That night, I wake abruptly as though I’ve just escaped a nightmare. My heart is beating wildly in my chest when I sit up straight in bed. My breath comes too quick and shallow for me to calm myself. I try to grasp onto the remnants of my dream slipping away like wisps of smoke, but there aren’t any frightening images in them. I’d been dreaming of Christian and a summer day on our yacht in the middle of the sound.
A new fear moves to the forefront of my mind, and I reach down to my stomach in alarm. There isn’t any pain though, or even queasiness. I’m not bleeding. I’m not uncomfortable. I feel fine. The darkness around me is still, except for Kate breathing peacefully in the bed next to me, and nothing seems to be disturbed.
I glance over Kate to the alarm clock on Christian’s nightstand. It’s 2:37 AM, and I groan. As I fall back into the pillows, I reach over for my phone out of habit to check any notifications that might have popped up while I was sleeping. There’s a missed call and a voicemail from Christian he’d left just after 1 AM. With a cautious look at Kate, I press play on the message, and pull my phone to my ear.
It’s quiet, and it stays that way long enough that I think for a moment he must have butt-dialed me. My fingers moves to delete the message just as his voice comes through the phone and the sound is so rough and broken, it grates against my eardrums like sandpaper.
“You promised me forever,” he slurs. “All I’ve ever tried to do, all I’ve ever wanted, was to love you enough to deserve forever. And now I’ve fucked it up and I’m going to lose you–No.” He changes direction quickly, and I can almost hear him shaking his head. “I won’t lose you. I won’t. Your heart beats, my heart beats.” Another long beat of silence. “I’ll make fucking sure of it.”
The message ends with a click and my heart starts beating violently in my chest. The morbid tone of his words lingers in my ears and brings goosebumps to the surface of my skin. I quickly dial his number and wait anxiously for him to answer, but I get his voicemail.
I try to tell myself that’s a good thing. It means he’s gone to sleep and he’ll wake in the morning with a much clearer head. More painful, but definitely clearer.
With a text to remind him how much I love him and a request for him to call me when he wakes up, I set my phone back on the nightstand and try to get back to sleep. It’s pointless though. The worry I feel over Christian’s voicemail plagues me through the rest of the night, pulling me down into constantly fluctuating waves of tears, until the sun comes up and the alarm clock chimes shrilly from the other side of the bed.
“Mmmm,” Kate moans, stretching her whole body before she even pries her eyes open. “Morning, Annie.” She turns to me, the ghost of pleasant dreams still present on her face. When she sees my puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks, it all melts into concern. “What’s wrong?”
I reach up to wipe the moisture from my eyes and take a misery filled breath. “Christian called last night. He didn’t sound good.”
“How not good?”
I shake my head, and she frowns.
“Well, Elliot’s with him. If there’s one person who knows how to get Christian through his bullshit, it’s him.”
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.” I pull back the covers and get out of bed, but stop when Kate calls my name. I turn inside the doorframe to the bathroom.
“What did he say?” she asks.
“Nothing, it’s fine.”
But it’s not fine. Nothing about this is fine and I can’t do this anymore. This is going to end today. When Christian comes home from work, we’re going to have it out. And no matter how ugly it gets, I’m not going to run. I’m not going to back down. He’s going to see it my way if it kills him, because what we’re doing right now, is slowly killing me.
The gradual roll of my morning sickness begins to rear its ugly head, so I go to the medicine cabinet before I hop in the shower. I expect my nausea lozenges to be on the 2nd shelf waiting for me, but they’ve been replaced by an orange prescription bottle. The label tells me it’s the medication Dr. Baker prescribed for me during my visit yesterday. I’d completely forgotten about it and hadn’t called Abby to have it picked up. Christian must’ve had Andrea do it, and holding that bottle in my hand makes me only more resolved about my plans for tonight.
We can do this. We love each other. There’s nothing we can make it through.
No matter what.
After my shower, I pick one of Christian’s button down shirts from his closet and tuck it into a high-waisted pencil skirt so that it billows over the top. It smells like the cleaners, rather than my husband, but I can almost feel his touch being wrapped in the fabric. Like the empty sleeves are the same as being held in his arms. The sense of comfort I glean from it gives me a reassuring kind of certainty that keeps my head held high while I move around Kate in the bathroom, then go get Calliope ready for the day.
When we get to GEH, there’s a tiny glimmer of hope in the back of my mind that Christian might be waiting for us. He hasn’t seen Calliope in over a day and that’s always really rough on him. But the only person who greets me once we step off the elevators on the seventh floor is the receptionist who mans the desk in front of Calliope’s daycare. She smiles and greets me the same as she always does, and Calliope runs to play with her friends the moment I set her on the rug of the playroom just like it was any other morning. I watch her for a few minutes while I try to call Christian again, then call her over for a kiss goodbye when I immediately get his voicemail.
