Chapter 03

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“Aaana.”

“Aaaaaaaana.”

“Ana!”

 

I gasp and sit bolt upright. It takes a moment for me to slow the desperate pants that rattle me and to silence the cold, haunting voice still ringing inside my head. Months later, I can hear it as clearly as I could through the phone at graduation or whispering into my ear as he trapped me against him with one hand and held Christian at gunpoint with the other.

He’s dead. He’s not coming after us anymore. We’re safe.

Taking a deep, soothing breath, I turn and look at the empty space in the bed next to me, then at the clock on the opposite bedside table. It’s nearly six, so Christian is probably down in the gym, and normally I’d feel a sense of longing for not getting to kiss him the moment I wake up, but his absence means I’ll get away with my nightmare. And anytime I don’t have to face the overly worried look in his eye is a small, but important, victory.

I pull back the covers and climb out of bed, going to the window, the way I do every morning, to take in the view of Lake Washington behind our house. The sun has only just started to peak over the mountains in the east, but the sky is surprisingly clear. The water, which has been dark and turbulent all winter, is now still and takes on the subtle pink hue of the sunrise. It’s beautiful and it gives me something else to think about other than my nightmare. A way to anchor myself to reality. For the past six months, that’s been the key to my survival.

Distraction.

I stand at the window for a while, watching the ripples the light breeze creates in the water until I’m ready to start my day. Despite how early it is, Calliope could wake any minute. Or, possibly, not for a few hours. So, rather than get in the shower and risk missing her cries for me over the baby monitor, I pull Christian’s Harvard t-shirt from my drawer, throw on a pair of leggings and running shoes, and make my way down the gym to join my husband. He’s on the rowing machine this morning, watching the news on the TV over his head, and he’s already dripping with sweat.

That also gives me something else to think about.

“Good morning,” I tell him, stepping on the treadmill and adjusting the settings for my morning run. He turns to look at me, surprised.

“Hey, what are you doing up?”

“Oh just not quite adjusted to the time difference, I guess.”

He pulls the cord on the machine, jettisoning himself backwards with the strength of his arms and legs, then eases himself back, releases the handle, and steps off the machine. I just make it to the pace I’ve set for myself before he reaches across the control panel and hits the kill switch on the treadmill.

“Well, since you’re awake, what do you say we find another way to get a work out in this morning?”

“Cardio is important, Christian.”

“Oh, I’ll give you cardio.” His eyes glisten and I smile, then reach over to grip his jaw with my fingers and pull his lips to mine. His arms twist around me in the next second, and before I know it, he’s sweeping me off my feet and onto the cabinet that holds all his boxing gear. He moans as I wrap my arms around his neck, my legs around his waist, and pull him into me.

“I sure hope you’re planning on being quick,” I tell him. “You’ll be late for work.”

“Fuck work. I’m quitting today.”

I laugh. “Yeah, uh huh.”

He smiles, then buries his face in my neck, kissing and sucking until I moan with want.

“Touch me,” he whispers.

I reach down and slip my hand beneath the elastic of his work out shorts and boxers. He pushes his hips into me when my fingers wrap around him, but I don’t give him the friction he’s silently begging for. Instead, I hold him in my hand, squeezing and releasing him over and over again, kneading him in my palm, waiting for him to beg.

“Ana,” he growls, clearly frustrated.

“What?” I reply with a coy smile.

He thrusts his hips forward once more, but when that doesn’t change my gentle ministration. He pulls away from me, yanks me off the cupboard, and spins me around so that I’m bent over the counter with my wrists secured in one of his hands behind my back.

“You want to draw this out?” he asks. The need in his voice makes his words come out sounding rough, like gravel.

I shiver. “No.”

“Mmm, you’re sure?” With his free hand, he hooks his fingers through the band of my leggings and slowly rolls them down over my behind. I can feel him, hard and ready, pressing into my backside, but as I squirm against him, the baby monitor sitting on the end of the counter suddenly lights up and fills the room with the insistent, piercing cries of my daughter.

I don’t even have to look at him, I can feel his body deflate behind me.

“I’m going to give that girl a very stern talking to.”

I laugh, and once he releases my hands, I stand and pull my leggings back over my hips.

“Don’t. In fact, if you could get out of here without her seeing you, that would really make my morning easier.”

He raises an eyebrow at me. “I don’t even get to say good morning?”

“Every time she watches you leave for work, she has a meltdown. Yesterday it took me over an hour to get her to stop screaming.”

He sighs, but nods. “Alright, just give me twenty minutes.”

“Thank you.” He leans in to kiss me, but doesn’t turn to leave after he pulls away. “Don’t forget we have therapy tonight.”

My shoulders slump. “I know.”

His fingers brush the side of my face tenderly. I know he’s trying to be reassuring, but there’s nothing comforting about the thought of sitting in Flynn’s office and having both he and Christian try to force me to talk about all the things I spend every waking moment trying to forget.

“I love you.”

“Not like I love you,” I tell him. With one last kiss, he finally pulls away, but I call out to stop him just as he gets to the door. “Christian, I’m going to be out this afternoon. So if you call and I don’t answer, that’s why.”

His brow furrows. “Where are you going?”

“I have an errand to run for the foundation in the city.”

“You’re going downtown?” He’s surprised, and he should be. I’ve avoided downtown Seattle as much as possible since last August, and the few times I’ve actually gone were either necessary due to family or therapy. Christian’s been to two GEH events without me since then, and I’ve cancelled lunch with Ros four times.

“It’s important,” I assure him.

“Well, keep your phone on. And make sure Woods coordinates with Taylor.”

“Actually, I’m not taking Woods with me.”

“You’re not? Why?”

“I’m going with Luke. He’s picking me up for lunch and then tagging along while I do what I have to. He’ll drop me off at Flynn’s office when we’re finished.”

“He’s not your CPO anymore, Ana.”

“So? Just because you don’t pay him to look after me anymore doesn’t mean he won’t. Besides, we’re safe now right? That’s what you and Flynn keep telling me, that the world isn’t out to get us. I should be able to run an errand in the city without worrying about a gun being held to my head. Are you telling me now that you don’t actually think that’s true?”

He stares back at me and doesn’t respond for a long time. I have him cornered and, watching him struggle internally with what to say next, it begins to feel like a low blow. I know that he’s overly cautious and, as much as he wants me to feel safe, he also wants me to ensure I actually am safe. But I need Luke this afternoon, not Woods, and I feel safer with him than I do almost anyone in the world. The man took three bullets for me.

Christian’s jaw moves, like he’s chewing on the inside of his cheek, and finally nods. “Alright. Have Sawyer coordinate with Taylor then.”

“I will. I love you.”

“I love you too. Kiss Calliope for me.”

When he leaves, I’m overcome with a deep rooted feeling of guilt. I’m not usually the one who keeps secrets, not like this, but if this is going to happen the way it needs to, Christian can’t know about it.

And it has to happen.

The cries start through the baby monitor again, louder this time, pulling me out of my internal struggle. With a sigh, I shake off the uncomfortable feeling, then make my way out of the gym and across the house towards the nursery. Calliope is standing in her crib when I get there and she clings to the railing like she’s locked in some horrible, inhumane prison. There are huge crocodile tears rolling down her beet red cheeks. I don’t remember the last time I saw her looking so distressed and, though it probably makes me a terrible mother, I can’t help but laugh.

“Oh, Calliope,” I say, adjusting the bar on her crib so I can more easily lift her out. She holds her tiny little hands out for me, impatiently gripping the air over and over again. The second I pull her into my arms, her tears stop. She snuggles into me, sniffing, and her fingers close around the fabric of my t-shirt like she’s certain I’m going to leave her again and she’s preparing to fight to hang onto me. It should make me feel sorry for her, but really it just makes me feel like I’m holding the world’s most cuddly Koala bear and I love it.

It’s only been a few hours since I put her to bed, but I’ve missed her.

After sitting in the rocking chair and loving on her for a few moments, I move to the dresser to pick out an outfit for her to wear for the day and begin our morning routine. She babbles and squirms incessantly while I change and dress her, then nearly rockets herself out of her bouncy seat when I set her down in front of the open glass door in my bathroom so I can take a shower. Once we’re both ready for the day, we sit together at the kitchen table for breakfast, which Gail sets in front of us with all the pride of a five star chef. Watching her wait with bated breath for Calliope to take her first bite makes me giggle.

Ever since Callie made the transition from breast milk and formula to solid foods, it’s been our housekeeper’s mission to ensure she would never eat store bought mush in a jar. Everything she’s served is organic, locally sourced, and freshly pureed the morning she eats it. Even the applesauce she has this morning is made with apples from the Trevelyan family orchard, which Gail slow roasted overnight and flavored with freshly ground cinnamon bought from The Souk early this morning. It makes my Greek yogurt and blueberries feel vastly inadequate and, as I tip another spoonful of applesauce into Calliope’s mouth and watch her smile at how good it tastes, I marvel again at how adept my baby seems to be at ensnaring the hearts of anyone she comes in contact with.

