he pulls away, he brushes the back of his fingers across my cheek, and gives me a warm, half smile.

“You sure you’re ready to do this?”

“I’m sure.”

“Alright.” He nods. “Well, you should know that I’ve hired additional security for Mia and my parents, and for Gia and Elliot, so there will be a full detail at my parents tonight. They’ll all be watching you. Taylor and Sawyer are coming with us, and Cardella, Kommer, and Ryan are going to stay back here and keep an eye on the place while we’re gone. There’s a plan in place. We’re going to make sure you’re safe.”

“Good,” I tell him, glad that his reassurance actually do seem to help dampen some of the anxiety I’m feeling. “I’ll just be two more minutes, okay?”

“Okay.” He leans in to kiss me softly on the cheek and whispers, “I love you,” before he turns to leave.

“I love you too,” I tell him, and once the door is closed behind me, I take a deep breath, pick up my toothbrush and stare through my heavy lids at the dark cicles beneath my eyes.

You can do this, Anastasia. You can make it through one dinner.

 

The elevator ride down to the parking garage is crowded. Taylor has already gone to get the SUV so that we just have to step out of the elevator and into the back seat, but both Kommer and Ryan join Luke to escort us downstairs. I can feel my dad’s uncertainty as he glances between the three bulky security guards packed in around us and Christian, so I reach down and grip his fingers. He turns, smiles at me, then squeezes my hand and shifts his attention to the numbers over the door.

“So, are you a car guy, Ray? Uh… Sir? Um…” Christian says awkwardly and, for some reason, his discomfort makes me smile. He’s one of the most important men in this city, a big time CEO who has Harvard business classes being taught about him, so he’s usually the paragon of confidence. But my dad, the small town guy from Montesano Washington who has spent his entire life in the army or doing contract work as a carpenter, is currently making him nervous.

“Sure,” my dad says. “I’ve fixed up a few old muscle cars in my day.”

“It’s a shame that we’re not going up into the garage then,” Christian says. “I’ve got a new Lamborghini up there, a limited edition Reventon, and a Mercedes Maybach.”

“Really? So, you’re not an American made kind of guy, huh?”

“Oh um… not necessarily. I looked into Cadillac when I was shopping around for an SUV, but I find that the European market has the corner on sports cars in speed and efficiency…”

“Everyone has their opinions,” my dad dismisses him, and Christian frowns as the doors to the elevator slide open.

“Sir,” Taylor greets us, opening the back door to the SUV as we step out into the garage. Christian takes my hand and climbs in first so that I’m in the middle of the roomy back seat and my dad slides in behind me. Once the door closes, I’m surrounded and it feels secure until Christian pulls a small, knit blanket out of the open trunk space behind the seat.

“There’s still press outside,” he explains “I think it’ll be better if no one is keeping track of when you’re leaving and returning to the apartment.”

“Okay.” I crouch down so that my head is in Christian’s lap and he tosses the blanket over the top of me, moving his hand over my arm under the blanket reassuringly as the car starts up. I would think lying down on Christian’s lap would exacerbate the exhaustion I’m battling, but I’m too hyper aware of the movement as we begin to roll out of the garage and of the muted noise of the paparazzi outside to worry about being tired. All I know is that Christian’s right, I don’t want it advertised that I’m out in the city, and the garbled noise of shouting voices and cameras clicking has my anxiety peaked until Taylor’s able to find an open lane and punches the gas so we fly down the street away from them.

“No one in pursuit, Mr. Grey,” he says.

“Thank you, Taylor. Ana?”

I take a deep breath and yank the blanket off of me, breathing in the cool, fresh air for a moment before finally sitting up and chancing a glance through the side window, but the view of the city streets does nothing for me. Everything around us feels haunted, as though every dark corner is concealing someone who wants to harm me, and that feeling is only made worse when we pass an alley with an identical entrance to the one I was attacked in. I think my dad can feel the tension radiating off of me because he immediately starts telling stories about times that he’s been here with my mom, but the nerves I feel don’t dissipate until we cross the I-5 bridge and we’re out of Seattle. Thankfully, once I see the sign for Bellevue, I feel relaxed enough that I actually almost feel normal, except that I’m completely exhausted.

When we pull into the long driveway in front of the Greys’ house, I have to hide a smile when I glance over and see my dad’s reaction, which I imagine is identical to what mine was the first time I saw the gigantic house nestled right up against the lake. Finally, I’m no longer the only fish out of water amongst the Seattle elite.

“So you… uh, you’ve always had money then?” my dad asks once we’ve stepped out of the car.

“No, not always,” Christian says. “But I’ve been very fortunate.” He reaches out for me, but before I can clasp my hand in his, my dad puts an arm over my shoulder to keep me close to him.

“Well, lead the way, Christian.”

Christian’s shoulders rise as he takes a breath and then turns to lead us up the walkway to the front door, past two security guards I’ve never seen before, but who nod at Taylor as we pass. The moment we step into the entrance hall, the low murmur of conversation in the living room stops and I notice Elliot quickly reach for the remote to switch off the TV, which I think was playing the news.

“Ana, darling,” Grace says, getting off the sectional and sweeping into the entrance hall with her arms held open for me. “How are you feeling? Have you gotten any sleep?”

“Yeah, a little today,” I tell her. “Thank you. Grace, this is my dad, Ray Steele. Dad, this is Christian’s mom, Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey.”

“Of course, Ray!” Grace chrips. “It’s so good to finally meet you. We’ve heard so many wonderful things from, Ana.”

“I’m glad to meet you as well, Dr. Grey. I have to say your oatmeal cookies made me quite the popular man last Christmas. Everyone just loved them.”

“Grace, please. We’re family!” She reaches out to pull me back into her side. “And I’m glad you enjoyed them, because we’ve enjoyed Ana so, so much.”

“Well… Thank you for giving her a family while I was away,” he says.

“It’s truly been our pleasure. We are so in love with your daughter. Now, come have a seat. The rest of the family is so excited to meet you.”

