Chapter 25

misc-11-26-001

I wake Sunday morning to the sound of raindrops splattering noisily against the windows of our cabin. This weekend has been everything I hoped for and more. Sunshine. Family. Chasing Kate and Elliot through the choppy waves on jet skis for hours and hours… The muted gray light filtering in through the windows feels like an end to all of that, so I clamp my eyes tighter together and try to convince myself I’m dreaming. Unfortunately, the all too real warmth I can feel radiating off my husband in the bed next to me makes that impossible. But once I remember that he’s just as naked as I am, something much more potent than disappointment in the weather takes over.

I take a few minutes to reminisce over the night before and feel an instant endorphin rush. His passion was out of control. Wild. And just the memory of the way he touched me, the way he moved inside of me, has me instantly craving more. I decide that I might just wake him up in his most favorite way, except when I roll over, I find that he’s already awake. His hands are folded behind his head, stretching out his bare chest in the most alluring way possible. His eyes, though, stare blankly up at the ceiling, as though he’s looking right through it, and his face is creased with worry.

“Hey,” I say, sitting up. “What’s wrong?”

In an instant, his distress vanishes and he moves his hand from his pillow to cup my face. “Just struggling to ensure you get enough sleep before I do this…” Gentle fingers curl around my cheek, pressing just enough to coax me down to his lips. I hum with contentment and roll my body towards him. As my lips meld to his, I wrap my arm around his chest and use his weight to pull myself up over the top of him. My breasts skim the slopes and valleys of his hard pectoral muscles, and the smooth, whisper soft contact of his skin on mine turns my nipples to tightly rounded pebbles. Just a kiss, a careless touch, and I’m his. But there’s a tension in his lips that I can’t ignore.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” I check.

He frowns. “I’d be better if you wouldn’t stop.”

I raise an eyebrow and he lets out a heavy sigh before allowing his body to relax back into his pillow. “I’m sorry, I just have… a lot on my mind.”

My stomach tightens, but not in the way I hoped it would a few moments ago. Christian hasn’t so much as even looked at the satellite phone, or excused himself to check his email, even one time since Friday night. He’s been as happy and present for me, our daughter, and our family as I’ve ever seen him. But there’s only one thing I can imagine that could occupy his mind enough to let him do something as trivial as worry while I’m naked and spread out over the top of him.

“Are you worried about the tax vote?”

There’s hesitation, then an eventual nod. “Yeah. I guess.”

“What happens if it doesn’t go your way?”

“He takes a deep, uneasy breath, then shakes his head. “It will. Don’t worry.”

“What…” The word only just barely escapes my lips before the rest is cut off by surprise. The entire room whirs around me until, suddenly, I’m on my back. Christian’s body covers mine in the next instant, his thick, strong arms caging me in beneath him.

“You know what I’d really like to focus on right now?” he asks. I open my mouth to argue, but he silences my protest with a hard, deep kiss. I start, taken aback by the sudden assault, but soon the fevered eagerness of his tongue and the low desire filled moan he releases into my mouth push concern aside and I succumb to desire. I throw my arms around him and pull, holding my body as tightly to his as I can manage.

He captures the tip of my tongue between his lips and sucks gently. Each soft pull sends a ripple of pleasure rolling down my spine, like a wave of warm syrup. Then he reaches down beneath the blanket, slides his hand between us, and lightly flicks my clitoris with the pad of his thumb. Once. Twice. Again and again, with the same metronomic pattern, until I start to quake.

“Should I make you come before I fuck you, or make you wait for my cock?” he asks, the want in his voice as raw and rough as sandpaper.

“Now, please,” I breathe back.

I feel, rather than see his responding smile. His finger disappears and is replaced half a heartbeat later with the tip of his erection. The dewdrop of precum at the crown of his head is cool from neglect and it makes my insides clench with delicious anticipation the moment I feel him drag it across my clitoris. He has his fist wrapped tightly around his length and as he starts to tug and pull, he moves across that tightly concentrated bundle of nerves with the same caressing attention he used with his fingers.

His mouth drops open and the gray in his eyes turns to hot, molten steel. His hips thrust forward urgently. With each pass, he presses a little harder against me, moves a little bit faster, until we’re both panting. I close my eyes and let my head loll back, picturing what the blanket and connection between our bodies conceals from me. Him, pleasuring himself while he pleasures me. Even just the thought is like a white hot branding iron against my libido, and when I add the idea of his eventual eruption, expelling over me like lava flows from a powerful volcano, the tight ball of tension inside of me snaps.

I start to come with a high, whiny gasp, and just as the first contractions begin, he pushes inside of me.

“Oh, fuck!” he growls. There’s an almost painful kind of urgency to his expression as he plows into me, pushing as deep as he can reach and basking in the feel of my inner walls milking him for all he’s work while I continue to unravel. The constant lust filled cries pouring from my lips only stop when the pleasure overwhelms me beyond the point of speech and in the split second of silence that follows, I hear the smallest little sneeze.

Christian freezes.

We both turn to look at the bottom of the bed and there, sitting on top of rumpled blankets bunched up around our feet, Calliope sits, yawning, her tiny hand rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“What the hell?” Christian shouts. He immediately pulls out of me and yanks a pillow up off the bed to cover himself as he scrambles to get the baby out of our sex sheets. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him so frantic as he is pulling her into his arms and gaping down at me. “How did she… she was… what the hell?

I blink, just as shocked over my inability to answer that question as he is. There’s a crib set up in Christian’s office, just off our bedroom, and since the door is open, I assume she must have snuck out and pulled herself up on the bed while we were too distracted to notice. But how did she get out of her crib?

I leap out of bed and scramble through the minefield of haphazardly abandoned clothes from the night before to Christian’s office. I expect to find the state of the art crib he insisted we buy in shambles and the evidence of my baby’s painful fall laid out before me like a crime scene. But, except for an abandoned pacifier on the rug at the feet of the still perfect crib, the room is as neat as it was when we put her to bed the night before.

“How did she get out?” Christian asks, reaching out to rattle the bar of her crib and only looking more confused when it doesn’t move. I give Calliope a quick once over and after ensuring she’s not physically injured and that the scrunched up look of discontent on her face is just a mild case of morning grumpiness, I step closer to both of them and smile.

“You’re a wizard, Callie,” I say gruffly. Christian rolls his eyes, and Calliope frowns, then pushes my face away from her with her tiny little hand.

“No, Mama.”

We both laugh as I turn back to her crib. “We’ll need to lower the mattress, I guess.”

“Yeah, I’ll take care of it,” Christian says.

“Mmm.” I bite my bottom lip and then move so I can push my body up against his. “There is something incredibly sexy about a handyman…”

“”Well, then let me go get my tool belt.” He grins devilishly and moves to kiss me, but just before our lips touch, Callie reaches between us to stop him.

“No, Dada!”

“Someone is a little Miss Sass this morning,” I say, pinching her toes and leaning into scrub the tip of my nose against hers. She takes on the same haughty look her dad gets whenever he’s overly defensive about something.

“Mine, Dada.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Christian chuckles, and I reach out to take her from him. “I’ll get her ready if you’ll fix the crib.”

He pivots, moving Calliope out of my reach. “I’ve got her.”

“You’re sure?”

He nods. “It’s Father’s Day. She and I can get started by getting her bed situated and picking out something to wear together.”

I smile and nod, afraid that if I try and say anything the frog quickly working its way up into my throat will betray the sudden swell of love, pride, and happiness I’m trying to keep cool.

