Chapter 46

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It takes two days to get a loved ones ashes back from the crematorium. That’s something I know now. After meeting with the cheap estate lawyer my mother had used to draw up a will when she and Bob moved to Georgia, we learned that it was her wish to be cremated and that her ashes be spread over the sound in Seattle.

She’s left everything to Bob, minus some jewelry that had belonged to my grandmother and an old antique hope chest that she wanted me to have. He argued with me at first and said that my mother’s things should go to me since the will had been written before their separation, but under the circumstances I’d rather he make the decisions over what to do about the things that are all that remain of the life they had together. I don’t need her things. Things don’t bring her back and looking at them is too painful. Still, both he and Christian are insistent that I at least go through what’s left in the house before we leave to make sure there’s absolutely nothing of hers that I want to keep. So, on our last night in Georgia, Kate comes with me to my mother’s home and helps me sort through everything.

“Oh my god,” she says with amazement as she makes her way deeper into my mother’s closet. “I just got to the nineties.”

I sigh. “She never threw anything away. Except husbands, I guess.”

Kate frowns, but pulls out an azure colored power suit with over the top shoulder pads sewn in. “Awh, I remember this! Didn’t she wear this to our kindergarten graduation?”

“Yeah. Donate it.”

“What? Are you sure?”

I look away from her so she can’t see the tears welling in my eyes and quickly shake my head. “Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t need it so just donate it.”

“Well, I know you don’t need it, but don’t you want it? Something to remember her by?”

Her words wash over me and I can’t stop the grief that bubbles up inside of me. My face crinkles with pain and I break down into tears on my mother’s bed.

“Shit, Ana. I’m sorry.” The dress falls out of her hands and she crawls onto the bed next to me to wrap me in her arms. I try as best I can to pull back the tears, but now that the dam is broken, there’s no way to call back the flood.

“I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Okay, we’ll take a break.”

I shake my head. “No, I don’t want to do it at all. Just get rid of everything, okay? I don’t want any of this stuff.” After a few calming breaths, I untangle myself from her arms and sit upright again, wiping the tears from my face and trying desperately to hang on to some form of composure. “I’m fine. I just want to throw everything away and get out of here. I’m fine.”

She watches me wearily as I climb off the bed and start to gather the things I had previously decided to take, a blanket she’d crocheted when I was a baby and has been around as long as I can remember, the jewelry box, and a sweatshirt that says Harvard Mom, and while I struggle to put the items into the oversized canvas bag I’ve brought along, she reaches out to stop me.

“Ana, you’re allowed to grieve. You don’t have to put on this strong front… no one would ever accuse you of being weak.”

“I’m not. I’m fine.”

“Ana…”

“I just don’t want to talk about it, okay? I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to think about this and I don’t want to feel this. I can’t handle it, so I’m just not going to. I’m not going to do this.”

“I don’t think it works that way, Ana. You can’t just skip grief.”

“Watch me.”

“Annie?” We turn towards the sound of my father’s knuckles rapping against the door frame and the second I see the look on his face, I once again have to fight the dry ache in my throat and the sting of impending tears in my eyes.

“I’ll just give you two a minute…” Kate says. She squeezes my hand and then moves to leave the room, but at the door, she pauses and leans up on her toes to whisper something in my dad’s ear. He nods and then steps aside so she can leave. Once she’s gone, he closes the door and comes to me. He’s holding a book, but I can’t see what it is because his arms open like he’s going to hug me, and I immediately have to move out of his reach.

“Don’t…” I warn him. “Please, don’t. I can’t cry anymore and that’s all you’re going to do, so please don’t.”

“It’s okay to cry, Annie. It’s okay to be sad. You should be. I know that it’s been rough for you two for a while, but I know that you loved your mother and that she loved you.” He takes a deep breath to quell his own emotion. “I know how hard this is for you.”

“No you don’t. I’m sorry, but no you don’t. The last time I spoke to her, I told her that I didn’t want her in my life anymore. I told we were done and then I asked my CPO to take her out of the room and out of my life. She died thinking I hated her, Dad. And I did.” My voice breaks on the last word and I have to sit back on the bed to keep myself from falling to the ground. “I did because I was so angry I couldn’t give her the time to explain herself. And when she reached out to me and tried to tell me what had happened, when she wrote to me trying to warn me of what was coming, I ignored her. I didn’t even read those letters until it was too late. I’m never going to be able to take that back, Dad. Mom died thinking I hated her.”

“No.” He chokes over the word as he begins shaking his head and wiping away his own tears. “No, she died thinking you had tried save her.”

He sits on the bed next to me and I immediately fall into him, letting him wrap me in the warm embrace that has comforted so many of my fears and heartaches over the years, yearning for it to do just that now.

“Why did this have to happen? I’m not ready to let her go. There’s so much she’s going to miss and that I’m not going to be able to share with her. Calliope will never know her. She won’t be there for her first birthday, she won’t see her first step or hear her first word… She’s gone, and I’m never going to see her again. What if… what if I forget her?”

“You won’t. Not ever.” I sniff and he hugs me tighter to him and kisses my temple before pulling me back so he can look me in the eye. “Come here, I want to show you something.”

I nod and move into the center of her bed while he pulls back the comforter and crawls in beside me. As I nestle down into his side, my mother’s smell surrounds me. I pause to breathe it in as deeply as possible, ignoring how tight it makes my throat feel, and try to memorize everything about it. It’s undoubtedly the first thing that will be lost to me in her absence, so I cling to it.

“Bob and I were going through your mother’s trunks and we found this.” He pulls the book he was carrying and places it on his lap in front of the both of us. As I look down at it, I realize that it’s a photo album. “There’s a lot of good stuff in here.”

He opens the cover to the first page, revealing pictures of the day I was born scattered across the black cardstock. My mom looks so young in these pictures, and extremely exhausted. My biological father was deployed, in fact, he died the day after this, so it’s my grandmother who leans down next to her in the only photo here that isn’t just of the two of us. The two of us. That’s how my life started. Just her and me. And the look on her face as she stares down at me in her arms in each and every faded photo makes my chest ache. There’s love there. Unrelenting, true love, which I recognize because it’s the way I feel when I look at my own daughter.

He turns the page and suddenly Ray is in our lives. This must have been after they were married because I look almost a year old in these photos, and as I stare at both my mother and father’s hair and clothes that are the late eighties personified, I can’t hold back my laugh.

“I still have those pants, you know,” my dad says, pointing at a pair of authentic parachute pants with some kind of chaotic black and white pattern spread across them.

“I can’t believe you ever wore those!” I giggle. He flashes a broad grin at me.

“Your mother bought them for me. She was very MTV back then and…” he sighs. “Oh, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done for her. Look how happy we were.” He points at a photo in the corner of the three of us. It looks like they’re trying their damndest to take a good family photo, but I’m perched on Ray’s hip and far too interested in taking his sunglasses to look at the camera. My mom looks beside herself with laughter while Ray clutches his sunglasses against his face and tries to move out of the reach of my tiny little hand.

It’s the perfect picture, encapsulating the way I remember my life felt before Ray found out about the affair my mom had when I was fifteen, their subsequent divorce, and her disastrous marriage to Stephen. I’d forgotten this and how much I’d idolized her when I was a child, probably because of the resentment I harbored against her when Ray left. But it wasn’t always like that. She was amazing, and she worked as hard as she could to make sure I had a wonderful childhood. The evidence of that is spread across these pages.

We flip through photos of old vacations, holidays, and picnics in the park. My dad takes the time to reminisce over each and every memory and shares with me every one of the stories that are tied to the pictures here. I listen eagerly to everything he has to say and as we laugh together over a picture of my mom screaming and running away from a fish on the end of Ray’s pole, a welcome sense of peace crosses over me.

