It’s a slough to the airport the next morning. My eyes are heavy and my body is sore all over from our particularly relentless night of love making. When Christian takes my hand and pulls me from the car, it feels like I have to physically drag my body behind him to make it onto the plane. Even with his arm wrapped tightly around my body. I settle into a roomy seat, waiting for Christian to take the one next to me, and the moment I lie my head against his shoulder, I succumb to sleep.
He doesn’t seem phased by his own sleepless night. While I nuzzle his arm and unconsciously struggle to inch closer to him, he sits on his laptop and tries to get as much work done as possible without access to WiFi. For the first hour or so, his muttered curses and the clack of his keyboard leak into my vague and nebulous dreams. But by the time we’re soaring high over flyover country, he and the world around me disappears and I sink deeper and deeper into oblivion.
I can’t be certain how long I’ve been out when I’m jolted awake by a particularly intense bit of turbulence. The grogginess that consumes my mind and the cold leather covering the seat next to me suggest it’s been several hours, and yet I still feel like I could sleep several more. My eyes clamp more tightly closed together in protest and while I try desperately to tumble back into the blissful blackness, I hear muffled voices behind me. Christian has moved to sit with Ros, and it sounds like they’re arguing.
“We’re this fucking close,” he hisses.
“I don’t give a fuck where you are, Christian. We’re out of time.”
“No, the tax cuts will buy us time. We’ve got more time.”
“Weeks.” It’s a scoff. One I assume Christian dismisses because she doubles down. “It will buy us weeks, Christian.”
“And that’s all I need.” The statement is strained, as though he says it through gritted teeth, and she lets out an irritated huff.
“I don’t want to hear about it. Not once, all week. I need your focus here. If we don’t land this contract, we’re fucked. And I swear to god, Christian, I’ll walk.”
“No you won’t.”
“You wanna test me?”
“You’d walk away from GEH? From everything we’ve built?”
“If the alternative is staying and watching you shatter it into a billion pieces, then abso-fucking-lutely.”
“I know you’re not sleeping…”
The voice comes from the opposite direction of Christian’s, and much closer that I’m prepared for. I jump and open my eyes, finding Taylor sitting in a seat across from me. He’s got one leg casually draped over the other and a thick, well-worn paperback in his hands. I give him a sheepish smile as I sit up, and he eyes me warily.
“You know what they say about eavesdroppers…”
“I wasn’t eavesdropping.”
“You sure?” He raises an eyebrow at me, and part of me thinks he’s teasing, while a much more nagging part is sure it’s an accusation. I frown and tilt my head as I turn a much more examining look on him.
“Why would I be eavesdropping on my husband?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. But there’s a lot I feel like I don’t know about you anymore, Ana. This business with Sawyer… it’s added all these new variables that I don’t really know how to prepare for. I don’t know what to expect from you anymore, and it has me very nervous about this week.”
A wave of cold moves over me, sending tiny pin pricks over my scalp. “Nervous?”
“Forgive me, Mrs. Grey, but you have a terrible track record in this city. I have one very simple and very clear directive. You first, no matter what. That means that I am going to be by your side around the clock for the next week, and since you’ll be spending your time following this author of yours around to all of his signings, Mr. Grey will be moving all over the damn city without any security.”
“What? What do you mean he won’t have security?!”
“Do you see anyone else here?” He gestures to the empty seats around us, and as I glance between them and back to him, I start to feel a little like I’m on the receiving end of a textbook Raymond Steele lecture. The reason there isn’t anyone else in those seats is because Christian fired Woods after my last trip to New York, and no one else has made it through Taylor’s new rigorous vetting process to take his place. Rumor has it, no one really wants the job. Who, after all, would want to stake their professional and financial future on a position that every other person who has ever filled it has proved to be only temporary? Even Luke.
Because of me.
That realization, coupled with the knowledge that it’s going to leave Christian without his right hand man in the place where misfortune seems to seek us out, seems to add a whole extra layer to the grime I feel all over when I think about the choices that got me here.
