I’m lifting too heavy. I can feel it in my chest, my back, and my shoulders every time I push the bar up and away from me, but I’m too pissed off to care about how sore I’m going to be later or even about the danger of benching this much weight without someone in the gym with me.
Ana and I have been fighting since Saturday night. She’s quickly heading into her third trimester so there won’t be anymore weekly trips home for her once she leaves at the end of this week, and I’ve spent what little time I have left with her arguing about Ros-fucking-Bailey. God, just thinking her name leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. She was always supposed to be on my side. Mine. Afterall, she was the one who pushed me towards Ana in the beginning. She was the one who helped me get GEH off the ground. Hell she’s the one who dragged me off the couch after Ana left me and made me fight to get her back. When other people have turned their backs on me, Ros never did. I didn’t realize that it was all just so she could use me later to get something better.
The bar clunks loudly as I set it back on the rest over my head and get up from the bench to towel off. I hate how much this betrayal is bothering me. I’m usually so good at writing people off and shutting them out for good, without a second thought, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Ros. I think it’s because Ana won’t just let it go. All weekend she’s been badgering me about what Ros said to her at her fucking baby shower, emails being planted and servers being compromised. I’m sure it was a convincing pitch, and Ana has bought it hook, line, and sinker.
But it’s only because Ana doesn’t know Ros like she thinks she does. She knows social Ros. She knows the Ros who is fun to be around at parties and always has some kind of humorous anecdote, usually at my expense, to break the ice or any awkward silence. She can be warm, she can be friendly, and she can be caring. But she can also be cold, calculating, and ruthless. It’s what drew me to her in the first place. It’s what made me choose her to be my partner. If there’s anyone I would trust to go into a meeting in my place and get the same deal I would have, it’s Rosaline Bailey.
Maybe that’s why this is getting to me so much. I’ve lost a valuable resource.
Yeah, that’s it.
I pick up the remote to the speaker and turn off the TV playing the news on the other side of the gym, then toss the towel over my shoulder and make my way back downstairs for my shower. Ana is still asleep and she’s been so tired lately I do everything I can to keep from waking her until I’m dressed and ready to head out the door. Standing at the edge of the bed, I take a moment just to stare at her. She looks peaceful. Serene, even. In this moment, it doesn’t feel like we’ve spent half the weekend yelling or shooting biting comments back and forth. She’s just my Ana. My sweet, perfect, beautiful Ana.
As gently as I can, I lean over, brush away the flyaway strands of hair covering her face, and press my lips into hers. She responds with a small, soft moan, but her eyes don’t open and she doesn’t stir. The moment I pull away from her, she turns on her side and is once again lost in deep sleep.
“I love you, baby,” I whisper, then creep through the door as silently as I can with Kate’s dog following right behind me.
Most of the security team has already left for the office by the time I’ve finished breakfast. After Taylor has gone downstairs to retrieve the car, it’s only Kommer and I left in the apartment and he hovers a little too closely as I check the remaining few emails on my phone and wait for the elevator to return.
“Did Sawyer forward you a call in number?” I ask, just to break his insistent stare.
“For the security meeting this morning. It’s mostly for the new building but I believe Taylor has a few agenda items for when you return to Cambridge.” He continues to look at me blankly, uncomprehending. It’s irritating. “Because of Leila Williams’ disappearance…”
“Oh, yeah. I mean, no he didn’t, but I’ll be in the office for the meeting.”
I raise an eyebrow at him. “I thought you were assigned to Anastasia for the day?”
“I am, but we’ve made other arrangements for the meeting. Taylor thought it was more important that I attend the briefing because of the situation with Miss WIlliams. He sent an email last night.”
“Did he?” I look him over once before glancing back down at my phone and scanning through the emails I’ve received since last night. “I don’t have anything.”
“You weren’t copied?” He too pulls out his phone, directs it at me so I can see the screen, and sure enough there’s an email from Jason Taylor at 02:33 AM directing Kommer to attend the security meeting in the office this afternoon and that he’s covered Miss Steele’s watch for the time he’ll be out of the apartment.
The elevator pings, redirecting my attention. “Very well,” I say dismissively. “I’ll see you in the office.”
He pivots to let me move into the open elevator and then continues to watch me until the doors close. For the first time, I feel a small sense of empathy towards Ana, who has always complained about how her security can feel overbearing at times. Kommer is intense, but I know that’s a good quality in a CPO. Taylor was this way at first, too, before he and I developed a more functional relationship. Eventually, they’ll grow accustomed to one another and, knowing Ana, ultimately become really close friends. Although, I hope not too close. I don’t know that I could handle another Sawyer situation.
The moment I step out of the elevator and through the door to the backseat of the SUV, which Taylor holds open for me, my phone buzzes insistently in my pocket. It’s Andrea calling to inform me about a problem my finance team has uncovered in the books of a large client GEH is days away from closing a sale on. Apparently, they’ve been hiding some of their more dire financial issues to make them appear more desirable for acquisition. It’s a gigantic oversight that takes me all morning to sort out, forcing me to cancel two client calls and delay my security meeting by over an hour. In fact, it’s almost lunch time when I hang up the call with the head of my legal team, only to be immediately interrupted again by a knock on my office door.
