Chapter 33

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When I get home from work Monday night, I’m exhausted. I’ve spent my entire work day pouring over expense and sales analysis reports, which have been compiled because we’re getting close to fiscal year end and Jack and I are going to have to do an in depth review and presentation for Ros and Christian in a few weeks. I feel like I need a glass of wine to unwind from the hours of tedious work so, before I go into the bedroom to change out of my work clothes, I walk into the kitchen and pour a glass of Sauvignon blanc. Gail is making something that smells amazing on the stove, so I hang back to chat with her, while also trying to subtly take a peek at what’s for dinner. I can’t remember, but I don’t think I had lunch this afternoon, and now that I’m surrounded by the enticing smell of the fresh vegetables and chicken roasting in the oven, I’m ravenous.

While she stirs the pot of mushrooms and chicken stock, she tells me about her weekend in Portland with her sister and how much she enjoyed watching her great niece, who just celebrated her second birthday, playing with sparklers and watching the fireworks.

“It would be so nice to have a little one to look after around here,” She says, sighing longingly, and I choke slightly on my sip of wine.

“What?” I cough and she gives me a slightly guilty smile.

“I’m sorry, Miss Steele. Dr. Grey was over here to drop off the results of Mia’s drug test earlier and I told her I’d put it out there…”

“Wait.. what?” I ask, interrupting her with surprise. “Drug test?”

“Oh yes. It’s in that envelope,” She nods to a large white envelope resting on the counter with the Northwest Hospital letterhead stamped in the upper left hand corner. I reach out to pick it up, but just as my fingers close around the thick paper, the elevator pings and Christian and Ryan walk into the foyer. He gives me my favorite, easy, breathtaking smile when he sees me, and he slides his iPhone into his pocket as he crosses the great room to wrap me in his arms.

“Hey,” I greet him, but instead of speaking he simply presses his lips tenderly into mine. I kiss him back, feeling the warmth from his lips rush through me like an analgesic washing away all the tension left in my body from the long day. I moan appreciatively into his lips, and he gives me a small, adoring smile before leaving another small, quick kiss against the tip of my nose.

“Hey,” He says, at last.

“Dinner should be ready in about 20 minutes, Mr. Grey,” Gail says as she pours the mushroom mixture she’s prepared into the baking pan with the chicken and then slips it back into the oven. Christian thanks her, and she takes her apron off and then disappears through the other side of the kitchen to give us some privacy.

“Twenty minutes…” Christian says, giving me a mischievous look. “Now what could we do to kill the next twenty minutes?”

“Enjoy a glass of wine together,” I say sweetly, “Would you like one?”

“Please,” He says, and I disentangle myself from his arms to get him a glass, or myself one I suppose, since he actually picks up and begins to drink out of my glass. I shake my head, laughing quietly to myself, and pour a second glass of wine.

“What is this?” Christian asks and I look over to see him holding up the envelope on the counter.

“Your mom brought it over, it’s Mia’s drug test results.”

Instantly, he sets down his wineglass and begins tearing into the envelope, fishing out the paper inside, and scanning it quickly. But, once he gets through it, he frowns. Not with disappointment, but with confusion.

“What does it say?” I ask.

“It says she’s… clean,” He replies, clearly surprised.

“Well, that’s good then, right? It means we were wrong.”

“Or there was enough time between the last time she used and when she took this test for it to clear her system. The weekend on the yacht gave her at least… 72 hours, which means that she’d turn up clean for Amphetamines, Barbiturates, Cocaine… basically anything that’s not weed or Benzos…”

“Or she’s not doing drugs, Christian,” I say emphatically but he shakes his head.

“We’ll just keep testing her. Maybe I’ll ask Mom to take her back to have her hair tested.”

I grimace as I look down at my glass of wine, knowing I’m not going to change his mind but also thinking it’s ridiculous to stay fixated on catching her doing something wrong, rather than trying to prevent anything from happening again. She should be going in to see Flynn, she actually seemed to accept and welcome that idea, but I don’t even know if there has been an appointment made for her yet. Besides, I’m not convinced the problem is drugs… She’s been acting off all summer, but not in a way that would make me think she’s picking up a drug habit. She’s being selfish and acting like a spoiled sixteen year old girl, but there’s rationality, however skewed, behind her behavior. That doesn’t feel like drug addiction to me…

“How was your day?” Christian asks, changing the subject and picking up his wine again. He reaches out to take my hand in his, brushing his thumb along the backs of my fingers affectionately, and I smile at him.