“Can Mommy have a bite?” I ask, scraping some applesauce from the outside of the bowl with the spoon. As I bring it to my mouth, her eyes widen with horror.

“No!”

I laugh. Two days after ‘dada’, she spoke her second word, ‘no’, and she’s said very little since. It’s something Christian and the staff like to play with.

Is your name Calliope? No.

Do you love Mommy and Daddy? No.

Are the Seahawks a dominant football force comprised of true American heroes? No.

That last one had Christian laughing harder than I think I’ve ever seen him laugh before, and it may or may not, but also definitely did, start a fight.

I make a sound like an airplane propeller with my lips and then swirl the applesauce around until she closes her mouth over the spoon like a snapping turtle. Once again, her eyes grow wide as she chews and she starts bouncing excitedly in her high chair.

“Is that nummy?”

“No!”

I giggle, as does Gail, who is wiping down the counters in the kitchen, but when I turn to smile at her, Calliope makes a very disgruntled and insistent noise, and tries to shove her fist into the applesauce.

“I’m sorry, baby,” I say, moving her hand away and quickly scooping up another bite with the spoon. This girl can be a disaster when she’s allowed to feed herself and I’d like to keep it to three outfits or under for the day. “Here comes the airplane!”

Calliope screeches with delight as I make the propeller sound again and practically lunges to take her bite.

“And that’s what makes it all worth it,” Gail says, beaming.

I smile at her and when I turn my head, I notice the blinking light on my phone that tells me I’ve missed a notification. It’s nearly ten, which is when Mackensie usually arrives to take over and let me retreat into my office to write, so I half expect it to be a text from her or possibly an email from my literary agent Lydia, who has been demanding to see pages of my new book for weeks. When I pick up my phone though, I see that it’s a notification from PixC, the social media site that Christian bought last year.

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My stomach tightens when I see the picture, which was taken at a few weeks ago at a celebration for Carrick’s inauguration. It’s a great photo of us, that’s not what makes me uncomfortable about it. It’s the 140,236 “likes” I can see below it. Christian has eight million PixC followers. Eight million strangers see every single thing he posts.

I shake my head, dispelling the dark thoughts that accompany that knowledge, then flip through a few of the other pictures he’s posted. It’s surprising, given how private he usually is, how well he’s taken to social media. Though I suppose part of that could be due to Mia and Kate’s expert tutelage. It’s important for his business and all the charitable efforts we’ve put our weight behind to get exposure, but Christian actually seems to enjoy the attention, or maybe the notoriety, that comes from owning the internet’s 7th largest social media site.

Much to his publicist’s dismay, I’m not any better at PixC than I was at Facebook. I don’t really like posting pictures of my personal life for the world to see, even when it’s really only to publicize Escape. But Christian has found a way to perfectly promote the work GEH is doing, as well as the goals and accomplishments of our foundation, all while painting himself as a loving, devoted family man.

Scattered amongst the pictures of new tech and posed photos with important executives, there are a dozen or so candid portraits of the two of us or him with other members of our family. There’s even one extremely unflattering picture of him in rubber waders, standing knee deep in the Skagit river next to my father with a fishing pole in hand. In fact, the only person that is missing from his feed is Calliope and that’s because, despite Jacqueline’s insistence that other high profile CEOs post pictures with their children to soften their image, I have made it very clear that no photos of our daughter will be made public.

I don’t want anyone to know her face.

The strange but familiar feeling I get that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end crosses over me once more, so I take a deep breath, “like” Christian’s photo, and set my phone down, immediately pushing all thoughts of PixC out of my mind. Thankfully, I hear the door from the garage open, so there’s once again something to distract me.

“Morning, Ana!” Mackensie, our new nanny, calls. I look up and see her enter the kitchen with the oversized bag full of activities she brings for Calliope every day slung over her shoulder.

“Good morning, Kensie. How was your date last night?”

Her face falls and she rolls her eyes. “Awful. Apparently, I’m either really lame or really naive because when he told me that I could come over so we could watch Netflix and chill, I was expecting a movie night.”

I laugh. “Oh, yeah… that’s not what that means.”

“I showed up in sweatpants, Ana. Sweatpants. My underwear was not cute.”

“Well, rule number one, your underwear should always be cute, date or no. Nothing makes a girl feel more confident than knowing she’s sexy as hell underneath her clothes.”

“There are rules?”

“Hundreds of them. Rule number two, literally everything he tells you is a metaphor to get into your panties. Everything. Once Christian told me he wanted to go to London, and I got excited because I’ve never been there. Turns out, he just saw the Agent Provocateur tag on my bra that morning.

She sighs. “God, I’m going to be single forever. I’m just going to have you take over all my dating apps. I can’t be trusted on my own in this volatile world. I feel like that girl from the Sound of Music, sixteen going on seventeen and all that jazz.”

“And you want me to take care of you?”

“Exactly.”

“That’s an amazing idea, except that I’m terrible at dating.”

“Says Mrs. Christian Grey.”

“Really that was more proximity than skill. Had my dorm been three doors down from his instead of directly across the hall, you’d probably be sitting here with someone completely different.”

She gives me a doubtful look. “I don’t think so.”

“It’s true. Every other attempt I’ve ever made at dating has been a cold, hard fail. Just ask Luke.”

“So, you’re telling me that the failure of my love life is actually a success then?” she asks with a laugh. “That because I’m so terrible at all of this it actually means that, one day soon, I’m going to land a billionaire of my own?”

“Based on my experience, that is 100% what is going to happen.”

“Fantastic.”

We both laugh and she lets her bag drop to the floor before turning and holding her hands out for Calliope.

“And how is my favorite little princess this morning?”

Calliope squeals and makes a series of disjointing sounds as she reaches out of her. Kensie scoops her up into her arms, then twirls her around, but as she starts to carry her out of the kitchen, Callie’s happy demeanor vanishes and she begins screaming and struggling to get back to me.

“No! No!”

“Awh, Calli-lily. Mommy just has to go work in the office.” Her face crinkles and she starts to cry, so I get out of my seat and hurry to take her from Kensie. The moment I have her in my arms, she clings to me again, just like she did this morning.

“Oh, sweetheart.” I bounce her and kiss the soft hairs on the side of her head, then sigh with defeat. “You know what, Kens, I think I’m just going to keep her with me while I write today. Can you help me bring the bouncy chair into my office?”

“Are you sure, Ana? I don’t mind. She’ll calm down, eventually.”

“No, it’s fine. I’m leaving this afternoon anyway, so it’s probably better that I spend some time with her. And maybe with some extra time together, I’ll finally get her to say ‘mama’.” I turn to face her, giving her a very serious, purposeful look. “Mama, Calliope. Ma. Ma.”

“No.”

My face falls and I shake my head with dismay. “That hurts, Callie. That hurts.”

Kensie laughs as I run my hand over the top of my baby’s head and kiss her forehead, then leaves for the living room where I’ve left the bouncy seat. Before I carry Callie out of the kitchen, I pause and turn to Gail.

“Luke is coming to pick me up for lunch at about 1:30 this afternoon. Will you let me know when he gets here?”

“Of course, Mrs. Grey.” I smile at her, then bounce Calliope a few times on my hip and make my way to my office.

 

The rest of my morning is a wash, though I’d hardly call it a waste. My laptop remains closed on my desk while I lie on the floor with Callie, playing with blocks, or chasing her around to keep her from pulling herself up on the furniture and sending assorted heavy items tumbling down on top of her. I’m just dragging her away from my bookshelf when my phone rings. It’s Lydia, so I set Calliope back on her activity mat, try to trap her with my leg, and answer the phone.

“Hi, Lydia.”

“Hey, Ana. Have any new pages for me?”

“Soon, I promise.”

She sighs. “You’ve been saying soon for a month now.”

“I know. I’m working on it.”

“This is your time, Ana. You’re at the top of the Hottest Up and Coming Authors list the Times published last month, and not having an exclusivity clause in your HarperCollins contract has had every major publishing house from coast to coast jamming up my phone lines and clogging up my email, begging for the chance to publish your next work.”

I roll my eyes. “That’s because you made that statement a few weeks ago saying my next novel is about Christian.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Not in the way they think.”

“Then it’s brilliant marketing. You are in, my love, and we need to get this book on the shelves as fast as possible so we can capitalize on it. From what you’ve told me, this book is going to be huge. I can feel it. We’re talking sales in the millions and huge movie deals. You’re going to be a household name.”

“Hmm,” I hum back, ignoring the way her vision of success makes my muscles tighten. She’s not pleased with my less than enthused reaction.

“Look, just get me some pages. If it’s writer’s block, maybe there’s something I can do to help. But, I actually called to remind you about The Pacific Northwest Writing Alliance Conference this weekend. I tried to call last week, but you were apparently in the middle of the Indian Ocean.”

“Yeah, Christian surprised me. What does that entail again?”

“A signing. People buy your book, you tell them the inspiring story of how you became published, and the PNWA gets to legitimize itself with a New York Times bestselling author. Win-win-win.”

“I don’t know if my publishing story is inspiring, though. Someone tried to kidnap me and it made HarperCollins see dollar signs.”

