I’m pulled from the blissful oblivion of a dreamless sleep by the touch of Christian’s lips against mine. The feel of him, the taste of his kiss, surrounds me in a warm familiarity that keeps the existential dread from the previous night at bay for a few euphoric seconds. I let my lips play gently against his for much too long, and hum with delight when he grows tired of my too soft kisses and presses deeply into me, his tongue gliding past my lips. The moment he pulls away though, his warmth disappears and the cold fear I’d had when I saw Calliope’s face plastered across the internet instantly fills the void he’s left behind.
I sit up at the uneasy clenching in my gut, then blink through heavy eyelids at the room around me in confusion. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was Natalia handing me my Starbucks order while I settled down in a seat next to Christian. Now I’m in the bedroom at the back of the jet, and I feel like I’ve been hit with a cement truck.
“You fell asleep almost the second you sat down,” Christian explains. “I thought you’d be more comfortable back here.”
That surprises me, considering I’d spent the entirety of last night pacing across our hotel room floor while Christian begged me to come to bed. I’d been too stressed to try. Even after my nap, I can still feel the grogginess of my sleepless night coming back to punish me. My body feels heavy and weak. My attention shifts, unfocused, between Christian and everything else around me. I’m unable to settle or concentrate on any one thing through the fog of exhaustion weighing me down. There’s a pounding headache growing behind my right ear. With a groan, I sink down into the warmth emanating from the blankets draped over me as if it has the power of a witch’s incantation, beckoning me back into obscurity.
“Can I just have another hour?” I mumble, already succumbing to the overpowering urge to drift off.
“We’re about to land. I want you to come sit in a chair with a seatbelt.”
That has my eyes snapping open again. “We’re already back to Seattle?”
He grins. “Yeah, you’ve been dead to the world for several hours. If it wasn’t for all the snoring, I probably would have made an emergency landing in Minneapolis to have your resuscitated.”
I narrow my eyes at him as I take his hand and, reluctantly, step out of the bed. “I don’t snore.”
“Okay, baby.” His tone is just a placation, and I’m about to argue back when I get a head rush that has me uneasy on my feet. Once again, I feel the burden of my exhaustion.
“What, did you drug me?” I shoot an accusatory glare at him, while his sure hands make me steady, but it only makes him laugh.
“If I did…” He presses his lips against mine, once. “You’d never be able to prove it.”
I roll my eyes as he tugs against my hand and leads me to the main cabin of the jet. Apparently he’s spent his time on the flight working, because the table surrounded by a cluster of chairs near the galley is covered in stacks of documents and an open laptop. I slump down into a seat and fasten the belt over my hips while Christian starts sliding his work into a briefcase to keep it safe during landing. Once the table is clear, his hand wraps around mine and he reaches a finger for my chin so he can tilt my face towards his.
“You’re very quiet.”
I shrug, and he takes a measured breath.
“Talk to me, Ana. I can’t do whatever it is you need me to do next if you don’t talk to me about what you’re feeling.”
His eyes are imploring for my response, but I don’t know how to voice aloud the thoughts bouncing around in my head to him anymore than I could to my father over the phone last night. Because the problem isn’t just that I’m scared about what will happen now that Calliope can be easily identified by someone who wanted to hurt me or Christian, my trust has been broken. And I trust my father more than anyone else in the world. Even Christian. Now, he’s… what? Betrayed me?
That doesn’t even make sense, like the words can only be arranged in that order in some foreign language I don’t speak. I can’t reconcile having been so clear about never posting pictures of Calliope online with the photo I saw on my phone last night. Not even Kate has dared to try, and she posts literally every picture she takes straight to her PixC without a second thought. My dad is careful and deliberate in everything he does and says, and yet, the only thing I’ve heard from him about the post is his defense of Kim. Reading that Google Alert last night was like witnessing the incorruptible effigy that I’d built around him come crumbling to the ground, and now I’m left to wade through the rubble to find if any of it can be salvaged.
I need to have Calliope in my arms again before I can decide how that’s even possible.
“Ana?” Christian presses me. I turn back to look at him, seeing the ghost of the look that haunted me all those months I refused to deal with Lincoln swimming through his troubled gaze. The fear over what the internal battle I was waging would do to me, and frustration over my refusal to let him do anything about it. The hurt that I’d built the walls around myself too high for him scale. I don’t want to shut him out or put him through the pain I did before. It’s fear that makes me feel this way, my time with Flynn has taught me that, and Christian can assuage my fears better than anyone… So, I shift in my seat, moving as close to him as my seatbelt will allow, and I try.