“It was fine,” I answer. “Long, mostly and I had a lot of tedious work to do. I’m getting ready for an end of year review with the CEO.”

“That sounds stressful,” Christian says, with a crooked smile playing at the corner of his lips. “I hear he’s a tyrant.”

“Ugh… the worst,” I groan dramatically. “But, he is really nice to look at.”

I giggle as he yanks on my hand and pulls me into his lap, wrapping his arms around me and kissing me again. I playfully rub my nose against his, and he chuckles slightly as he reaches up to brush a loose strand of hair out of my face.

“How was your day?” I ask him.

“Productive. My father called this afternoon to tell me Elena Lincoln tried to counter the offer my mother put in with $1.6 million, which means she has more money than I thought she did. And since I pay her and I was well aware of her financial situation before I took over the salons, it looks like she’s probably stealing from me. But, Andrew Lincoln secured a government contract to cut timber in some overgrowth in the Cascades, which is going to make Lincoln Timber a lot of money. So, there’s that.”

I frown, not understanding why that’s a good thing. “But doesn’t a lucrative contract mean that he could turn his business around and keep you from being able to buy him out?”

“It could… if I didn’t have several contacts on the Washington State Appropriations Committee. But I do, so his contract will be tied up until I take control of his company and then it will be my contract. It’s going to mean an extremely high profit margin for my manufacturing division and that should trickle into Grey Construction, save me some money on my new building.”

“That sounds kind of shady…” I say, carefully.

“It’s not illegal, Anastasia,” He says, and then he sighs. “Mergers and Acquisitions is a vicious world, but it’s what I do, and I do it well. If it makes you feel better, I was told today that the Lincoln Timber labor union is eight days away from going on strike because of unfair labor practices, all of which will be corrected when GEH takes over.”

“Well, that’s something,” I say, but the uncertainty I feel in my stomach doesn’t disappear at his reassurance. I’m not really sure how I feel about Christian using back door deals with politicians to take someone’s company from them… Even if Andrew Lincoln isn’t exactly boss of the year.

“I forgot to tell you this morning,” Christian says, interrupting my thoughts, “but Ros will be coming over tonight. In about an hour or so… We’ve got some things to go over for end of year, and we have to start separating Esclava from GEH. We’ll probably be busy for a few hours, at least.”

“Oh, well… that’s okay. I can entertain myself. Maybe I’ll call Kate and see if she wants to come over.”

He nods and then looks over at the clock illuminated over the stove. “We still have fourteen minutes… and you’ve finished your wine.”

“Whatever will we do?” I ask innocently, and then giggle as he raises his eyebrows at me suggestively. He quickly silences me with a kiss and as I surrender to him, I wrap my arms over his shoulders and pull myself closer to him. His fingers close around my sides and his thumbs brush softly over my hip bones as I open my mouth for his tongue, which begins to move against mine in an insistent and yes, arousing way. I quickly lose myself in the feel of him, the taste of him, allowing it to cloud my mind until I’m melting into him, and he holds me flush against him, clinging to me as though he’s afraid to let me go.

“Bedroom,” He whispers against my lips, and with that one, simple word, everything in the outside world falls out of my mind, and leaves only room for the desire I feel for this beautiful man. He pulls my arms away from his neck and twists his fingers with mine as he turns to lead me down the hallway to our bedroom, pulling me a little too insistently behind him. Heat flushes to my cheeks as I anticipate what’s waiting for me just on the other side of the bedroom door, and the second I’m over the threshold, his arms envelop me, and his lips come crashing down on mine again.

I moan into him as I pull at his suit jacket, letting it fall unceremoniously to the ground, before my fingers start work on the knot in his tie. He tugs at the zipper on the back of my dress, and then untangles my hands from his shirt so that he can pull it over my shoulders and then down past my breasts and hips. He unclasps my bra and pulls it off of me, freeing my breasts, which he then reaches out to cup with each of his hands.