This is how people move past this. The hopelessness that’s had me spiraling between anger and overwhelming pain is all because I can’t handle the thought that I’ve lost her forever. That I’m never going to see or speak to her ever again. But she isn’t lost. She’s here, on these pages. She’s in the sixteen years of stories and memories I share with my dad, and the six more years of memories I have without him. And, as I listen to his stories and hear the side of things I never got as a child, I realize that she’s actually in every decision I make, everything I stand up for, and in the way I treat and love the people around me. Because she’s in me. She made me the person that I am. I’ve learned from her mistakes, and from her triumphs, and her guidance has not only made me a better person, but it’s going to make me a better mother too.

“Thank you, Daddy,” I say, cuddling into his side and wrapping my arms around him as tightly as I can.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. There’s more of these out in the living room, I think you should keep them. That way, when you’re sad or you miss your mom….” His face morphs with pain and he leans back for a second, looking up and away from me to try and hold back his own tears. He can’t though, and when he speaks again, his voice is strained and a tear rolls from the corner of his eye down his stubbled cheek. “Call me, okay? And we’ll look through these together.”

I nod and bury my face in his chest, but I don’t have the chance to fall apart all over again because my phone rings from the place where it’s resting at the bottom of the bed.

“That’s probably Christian. I left him alone with Calliope.”

“Uh oh.” My dad laughs and releases me so I can pick up the phone, but when I look down at the screen, it isn’t Christian’s name I see displayed there.

“Shit, it’s Lydia…”

“Lydia?”

“My book agent. Crap, I’m probably going to be sued by Random House for abandoning my book tour.” I take a deep breath, steeling myself, and answer the call. “Hi, Lydia.”

“Ana, you darling girl. You’ve done it!”

“Done what?”

“I just got the email, Escape is going to debut at number three on the New York Times’ bestseller list.”

“Wait… what?”

“Apparently, all of this press from leaving at the very beginning of your tour for this family emergency has drummed up a ton of interest in you, and by proxy, your book. You’ve moved 14,000 copies in the past four days..”

“14,000 copies? Of my book? Oh my god. That’s amazing!”

“Yes. Yes it is. But we can’t lose momentum. I’ve spoken with Random House and they’re willing to cancel the rest of your scheduled publicity tour if you sit down through a press junket to give some written interviews, do an AMA, and attend one public black tie party where they can invite a ton of fabulous people and the press and have you do one reading.”

“Oh, um…”

“It’ll be in Seattle. I was at least able to ensure everything would come to you so you didn’t have to travel and be away from your family while you’re dealing with all of this.”

I sigh and let my head drop back as I consider the request. In Seattle or not, this isn’t good timing. We still have so much unresolved and a big public event presents a certain amount of danger. Especially in Seattle. Or… maybe the fact that it is so public would make it okay? Last March, when I was leaving the hospital, Taylor said the press was my friend. No one would attack me with cameras pointed directly at me at all times, and that’s exactly what this would be. It gets me out of the lengthy tour obligation, keeps me home so our security isn’t spread out, and it gives me the chance to celebrate this life long dream that, in light of everything else, has felt like nothing more than an asterisk mark to all other drama on my life.

“Okay,” I agree hastily. “Let’s do it.”

“Oh, good. I’m so glad you agreed because it’s already been planned. Your book party will take place at the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle on Saturday night. Eight o’clock.”

“Saturday? Lydia, it’s Thursday!”

“I know, but Random House is really trying to push you to number one by next week. Apparently Stephen King has some big novel coming out in the next few weeks and they’re afraid if we drag this out too long, that top spot is going to be stolen out from under you.”

I actually have to pause for a second and let those words wash off me before I can respond. She just used mine and Stephen King’s name in the same sentence… about the number one slot on the New York Times’ Bestseller List. My face breaks into a huge, uncontrollable smile that makes me glad she can’t see me through the phone.

“We’ll find a way to make it work. Thank you, Lydia.”

“No problem, Ana. I’ll see you Saturday. Oh! And, congratulations.”

“Thank you. Bye.” I hang up and the moment the phone is out of my hand, my dad pounces on me.

“So?”

“I’m a New York Times bestseller.”

“Annie!” I let out an elated laugh as he pulls me into his arms and rocks me back and forth. “This is the most amazing news! I’m so proud of you, baby girl.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I look up at him beaming down at me, but as I see the pride reflected in his eyes, the enormity of that phone call hits me. “Oh my god, I have so much to do… I need to get back to Seattle. I have to get a dress and figure out what to do with Calliope and… fuck, security. What am I going to do with Taylor being here? They said they can’t transport him back home until next week, and we haven’t gotten Mom’s ashes back yet. How am I going to get her ashes?”

“Don’t worry about all of that, that’s all just extra stuff that we’ll figure out along the way. You’ve got a good support network around you and we’ll help you with whatever we can. You just worry about enjoying this, Annie. This is your moment and after all you’ve been through, you deserve it.”

I smile. “Okay.”

“Good, then first things first. Let’s go tell your husband and get you back home.” He pulls the blanket back so I can climb out of bed, and I lean up to kiss him on the cheek before grabbing the album and scurrying from the room to where Luke is waiting in the living room. He’s plugged into his laptop, focusing hard on the screen as his fingers fly over the keyboard, and he’s so engrossed in whatever he’s doing that when I tap him on the shoulder, he jumps.

“Fuck,” he says, pulling an earbud out so he can focus on me. “You scared me.”

“Scared you?” I give him a hard look. “Keeping a real sharp eye out, huh?”

“Sorry, this is just taking me longer than I expected and it’s… frustrating.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to hack your husband.”

“My husband? Why?”

“Because log-ins can be traced and, if I’m right, I don’t want Gresham knowing we’re onto him.”  

I stare at him with confusion as he begins typing on his keyboard again, entering a long line of nonsensical code in a black text box and then watching the responding codes that follow.

“What are you talking about? What is this?”

“Grey asked me to find a link from Gresham to the plot against you and I have a hunch but…” He stops as his eyes begin scanning through the new code on the screen, and after inputting a few more lines of his own, there’s a slight disruption in the display and then a new screen pops up. It’s a portal to a bank account with a ridiculous number of zeros attached to the balance.

“Fuck… I’m right,” Luke says.

“What is that?”

“This is your husband’s Cayman Islands trust account. It’s the same kind of thing Gresham’s been using to hide his paper trail from us.”

“Why does he have $63 million in an offshore account?”

“Because he set it up for you, remember? When he thought there was a chance that he was going to prison last year?” I look down at the screen and try to remember that night, which is difficult because I’ve done everything I could to forget it. He told me there was money set aside for me and gave me a business card. My purse is on the sofa so I begin digging through it until I find my wallet, and in the mix of the dozen or so loyalty and rewards cards I have shoved in the folds, I find the crumpled up business card Christian gave to me should any of my information ever change. Embossed on the front in flat, silver typeface is the name Charles Gresham.

His name has been in my wallet this entire time.

“Wait, I thought he said there was $65 million in that account?” I glance up at Luke and toss him the card.

“There was.” He tilts the screen towards me so I can see the dozens of purchases for various amounts of money. $6,000, $1,800, $32,000, even $250,000. In total, over $2 million is missing and it all been paid to the same company. Limited LTD.

A chill washes over me as I hear Christian’s words from a past conversation echo through my head, ‘Taylor may have found something in Leila’s financial records, a paper trail. Her tuition, her apartment, her living expenses were all being paid out of an offshore account owned by a company called Limited LTD, based in Panama.’

“Oh my god… That’s his company. Gresham’s. Limited LTD was the shell company he used to tie up the trust in Panama. He’s been paying people with Christian’s money.”

“Looks like it.”

There’s a knock on the door behind us, which makes Bob come out of the kitchen where he’s been sorting everything that is being shipped off to Goodwill later in the week. Luke and I fall silent as he opens the door, but relax when we see that it’s Christian who steps inside, holding a very wiggly Calliope in the crook of his arm.