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Life’s what you make it, dear, and the only story your fans will believe is the one you tell them. This is a good thing, Ana. Trust me. It’ll help you keep your stock up for a little while longer while you finish your novel.”

“How many people are we talking about?”

“Seven hundred, and you’ll get maybe a hundred.”

“And how solid is my commitment on this?”

“Pretty solid. Why? What’s wrong? You’re not ill are you? Don’t write if you have a fever. Once I had an author send me an entire manuscript he wrote while stuck in bed with the flu and it was like Sherlock Holmes if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was on acid and not a very good writer.”

Despite my best effort, I have to fight not to laugh. “No, Lydia. I’m fine. It’s just… when I agreed to this back in December I thought I’d, you know, be in a different place by now. That’s a lot of people.”

“I thought you wanted to get involved with other authors trying to break into the industry?”

“I do…”

“Well, darling, what do you think the PNWA is all about? This is perfect for you, Ana, trust me. I’ll send you the itinerary this afternoon. In the meantime, get me those pages.”

“Lydia…”

“Bye, Ana!” The phone clicks off before I have a chance to argue further, but as I sit there arguing with myself about professional commitments, there’s a knock on my door and Gail pokes her head inside.

“Ana? Mr. Sawyer is here.”

“Oh, great. I’ll be right out.”

She nods and smiles down at Calliope, but then ducks out of my office and closes the door behind her again. I take a long breath and stare down at my phone again, feeling the now all too familiar feeling of guilt over my quasi-finished novel. This was all so much easier when Dr. Ralston was the only person waiting on my chapters. When I was excited about the prospect of record breaking book sales and the publicity that came along with it. That’s just one more thing Andrew Lincoln took from me. It was on my last book tour that everything really blew up, and I don’t know that I’m ready to jump into this again.

The truth is, my book has been done for weeks. Well, sort of. It’s much lighter than Escape, which is shocking when you consider my frame of mind when I wrote most of it. After my last book, I wanted to focus on love. My love. I tried to capture the essence of what Christian and I have together, everything it could be without all the other horrible things that have happened, and it really did a lot for me. But it’s not ready yet. There’s some intangible thing that feels off about it and I can’t decide if it’s the ending or maybe a character issue… I’m not sure. And I don’t want to give it to anyone until I feel like it’s really, truly finished. And I don’t want to put myself out there again until I’m ready.

With a sigh, I pick up Calliope and carry her from my office to the entrance hall, where Luke is pacing back and forth, waiting for me. His face lights up when he sees us come through the arch from the living room and he immediately reaches out for the baby.

“That’s not Calliope Kate!” He sweeps her into the air, over his head, and blows a raspberry on her tummy. She laughs and, as he bounces her a few times in the air, her mouth rounds out to a perfect little O.

“Will you look at those teeth?” Luke says, bringing her down and resting her on his hip. He gives her a very stern look and puts his index finger in her face. “Alright, the jig is up. Who are you and what have you done with my tiny little baby?”

“That’s her, unfortunately.” I pout and reach out to rub her toes through her socks with my fingers. “I asked her to stop growing but it looks like she’s already made it to her rebellious stage.”

“Well, she’s your kid so that sounds about right.”

I glare at him but when his accusatory look doesn’t falter, I end up laughing. He takes a step forward and wraps me in a one arm hug. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah. Kensie!” My voice echoes through the empty hall and a few seconds later the nanny enters. We pass Calliope off to her and get out of the foyer as quickly as possible, before she can realize what’s happening. But, as I hear her cries following me down the front walk to Luke’s car, my heart sinks.

“Maybe I made a mistake keeping her with me 24/7,” I tell Luke. “Every time Christian or I leave the house, she completely breaks down.”

“Yeah, you’re a terrible mother,” he replies, and even though I know he’s joking, it still makes me feel worse.

“Stop.”

“Oh, come on, Ana. Babies cry when their parents leave. What are you going to do? Never leave your house again?”

I purse my lips together and look back at the front door. Unfortunately, that’s not an option, especially not today. What we’re going to do has to be done.

“Let’s just get out of here,” I tell him, and he nods, unlocks my door, and we both climb inside.

 

The downside of hanging out with Luke while he drives and doesn’t technically work for me anymore, is that we have to listen to his music the entire drive into downtown Seattle. It’s all too heavy guitar and screaming vocals that I can’t even understand, and by the time we’ve reached the correct freeway exit, I’ve had enough.

“Christian asked you to coordinate with Taylor,” I say, willing to throw anything out I can to get him to turn down the god awful noise coming out of his stereo.

“Yeah, T called me this morning.”

“He did?”

“Of course he did. Your husband has made it clear from day one that you’re the team’s number one priority. You think he’s going to let you wander around the city without knowing exactly who you’re with, where you’re going to be, and when?”

“You told him!”

He gives me an exasperated look. “No, Ana. I didn’t tell him. Years of being your CPO has given me a lot of practice lying to Jason Taylor.”

“Well, what did you tell him?”

“That I was taking you to Oh PHO Goodness Saké for lunch. It’s right next door to where we’re going so if someone from Grey’s team happens to drive by, they’ll see my car exactly where it’s supposed to be.” I chew on my lip, so he reaches over and gives me a playful nudge to get me to stop worrying. “We’re fine, Ana. Taylor trusts me. In fact, he asked me if I wanted my job back this morning when we talked.”

“He doesn’t trust Woods?”

Luke shakes his head. “He wouldn’t be anywhere near you if Taylor didn’t trust him.” I hear a change in his tone when he says Taylor’s name, and it peaks my curiosity.

“You don’t trust him?”

The muscle in his jaw ticks. “You know that he let me in without asking any questions and just left me in the foyer all alone? He didn’t even walk you in to meet me. What if I was a stalker or something? He doesn’t know me.”

“You’re on the list, Luke,” I reply, rolling my eyes.

“Regardless, I don’t like trusting you or Calliope to a stranger. I did that once and…” His words cut off and his fingers grip the steering wheel tighter. The silence that fills the car is charged and I can feel Kommer’s unspoken name hanging in the dead air between us. It’s uncomfortable and makes the tall buildings lining the road that now represent everything that went wrong last year feel like they’re closing in on us.

“I don’t blame you, Luke. You know that, right?”

“I know,” he says, though his tone suggests he doesn’t believe me.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“I was on duty, Anastasia. It was my job to get you home safe, and I didn’t do that. If I would have just gone up the elevator with you…”

“Then Gia would have shot you the moment you came through the foyer, and maybe not in the chest that time.”

“But that would have given Grey time to get you back into the elevator.”

“You think I would have left Calliope?” He swallows, and I shake my head. “Kommer was waiting in the garage for us to try and escape. There was no way out, Luke. They corralled us and we fell for it, like sheep being led to the slaughter.”

I pause, letting my words sink in. But, after a long minute of silence, he still doesn’t say anything. I reach over and place my hand on his forearm.

“We’re fine. He was stopped, and we’re all fine. That’s what matters. I don’t blame you.”

“Then… you didn’t ask me to resign because you didn’t feel safe with me anymore?”

“No! God, no! Luke, you’re the only person I do feel safe with, because you’re the only person who doesn’t walk around like this could never happen again. I asked you to resign because I needed you to not be on Christian’s payroll anymore. I need you for this. This is what’s important.”

“More important than your safety?”

“This is about safety. Real safety, for my whole family.”

“If you say so.” He flicks his blinker and pulls over against the curb. Once he kills the engine and removes his keys, he unbuckles his seatbelt and turns a probing look on me. I think he’s giving me one last opportunity to back out, but we’ve come too far now. There is no turning back.

I nod and get out of the car.

The storefront of Second Avenue Cleaners is relatively unassuming. The red brick that makes up the entire building is worn from the rain and crumbling away in several places. The lettering on the window spelling out the company’s name is peeling and faded. It’s not the kind of place I would picture Christian using to have his bespoke Italian shirts cleaned, but I suppose he probably didn’t pick it out himself. Gail would have, and because there are three different cleaners closer to Escala than this place, I assume, despite appearances, they’re the best.

Luke comes around the car, his phone pressed to his ear. “Yeah, we’re here now. Five minutes? Great.” He hangs up and turns to face me. “We’re all set. You really sure you want to do this?”

I nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Alright. Let’s go.”

He holds open the door for me and when I step inside, I have to slide against the wall to get to the end of the line. They’re busy, and it weighs on my resolve.

“There are other dry cleaners, Ana,” Luke says, as though he can read my mind. “They’ll all find somewhere else to go.”

I turn to look at him and give him a weak smile. “Yeah, you’re right.”

Slowly, the line moves forward, and inch by inch we make our way to the counter. When it’s finally our turn, the man behind the register doesn’t even look up at me.

“Ticket and name,” he says, stapling the previous customer’s ticket to the receipt in his hand.

“Christian Grey.”

That gets his attention and as he finally looks up, his eyes widen. “Mrs. Grey?”

“Yes.”

“I-I’m sorry,” he stammers. “I didn’t recognize you. Usually your housekeeper… You shouldn’t have had to wait, I apologize. I’ll get these personally. One moment, please.”