“People want to hurt us, Christian.”
He takes a long, deep breath, swallows, then nods. “I know.”
“Nothing would hurt me more than if something were to happen to her.”
“And they know what to look for now!” My voice becomes sharp as tears well in my eyes, and I try to look away. His fingers move back to my face, forcing me to keep eye contact with him. “We have no idea who has that picture now and who they might have given it to. People could be out on the streets looking for her right now.”
“And she’s back at the house with security.”
“It’s not just about today. It’s about every day now. We’re never going to be able to let our guard down again and-”
“Ana.” He shifts and takes my hands in his, holding my gaze as his lips press into each one of my fingers. “What can I do to make you feel safe?”
Kim’s face flashes before my eyes and I cringe at the bitter taste that creeps into my mouth. I flinch at the way my heart sputters over the pain she’s put between me and my dad. He was the one who stopped Lincoln. But he’s not around anymore and I can’t live through another person who needs to be stopped… I can’t.
My face crinkles with pain again, and Christian pulls me into his chest, letting my tears soak through his expensive shirt.
“Please tell me what you’re feeling,” he whispers.
I breathe in slowly, letting my lungs fill until the urge to sob stops and I can speak. Though, when I try, it’s weak at best. “Everyone thought I was being petty. Everyone thought I was being selfish. No one listened to me when I tried to say that Kim would be dangerous for our family. Now she’s opened the lid to something that can’t be closed again and I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know how I’m going to live with it. My dad is my favorite person in the entire world, but right now…”
Words fail me again because I have no idea how to finish that sentence. I don’t want to push my father away. I don’t want to fight with him. I don’t want to make him my enemy or even an antagonist. Even being plagued by these doubts feels disrespectful to the man who sacrificed everything to make my dreams come true.
But I have them, and they’re very real.
And it’s all because of her.
“I don’t know,” I repeat, defeated. “I hate her, Christian. And now I don’t trust her. Now she’s making me doubt the one person I never thought I would.”
“No! Not okay. How do I tell my dad that without destroying him? How am I supposed to look him in the eye and tell him that this isn’t a mistake, it’s a betrayal? He’s my dad, Christian, and right now I don’t know how to talk to him at all. I have never had that problem.”
I think about our phone conversation, and the ‘buts’ that followed every apology he offered. I have to swallow to bitter taste the memory dredges up. But that doesn’t change the way my heart pounds at the idea of doing anything to upset him or disappoint him. Or how angry that reaction makes me. Tears well in my eyes and I bury my face in my hands, shaking my head in despair.
“I knew she couldn’t be trusted. I knew that she was going to tear us apart. Now what do I do?”
He reaches over and takes my face in his hands, wiping away my tears. “You don’t need to do anything. We had a rule, they fucked up. If I’m the one that needs to step in and be the heavy so that we can resolve this, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
I sniff, and take a broken breath. “You’re just very heavy, Christian.”
“He’s your father, Anastasia. I will make every attempt to keep a lid on my temper, I promise.”
Staring into his eyes, I try to find a hint of the feelings he’s burying beneath his concern for me. Is he scared the way I am? Is he boiling with rage underneath his seemingly calm exterior? Unleashing an angry Christian Grey on my father would be about as brutal as the Romans throwing people to the lions just to enjoy the bloodshed. But, no matter how hard I search his eyes or examine the line of his jaw for a hint of tension, there isn’t any of the expected fury looking back at me. He doesn’t even look worried.
“How are you so blasé about this? Aren’t you afraid someone will see her while we’re out in public and—“
“No,” he interrupts me. “I’m not afraid. You are protected, Anastasia. Calliope is protected. I’ve told you once, wars will be fought before anyone ever gets close to either of you again. I meant that, and I’ve made it a reality. Believe me when I tell you that no one will ever get to you or Calliope again.”
The first time he’d told me this, it had me worried. Now, it actually brings me a powerful sense of relief.
“Promise?” I breathe back.
“I promise,” he replies, firmly. The sentiment floats between us like an exorbitant prize, and I focus every cell in my body on accepting it.
Even when I think I hear the echo of a cold, disembodied voice waking in the back of my mind that tells me I shouldn’t.