I give each of them a kiss and then leave them be. The thick clouds and rain splattering against the window don’t look as though they’ll pass anytime soon, so after a hot shower, I fish a thick cable knit sweater out of the back of my closet and throw it on over a pair of leggings. Then I make my way out to the living room. It’s fairly early, so I think I still have time to make my dad’s favorite breakfast before he gets out of bed, but when I come down the staircase, the first thing I see is him, sitting in a chair by the window with a book and a cup of coffee.

So… not a surprise then.

“Hey, Daddy!” I call, beaming as I cross the room towards him with my arms held open. He looks up at the sound of my voice, then sets his battered copy of A Farewell to Arms on the table and pulls me into a warm hug.

“Morning, sweetheart.”

“Happy actual Father’s Day.”

He laughs, since I’ve wished him a happy Father’s Day at least four other times this weekend so far. “Thanks, Annie. Sleep well?”

“Uh… yeah.” God, I hope he doesn’t notice the sudden rush of heated embarrassment that blooms in my cheeks when my brain conjures up the memories of just exactly what tired me out so much last night. I change the subject. “What do you say to your favorite breakfast? It’s still biscuits and gravy, right?”

“Awh, Annie… That’s real sweet of you, but Kim’s already in there cookin’ up that salmon Carrick and I caught yesterday.”

My heart sinks. “Oh…”

“That’s good though,” he adds quickly. “It means you and I can sit here and talk a bit. You kids have been running around so much, I feel like I’ve barely seen you all weekend.”

“Well, you oughta get out on those jet skis with us from time to time.”

“Oh, yeah. And get launched off into the water and probably break my neck? No, thank you.”

I give him a teasing smile. “You can’t fool me by pretending to be scared, Mr. I’ve Been Through War Twice. I think you wanna be out there so bad, you can’t stand it. You’re afraid of how much you know you’ll love it. Even right now, you’re fighting against the urge to hop on one of those machines, skim off across the waves, and show us damn kids how it’s really done.”

He stares back at me blankly, a challenge to my taunt that is made less effective by the rolling laughter that is so close to the surface, his shoulders twitch. I try my best to maintain the assertion in my gaze, but when a thundercloud claps violently overhead, reminding the both of us that no one is going out on the jet skis today, and a sudden strong gust of wind makes the pitter patter of raindrops against the window suddenly sound like the after sparkle of a Fourth of July fireworks display, we both break down into laughter.

“Well, what do you think?” A voice asks behind us. We turn and watch Carrick stroll into the room with his jacket held open to display his tie. It’s awful. Cobalt blue, but with neon pink, yellow, and green lines zig-zagging across the fabric in a geometric pattern that looks straight out of the 90s. My dad makes an awkward stuttering noise, clearly at a loss for words. Carrick on the other hand looks ecstatic. “Mia sent it to Grace a few days ago. I think it’s one of her best yet.”

“Oh, yeah. It’s going to really pop on camera at your next press conference,” I say.

He grins, refusing to let my sarcasm dampen his bright spirits. “It’s much more of a ribbon cutting tie, don’t you think?”

“Oh, definitely.” I laugh and get up to hug him. “Happy Father’s Day, Carrick.”

“Thanks, Ana.”

 

Christian is last to join us when we all eventually sit down for breakfast in the dining room, and I’m pretty sure it’s because Calliope couldn’t be bothered with choices, so instead decided to wear everything she could possibly get onto her body. He’s dressed her in tights and ruffle socks, a dress and a fuchsia sweatshirt, a tutu, and a pair of glittery sunglasses. He actually struggles to get her into her high chair, but he does seem much more enthusiastic about her overdressing stage than her naked one.

We sit around the table, chatting easily with one another. By all accounts, the rain hasn’t done anything to ruin anyone’s attitude and spirits are high, except I can’t stop grinding my teeth over the praise everyone heaps non-stop onto Kim over her salmon eggs benedict. It is delicious, as painful as that is for me to admit, but I’ve made my dad a special breakfast for Father’s Day for as long as I can remember. The ones we spent together, anyway. And I’m not sure which is worse, that she didn’t even bother to ask me if there were traditions between my dad and I that she should be mindful of today, or that my dad doesn’t even seem to care. I look across the table at Carrick, that stupid tie still proudly in place beneath his collar, and I feel a strong, hot flash of jealous for Mia.

Carrick would care.

“Should we do gift now?” Kate asks, the excitement in her voice making it obvious that the question is less of a suggestion and more of a demand.

“Yes,” Elliot replies. He pushes his chair a few inches back from the table and puffs his chest out importantly. “Laud upon me your praise and mortal gifts, for the unprotected sex I had while I was drunk in Vegas last year culminated in an unplanned pregnancy and now I have a child.”

Kate narrows her eyes at him.

“I mean… I don’t need gifts, baby. Dwight D. Eisenhower over there is already the greatest gift I could have ever asked for.”

“Smooth,” Christian says. Elliot flashes him a cocky grin, and Kate shakes her head in dismay before reaching down to pick up a gift bag resting on the floor by her feet. Elliot digs through the tissue paper and pulls out a set of keys.

“Oh, what are those to?” Grace asks, her interest peaked.

“A riding lawn mower,” Kate answers. “We’ve got that big backyard now and he’s been wanting one ever since that first time he had to go out there with the push mower.”

“And not at all because I want to soup up the engine and turn it into a drag racer.” Elliot winks at me from across the table while Kate shoves him, annoyed, and yanks the bag out of his hands.

“Just give your dad his gift, huh?”

Elliot reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. “I uh… I haven’t really had time to shop, you know, because I’m a new father to your youngest and most helpless granddaughter…”

“Elliot, did you forget to buy your dad a gift?!” Kate snaps.

“No,” he says. “I just thought maybe I’d give him something more personal. Something you couldn’t buy at the store. Something from right here.” He points to his heart, and Carrick actually looks down at the folded paper with interest. “It’s a poem,” Elliot continues. “From me, to you.”

“Well, thank you, son.” Carrick takes the paper and visibly prepares himself before he begins to read.

“Well?” Grace pushes him. “What does it say?”

Carrick blinks, looks at Elliot, and starts to read aloud.

Roses are red

Violets are blue.

Happy Father’s Day.

I’m sorry I haven’t returned your leaf blower.

“I’m going to kill you,” Kate says. She reaches for Elliot and pinches him, hard, on the arm, but after his harsh, hissed, ‘ouch,’ he captures her hands in his and retaliates with an onslaught of tickles. They laugh together until Elliot pulls her in for a sweet, sentimental kiss.

Christian I go next, giving Carrick a Grey Publishing brand e-reader with the entire library of Carrick’s favorite author already loaded inside. My father unwraps a fishing pole, which is obvious, even under the wrapping paper, that Taylor helped me picked out last week. But even though the gift itself is not a surprise, he looks overjoyed by the strong carbon rod and special reel made for the rough rivers he practically lives on throughout the summer months.

“This is so great, Annie. Thank you.”

“Yeah, it’s sure going to come in handy at the new house,” Kim adds.

“New house?” I ask, a note of panic in my voice.

“Uh… yeah,” my dad replies. I stare, uncomprehending. “We, uh… we sold the house.”

“What?!”

“Well, Kim retired last spring and I have all this extra money from what I had saved for your Harvard tuition… So, we decided we’re going to get out of the city and enjoy our golden years in the mountains. We bought a cabin on the lake.”

“Congratulations,” Christian says.

“Thanks, son,” my dad replies. He wraps an arm around Kim. “We’re really excited.”

“To be honest, I’m surprised we were able to sell the house so fast,” Kim says. “It was so outdated and that god awful carpet color… I thought we’d have to replace it all in order to get an offer and we weren’t sure that the added cost would be worth it. But thankfully someone snatched it up as is.”