I give him a tight smile as he turns and disappears into the back, then look over at Luke. He nods once to reassure me, so I take a deep breath and try to hold onto my waning confidence.

“Here you are, Mrs. Grey,” the shop owner says, sounding much more sure of himself as he hands me the bag containing Christian’s freshly laundered shirts. “No problems to note, they came out perfect.”

“Good. Thank you.”

“It’s absolutely my pleasure. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

I swallow, and feel Luke step closer to me. He’s got my back and, for as much preparation as we’ve put into this, I should feel invincible. But in reality, I can’t stop shaking.

“Yes, actually,” I say after an awkwardly long pause. “Y-you could hand me your keys.”

The broad, fake grin on his face falters and his brow creases with confusion. “I’m sorry?”

“Your keys. The ones that go to the shop. I’m going to need the ones for the front door, the back door, the office… any keys you have that are for the store.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey. I don’t understand.”

Calm down, Ana.

“I uh… I–”

There’s a jingle behind me as the door opens, and the footsteps of the man who enters seem to echo in the tiny, linoleum covered reception area.

All according to plan.

“Mr. Kozlowski?” the man who entered asks.

The shop owner raises an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“My name is Peter Brown, and I’m a process server with the King County Police Department. You’re being served with an eviction notice.”

“Eviction notice? What do you mean? I’ve paid my lease…”

“Through February,” Luke agrees. “But the building has been sold and the new owner has terminated your lease.”

“New owner?”

I nod. “Me.”

“You?” He picks up the eviction notice and starts to scan through it, and the more he reads, the more he starts unconsciously shaking his head. When he’s finished, the color drains from his face and there’s a sense of confusion in his eyes. “Why?”

I want to scream at him. Why?

“Because you sold Andrew Lincoln information about my family.”

“No,” he says immediately, and starts to shake his head with even more vigor. “No. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The blatant lie that is his denial lights an angry fire inside of me, and suddenly, all my nerves vanish.

“Mr. Kozlowski, I know you must think I’m young and very naive, but please don’t treat me like I’m stupid.  From June 6th 2010 until July 30th 2011, you sent information to him detailing every time one of my husband’s staff stepped into your store. You passed information from Anthony Kommer to Gia Matteo, and vice versa, over a similar amount of time. And on more than one occasion, but specifically on March 13th 2011, you provided a secure meeting space for the three of them to talk so that my husband’s people wouldn’t find out about it.”

“Uh–I…” He stands there, stammering, and the panic in his eyes is all the confirmation I need. Truth be told, I never needed him to admit it anyway. Luke provided me with everything I needed to know weeks ago.

“You have until March 1st to vacate the premises,” I tell him.

He shakes his head. “I didn’t do anything illegal. I merely confirmed Mr. Grey used my services, and I passed papers that I never read between two customers. I never aided him in anything he did against your family.”

I narrow my eyes. “Is that what you tell yourself so you can sleep at night?”

“Mrs. Grey, please. You can’t evict me for a personal vendetta.”

“No, you’re right. On paper, you’re being evicted because the Christian and Anastasia Grey Foundation is transforming this building into a shelter for battered women and children who are attempting to escape domestic abuse. But I came here today because I want you to know the real reason. I want you to know that I know what you did and that I’m taking your business because of it.”

“Mrs. Grey–”

“You have until March 1st.”

“That’s only a week.”

“Oh dear.” I place my hand over my heart with fake sympathy. “Then I suggest you make your arrangements sooner rather than later.” Leaving him staring at me, gaping, I turn and march purposely for the door. But, after taking only a few steps, I stop and face him again. “Oh, and I wouldn’t bother looking for another commercial space for your business. I suspect that immigration will be paying you a visit in a few days to discuss the status of your green card. In fact, if I were you, I’d prepare to leave the country.”

“What?” There’s a sharp, nervous lilt to his voice that I ignore as I turn again and step out of his store. Luke follows right behind me, placing a protective hand on my lower back and getting me away from the building as quickly as possible.

“Hey,” he says once we’re outside and out of earshot. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I reply, and for the first time in a really long time I actually mean it. There’s a kind of adrenaline rush that accompanies the potent sense of vindication I get knowing that, finally, something has actually been done. That at least one of the people who were responsible for what happened to my husband last summer, and who made it possible for my daughter to be put in harm’s way, have gotten what they deserve. After months of terror, I feel like I actually have some kind of  real agency in my own life. Power. It’s a kind of high, in its own way, and it’s liberating. I feel like I could conquer the world.

“You’re sure?” he checks again.

“I’m great, Luke. Really.” I look over my shoulder at the Pho restaurant we parked in front of, then gesture to the front door with my head. “Come on. We should get something to eat. We still have a little over an hour before you need to drop me off at Flynn’s office and Christian will be suspicious if I’m hungry later.”

He frowns. “Why aren’t you telling Grey about what you’re doing?”

“Because he doesn’t need to know.” I turn away and start to walk to the restaurant, but Luke reaches out and takes my hand to get me to stop.

“Ana…”

“Did he tell me about Plan B?” I ask, my voice sharper than I mean for it to be.

“Well, no…”

“No, he didn’t. He didn’t tell me that he was using my father to try and get to Gresham. He didn’t tell me that he created a huge, fake wedding in an attempt to trap the man who was coming after us. He didn’t even tell me about you until years after he hired you as my CPO. So you’ll forgive me for keeping this one secret from him.”

He stares back at me blankly, unaffected by my increasingly defensive and accusatory tone. He knows me too well to let me try and shift the blame or change the subject. He stands there waiting for the real reason, and his patient gaze sends that same hot flash of guilt from this morning coursing through me once again.

“He’ll try to stop me,” I admit, my voice much weaker now. “If he finds out what I’m doing, he’ll try and stop me.

“Ana, that’s because–”

“I don’t sleep, Luke. I can’t go more than a few minutes without thinking about it. I am scared all the time, every day, and the only thing that makes it so I can even breathe is this. Doing something. I can’t let him stop me. I am going to ensure that everyone I love is safe and that nothing like what happened last summer will ever happen again. No matter what.”

He presses his lips together. “Ana… maybe you should give therapy a real try. It could help.”

I shake my head. “I spend enough time reliving what happened. I don’t want to talk about it, I want to forget about it. And the only way I’m ever going to be able to forget is if I know that it won’t ever happen again. The only way I can be sure of that is if every one of our enemies is dealt with. I won’t be a bystander anymore, Luke. This needs to happen.”

He takes a long, deep breath that is released in a tortured sigh. Looking away from me, his eyes examine the dilapidated building face next door and after a few seconds of silence, he starts to nod. “Alright. I guess it’s just a dry cleaner.”

“Yeah.”

“But just because I’m not your bodyguard anymore doesn’t mean I don’t care that you’re safe, Ana. I won’t help you if this gets dangerous.”

“That’s fair.”

“Good, then… let’s eat. You’re right, I’m starving.” I smile and take his hand, pulling him with me as we make our way inside.

Oh PHO Goodness Saké is a tiny, cramped space with a long counter where we have to stand in line to order before we try to find a table. Everything on the menu looks phenomenal to me, but Luke doesn’t seem too enthused. He’s never really been an adventurous kind of eater and apparently, Vietnamese food is on his list of too exotic.

“It’s just beef broth,” I tell him as he eyes the contents of the bowl a woman passing us is carrying with a grimace. “It’s like Top Ramen with meat and vegetables but five thousand times better.”

“I don’t know. It looks kind of…”

“Anastasia Steele?”

Both Luke and I turn in the direction my name is being called, but I don’t recognize the man who we find staring at me. He’s handsome and dressed in a crisp, black suit. For a moment, I think he must be one of Christian’s business associates and that I’ve simply forgotten his face in the seemingly endless parade of CEOs and executives I’ve been introduced to in the past year or so. But since he addressed me as Steele, not Grey, that doesn’t seem likely.

“Um… yes?”

“I’m sorry,” he says, smiling. “You probably have no idea who I am. My name is Scott Wallace, I’m the president of the New York division of Greenwich Small Press. We’re a bi-coastal publishing house, nothing too big.”

He’s being modest. Perhaps he doesn’t know the full extent of my publishing connections, but I am fully aware of Greenwich’s presence in the Seattle publishing world. When I was helping to restructure SIP right after it was acquired by GEH, GSP was our biggest competitor when it came to landing new authors. In fact, at that time, it was the most prominent small publishing house on the entire west coast. That is, until the newly rebranded Grey Publishing took off.

“Oh, hi.” I shake the hand he offers me. “You’re a long way from home.”

“Yeah.” He laughs. “Can I just tell you, Escape is absolutely fantastic. I was blown away.”

I blush, but smile gratefully. “Thank you.”

“Of course. Your novel has completely changed the landscape of Literary Fiction. I can’t tell you how many copycat manuscripts I’ve read over the past few months. Everyone is dying to be the next Anastasia Steele.”

“Grey, actually. But, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.”

“Grey, right. I read that you were married.” He turns and extends a hand to Luke. “Scott Wallace. How do you do, Mr. Grey?”