“What?” I call irritably, and a very nervous looking Andrea steps inside. I narrow my eyes at her as she approaches my desk. I’ve issued strict instructions that I was not to be disturbed this morning and Andrea isn’t one to ignore what I’ve told her.
“Excuse me, sir… I have Miss Bailey on line one for you.”
My jaw clenches. “I told you not to disturb me, Andrea.”
“Yes, sir. But, she’s very insistent.”
“She’s always insistent. It’s one of her worst qualities. I’ve told you before that Miss Bailey is to be directed to Kramer or Menke.”
“Yes, sir. But…”
“I won’t tell you again.” My tone is firm and vaguely threatening, but, despite the nerves I can see clearly reflected behind her eyes, she doesn’t back down.
“I understand, sir. But she said she needs to talk to you about Anastasia and that it’s an emergency.”
I let out a dark, humorless laugh. “That’s low, even for her. I’m too busy to play games with her right now. Forward her call to my lawyer and get out of my office.”
“Christian, you need to take her call!” My eyes snap back up to her and for a moment, I’m taken aback. Andrea has never dared to use my first name, let alone yell at me, and I’m not sure exactly how to take it. I’ve fired other subordinate employees for much less, but there’s an urgency in her eyes that’s hard to ignore.
Slowly, I reach over and pick up the receiver to my desk phone, then press my finger into the button next to the blinking hold light.
“I swear to god, if you say anything to me right now that isn’t about Anastasia…”
“She isn’t here,” Ros interrupts me.
“I’m in your apartment right now, and Ana isn’t here.”
“What do you mean she isn’t there? Why are you in my apartment?”
“I talked to her on the phone this morning and she told me to come over so we could talk, but when I got here, she wasn’t here. I figured she’d stepped out for a minute, but then half an hour passed and she never came back. She knew I was coming, and she didn’t call to cancel. Christian… I think something might have happened to her.”
Suddenly, I feel very cold.
“Have you tried calling her?” I ask urgently.
“Of course I called her. Her phone is on the kitchen counter.”
“I’ll call you back.”
Before my name is even fully out of her mouth I hang up the phone and start looking wildly around my desk. Where would she go? Kate flew to Cabo with Reed yesterday. Sawyer is in Cambridge. I pick up my phone and begin dialing.
“Hey, I’m on the jobsite, I can’t talk,” Elliot answers.
“Have you heard from Ana?”
“No, why would Ana call me?”
“She’s supposed to be at Escala, but she’s not and she doesn’t have her phone. I’m trying to figure out where she would go. What’s Mia doing today?”
“Mia? She’s at school.”
“Fuck. I have to go.”
“Is everything okay?”
“I don’t know.” I pause, feeling the need to catch my breath. “I don’t know. Ana’s… not where she’s supposed to be.”
“I’ll call Dad. Mom’s at work today, but Dad’s at home. Maybe she went to check on him.”
I don’t think that’s likely, not if she was expecting Ros at Escala, but I nod anyway. “Good. Let me know what you find out.”
I hang up the phone and dial Ana’s number, but when Ros answers and confirms again that Ana doesn’t have her phone, the sickening feeling inside my stomach grows more intense. I glance back up at Andrea. She’s still nervous, but it’s clearly for a different reason now. There’s fear in her eyes, and not directed at me. More for me.
I don’t like it.
“Taylor!” I shout, jumping out of my chair and storming towards my office door. He meets me there, looking perplexed. “Have you heard from Anastasia?”
“No, sir. Is everything okay?”
“I don’t know. Ros called. She’s at Escala and she said Anastasia’s gone. She doesn’t have her phone.”
“Gone?” His brow furrows for a moment, then turns on his heel and stalks quickly down the hallway towards the conference room. I follow anxiously, and when we come through the door, I find my entire security team waiting around the table.
“Kommer?” Taylor barks. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Waiting for Mr. Grey, sir. Miss Parker said the meeting had been postponed while Mr. Grey dealt with a client issue.”
“I mean here. In this building. Why aren’t you with Miss Steele?”
“You told me to be here. I figured you’d asked Cardella to be with Miss Steele this afternoon.” He glances at Ana’s second CPO, then pulls out his phone and slides it across the table towards Taylor and I, showing us the same email I saw this morning.
“I didn’t get that…” Cardella says defensively, and Taylor shakes his head.
“That’s because I didn’t send it.”
Kommer sits up straighter in his chair, his face twisting with confusion and mild panic. “But…”
I don’t wait to find out what he’s going to say. I turn and practically run to the elevator. Andrea calls out to me, but I don’t hear what she says. My mind is racing, trying to come up with someone to call or something to do, but I keep coming up empty. I know she didn’t leave. I know her, and if she didn’t have security with her, or at the very least someone she knows and trusts, she wouldn’t go anywhere. Something is wrong. I can feel it.