I hook my arm through my dad’s to lead him into the family room, and as we approach, Carrick places his drink on a side table and looks up at us with a smile.

“This is my husband, Carrick,” Grace begins. “He’ll be our master griller this afternoon.”

“Master is a bit of an overstatement,” Carrick says, groaning slightly as he slowly rises off the couch. “But the steaks will get grilled nonetheless.”

“That sounds great,” my dad replies, glancing wearily over the still visible scar on the side of Carrick’s head. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good steak.” He shakes hands with Carrick and then turns to follow Grace’s gesture as she moves down the line.

“And this is our youngest, Amelia, or Mia, as we call her. She’s a junior in high school this year.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Mia says, reaching out to shake my dad’s hand. “Ana is one of my favorite people in the entire world. I don’t know what we all would have done without her.”

“Me either,” my dad says. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you too. You’re quite the beautiful young lady, you must be driving all the boys school crazy?”

Elliot snorts into his drink.

“And this…” Grace continues. “Is my oldest, Elliot, and his girlfriend Gia Matteo.”

“Yes, Elliot I know,” my days says, brightening a little as he reaches out to shake Elliot’s hand. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated all those Seahawks updates. This one over here,” he gestures to me with his head, “gets so frazzled whenever she wrote me that she always left out all the important information. Like draft picks.”

Elliot laughs. “Well, never fear. If you need someone to talk football with, I’m your man. In fact, Christian has box seats, we should go to a game sometime.”

“Does he?” My dad asks, turning an examining look on Christian. “Yes, I’d like that very much.” He pauses as he glances between Christian and Elliot and then furrows his brow. “You know, if you hadn’t told me, I would not have guessed that you two were brothers.”

“I could see that,” Elliot says with a nod. “One of us got the brains, one of us got the beauty… the other is Christian.”

“We’re adopted,” Christian clarifies, rolling his eyes.

“Oh,” my dad says awkwardly. “I’m sorry… I uh…”

“It’s not a secret,” Christian reassures him. “Believe me, it’s a godsend really. The idea of actually sharing a gene pool with Elliot is…” He shakes his head with disgust and Elliot narrows his eyes at him.

“What’s the matter, Christian? Worried your kids might actually have a sense of humor?”

“Oh no, they’ll get that from their mother,” I interject.

“And hopefully that’s where it’ll end,” Christian says, teasingly. “God forbid our daughter gets your smart mouth.”

“You mean, god forbid she stick up for herself?” my dad challenges him, and Christian immediately looks slightly taken aback.

“Uh… no… I just meant…”

“Real men aren’t threatened by strong women, Christian. You should be grateful for Ana’s tenacity.”

“I am,” Christian says quickly. “Of course I am. I love absolutely everything about her. I’m inspired by her.”

“Hm,” my dad hums dismissively, and then turns back to Carrick. “You mind if I help you with the grilling? It’s been awhile since I’ve had a beer over the grill.”

“Uh… absolutely, Ray,” Carrick says with a smile. “Grace, do you want to grab the steaks out of the fridge and we’ll head out back and start up the grill?”

“Of course.” She gets out of her seat and places a tender hand against Christian’s cheek before she moves around the couch to the kitchen, while my dad follows Carrick out the back door. Once the door is closed behind him, Christian moves over to me, pulls me into him, and sighs.

“I don’t think your dad likes me very much…”

“He’s just protective,” I assure him. “He’ll warm up once he gets to know you, then he’ll love you just the way that I do.”

“Well, I hope not just the way you do,” he says with a smile, and I roll my eyes and lean up to place a soft kiss on his lips.

“Are you doing okay?” he checks.

“Yeah, I’m doing great. This is good, being around everyone. It feels normal.” I pause as I feel a pressure in my lower abdomen. “But Calliope just moved and is now sitting on my bladder so if you’ll excuse me…” He kisses my forehead and then releases me so I can scurry across the entrance hall to the closest downstairs bathroom. I notice, when I turn into the hallway, that Luke appears seemingly out of nowhere from the formal living room, and then follows me into the hallway, stopping at the door and waiting while I go inside. Clearly, he isn’t taking any kind of chances leaving me alone for even a second anymore and it reminds me of what Leila said about how he watches me closer than anyone else on the security team. Having him around does give me a certain degree of comfort, makes me calmer, at least until I dry my hands on the plush towel hanging on the rack by the sink and hear his voice coming through the bathroom door and realize that he’s trying to stop someone from coming in.

“I don’t think so,” he says sternly.

“Sawyer, please,” Gia’s voice responds. “I just… I just want to talk to her for a second.”

“Well, I can almost guarantee she doesn’t talk to you, so why don’t you make your way back out to the living room, and we don’t have to make a scene here.”

“Look, I know I’m not at the top of her christmas card list, and I deserve that but…”

I open the bathroom door, and both Gia and Luke look at me. I take a deep breath and then turn to Luke, who looks beyond irritated.

“I tried to get rid of her,” he says.

“It’s okay, Luke.”

“Alright…” he says, turning back to Gia. “Talk.”

“Can we have some pri…”

“Nope.”

She takes a deep breath, nods, and turns back to me. “I just… I know that we’re not close, and I know that’s my fault and that I’ve behaved inappropriately, but I want you to know that, when I heard what had happened to you, my heart truly hurt. I was so scared for you.”

“Yeah, I guess being the billionaire’s girlfriend doesn’t sound like much fun anymore does it?” I say, my voice an accusation, and I watch her pout shift as she swallows.

“I’m so sorry, Ana. I’m sorry for everything. I really want you to know that I care for you, even though I’m not very good at showing it. I need to work on that. I love this family and you’re apart of that, and I’m glad that you’re okay. I was devastated when I heard.”

“Were you?”

“Ana, please. I’m trying to make this right between us.”

“You want to make this right?” I ask, dubiously.

“Yes, I do.”