The plane bounces roughly over the runway when we land, but it’s only a few minutes after that before we’re de-boarding. Mostly, Christian leaves everything behind as we’re only supposed to be making a short stop to pick up Calliope before continuing on to Beijing, but the thought of taking another trip right now, of taking Calliope out in public in a foreign country where my security team will already be at a disadvantage… it all has me feeling a little defeated.
I just need a few days at home with my baby.
“Welcome home, Mrs. Grey,” Taylor says, opening the door to the backseat of the SUV for me. I give him the warmest smile I can muster and brush an affectionate hand over the dark sleeve of his sports coat.
“Thank you, Taylor. How was the time you spent with your daughter?”
He smiles. “Much needed, thank you.”
“Was Sawyer abducted while we were gone?” Christian asks, peering through the darkly tinted windows of the front passenger’s seat. Taylor frowns and shakes his head.
“I’m not sure how he’s spent his days off but he failed to report this morning. I’ve talked to him, he’ll meet us back at the residence.”
“Failed to report?” Christian repeats. “He’s never failed to report. What was he doing?”
“I think the question is who was he doing,” I interject, as I climb into the backseat. I can hear Christian’s irritable sigh behind me, but whatever he says to Taylor next is too mumbled for me to catch. Then he’s in the seat next to me, pulling out his phone while Taylor settles in behind the wheel and drives us through the gates that will take us back to the freeway. The Bluetooth picks up Christian’s call before we’re even off the tarmac.
He spends the drive yelling at his lawyers. Unfortunately, there’s very little legal recourse we can take to stop the picture from floating around or even have what’s already posted taken down. We can issue cease and desist letters to the major publications who have pulled the photo from PixC, but we can’t sue someone for sharing a photo through the same social media site it was published on. And because both Christian and I were tagged, our combined followers have reposted the photo almost 3.2 million times.
“We can sue the person who posted the original photo,” the lawyer suggests. “It’s not going to stop it from being spread all across the internet, but we could get damages.”
“The person who posted it has nothing,” Christian grumbles. “We’d get nothing.”
“Well, then I would suggest the best course of action would be to… not post pictures of your child online.”
I snort. Christian nods to Taylor in the rear-view mirror, a signal to end the call.
“She’s safe,” he reassures me. “No matter what, she will always be safe.”
“I know.” My response is filled with audible dread, so he grabs my hand reassuringly and squeezes it tightly in his. I let the welcome sense of comfort wash through me each and every time his fingers pass over mine, then hold onto that security as we inch our way through our front gate.
It’s once again surrounded by paparazzi.
Taylor curses under his breath while the two men that have been haunting my house at every major event we’ve had over the past few weeks disperse the crowd enough to open a lane. I duck my face into Christian’s chest, trying to pretend I don’t see the flashes. Trying to pretend that each and every one of them doesn’t make me tremble with fear at who will see them or if any particular angle they capture will help someone find out exactly where we live and what time we got home.
“We’re all safe,” Christian whispers, and he holds me as we finally make it into the driveway.
I’m slow to get out of the car once the garage door is closed behind us. I’m not particularly looking forward to the confrontation that’s about to take place, and if I wasn’t so desperate to get to my daughter, I don’t know that I would have gotten out of the SUV at all. Christian isn’t impatient though. He comes around to my side and opens my door, offering a hand to help me climb down from the too high seat. He doesn’t pull me after him the way I’ve become accustomed to. Instead, he lets me set the pace as we walk into the house.
Gail and Andrea are in the kitchen, Gail packing Calliope’s favorite snacks into small coolers for the almost twenty hour flight we’re supposed to take while Andrea takes inventory against her checklist. Christian doesn’t acknowledge either of them. Instead, he stays calm and silent until we emerge in the living room where Kim and my dad are sitting on the sofa, talking quietly to one another.
“Hey, sweetheart,” my dad says, cautiously looking up as we approach. He eases out of his seat and moves towards me with open arms. When he pulls me into a hug, I hesitate for a moment, before returning a feeble imitation of his affection. “Annie, I’m so sorry. We didn’t—“
I can’t hear him say he didn’t know, because he did. Everyone in my life did. So I cut off the lie before it even has a chance to cross his lips. “Where’s Calliope?”
He sighs, then gestures to the hallway behind us with a nod of his head. “She’s in the playroom with your nanny.”
I give him a curt nod before slipping out of his hold and moving in the direction he pointed out. He calls after me, but Christian intervenes.