“Mary,” I say to the receptionist as I come back into the hallway.
“Yes, Mrs. Grey?”
“If my husband comes down here to see Calliope, will you let me know?”
“Sure, you’re at Grey Publishing now, right?”
My face falls. Good news travels fast, I see. “Yeah.”
She smiles, despite my less than enthused reaction, and makes a note while I head for the elevators with my security team. My Phoenix team is already assembling for the meeting that’s now become part of our daily routine, so I let them know I’ll just be a few minutes and duck into my office. Christian’s phone once again goes straight to voicemail, so I start to compose an email just in case he’s without a phone charger but is checking his email on the computer at Escala. He doesn’t respond within the five minutes I give myself to check my other emails, so before I duck out for my meeting, I pick up my phone and call upstairs.
“Good morning, Christian Grey’s office. How may I help you?” It’s Andrea who answers, instead of Oliva, and her voice is disrupted by some kind of chaos going on in the background.
“Hey it’s Ana. Can you transfer me to my husband, please?”
“Uh, I wish… he’s not here. I’ve called him like 50 times but his phone is off. We’re getting bombarded with calls and he’s complete M.I.A.”
My brow furrows. “Calls about what?”
“You didn’t hear? Mr. Grey has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics for the Endurance project.”
“Jacqueline is trying to get a statement, Ms. Bailey has been fielding calls from government officials and scientists all morning, and I can’t get the man on the damn phone.”
I blink in shock a few times, only slightly processing what she’s said. The Nobel Prize? The words run like a ticker through my head until I can absorb them properly, and for some reason, the realization makes me think of Carrick. Of all the times Carrick bemoaned his lost legacy when his son dropped out of his alma mater. Now that son could be a Nobel Prize winner.
Talk about a fucking legacy.
“Sorry… I’m just, uh… shocked a little.”
She laughs. “Is that why I can’t reach your husband?”
“Maybe. He… had a rough night last night, I think he’s probably sleeping in.”
“Well, when you hear from him, please tell him to call me. We’re drowning up here.”
“I will. And if he calls you first…”
“Oh, I’ll yell at him.”
For what feels like the first time in days, a genuine smile crosses my lips and, if I could, I would reach through the phone and hug her. “Thank you, Andrea.”
“No problem. Talk to you later, Ana.”
She hangs up the phone and I have to take a breath to stall the new giddy fluttering of my heart. The rush of pride and amazement and sheer happiness I feel over this new piece of news is almost too much for me to handle, but in a way that gives me an enormous amount of relief. It’s a stark and forceful reminder of how much I love that man and how much he means to me, and it warms me from the inside like a fire crackling merrily through a snowstorm.
I pull out my phone and start a new text.
Congratulations! I love you so much and I’m so proud I can’t even put it into words. Call me ❤
I check my phone about every 15 seconds during my Phoenix meeting, which makes it difficult to follow everything my team is telling me. The general direction we’re moving in on Hailey’s book is exactly what I want, but there’s a palpable resentment shining through the window of the conference room with each and every glance from the GP team. It seeps into the conversation surrounding Phoenix until the former GSP team is engaging in nothing but trash talk about their new co-workers.
The silence from Christian makes their catty banter grating.
“Can we stop with the tribalism, please?” I ask, looking up from my phone again. “You’re all the same team now and I need you to act like it.”
Stevens rolls his eyes, while Jacki glares through the window at the persistently antagonistic stares. “They’re the ones making this difficult.”
“No, this is just difficult. It would be less so if we could act professionally.” I glance around the table with an accusatory stare that has each of them expressing some variation of guilt. Now properly chastened, my team picks up with the conversation about edits being done on chapter three, while I turn to look at a new commotion through the window. The bitter looks from the rest of my team have turned curious and moved to reception, where Ros is speaking with Claire. A second later, the phone in the conference room beeps.
“Hey, Ana. Ms. Bailey is here to see you.”
“I’m on my way out.” I push away from the table and ask my team to continue working, then step out of the room. There’s no sense of warm greeting from Ros as I approach reception. She looks annoyed.
“Hey, what’s up?” I ask.
“Is your husband planning on coming in today? Or, you know, responding to a fucking email?”
I frown. “You haven’t heard from him yet?”
She lets out an irritated huff and shakes her head with dismay. “We have an Endurance call with the Prime Minister of New Zealand in forty-five minutes and I do not know enough about the technology to step in for Christian. I need him to come into the office.”
“Okay, I’ll get ahold of him. Hold on.” Taking a few steps away, I once again pull out my phone, but this time, I call Taylor. It rings several times before finally picking up.