“I’m sorry, Taylor. I wasn’t trying to make your job harder, I was—” The excuse stops dead before I can even make it, so I change direction. “If it helps, I could talk to Christian about Woods and…”
“Woods has been reassigned,” he interrupts. “We’ll find someone to take his place, but in the meantime… no more surprises, huh?”
I nod, slumping slightly in my seat, and he gives me a small smile before looking back at his book and turning the page.
We touch down in New York late in the afternoon. The moment the wheels of the plane bounce against the runway, Christian and I both fish out our phones to get caught up on everything we missed during the long flight. I ignore the work-related notifications first to respond to a picture Kate sent me of Calliope and Kennedy on a blanket in her living room. Calliope has her arms wrapped around the baby, her lips mashed against Kennedy’s cheek.
“No…” Christian breathes from the seat next to me, his voice filled with dread and disbelief.
“What?” Ros asks, looking up at him in alarm.
He doesn’t respond. He gets out of his seat, pulls his phone to his ear, and walks toward the back of the plane muttering, “fuck, fuck, fuck…” Ros gets up to follow, and I stare after them, worried.
“Mrs. Grey,” Taylor says. He waves toward the door, which Natalia has just popped open. “Your car is waiting.”
I nod and lead the way off the plane, frowning when I see the two sleek town cars waiting for us. I’m on my way to the hotel, apparently Christian isn’t.
Taylor collects my bags and loads them into the waiting car while I dawdle and wait for my husband to deboard. But, when he finally emerges from the plane, he’s so busy shouting into his phone that he doesn’t even glance in my direction. Ros follows him so closely she could be his shadow. A very angry shadow.
What the hell is going on?
“Mrs. Grey?” The low sound of shifting metal sounds behind me as Taylor opens my door. I hesitate with one last look at Christian’s car, which is slowly pulling away from me, before I step inside. Taylor ducks in behind me, and for the duration of the drive into the city, I listen to him talk about the book he’d finished on the plane. The excitement I hear through the plot twists he describes in excruciating detail sends a frisson of nerves through me. In just a few short hours, The Black Rose will officially be released to the public, and I can’t really be confident anyone would give it the kind of glowing review Taylor is giving me now.
The nerves remain palpable the entire way to the hotel. Enough so that I don’t even really get the chance to enjoy the roomy suite Andrea has booked for us, or the breathtaking view of the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River. Instead, I order takeout and start pouring through pre-order reports, verifying and re-verifying a week’s worth of itineraries, and sending countless emails to promoters and even a few critics I know from my Escape experience.
The reports I pull only seem to further set me on edge. We’ve still only pushed 2800 copies, even three weeks after we made the announcement. The last report I have of Steven’s latest release shows that he’s moved over 11,000 copies in nearly the same amount of time. That should probably leave a bitter taste in my mouth, since Stevens has had it out for me since the day I started, but it doesn’t. Right now, he and Jacki are saving my ass.
It’s past eleven when I’m finally pulled from my work by the musical chime of my phone. I glance over at it and smile as I swipe a finger across the green button. Kate’s smiling face pops up on my screen.
“Hey!” I answer, holding my phone up so she’ll be able to see me, too. She waves, then points her screen to Calliope, and I immediately brighten. “Hi, baby girl!”
Calliope looks up at Kate. “Mama?”
Kate smiles and tries to get her to look back at the phone. “Yeah, that’s Mama. Can you say ‘hi’?”
“Hi.” She says it to Kate, but I smile anyway.
“How has she been?”
“Oh, fine. She spent the whole day following Elliot around. He’s been calling her his groupie.”
I laugh, and the sound catches Calliope’s attention.
“Yeah, Mama is right there, Callie. You can talk to her.”
Calliope looks where Kate points, but I’m not sure she understands the picture on this screen is actually me and not just an old video.
“She ready yet?” I hear Elliot ask off screen. Kate nods, adjusting Calliope in her lap, and trying one last time to get her to pay attention to me.
“Say, ‘night-night, Mama’.”
Calliope blinks, then disappears from view as Elliot scoops her into his arms. I call goodnight to her and hear his voice respond, high-pitched like he’s trying to imitate my daughter.
“Goodnight, Mommy. Tell my dad that Uncle Elliot is going to get my nose pierced.”