Taylor squeezes through the doors as the elevator closes and I jab my finger into the garage key over and over again The wait from the elevator until we’re in the car and out of the garage, where I can finally make a call again, feels interminable. So once I finally have Sawyer on the line, I’m more agitated than I should be.
“When was the last time you spoke with Anastasia?”
“Uh…. I don’t know that I’ve talked to her since she left. Oh, no, she texted me a couple days ago that she was annoyed with Kommer when she was out running with Kate and Reed, but that was it.”
“You haven’t talked to her today?”
“She’s missing. She’s disappeared from the apartment, no one knows where she went, and she doesn’t have her phone.”
“What? Where’s Kommer?”
“He wasn’t with her,” I growl through clenched teeth and then hang up the phone without another word.
I collapse back into my seat and run my fingers through my hair. I’m starting to realize that, despite my growing sense of panic, I haven’t actually accepted that something real has happened. There’s been a lingering, yet potent hope in the back of my mind that Elliot will call back and say she’s been with my father, or Ros will call and say she’s back–that she went down the street to her favorite restaurant because pregnancy cravings sometimes outweigh common sense. But that hope is getting harder and harder to hang on to with each failed attempt to find her.
As we approach the entrance to the parking garage below my apartment, I’m filled with a kind of energy that I’m not sure what to do with. My hands shake and my knees bounce in my seat. Being stuck inside the car, even though it’s still moving, is unbearable. I need to be doing something to find her, and sitting here makes me feel anemic. Thankfully, Taylor feels the urgency of the situation just as acutely as I do, so he speeds through the garage and lets me out at the entrance of the elevator.
“I’ll be right behind you, sir,” he says. I give him a curt nod before I fly out of the backseat and step into the elevator. Each number that rolls past on the panel above the door is agony and when I finally come to a stop and am released into the foyer of my apartment I immediately start calling out her name.
“She still isn’t back,” Ros says, coming around the corner, but I don’t take her word for it. I start tearing through the apartment, throwing open closet doors, looking under beds, everywhere. But she isn’t here.
“Ana!” I call again, more desperately this time, and Ros reaches out to place a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“Should I call the police?”
“I–I…” I can hear the elevator ping and rush to the foyer, hope building inside my chest again, but when I come around the corner from the great room, it’s Taylor I find, not Ana.
“She’s not here,” I tell him.
“Her car is in the garage, so if she left, she’s on foot. I’ll call Kommer and Cardella, have them set up a perimeter around Escala and begin working their way out.”
“We should call the police, right?” Ros repeats, this time to Taylor, but he presses his lips together with hesitation.
“When did you last speak to her?”
“I don’t know… uh, 10:30. I got here at about 11:00.”
Taylor looks down at his watch. “It’s almost noon, that’s about an hour and a half.”
The elevator door pings again and Ryan, Kommer, and Cardella step into my apartment. Subconsciously, my body tenses, and it’s because for the past few days every time the ding from the elevator has sounded inside my apartment, it was met with the booming bark of Kate’s dog.
“Wait, the dog,” I say quickly, turning to look through the living room. “Where’s the dog?” Taylor looks past me as well, but Kommer steps to the table in the middle of the foyer and gives it a quick glance over before turning back to us.
“His leash is gone, and the waste bags. Miss Steele must have taken him for a walk.”
Relief springs inside my chest for a millisecond, but is squashed almost as quickly as it came. “For an hour and a half, with no security, when she was expecting Ros to meet her here?”
“It’s a start though,” Taylor says. “We’ll check the security footage. That will tell us if she left the apartment, or if someone forced her out.”
I nod and turn to Ros. “Will you find Gail, please? Bring her to me?”
“Yeah. Of course.” She dashes off in the direction of the stairs while I follow Taylor into his office and hover behind his desk, staring intently at the monitors that show every inch of my apartment while he rewinds the footage recorded from this morning.
“Alright, we’re at 10:50 this morning and there she is,” he says, slowing the footage down so we can watch Anastasia’s movements throughout the apartment.
He plays the footage in real time and adjusts a knob until we can hear the audio on the feed. The five of us lean in intently towards the screens as we watch Ana walk around the kitchen counter to the dog standing near the back windows.
“Do you have to go potty, buddy?” she asks, petting him, and then stands up to lead him toward the elevator. We watch her leash him up, then wait for the elevator, and once it arrives, she steps inside and disappears from view of the cameras.
“See, she’s walking the dog.” Kommer says, but Taylor shakes his head.
“I have a street view, but there’s no audio.” With a few presses of a button, he changes to the recording from the exterior camera, rewinds to the correct time, and waits until Ana comes through the front doors of the building with the dog’s leash in hand. They pace up and down the street, coming in and out of our view for several minutes and then we watch the dog streak in and out of the frame while Anastasia chases after him. We can follow them all the way to the corner, but once they’re in the street, they’re no longer in sight of the camera and we’ve lost them.