“Then admit it. Admit that you were trying to steal Christian from me. Admit that you tried take a man who had a pregnant girlfriend while you were dating his brother.”

She takes another deep breath and breaks eye contact with me. “I don’t know what I was doing. Christian is hard to ignore and he was the only one who was nice to me. I got caught up in something that wasn’t there, but he made it very clear to me that it was only you, that he had no interest in anyone but you. I accept that. I’m happy that you two are so in love because you’re so good together. And… I really do love Elliot.”

“Do you love him? Or do you love his trust fund? Or the fact that he’s a Grey?”

“It’s him,” she says quickly. “It’s only him. Elliot is everything I’ve ever wanted. He makes me laugh and I love the way he is with his family. He’s truly kind and I think… I think he’s making me a better person. I’m in love with him and, even though things aren’t really good right now, I hope I’m going to spend the rest of my life with him. That’ll make us sisters one day and I want us to be close. Really. I see the way you are with… Kate, the way you are with Mia, and I want that kind of relationship with you. I want to be your sister, Ana. So, can we start over?”

She opens her arms like she wants to hug me, but I cross my arms over my chest. “Kate’s not going anywhere. She’s my best friend and the godmother of my daughter so she is going to be in our lives, in the Greys’ lives, and if you want any kind of relationship with me, that’s something you need to accept.”

“I know. I was just… It’s hard. It’s obvious Elliot still has some feelings for her and it makes me feel inadequate sometimes. Like I’m not enough. I’m sure you can at least understand that, even if she is your best friend.”

“I do, and I’m sorry that you feel that way but it doesn’t change the situation. She’s in this family too, and if you want to be a part of all of this, you have to be okay with that.”

“I will,” she agrees. “I promise, no more fighting, no more drama. I’m over it.”

“Then, okay,” I agree. “But only because of Elliot. I don’t tolerate people who talk to my best friend the way you did. I won’t be forgiving the next time.”

“Thank you, Ana.” She takes a step forward and wraps her arms around me, and after taking a surrendering breath, I hug her back.

“So, how are you doing?” she asks when she pulls away. “Elliot and I are… well, we got into a fight so I only heard kind of the basics, just what Christian told him after it first happened… but I can’t even imagine. I mean thank god that girl was there to save you. What was her name?”

“Leila.”

“So scary. And to think your security team thought she was one them the whole time. That she was going to hurt you.”

“I think she was. She just had a change of heart.”

“Did she say anything to you? Who’s behind it? What they want?”

“No, she said she couldn’t. She just… she just got me out of there.”

“Well, thank god she did. I’m so happy you’re okay, Ana. I don’t know what Christian would do if anything happened to you. It would wound this family forever. You’re very, very loved.”

“Thank-you, Gia.”

“Of course. Now, should we join the others?” she asks. “Try to get your mind off everything for the rest of the afternoon?”

“Yeah, but… sorry, I actually have to pee again. Pregnancy life, you know? I’ll be out in a second.”

“Okay.” She smiles at Luke then turns back down the hallway, and once she’s rounded the corner back into the entrance hall, Luke turns a suspicious look on me.

“You really bought that?” he asks, and I shrug. “Ana, you know that Grey is having her looked into right? She could be one of them.”

“Yeah, and she could also just be a superficial girl who could one day be my sister-in-law, and if that’s where this is headed, she’s right. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting with her.”

“And if she is one of them? If she gave whoever is after you the codes to Escala or is keeping tabs on you for him while you’re in Seattle?”

I take a breath. “If she’s one of them, then I want to make a personal connection with her. I want to be close to her. That way, if I ever get into a situation like this again, she’ll hopefully make the same choice that Leila did. Enemies don’t do me any good right now, Luke.”

He frowns. “Just… be careful what you tell her, Ana. I don’t think it’s smart to put a lot of your trust in Gia Matteo right now.”

I let out an incredulous huff. “Do you really think I trust anyone anymore?”

His shoulders rise as he takes a deep breath, and his lips tighten, but he doesn’t say anything. He simply turns so that his back is against the wall once again, while I turn around and move back into the bathroom.

 

The conversation is light once we sit down around the table and it’s refreshing. No one asks me any questions about what happened, no one is watching me as though they’re waiting for me to have a breakdown. In fact, Christian, who is sitting directly across from me because my father took the empty chair at my right, is the only person I ever find truly staring at me, but there’s no worry or concern in his eyes right now. Only warmth and affection. The eye contact between us is merely a private expression of love, meant just for me and him. For the first time, in what strangely feels like a very long time, everything feels perfectly normal.

“So, Mia…” Grace says in an almost mysterious kind of way. “Have you told your brothers about your prom date?”

“Mom!” Mia exclaims.

“Prom date?” Elliot asks. “You mean, someone asked you out?”

“As a matter of fact, they did,” she replies smartly.

“Why?”

She rolls her eyes. “He’s in my ballet company. We’re friends.”

“Wait…” Christian says. “You didn’t meet him at school?”

“No.”

“How old his he?”

“Nineteen,” she says, and the gray in Christian’s eyes immediately hardens.

“I don’t think so. There’s only one thing nineteen year old boys are after and he’s not getting if from my little sister.”

“I’m sorry, Christian, remind me. How old were you when you and Ana started dating? It wasn’t eighteen and it wasn’t twenty…” She waits, as though she’s actually expecting him to answer, but when he doesn’t, her expression hardens and she gives him an accusatory look. “You have no room to say anything. Don’t act like I didn’t share a wall with you and Ana on basically every family vacation we’ve ever gone on. You two aren’t exactly quiet.”

“Amelia!” Grace exclaims, and, as I feel my dad’s eyes dart over to me, I immediately begin to feel my face burn.

“Oh god,” I groan, burying my face in my hands.

“What?” Mia asks innocently. “She’s pregnant, it’s not like it’s a secret.”

“Regardless,” Christian says tersely. “You are seventeen and I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to be dating anyone who isn’t in high school. Or anyone else for that matter.”