“Christian!” My dad says jovially, coming out of the kitchen behind Bob. “I should have known you wouldn’t wait until we got back to celebrate. Isn’t this exact news we needed right now?”

“I’m sorry… what?” Christian looks back at my father with blank confusion and when his eyes shift to me, I feel my cheeks heat with a kind of prideful embarrassment. “You have news?”

“Yeah, um… I got a call from Lydia. Apparently me not going on my book tour was publicity all in itself. Escape is going to debut at number three on the New York Times’ bestseller list.”

His eyes widen. “What?”

I nod enthusiastically and his face breaks into a breathtaking smile.

“Ana, that’s incredible. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“You didn’t tell me that, you punk.” Luke backhands me across my hip, but when I turn back to look at him, he’s smiling. “That’s awesome. Congratulations, Ana.”

“Well, if you’re not here to celebrate, what are you doing?” My dad asks. “Don’t tell me my perfect, angel granddaughter is giving you trouble.”

“Oh, she and I have had quite the day, but I’m here because we’re all headed to dinner and I wondered if you had time for a break and could join us?” He looks back to me and I frown.

“Actually, I came out here to talk to Luke because I needed to go find you. Lydia said Random House is willing to cancel the rest of my book tour if I fulfill a few last publicity obligations in Seattle. We need to fly home. Tonight, if possible.”

“Oh, well… yeah. I’ll call my pilot and have them fuel the plane. After dinner, we’ll go back to the hotel, pack, and be on our way.”

“Good, but first…” I turn to Luke, and as the excitement on his face turns somber and he reaches for his laptop again, Christian stiffens.

“Have you found something?”

“Unfortunately, yes. There’s a connection between Gresham and the account that’s being used to fund this plot against you. The account Taylor uncovered through Leila’s finances, the one that he’s used to pay all of the people who have come after you, is being funded through your own Caymen Islands account.” He turns the laptop towards Christian so he can see the purchases. “Authorization, Charles Gresham.”

The confusion on Christian’s face doesn’t diminish as he glances over the proof displayed on the screen of Luke’s laptop but I have a sneaking suspicion that may be because of shock.  

“What did you just say?”

“Limited LTD is funded through your account, and the funds are transferred from that shell company into the Panama account he’s using to pay his people He’s using your own money against you.”

The color drains from Christian’s complexion and as I see his body begin to shake, wonder if I should take the baby from him. Before I can move though, he turns to yell in the direction of the kitchen.

“Kate?” It takes a few seconds but she stumbles through the opening between the kitchen through the living room, her knees covered in dust, pulling yellow dishwashing gloves off her hands.

“Yeah?”

“My parents are taking Elliot and Mia to the 45th St Bistro. Would you and Ray mind getting Ana’s things together, taking Calliope, and letting them know we’ll be late but that you should all start without us? We’ll be leaving tonight, so I don’t want them to wait.”

“Uh, sure. Is everything okay?”

“Fine. We’ll be right behind you.”

She glances suspiciously between Christian and I for a moment, but shrugs and holds her hands out for Calliope. The moment he slides her into Kate’s arms though, she starts crying.

“You’re sure you want me to take her?”

Christian nods. “There’s a pacifier in her car seat. She’s been a little attached to me today but she also hasn’t napped much. Hopefully, she’ll fall asleep once you get her in the car.”

“Okay.” Her tone is dubious, because we all know that Christian is the one person Calliope has a hard time being separated from when she’s feeling comfortable, but she doesn’t argue. She turns to make her way back up the hallway where I’ve left the bag containing the things I wanted to keep of my mother’s and the moment she’s out of sight, Christian rounds on Luke.

“I want screenshots of everything. We need physical proof of every transfer that he’s made and the corresponding dates to when they hit the Panama account. Start a file that we can send to Hsu at the FBI. I want enough evidence for them to go after him by the time we touch down in Seattle.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And I don’t want to leave Taylor or Reed here with no one to keep an eye on them. They’ve been targeted once, they’ll be targeted again. Who do we have that we can spare?”

“That have been vetted?” He shakes his head. “No one.”

“No one?”

“It’s just Kommer and I now.”

“How long will it take to bring someone on?”

Luke frowns. “I–I don’t have the contacts that, Taylor does. I’m not head of security, I’m just a tech guy who can throw a punch and shoot a gun. I’d have no idea where to start for recruiting…”

“I’ll stay.”

We all turn to face my father, who is standing looking purposefully at Christian, and my mouth drops open in horror. “What? You? No!”

“I can help, Annie. I’m more than capable of keeping watch on a civilian hospital for a few days and once Taylor is able to be airlifted home, I can bring your mother’s ashes to you. It solves everything.”

“No,” I argue again, shaking my head. “No, I don’t want you separated from us. If he’s trying to target me, he’ll hurt you.”

“I’m not afraid of him.” He turns back to Christian. “I have 23 years of experience in special ops for the United States army and Jason Taylor was wounded while trying to protect my family. I took an oath to never leave a man behind, and I don’t intend to.”

“Daddy…”

Christian looks wearily at him for a moment, torn between his need for my father’s help and the quiver in my voice.

“Uh, sir…”

We all turn at Luke who is looking down at his laptop now with wide eyes, tapping furiously on the keys as though he’s trying to undo something.

“What is it?”

“The Panama account. It’s empty.”

“What? What do you mean it’s empty?” Christian asks.

“We saw over two million dollars in transfers to that account,” I add.

“We did, but it’s gone. It looks like it was emptied by wire transfer this morning.”

“This morning? To who?”

“I don’t know, sir. It only tells me that the transfer was made…”

“Fuck.” Christian’s jaw clenches. “He knows we’re onto him. He’s going to try and run. Get Kommer on the phone. I want eyes on Gresham, now. He doesn’t move, he doesn’t even breathe without us knowing about it.”

“Yes, sir.”

He turns back to face my father. “It could be dangerous for you to stay behind.”

“I’m well aware of that, Son.”

He nods. “Okay then. Thank you, Ray.”

“No! Christian, No!”

“Ana, we don’t have another option. Sawyer’s right. It’s just him and Kommer now. I don’t have anyone else and both Reed and Taylor need us take care of them right now.”

“I’ll be fine, Annie.”

I shake my head again. “You don’t know that.”

“Alright, we’re all set,” Kate says, coming back into the room. “You said they were at 45th…” She stops as she catches up with the mood in the room. “What’s going on?”

“Change of plan,” Christian says. “We’re not going to dinner. We’re leaving now.” He holds his hand out to me. “Ana.”

“I’m not leaving my dad here alone.”

“We don’t have a choice, Ana.”

“No.” I look back at my father, my eyes pleading. “Please don’t make me beg.”

He takes a deep breath, and then turns to face Christian. “Go on. She’ll be out in a second.”

Christian nods then reaches out to take Calliope back from Kate, and after Luke has gathered all of this things, the three of them say goodbye to Bob and make their way through the front door.

“Annie…”

“No. Dad, I’ve already lost mom. Please, please, don’t make me risk losing you too.”

“I know you’re scared, but I can handle myself, sweetheart. I’ll be fine.”

“You can’t promise me that. You don’t realize what he’s capable of, what he’s willing to do!”

“You just have to trust me. I’m going to be fine. I’ll be home in a few days and when I get back, we’re going to get on that big boat of Christian’s with the rest of the Greys and we’re going to sail out into the middle of the water and say goodbye to your mother together. You said yourself that’s what you wanted, this is how we make that happen.”

I stare at him, feeling tears prick my eyes as I try to find the words to argue with him more. The problem is, he’s right. Christian’s right. There’s no one else and I don’t want to leave Taylor or Carter vulnerable anymore than I want to keep my Dad out of harm’s way. They’re family too and, for their safety, my dad really is the best for the job.