“It looks like he got away from her and she chased after him,” Taylor says.
“Son of a bitch,” I hiss, though I have to admit I feel a deep sense of relief to learn she’s not missing, just out on some wild goose chase. Or… dog chase. “All of you, go find her and bring her back here, now.”
The room is filled with the sound of chairs scraping against tile as every member of my team flies out of their seats and runs to the elevator. I watch Taylor pressing the call button repeatedly until the doors open, and then usher everyone inside. As they disappear from view, Ros rounds the corner with Mrs. Jones at her side.
“I’m so sorry, sir, I don’t know where she went,” Gail says. “I went to the market this morning and she was still asleep when I left. When I returned, Miss Bailey was here.”
“I know. It looks like she took the dog out and he got away from her. Once she returns, she’s not to take him out again. Understand?”
“Good. Will you make some coffee, please? I have a few more meetings this afternoon, but I’ll call in from my office here.”
“Right away, sir.”
She turns to make her way back to the kitchen but Ros steps into Taylor’s office and closes the door behind her. She waits for half a beat, then takes a deep, bracing breath. “Can we talk?”
I stare back at her, befuddled. “Talk? What is there to talk about? You think you can just come in here and put on your little I’m sorry act and everything will just go back to the way it was before? That you can use Anastasia to worm your way back into my good graces? I know that’s been your angle and to be frank, I don’t appreciate you wasting what little time I have with her right now by asking her to bring this shit between you and I up over and over again. Especially because it’s not going to work. I’ve done this before. I know your game. If you want to try and manipulate me into bringing you back, to giving you anything, you’re going to have to be a hell of a lot more creative than this. I survived Elena Lincoln, Ros. You’re out of your depth here.”
“Christian, I don’t want to manipulate you, I want to talk to you. I didn’t do what you think I did and I don’t know how you could ever believe that I would.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
She takes a step back, looking as if my words have wounded her. “Because you’re my best friend.”
“Friend? Really? Does a friend go behind the other’s backs to try and sabotage him? Does a friend use the other’s name and credibility to snake a ten million dollar deal out from under him just to get herself the top job at company that doesn’t have near the potential that GEH does? You betrayed me, Ros. I’ve given you free reign for years, listened to you, let you make decisions that any other person in your position would have no business making, all because I believed that you thought of GEH as yours, the same as I did. But you’ve just been using me. Everything you’ve ever done for me was just to get you to PixC.”
“That’s not true! Christian, I do care about GEH. Very much. I sat next to you in your dorm room and helped you build it. I showed up every day while you were basically comatose on my couch that first summer. I don’t know where those emails came from, but I never sent them. I swear to you.”
“Your word doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, Ros.”
“After all these years, how can you not trust me? After everything we’ve weathered together, after everything I’ve stood by you through, haven’t I earned a little bit of trust? The benefit of the doubt? I know how it looks, but I would never do this to you. Not because of the potential GEH has or because I think about it as my baby the same way that you do. I do, but I would never do this to you, Christian. Maybe I overestimated how important I was in your life, but you are my best friend. My family isn’t like yours. We don’t have brunch on Sundays and my parents don’t call me unless it’s a holiday or something is wrong. You are my family. You and Gwen are the only people I have to turn to, to celebrate with or to lean on. That is more important to me than PixC, Christian. That’s more important to me than GEH. Why would I throw all of that away?”
I stare at her, trying to find some biting words to throw back at her that will make her leave my apartment, but there’s nothing. I don’t like the unnamed emotion I see in the depths of her eyes. Something in it is too familiar for me. But thankfully, my phone buzzes in my pocket again, so I have a reason to turn away from her. Part me hopes that I won’t recognize the number displayed on the screen. That it’s from a pay phone or maybe a number from a local business that Ana is using to try and get ahold of me, but it isn’t. It’s Taylor.
“Did you find her?”
“No, sir. And, um… I think it’s time to call the police.”
I freeze. “What?”
“We found the dog. He was trying to get back to the apartment, I think, but he’s…” He pauses and I have to push him to get him to speak again. “He has multiple stab wounds. Miss Steele isn’t with him.”
It must be shock. I hear the words, I understand their meaning, but they don’t make me feel anything. Nothing. Not cold. Not pain. Not fear. Absolutely nothing.
“Mr. Grey?” Taylor prompts me.
“Find her, Taylor,” I breathe back, the strength in my voice gone. “Find her and bring her home.”
I hang up and slowly turn back to Ros. She stares at me with wide eyes. “Did they find her?”
“I uh… I need to make a phone call.”
My hands start to shake as the shock wears off and the severity of what Taylor has said hits me. Stab wounds. Somewhere, Ana and the dog were attacked, violently. The dog escaped. It appears as though Ana did not.
My stomach clenches painfully and there’s a strange kind of pressure growing inside my head that I’ve never felt before. It’s disorienting, and when I look down at my phone to dial the number for the police, the numbers displayed on the screen suddenly look foreign to me.