“Just fine,” Luke replies, a huge smile stretching across his face.

“This isn’t my husband,” I say, chastising Luke with a sideways glance. “This is my very good friend, Luke Sawyer.”

“Best friend,” he corrects me. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Wallace.”

“Likewise.” He smiles at Luke, but quickly diverts his attention back to me. “So, Anastasia, are you working on anything new?”

“Yes. I’m actually almost finished with my second novel. Well, first…” I shake my head, and start over. “It’s the first in a new series I’m working on. Something completely different from Escape, but still really personal.”

“I’m sure it’s phenomenal. I gotta say, you’re kind of a legend around here.”

“Oh, I don’t think I’d go that far.”

“No. Don’t get me wrong, your writing is amazing, but I mean for what you did for Grey Publishing. We used to be top dog in Seattle and then some Harvard intern swoops in with a whole new business strategy for GP and starts scooping up our authors left and right.”

“You don’t say.”

“It’s been a bit of a setback for us. Our CEO just fired the head of the Seattle division and now I’m running ragged trying to manage both branches. You don’t still work for GP?”

“Oh, no. I’m just focusing on family right now. And writing, of course.”

“Well, my boss is breathing down my neck about turning the west coast division around and recouping that revenue hit we took last quarter. I need to hire a new Seattle branch president and I’ve seen first hand what you’re capable of. If you’re interested, I’d love to have you come in and interview.”

“Oh, uh… that’s very generous, but I’m purely on the writing side of the industry now.”

“That’s disappointing.” He reaches into his jacket, pulls out his wallet, and hands me his business card. “Well, if you change your mind, my cell and office number is on there. Feel free to call me anytime. We could really use a mind like yours, Mrs. Grey, and we’ll move mountains to make this work out.”

I take the card, but try to make it clear in my tone that I’m not interested. “Thank you. Good luck, Mr. Wallace.”

“Next!”

I look over my shoulder at the very impatient Vietnamese woman waiting to take our order, then pivot towards her as I face Mr. Wallace again.

“Enjoy your lunch, Anastasia,” he says.

“Thanks. You too.” He shakes my hand again, and I slip his card into my purse, almost instantly forgetting about it as I turn to order.

**Christian’s PixC Photo is courtesy of the @shadesofifty twitter page

Next Chapter

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42 thoughts on “Chapter 03

  1. And you KNOW that card is going to come back to haunt her. . . .

    And I get WHY Ana is doing what she is doing. But this is a dangerous game, ESPECIALLY when Christian is being kept out of the loop.

    PLUS, Ana’s actions WILL reflect on Carrick if it looks like she is abusing her power. I’m thinking the dry cleaner guy will try to make a personal appeal to Carrick or Christian, although he would be a fool to do so, once Christian finds out what he did.

    And I want to feel sorry for the dry cleaner guy, but I really can’t. As they say, you run with the wolves, you are responsible for the kills, and the dry cleaner guy could NOT have been unaware of the actions of Gia and Andrew and Kommer. He KNOWINGLY passed information between confederates AND gave out personal Grey-family information because the price was right. He just tried to ignore the carnage that came about because he helped Andrew’s network along.

    But this chapter raises all kinds of future problems. Ana is doing things without Christian’s knowledge, and once OTHER Andrew cronies hear, there will undoubtedly be blowback. AND this could all blindside Christian. AND Carrick, who as a public figure, is under a lot more scrutiny for things happening under his watch.

    PLUS, Ana even seems to harbor some misplaced resentment against Christian for all the secrets he kept from her, even KNOWING that it was for her safety. So Ana feels entitled to keep her own secrets, which is REALLY going to come back to haunt her. I mean, if she keeps such things as THIS secret, then HOW will Christian interpret that card?

    Even Ana’s BOOK is being affected by her ongoing issues, as she has obviously tried to keep the REAL substance out of said book. So it will just be a happy-no-mess book without showing REAL depth and love that has survived real conflict. Ana KNOWS that the book isn’t ready, and that is obviously because so much of herself is missing from this one, since she avoids everything that made the relationship REAL.

    So yeah, LOADS of ongoing problems here. I’m not sure which one will blow-up first.

    Furthermore, there is a LOT to worry about with Ana in this one. Ana is becoming a second Andrew in being determined to get “revenge” whether right or wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Plus, Ana is basically assigned Sawyer to be her investigator and fellow punisher. This will undoubtedly set Sawyer at odds with Christian AND Taylor, once his actions become known. So this will be a real mess, it seems.

    And Sawyer is letting Ana get away with things that he maybe shouldn’t because he, himself, harbors so much guilt and grief over what happened. So this is NOT a good combination.

    And everyone can see how badly Ana is doing. Sadly, most of the others noticing HER issues have them as well. Scary. AND Ana’s own CPO isn’t aware of what she is doing away from him, which could cause him to NOT be aware of NEW enemies that Ana is making.

    Makes you wonder what OTHER secrets other Grey family members may be keeping. AND I also can’t imagine Christian not checking up on what Ana is doing, especially given his worries about her state of mind. So there is a LOT to worry about for upcoming chapters. . . .

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  3. On a fun note, the Calliope stuff was SO cute! Her stubborn streak is certainly showing with her “NO!” to everything, although she clearly loves her parents and doesn’t want to be separated from them. But she is clearly spoiled by everyone within reach. But poor Ana, with Calliope already saying TWO words, neither of which is “mama.”

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  4. Lastly, interesting that Scott Wallace knows EXACTLY what Ana looks like and what she has done, career-wise, and yet supposedly does NOT know she is married OR what her husband looks like. As Ana points out in this chapter, Christian courts the media and provides them with photos of himself.

    Scott has certainly erred in trying to court Ana’s attention, especially once Christian finds out. Christian has been known to destroy companies for less.

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  5. Oh Ana.

    This is NOT going to end well.

    Like – this is just…NOT good. Like – this is such a slippery slope. When does it end? What will finally quench Ana’s terror? What will FINALLY get her to sleep at night? Who else is going to pay? Who else will Ana find deserving of retribution? This is such a slippery slope – where is the line? “No matter what”? What does that even mean?

    The BOTH of them – Ana AND Luke – they BOTH need intense therapy, b/c – & this is the part that I don’t think they understand – in being CONSUMED by this, they’re letting Lincoln win. The only way to TRULY let go of the fear, the terror – it’s by LIVING YOUR LIFE. And they’re not, they’re living in fear & even dead, they’re letting Linc run their lives.

    And, oh God – this is SOOOO going to blow up in their faces. OMG, the whole entire time I’m reading this, there’s this ball of anxiety & tension forming in my stomach b/c a) you’re an amazing author; & b) SHIT IS *SO* GOING TO HIT THE FAN.

    I feel that there’s so many issues that Ana just REFUSES to confront – things about Christian, her dad, her mom, her daughter, the rest of the Greys – she just buries them under the rug b/c there’s something ELSE going on that she has to deal with. If she doesn’t deal w/ these things, how is she going to be a good example for her daughter?

    God. I want to see what’s next…but I’m so scared for her…

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  6. Ohhh my god so many things are happening here. OK ok so one major thing that I noticed in your last sentence ana said that she forgot about it as soon as she put his card in her bag and I was thinking doesn’t that sound familiar like at ABSOF when Christian gave her charlie’s card when he feared he was going to go to jail she also use the same phrase sooo I am gissing Scott is going to play a crucial role but how????
    and can’t help but notice wouldn’t ana working in this company cause a conflict of intrest as their competitors are Grey sooo indirectly isnt that like working for the enemy…. I don’t know it seemed kind of ballsy to ask that, meh, well we will see what happens. Once again thank you!!!!
    Etsub from Ethiopia ( love this phrase)

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  7. Ohhhh Ana, dear!! You are an amateur playing in a game of professionals! I have a feeling this Scott Wallace dude is just another version of Andrew Lincoln awaiting his turn at revenge…..hence, even more reason for Ana not to keep secrets from Christian. His entire interaction with her is very suspicious. And now she’s outplaced a family dry cleaning business — Add more scorned people to the list. Ggrrrr…..she’s going to need Christian’s protective barriers if she keeps making enemies like this. She needs to heed Luke’s advice!!
    Great chapter, Tara! I think your breadcrumb droppings has started! XoXoX

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  8. “I’m a fighter. I believe in the eye-for-an-eye business. I’m no cheek turner. I got no respect for a man who won’t hit back. You kill my dog, you better hide your cat.”
    – Muhammad Ali
    “A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching.”
    – Sivananda
    “Maybe love and pain are synonyms.”
    – Vanshika Dhyani

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  9. Ana is playing a dangerous game. She’s too skiddish, at the moment, to be delving into this abyss of revenge. Although, I do get where she’s coming from she still is in way over her head. Christian is going to lose his shit when he finds out.

    Ok, ummm…Scott Wallace seems like a creep. His first creep offense was calling her Steele and not Grey. EVERYONE knows she’s Grey, now. She should have balled up his card. Does he seriously think she’ll want to work for him when she has her own publishing house?