“Dad…”

“I promise you, Ana. I know what I’m doing. This is what I’ve done my whole life. Right now, you need to go back home and take care of your business. You need to get on that plane and so your husband can go home and find this guy and put an end to it once and for all. If he’s trying to run, you don’t have a lot of time, and if you’re going to protect yourself, your husband, your daughter… you need to stop him before he gets away. I can’t help you with that. But I can help with this. I need to stay hand and look out for what’s ours.”

I swallow, and after a long moment of hesitation, finally nod. “Just… don’t be a hero, okay? If something happens, protect yourself as much as you’re protecting them. Promise me that.”

“I promise.”

I bite down on my lip, still not feeling comfortable with the idea of him staying behind but knowing with more certainty after each passing minute that there’s no way around it. He gives me a reassuring smile, so I step forward and wrap my arms around him as tightly as I can.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you too, sweetheart. Go knock ‘em dead. I know very well that that top spot is all yours. Nothing stops my Annie, right?”

I nod into his jacket and give him one last squeeze before letting out a harsh but cathartic breath and pulling away. Bob is standing by the door and as I pick up my purse from the couch I glance over and give him a wistful smile.

“I’m gonna miss you, Ana,” he says. “You’re a good kid. It’s been an honor being your step-dad.”

“There’s no reason to miss me,” I reply. “Just ‘cause Mom’s gone, it doesn’t mean you’re not apart of my family. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I do this thing where I like to keep my step-dads around.”

He laughs and nods. “I appreciate that. I really do.”

I cross the room and wrap him in a hug too, and as his arms curl around me, I feel his body sag. “Keep in touch, okay?” I tell him. “And, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July, Callie’s birthday, hell… President’s Day, you’re always welcome in our home.”

“I love you, Ana.”

“I love you too, Bob. Call me later, okay?”

“Okay. Now get out of here and go get that book to number one.” He leans down and kisses the top of my head before releasing me and giving me one last affectionate smile. I turn back to my dad, hesitating once more, but wave and turn to leave.

“Ana, wait…”

I pause as Bob turns around and heads back into the kitchen, and when he returns my throat tightens once more when I see what he’s holding in his hand. It’s one of the dozens of souvenir Disneyland mugs my mother has collected over the years.

“Nothing in this world makes me think of your mother more than these mugs. I thought you should have one.”

“You’re right,” I say, laughing in spite of myself as I take one. “Thank you, Bob. This really is great.”

“See you soon, kid.”

I give him one last smile and then turn to leave for real. The door closes behind me and I immediately hear Calliope screaming from her car seat, while Christian and Kate stand over her, huddled tightly together in the open space between the car and the door, trying to coax her into taking a pacifier. And while hearing Calliope so upset triggers every one of my maternal instincts to calm and care for my baby, the scene before me is actually very comforting. There’s normalcy in it, and normalcy means life moves on. Right now, that’s the most meaningful thing in the world to me. The knowledge that in spite of everything we’ve been through, my family is strong and life will go on.

 

We have to go through a drive thru on our way from the hotel to the airport, and watching Christian eating Burger King as though he’s being forced to choke down poison has both Kate and I laughing so hard it makes our sides hurt. It’s the perfect thing to keep our minds off Gresham until we’re all seated on the plane, preparing for take off, and I glance over to see Luke on the phone trying to coordinate with Kommer while again typing furiously on his laptop. He hasn’t been able to pin down exactly where the wire transfer was received or who signed for it yet, so he’s setting up a remote connection in Seattle to keep the program running after we take off and he loses connectivity.

“Just find him, Kommer,” Luke sighs into the phone. “I don’t care how, just find him and keep in Seattle until we land. By whatever means necessary. I’ll handle it from there.”

He hangs up and glances over at me, but immediately shifts his gaze back to his computer once he realizes I’m staring at him. I want to talk to him and try to get a better idea of the situation and how much control we really have over what’s happening, but I don’t because he slips headphones back into his ears so he can concentrate and Natalia comes down the aisle with the mug of tea Christian asked her to bring for me.

“Thank you,” I say gratefully, and she smiles.

“Is there anything I can get for you, Mr. Grey?”

“No, this is fine.” His tone is sharp, and the anger apparent in everything from the set of his mouth to the way he sits in his seat has Natalia nervously scurrying away from us and disappearing towards the front of the plane. I can feel the tension radiating off of him, and it has me on edge. All this time, I thought if we could just figure out who it was, then we would settle this and it would all be over. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Christian said he was going to try and run, how far out of our reach could he get?

“Everything is going to be okay, right? This is all about to be over?”

He looks at me, but his stoic poker face doesn’t give anything away. He doesn’t say anything, he just leans over and kisses me softly on the cheek.

“I have some work to do. Do you need anything?”

I shake my head and then lean back as he  pulls out his own laptop and brings up a prospect report from Ros and a contract with the GEH letterhead at the top. Normally having him occupied by work for the entirety of the long flight while I’m drowning in nerves and unanswered questions would drive me insane. But today, I have my own distraction. There’s an email in my own inbox from Lydia going over questions she thinks will be asked in the interviews I’ll sit down for on Saturday, and how she thinks I should best answer them. With over seventy questions to review and to memorize responses for, I’m actually able to successfully keep my mind diverted from thoughts of my dad staying back in Georgia or the unknown of what we’ll find back home. That is until we land in Seattle and both Christian and Luke begin exchanging nervous looks, first with each other and then out the dark window. There’s a line of cars waiting to take us and Christian’s family home home, and the sight of the headlights cutting through the misty air has all of our collective minds back on Gresham.  

“Let’s go,” Christian says, grabbing my hand and pulling me from our seats the moment the doors have opened. We step into the warm night, which is heavy with moisture from rain that seems to have just stopped falling. It’s quiet, more so than is normal for the airport, and it actually seems to intensify my nerves. Like someone is watching us, waiting… The passenger’s side door of the car first in the line opens and Kommer steps onto the tarmac. We all turn to face him, hopeful, but his face doesn’t suggest he has good news for us.

“Fuck,” Christian hisses, making the same observation I have. He pulls me down the steps with him and waves off the driver who comes around to greet us. His attention is only on Kommer.

“Where is he?”

“I’m sorry, sir. He’s gone. His house, his office, it’s all been cleaned out. I collected what I could from his residence, even had a laptop to bring to Welch, but the hard drive had been wiped. He must have known we were coming after him and ran. He’s disappeared.”

Next Chapter

43 thoughts on “Chapter 46

  1. He is a finance guy…..how does he have so much of tech knowledge??

    I think Barney is with him….but that still doesn’t explain y police won’t help Christian??

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  2. I’m glad Ray was able to reach into Ana and get her to grieve her mom a lil bit. It’s not much but it’s a start. I like that Ray is staying behind with Taylor and Carter but I have a bad feeling about Lydia. Somehow I feel she ties into this whole fiasco with Ana and Christian and she’s just luring Ana and Christian into a dark road alone while security is looking for Gresham. What if Lydia is related to the old Harvard shooter and she’s getting her evenge on Christian for what happened to him. Or my other gut feeling is that Richard Lincoln is behind this whole mess. Or my final thought is that someone from that whole female trafficking business at the club is pissed bc Christian stopped that dead in the tracks. Either way I can feel the intensity, drama and suspense building more and more each week. Great job Tara!

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    1. I’m like you—how could one person do all of this AND keep informed still, given that so many thugs are down or gone. And Gresham has obviously been tipped off somehow that Christian now KNOWS he is involved.

      With Christian and Ana dead, there would be no one to pursue embezzlement or charges. Or anyone even looking into the stolen money, since Christian set up these accounts secretly in case things went wrong.

      Still, I can’t imagine Gresham having done all of this over just money. However, people have been willing to do FAR more for less than 65 million. AND it sounds like Gresham was the sole one given so much access to Christian’s offshore accounts, so Gresham basically WOULD undoubtedly try to eliminate Christian and Ana so that he walks away with all the money and zero accountability.