“What’s the…um… what’s the number for the police?” I ask.
“911?” Ros answers. I nod.
With a great deal of difficulty, I manage to press the three numbers in the correct order and lift the phone to my ear. It only rings once before someone answers, but even that one drawn out tone creates enough time for the fear of reality to take hold of my throat and lungs until it feels as though I can’t breathe.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Yes, my– my fiance is missing. She’s gone and I… I need help.” The words come out sounding disjointed, broken, and full of fear and sheer panic.
“Sir? You’re reporting a missing person?”
“Yes. Yes, missing. Her name is Ana. Anastasia Steele. She was in my apartment and now she’s gone and I think something has happened to her.”
“How long has she been missing?”
“Uh… I don’t know. An hour. Maybe a little more.”
There’s a pause. “Sir, are you sure she’s not just… out?”
I shake my head furiously. “No.”
“Did the two of you have an argument?”
“No, I wasn’t even here. She took the dog out for a walk, without security. She knows she’s not supposed to leave without security, THIS IS WHY I HAVE SECURITY!”
“We found the dog, and he’s injured. He’s been stabbed, but she’s not with him. They were attacked. Please, she’s in danger. You have to help me.”
The operator wastes a great deal of time trying to calm me down and asking questions I don’t have answers to. So, after she takes my name and address and informs me she’s dispatched police, I hang up and throw the phone angrily down on my desk. The police are coming to me. They shouldn’t be coming to me, they should be going into the city, looking for her. Every minute they’re not looking for her, she could be getting farther away from me. With each passing second, the likeliness that she’s been injured or kille—
It hits me fast and hard. My hand flies up to my mouth to hold back the vomit trying to force its way out of me and I have to sprint to the bathroom. I barely make it, and as I wretch again and again into the porcelain bowl, I feel Ros’s hand on my shoulder again.
“Hey, calm down,” she says softly. “Let me get you a towel.”
She begins fumbling behind me, opening cabinets, while I close my eyes and try to force myself out of this nightmare.
“She’s not dead,” I whisper. “She’s not dead. She’s not dead.”
“Dead?” Ros asks behind me. “Christian, what happened?”
I swallow, push down the silver lever on the toilet, and get to my feet, facing away from her. “Call my brother.”
“Call my brother. Call my father. Call my mother. We should all be out looking for her.”
“Out looking where?”
“Okay. Okay, I’m calling right now.” She scurries out of the bathroom and I hear her shaky voice as she’s connected with whichever one of my family members she’s dialed first. I fight against the deep, powerful chill that has taken hold of my body, and push away all the dark thoughts swimming around my head. I don’t have time to panic now, or to fear what may happen, or to feel anguished over what she might be feeling, or what I may have to face… I have to find her. She needs me, really needs me, and I can’t let her down. I can’t fail her.
After leaning over the sink to rinse out my mouth, I dab the corners of my lips with a hand towel and then stare at my reflection in the mirror.
“Find her, Grey,” I command myself, then turn and head back into the great room.
My family gets to Escala in record time, but none of them think it’s a good idea to just go off into the city with no leads. It’s infuriating, especially once the police arrive and agree that it’s better we establish a home base while the officers on duty begin their search. I’m pulled aside to be interviewed at my dining room table, and my father sits by my side to counsel me while Elliot hovers anxiously near the back windows.
In the half hour between my call to the police to moment the first officers came through the elevator doors, the media has been alerted and my publicist has released a statement offering a reward. I’ve been assured several times as I’ve sat at this table that every officer in King country is scouring the streets of Seattle with the most recent picture of Ana I have, looking for her, and yet, it doesn’t feel like enough. I don’t want to be here answering questions, I want to be out on the streets with Taylor, searching every block of pavement for her until she’s back in my arms. With the number of bodies standing and waiting around, it feels like we’re doing nothing and I’m going out of my mind.
She’s not dead. She’s going to be fine. She’s not dead.
I repeat the words over and over again, clinging to them like a life preserver.
“You haven’t received any strange phone calls today, Mr. Grey?” the officer asks. I shake my head. “No letters, no messages through employees or maybe the building staff? No ransom demands?”
I want nothing more than a demand for ransom. Something as simple as an exchange of money to have her back, safe. That would be doing something. An answer. A course of action. This, no leads and no explanation as to why this happened, has me feeling utterly helpless and the pain I’m experiencing over what I fear may have happened to her, or may be happening to her right now, is indescribable. Intolerable.
“Does your fiance have any enemies, Mr. Grey?”
I nod, robotically. “Leila. Leila Williams.”
“Was there an argument? Bad blood?” He waits for an explanation but I can’t give him one. Not because I don’t know how to answer him but because I can’t force my voice anymore. With each passing second the images I have of Anastasia alone, bleeding, in pain, terrified, possibly being violated, become clearer and clearer. And it’s not just her. She has my daughter with her. If I lose her today, I lose them both. My entire life is out there, missing. Why does no one understand this?
She’s not dead. She’s not dead.