I glance between them. At the happy carefree smiles on everyone’s faces as well wishes and questions about the new house they’ve bought are exchanged around the table.

“Excuse me,” I say, tossing the napkin from my lap on my plate and hurrying out of the room. I leave an awkward silence in my wake that’s eventually broken by the voice of my father.

“That’s alright, Christian. I’ll go.”

“Alright,” Christian replies.

I stop in the hall and turn to wait for my father to catch up to me. When he does, he doesn’t say anything. He leans against the wall and crosses his arms over his chest, waiting for me to start.

“I grew up in that house,” I tell him.

“I know.”

“That’s where I met Kate. Where I got my acceptance letter to Harvard…”

“I remember.”

“It’s my sanctuary, Dad. I went there once, when you were still in Iraq. Christian and I were being bombarded with media and that was the only place I knew I could go to get away from it.”

“You’ve told me.”

My lips go tight and grit my teeth, irritated by each and every nonchalant answer my father has given me. “My mom picked out that carpet.”

He sighs and shift his weight. “I’m not arguing with you, Ana. It’s the place where you took your first steps. Where you said your first words. Where you learned to read and where you wrote your very first story. It’s also the place where your mother walked out on me. Where I waited for three, long weeks before I even found out where she had taken you. We’ve lived in that house, but all that’s left are memories and those don’t go away just because we aren’t there anymore. We’ll take them with us and jumble them up with all the new memories we’ll make at the new house.”

“Her house,” I correct him.

“Ah.” He nods with sudden understanding and pushes away from the wall. It means he’s standing straight, and the added height has him looking down on me, which makes me feel like a child. “So it’s Kim, then?”

I frown and look away from his eyes, down to my feet. “You’re buying a house with her?”

“Yeah. I’m uh… I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

“What?”

“I mean, I don’t have the ring or anything. I’m not doing it this weekend. But I will, soon enough.”

My stomach clenches like I’ve taken a blow from a linebacker straight to my diaphram. It’s difficult to make my lungs work under the sudden pressure that takes hold of my entire chest. My ears ring. My mouth goes dry. Part of me wonders if I might be having a heart attack.

“Dad, I can’t… you can’t… She’s awful!”

“Now that’s not fair, Annie.”

“Not fair? She’s the most hypercritical, invasive, and petty person I have ever met. Don’t tell me you didn’t hear the way she said her kids stayed home because not everyone owns the company they work for when we got here, as if the fact that we do means we don’t have to work as hard.”

“Well, yes. She was a little upset that we left without her kids and maybe she was a little more vocal to you about it than she should have been. But she and I had just gotten a little heated over the subject in the car and if you had hurt feelings because you felt you were being excluded from a family weekend that you really wanted to be apart of, you better believe that I would have some words to say about it too.”  

“But…” I stammer, too flustered and blindsided to formulate a through correctly.

“The truth is, Annie, you don’t like her because you never tried to like her. Is she perfect? No. But there isn’t a person in this entire world who is. You think that she’s invasive, but really… she just cares. A lot. About you, about Calliope, and about Christian. The things you see as being critical are just her trying to be helpful. ‘Cause that’s all she really wants, sweetheart. Even if she’s not always very good at it.”

I chew on the inside of my cheek. The shock of his announcement wears away and takes the anger I felt with it. But I hate that. I don’t want to be reasoned with. “You forgot petty,” I grumble.

“Yeah, well, she’s a little petty…” He grins and, damn it, I can’t help myself. I break and laugh.

“You see?” he says, smiling victoriously. I shake my head and decide I finally have to say the thing that has plagued me since the day he first time brought Kim to Seattle.

“She has her own kids and they don’t live as far away as I do. She’s got grandkids for you to play with. She seems to be a decent cook. Now she’s selling our house… I’m afraid that she’s going to take you away from me, Daddy, and you’re all I have left. I’ve already lost Mom, I can’t lose you too.”

“Anastasia Rose.” I have to blink away the tears from my eyes, so I’m a little surprised when he pulls me into his arms. The warm, familiar smell of him swirls around me, but instead of comforting me, the way it has my entire life, it only makes me break down harder. “No one, or nothing, will ever take me away from you, do you hear me? Me and you, we’re solid.”

“But…”

“No, no buts. You, my darling daughter, are the love of my life. Nothing can ever change that.”

I nod into his chest, letting his words fill my head and swirl around until they’re seared into me. Only then can I breathe again, and once I do, I sniff hard and hug him back. “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, Annie. And I know exactly how far away you live.” He pulls back so that I look up at him. “Which is why the new house has a bedroom just for you.”

“It does?”

“Yep. There’s a whole little apartment up in the attic for you and Christian and the baby. It’s got these big windows that overlook the water and a skylight for you to see up into the stars. I’m working on a desk in my garage right now to put up there for you. I thought maybe, if you needed a place to get away and write, it could be there. With me.”

“You really did?”

He nods. “You’re going to love it, Annie.”

“Love it? When can I move in?”

He laughs, then looks over his shoulder in the direction of the dining room where the rest of the family is still waiting. “You know what, what do you say you and I skip the rest of breakfast, huh? Maybe we can go set up a game of chess and just, spend some time you and me.”

“What about Kim?”

He shrugs. “She’s grown, she can entertain herself for awhile. Today’s about us.”

I smile and nod enthusiastically, the wrap my arm around him while he steers me back to the living room.

“You were wrong through,” I tell him.

“Oh?”

“Before, when you said there isn’t a perfect person in the world. There is one, and her name is Calliope Katherine.”

He chuckles. “You got me there, Kiddo.”

 

The continuing downpour means that my dad and I don’t get too much time alone, but as everyone starts to trickle out of the dining room and into the living room with us, they mostly leave the two of us alone. It’s the best of both worlds really. I get to let my dad clobber me in chess over and over again while we talk about the books we’ve been reading, the edits I’ve been making to my manuscript after my Lincoln breakthrough, and the new quarterback the Seahawks just drafted out of Wisconsin.

I also get to watch Christian spend the entire day with Calliope, and the patient way he listens to her and plays with her, the way he lets her consume every ounce of his attention, makes me happier than I can put into words. He looks at her with a kind of love that even I can’t recognize, and I know that’s because I’m not supposed to. It’s just for her. The way he holds her in his arms as he reads The Poky Little Puppy to her for the fifth time in a row, or the delight on his face when he takes a sip from the empty toy teacup she hands him over and over again makes me think of the times I did the very same thing with my own dad growing up. The dad who means more to me than almost anyone else in the world.

For all the things that I have, or that I have accomplished, that I can look back on and know I did right, none of them make me more proud than the man I chose to be that person to my daughter.

“Your move, Annie,” my dad says. I jump a little as I come out of my thought provoking stupor and his brow furrows with confusion. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” I smile and look back over at Christian, lifting Calliope over his head while she laughs uncontrollably. “Yeah, I’m perfect.”

Our chess tournament lasts all afternoon, until Grace insists we call the game on account of dinner. I bear my defeat with as much dignity as I can while my dad announces to everyone how he absolutely wiped the floor with me and I become the target of several taunting remarks, especially from Elliot. Christian at least offers a hand in support when I take my seat next to him and when I lean into his side and feel him wrap a comforting arm around my shoulder, I suddenly no longer care about the severity of my loss anymore. Everything is just as it should be. My family is happy and in Christian’s arms, I’m exactly where I belong.

That is, until our dinner is interrupted by the ring of the satellite phone from across the room and everyone’s eyes turn to Christian. A shadow of the deep unease I saw on his face this morning before he knew I was awake returns and it takes the wind out of me like the air from a balloon. Very few people have that number, so there are very few reasons why it would ring.