“Oh really, Christian? Did you wait til you graduated high school to have sex? And did you do it with someone who was still in high school?”

“Alright, alright, alright,” Elliot interjects, clearly understanding the direction the conversation is going in and coming in to stop it like my own personal superhero. “First of all, Mia, you are too young to be having sex, so if you are, stop it, and if you’re not, don’t. I’m still your big brother and I don’t want to have to murder anyone, even though I think I’d be really good at it and I have all of the tools to dispose of a body. Second of all, Christian, I don’t really think you need to worry.” A smile slowly creeps across his lips. “She’s going with a ballet dancer.”

He laughs and Mia throws a crouton at him. “You’re such a dick, Elliot.”

“Amelia Trevelyan-Grey!”

“Sorry, Mom.”

She falls silent, just as everyone else around the table does, but I can still feel my dad glancing between Christian and I until Grace finally says something to break the tension.

“So, Christian, where are you and Ana at on wedding planning? Please tell me you’ve at least decided on a date.”

“We haven’t talked much about it actually. We were waiting until Ray got home. Ana wanted him to be here.”

“Well, he’s home!” she exclaims happily. “So, let’s talk dates. I think Carla is picturing a fall wedding, but fall in Seattle is such question mark with the weather. Honestly, I think Ana would be just beautiful as a June bride.”

“June?” I repeat, and then immediately shake my head. “No, I… I definitely want to wait until after the baby is born. There’s just too much going on right now to add the stress of wedding planning on top of everything. I think I could probably wait another year before we start planning…”

“I think that’s smart, kid,” my dad says, clapping his hand on my knee. “It’s better that you don’t rush this.”

“I hardly think we’re rushing anything,” Christian interjects, perhaps a little too sharply, and my dad looks up and raises an eyebrow at him.

“Is that so?”

“Yes. Ana and I have known this was what we wanted for some time now. She’s pregnant with my child, I think it’s only fitting that we make our family official sooner rather than later.”

“Maybe. I guess it’s hard for me to judge how fast all of this is moving because there’s so much about you and your relationship with my daughter that I still don’t know.”

“Well, she’s happy, and she’s in love. I don’t know what more you need to know than that.”

“Excuse me?”

“Daddy…” I interrupt, giving him a pleading look to try and head off any argument that may be about to start. If there’s one thing I know Christian won’t tolerate, it’s any insinuation that us being together, or getting married, isn’t a good idea, and I’d rather not watch my father and my fiancé get into a power struggle over the Greys’ dinner table.

“I’m just saying kid, there’s no need to rush.”

Christian opens his mouth, but Grace cuts him off. “Well, I don’t think it would be a bad idea if we at least looked into wedding planners. You know it can take a year to find somewhere suitable to have the ceremony. It can’t hurt to start looking.”

“Sure,” I agree.

She nods and turns back to my father. “Carla and I have shared so many phone calls about this wedding, she’s so excited.”

“Yeah, Carla always did love weddings,” he says. “We never really had one. Maybe that’s part of the reason it didn’t work out.”

“You didn’t have a wedding?” Mia asks.

“Well, we had a wedding, but it was just a small ceremony. We got married in her parents’ back yard and had turkey sandwiches and cheap wine afterwards. We were young and didn’t have a lot of money, but I know she always wanted a white wedding, with the church and the flowers and everything. I guess Bob was the guy who finally gave her what she wanted.”

“It’s always like that though, right?” Elliot says. “It’s about the wedding. You can be with someone forever and never get married. I mean having one party doesn’t mean you’re going to stay together any longer than you would have if you skipped the whole wedding thing.”

“I don’t know,” Grace says. “I think there’s something to exchanging vows with the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. That declaration of love and commitment in front of God and all of your friends and family really makes the union between the two of you feel like family.”

“And yet, 1 in 2 marriages now end in divorce…” Elliot argues.

“That’s because marriage is work,” Carrick interjects. “You’re spending the rest of your life with another imperfect person and it can be difficult sometimes. Some people aren’t prepared to put in the effort required to make it through the tough times or they chose the wrong person to spend their life with. But if it’s the right person, it’s worth it a hundred times over.”

“That makes it nice to know that you’ve found the right person, right?” Gia says, reaching under the table to grasp his leg. Elliot frowns and pushes his salad around his plate for a second before looking back up at my dad.

“What do you think, Ray? Would you ever get married again?”

“Me? I don’t know, maybe. If I met the right person.”

“So… you don’t regret getting married to Ana’s mom? Even though you got divorced?”

“Regret? No. Carla and I were married for 16 years and 15 of them were the happiest years of my life. Besides, I got this little girl out of it and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

He leans over to nudge me and I smile back at him.

“I don’t know if that’s true,” I tell him with a yawn. “The best thing that’s ever happened to you? What about Sunday Night Football?”

“Well, Annie, Sunday Night Football is the reason you have children. So that you have someone to go get you a cold beer when the game’s on the line and you’re past the two minute warning so there aren’t any commercial breaks left.”

“You screwed up then,” I laugh. “Because there’s no way I’d get up for anything under the two minute warning.”

“Or I did everything right,” he says with a smile. “Sounds to me like I’ve instilled the right priorities in you, kid.”

“Looks like it,” I reply.

He reaches over and wraps his arm around me, pulling me into his side and kissing me hard on the top of the head, and for a moment, it feels like no time has passed at all since the last time we sat at the table having dinner together. Christian glances between us, the look of uncertainty from my father’s comments still clear on his face, but he doesn’t say anything. In fact, he’s mostly quiet for the rest of the dinner, despite the fact that the general conversation between my dad and his family is light and enjoyable. Elliot even takes a few opportunities to talk Christian up a little, which I’m quick to agree with each and every time.

“Yeah, we’ve been sailing since we were real little,” Elliot says, “but Christian’s always been the better of the two of us. He’s more patient than I am, and he’s better at the meticulous stuff, tying knots, making sure the cunningham stays tight, not drinking eight or twelve beers when we’re out at sea. You know, the little things.”