“Miss Williams was an ex-employee,” my father answers for me. “She was his receptionist a little less than a year ago, and she had been harboring unrequited feelings for him, which made Anastasia a threat to her. Christian ultimately fired her for displaying inappropriate behavior towards Anastasia at work. Afterwards she tried to claim Christian had sexually harassed her, but the case was thrown out. She’s attempted to exact revenge against both Christian and Anastasia a few times since then and this year she transferred to a school near Anastasia’s. They’ve had several run-ins this year.”
“But she lives in Connecticut now, not Seattle,” I counter. “And we think she’s been working for someone…”
I shake my head. “I don’t know who it is. But I know someone has been following her.” My father reaches over for my hand as my voice breaks again, but I quickly yank it out of his reach and push away from the table. “Excuse me.”
Elliot rushes towards me as I stumble into the living room, so I hold up a hand to keep him at bay. My mother is on the couch, clutching a teary-eyed Mia into her chest while they both stare at the TV. There’s a reporter outside my office building offering a description of Anastasia to the general public, announcing her pregnancy because it’s an important identifier, and once again reiterating the million dollar reward I’ve offered to anyone who can give information that will lead to her safe return.
“It isn’t enough,” I say. “A million isn’t enough. Ten million. Twenty. I want everyone in this city looking for her. I want the person who has her to see the amount I’m offering to get her back and realize that hurting her, that keeping her, isn’t worth it. We need to increase the reward, someone get me Jacqueline on the phone.”
“We’re going to find her, Christian,” my dad says, coming up behind me and wrapping an arm over my shoulder. I shrug him off again and glare at him.
“When? I don’t need vague promises, I need answers. I need solutions.”
“The dog was almost dead, Dad. You heard the call from the vet. Whoever has her is armed and violent. What if she…” my voice cuts off.
She’s not dead. She’s not dead. She’s not dead.
“Don’t think like that,” Elliot says. “She’s going to be just fine. Ana is one of the most kind and gentle people in the world. No one has any reason to harm her.”
“Except to hurt me,” I snap and then turn away from both of them, from the TV, from the police officers gathering their notes and tape recorders, and step through the door to the balcony for some fresh air.
My eyes scan the streets, like I could somehow overcome the 31 story height and pick her out of the crowd of people and cars below. I want to scream her name, even if it just means that she could hear me and know that I’m looking for her.
I double over, resting my arms and forehead on the cold metal railing, silently begging any divine being who may be listening to bring the woman I love home to me. I’ve been analyzing this day non-stop, trying to find where we went wrong, where I was careless, where we could have stopped this from happening.
No one was here with her, and I still don’t have an explanation for why that happened. If it was Kommer’s fuck up, Cardella’s, or Taylor’s. Maybe it was mine. I should have never left Sawyer behind in Cambridge this week. As much as I find the closeness between he and Anastasia disconcerting, there’s no way he would have left her her alone, no matter what Taylor said. Ana was always right. She’s safest with him because he cares about protecting her as more than just a job. He protects her the way I would. The way I should have.
I should have never gone to work this morning.
I should have never taken the security team out of this building.
I should have hired someone specifically to take care of the dog.
I. Should. Have. Been. Here.
The memory of leaving her this morning flashes through my mind. We didn’t speak. She wasn’t even awake. I don’t even know if she knows that I kissed her good-bye. A soft, quick kiss that she wasn’t even conscious for. That could be our last kiss. The last time I got to touch her. The last time I ever saw her and she didn’t even hear me tell her that I love her.
What was the last thing I said to her? She went to bed before I did, but what did I actually say to her? I close my eyes, forcing myself to remember, but when I do, the nausea returns full force.
“I don’t understand why you can’t just pick up the phone and TALK to her,” she argues, placing her hands on the back end of my desk and leaning over my keyboard to draw my attention away from my work. “What if you’re wrong? What if you’re putting yourself through hell and risking losing so much of the progress GEH has made for nothing, all because you refuse to have a conversation with your business partner?”
“I have nothing to say to her, Anastasia.”
“You’re being a child!”
I glance up, anger flaring deep in my gut. “A child? I’m a child because I refuse to engage in conversation with a woman who may have committed corporate sabotage and violated her contractual fiduciary responsibilities as the chief operations officer of my company? I’m a child for following the advice of my own legal counsel and not speaking to her without a lawyer present?”
“Jesus, Christian. She’s your best friend.”
“Yeah? And with friends like her, who needs friends, right?”
She stands up, her lips pressed together in a thin, angry line, but I’m not going to waste any more time arguing with her over Rosaline Bailey. I’m not backing down on this and I have work to do.
“This conversation is over, Anastasia. I’m not talking to you about this anymore. If you can’t handle that, you can leave.”
“Fine. Then, I’m going to bed. Goodnight, Mr. CEO.”
She turns so quickly, her hair fans out behind her and I watch every step she takes out of my office until she slams the door closed behind her. With a calming breath, I shake my head and return to the document still open on the screen of my laptop.