“Excuse me,” Christian says. He rises from the table and crosses the room to pick up the phone. “Grey. Yes, Councilwoman, how are you this evening?”

There’s a harsh, tinkling sound from the other side of the table, which I realize is Carrick dropping his silverware. His eyes narrow in on Christian, examining every change in his expression and every small movement of his body. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and I wonder if that’s because he’s afraid to miss a single word that Christian says.

“Uh, yeah,” Christian continues. “He’s right here. Hold on.” Awkwardly, he turns back to the table and holds the phone out to us. “Dad, it’s for you.”

Carrick nods, but when he gets up to take the call, he leaves the room. Christian stares after him for a long minute, then blinks and comes back to the table.

“It’s late,” he says. “I’m going to put Calliope to bed.”

“Do you want me to come?” I ask, half standing in preparation, but he shakes his head.

“No, I’ve got it. Stay. Enjoy your dinner.” He pulls back the tray of her highchair and she eagerly reaches up for him. Once he has her pressed to his chest, she immediately goes limp as she really is ready to go to sleep, but the sense of wonder and unfettered pride that has filled Christian’s eyes all day with every single glance at our daughter is gone now. It’s like a switch has been flipped. He’s physically here, but I know that his mind is already on the work he’s undoubtedly about to retreat into his office to do.

Once he’s left the room, Elliot sighs. “What are the odds we see Christian again tonight?”

I shake my head and Elliot gets up from the table to pick up his own daughter and take her to bed, though we all know he’ll try to bring Christian back with him. Grace smiles at him, confident in his ability to win her son over as he has so many times in the past, but I know better. Everything with this fusion project, and everything it touches, isn’t like what we’ve dealt with in the past. Christian’s taken this to a whole new level, and if whatever Carrick is being told right now is a threat to the future of his fusion project, there’s no way he’ll stop trying to counteract it.

“I’ll take the dishes in,” I say, getting up and collecting everyone’s plates.

“Let me help,” Kim says. I give her a tight smile and shake my head.

“I’ve got it, thanks.”

Loaded down with and armful of dirty dishes, I make my way back to the kitchen, feeling heavier than I have all weekend. To my surprise, I find Carrick there, bent over the counter, the phone resting on the wood block by his hand.

“Everything alright?” I check.

“We’re going to lose,” he says. “Well, I am. Christian’s got the support of the city council and with the cuts they’re going to offer him, GEH will be operating at a negative tax rate this year. $2.6 billion dollars last year, and the Seattle taxpayers are going to be paying his operating costs for him.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” I tell him, honestly, because I am. This whole thing has me washed with guilt. But Carrick and I both know that once Christian has his mind set on something, there’s no changing it. Not even by me.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” Carrick asks. I shake my head and he sighs. “The alternative budget proposal my office put together to accommodate the revenue shortage from the loss of GEH’s tax payments cuts from every city agency. Even the police department.”

“So no investigation?”

“No.”

I nod. “You still get to appoint a new police chief though, right? Someone we can trust?”

“Yeah, I get to make an appointment, but that’s not going to dig anything up about what happened to you.”

“I know. We just… We have to accept that we’ve done everything that we can do and that it’s going to be enough to prevent something like Lincoln from happening ever again. If you trust the man you’re going to appoint, then I’m okay.”

“You are?”

“Yeah. Andrew Lincoln is gone. He can’t hurt us anymore. And the people who helped him… most of them didn’t have a choice. There’s no greater conspiracy out there. It died with him. I’ve accepted that and now all I want to do is move on. Maybe this is for the best. A police investigation would have taken months, years maybe. This way, we can just let go and live our lives.”

“Yeah.” He nods absentmindedly, but in a way that suggests he’s still trying to process what I’ve said, rather than to simply agree with it. But after looking into my eyes and finding no concealed hurt or blame, he gives me a warm smile. “You really are better, huh?”

“Yeah. I am.”

He pushes away from the counter and comes around to hug me. “I’m glad. We were all really scared for awhile. I don’t know what we would do without you, Ana.”

“Well, there’s no reason to find out.” We hug again just as someone comes into the kitchen behind us. Kim has all the dishes I couldn’t carry in one trip in her hands and, for once, I’m not annoyed at her presence.

“Everything alright?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say with a smile. “Can I leave these to you? I think I know just the thing to get Christian back downstairs.”

“Sure, Sweetheart.” She smiles and touches my arm affectionately as I pass. I can hear the low conversation from Grace, Kate, and my dad floating up the hallway from the dining room. It sounds like Elliot has rejoined them, which would be disheartening if I knew I didn’t have the exact news it’s going to take to get Christian to stop worrying over this vote and join his family. Or at least, I think I do, until I get to the bottom of the steps and find a single red rose petal.

“How did…?” I lean down to pick it up and as I rub my fingers over the soft petal, I see another resting a few steps up. Then another. It’s like a trail of breadcrumbs to the top of the stairs, but as it winds down the hallway towards my bedroom, that sparse trail transforms into a thick carpet of petals that leads me to the bathroom.

It’s warm inside, and humid. The deep soaking tub is steaming and filled to the brim. Every inch of the counterspace and the ledge by the window is covered in a line of flickering candles that cast soft light around the small room. The path of rose petals at my feet continues forward, all the way across the bathroom floor, and then up and over the edge of the tub. The last few petals float among the bubbles on top of the water.

“Christian?” I call through my smile, but he doesn’t answer me. I assume he’s still trying to get our daughter to sleep so I decide I’ll indulge a little while I wait. I strip out of the now too warm sweater and toss it out the door, leaving my own trail for him to follow, then step into the hot, fragrant bath. I’ve just sunk down into the thick, foamy bubbles when the door opens again and Christian steps into the bathroom holding two flutes filled with bubbly champagne. He’s already gloriously naked, and my eyes rake over him hungrily. Drinking him in. Pining for more.

“Get in here,” I demand. His eyes flash deviously, and as he takes a step towards me, his mouth curls up in a cheshire cat grin. He sets the flutes on the ledge next to the tub, then slides in behind me. I turn to face him and crawl into his lap, straddling him, and using my legs to pull him closer to me.

“I take it you know, then?”

“Know what?”

“About your dad’s phone call…”

He shakes his head. “No, and I don’t want to talk about that right now. Calliope is asleep, which means my father’s day duties have come to an end and I have been waiting for this all day. He leans down and kisses the top of my breast, then moves his lips up over my chest, collar bones, neck, jaw… stopping just short of my lips. “I don’t want to talk at all. All I want is–”

I don’t wait for what it is he wants. I kiss him, hard, and he immediately wraps me more tightly in his arms and thrusts his insistent tongue into my mouth. He’s already hard beneath the water, so I rise up onto my knees and slide down over the top of him. His responding groan resonates in every one of my pleasure receptors, and as he fills me in the way that only he can, every other thought and worry falls out of my mind. I no longer care about our family waiting downstairs. I can’t be bothered by tax cuts or budget shortages. Not even the water that laps over the side of the tub and spills on the floor makes me hesitate. I focus only on him. On the urgency of his touch, on the taste of his tongue. And as I start to melt into him, he begins to move. Really move. And he doesn’t stop until we’ve dropped anchor in Seattle hours later.

 

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Updates

Hi guys,

I just wanted to give everyone an update as to why there’s no update this week. Last week, my husband and I got a call that his aunt was in critical condition and we needed to get to Las Vegas to say our final goodbyes.