“Is that so?” my dad replies, and he actually looks a little impressed. Definitely more so than when Carrick was talking about GEH. “I’ve never really learned to sail. Montesano is landlocked so we’re mostly limited to lakes and rivers, but I do love to fish though.”

“Christian likes to fish,” I jump in. “He and Carrick and Elliot go all the time. You should join them sometime. He has the most amazing yacht, I think you’d really love it, Dad.”

“Well, if we’re going fishing out on the yacht, we probably won’t take Elliot,” Christian says, and my dad frowns.

“Why not?”

“Jet skis,” Christian’s entire family says in unison, and a broad smile creeps across Elliot’s face as he lifts his hands and rubs them together excitedly.

“It’s almost summer,” he says. “Once Kate gets back from Harvard, we’re going to lift two jet skis off Christian’s yacht, take off into the sound, and never return. Well, until we get low on gas, and then I guess we’ll have to come back or risk a horrible death at sea…”

He laughs but everyone around the table falls quiet and looks over to Gia, specifically me who just had a conversation with her about how she reacts whenever Kate is brought up. Her shoulders rise and fall as she takes a deep breath and then turns to look at Elliot.

“You know, I would go jet skiing with you,” she says calmly, but Elliot just turns to face her with a raised eyebrow.

“You’d get your hair wet,” he argues.

“So?”

“And the life jacket would give you a weird tan line.”

“I’d be spending time with you, Elliot. That’s what matters.”

“Spending time with me? Are you sure? Because it seems to me like your schedule is packed.”

“That was… I already told you…”

“Yeah, I know what you fucking told me,” he says, angry now.

“Elliot,” Gia replies, her voice almost a warning. “Can we talk about this later, please?”

“Why? I thought it was just a business lunch? You have nothing to hide right? I mean, it was a business lunch that I, as your boss, had no idea about and it was with a man my company has never done business with, but it’s completely innocent, right?”

“We talked about this,” she says, her face reddening, “His company his doing a remodel and they were looking for interior designers. They’d already contracted a construction company, this was an independent contract for me, not for Grey Construction.”

“And he just happened to get your name?” Elliot presses her.

“He knows Christian. We met at the GEH New Year’s Eve Charity Ball and I gave him my card. I promise you, it was just a business lunch. I’m not even going to take the contract.”

“Why? If it’s so innocent, why wouldn’t you take the contract?”

“Because obviously you can’t handle it!” she snaps.

Elliot narrows his eyes at her and then turns to look at Christian. “His name is Charles Gresham, you know him?”

“Uh…” Christian stutters, obviously extremely uncomfortable being put in the middle of Gia and Elliot’s sudden and highly inappropriate argument. “Gresham? Yeah, he… he’s an investment banker at Seattle Metropolitan Investing. He manages about 40% of my liquid investments.”

“See?” Gia says. “Baby, it’s just work!”

“An investment banker for a billionaire,” Elliot says ruefully. “Sounds like someone with a lot of money. A lot more money than me.”

“Why would that matter at all?” Gia asks, the frustration finally building enough that I can see tears welling in her eyes. “Elliot, can we please talk about this at home?” His jaw tightens, as do his fingers around his utensils, until eventually he shakes his head, pulls the napkin from his lap, and tosses it onto the table.

“Excuse me.” We all watch, slightly dazed, as he pushes away from the table and storms out of the room. Christian looks, for a second, as though he may get up too, but he stops when Gia practically leaps out of her seat and quickly scurries after him.

“Well, it wouldn’t be a family dinner if at least one of our kids didn’t storm out,” Carrick says with a small laugh, trying to keep the mood light.

“I’m sorry, Ray,” Grace says. “They’re… still figuring things out I think. Are you still hungry? There’s dessert. We have peach cobbler.”

“Uh… that sounds delicious.” my dad answers awkwardly.

“Mia, will you please bring the cobbler in from the kitchen? Mia? Hello, Mia?”

Mia looks up, jerking slightly as she seemingly comes out of her own secluded stupor and stares blankly back at her mother. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Will you bring the cobbler in from the kitchen.”

“Oh… uh… no. I gotta go. I’ve got ballet rehearsal.” She too puts her napkin on the table and slowly gets out of her chair, walking towards the exit of the dining room as though she’s been stunned.

“Take security with you!” Christian calls after her, but she doesn’t respond. She simply shuffles from the room and disappears.

“Make that two kids,” Carrick says.

“Well, I will get the cobbler then,” Grace says, but my dad reaches out to stop her.

“You know, Grace, you’ve been so wonderful tonight, and I can’t tell you when I last had a meal this delicious, but it looks like Ana might be about to fall asleep in her potatoes, so it might be a good idea if we head home.”

“What? No, I’m fine,” I say, shaking my head slightly to try and push some of the exhaustion away, but even as I turn to face my dad, my eyelids suddenly feel so heavy that I’m struggling to keep them open. My mind goes a little foggy and I can feel my body start to sway as I struggle to maintain my balance in my chair.

“Taylor,” Christian calls, waiting only half a second before he steps into the room. “Bring the car around. We’re ready to go.”

“Yes, sir.” Taylor replies. My dad helps me up from the table and I give half-hearted, exhausted hugs goodbye to both Grace and Carrick before we make our way through the dining room towards the entrance hall. As we walk, the fatigue really starts to overwhelm me and soon Christian is half carrying me with the arm he has wrapped around my waist.

“Come here, Ana,” Grace says, pulling me away from Christian for one last hug. “We love you so much, Darling. I’m so happy that you’re safe and back with us.”

“I love you too, Grace,” I reply, trying and failing not to mumble. She squeezes me tightly and passes me back to Christian, and his arms wrapping around me is the last thing I remember until I’m suddenly jolted awake by the sound of my phone vibrating against something hard in the darkness next to me. The sudden change in my surroundings is disorienting because, not only do I have no idea how I got here, I don’t even know where I am. The room is dark and I’m alone, but as I bolt upright and glance down on my phone on the bedside table, I realize I’m in my bed. Christian must have carried me here from the car.