“I’m sorry, but the person you have called has a voicemail box that has not been set up yet…”
I hang up and feel a strange sense of foreboding come over me. Ros starts to speak, but I move past her. Several questing glances come my way as I move through the office. The only thing I focus on is the man sitting at the desk next to my door.
“Evan, have you heard from Taylor?” I ask.
He glances up at me, frowning, but not looking alarmed. “Not today.”
“Have any of you?”
The other members of my security team glance between one another, the no clear on each of their faces, and a chill moves up my spine. I turn back to Evan.
“I need you to take me to Escala.”
He looks as though he doesn’t believe me. “Escala? Are you… sure?”
There’s no argument. He picks up his jacket and follows me to the car, along with the rest of my security team. I promise Ros I’ll call her the second I find him, then wait until we’re in the car before I call Elliot. I get his voicemail, and Kate’s, which puts me in a kind of tailspin until I finally call Luke, just to have someone to calm me down.
“Hey, hold on,” he answers in a rushed voice that gets louder as he talks to whoever he’s with. “I need you animals to keep it down while I take this super secret, private phone call with the CEO’s wife.” The joke in his voice is met with the muffled sound of laughter.
“Careful though,” I hear Welch say in the background. “I’ve known Grey for years and there’s nothing that triggers that man more than someone coming onto his wife. Did you hear about the guy who got fired because he glanced at her ass when she was walking out of his office?”
“Did you hear about the eight billion times I got fired because she can’t keep her mitts off me?” He laughs as his attention returns to me. “What’s up, Ana?”
“Why wouldn’t Taylor be answering my calls?”
The merriment in his tone disappears like a snap of his fingers, turning heavy and serious with the very next word out of his mouth. “What happened?”
It takes almost the entire drive to Escala to get him caught up on everything that’s happened since I last spoke with him. He doesn’t say anything when I give him the bad news we’d gotten from the doctor or when I tell him about Christian’s tirade through our apartment the night before. He just listens until my car dips into the shadows of the parking garage, and I let my darkest fear escape.
“You don’t think he’d hurt himself, do you?”
“No,” Luke says, emphatically.
“I keep having this horrible thought that he got into his car while he was drinking and…”
“There’s no way. He loves that car way too much.”
“Ana, I’m sure he’s fine. He would never do anything that would separate himself from you, no matter how low he got. He’d never leave you.”
“Yeah.” The word comes out in a breath, but it’s firm. I believe him, and I cling to that belief as we pull into a parking spot and Evan turns the key out of the ignition. “We’re here, I’ve gotta go.”
“Keep me updated, okay?”
“Yeah. Bye, Luke.” I hang up and toss my phone back into my purse as I follow my security team through the garage. Christian’s Lamborghini is parked exactly where it should be, which at the very least, assuages the worst of my fears. It’s the not knowing what I’m about to walk into that plagues me the entire ride up the elevator.
But the uncertainty turns out to be so much better than the reality.
At first, I think the scene that greets us through the opening elevator doors is just a horrible, PTSD flashback. The table in the center of the foyer has been knocked over and is now lying in a pool of water, surrounded by broken china and scattered flowers. There’s a body shaped indentation in the drywall opposite from us, and on the metal edge of the elevator, there’s a smudged, bloody handprint. As though someone had tried to cling to the wall and had been dragged inside.
The truth of what’s in front of me sinks in only when my security team starts to react. Evan shouts orders to get me back to the car and several hands reach out, either for me or for the elevator buttons. In a panic, I fight through them all and run into the apartment.
“Christian!” My voice echos through the empty foyer, but I hear a weak groan respond from the living room. My heart thuds with relief and I sprint towards the sound. The thud dies when I find it’s source is Taylor.
He’s beaten. Badly. The bruises on his face are dark enough that they have to be several hours old and the blood on his face and shirt has dried, making his appearance shockingly more gruesome. His right wrist is handcuffed to the breakfast bar, and his body lies lip against the wall.
I run to him just as the calls of alarm from my security team echo behind me. He groans when I take his battered face in my hands, but there’s life in his eyes.
“Where’s Christian?” I manage to say. He turns to look at Evan, now towering over me, moaning with pain at each movement. The word he barks out is barely recognizable.
With a nod, Evan and Smith move back into the foyer towards the security office, while Harper and Wyatt start administering first aid for Taylor. I watch them in a daze, my mind repeating the same question over and over again.
Where is he?
“Christian!” My voice doesn’t echo this time, but it sounds hollow. I scramble back to my feet and move toward our bedroom, frantically pulling back the blanket on the bed even though it’s clearly empty, before tearing through our closet and bathroom. He isn’t in his office, he isn’t in the library, he isn’t in the bathroom, or the laundry room… He isn’t anywhere. I call his name again and again as I move through the downstairs, but there’s no answer. I’m just about to start upstairs when I hear a distant call of triumph from the security office.