I live in Seattle and flights on a holiday weekend were exorbitant, so he and I got in the car at 5 AM last Wednesday and drove to Las Vegas, which is insane and was terrible (to be clear). Needless to say, I’ve been travelling for over a week and couldn’t write, so there was nothing to post. I just got back yesterday, so hopefully that’s enough time to get a new chapter finished by Monday (I’m optimistic).

Additionally, I want to let you guys in on the big secret as to why my posting has been so irregular over the last few months. It’s not tragic or sad, just the result of a plot that didn’t work. I told you all that for the first three books, I worked off an extraordinarily detailed and long outline, so when I decided to write a fourth book, the first thing I did was sit down and plot the whole thing out. But then I started posting and the reaction wasn’t great. I pushed through, as I usually do, but it became apparent that holding on to what I wanted to do wasn’t really worth it when my audience wasn’t connecting to it.

So I decided to make a change.

I’m taking the story in a completely different direction from my plan going forward, and am going to try writing without an outline. I know what is going to happen and how the story ends, but I haven’t plotted out every detail the way I did previously. Instead, I’m going to work in small archs. I’m worried it’s going to affect my ability to throw in the little nuggets of foreshadowing, but if it makes the story better in the end, that’s what I’m here for. I might go back and change the beginning when the story is done, we’ll see.

The result is, however, that I’m writing outside of my comfort zone and that affects productivity to a certain degree. I really do try and get updates done every single week, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen and I really am sorry for that. Every time I have to post one of these, I feel like I’m not upholding my end of the bargain. But I do want to reassure everyone that I WILL finish this story. I’ve spent too much time with these characters to just abandon them.

The plus side is changing my plan means this story is going to be much longer, so we can all look forward to more chapters. And, through this experience, I learned how to write for this genre better and will use that for all of my works going forward, so thank you for your feedback, both good and bad. This is a prime example of how much it really does help.

As always, thank you from the bottom of my heart (Britney reference) for all of your love and support through the years! You guys keep me wishingmrgreywashere.

xoxoxo

Chapter 24

Jumping Ocean Humpback Whale Breaching Mammal

There’s a welcome sense of levity in the sunshine that pours through the kitchen windows Friday morning.  Gail’s spotless countertops and stainless steel appliances glint and gleam under the soft golden rays, and the light that washes over me from across the kitchen island is warm and filled with the scent of summer. Calliope is playing on the kitchen floor, so I pack the last few things we’ll need on the yacht this weekend to the arrhythmic, tinkering cacophony of plastic toys dropping and rolling across the floor around my feet. I nearly step on her fragile little fingers when I move to reach for a bottle of sunscreen at the same time that she tries to recover a runaway ball.

“Callie!” I yelp, nearly falling as I contort my body in a strange and unnatural way to avoid her. “Careful, baby.”

She looks up at me with her perfect rosy pout and curious gray eyes, and when she picks up the ball and holds it up to me, I smile and sweep her up onto the counter in front of me.

“Maybe we should get you all lotioned up before we get into the sun, huh? What do you think?”

She blinks, then looks down and starts tugging at her dress. “Nakie, Mama.”

“We’re just about to leave, Munchkin. You can’t be a nakie baby when we leave the house.” I pick up her hands and kiss each of them to get her to stop fidgeting with her outfit. It might be just a tad costume-y with navy stripes over white fabric, brass buttons, and a cap to match, but the sailor inspired dress makes her look just like a little china doll and I can’t help myself. I’ve got… what? Three? Maybe four more years to dress her however I like before she starts making her own demands, and I intend to take advantage of my time while I still have it. Besides, Christian is going to lose it when he finally comes down stairs and sees her.

She struggles when I start rubbing sunscreen on the exposed parts of her arms and legs, but is easily diverted by a rousing verse of The Wheels on the Bus. I swipe a dab of lotion over her nose and she babbles happily along with me, until Christian’s voice begins to float into the kitchen from the entryway.

“Whose vote haven’t we secured? And when’s the last time we reached out to her office? Well, that’s the problem don’t you think?” He comes around the corner with his phone held firmly to his ear, and I can’t help but think how his casual shorts and linen shirt contrast starkly with the stress etched into the lines around his eyes and his mouth. Calliope shrieks happily the moment she sees him, but he holds up his hand to silence her and shakes his head. When she starts leaning far over the edge of the counter with her hands outstretched for him, I lift her back down to the floor and distract her with a baby doll while Christian finishes his call. “Andrea, are you on? Good, get me a phone call with Greenman this morning, as soon as possible.”

I slip the sunscreen I’d just slathered all over my daughter into the bag with our beach towels and wait for Christian to hang up. When he does, he sighs heavily and leans over the counter as though he’s doubling over after running a marathon.

“Rough morning?” I ask.

“The city council is voting on my dad’s budget proposal on Monday and if we don’t get these tax cuts passed, I might as well…” He stops, takes another deep breath, and looks up at me with careful conviction. “Ana, I don’t think this weekend is a good idea.”

“You love being out on the yacht…”

“I do, but I’ve got to make sure this vote goes my way, and we’re leaving Monday for New York and I haven’t even prepared what I’m going to say during our finalist presentation for this fiber optics contract…”

“So, you’ll prepare on the flight there. It’s not like this is the first time you’ve ever had to sell GEH to a big client. You know what to do.”

“Ana…”

“It’s your birthday weekend, Christian. Going out on the yacht for your birthday is tradition. And it’s Father’s Day. We can’t skip out on both of our dads.”

“Believe me, I think my dad would be much happier spending the weekend with Elliot.”

“That’s good, cause he’s going to be there too.” He gives me a look that tells me he’s less than amused with my snarky responses, so I move around the counter and push myself into his arms. His body is tense, rigid almost, and I try to ease some of that away by taking his face between my hands and gently pressing my lips to his. It takes a second, but soon enough his mouth melds to mine with warm affection and the tightness in his body melts away.

“I want some time away with you,” I confess, whispering the words against his lips. “It’s been a heavy week and the only thing that’s gotten me through it is the idea of you stretched out on a sun lounger, bronzed from the sun and all oiled up for my enjoyment.”

“Enjoyment, huh?”

“Oh yes, and I think you’ll enjoy what I have planned for you very, very much.”

He laughs, and the lines around his eyes smooth away. He looks at me for a long, drawn out beat, then sweeps my bangs to the side so he can kiss my forehead.

“You really are irresistible, you know that?”

“Then stop trying.”

“Noted.” He gives me the undeniably sexy, side smirk he gets when I know he’s thinking about something dirty and leans down to kiss me again. This time, he’s much more ardent in the way he tangles his tongue around mine or sucks softly on my bottom lip. But when his hands start to roam freely down my body, I quickly slap them away and give him a stern look..

“We’re going to be late.”

He shakes his head. “It’s my yacht, it leaves when I tell it to.”

“People are waiting on us.”

“So?” He leans down and drags his bottom lip over the curve of my neck, making me shiver and squirm away from him.

“Christian!”

“Fine.” He steps back, looking disappointed but still in a better mood than before. I brush the tip of my nose against his, smiling broadly, and then hop off the counter.

“You get the baby into her car seat, I’ll get the bags.”

“Think you packed enough?” His eyes sweep over the bags piled on the counter and the suitcases on the floor next to me before turning back to me with a teasing grin plastered across his face. I narrow my eyes.

“It’s not just for this weekend. We’re going straight from the yacht to the plane on Monday and… and…”

“And?”

“And if you hadn’t let Gail leave early this weekend, she would have packed everything exactly the way you like it. But you did and she’s gone, so you’re stuck with me and my over packing.”