How long have I been asleep?

The vibrating catches my attention again so I reach down for my phone, read Kate’s name flashing across the screen, and take a quick second to note that it’s nearly 10 when I answer, which means that it’s past midnight her time.

“Hello?” I croak.

“Ana Marie,” she slurs over the loud thumping music in the background.

“Rose, Kate. My middle name is Rose.”

“No, I changed it,” she says, and then laughs. “Anaaaaaa, I miss you!”

“I know, Katie. I miss you too.”

“Carter and I have been slaying at beer pong all night and I don’t even have anyone to brag to because my best friend is so far away. You should be here, why aren’t you here?”

“You sound awfully drunk to have been slaying,” I say wryly. “Is Carter having another party?”

“Mhm. We’re celebrating.”

“Celebrating what?”

“I got a letter from the Dean today saying that I’ve been selected as our graduating class valedictorian. I’m going to graduate at the top of our class, Ana! I did it!”

“Oh my god, Kate, that’s amazing! Congratulations!”

“Thank you. I honestly can’t believe it’s really happening.”

“I can. You’ve worked so hard for this. Congratulations, Katie. I’m so proud of you!”

“Ana! Come back here!” she says, pleading now. “Walk with me at graduation. You promised! Start together, finish together, right?”

“Right, but…”

“Oh shit, I’m up. I gotta go, but think about it, okay? No, don’t think about it. Just get your ass to Cambridge. I love you and I want my last eight weeks before I turn you over to Christian and Calliope forever.”

“I love you too, Kate,” I tell her, and then I hear some muffled noises through the phone followed by her yelling Carter’s name and then the long drawn out sound of silence. I pull my phone away and see that the call has ended so I sigh and toss it back onto the nightstand.

The aftermath of the conversation leaves me with a palpable ache in my chest, and it doesn’t take me long to identify that the ache is a little bit of jealousy. Not because she’s been selected for Valedictorian, I really am proud of her for accomplishing that because I know better than anyone how hard she’s worked to earn it. The jealousy is simply that she’s there. She’s out and she’s having a great time and she’s wringing every last experience out of college that she possibly can.

I want that. I want to get back to that, and from what everyone tells me, I can. I just have to make the choice. I could get on a plane, tonight if I wanted to, go back to Cambridge and finish what I’ve been striving for for three years. I could walk with Kate. I could see the look on my dad’s face when they announce my name at graduation. All of my dreams are within the reach of my fingertips and all I have to do is make the choice to go get them. I’m the only thing standing in my way right now. Maybe my problem is that I just need a swift kick in the ass to get me to make the choice to go.

Suddenly, I feel a solid kick right in the center of my belly and it’s hard enough that I actually let out an audible gasp. My hand automatically reaches down to the place where Calliope has kicked me, subconsciously hoping to feel more movement, but there’s nothing. Just a single, encouraging kick, as though she can read my thoughts.

Great, Christian’s right. My daughter is going to get my smart mouth.

A smile creeps across my lips and I take a deep breath and pull back the covers to get out of bed, determined to find wherever Christian is in the apartment and tell him that I’m going to go back to Cambridge tomorrow. But, as I make my way out to the great room,  I pause and duck back in the hallway to stay out of view when I hear him talking to my father.

“She’s not ready.”

“Look, I get that this has been traumatic for everyone,” my dad says. “I don’t like it any more than you do, believe me, but I’m not letting her drop out of school. Our top priority right now needs to be getting her back to Cambridge to finish up these last eight weeks and get her degree. I will not allow this son of a bitch to take that away from her, I’ll go with her if I have to.”

“She needs more time,” Christian argues.

“No, I agree with Captain Steele,” Luke says. “She only has eight weeks, less than that because she’s already missed part of this week and two of those eight weeks are dead week and finals. If she misses much more school, she’s not going to be able to catch up, at least not in a way where she’ll do well on her finals and end her college career the way she wants to. If we don’t do something to get her back there, she’s never going to, and it’ll be the biggest regret of her life. She just needs to be pushed a little, reassured.”

“But can we reassure her?” Christian asks. “How do we know she’s any safer there than she is here? She’ll be exposed on campus…”

“She has a full security detail,” my dad interrupts him, and then under his breath adds, “a little ridiculous if you ask me.”

“She also has a full security detail here, and here we are. I’m not going to put three thousand miles of distance between us when I can’t absolutely guarantee her safety.”

“Can you ever guarantee her safety?” my dad asks. “You don’t think I worried about her every day I was in Iraq, even before any of this happened?”

“Mr. Grey, I know the idea of her being so far away is uncomfortable for you,” Luke interjects. “But you have to understand the circumstances that fell into place for this to happen in the first place. She was alone. She didn’t have her team with her, and that’s not going to happen again. I won’t leave her by herself, not even for a second, I swear to you. We’re going to keep her safe and we have the ability to do that in Cambridge.”

There’s a pause as I imagine Christian mulling over Luke’s promise. “Shouldn’t she have a say in this?” he asks at last. “What if she doesn’t even want to go back to school?”

“I do!” I call, and then immediately curse myself. With a bracing breath, I step out of the hallway and into the great room where the three of them look up at me, clearly surprised. “I do want to go back to school, Christian. Tomorrow, if I can.”

My dad smiles. “Well, there you have it! Don’t you worry, Sweetheart. We’ll have you on the first plane out of here tomorrow morning.”

“Mr. Grey has a plane,” Luke chimes in. “It’s the safest way for her to travel. The staff have been vetted and we have complete control over the flight plan.”

“Well… great,” my dad says. “When can she take off?”

“Wait,” Christian says. “I don’t… Ana…”

“Mr. Grey?” Taylor’s voice interrupts him and we all turn to look at the entryway to the foyer where he’s standing with a manilla envelope in his hand. Christian’s eyes narrow in on it, and then widen with sudden understanding.