      So while Gresham now seemingly has motive to have done so much of this, IT STILL REMINDS ME OF GIA. When Gia had been exposed, she “disappeared.” IT IS POSSIBLE that Gresham was used because he had ACCESS to the cash and accounts needed to make this happen. AND that once Gresham was exposed, then he was eliminated, SAME as Gia.

      It would also explain why someone that supposedly had SO MUCH ACCESS to funds and thugs would FEAR Mia going to the police or feds about his identity—once he was compromised, he would be killed, SAME as Elena, Gia, Leila, etc.

      So EITHER Gresham has FLED, OR Gresham has been taken out and eliminated as THE major lose end, exactly as Gia was before him. We just have to figure out whether Gresham is the hunter OR the prey!

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  3. I knew it, that Gresham was mishandling Christian’s off shore accounts. As I said before, he’s not alone in this scheme, and Barney is part of it. Right now I’m thinking that just like Leila, Hyun and Gia, Gresham was disposed off because Christian (Luke) discovered the embezzlement, which confirms my suspicion that Barney is part of the scheme by monitoring Luke and Christian’s laptops as they are GEH issued. Obviously Gresham wasn’t the head honcho, which takes me back to Morton and who knows more, you know I’ve been thinking that maybe there’s someone bigger like in politics and I don’t know why I thought about Senator Blandino, and the rest are his lackeys.
    Now that they’re understaffed with security, couldn’t Ray call some of his trusted buddies that were in special ops with him to help with the security, especially Ana and Calliope’s so Luke can keep digging while Taylor recovers.
    My God Tara you’re so good, this chapter was written after your mojo came back! Thank you for it.

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    1. I’m like you—Gresham was TERRIFIED of exposure, in my opinion, which was WHY he threatened Mia the way he did. BUT now that his involvement is exposed, he would HAVE to be eliminated, JUST like Gia.

      And the way Gresham’s office, building(s), etc. have been cleaned out is reminiscent of EXACTLY the way Gia disappeared. AND Gresham now appears to be the PERFECT scapegoat since he clearly took the money and authorized all the payments.

      What is interesting to note is that BEFORE, Gresham had ONLY taken money necessary to PAY OUT the informants, police, thugs, etc. He didn’t steal money for himself. NOW, however, the money is ALL gone in one swoop? AND after Gresham has already been fingered to be behind the whole thing?

      It just sounds TOO convenient. Gresham is suddenly gone at the EXACT moment he needs to disappear in order NOT to identify anyone ELSE. AND cleared out in the same was as Gia. So NO ONE would be looking for anyone ELSE to be Head of the Conspiracy.

      BUT a man that could have disappeared at ANY time with SO MUCH money would NOT have reason to fear exposure by Mia, quite frankly, especially given his hold over the police. So for him to have been terrified of Mia revealing his name means, TO ME, that SOMEONE ELSE is controlling Gresham’s strings. AND that Gresham may have been killed like Gia.

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      1. That’s what I meant. Gresham, Gia, Leila and Hyun, conveniently disappeared as soon as they were exposed without leaving a trace…..that we mere mortals can’t see but a trained person maybe can. In my opinion they really need reinforcements right away, with Ryan dead, Taylor in the hospital, Luke doing the digging and following the leads, I don’t trust Kommer too much, maybe I’m wrong with him. Unfortunately they can’t count with the local law enforcement agencies other than the FBI which is federal, which takes me back to believe that there is some state government big shot or shots like a senator or mayor, or both that have access to control the police and even the prison guards where Elena was “attacked”. As I said before, I believe that Ray could be the solution for their problems right now, he must have some trusted buddies ex-special ops like him that can help them with their security and looking for evidence undercover, and that only Christian, Taylor, Luke and of course Ray knows about. I can’t wait for the next update, this story is so good. Thank you Tara, keep that gifted imagination of yours running.

        PS: What chapter was it that Ros and Christian were discussing some big contract with the WA government and Ros was mad because something happened. Was it in this story or in ADSOF?

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      2. Okay, interestingly enough, re-reading Chapter 33 of ABSOF shows that it was Andrew Lincoln that secured an important government contract for Lincoln Timber that would have been enough to make the company secure again. HOWEVER, Christian used his OWN legal connections to basically tie the contract up in committees until he could take over the company. Thus CHRISTIAN got the benefit of the government contract that was meant to keep Andrew’s company afloat. Andrew didn’t get the benefit of the contract he had worked to obtain. AND Christian got the profit of said contract.

        So Christian’s political connections trumped Andrew’s connections, at least at that time.

        But I was thinking that there was some important STATE contract deal that Ros had been handling that Christian took over in order for Ros to take SIP and Esclava so that Christian was directly over Ana.

        HOWEVER, that Chapter 33 shows that Christian’s POLITICAL connections were strong enough to get his bidding done over Andrew Lincoln’s. AND took from Andrew a substantial company profit that SHOULD have been his, but for Christian’s political maneuvering. (Thus adding substantial insult to an already substantial injury. DEFINITELY meets that definition of “taking” the benefit of a contract that Christian didn’t even make.)

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    1. You especially saw in the “GREY” novel where Christian literally was on a first-name basis with the Senator and had multiple calls/conferences with him. PLUS, Olivia (was that her name?), the incompetent assistant that always mooned over Christian and messed up his lunch order, was his daughter or niece. THAT was why Christian couldn’t fire her for incompetence, and Andrea, instead, moved her to the finance department.

      So if Olivia had existed in TaraWorld, there would be a VERY good motive for Senator Blandino to go after Ana, as Olivia was basically like Leila here.

      Here, however, it would just depend on who ELSE is dependent on Gresham as their financial advisor. And WHY did Christian trust Gresham so much in the FIRST place? I thought only ANA could access the account, but since Gresham set everything up, he apparently had access as well. Which is a scary thought, if there is no way to check your financial security advisor!

      But if Blandino used Gresham for campaign fund accounts or other services, then there would be a connection. But I can’t imagine Blandino plotting after one of his major political donors, especially when the criminal implications could spell the end of his career. But you never know, PARTICULARLY if Gresham KNEW that Blandino had illegally filtered funds out of his political accounts, etc.

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  4. I have only read the chapter once. Why does Lydia creep me out? Can she be one of the recruits? Now I need to go back and reread how she was introduced to Ana. I know it was after the graduation and after she moved back to Seattle after Harvard I think. I really hope that they’re not walking into the lion den by changing plans and returning back to Seattlem lelia did informed Ana that HE was very powerful in Seattle. So who’s this Gresham guy working for? Imo it has to be Lincoln. Only time will tell.

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    1. Lydia creeps you out, most likely, for the same reason that she creeps me out as well. Mr. Conspiracy Head was STILL hoping that Hyde would get Elena’s manuscript UNTIL he “heard” that Ana had it. And HOW did he hear about it, since Elena CONTINUED to be left alive for awhile after Ana had the manuscript already?

      It was LYDIA that was informed BY ANA of Elena’s manuscript. So Ana OBVIOUSLY knew about it and had it. Ana asked Lydia to be on the lookout for the manuscript, and Lydia had supposedly made inquiries with her contacts. So SOMEONE obviously tipped off Mr. Conspiracy Head that ANA had them manuscript. THUS alerting Mr. Conspiracy Head that ISAAC had obviously done ELENA’s bidding, not HIS, in sending the manuscript directly to HIS enemy.

      So the intel that Lydia received got leaked to Mr. Conspiracy Head somehow. AND Ana was attacked at a location LYDIA knew Ana would be at. AND that there was an “excuse” to bring HYDE in, since the interviews of Hyde’s AND Lydia’s clients were scheduled simultaneously. COINCIDENCE MUCH? That almost seems like Lydia HAD to be involved.

      I admit that I am basically suspicious of everyone at this point, but the Lydia coincidences seem TOO MANY to be overlooked. So Lydia has NOW arranged for something in Seattle. And it is the PERFECT way to coordinate an attack, since Christian can’t be everywhere with Ana, particularly with a party, interviews, a reading, etc. going on.