    Calliope is too sweet and funny. My children never went through the “No” phase, but they did go through the “why” phase. I can handle ‘no’ better than ‘why’ lol…another great chapter. Thank you.

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  10. So much to say that I can’t articulate it all but I will say….Mr. Wallace? Something is so off there and why are Ana AND Luke not picking up on it? Recognizing her but thinking Luke was Christian? That rings so false. Calling her Steele instead of Grey? and has he been stalking her? cause I don’t for one minute believe he just happened to be at this out of the way, obscure Vietnamese restaurant the same time Ana is? Nope…stalking, following whatever…red flags, red flags!!!!!

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  11. OMG. this is getting too intense! The whole time I’ve been wondering what they are up to.

    Ana needs to give a therapy a try, because she’s the one who encourage Christian to do therapy and now she can’t seem to take her own advice.

    I’m scared that keeping secrets from Christian isn’t going to end well.

    I just want them to be happy and for Ana to move on from all this.

    I loved all the Calliope stuff. She’s growing up and super cute! I can tell everyone around her is obsessed with that baby girl.

    Although, I love the Fifty Shades series. I seriously love A Different Shade (maybe a little bit more lol) because it’s so realistic and it shows the cute/normal moments between Ana and Christian when they first started and when they got back together and now as a married couple with a daughter. It’s more relatable. I love this series! I can’t wait to read the Final Shade but I will also be sad since this is the last book.

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  12. Wow Tara u don’t stop amazing me ever! Did not see this coming. Yes Ana is struggling and having nightmares about last year but she has not lost her desire to fight and overcome. I love what u have her and Sawyer doing. Not that Christian and Taylor will get all over Luke when they find out. She is more dangerous and scarier than Christian. She is not afraid to be intimidated or be the one intimidating anyone. I freaking love it!!!

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  13. I can understand Ana wanting to do something to fight back, but I think she’s about to walk right into a hornets nest…..careful there Ana…..

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  14. Is Ana trying to get even with Christian for all the secrets that he kept from her. There is danger in what she is trying to accomplish because there are unknown enemies out there. Ana and Luke keeping secrets from Christian and Taylor is going to complicate matters when other enemies starts trolling them. With their social media company and increase in their activity input they are even more exposed now, and accessible to their personal lives are limitless, The dry cleaner owner may not have been operating on his own either. There are immigrants everywhere they could be close with that could do as much damage to them as this person.Trying to get them evicted and return to their country may cause ripple effects. Why was it important for Ana to involve herself in what could become another dangerous game. Why didn’t she share what she knows and have the authorities get involved. Nope your plot is different.
    These Scott Wallace guy address as a Steele because that is her author’s name but he actually knows she is married now to Grey and should know Grey Publishing is his competition yet he offers a job to her and give her his card which eventually might end up as a source of irritation to Christian, if he finds out about it, I can’t hardly wait what he might do. And knowing him he will do something. Is this how Ana is going to overcome her nightmares by tackling problems on her own? Too many questions, I should just wait for the next chapters to be available.

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      1. But Taylor can be trusted, as he was when she and Luke only told Taylor about the goon following her in New York. I hope Luke does tell Taylor, esp. about Mr. Wallace.

        And I think that “poor, hard-working immigrant” is going to call the TV stations for sympathy and turn this into bad publicity for Christian.

        This is not climbing a mountain to prove you can overcome your fears; this is revenge, and seems too out of proportion to what he actually did.

        I love the story, and I know marriages have ups and downs, but knowing Christian’s past, I would not want to give him reason to distrust me — about the cleaners, or Mr. Wallace. I hope Luke immediately looks into Wallace; a person in his supposed position would certainly address Ana correctly and would recognize Christian.

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  15. Wow, Ana takes matters into her own hands. I don’t feel it good at all that she shuts Christian out. She could verify to Luke about not blaming him but she’s mad with Christian not disclosing the fake wedding venue. She harbours angst. All Christian wants, always, is to keep her safe. She needs to attend therapy, at least she’ll later in the day with Christian. Scott Wallace is so pretentious, who would not know Christian Grey, addressing Luke Mr Grey? Ana, she needs to be careful or maybe she is stronger than we thought. Luke crossed the line with security, keeping Taylor, Christian out. Thank you for the update, Tara. Can’t wait to see what’s happening. Xoxo daytona

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  16. What is scary for me is how Ana is almost MIRRORING Andrew Lincoln’s fall from grace from decent-but-flawed man to evil demented monster. After all, Andrew Lincoln was techinically a VICTIM, too, when all this started.

    From Andrew’s perception, he gave Elena everything. What he expected in return was the perfect trophy wife. Only Andrew had married someone with an actual brain, education, and desire to work HERSELF. And Elena was left ALONE so much of the time, and she was in envy of the Grey family, ESPECIALLY Grace, who had the supportive husband AND career AND family that she wanted.

    Elena’s having an affair should have been entirely expected. In fact, ANDREW certainly wasn’t starved for feminine attention when away on business.

    AND yet when Andrew found out what Elena had done to Christian, Andrew IMMEDIATELY saw the full implications and actually TRIED to do right by Christian. He did the seemingly RIGHT thing for the RIGHT reasons. He had some decency at that point.

    And THAT is when Andrew Lincoln got completely screwed over by Elena WITH CHRISTIAN’s help. And Andrew could NOT take that. He was rendered powerless and suffered the social stigma of being cuckolded AND unable to leave Elena where he found her, in the poorhouse, due to Christian’s lies.

    And Andrew could NOT get past the above. ANDREW could NOT ACCEPT that he had done the “right thing” and STILL BEEN PUNISHED so completely and irrevocably. He could NOT get over being victimized, AND he began plotting REVENGE.

    So the man that had spent his ENTIRE LIFE building the company of his dreams literally CEASED TO CARE about said company in order to focus on revenge full-time. His career meant NOTHING to him. His workers and those dependent on him meant NOTHING to him. JUST revenge.

    And once revenge became his motive and cause, Andrew CHANGED, rationalizing ANYTHING as fair game in revenge. His focus came to be on ANA, who was a COMPLETE INNOCENT. But hurting Ana would be what would hurt Christian the MOST, so Andrew literally planned to kidnap, hold, and repeatedly rape Ana JUST to hurt Christian and get revenge.

    Andrew could JUSTIFY, in his own mind, PUNISHING Ana because she had HELPED Christian by 1) keeping his secret about lying on the stand and committing perjury and 2) forgiving him AND going back to him DESPITE the wrong he had done. AND UNDERSTOOD, then, the QUALITY OF MERCY AND FORGIVENESS and WHY people sometimes make BAD decisions, themselves, because of the rationale that it might actually HELP someone close to them.

    NOW compare Andrew’s journey to ANA’s current path. Ana, too, was innocent to begin with. She became Andrew’s victim through no fault of her own. HER FORGIVENESS of Christian was the one thing Andrew could NOT abide.

    Like Andrew, Ana is NOW UNABLE to truly focus on her career. Her book, writing career, everything is on the BACK BURNER. She is focused on REVENGE against ANYONE that helped Andrew, regardless of MOTIVE OR INTENT of those involved.

    And Ana’s MOST LOVING trait of forgiveness and mercy is LOST in the rationale for Revenge. Ana blames the Dry Cleaner Guy as if he was a main perpetrator bent on harming her. This guy passed information along the chain of Andrew’s minions in exchange for money. He also let his place be used as a base of operations for Andrew, since no one would think to look for a great Conspiracy at a small-time local dry cleaning place.

    Ana NEVER seeks to find out WHY the dry cleaner guy did what he did. And forgave MIA, who protected her own would-be rapist out of FEAR. Yet Ana NEVER even asks OR tries to find out WHY this guy did what he did OR whether or not Andrew threatened him or his family. After all, ANDREW probably USED THIS VERY GUY BECAUSE of his uncertain immigration status. This guy was probably put in the WORST possible place of being told the police would NOT help him AND he could get deported OR take money for the use of his facilities and limited information.

    The ANA that we have known would have taken into account the INCREDIBLE pressure brought to bear on this guy. The Before-Ana would have tried to find out WHY the guy did what he did. After all, this guy was SO LOW ON THE TOTEM POLE that Andrew did NOT even bother to eliminate him.

    YES, this dry cleaner guy did wrong. Unquestionably. But like SO MANY in Andrew’s network, this guy probably NEVER anticipated that Andrew’s scheme was THAT diabolical. AND even when he DID realize how evil Andrew was, he was in too deep. It does NOT make it right, BUT Ana has been willing AND ABLE to forgive FAR LESS by Christian and his family members.

    After all, Christian KNOWINGLY destroyed Andrew. Yet NO ONE made him pay for it OTHER than Andrew, who TRIED TO USE THE SYSTEM to punish Elena. YET THE SYSTEM WOULDN’T HELP HIM or make things right. So Andrew justified ANY USE of FORCE, INTIMIDATION and COERCION to get his way, REGARDLESS OF THE LIVES DESTROYED.

    And ANA is now doing the same to cronies of Andrew. She has utterly, COMPLETELY, destroyed this man. And HOW does it REALLY help make her OR the Grey family ANY SAFER???? HOW is it anything OTHER than revenge? It is NOT justice that Ana wants.