I roll my eyes and Kate lets her head fall back on the couch. She looks wiped out. “I need to pump. Is it weird to do that on the phone?”
“Only if you’ve suddenly grown averse to me seeing your boobs.”
She laughs, then shrugs and reaches for her pump.
The next morning, I’m up before Christian so that I can hit all the news stands on the way to the office. When I finally stumble out of the elevator, my arms are loaded with the newspapers and magazines that may hold the fate of Greenwich Small Press within their pages.
“Finally,” Scott barks as he pulls The New York Times off the top of the pile still in my arms. Taylor gives him a warning glare, but says nothing. Instead, he lays the papers he’s carrying down on the desk and turns to face me.
“Can I get anything for you, Mrs. Grey?”
I glance around him at Walter Daves, who is sitting on a couch pushed against the far wall, looking green.
“Would you mind getting coffee?” I ask. “I think we’re in for a long morning.”
“Yes, ma’am. Right away.” Taylor leaves the office, and I look over at Scott. He’s reading the page open in front of him with so much intensity, I’m surprised the paper hasn’t caught fire.
He shakes his head and tosses the paper aside, reaching for and tearing through the next one. And the next one. And the next. The expression on his face doesn’t leave much to the imagination as to what he’s found within the pages of the publications he so callously tosses aside. It leaves Walter completely pale, waiting for anything. Scott stays quiet. I reach for the discarded paper and start to read.
It’s not good. The same words I’ve thought over and over again pop out at me in black and white.
Each negative review makes my gut clench with pain for Walter, and there are a lot of negative reviews.
“No, no, no!” Scott roars, ripping the magazine in his hands in half. “This has to be a mistake!”
I shake my head, reading for myself again just how much of a mistake it isn’t. The response is ubiquitous throughout every review I read and Walter’s face is white with horror. As I finally force myself to stop looking at the horrible things they’ve written about my author and finally just put the papers aside, I find myself desperately wracking my brain for something to reassure him, but I can’t think of a single thing.
My phone rings before I have to say anything.
“Excuse me,” I tell them, then step out into the hallway to take the call. “This is Anastasia Grey.”
“Yes, Mrs. Grey. This is Damon Arnette from Barnes and Noble. We have several book signings scheduled at a few of our Manhattan locations this week with your author, Walter Daves. Seattle next week.”
“Yes, Mr. Arnette. What can I do for you?”
“I’m afraid I’m calling with some bad news. The customer response hasn’t been as enthusiastic as we had hoped. We’ve made the decision to cancel.”
He saw the reviews.
“Cancel? But his novel is being released today. We haven’t even seen the consumer response yet.”
He doesn’t care. Whether he’s looking at the reviews or if his own sales reports, nothing I say encourages him to budge. We argue for several minutes, but I never get anywhere.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey,” he says, once he’s clearly tired of our back and forth. “Please, pass our apologies on to your client.”
“Yeah.” I hang up, feeling a crushing sense of defeat. The book stores haven’t even had a chance to open yet, and this release is already a disaster.
My very first release.
I walk back toward Scott’s office, but out of the corner of my eye, in the dark stairwell, I see Walter sitting by himself. Taking a deep, bracing breath, I make my way over to him.
“Mind if I sit?” I ask, eyeing the empty half of the bottom step.
“Sure,” he croaks back. I lower myself down and sit in silence with him, unsure of how to best provide this man comfort.
“Who was the call from?” he begins instead. “Was it about me?”
I nod. “It was Barnes and Noble. They cancelled your signing.”
“The one tomorrow?”
“All of them.”
He lets out a disappointed sigh and his head falls into his hands. “I think I might have just ended my entire career.”
He looks broken. Defeated. It makes me remember the months of rejection I endured last year. How painful it was to have someone tell you over and over again that the work you poured your soul into wasn’t good enough. I can feel that pain through the defeated droop in his shoulders, and it makes me experience the failure of this release so much more personally.
I didn’t just fail Carmen and Scott, I failed Walter.
“Have you ever heard of Across the River and into the Trees?” I ask.