“And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

He kisses me one last time and turns to collect our baby, while I sling the long straps of the boat bag over my shoulder and give myself another minute to worry over what I may have forgotten. The truth is if Gail had been here, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to what we were bringing along because her perfect organization has never failed us before. But she left last night for Portland, just like Taylor left to take his daughter on a camping trip around Mount Rainier and Kensie took the weekend to cram for her final for the first session of summer classes at UW. We’re on our own this weekend and now that we’re headed out the door, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve missed something.

“Calliope Katherine, what in the world are you doing?” Christian says, catching my attention. I turn to look at the two of them and watch as he picks up our baby, who has somehow managed to strip herself down to her diaper. She beams at him and throws her hands into the air.

“Nakie!”

Christian laughs and hugs her close to him, then kisses her and leans down to scoop the adorable dress that she hates off the ground. “Why don’t you get the baby and I’ll load the car?” he suggests. I sigh and hold my hands out for her.

 

Calliope is not happy to be wrestled back into her dress or strapped down to her carseat, and she lets Christian and I know it as we pull out of the garage and make our way through the neighborhood towards the I-5. Her screams are piercing, the kind that stab you through the heart each and every time she takes a breath and shrieks again. By the time we hit the wall of traffic right outside the city, I’ve exhausted every trick in my bag to soothe her and Christian’s knuckles are white on the steering wheel. Though, I don’t know if that’s because of Calliope’s tears or the news broadcast coming through our radio.

 

The Mayor will meet with city council members Monday morning to vote on next year’s budget proposal. It’s the first major legislative task Mayor Grey will face since his inauguration this January, but surprisingly, it isn’t his political opponents that are the biggest threat to his budget being approved, it’s his own son. Seattle billionaire and Grey Enterprises Holdings CEO Christian Grey has campaigned at large for extensive corporate tax benefits to fund projects aimed at rehabilitating the Seattle job market. NPR asked the Mayor if he has any concerns that Mr. Grey has swayed enough city council members to derail his vote.

“I’m not worried about it,” Carrick’s voice says through the radio. “Mr. Grey and the members of city council know full well that the city of Seattle is already extraordinarily friendly towards our larger corporations in terms of tax responsibility and that any further reduction in the tax burden for companies like GEH will only serve to ensure record breaking profits for this city’s millionaires and billionaires while our middle class is left to pick up the tab. I campaigned for tax reform, and I’m fighting for it.”

NPR reached out to Grey Enterprises Holdings, but so far have not received a response.

 

Christian reaches forward, switches the radio over, and the news report is instantly cut off by a song from Tangled. Calliope’s tears come to a halting stop the moment she hears Rapunzel singing, but Christian’s thumb brushes nervously over the Bluetooth button on the steering wheel.

“What happens if this vote doesn’t go your way?” I ask.

“It will.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

The muscle in his jaw twitches with irritation but his response is held up by an incoming call. Andrea’s name flashes across the display panel on the dash.

“Finally. I hope you have good news for me, Andrea,” he answers.

“Yes, sir. Councilwoman Greenman is in a meeting right now, but she’s available at 10:30. I’ve already scheduled a meeting with her office and put the call-in information on your calendar. Should I call your family and reschedule your disembarking time?”

“No, I’ll take the call via Satellite. I want you on as well, and Ros, if she’s available.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll forward the meeting invite now.”

“Good.” He flicks the turn signal, and merges for the exit towards the marina. “We’re just pulling in now. I’ll talk to you once we set sail.”

“Yes, sir. Enjoy your weekend!”

“Not if this doesn’t go the way I need it to,” he replies, but he’s already hung up the phone, and Andrea is gone.

When we pull into our parking place at the waterfront, the only other car we recognize belongs to my father. He and Kim and hovering near the hood of his beat up pickup, pointing off into the sound at some of the sailboats bobbing like toys among the waves.

“Hey, Dad!” I call excitedly, stepping out of the car and hurrying over to him with open arms. “Happy Father’s Day!”

“Thanks, kiddo.” He grunts slightly as he pulls me into a lung crushing hung and swings me from side to side. Just before my toes touch the ground again, he plants a hard kiss against my temple and then rubs his chin over my cheek so that the prickly hairs of his well trimmed beard scrape harshly against my skin.

“Dad!” I push him away, but the power of my indignation is somewhat lessened by the smile I can’t wipe off my face.

“Just planting whiskers, sweetheart.”

I narrow my eyes. “I haven’t believed that was possible since I was seven years old.”

“Then why do you look so worried?” He grins down at me as Christian comes up behind us with Calliope perched on his hip, then turns and holds out his hand. “Hey, son. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” Christian replies. They shake hands and Calliope takes the opportunity to jump out of Christian’s hold, though thankfully my father is right there to catch her.

“And hello to you too,” he chuckles, pulling her into him. “That’s a mighty cute dress you’ve got on there, little girl.” She wraps her arms around him, clinging to him as tightly as she can manage, and while my dad bounces her up and down and soaks up every ounce of affection she offers him, Christian and I turn to Kim.

“Happy birthday,” she says, smiling at him and stepping forward for a hug.

“Thanks,” Christian replies. He passes her off to me, though I’m much more begrudging when I step into her embrace.

“I thought you were bringing your kids?” I ask once we’ve pulled away and I’ve safely retreated out of her reach and back under Christian’s arm. She smiles, but I can tell there’s unresolved tension behind the gesture.

“The boys weren’t able to get today off. If we’d have left tomorrow, then sure. But neither of them own the company they work for so they have to work the hours that they’re scheduled.”

“It’s a long trip,” my dad says, obviously trying to play peacekeeper. “We’d either have to miss today or Monday and Annie’s flying back to New York once we get back.” He turns to me, creating a barrier between me and Kim. “How’s that book release coming along, any how? You haven’t said much about it since Calliope’s birthday.”

“That’s because I’m trying to forget about it,” I grumble. He raises an eyebrow, but I shake my head dismissively and turn towards the back end of the parking lot where I see the rest of our family slowly making their way towards us. My gaze immediately shifts to the car seat Kate is awkwardly schlepping across the asphalt and I take a long, excited breath in as I push past my father to get to her faster.

“Gimme, gimme, gimme!” I say, bypassing the hug she offers me for the tiny sleeping baby buckled in her carrier.

“It’s great to see you too, Ana,” Kate says dryly. I glance up unapologetically at her as I untangle Kennedy’s harness and then lift her into my arms.

“Hi, sweetheart!” I coo, breathing in the warm, addicting scent wafting off the top of her head. “Oh my god,” I groan, turning to Kate. “She smells like heaven.”

“I know, right?”

“Don’t let her fool you,” Elliot interjects. “She draws you in with that new baby smell and then leaks some kind of fluid all over you. Snot. Pee. Whatever sticky thing she manages to get all over her hands… The kid’s a deviant.”

“And yet, from what Kate tells me, she’s already got you wrapped around her tiny little finger,” I reply.

He grins, looking at the baby in my arms with a kind of pride that can only exist between a father and his daughter. “Yeah, she’s alright.”

I laugh, then shift Kennedy in my arms so I can hug him too. The moment I’m out of the way, Grace barrels past me and throws her arms around Christian, while Carrick makes a beeline for Calliope.

“Hi, Princess,” he says, lifting her out of my father’s hands and wrapping her in his arms so tightly that he nearly squeezes the wind out of her. “I’ve missed you so much.”

I frown.

Ever since Christian took this tax issue public with his announcement of the fusion project, his relationship with Carrick has taken yet another severe hit. The two of them have barely spoken at all in the last month and Carrick has only seen Calliope maybe once since. Only now, watching the way he holds her against him, do I see how much it’s really affected him.