“If you can’t handle that, you can leave.”
That was the last thing she heard me say. She was asleep by the time I went to bed and I left before she woke up. I have no idea if she was still angry with me this morning or if she thought I was still angry with her. Maybe she took that fight more seriously than I did. Perhaps she feels that the reason I haven’t found her yet is because I’m not even looking for her. What if she dies today thinking that I don’t care?
My body starts to shake, and this time when I repeat the mantra that’s brought me back from the edge of crisis over and over again today, I say the words aloud.
“She’s not dead. She’s going to be fine. She’s not dead.”
I turn, and see Ros standing in the doorway, looking at me cautiously, but once I recognize her I immediately turn back to look at the city again.
“I thought you left,” I say into the open air.
“I went to take her picture to the local hospitals and the women’s shelter. I don’t know, I’m trying to think of anywhere we may be overlooking. I just can’t handle standing around waiting.”
My brow creases. “You’ve been out looking for her?”
“Of course I have. Ana is very important to me, Christian. I can’t just sit back and do nothing.” I turn back to face her and, for the first time in a really long time, I actually see her. Not my business partner, not the person who has betrayed me. Ros. I can more than just see the worry and heartbreak in her eyes, I can feel it radiating off of her, and as she steps onto the balcony and closes the door behind her, I nearly break down.
“What am I going to do, Ros?” I ask. “What if I don’t get her back? How will I live a single day without her? I’m lost. I mean, what’s the point? She’s the only thing that makes me feel anything. She’s everything. She’s the air that I breathe. Nothing has any meaning without her. Nothing.”
She nods and steps closer to me. “You can’t let yourself think that way. You’re going to get her back, today, and she’s going to be fine.”
“But what if I don’t?”
She lets out an anguished breath and then closes the distance between us, taking my face in either one of her hands and forcing me to look at her.
“Close your eyes.”
“Close your eyes, Christian.” I do as she says, reluctantly, but she doesn’t pull away. “Find her.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Not out there, in here.” She moves her hand down from my left cheek and places it over my heart. I wince involuntarily. “You two are a part of each other, I know that. So I want you to stop thinking about her out there, and feel here right here.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“Will you just not fight me this one time, please?” I sigh, then take a deep breath and focus Anastasia inside my mind. Her smile, her laughter, the clear blue color of her eyes. I imagine the radiant way she looks when she wakes up every morning and her playful smile as she ducks under the sheets to hide from the sun so that she can stay in bed a little while longer. I recall the feel of her hand in mine. Her grip when we first looked at a live ultrasound together, when I pulled her body into mine and twirled her around my great room floor to Adele last summer. I picture the beautiful pink color her cheeks turned on the mountain in Aspen or next to that frozen lake in Vermont, then the shine of her skin, browned and slick with freshly applied sunscreen beneath the Tahitian sun. I summon a picture of her perfect lips and imagine them forming the words I love you over and over again.
And I as hear the pale echo of her voice whispering those same words in the back of my mind, I feel it. I feel her presence, deep inside my heart and it sends instant relief though my body like an analgesic applied to a wound.
“Ana,” I whisper.
“Hold on to that,” Ros tells me. “When you feel like you’re losing her, remember this. As long as you can feel her, she’s out there.”
I open my eyes, stare into her imploring gaze, and, in that moment, I know. I know she didn’t do this thing to me. I don’t know where those emails came from, the same as the email Taylor says he never sent to his security team this morning, but I am certain that Ros did not betray me.
“Ros, I’m so sorry…”
“For–” There’s a buzz deep inside my pocket that stops me instantly. I fish out my phone, my eyes widening at the unrecognizable Seattle number, and the adrenaline spike is so intense, I struggle for a moment to answer the call.
“This is Christian Grey.”
“Mr. Grey, my name is Shannon Tomlinson. I’m calling from emergency services at Northwest Hospital. I’m contacting you on behalf of Anastasia Steele. She has just been admitted into our Emergency Room.”
“You have her? Is she okay?” Ros’s eyes widen and she turns for the door, waving frantically at the rest of my family.
“I’m sorry, she’s currently being evaluated by our medical staff. I don’t have any information for you about her condition, except that she did come into the hospital under her own volition.”
“But the baby…. She’s pregnant, how is the baby?”
“Again, I don’t have that information for you at this time, Mr. Grey.”
“Fine. I’m on my way.” I hang up the phone and stand frozen for a moment, overwhelmed by the rush of a thousand different emotions burning through me at one time. She’s alive. She’s safe in a hospital.
“Christian?” my father asks, poking his head through the door.
“Northwest. I have to get to Northwest.”
“Taylor isn’t back yet,” Elliot interjects. “I can drive.”
I nod and then move forward after him, looking over my shoulder to call back to Ros. “Will you call the security team? Have them meet us at Northwest.”
“Of course,” she says.
“And I have a meeting with the R&D team this afternoon about the PixC expansion. Will you sit in for me?”