“It was written by Hemingway, and it was garbage. Dry. Overly simplistic. The critics panned it, and it flopped spectacularly. But, two years later, he released The Old Man and the Sea and he was right back on top again.”
“Really. One bad release isn’t the end of your career. It’s just… an opportunity for you to grow.”
“You read that garbage I just put out. You really think I have it in me to grow?”
He says it as though he thinks he doesn’t, but I nod. “I do. Look, I let you down, Walter. It’s my job to advocate for you, and I didn’t do that. I let them push ahead a book that wasn’t ready instead of protecting your work. I’m sorry.”
He looks at me for a long time, then shakes his head. “It’s not your fault, Ana. You made what I gave you better. You, at least, gave me a fighting chance.”
“It is my fault, but I promise you, I won’t let you down again. I’m going to push you. You have another best seller in you, together we’re going to get it out.”
He smiles. “Thank you.”
“Oh, don’t thank me yet. You might be about to hate me.” I laugh, then get to my feet. “Why don’t you head back to the hotel, and take the day to lick your wounds? You can get back to work tomorrow.”
He agrees, standing up and staring back at me with a new determination in his eyes.
“And you better make it outstanding,” I warn him. “Because I’m going to absolutely rip it apart.”
He smiles. “Good. Thank you, Ana. Thank you… for believing in me.”
I wrap my arms around him, hugging him lightly before he turns and heads down the stairs. I watch him go, then start back for Scott’s office. I’m stopped though, by Carmen, who is hovering in the archway between the stairwell and the office floor. She doesn’t look happy, and I can only assume it’s because the rolled-up sheet of paper in her hand is the updated numbers for The Black Rose.
“Ana, can I speak with you in Scott’s office, please?”
“Yes,” I reply. She turns, expecting me to follow her, and I do. I trail behind her, full of apprehension, all the way through Scott’s door, and trying not to flinch when I hear it close behind me.
“What the hell is this?” she demands. “3000 copies? You promised me 20,000.”
“I know. It’s just… not resonating with our audience the way we hoped it would.” It’s a half-hearted offer of explanation. I know we don’t have any real excuse. We made a bad gamble and we got a bad outcome.
“And why not?” Carmen asks.
“The marketing,” Scott answers. “Anastasia made the decision not to use any Stormy Nights promotional materials, and we failed to pull in any of Daves’ previous base. If we would have done as I suggested, these numbers would be much higher.”
I narrow my eyes. Way to throw me under the bus, Scott.
“That wouldn’t make a difference,” I argue. “I’ve said this before. The answer wasn’t tricking a bunch of teenage girls looking for a high school romance into buying a graphic murder novel.”
“Then what was the answer, Anastasia? You have all the answers. Please come down from the mountain tops and enlighten us all. What should we have done?” Scott’s eyes blaze like the afterburn of cheap tequila.
“If I remember correctly,” Carmen interjects. “Ana didn’t have faith in this title from the beginning. She argued several times that The Black Rose wasn’t ready for publication.”
Scott’s eyes widen, fearfully. “Well, yeah… but—”
“Anastasia,” Carmen continues, cutting off Scott’s defense. “If Scott hadn’t been in your way, what would you have done differently?”
“I would have sent Walter his manuscript back and told him it was too complicated. I would have asked him to edit at least twenty, maybe thirty thousand total words out of his draft and send it back to me once he’d pieced it back together. I would have signed Hailey Lewis instead, and we’d be talking about Phoenix right now.”
She nods once, then turns back to Scott. “Scott, you’re fired. You have until the end of the day to clean out your things.”
She doesn’t look in his direction, despite the arguments bubbling through his lips. “Ana, walk with me.”
I follow her out of the office, trying to ignore Scott’s indignant shouts behind us with the same impassivity Carmen does.
“I’m going to be straight with you, Ana,” she says as she reaches out for the button to call the elevator. “The financials between the two GSP branches aren’t good. Publishing is just a sideline for me, one I have no reason to keep if it isn’t going to be profitable.”
“Our pipeline is looking stronger,” I say quickly. “Two of my fiction editors are representing titles well on their way to becoming best sellers. Jacki’s might even already be there—”
The doors slide open and Carmen steps inside, the perfectly polished fingertips on her right-hand curling around the door to keep it from closing again.