“Found it,” Evan says, and I start at a dead run for the foyer. I skid through the door to find Smith seated behind the main display screen for the security cameras, rewinding through the footage.
“What is it?” I ask, panting slightly as I come up behind his chair.
“Someone put the override code in at 2:26 this morning,” Evan explains, and the moment he does, the footage stops. I watch in horror as the elevator doors shown in the stream from the foyer roll open and a group of six men, all dressed in identical black with masks covering their faces, file into my apartment. We can follow them through the 2nd second camera in the living room, where they break into two groups. Three of them head upstairs, the other three are confronted by Taylor.
He’s not ready for them. He’s barefoot and dressed in a t-shirt and flannel bottoms. There isn’t a gun in his hand. Against the three hulking figures, dressed in tactical gear and fully prepared for the fight, he never stood a chance, and the fight isn’t pleasant to watch. They surround him almost immediately and the blows he takes are horrifying. The brutality continues for over a minute, until the other group rejoins the first, and they all drag Taylor to the breakfast bar where he’s currently handcuffed
Once they have him secured, the six of them move together into the hallway that leads to my bedroom.
There aren’t any cameras in our room, so I have no way of knowing what happens to Christian until several minutes have passed and they’re dragging him into the hallway. He looks dazed and unsteady as he tries to get the men off him. But once he sees Taylor, something changes in him that makes him more alert and more coordinated. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s adrenaline, maybe it’s fury, but as Christian starts to fight the scene devolves into an absolute nightmare.
I’ve seen Christian angry. I’ve seen Christian fight. But I’ve never seen him in a rage like he is on the screen before me. The violence between him and his attackers is terrifying and almost too sickening to watch. They try to overwhelm him in the same way they did to Taylor, but he moves quicker and avoids being closed in. Somehow, he manages to maneuver in a way that keeps the match-ups one on one, and in those scenarios he has the upper hand. As they adapt though, the match-ups start becoming more and more uneven until it’s just six on one.
The harder he fights back, the harder they do. And it makes what they did to Taylor look kind.
The crack on the wall I’d seen when we came in happens when Christian grabs one of the men trying to subdue him and launches him against it. But while that man falls unceremoniously to the floor, another man comes up and grabs Christian from behind. They struggle with one another until another masked man takes advantage and punches Christian, hard, across the jaw. He stumbles into another man who shoves him roughly further into the foyer, sending him tumbling over the table I’d seen lying on the floor.
Christian rolls through the broken bits of the vase, bloodied and clearly in pain. It doesn’t stop them. Two of the men grab him by the arms and wrench him off the floor enough to drag him back to the elevator. With a last, desperate effort, he grabs hold of the metal edge on the elevator and clings to it for dear life. But his hands are slick with blood, and they slip when the men holding onto him yank harder.
Then the elevator doors close, and he disappears.
I only realize after I nearly collapse on the floor that I’d been holding my breath.
“Mrs. Grey,” Evan says, moving to grab onto me while I wobble unsteadily in front of the monitors. I can barely feel his arms around me. Barely hear the calls he makes for someone to bring me something to drink.
Still unsteady on my feet, I turn to Smith, and blink at him. “What do we do now?”
“We find out where they took him,” an unexpected voice interrupts from behind me. I turn and see Luke hovering in the doorway, looking ashen faced as his eyes practically beg for me to understand how much he feels the pain I’m still too numb to experience, and that he’s here to do whatever he can to stop it.
“Sawyer,” Evan says, mirroring my surprise. I find my balance as Luke moves into the room, so Evan’s hands fall from my arms and we part to make room for my best friend. He looks down at Smith.
“Get out of the way.”
“Sawyer, you’re not–”
“Get out of my fucking way.” Smith blanches under the threat in Luke’s voice, but he doesn’t move until Evan intervenes.
“Let him in,” he says. With a slightly resentful roll of his eyes, Smith gets up from his seat and Luke slides in to replace him. He doesn’t hesitate. His fingers start to fly over the keyboard, and boxes pop-up on the screen in front of him that fill with code that he seems to understand more than I do.
“They got the footage in the garage,” he says robotically, so focused on what’s in front of him that I can’t be certain if he’s communicating with me or just mindlessly parroting what he sees. “They had the code for the elevator, so that probably means they have access to the security systems Escala has in place. And if they do, they know she’s here right now.”
“Then we’re in code black,” Evan says. He turns to me. “Mrs. Grey, I’m going to need you to return to the main residence immediately.”
He waits for me to respond, but I don’t. Not even when he calls my name three more times. While Luke continues whatever he’s trying to do through our system, I stare at the paused security footage that has just unravelled my entire world. It’s not the elevators that represent the last place I saw him, or even the trail of blood that leads there that has my attention so captivated. It’s the time stamp in the bottom right hand corner.