      IN FACT, what TERRIFIES me the MOST is Ana doing this reading. A podium will be set up ahead of time that a sniper could easily enough target.

      Even if Lydia is NOT involved with the Conspiracy, the book company and Lydia have obviously profitted from everything that has happened to Ana. Which worries me as to how concerned they will be in fully protecting Ana. Ana’s death would certainly make the book profits more.

      So yeah, the Seattle thing is a trap. HOWEVER it has been manipulated, it presents MULTIPLE opportunities for Mr. Conspiracy Head to get to ANA, which has been a large part of his goal, for whatever reason. AND everyone is looking for and worried about GRESHAM, not anyone else. (AND I think Gresham is dead at this point, but only time will tell, as you say.)

      And LUKE’s attention is obviously divided between following the paper trail and protecting Ana. The guy can’t have had much sleep. And ADD to that fact that the ONLY security people left include KOMMER, who was hired after the Conspiracy was started. So if Kommer is not on the up and up, then Christian will be protected by the ONE person that could hand him over to Mr. Conspiracy Head while Ana is being interviewed and protected by Luke.

      So this Seattle event occurring NOW before Christian has had time to regroup and hire more security people is TELLING. AND another reason why I think Lydia COULD be a recruit, since she is behind organizing this event to occur NOW, before CHristian has a chance to QUESTION anyone else’s involvement.

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  5. I figured Gresham wouldn’t be around when they returned (although I thought he would be dead which I guess he could be).
    Where was Bob during the shooting? Did I miss that in a previous chapter.

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      1. What was the reason for their seperation Tara. I hope he’s not one of Gresham’s recruit & separated from Carla out of guilt or fear of being caught.
        There are so many suspicious cohorts e.g Komer, Barney, Lincoln, Carter, Lydia, guys from the club, GEH employees.. its just too scary. Id want to move overseas for awhile all the danger us eliminated..Poor Christian he’s worked so hard to get to where he is, despite the fact that he went about it the wrong way from the start, but desperate people do desperate things and he was desperate for the start up money for GEH. Did he foresee the consequences of his actions or predict the current predicament they are in now? Never in his wildest dreams!
        Ray’s just come out of the army… Im sure he can call in a few favours with his army buddies.
        I truly hope they catch this Gresham fucker & his minions and they pay for their crimes big time.. lol

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  6. Excellent idea to call in some of Ray’s special ops guys he can vouch and vett them. Maybe Gresham’s dead the big head honcho took him out, because Cg found out. I never thought of Barney being involved but it is possible since he is IT at GEH. Gee I would hate to think that ugh!!! Lydia could be setting up Ana, has she been vetted? Is the story still they same with Lincoln , did Cg ruin him? If so than he is head honcho! Lincoln used Gresham as his banker (Cg monies) , funding the ops. To take down Cg, Ana and GEH?

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    1. Yeah, I’m suspicious of the sudden drain of funds and disappearance of Gresham. It is all too much like Gia disappearing when she was no longer of use. AND Gresham looks guilty now for MULTIPLE reasons, so if he seemingly “APPEARS” to have taken off and disappeared, NO ONE would question it.

      LYDIA was told about Elena’s book by ANA, in order to get Lydia to “look out” for anyone trying to publish the book. BUT IF LYDIA was a recruit, then SHE would have informed Mr. Conspriacy Head that ANA AND CHRISTIAN had Elena’s book. After all, Mr. Conspiracy Head was KEEPING ELENA ALIVE and Isaac, waiting for the book to fall into Hyde’s hands. LYDIA providing the information about the location of the book could have been WHY the Georgia plan and Elena’s prison riot all got planned for a particular time when Mr. Conspiracy Head KNEW that ANA WOULD BE WITH LYDIA, which she was.

      I want to hope that Lydia is NOT a recruit, but her presence AND the information that she was privy too makes the TIMING of things TOO convenient. AND if that is the case, then Ana may be walking into a trap. After all, this PARTY would be a way of drawing Ana and Christian out that has TOO MANY places to completely secure.

      I’m also now forced to be suspicious of Barney as well. After all, in TaraWorld, Barney had REASON to be disgruntled, since SO MANY patents that GEH holds would come from Barney’s direct involvement and work. AND someone with some REAL tech know-how still seems to be involved, and Gresham was clearly NOT that man, or Hyun and Leila and others would not have been necessary.

      So to Seattle they all will go. And Gresham may or may NOT be alive now. It all just depends on who REALLY is pulling the strings.

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  7. Gresham is on the run, he can’t do any harm on anyone now. Ray will be safe. Gresham does not know who is left in Georgia. They just need to find where he is. Luke copied the Panama account he stole from Christian. That is enough to give to the FBI. Many people have already died because of him. They cannot ignore the facts. Even if the story is just fiction we can still use reality to solve problems. Most stories do and as do personal experiences. Glad Ana listened to Ray and had a conversation that resolved unsettled feelings before Carla passed away. That should settle her emotionally and give her peace in her heart. Ana in the running for the best seller is going to boast her confidence in herself and encourage her more to write and be known for herself in addition to being the wife of famous Christian Grey. She is still going to be his best half, his wife and mother of his child and the love of his life.

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    1. THAT is assuming that Gresham IS the one really in charge. I’m not so sure yet. I mean, with ALL of his power and connections, there was no real reason to fear exposure by Mia, yet Gresham contacted Mia on MULTIPLE occasions to scare her into silence.

      It is just TOO convenient that Gresham wipes out the ENTIRE account, thereby assuring that everyone thinks he is the ONLY one behind this. AND he disappears, in the exact same style as GIa, right when catching him might get INFORMATION as to WHY he did everything?

      I think Gresham was TERRIFIED of being identified by Mia, as it would then make the REAL Conspiracy Head eliminate him, too. AS LONG AS THAT ACCOUNT of Christian’s was open and the one used to fund the Shell company, then Gresham could be reasonably assured of remaining alive AND of use to Mr. Conspiracy Head.

      So either Gresham got spooked and feared Mr. Conspiracy Head was about to eliminate him AND place all the blame for the Conspiracy on him, OR he figured that EITHER Christian or the feds OR his real boss would get to him first, so he has tried to disappear with the money.

      BUT THERE IS ALWAYS A MONEY TRAIL. After all, Gresham OR WHOEVER ELSE took that money can’t just carry around 65 million dollars. Someone HAS to store it or wire it SOMEWHERE. And THAT could be revealing!

      However, if Gresham seems to have disappeared, then no one is looking for anyone OTHER than Gresham. So he may have been killed already.

      But Ana and Christian are still most certainly in harm’s way. After all, if Christian and Ana were killed now, everyone would ASSUME that it was GRESHAM behind it. And no one would look further behind where the actual money might now be.

      AND I’m hoping that Ray really WILL be safe. After all, TAYLOR was military as well, and he was nearly killed.

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      1. I agree I don’t think it’s Gresham because like everyone else he has served his purpose so he’s either dead or on the run to be hunted down.

        Someone else and I think you agreed about Lydia being suspicious. Like a lot of readers I’m suspicious of almost everyone right now but did you make a comment that Lydia knew about Elena’s manuscript? I just don’t t remember that bit. But I am in two minds because as someone else had replied even though this is a story you can obviously put in real life ideologies to make a story plausible. I think given then drama of Ana’s departure during her book tour like in real life people get a morbid curiosity about an individual or event and because she is a writer suddenly Ana is in the news as also th wife of a Billionaire, a victim of kidnaping and her mother has just been killed in a drama filled almost Greek tragedy like appeal – her book suddenly becomes a way of being an interloper into someone’s misery by people who are fascinated by her personal life another in. It makes sense that the book company would want to capitalise on Ana’s new found fame anyway they can and given that her mother has just been killed unfortunately life goes on especially for bloodsuckers looking to make a buck, after all the more books she sells the more profit they make. Remember, when Ana originally made her book deal they were only too keen to change the name to change the narrative of the story about her her kidnaping rather then what her original intentions of the book were about and didn’t they also want to get the book finalised to make the Christmas season or other holidays thanksgiving? (sorry I’m not American) and also given that Stephen King was about to release a book I can understand Lydia as Ana’s rep would be doing everything and anything to make sure that she was doing her job to get the book possibly to number 1, I mean let’s face it debuting number 3 is still pretty good for a first time writer regardless. After all as much as we are all grieving for Ana atm her publishers don’t give a crap about you they just see the drama as more dollars signs. However, I don’t discount for a minute that Lydia could be someone on Mr C payroll.