“No, this is actually going to be a conversation between you and I, Raymond.”
“Okay,” my dad says, more serious now. “Then let’s sit down and have a talk.”
I don’t stop to hear what’s said. I’m single minded, making my way down the hall to the playroom. Calliope is sitting like an island in a sea of toys, smiling at Mackensie while she hands her a colorful, plastic ring. The joy on her face makes the hollow ache in my chest dissipate, like the dying breath of a dust storm. She looks up as I start towards her, and somehow, that joy reaches a new crescendo.
“Hey, Calli-lilly!” I nearly cry, sweeping her up in my arms and hugging her tightly against me. I take a deep breath, inhaling her scent and letting it flood through me until every ounce of trepidation has left my body.
“Hi, Mommy,” she repeats, reaching into my hair and playing with the ends of the strands. I lean forward and kiss every inch of her face, then bask in the wholesomeness of her responding giggles.
“How was grandpa’s house?”
“Pop-pop,” she says, then starts babbling a string of non-words. It doesn’t matter. I stare at her, soaking in each and every bit of nonsense like it’s the most engrossing conversation I’ve ever had.
“You don’t say,” I laugh when she finally presses her lips together in a silent pout. She throws herself forwards and leaves a wet raspberry on my cheek. I sit with her cuddling for a few minutes, listening to Mackensie tell me all about her morning, until she’s suddenly drowned out.
“BULLSHIT! WE HAVE ONE FUCKING RULE!” Christian’s voice comes up the hallway in a thunderous echo that immediately catches Calliope’s attention. Her eyes go wide and her mouth forms a perfect little ‘o.’
“Yeah,” I reply, cautiously. “Let me just go see what he’s doing…” Handing her back to Mackensie, I quickly dart from the room. The shouting only intensifies the closer I get. It makes me cringe.
“I don’t care what you meant! No. Pictures. On. The. Internet. It was that fucking simple! And you weren’t even careful in how you worded the fucking thing. Now, not only do I have to worry about how you’ve put my daughter’s safety at risk, I also get to read stories in every gossip magazine across the country about how Anastasia has been unfaithful to me. What do you think that does to our relationship? What do you think that does to the way I look at my security team? Because now, I have Google Alerts popping up on my phone every five fucking minutes telling me that I need to be concerned about the relationship between my wife and the man that I have hired to protect her and my daughter, who you have now put in danger.”
“You can’t really be blaming her for the way some trashy rag has twisted something completely innocent!” my dad shouts back. His tone makes me recede back into the wall, just like I would have when I was seven. “She was pointing out how similar you are! The fact that they have somehow made her saying, ‘no paternity test needed,’ into Ana demanding a paternity test is absolutely ludicrous.”
Christian’s eerily calm response comes through clenched teeth. “I’m not blaming you for how they twisted it, I’m blaming you for posting the fucking picture in the first place. This was something we have both been very clear about. No. Pictures. On. The Internet.”
“How was I supposed to know all these people would see it?” Kim says, tears welling in her eyes.
“We have a combined twenty-three million PixC followers!” Christian shouts, generously omitting that over twenty million of those followers are his. “You tagged us both.”
“But I didn’t know that’s how it worked. I thought that’s how I sent it to you! All I wanted to do was show Ana how cute that picture was, I didn’t think it would become a national headline.”
“Then why didn’t you just send it to me?” I speak up. Everyone turns in my direction, so I push off the wall I’m leaning on in the archway and move to Christian’s side. “Why didn’t you put it in a text and send it straight to me?”
Kim stutters, looking to my dad for help as she flounders. He takes a deep breath and turns a look on me that pleads for understanding.
“We had no idea this would happen. We made a mistake and I’m sorry, Annie. You know that we’re sorry. She’s deleted the picture, if that means anything.”
“It doesn’t,” Christian practically growls. “Do you have any idea how hard I have been working to make her feel safe again? To take that look,” he turns and points directly at my face, “out of her eyes? I have been killing myself for almost a year to get us back to this point, and you just shattered it.”
“Christian…” my dad begins hesitantly, but my husband holds up a hand to stop him. He starts pacing, shaking his head as though he’s continuing the argument in his mind while he figures out what he’s going to do next. When he decides, he returns to my side and puts on his CEO persona in full force.
“You’re no longer welcome in my home.”
“Christian!” I protest. He shoots me a warning glare, but it’s not enough to make me fall silent. “You’re not banning my father from my house. That’s out of the question.”