Elliot pushes the elevator call button and, thankfully, the doors open immediately. I step inside, beating Elliot to the button for the garage, and then glance back up at Ros. “I’ll call you tonight.”
Thankfully, I don’t have to put any pressure on Elliot to get us to the hospital quickly. He flies out of the parking garage onto Virginia and swerves deftly through traffic until we hit the I-5 north and he pushes the pedal to the floor. Thankfully, we’re not pulled over so we make it to North Seattle in record time. When we pull into the parking lot of Northwest Hospital, Elliot doesn’t even look for a parking space. He drives straight up to the emergency room entrance and stops at the doors to let me out.
“I’ll text you the room number,” I tell him, hurrying as best as I can to get out of the car.
“That’s alright, I’m going to head back. I think it’s better that it’s just you for awhile. You don’t know how she’s going to be.”
I pause, then nod. “You’re right. Thank you, Elliot. I’ll call you when I know something.”
“Okay. Give Ana my love.”
“I will.” I close the door and then sprint through the automatic doors into the emergency room. They look fairly busy and there’s a line of people standing before the check-in desk, but I push past each and every one of them to get to the front.
“Anastasia Steele,” I say urgently and the woman behind the counter looks up at me with confusion.
“I’m looking for Anastasia Steele. Her room number.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t recognize that patient’s name and I can’t verify whether a patient has been admitted unless I know who you are.”
Shit. I hadn’t considered this. What if that call was fake, a ruse to distract me so he could get farther away. Fuck! “Christian Grey,” I tell her, my voice weak again as a new wave of panic washes over me. “My name is Christian Grey.”
Her face goes slack. “Do you have ID?”
With shaking hands, I pull my wallet out of my back pocket, find my driver’s license, and pass it across the counter towards her. She examines it closely, more closely than I’ve ever had anyone look at my ID before, and then hands it back without even glancing at her computer.
“Miss Steele is in room 227. Straight back and to the right.”
They’re protecting her.
They’re not even willing to risk letting anyone think she may be here without verifying who they are, which means they didn’t get him. From the moment I answered that phone call telling me where she was, I hadn’t even given a thought to him, to what had become of the person who tried to steal her. Apparently, he wasn’t apprehended. Ana must have escaped and he’s still out there, probably looking for her…
“Thank you,” I tell the woman behind the counter, and then rush through the emergency room doors towards room number 227. When I come around the corner, the first thing I notice are two hospital security guards stationed outside her door. They look at me as I come down the hall, preparing to stop me.
“Grey,” I interrupt him. “Christian Grey. This is my f-fiance’s room.”
The man nods and steps aside to let me pass, and the moment I push through her door, I feel the wind knocked out of me.
She’s battered. The abrasions on her face look as she may have been dragged across asphalt, she has a cut across her neck that looks too precise and purposeful to have been done with anything other than a sharp blade, and she’s absolutely filthy. But it’s none of those things that hit me with the force of a wrecking ball. Not the way her tiny frame seems to recede in on itself or the pain in her beautiful eyes. It’s the abject horror that is etched into every inch of her face.
“Baby, oh my god…”
She looks into my eyes and immediately breaks down into tears so I push off the door and cross the floor to her as quickly as I can, pulling her into me. But she screams when I touch her.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, pulling away and looking over her body for some injury I’d over looked before.
“My elbow,” she replies weakly.
“Has anyone looked at that?” I turn and notice for the first time that there’s a doctor in the room with us. She reaches down for the clipboard at the bottom of the bed and starts to flip through it. “It’s not in your chart.”
Ana shakes her head, so the doctor frowns and begins making a notation on the page. “I’ll send someone in right away. Try and stay upright until we’ve made sure that head injury is superficial.”
She gives us a reassuring smile as she hooks the clipboard back onto the bottom of the bed, and then moves quickly and quietly out of the room. I turn to look back at Ana, forcing myself not to reach out and touch her until she gives me some kind of signal that she’s ready.
“You’re face. What happened to your face?”
“I fell,” she whimpers. “I was trying to run and I fell.”
Fell? How? “The-the baby?”
She shakes her head. “She’s fine. We’re okay.”
Oh thank god. “What happened? 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.”
Her eyes widen and for a brief second, the terror that hasn’t moved from the creases around her eyes and lips disappears. “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…” I can’t finish the thought. Now that I have her safe, in front of me, it’s too much to go back into the dark, desperate headspace I’ve been in all afternoon. But she knows me too well to let me get away with simply refusing to say the words. She can read them on my face and as I break eye contact with her, she dissolves into tears again.
“Champ saved my life. He was going to kill me, Christian. He was going to kill me and then Champ… He saved me.” She leans into me so that she can cry into my shirt, so I finally let myself wrap her in my arms and hold her against me. Her whole body is shaking and the sobs come from a place so deep inside her that there’s an almost ghostly echo to each and every one. She’s shattered, and the carnage is so blatant that it feels as though, if I let her go now, she’ll fall apart.
“Ana, what happened to you?”