“I won’t close GSP down, yet, but I’m not going to replace Scott. You’ll have to float both branches until you can prove to me they’re viable. I’ll give you one more release to turn it around and show me you really are what everyone claims you to be. One release that will move at least 50,000 copies. Just one.”
“50,000? But, Carmen…”
She steps further into the elevator, pushes her finger into the button for her floor, and the doors close without another word. I stand there, gaping, unsure of what to do or even think.
“Mrs. Grey?” I turn and find Taylor standing behind me, looking wary. “What’s going on with Wallace?”
Scott’s shouts of rage are echoing through the office, incoherent through the cursing and the constantly shifting blame. There’s a crash, and I wince.
“Carmen fired him.”
Taylor nods. “Well, he doesn’t seem to be taking it well. If you can work remotely, I think it’s best we return to the hotel. You seem to be the target of some of his more… colorful expletives.”
Should I? The curious eyes of the employees that keep shifting their eyes to his office are my responsibility now. They’ll want answers. To know if their job is safe. To know there’s a plan.
What the fuck am I going to tell them?
“Just a moment, Taylor.” I make my way to the center of the floor and call for everyone’s attention.
“Hi.” It’s a lame start, but I’m nervous. “If I haven’t met you yet, my name is Anastasia Grey and… and I’m going to be leading this branch moving forward. There are going to be some changes and probably some rough waters ahead, so I’d like to give you some time to think of any questions or concerns you may have for me, and we’ll meet back here at nine tomorrow morning to discuss. I’ll have a strategy for where we go from here that we’ll talk about then. For right now… take the rest of the day. I think we’re all going to need to regroup.”
I’m met with looks of confusion and disbelief, but once one employee begins to gather his things and I don’t stop him, everyone follows suit. Now I just need to come up with the brilliant strategy I’ve promised them.
Twenty-four hours is enough time to accomplish that, right?
I let myself panic over the position I now find myself in for the entire drive back to the hotel. I’d been prepared for my own job to be on the line, but I hadn’t imagined we were one release away from both branches being dissolved. With the livelihoods of twenty-three people hanging over my head, the stress of what Carmen just asked me to do is all too real. How am I, a tiny little publisher tucked all the way up in the pacific northwest, going to attract the kind of title that would debut at 50,000 pre-orders? It takes name recognition and clout to pull off that kind of release, and I just sent my best author crawling away with his tail between his legs. I’m not even positive my press could handle that kind of release.
I spend the afternoon drafting and redrafting my plan, setting goals, creating metrics… In some ways it feels like I’m starting over. And while that feels daunting, I’m also a little relieved. There won’t be a Scott to go over my head anymore, and with real control, I might have a shot at fixing this mess.
Once again, I work until I’m pulled from my laptop by the phone ringing on the table next to me. A great sense of relief moves through me this time when I see Christian’s name on the screen.
“Hey.” He doesn’t sound as happy to hear from me as I am to hear from him, though I have a feeling that actually has very little to do with me.
“Something like that… How about you? How was your release?”
“It was a disaster. The critics hated it, no one bought it, and Carmen fired Scott.”
“Yeah. Apparently, she’s ready to close down GSP altogether, so she’s decided not to replace him. It’s just going to be me going forward.”
He snorts. “Did you ask for a raise?”
“I don’t think that would have been productive. I’m worried about my people’s jobs, Christian.”
“Yeah,” he replies as though he understands completely. “Are you hungry?”
I look out the window behind me, surprised by how dark it is. “Uh, yeah. Do you mind if we order room service, though? I’ve really gotta focus here.”
“Whatever you want, baby.” There’s a heaviness in the sweet words that dampens them a little.
“Are you okay?”
He sighs. “Yeah. Just… a really shitty day.”
“Okay. I’ll see you soon?”
“Yeah. I texted Taylor to come get me cause I can’t sit in the car with Ros right now. Don’t leave the room, okay?”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.” With a click, he’s gone and I frown down at the blank screen of my phone. I thought winning the tax battle against his dad would have him in better spirits, but he’s worse today than he was last week. Is it because of the fusion project, or is New York not going the way he planned? I don’t know, but the way he sounded on the phone makes me feel like I need to find out.