    The Dry Cleaner guy allowed Andrew to use his facilities. That implies that he probably SAW people that could come and go from his facility that worked for Andrew. This guy might have OVERHEARD things or SEEN CONNECTIONS that Andrew used. Ana could have tried to WORK with this guy to further the ends of getting the REAL people of power, those government officials and police, that WILLINGLY and KNOWINGLY helped Andrew and HURT SO MANY.

    So Ana’s Rationale and lack of forgiveness is JUST like Andrew. AND Ana is taking actions to knowingly destroy lives in her misguided justifications that her revenge is really “helping.” ALL it is doing is making an EXAMPLE out of a low-level guy. HOW DO YOU THINK THOSE FURTHER UP the totem pole will react to this? It makes the police officers and others MUCH more likely to close ranks AND attempt to go after the Grey family to PREVENT the upcoming attack expected by the Grey family.

    ANd Ana, like Andrew, is using what happened to put WALLS in between those that she SHOULD love and care for. NOW, she is justifying her estrangement from Christian because of HIS secrets, same as Andrew did, WHILE IGNORING HER OWN, FAR WORSE SECRETS. Ana’s secrets have the added BURDEN of likely ENDANGERING or ANGERING Andrew’s last confederates. After all, if they could potentially lose everything and be attacked, WHY NOT ATTACK FIRST? After all, THEY can undoubtedly RATIONALIZE their OWN attacks as protecting THEIR families, since Ana willingly destroys DESPITE not knowing who all may be dependent on the Dry Cleaner for support.

    (After all, what if Mr. Dry Clearner Man has a child that could either face deportation with him OR be left ALONE in the U.S. without him? Ana NEVER even cared about THE INNOCENTS she could be impacting through her actions against the Dry Cleaner Man.)

    THAT is the problem you see with Andrew AND Ana —BOTH were originally wronged victims who DESERVED justice. But the WAY they both went about their REVENGE was NOT justice AND created MORE victims that did not deserve it. AND NEITHER CARED about who all they hurt AND if the punishment even truly fit the crime.

    So Ana’s current PATH leaves MUCH to worry about. She is currently playing on the GUILT of some (like Luke and even Christian) to ABUSE the power that the Grey family name and fortune now gives her. And that same path did NOT end well for Andrew Lincoln. It ended in insanity and the torture and death of MULTIPLE innocents. Ana’s actions could very well TRIGGER a war with those that have EVERYTHING to lose and see NO justice or MERCY from Ana and those with her.

    Ana is starting a war that WILL cost people MORE than what they deserve. AND will destroy herself and those relationships nearest and dearest to her. Right now, she merely RESENTS Christian AND uses his actions to JUSTIFY her own. When we all KNOW that Christian only sought to GIVE Ana everything she wanted, but kept secrets TO KEEP HER SAFE, NOT to destroy others.

    So the “slippery slope” turned out to be more of a permanent “cliff dive” for Andrew Lincoln that he could NOT come back from. Ana is rapidly turning into someone we can’t like or even sympathize with IF she just turns into another Andrew Lincoln. The moment Ana completely loses the ability to CARE AND SYMPATHIZE and feel MERCY for others that find themselves in bad situations, even if of their own making, is the day that Ana hits the point of no return.

    I just can’t imagine Ana turning into this evil, isolated person that feels justified in destroying others for past crimes, no matter how small. ANA was the FIRST person, other than Elliot, to truly sympathize with Christian’s past plight ONCE SHE WAS GIVEN the THERAPEUTIC TOOLS to UNDERSTAND Christian’s abuse and actions. Ana could even FORGIVE Christian’s former trespasses and MOVE FORWARD. But THIS ANA is STUCK in the worst possible angry moment. And she is responding in kind.

    This girl needs an INTERVENTION in the worst way, BEFORE she gets too-far down a path where she only hates those she formerly loved most and blames them for everything, justifying her far-darker path.

    Like

  17. The Scott Wallace intrusion is also ignored by Luke AND Ana, which just shows their distractions with all things Andrew.

    After all, Scott Wallace knew EVERYTHING about Ana’s career. He mentioned her business plan approach and other minutia that SHOWS he has FOLLOWED ANA very carefully, at least career-wise. So who WOULDN’T know that she was now married? He knew she had worked for CHRISTIAN’S publishing company, and had been an EMPLOYEE. An Employee WITH A CONTRACT, that most likely contained a NO-COMPETE CLAUSE that would forbid Ana working for a rival company within the area for at LEAST several years.

    So this guy’s “ignorance” and blind offering of a job, KNOWING Ana’s immediate marital connections AND loyalties just seems suspicious all around. PLUS, Ana has AVOIDED the whole Seattle downtown, even cancelling lunch with Ros MULTIPLE times, and not been anywhere near the Seattle business district. So this guy just “happens” upon Ana the ONE TIME she is in the area WITHOUT Christian? Really?

    I just can’t buy this guy being that lucky to encounter Ana at a relatively small, low-level and nondescript area of Seattle. Granted, I may be paranoid, but that BEGS the question of just WHY neither Luke OR Ana is anymore worried about this guy and his motives.

    Which just goes to point out how bad a place LUKE is also in at this time. Luke BLAMES himself for not knowing about Kommer and about not keeping Ana safe. He keeps reliving and questioning past events, so much so that he seems to ignore possible PRESENT threats.

    Previously, Luke was the FIRST to encourage Ana to TELL Taylor about Leila. Due to his friendship with Ana, Luke always HAS put Ana’s wishes above all else, and now that Ana’s instincts and focus are stuck entirely in the past, NO ONE is appreciating PRESENT concerns and issues. The Luke of Yesterday would NEVER make the MULTIPLE mistakes that he does in this chapter of NOT telling Taylor about the information he obtained on the Dry Cleaner AND FURTHERMORE not telling Taylor about Ana’s extremely rash actions that should undoubtedly create MORE THAN ONE enemy.

    Plus, pre-injury Luke would NEVER have failed to see the possible problems the whole Scott Wallace thing could entail.

    Luke is exhibiting all the signs and warnings of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. AND that is a bad thing, given Ana’s SAME issues. At least LUKE has training. Which he is choosing to IGNORE in favor of making Ana happy. Which is a complete disaster in the making, ESPECIALLY given how Christian has NEVER been easy with Luke’s close friendship with Ana. NOW, Luke knows more secrets than Christian. Which can never sit well with CHristian, once it comes out. AND Christian can’t fire Sawyer, since he isn’t working for him now.

    What a mess. I get NOW why Tara said Chapter 3 shows a wrench being thrown in the works. At this point, I would say it is MULTIPLE wrenches, being hurtled in multiple directions, causing harm wherever they end up!

    Like

    1. There is so much in these two comments! 1. You’re picking up on a lot of things I intended to play on the DL until much later. 2. Your Luke comments are spot on, although I think it’s less about making Ana HAPPY and more about making Ana feel SAFE. Key word: FEEL

      I thought about doing some outtakes about Ana during the six months between Stronger and Final to show how bad it really got, but ultimately ran out of time. Maybe I’ll do them for Final. But there has been a significant and obvious change in Ana that no one around her seems to deal with MOSTLY because she’s so adamant about not dealing with it herself. Christian pushes her again and again to go to therapy, but she refuses and gets extremely defensive about it and I think he’s worried about pushing her away from him or maybe driving her back into the darkest part of her PTSD again. Everyone is just doing what they can to make Ana feel safe and it has encouraged a lot in her that shouldn’t be encouraged.

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      1. THAT is what hit me strongest in this chapter: everyone around Ana is ENABLING her. Both Christian AND Sawyer (and even Carrick in his Outtake) think that IF only each one of them works harder, does something special for Ana that she wants, etc., then Ana will miraculously return back to her former self. SO EACH MAN has PUT IT ON HIMSELF the blame, rather than realizing that ANA herself has to DEAL with what happened in order to move forward.

        But instead, ALL the men in Ana’s life are just ENABLING Ana to go further down a darker path without opposition or realistic discussion of JUST what Ana might trigger. So Ana is NOT getting help, and is instead going down a path that can only bring trouble.

        Sadly, Carrick can be looped into those MOST enabling Ana. While his Outtake shows that he KNOWS the mayor position should be about the people of Seattle, he TELLS Ana that he WILL use his job to go after those that supported Andrew, further backing Ana’s belief that she cannot stop UNTIL she has gotten every single person. AND even IMPLYING that he will use his own political connections in this war that is ONGOING.

        AND Carrick has displaced the OLD mayor, who undoubtedly HAD to have connections to the former police conspirators. I mean, Andrew had to have SOME POLITICAL CONNECTIONS to enable him to have so much power over prison guards AND police officers alike.

        So NOW, the old political guard and the former police personnel have a REASON to come together.

        And the ABOVE brings into play the One Final Theory about Scott Wallace that I REALLY hope doesn’t come to fruition.