“Did you find her?” he asks.

“Miss Williams?” Taylor clarifies, and then shakes his head. “No, I haven’t been able to locate her yet, but I did find Hyun Son.”

“Good, that’s a place to start,” Christian says. “Where is he?”

Taylor’s jaw tightens, then he walks into the great room to stand before Christian on the sofa and tosses the envelope on the coffee table in front of him.

“What’s this?” Christian asks.

“A coroner’s report.”

Christian’s expression shifts as he reaches out of the envelope, and while he flips through the pages inside, Taylor explains what the report contains.

“He was found in the trunk of his car down by an abandoned fish house on the docks with a bullet hole in the back of his head.”

“He was shot?” Luke asks.

“Yes,” Taylor confirms. “Execution style.”

“In Boston?” Luke clarifies, but Taylor shakes his head.

“No, in Seattle.”

Christian grimaces as he looks at the last item in the file, which judging by his expression must be a photo, and then closes the folder. It falls into his lap and he places his forehead in his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.

“Taylor call Boeing, have my plane ready for an 8 AM departure,” he says. “Ana is leaving for Boston in the morning.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Taylor? Find Leila Williams.”

“Yes, sir.”

Christian scrubs his hands over his face and tosses the folder onto the coffee table before slowly getting off the couch to walk towards me.

“Come with me. If you’re going to leave in the morning, then this is our last night together for awhile.”

I nod and reach out for his hand, but stop to look back at my dad. “Do you have everything you need? Did Christian show you the guest room upstairs?”

“I’m fine, Annie. Besides, I want to talk to Luke here about a few things. Have a good…” he pauses and his face wrinkles with conflict before he finally settles on. “Sweet dreams, babygirl.”

“Good night, Daddy.”

Christian’s hand tugs against mine and I follow him into our bedroom. Once we’re alone though, he releases me and sits on the edge of the bed, placing his face in his hands again.

“I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do this, Ana. I don’t know if I can let you go.”

“You’re not letting me go,” I tell him. “Nothing is changing. It’s just going back to normal. I need a little normal right now.”

“Ana…”

I move across the room and drop to my knees in front of him so that I can look him in the eye when I speak.

“I love you, Christian, but I can’t be here right now. Everything here reminds me about what happened and as long as I’m here that’s all I’m going to be able to think about. I need to get away from that, take a break… and I need to get back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and that’s going to school. I want to be at school and I think getting back to that and having something purposeful to keep my mind distracted is going to be good for me.”

He looks down at me, staring into my eyes for a long time, until he eventually reaches down to cup either side of my face with his hands and pulls me up to his lips. I return his kiss with eager fervor, basking in the warmth of his lips and letting it wash away everything inside of me except for the love I feel for him and the comfort I find in his touch. I force myself to surrender to the passion of his tongue and his lips until I can’t form coherent thought, and when he pulls away, I immediately climb off the floor and into his lap for more.

“I love you, Ana,” he whispers.

“And I love you.” I reply. He shifts me so that I can lie back on the bed and then moves to my side so that I’m nestled in his arms. I can feel his lips brush softly against the skin on my neck and shoulders, the tip of his nose moving tenderly against my hair while he nuzzles me. Every gentle touch sends a shiver of warm pleasure over me and makes me want more, to be closer to him, despite the fact that my entire body is flush against his.

I moan slightly and arch my back when I feel his fingers trace a soft line up my arm, and as I do, I feel him pressing hard and ready into my backside.

“Oh…”

“I’m sorry, just ignore it,” he says quickly, but I turn around and frown.

“Ignore it?”

He takes a breath. “I know that you need some time. I don’t want to pressure you…” I turn in his arms so that I can cut off his words with my lips. He kisses me back, though not in a way that makes me feel as though this could progress beyond a kiss, so I slowly reach down and grip his erection thorugh his pants.

“Ana…”

“I just want to be close to you, Christian,” I reply. “Please. Love me.”

His eyes search mine, looking for any kind of hesitance, so I try and assuage his concerns by kissing him again. He doesn’t stop me and I press my luck again by moving as though I’m going to climb over the top of him.

“Wait,” he says, holding my hips firm with his hands. “Just… lie back.”

“It’s okay, Christian. I want you.”

“I know. Lie back.”

I glance up into his eyes once more, trying to judge the meaning behind the conflict I see warring there, and then turn once more so that he’s spooning me. His hands reach for the hem of my t-shirt and he slowly inches it up so that his hands can explore my body. Once again, he begins kissing my neck, only this time his fingers slip beneath the cup of my bra and close tightly around my nipple. I gasp and grind into him, desperately seeking friction as the heat begins to bloom between my legs, until I can’t take it anymore, and I yank down the band of my yoga pants and pull them down my legs. He sits up so that he can kiss me while he undoes his fly and while our tongues and harsh breathing all mingle together in a kind of synchronized dance, I feel him slowly slip inside of me.

“Is that okay?” he checks.

“Yes,” I breathe. “Just keep me quiet. I don’t want my dad to hear…”

He turns my face back towards him and thrusts forward again, muffling my cry of pleasure with his lips. Euphoria begins to cloud my mind as he moves in and out of me, slowly, meticulously, building me to the kind of orgasm that goes on and on and burns through my entire body until I feel like I’m flying. I pant through the molten pleasure rolling over every inch of my skin as I finally fall over the precipice into release. His name breaks through my lips and he groans as I continue to cry out my pleasure into his mouth and soon, I feel his thrusts grow sharper until eventually he finds his own release inside of me.

Once the pulsing pleasure dies down, leaving us to bask in the post orgasm haze that is completely absent of all hurt and fear, he turns me back towards him, brushes my hair away from my face, and looks down into my eyes once again.

“I’m coming with you,” he says.

“What?”