        I am in also in two minds about Carla’s involvement I think getting to court up in the drama because I still never liked Carla. However, for Ana’s sake I am glad that if Carla’s intentions were from a good place I am glad Ray made Ana get some closure and I liked the bit with Bob as well it was a sweet moment that reiterated family isn’t always about blood.

        At first I was a bit oh whatever about clearing Carla’s things but this was an important chapter in the sense (well for me anyway) a moment to focus back to family and unconditional love which to me is what this story is about, the drama is a ways for everyone to remember life is never easy even if your crazy rich.

        Once again Tara brilliant chapter, I am glad you plan to keep the outtakes alive when insipiratuon hits you now that we know there is probably only a few chapters left. I have just adored this story from the get go and I mentioned I had loooked for this story on this site after you left fanfic, I am so glad that I get to be here in the end.

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  8. Tara, where do I even start? This chapter had my heart in my throat the entire time. The first part of the chapter; packing up Carla’s things, the emotions you portrayed Ana feeling were out of this world. It was like they were bleeding through the phone and into my mind. The photos were a nice break for Ana, a happier time, a happier memory and a reminder that she was never far away.

    The next part of the chapter, again – heart in throat, but Gresham really scares the hell out of me. I’m still thinking that there’s someone even closer to Christian pulling the strings with this whole scheme and that maybe Gresham might be just another victim in the true antagonist’s view. Ana returning to Seattle for her book interviews has me worried as well. I know that she’ll have Christian with her, and the paps never far away, but I still feel like something could go very wrong…

    As always, superb writing and attention to detail, as well as the ability to take my heart from my chest and crush it. Thank you, Tara x

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    1. Like you, I’m worried for Ana and Christian PARTICULARLY now. GRESHAM is the name that will be provided to the feds, and it will look like GRESHAM is behind it all if another attempt in made on Ana and Christian NOW. And no one would look further, say, if someone ELSE was actually now spending some of the money that had seemingly “disappeared” with Gresham.

      But the cleaning out of Gresham’s work and residence seems EXACTLY like what happened to Gia. Which makes me think that someone ELSE wants the finger pointed at Gresham and has left the “evidence” to make it look like Gresham, and Gresham alone, is responsible. And the REAL person behind it all would NEVER be identified.

      After all, Gresham would have been a ready recruit, since Elena had blackmail material on him. After all, ELENA ALWAYS KNEW Gresham’s identity as Mia’s would-be attacker. So Gresham would have been coerced into the Conspiracy at a fairly early date.

      I’m hoping Lydia is on the up and up. Still, with an attack occurring under her nose at the same place where she was, I can’t help but be suspicious, ESPECIALLY since Mr. Conspiracy Head had left Elena AND Isaac ALIVE while hoping to get Elena’s book. But LYDIA found out from Ana about Elena’s book so that Ana could know if anyone ELSE had tried to publish said book. So SOMEHOW the intel about the book got “leaked” back to Mr. Conspiracy Head. And the ONLY link that it could be would be LYDIA, since Elena was STILL left alive after Christian and Ana’s visit. So somehow, Mr. Conspiracy Head was STILL in the dark about Ana and Christian having Elena’s book UNTIL Ana revealed the fact to Lydia.

      SO IF LYDIA is a recruit, then there is trouble waiting for Ana and Christian in Seattle.

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  9. Fantastic chapter, Tara, thank you. Emotional, thrilling and almost close to Gresham to have him gone and high chance dead. Carla’s death is hard on Ana. Glad Ray managed some precious throwbacks and very sweet memories, the way to remember fondly forever. Bob, too, the Disney mugs are very treasured. Ana is lucky to have two superb stepfathers. Lydia is pushing too fast. Can she be trusted ? Right now they’re spreading themselves too thin, don’t have a good feeling of the book party. Who is the Head!? Cant wait to find out. Xoxo daytona

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  10. I want you to know that I loved the chapter like always, but right now I have so many ideas, so many theories going through my head that I want to wait for the next chapter and ser how it developes. Glad your inspiration came back! Thanks as always for being there every week (and thanks also if you can’t do that).

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  11. Now that was something that Gresham was using Christian and Ana’s money for all the things happening to them. Please don’t let anything happen to Ray, Taylor and Ryan? Not unless you tell us that Ray took him out? 😜

    Hopefully Ana’s interview and the party all go well? But if Gresham shows up there maybe Luke can shoot him? 😌

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  12. “Those who are close to us, when they die, divide our world. There is the world of the living, which we finally, in one way or another, succumb to, and then there is the domain of the dead that, like an imaginary friend (or foe) or a secret concubine, constantly beckons, reminding us of our loss. What is memory but a ghost that lurks at the corners of the mind, interrupting our normal course of life, disrupting our sleep in order to remind us of some acute pain or pleasure, something silenced or ignored? We miss not only their presence, or how they felt about us, but ultimately how they allowed us to feel about ourselves or them.”
    ― Azar Nafisi

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    1. Out of curiosity, is that TOTAL chapters left, including any flash fowards? Or would flash forwards into Grey futures be included in the OUTTAKES? (After all, “aftermath” can just mean the lingering effects of what happened from the Conspiracy OR it could mean how everyone is coping with things years later.)

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      1. And HAVE to say Tara—as always, you know how to choose JUST the right word to set off all my worry alarms. After all, “aftermath” implies a type of battle WITH CASUALTIES, which has always been my worry. Christian would have MORE reason to be the overly overprotective father if Ana didn’t make it through this alive. It seems almost impossible that the final showdown wouldn’t produce casualties, ESPECIALLY since Christian is left with SO FEW security officers now. AND interestingly enough, one of those is Kommer, who we have always had to worry about, since he was one of the last hires that came AFTER the Conspiracy had already formed.

        And Ana will obviously be separated from Christian during the interview portions. And Luke can’t be with BOTH of them. I really wish Ray DID have some old military buddies around that could come provide protection, as Mr. Conspiracy Head would NOT be expecting THAT.

        HHHMMMmmmmm. Four or Five chapters left. I must now go speculate endlessly as to WHAT exactly will be happening to cause it to take that amount of chapters. . . .

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  13. I loved, especially, that Ray brought up the fact that Carla DID know her daughter had tried to save her and that people had been sent by Ana and Christian to HELP her. So Carla would have died thinking the rift WAS mended between herself and Ana.

    I loved seeing how Ana dealt with her grief and was able to relive her happy childhood memories through the photos. And that she looked at those photos with Ray. I even loved how Ana told Bob that he was STILL part of her family, as she tended to hold onto step-dads. It was a beautiful gesture.

    I hope that Ana holds onto more mementos from her mother, PARTICULARLY the outfits, since Carla clearly saved it all. After all, since I quilt, I have seen how family members have PRESERVED family clothing through Memory Quilts. Ana could save some of Carla’s outfits that hold a particular memory and have them incorporated into a quilt that could be handed down through the family. Even some of the photos of Carla wearing said outfits could be scanned into a computer and reproduced on fabric, allowing them to be in the quilt. It would be a wonderful way of preserving pieces of Carla’s life and family history and would be a great way of introducing Carla’s memory to Calliope.