He’s missed her. Too much.

“Happy Father’s Day, Carrick,” I say, smiling guiltily at him as I lean in to kiss his cheek.

“Thank you, Ana.” His eyes shift up and lock with Christian’s, and the rest of us seem to freeze under the tension that fills the space between them. They look at each other for several seconds, almost like they’re in some kind of standoff, until I eventually elbow Christian hard in the ribs.

“Happy father’s day, Dad,” he says, only just barely covering the pain in his voice.

“Thanks. And, happy birthday.”

Christian replies with a curt nod, then turns as though he’s going to start up the gangway, but Carrick reaches out and grabs him by the arm to make him stop.

“Look, son…  There’s going to be a vote on Monday and one of us is going to lose. If it’s you, it’s you. If it’s me…” He sighs. “What do you say you and I put everything aside for the weekend and enjoy each other’s company, huh? May the best man win?” He holds out his hand, and Christian’s eyes shift down to it.  

“Yeah, sure,” he replies without shaking his father’s hand. “But if you’ll excuse me, I have a call to make. Please, come aboard. Make yourselves at home.”

He turns and walks up the gangway without another word, only offering a half-hearted salute to the captain as he steps through the door. I turn to Carrick and offer him a contrite look.

“He’s really stressed right now with work…”

“Yeah,” Carrick agrees. He looks up to the ship where Christian disappeared, sighs, and then curls his lips up into a tight smile as he turns his attention back to me. “Come on, we’re wasting valuable fishing time.”

He reaches for Grace’s hand and pulls her up the loading ramp and into the boat, taking Calliope with them. I help Kate get Kennedy back into her carrier, then let her and Elliot board first before my dad throws an arm over my shoulder and drags me inside with him, telling me all about the progress he’s made on his latest carpentry project back home.

Once I’ve made sure everyone is settled in their cabins, I lug my bag up the stairs to the master and find that Christian has already sequestered himself in the office off our bedroom. The door is closed, so I leave him to his call, but by the time I’ve finished unpacking and completed every other meaningless task I can think of, he still hasn’t emerged. Even though it’s taken me over an hour…

“Hey, Annie.” I turn and see Kate standing in the open doorway, smiling at me. “We opened up all the door and windows in the sitting room. It’s nice. You should come join us.”

I turn towards Christian’s closed door again, lips pursed together, and let out a defeated breath before turning back to Kate and returning her smile. “Great.”

She stretches a hand out to me, which I take and drape over my shoulder so we can Wizard of Oz march our way out to the living room. Each of us stumble a hand full of times navigating our way through the narrow passageway, so by the time we reach the rest of our family, we’re both lost to a fit of giggles.

“As I was saying,” Elliot says loudly, clearly indignant that we’ve interrupted whatever he was saying to our parents. “She’s much better now, but it was a rough few days.”

I drop down into the seat next to my father and take his hand in mine, then turn back to Elliot. “What happened?”

“Kennedy just got over her first stomach bug,” he says. “It was awful, Ana. She stayed up the whole night screaming and puking. She went through every outfit she owned until I finally had to put her in one of my old Metallica t-shirts and hold her in my arms so she didn’t suffocate in all the extra fabric when she finally fell asleep. Kate was a mess. I’ve never seen her so worried in all my life. And Lexi died on Grey’s Anatomy last month, so that should tell you the levels of stress we’re dealing with here.”

“Me?” Kate squeaks. “I was panicking? You took her to the emergency room because she had a hundred degree fever and called our pediatrician every twenty minutes for three days.” She turns to me. “And I mean every twenty minutes. 3 o’clock in the morning, Elliot is on the phone.”

“She was having trouble breathing,” he says defensively.

“She had a stuffy nose!” I laugh, but give Elliot a sympathetic look.

“We all worry when they’re sick. The first time Calliope got a fever, Christian flew the NICU doctor who took care of her in Boston out to Seattle to watch over her like her own personal physician and when she didn’t magically cure our baby overnight, he called a neurosurgeon in Sri Lanka.”

Kate rolls her eyes, but Grace puts a hand over her heart and takes a shaky breath, like she’s holding back tears.

“Grace?” Carrick asks.

“My boys are just really good fathers.” The rest of us break out into laughter that lasts several minutes and leaves Kate doubled over in Elliot’s lap, unable to breathe.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he says. “Laugh it up. Can I ask a really serious question though?”

“What?” I ask, still trying to catch my breath.

“I just don’t understand why we’re out in the middle of the sound and yet, the jet skis are on the boat, instead of in the water.”

I roll my eyes.

“We’re waiting on Christian,” Kate says, finally sitting up on the couch again and nestling under Elliot’s arm.

“My little brother?” he asks. “My little brother is the only thing standing between me and 250 horsepower?” She nods and he gets up and moves aggressively towards the stairs, like he’s going to drag Christian down here to join us at any cost, but Kate snags his t-shirt and yanks him back.

“He’ll come down when he’s finished, just be patient.”

 

We decide to play some games together while we wait for Christian to put work aside and join us, but Kate and Elliot are so dominant at both Charades and Catchphrase that the rest of us decide it’s better if we just sit and talk. Lunch comes and goes. We spend some time in the pool up on the top deck. There’s even an hour where we sit around and just watch Calliope as she puts on a show in the middle of the sitting room, clearly happy just to have an active audience.

Christian never comes downstairs.

“Should we think about dinner?” Grace asks, the excitement in her voice from this afternoon now all but extinguished.

I gnaw irritably on my bottom lip as the rest of our family shrugs in disinterest, then shake my head and stand up.

“You know what, I’ll go get him.”

“No, if he’s busy…” my dad begins, but I cut him off.

“It’s after 5. The work day is over, it’s the weekend, he can come and spend some time with his daughter for Father’s Day.”

“Thank you, Ana,” Grace says, and she gives me a grateful smile that follows me out of the room. Once I’ve gotten upstairs though, and I hear Christian’s voice through his still closed office door, my conviction fails. I’ve been on the other side of a closed door with him countless time, and I know from experience that, if he’s not ready to be done, the only thing that waits for me on the other side is a fight. There are only so many weapons I have at my disposal, and as powerful as they can be, I’m well aware of the fact that Christian is always a worthy adversary. He has weapons of his own…

Nervously, I knock on the door.

“Yes,” he calls back, and slowly, I ease open the door. He looks up, his expression patient but definitely placating. “What is it, baby?”

“We’re all waiting for you.”

He sighs. “Well, don’t. I’ve got more here than I thought. I’m going to be working for awhile.”

“Christian…”

“Ana, I told you this weekend wasn’t a good idea. This is why. I have too much work to get done, I should be in the office today.”

“But you’re not.” I close the door behind me and move to his desk, purposefully placing myself between him and his laptop. “Come sit out on the deck with us. You’re stressed and you need to relax and take your mind off all of this for awhile. Maybe even get to play with some of your toys. I bet you could convince Elliot to pull out the jet skis.”

“You think?”

“It’ll be difficult, but if you ask really nicely…” He laughs, but shakes his head.

“You know I want to, baby, but I can’t. Go. Jet ski. Swim. Sunbathe. I’ll join you when I can.” He reaches up for my hips, like he’s going to move me out of his way, but I refuse to let him. Instead, I hop up onto his desk and reach back to close the lid of his laptop.

“What are you…”

“I just think that before you decide that you’re too busy to spend time with your family, you should know that I bought a new swim suit for this weekend.”

“Did you?”