My eyes move to my laptop again. I’ve got direction and a solid start on the proposal I’m writing up, and even though I hate to lose any momentum right now, I decide to put it away for a few hours so I can devote all of my attention to Christian.
After today, I kind of think we both might need it.
Using the hotel phone, I dial down to the front desk and order room service, complete with their best sauvignon blanc. Then, I slip into the bathroom to freshen up and change into something much less comfortable. Christian and I are here for a week, a whole week without Calliope, so I made sure to pack some of my sluttiest lingerie. I just hadn’t expected to need it so soon…
When I hear the knock on the door, I slide into one of the soft, fluffy robes provided by the hotel, grab some cash from my wallet for a tip, and answer it.
It isn’t room service waiting for me. It’s Scott.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, stepping further back into my room so I can close the door a little more.
“Can we talk?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Scott.”
His shoulders fall. “Ana, you’ve gotta help me save my job. I have a wife… We have a mortgage.”
“I don’t know.”
“Look, I think I figured it out. I think I know how to save both of our branches.”
That piques my interest since I’ve spent the entire day trying to do just that. I have a plan, but not one that would make me sound as confident as Scott does now. Honestly, I couldn’t even sound hopeful.
“Alright, come in,” I say, stepping to the side and opening the door. He does, then hovers until I invite him to sit in the living room I’ve turned into an office. I sit across from him and motion for him to begin. “What is it?”
“What it is, is a dog eat dog world, Anastasia. This industry used to be so different. I don’t even recognize it anymore. A publishing house can’t even stay afloat unless they’re constantly, constantly, constantly turning out content.”
“I think that’s a problem with your model, Scott. Not the industry.”
He doesn’t seem to hear me. He looks at me like he’s looking through me. “The answer was in front of us the whole time. You and I arguing over Phoenix and The Black Rose. Over 10,000 units. 20,000 units…” He shakes his head. “The answer was already in our hands.”
“What do you mean?”
“You. Your numbers were phenomenal, and you have an unpublished manuscript right now.”
My mouth goes dry. “No.”
“Ana, the sales from a release like that would keep Greenwich viable for years. Your entire team, my entire team, all of them… secure. Think of what you could build in the time that release would buy you.”
“No.” My response is automatic. Final. It makes Scott go rigid.
“This would save my job, Anastasia. My livelihood.”
I shake my head. “Greenwich couldn’t even handle one of my releases. Jacki pushed our presses to the limit with a 10,000 copy print. Escape sold over a million copies.”
“So what, you’re too good for us? Anastasia Grey and her guaranteed best-seller is just too big, too important for Greenwich Small Press?”
“I’m being realistic, Scott.”
“You’re being a bitch.”
My mouth snaps shut and I get to my feet. “You need to leave. Now.”
“I came here for your manuscript, Anastasia. I’m not leaving without it.”
Taylor isn’t here and there isn’t anyone else. What do I do?
My phone is on the table between us, so I reach down to grab it. My fingers curl around the glass and metal only half a second before his do. Quickly, I jerk it out of the way. He dives at me and knocks me into the couch.
“Scott!” I scream in defiance as he wrestles my phone away from me. He tosses it across the room, far out of my reach, and smiles down at me in a ridiculing way that makes goosebumps rise to the surface of my skin. A brief memory of Lincoln, holding me down just like this, flashes across my eyes, and I start to thrash violently beneath him. It only makes him hold me tighter.
“Careful how you scream my name, sweetheart. I might just get turned on.”
“Get off of me!”
“Where is the fucking manuscript, Anastasia? On your laptop over there?”
His hands secure both of my wrists, holding me in place the same way Christian has thousands of times. But he doesn’t have Christian’s strength, and if there’s one thing loving a semi-sadistic dom has taught me, it’s how to effectively struggle.