        My FIRST thought on Wallace accosting Ana RIGHT AFTER she left the dry cleaner’s was that SOMEONE HAD BEEN ASSIGNED TO WATCH THE DRY CLEANER’s place in case ANYONE from the Grey clan realized that Andrew and confederates had met there. AFTER ALL, a place where MANY of the co-conspirators met AND had to report in to Andrew OR Gia meant that people that did NOT know about one another before SEEING other conspirators AT THIS LOCATION. After all, LEILA first saw other confederates, including GIA AND Kommer, here.

        MEANING that the Dry Cleaner’s is the ONE PLACE where the MOST conspirators came into contact with one another. If ANYONE would be likely to have information, then it would be this dry cleaner. AND I could see the police and/or politicians NOT wanting to call attention to themselves unintentionally by eliminating the man AFTER Andrew was dead.

        And who KNOWS how many cameras might have recorded those coming and going from the dry cleaner’s place that could be hacked easily enough. So anyone important WITH SOMETHING TO LOSE would really be MOTIVATED to wait and see if anyone from the Grey family figured out about Andrew’s base of operations. SO THE PLACE WOULD BE WATCHED. Easy enough, with corrupt police officers, who could just drive by regularly in patrol cars.

        PLUS, Ana has, rather foolishly, LEFT A PAPER TRAIL. I mean, Ana’s actions LOOK like a declaration of war. AND she is moving her foundation into the VERY building where Andrew formerly met. That WOULD NOT be considered a COINCIDENCE.

        So enter Scott Wallace. WHO WAS FORMERLY FROM NEW YORK during the VERY time that Andrew had relocated his empire there. AND Scott has admitted being RECALLED or relocated TO SEATTLE NOW after the whole Andrew Lincoln debacle. There is a perfectly reasonable “excuse” of his being in the VERY industry that Ana has been in the past and is STILL connected to.

        (I REALLY wish Ana would have clued Taylor in. The dry cleaner’s place could have been WATCHED to see who ELSE was interested in the foot traffic in and out of this location. SO MUCH could have been learned PRIOR to any DIRECT contact. There could have been a PLAN put in place, INCLUDING seeing IF THE DRY CLEANER knew anything of substance. I mean, IF THE DRY CLEANER HAD BEEN SMART and wanted to hold onto possible BLACKMAIL material on Andrew Lincoln, then HE WOULD HAVE HAD HIS OWN CAMERAS within RECORD some of the “meetings” that Andrew paid to hold at his location. NOW, the dry cleaner has NO REASON to help the Grey family and EVERY REASON TO ALERT OTHERS to what Ana has done. WHICH MAY BE WHY SCOTT WALLACE showed up.)

        I really had not realized JUST how far down the rabbit’s hole Ana had jumped UNTIL this chapter. Then EVERYTHING hit me full-force, ESPECIALLY about the risks of everyone’s enabling Ana along on her path. BAD combination. And WHO will Ana have to blame when someone gets HURT or caught in the crossfire SHE initiated? Scary stuff.

        Like

  18. I understand Ana’s need to fight back and protect the people she loves but I feel like she’s heading into dangerous territory. I can only imagine Christian’s reaction if he was to find out what her and Luke are doing. I hope Luke will tell Taylor and Christian. I absolutely do not trust this Wallace guy either.

    Like

  19. I just really hope that Luke confide in Taylor.I like the way Ana handled the owner of the cleaner.She was extremely confident in her mission to destroy the illegal immigrant who had a hand in the demise of peoples that she cared for. She’s not the same Ana .After living through the turmoil of Andrew Lincoln. I don’t think any of the characters are the same. It will takes years to be the same again. So why not use the the grey’s name/money to do something to hopefully helps her sleeps at night. If Sawyer feels that Ana has gone over her head and harms will come to her. Knowing Sawyer He will alert Taylor and Christian,

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  20. It’s all well and good going after anyone that was remotely involved, but if someone comes after them they aren’t exactly going to use the same people are they. She really needs to give therapy a real go. Trying to forget is trying to suppress and the from my experience it does more damage in the long run.

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  21. Just because Christian kept things from her, she shouldn’t do the same.
    Yeah, her saying, “I just want to forget about it”, I’m sure she knows that’s not working out for her so far.
    Looking forward to more.

    Like

    1. THAT’s the VERY problem—Ana does NOT know that she is in such a great State of Denial. She THINKS she wants to “forget” when she is doing anything BUT that. She is, instead, concentrating on Revenge 24/7 without ANY thought to others she may put in danger by doing so.

      But THAT is the worst problem about those in denial that “just want to forget about it.” Emotionally, Ana will remain STUCK in that bad place until she deals with it and can move forward. Until such time, she will be emotionally stunted, and she will find every excuse to pull away from even those she loves most. WE ALREADY SEE Ana doing this with Christian.

      So this is psychological textbook suppression of the REAL issues and refusal to move forward. And DENIAL that there is even a real problem with HER. Ana is becoming a SHELL of her former self, filled with nothing but hate and loathing. She is already JUSTIFYING pushing Christian away and resenting him for his secrets, while keeping her far more WORSE secrets that WILL undoubtedly jeopardize the very people she loves most.

      Here again, I can’t help but compare Andrew to Ana. Andrew was originally SO PROUD of his offspring and seemingly trusted her and brought her into his circle. ONLY to then coldly kill his own child JUST to prove a point that NOTHING was more important to him than REVENGE. He had given his sanity, his career, his child, his morals, his EVERYTHING just to get revenge.

      Ana is not so far gone YET as Andrew. But she is well on her way. How long before she seemingly loses interest in her OWN offspring over her desire for revenge above all else? Scary. She is NOT just “forgetting it.” She isn’t even trying to do so and move on.

      Like

  22. Now, I really want to know what “business” Ana has in Cambridge. I have a real sinking feeling here. AND Mia will be with her, and potentially in the crossfire. AND Ana did NOT want Christian coming wtih them. THAT is ominous and tends to mean that there is SOMETHING Andrew-connected that she wants to look into.

    I’m also wondering who ELSE Ana will try to “recruit” into her revenge plan. After all, Andrew Lincoln certainly couldn’t do it all alone. Carter is presumably still at Harvard Law. Where Astor Harrington should be as well, if my calculations are correct, as he would be in his final year at Harvard Law. (I mean, Christian MUST have had reason to at least think about Astor as a conspirator if he chose to want to send him a wedding invite.) I’m really hoping that we’re done with Astor Harrington, as he is fixing to be in a likely position of power, himself, upon leaving school and obtaining some high-powered job. He had an almost pathological resentment of Christian and all he had, including Ana, and Christian seemingly still wanted to “poke the sleeping bear” as the saying goes.

    Here’s hoping Sawyer will say SOMETHING to Taylor before the whole Harvard trip. Because Ana will be FAR away from help when she goes trying to “poke a sleeping bear” herself!

    Like

  23. (Hopefully) quick question: What is the expected TIME FRAME for this book?

    Which NATURALLY leads into other quick questions, because I just can’t help myself. (Yep, REALLY really loving that we got this fourth book! Will make it SO MUCH EASIER for Tara to segue right into still yet another one, or better yet, a Calliope series. . . .JUST slipping that in to begin the subtle subliminal brainwashing necessary to accomplish said goal. Well, that and dangling a bookmark of a half-nekid Jaimie Dornan in front of Tara, commanding her to accomplish said goals listed above!)

    Will we get to see part of Mia’s Harvard career? Is she going to live at Ana and Kate’s former house or stay on campus? (AND is Christian going to try to monitor who she dates there, parties attended? I can see Carter originally being tasked to “look out” for Mia and something potentially developing there, which I can’t even imagine how Christian would deal with that, if it happened. He would NOT like the age gap, clearly, amongst other things.) I just KNOW there has to be MORE to Mia attending Harvard than we yet know.

    Like

  24. I read the first three chapters in the wee hours this morning. Wow! Excellent writing and surprising continuation of the story. The entire Grey family and security are a mental mess. And they should be after a year of extreme anxiety, a new marriage, new baby, and Chistian and Sawyer shot by maniacs in their own home. Taylor unable to assist as he is in a Georgia hospital shot up trying to save Carla’s life. Carla was murdered for her foolishnes in thinking she was saving Ana and Callie.

    Now Ana is fed up and, along with ex-CPO Sawyer, is going to take out the trash. Her encounter at the cleaners with the man who sold out Christin is the first step. Sawyer has been busy gathering info on anyone who ever breathed in the Greys’ direction. A dangerous mission for two shell-shocked survivors of a massacre. And what information on Sawyer did Christian know before Ana? Can’t wait for next chapter of this epic story.

    Like

  25. I LOVE this series so much. I’m re-reading it again to keep myself busy in between waiting for new chapters. Quick question – I know that Ana, Christian and Elliot all know that Kate donated the liver. Does anyone else? I can’t recall if I read that Carrick or Grace knew yet. I’m not sure why I’m stuck on that -perhaps because that is where I’m at re-reading the series!

    Like

  26. WOW WOW WOW Ana is on a personal mission to take down all the other people that helped Lincoln. Luke is gong to be in so much trouble with Christian when he finds out?! But she is doing it in style and Christian should be proud of her. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Like

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