“To Cambridge. I’m coming with you. If you need to go, I’m not going to stop you. But being apart from you right now… I can’t handle that. So, I’m coming with you.”

“But GEH…”

“Fuck GEH. You think I care about my company right now? Don’t you understand, Ana? I thought I was going to lose you. I’ve done this without you before and I won’t do it again. None of this means anything without you. ”

“Christian…”

He presses his fingers into my lips to silence me. “It’s only eight weeks. I can work remotely from Cambridge, travel from Boston if I absolutely have to. I can find a way to make it work, but I can’t make 3,000 miles of distance between us work. Not until we know who’s behind this and we’ve done something about it. So I’m coming with you.”

My lips slowly creep into a wide smile. “Okay.”

“Good, then it’s settled.” I nod and after he takes another breath, he smiles too and then leans down to kiss me once more.

“I love you, Anastasia.”

“I love you too, Christian.”

Next Chapter

 

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Chapter 29

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Trauma is strange.

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

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

“Miss Steele?”

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

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

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

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

“What did he say?”

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

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

“Did he have a gun?”

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

“Does that explain the wound on your neck?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

“What about his height? His build?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How tall are you, Mr. Grey?”

Christian’s jaw tenses. “6’2.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do,” Christian interrupts.

“Christian…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This wasn’t your fault, Christian.”

“Yeah? Tell that to your mother.”

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

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

“Aren’t they?” he asks.

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

“We knew someone was after you.”

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

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

“You can’t think of it that way.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is there press outside?” Christian asks.

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds.

“Good.”

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

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

“Oh…”

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

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

“Mr. Grey, is she alright?

“How’s the baby?”

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

“Step up,” Christian says.

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

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

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

“Okay.” I nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir,” Luke says bitterly.

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

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

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

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

“Kate?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I told him not to come.”

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The police haven’t found anything?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah? What was that?”

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

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

“And I’ll hold him down for you.”

“Thanks, Elliot.”

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

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

“Ros? Really? How’d you manage that?”

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

“And what’s that?”

“Patent rights.”

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

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

“Wow, that’s… generous.”

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

There’s a pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you doing, babe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I won’t,” I promise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks, Kate. I want him to stay.”

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

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

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

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

“I will.”

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

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

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

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

“I will,” I promise.

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

“I love you, Annie.”

“I love you too, Katie.”

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

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

“That’s fine, Taylor. You didn’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because someone gave out those codes, Elliot.”

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

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

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

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

“Good. Thank you, Taylor.”

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

“How are you feeling?” he asks.

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

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

“No.” I shake my head.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mmm, that feels nice.”

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

“Oh, Ana,” he says. “Ana. Ana. Ana!”

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

“Wake up, baby,” Christian whispers.

“No,” I groan.

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

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

“No,” he laughs.

“Then I choose sleep.”

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

Someone?” I check.

“Yes, someone. Wait here.”

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

“Annie?”

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

“Daddy?” I whisper, and he smiles.

“Hey, baby girl.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 28

7e0796a234c0d4624db74557fbae45ca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Surprisingly, I don’t,” I say wryly.

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

“Elliot’s gift is inside.”

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

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

My Dad is a Mother Fucker

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you want to tell them?”

“No, you go ahead.”

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

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

“Thank you,” I smile at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Um… Ros was there this afternoon.”

He frowns. “Ros? Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you please just listen to me?”

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

“But what if you’re wrong?”

“I have the proof, Ana.”

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

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

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

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

“No, I just… I-I just…”

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

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

I fall asleep before he returns.

 

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

“Really.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Champ!” I call again, but nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No!” I scream. “Help! Help!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Run!” Leila screams.

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

“Champ,” I whimper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bought? What do you mean… bought?

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

“Who is he, Leila? Who’s doing this?”

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

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

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

“You were–you were protecting me?”

“Yes!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Where?” I ask.

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

“Wait here,” she says.

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

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

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

And then people will die.

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

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

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

Come on, Calliope…

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

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

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

“I don’t… I don’t have anything.”

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

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

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

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

“Why? What’s wrong?”

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” I agree.

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

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

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

“And go where?”

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

“I can’t just leave…”

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

“Then tell me.”

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes widen. “Anastasia Steele?”

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

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

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

I’m still alive.

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

“Yes, come in,” I reply.

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

“Okay,” I nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, then let’s take a look.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Baby,” he whispers. “Oh my god.”

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

“What’s wrong?”

“My elbow,” I whimper.

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

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

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

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

“The-the baby?”

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

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

“Champ? You found Champ?”

“Taylor did. He was limping up the street toward the apartment and Gail took him to the vet. He’s been stabbed. We thought you… I thought you’d…”

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

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

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

Next Chapter

 

Trigger Warning

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

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

xoxo

WishingMrGreyWasHere

Chapter 27

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know,” I tell him, and he nods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what about Leila?”

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

“That’s… uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” I agree.

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

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

“Worth it,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

“Great, so are we.”

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

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

“The Bollinger?”

“Please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s Christian?” I ask.

“He’s still in Chicago, ma’am.”

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

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

“Tomorrow?”

“I’m afraid so, ma’am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I laugh.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christian’s home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christian, I’m all sweaty.”

“Good. You taste better that way.”

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

“But… it’s been three weeks.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“What kind of a surprise?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re leaving?”

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

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

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

“Reed? Carter Reed?”

“Yeah,” Christian confirms.

“Why?”

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

“Kate,” Elliot breathes in surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you?”

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

“Can I speak with you, please?”

“Right now?”

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

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

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

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

“I never wrote those emails!”

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

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

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

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

“Who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course. After you.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christian?”

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

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

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

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

“Ready?” he asks as he sets me down.

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait… you did this?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything you liked?”

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

 

S A

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

“What have you thought of?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Meh,” I say, and he frowns again.

“What’s wrong with Elizabeth?”

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

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

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

“Such as?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What would her middle name be?’

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

“Okay, what about… Katherine?”

“Katherine? You mean… after Kate?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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