“Mhm. Do you wanna see it?” His eyes move down to the deep v neckline of my sundress, and the cleavage he can see through it, but he doesn’t respond. I smile and slowly start to unravel strings around my waist that hold my dress together. His lips part and his mouth moves as though he’s going to protest, but can’t quite summon the words, so I lock eyes with him and purposefully bite down on my lip. Once I pull my dress open, he groans.

“It’s not much,” I say coyly, though I mean it in the literal sense. The small triangles of fabric that make up my bikini top are only just large enough to hold my breasts, and though they’re lined well, the crochet knit gives the illusion that it’s see through. There’s even less to my bottoms, which are held up only by the ties around my hips. I lift my legs and put them on each arm of his chair, ensuring that he can see just how little fabric there really is.

“Ana, what are you doing to me?” he asks, hungrily, eyes focused between my legs. I let out a soft, breathy laugh, then hook my fingers under the collar of his shirt and pull his lips to mine.

I have him instantly. I can feel it in his lips and the way his hands drag up my naked thighs. He groans into my mouth when his fingers tangle in the strings that hold my bottoms together, and I wonder if it’s because he’s thinking about how easy it would be to unravel them. To yank on one thread and watch it all come undone, leaving me open and exposed in front of him. It’s a thought I want to encourage, so I reach down and take the longest of the strings in my hand. Then I pull away from his lips and push the end the sting into his mouth. He clamps his teeth around it and leans back into the chair, untangling the knot as he moves. Once the strings release from around each other, he lets the end fall out of his mouth and the front of my bikini bottom falls limply onto his desk.

“Oops,” I say with false timidness.

“What are you doing to me?” he laments through gritted teeth. His entire face contorts with want, but he doesn’t immediately lunge for his prize.

“Five minutes,” I encourage him. “You could take a five minute break.”

“No, I really can’t.”

“Three then?” He slowly shakes his head back and forth, but since his eyes are still greedily taking in every inch of my exposed skin, I take a chance that he’s not serious. Again, I pull him into me and kiss him hard.

“Oh, fuck it,” he growls. “Three minutes. I can do three minutes.”

“Good.” With my feet pressed to the seat of the chair between his legs, I roll him back enough for me to get on my knees on the ground in front of him. He helps me undo his buckle and the buttons and zipper on his pants, too eager to let me do it on my own, and once I’ve freed his erection, his hands fists my hair and he pulls my  mouth down onto him.

I don’t waste time with cursory licks or kisses on the tip of his erection. I suck him hard and deep, swallowing over and over again so that he can feel the tightness of my throat. His head drops back with a gasp, his eyes close, and his hips thrust forward, pushing him deeper. I nearly gag around him, but I manage to stave it off by pulling in a deep breath through my nose. He pulls back and thrusts forward again, and I milk him with my cheeks. My tongue moves wildly around his shaft, massaging every inch that my lips aren’t touching with every single pass. It’s some of my very best work, but right before he’s about to blow, I pull back.

“Three minutes,” I tell him. “What a shame.”

“What? No, fuck that. Keep going.”

“Sorry.” I reach down and quickly knot the strings of my bikini bottoms around my hips again. “But you said you don’t have time to take a break, remember? Only three minutes. I can’t ask you to stop when you clearly have so much on your plate.”

“It’s fine,” he dismisses me. “I really don’t care about work right now.”

“Good.” I stand up and smile down at him. “Then why don’t you come join us out on the deck? I’m going to make dinner soon.”

“Ana!”

I lean down, gripping the the arms of his chair and holding my face half an inch from his. “Come spend time with your family, Christian. With me. And if you do that, then tonight, I’ll give you however many minutes you want.”

“This is coercion you know…”

“Yeah, sometimes your own medicine can taste a little bitter.” I turn and saunter back towards the door, making sure to sway my hips back and forth as I go to draw his attention, and just as I move past his desk, I let my dress fall from my shoulders to the ground so that he can get the full view of miserable job my bikini bottoms do of covering my ass.

“Now that won’t do,” I say, bending over to scoop up my dress and slipping into it once again. I’m very purposeful in the way I tie it closed, exaggerating each and every movement because I know it makes him think of how to undo it. But once the knot is in place, I smile and let my hands fall. “Gotta keep covered up. After all, my dad’s down there. What would he think?”

Christian’s hands curl into fists, probably because it’s the only thing he can do to keep himself from reaching across his desk for me, or possibly launching himself across the room and throwing me up against his office door, but I simply wink, turn away, and walk through the door.

I move slowly across our bedroom, and even more so through the passageway to the stairs. Any second, I expect strong hands to grab ahold of me and drag me back to the bedroom, but they never come. By the time I make it back to the deck where the rest of the family is waiting, my ego is a little bruised. I was sure that I would be enough to lure him away for awhile…

“No luck?” Grace asks, cuddling Kennedy on the sofa.

“No, he’s really busy,” I sigh in defeat. She nods, but I see a shadow of hurt cross her eyes before she looks down at the sleeping baby in her arms.

“Ana, come quick!” Kate shrieks, poking her head through the open door on the other side of the room. My brow knits together with worry as I rush over to her. She takes my hand, drags me out into the open sea air, and points excitedly out into the water.

“What?” I ask.

“Look!”

Off in the distance, I can see something black rolling over the waves. It’s hardly noticeable against the deep blue water, and I have to squint to be sure it’s even there. But as I focus on the moving thing, it pulls out of the water and I realize that it’s a huge tail.

“Oh my god!” I gasp, eyes widening. Kate squeals.

“There’s a whole pod of them, come look!”

Taking my hand again, she pulls me across the deck to the railing and we stare down at the water for any other sign of movement. But there’s nothing. No bursts of water from a blowhole or inky black bodies moving through the sapphire waves. Just a long, calm stretch of water that only breaks at the tree covered shoreline miles in the distance.

“They’ve got to be…”

“There!” my dad exclaims, pointing off into the distance. I turn and watch as an enormous whale breaches the water’s surface and falls back into a shower of glittering white spray.

“Oh my god,” I breathe in awe. My fingers curl around the edge of the railing as another whale leaps through the air, then another…

“Ho-see!” Calliope shrieks excitedly.

“No, baby,” a voice answers behind me, and my smile falters under the weight of my surprise. I turn around and see Christian standing a few feet behind us. He takes a few steps forwards and lifts Calliope out of Kim’s arms and brings her over to me so that he can hold both of us as we continue to watch the show just a few meters in the distance.

“That’s a Humpback Whale,” he tells her.

“No, ho-see,” she says stubbornly.

“Yeah, Christian,” Elliot says. “Don’t you know a sea-horsie when you see one?”

“That’s an actual animal, dumb ass,” Christian replies.

“Oh. Right.” We all laugh, except for Christian who leans down to kiss Calliope’s cheek before pulling me closer into him and staring out at the water contentedly.

“I didn’t think you were really going to come,” I admit, quietly enough that only he can hear me.

“Yeah, well… you were right. Work will be there Monday. This is happening right now.”

I smile and turn to pull him into a passionate kiss meant to express how happy I am to have him here and to reiterate the promise I made to him in his office, but before our lips touch, Elliot puts a hand between us.

“Alright, alright. We get it. You love each other and it’s adorable but those jet skis aren’t going to ride themselves. We’re burning daylight.”

“God forgive us our mortal sins,” Christian replies, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“God? No, no, Christian. You can call me Elliot.” He claps his brother on the shoulder before marching proudly across the deck, but Christian simply rolls his eyes and turns his focus back to me.

“Jet Skis?”

“Jet skis.” I confirm, and after we’ve each covered our daughter in a shower of kisses, we pass her off to Carrick and make our way down to the lower decks.

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