“I agree. Kim, however, is not.” This time, my dad is the one with the indignant reaction, but Christian doesn’t allow my father to stop him, the way he allowed me. “I should have trusted Ana’s instincts from the beginning and I’m sorry that I ignored the warning signs. She was right. You can’t be trusted, Kim. So, you are no longer welcome in my home. You are no longer a welcome part of my family. You are no longer welcome in the presence of my daughter.” He turns to my dad, who has gotten off the couch now. “Calliope will not go to your house anymore. If you would like to spend time with her and Anastasia, you are welcome to visit them here any time you’d like.”
My dad blinks in disbelief, then slowly turns to me, waiting for me to say something. To contradict what Chrisitan is saying. When I don’t, his brow creases with pain. “Annie?”
I stare back, unsure what to say. I can see the hurt I’d feared written clearly across his face and I want nothing more than to make it stop, but… there’s nothing Christian said that I want to refute. I don’t want Calliope going anywhere without security anymore. Even if it is the middle of nowhere, where he lives now. I want her here, behind my gates and under the ever present watch of my cameras and my security team. My desire to have any kind of relationship with Kim was already tenuous at best. Every effort I did put in was only for my father, and now…
“I don’t trust her,” I say quietly, looking down at my feet because I can’t bear to say the words while seeing the heartbreak that stares back at me. “I love you, Daddy, and you will always be welcome here. But I can’t let any more people in who I don’t trust. Not after how I’ve been burned in the past. And I just don’t trust her.”
He takes a shaky breath, processing what I’ve said. I expect a fight. I expect excuses. I expect disappointment. To my surprise, after several eternal seconds, he nods. “Alright. I get it. From one overprotective father to another, I get it.” He turns and reaches a hand out for Kim. “Come on, we should go.”
A tear falls over Kim’s water line as she takes my father’s hand and slowly comes to her feet. She looks like she’s going to say something, try to make a final plea. But when Christian puts an arm around me, presenting us again as a united front, she swallows the words teetering at the edge of her lips and follows my father silently from the room. Christian and I stand there, not moving or saying anything until we hear the beep from the security alarm, and the soft closure of the front door.
“Was that too much?” he asks. “I guess I’m not very good at keeping my temper under control after all. I’ll call and apologize to him tonight if—“
I lean up on my tip toes and cut off his words with a kiss. “Thank you.”
“Always.” The whisper lingers in the space between our lips as he carefully rests his forehead against mine. I reach my arms behind his head and wrap them lazily across the backs of his shoulders, but just as he leans in to kiss me, Taylor appears in the entry from the foyer.
Christian exhales sharply, but pulls away. I shift my gaze to the head of our security team, then raise an eyebrow when I realize he isn’t alone. The men from outside are flanked on either side of him.
“Ana, this is Smith and this is Wyatt.” Christian gestures to each of them. “They’re your new bodyguards.”
I look at him in horror. “New bodyguards? What about Luke?”
“He’s not going anywhere. But we’ve decided you need a driver and an extra set of eyes for when you have Calliope with you. Just until the noise dies down a little.”
I look back at them, feeling an overwhelming sense of foreboding. Beefing up my security team last time was the opposite of helpful, so naturally, my initial reaction isn’t a trusting one.
But if there was ever a time to get me to agree to more security, Calliope’s picture floating around on PixC is definitely it.
“Okay,” I concede, trying to smile at each of them. “Hello.”
“Hello, Mrs. Grey,” they respond in unison. It’s creepy, but at least they’re talking to me now.
“We’ll be ready to leave momentarily,” Christian says, a clear dismissal. The three suited men in our foyer disperse and he turns to me, once again taking me into his arms. “Anything you need before we go?”
I frown. “How upset would it make you if I didn’t go to China?”
“Very upset.” He tilts my face up to his and holds my gaze. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” He raises an eyebrow that tells me he doesn’t believe me, so I sigh and push out of his embrace. “I’m just drained. I have no idea where I’m even at with The Greenwich Library and I don’t have the energy right now to deal with that while dragging a fifteen month old through a foreign country. Especially if you’re going to be in meetings the whole time. I don’t want to go.”
He doesn’t respond immediately. Instead, he closes the distance I created and brushes his thumbs under my eyes as though he’s tracing the dark circles I’m sure are there. “Okay. We won’t go.”