    So I loved seeing Ana come to terms with her mother’s death and resolving so much of the grief and anger over her mother’s affairs and some of the choices she had made. Ana was able to put that aside and remember the GOOD. AND realize how Carla has contributed to her OWN decisions and the way Ana will choose to be a mother.

    While I worry for Ray, he is with Taylor, who is also military. And going after Taylor and Ray now does NOT make much sense, quite frankly. They are out of the way in Geogia, which was probably the intention, since it keeps the BEST assets Christian and Ana have out of the ultimate showdown.

    The Gresham disappearance is too much like Gia’s disappearance to sit well with me. Gresham was TOO terrified of Mia revealing his name because, in my opinion, it meant that he risked being eliminated by Mr. Conspiracy Head if identified. AFTER ALL, Elena ADMITTED to giving HIM names of those who would help OR would have been easy blackmail material, and ELENA always knew that Gresham had been the one to attack Mia.

    Gresham could have taken ALL the money at any time previously, but it has only disappeared NOW. So either he is trying to run before he can be tagged by the feds or Christian, OR he was ordered to do so by Mr. Conspiracy Head before being eliminated. I am very much looking forward to finally finding out Gresham’s real roll in everything.

    I have stated my concerns regarding Lydia in above previous comments. Even if Lydia is NOT involved, there is OBVIOUS publicity regarding Ana’s Seattle appearance, so Mr. Conspiracy Head, WHOEVER he is, will obviously have knowledge of the event.

    If Mr. Conspiracy Head was smart, then HE would be content with eliminating Gresham and having possession of Christian’s money, KNOWING that no one will be looking for anyone ELSE to be in charge OTHER than Gresham. YET WE KNOW that Mr. Conspiracy Head IS insane and is determined to make Christian SUFFER. So there undoubtedly IS a confrontation coming at this Seattle event. At least then, we will FINALLY get the full answers!

    As always, Monday can’t come soon enough!

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  14. What is troublesome to me is that this book promotion event is so perfectly timed to occur BEFORE Christian would have a chance to vet people and beef back up his security. PLUS, it is designed to expose Ana to crowds and will naturally separate her from Christian for unspecified times.

    And since Lydia arranged it all, AND sweetened the deal with Ana basically NOT having to fulfill other obligations for her book, it makes me more suspicious of Lydia. Particularly as SOMEONE had to inform Mr. Conspiracy Head that Isaac had NOT sent the book to Hyde but to ANA instead.

    (AND I still think Elena’s BOOK is the key to WHY Gresham didn’t act alone and is not the REAL Conspiracy Head. After all, Gresham would not have known the truth behind what happened between Elena and Christian and Andrew Lincoln, and Elena would NOT have had motivation to reveal those facts to Gresham. ONLY Andrew and Carrick and Flynn knew the full details of the bribe, and Carrick and Flynn wouldn’t be behind this. So Andrew Lincoln has to be involved to SOME extent, in my opinion. OR AT LEAST would have to have some connection to Gresham.)

    And while Ana had Gresham’s card and was told to contact him if she needed anything, Ana never did so. So Gresham STILL doesn’t have any REAL contact with Ana or any reason for Ana to have known him. So Gresham’s obsession with Ana has not yet been explained. BUT Andrew Lincoln WOULD have reason to be obsessed wtih Ana, since he knew the part Ana played in everything previously.

    IF Lydia IS somehow involved in the Conspiracy, she has covered herself well with her reasoning behind this one event. After all, since Ana has just lost her mother, the book company would have looked bad trying to insist Ana drop everything and resume the book tour, PARTICULARLY since an attack on Ana occurred after the very FIRST interview scheduled for her by her book company/publicist.

    STILL, somehow Mr. Conspiracy Head is still privy to what intel Christian and Ana know. The security leaks seemingly have not been plugged. Which is really worrisome.

    At this point, it does not make sense to me for Mr. Conspiracy Head to send multiple hit squads to Georgia and Seattle. So the hope would be that the Georgia hospital contingency gets ignored. AND that Ray and Taylor can come up with a plan amongst themselves for protecting Christian and Ana.

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  15. Great chapter. I’m glad ray got Ana to see her the need to grieve and keep momentos of her mother’s life. Only that way life will go on healthily. I’m sure can holds his own. Can’t wait to see how they get ahead of this guy and catch him. Thank you.

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  16. My heart pounds while I read each new chapter. Danger is lurking everywhere! I think Gresham has eyes and ears all over the place. I believe Ana’s intucts are right. They better ke Pena really really close watch on Calliope. This guy is a lunatic and he probably has lunatics that work for him! I hope to God that Ray is okay. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one who takes this guy down, lol! Btw, I don’t trust Kommer, Carter or Lydia for that matter. But we shall see….. Thanks so much for updating this week. I really like this story so much, I’m going to miss it when it’s gone, but I read you’ll bounce back from time to time. We’re pretty bummed out that the Yankees are not in the series 😣

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  17. I can’t help but wonder if Ray having to remain in Georgia might not be a blessing in disguise. After all, due to having to directly supervise and watch after the other security officers and do his regular protection duties, Taylor didn’t have the TIME to just sit and plan anything out offensively. NOW, however, he has nothing BUT time. And he has Ray now, who can act/react to anything Taylor finds or figures out.

    So hopefully, Taylor and Ray will come up with something that might help Ana, Christian and Luke.

    But the GRESHAM thing could come down to one of three possibilities, in my opinion. Gresham’s fate will be determined by the following:

    1) IF Gresham IS the Conspiracy Head. –He has now drained all the money from the account in anticipation of disappearing. HOWEVER, why disappear if someone may track you down later? So a final showdown makes sense, where Gresham would try to eliminate Christian and family for good.

    So Gresham is alive and waiting for the FINAL SHOWDOWN in Seattle. With whoever remains of his thugs and recruits. Taking the money NOW means that it is true ENDGAME time—either flee and hide, hoping to attack another day, or final daring no-holds barred attack PLANNED for the event in Seattle.

    2) Gresham is NOT the Conspiracy Head. –He drained the account, knowing that he HAD BEEN LINKED definitively to the Conspiracy. (WHICH MEANS SOMEONE with the TECH know-how figured out Luke breached the account information and traced it back to Gresham.)

    In THIS version/possibility, Gresham has taken the money in order to try to flee from BOTH Christian AND Mr. Conspiracy Head, KNOWING that his being linked to the Conspiracy means he HAS to be eliminated because Gresham knows HIS identity. So Gresham is trying to make a run for it. And in running, ANYTHING GOES, meaning that Gresham could even try to contact Christian to bargain a way out of all of this to try to survive.

    3) Gresham is NOT the COnspiracy Head BUT drained the account ON Mr. CONSPIRACY HEAD’S ORDERS, hoping that would keep him alive. BUT he was killed anyway, having outlived his usefulness AND because Gresham could identify HIM. AND because NOW everyone thinks that the Head is Gresham.

    Which would mean Mr. Conspiracy Head now has Christian’s money AND is not suspected, since everyone believes that GRESHAM did it all himself.

    Personally, I like the idea of Gresham already being killed and the REAL Mr. Conspiracy Head waiting for Christian and Ana in Seattle for the final showdown. Tara seems to love shocking us, so finding out there is someone above Gresham AND any other final recruits (such as Barney or Lydia or Kommer) would do it, particularly if the information came out in an unexpected way.

    While I want Mr. Conspiracy Head dead in the end, I hope SOMEBODY lives long enough to talk and tell where the other bodies are buried (and when and how each person got involved with the Conspiracy. I still can’t help but be curious as to just HOW Gia got involved in all of this and what she was supposed to actually accomplish).

    But I am admittedly glad that we ARE finally approaching the finish line, since I eagerly await the Outtakes and Futuretakes with equal anticipation. I want to see Calliope as she grows, and we only get that AFTER Mr. Conspiracy Head and cohorts are dealt with!

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