I twist my wrists in exactly the right way to loosen his grip just long enough to yank out of his hold. Then it’s a reckless shove, using all of my body weight, and he too loses balance off the top of me and falls to the floor. I’m up in the next second, sprinting to the bedroom where there’s a door that locks.
He grabs me around the ankle, sending me flying to the floor before I get there. Then he’s on me again, our arms and legs tangled together and battering against each other while he tries to subdue me and I try desperately to get away.
“Stop fighting me!” he shouts, angry now. “Just give me the fucking manuscript!”
“Get the fuck away from me!” I squirm out of his hold just long enough to move a couple more feet, but he grabs hold of the belt on my robe and the whole thing comes unraveled.
“Well, well, well,” he says, smiling down at me when he sees the lingerie. “What have we here?”
“Let me go,” I whine. His grip is tighter now, painful, and I can’t break it.
“Oh no, baby doll. If you don’t want to give me what I want, maybe I’m just going to have to take it. Maybe I’ll just take whatever the fuck I want.” He bends down, nuzzling my breast through the sheer fabric that exposes everything, then moans as he shifts his weight on top of me. I see him reach for his belt.
“No, wait!” I try to pull away, but I can’t. He laughs.
“Shut up, slut. You might just enjoy this.”
And then he’s gone.
His weight lifts from me all at once as he’s sent flying back into the wall so hard that it folds around him. My husband stands over him looking livid, murder in his eyes. Scott falls to a heap on the floor and Christian leaps on top of him. I watch him raise his fist high into the air and bring it down across Scott’s jaw with a sickening crunch.
“Taylor!” I scream. The door is still open from Christian’s arrival and Taylor’s room is just across the hall. Three more times I call for him, and Christian lands three more punches. Thankfully, I hear the distant ping of the elevator and when I call for help, our head of security runs into the room.
It’s a struggle, but he’s able to get Christian off Scott. Still, the separation doesn’t seem to quench his violent rampage. I have to get in the way for him to stop charging at Scott. His chest heaves, his body shakes, and his eyes are filled with bloodlust.
“He was assaulting her,” he snarls at Taylor. “Deal with it.”
“Yes, sir.” Taylor nods emphatically, then drags Scott from the room. I stare at the blood staining the carpet, then start stumbling to Christian. He holds up a hand to stop me.
“Not yet.” I freeze and watch him take a deep, calming breath before he continues. “Are you okay?”
I blink at him. “Are you?”
Clearly, he’s not. His entire body is stiff with rage. His hands are bloody. He looks insane.
He shakes his head slowly. “How did he get in here?”
“I let him in.”
“You let him in?”
I swallow, cowering slightly under the anger leaking into his voice. “He asked me to help him save his job. He said he knew how to save both our branches. I let him in to hear him out and he said he wanted my manuscript. My manuscript. For Greenwich. I said no, he called me a bitch, and then… he attacked me.”
“I’ll fucking kill him.” Christian turns for the door, but I throw myself in his way.
Not an ounce of the tension seizing his whole body eases, so I move to wrap him in my arms. Again, he stops me.
I take a step back and meet his eyes with mine instead. “I’m okay, Christian. He didn’t touch me.”
“I saw him touching you.” He leaves me with those cold words and stalks into the bedroom. It’s best to give him a few minutes to calm down, I think, so I wait for the room service I ordered to actually arrive before I go and track him down. He’s in the shower, his back to me. Bruised and cut hands press into the wall. His head hangs beneath the water.
I go to him, but keep the glass between us.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “It was stupid for me to let him in.”
“Don’t apologize.” He still doesn’t turn to face me. “You’re trying to take care of your people. That can make you desperate and… irrational.”
There’s that tone again. Like what he’s telling me is more than just an appeal to empathy. Like he’s fighting the same battle I am.
“Is everything okay, Christian? Did something go wrong in your meeting this afternoon?”
He shakes his head, but I can’t tell if it’s an answer or an expression of just how badly things really went. I drop my robe, open the shower, and step inside, still dressed in my lingerie. This time he doesn’t stop me when I try to wrap myself around him. He actually relaxes a small degree when I finally do.
“Tell me what happened?” I press him. Slowly, he turns to face me.
“Ana… I think I’ve really fucked up.”