My brow crinkles. “We?”
“We,” he confirms. “I told you before, I don’t want to be separated from you and Calliope anymore. I travel with you, you travel with me. If you’re telling me that you can’t, then that goes for me as well.”
“But… you’re meeting with the president of China. This isn’t just some routine trip to a manufacturing plant in the middle of nowhere, this is… I mean, it’s China!”
He shrugs. “I’ll handle it over the phone.”
“You’ll handle it over the phone.” I repeat the words slowly, hoping hearing them out loud will help him realize how ridiculous they sound. He just rolls his eyes.
“Or video conference, whatever. The point is, they’ll come to me. It’s fine.”
I think back to the event I attended with Christian weeks ago where he’d made the first Endurance reveal. He’d said the same thing about Senator Blandino, and he hadn’t been wrong. The man flew half the government all the way across the damn country just to get that contract. Everyone keeps telling me I’m underestimating the magnitude of the Endurance project and what it means for Christian. Maybe I am.
There’s a sudden ruckus behind Christian, and I peer over his shoulder to see what it is. I expect it to be Andrea, but it’s Luke. In his rush to get back home, he comes through the utility room hot and immediately trips over the cooler of snacks Gail had been putting together. With two long steps that slam hard against the stone floor, he manages not to fall face first to the ground, but only because he reaches out to catch himself on the wine rack. A crystal glass rocks violently from its resting place and Luke kicks out his foot, managing to hurl the glass back into the air with the tip of his shoe. It bounces back and forth between his hands a few times before he finally gets a firm hold on it. When he holds it up in the air to inspect it for damage, the kitchen light sparkles over the pristine perfection of the crystal.
“Okay, but did you see that?” He grins.
“You’re the man,” I laugh back.
He slides the glass back on the rack, then saunters into the living room looking very pleased with himself. Christian doesn’t look so enthused.
The blonde head bent over the kitchen counter looks up from the tablet in her hands, her finger going still over the glass. “Yes, sir?”
“Cancel my trip. Let them know that we’ll conduct our negotiations through teleconference.”
She stares back at him, utterly befuddled. “Cancel?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Okay… but… To be clear, you’re asking me to call the representatives of the Chinese government and tell them that you’re… not coming.” She says the words in exactly the way I felt them, as though their utterance is completely insane.
Christian just tilts his head to the side and blinks back at her, clearly not in the mood to repeat himself.
“Does Ms. Bailey know?” Andrea tries again.
“Ms. Bailey will defer to my judgment,” he tells her, though she obviously doesn’t buy that one bit. Christian takes a deep, calming breath, then turns his attention back to me. “I need to make a phone call. Do you need anything?”
I shake my head and he leans down to kiss me before turning and leaving the room. I notice Gail dejectedly picking up the cooler and unloading everything inside while Andrea starts to gather her things to go. I probably should offer to go help, since I’m the reason for all the rework they’re about to do, but I’m too distracted by Luke.
“Where were you?” I’m trying for innocence, but he’s so onto me that he might as well be a freckle.
“Reading to the blind.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Is that why you have lipstick on your earlobe?”
“What?” His hand shoots up and he starts to scrub his fingers against his skin. When he pulls his hand away and sees the smear of red staining his thumb, he smiles. “I didn’t say what I was reading. You’d be surprised how quick you can get these women going with just a little erotica.”
“I’m in publishing,” I tell him, plopping down at his side. “I’m very well aware of the avarice appetite for porn out there.”
“Avarice appetite.” He repeats the phrase a few times. “Impressive wordplay there, Harvard.”
I narrow my eyes at him again, and he pushes me away in exasperation.
“What part of ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ makes you think that what I’m actually saying is that I want to talk about it?”
“I’m your best friend. If you’re not talking to me, who are you—“ My words are cut off by the doorbell, and Luke grins excitedly.
“Oh, sorry. I’d love to finish this conversation, but I gotta get that.” He jumps over the back of the couch and walks with a quick pace into the foyer. I follow after him, hovering in the archway, and am surprised when he opens the door and it’s Carrick who is standing there waiting.
“Oh good,” he says, spotting me behind Luke. “I was hoping I’d catch you before you left for China.”
“We’re not going,” I say automatically. “What’s up?”
Luke steps aside and let’s my father-in-law step through the door. He comes to me and wraps me in a hug. “We finally did it, Ana.”
“Did what?” It’s Christian’s voice that asks the question. He comes up behind me and rests gentle hands on each of my shoulders. When his father looks up to give him the answer, a grin spreads wide across his face and he holds up a manila envelope.
“Your senator has completed the investigation. I’ve got the names of the officers who helped Lincoln.”
The envelope disappears from Carrick’s hand in an instant as Luke snatches it away and starts ripping the golden paper apart. I feel like I’m still processing what Carrick has said, but my bodyguard is already tearing through pages, muttering to himself.
“That son-of-a-bitch, I know this motherfucker!”
“Let me see it.” Christian reaches his hand out for the dossier, and after a great deal of hesitation, Luke gives it to him. He’s much more patient in the way he flips through the thick stack of pages held together by a lone staple in the upper left hand corner. He only just barely starts to scan the list of names on the third page before he lets out a disgusted sound and tosses the documents back at his father. “There’s why we had so much trouble starting an investigation. The chief of police is at the top of the fucking list.”
“I know,” Carrick says. “I’ve spoken with his replacement and we’re handling it. He was one of the few arrests we made this morning. The rest of them will be detained by 5 PM tonight. I’ve heard that because it’s you, the judge will be setting an extraordinarily high bail to keep them where they are. With the evidence in this file, I don’t know how they’re going to fight this. Speaking as a defense attorney, this is a nightmare for each and every single one of those men.”
“Nightmare,” I scoff, then I reach out my hand towards Carrick, expecting the file. He looks at Christian as though he isn’t sure I should see it, but hands it over when he nods. The summary of the investigation is pages long and I skim most of it. I don’t even take that much time to read the full list of names. My focus is on the pages of evidence collected behind all of that, things I need to be certain will stick. There are phone records, internal communications, and different kinds of messages with Lincoln himself. On page twelve, there’s an email from Lincoln to the chief of police.
To: Harold Seymore
Subject: [Encrypted] Re: Surveillance
Date: March 13th 2011 08:20 PM
From: Andrew Lincoln
I don’t understand what’s taking so long. She is CONSTANTLY out in the city with only Sawyer watching her. Drop the fucker and snatch the bitch off the streets.
There are text messages that show both of the men who attacked me in that alleyway downtown were Seattle PD.
I toss the file at Christian, unable to get through it all. “You’re sure that’s everyone?”
“Yes,” Carrick says. “We’ve already started interrogating the officers we’ve arrested and of the three, two immediately cracked. They gave us different names, but none we didn’t already have. We’ve got them all, dead to rights.”
I nod, letting myself accept the truth of that statement. Willing myself to let this be the end. Taking respite in the lack of emotion rising inside of me that would make both of those things impossible.
It almost works, until Luke starts trembling with rage.
“No, this is bullshit. Grey, you know as well as I do that these fucks are all buddy-buddy with the city prosecutor’s office and they’re going to get a slap on the wrist at best. Let me take care of this.”
“Mayor standing in the room,” Carrick says, shooting a serious look at Luke. He doesn’t seem to care. He’s focused only on Christian. He looks thoughtful for a long, tense minute, then takes a deep breath and shakes his head.
“He said arrests will be made by the end of the day. This is why we have a criminal justice system, to deal with people like this.”
“Thank you, son.” Carrick shakes Christian’s hand before finally pulling him in for a hug. Then he moves to me. “I wanted this for you.”
“I know. Thank you.” He hugs me, then refuses my offer for lunch, so I walk him out. When I turn back to look at Luke and Christian, they’re muttering quietly to one another.
“I don’t want any more violence,” Christian hisses at him, which makes Luke press his lips together so hard they disappear. “We’re going to let the courts handle this.”
“And when they’re back out there?”
He frowns and tosses the file back at Luke. “You have names now, so get to work. Find out what Lincoln had on these people, and make sure they know we have it too. I want everything you can find on their families. We’ll let the law handle this, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make reassurances.”
Luke straightens his back. “Yes, sir.”
Christian reaches a hand out for me, but stops before he fully leads me out of the room. “Oh, and Sawyer…”
“Failure to report is unacceptable. No more nights away.”
His mouth drops open. “But, sir!”
“I pay you to protect my wife. If she’s in this house and you’re not, what am I paying you for?”
“I-I…” His shoulders deflate. “Yes, sir.”
“I’ll expect daily reports on your progress.” He nods to the folder in his hands, then turns and pulls me from the foyer and straight to Calliope’s playroom.