“You’re so fucking perfect,” He whispers, staring down at them reverentially.

I reach up into his hair, pulling his lips back down to mine, but he only kisses me for a second before he pushes me gently back onto the bed. With quick grace, he removes his shirt, and then undoes his belt and the buttons and zipper on his pants. I bite down on my bottom lip, staring up at him hungrily as I watch him undress, and then he falls to his knees so he can wrap his fingers around the lace band of my panties.

He eases them down slowly, his fingers brushing lightly against my thighs as he goes. I feel a tremble rock through me as I see his heated, burning gaze staring into me, at the apex of my thighs, with unconcealed hunger.

“Oh baby,” He says, his voice thick with desire. “I can’t wait to be inside of you.”

“Christian,” I moan. My thighs clench together as the need I feel in my core begins burning hotter, but he moves his hands to my thighs and gently spreads them open again. I let out a sharp breath as I feel his lips press against me, his tongue bathing me as he drags it purposefully up my center and then swirls it tenderly around my clitoris. I writhe against him, reveling in the feel of his mouth, and yet still greedily wanting more. I want all of him in this moment, to be consumed by him, and he’s quick to oblige my unspoken desires.

His strong hands grip tightly to my sides as he pushes me further onto the bed. He climbs over the top of me, leaving quick, sweet kisses against my skin as he works his way up my body. I feel his erection press against me as his tongue brushes against my lower lip, silently requesting entrance. I open my mouth for him, kissing him deeply as blood pulses loud and heavy in my ears and yearning runs real, and rampant through my veins.

He begins to sink into me, slowly, and once he’s buried entirely inside of me, he stills. I moan, and clench around him, but he doesn’t move. Instead, he focuses on my mouth, his lips and tongue dancing tantalizingly with mine as we taste and relish in each other. His hands tangle into my hair, holding me in place while his fingers gently massage my scalp.

When he finally starts to move, it’s slow and so, so sweet. My body bows, my breasts pressing tightly against his chest, as we move against each other, with each other, as one. His mouth breaks away from mine and his teeth begin to graze my jaw and then my chin, before he leans down to press his lips against my neck, softly sucking at the sensitive spot beneath my ear. His pace, though slow and purposeful, pushes us both higher and higher towards the edge of ecstasy until we’re completely absorbed in one another, hanging onto the edge by only the tips of our fingers. Our gasps and moans mingle together, filling the room around us, and as I listen to the strangely musical cacophony, my body begins to heat with the promise of a quickly approaching release.

I’m so in love with this man, and in this moment, lost in the throws of passion with him, I’m nearly consumed by the depth of that love. We’ve been through so much together, through joy and sorrow, through pain and blissful, perfect happiness, and we’ve come out the other side stronger and more resilient than ever. We’ve finally gotten to the place where I feel like I can surrender myself entirely to the connection between us that feels like a powerful cosmic force, and as I allow myself to succumb, I fall freely over the edge and detonate around him, feeling my body fill to the brim with welcome, cathartic pleasure as I cry out his name.

His breathing is harsher as he feels me coming around him, and just after he whispers a profound confession of his love for me into my ear, he reaches his climax and pours himself into me. Our bodies relax in unison as we come down from the high together. His face is still buried in my neck and my arms and legs are wrapped around him, holding him as tightly to me as I can manage. His lips move to mine, kissing me tenderly, and reminding me once more of the depth of his feelings for me.

I look up into his gray eyes, feeling sated and relaxed, completely willing to lay here with him for the rest of the night, but I know that Ros is coming soon and so that is just not in the cards for tonight.

“Dinner?” He asks, in a low voice, and I nod. He pulls out of me, and crawls off the bed, and after we’ve dressed again, he takes my hand and leads me back out to the great room.

Ros shows up only a few minutes after we finish the chicken marsala Gail has prepared, and after a brief hello, she and Christian disappear back into his office where they will remain locked away for, what I assume is going to be, the rest of the night. I try to get Kate to come over, but apparently Elliot has officially accepted that he’s in Seattle for good so they’re out looking at houses with a realtor together. I try to read, but I’m too keyed up to be comfortable with just my own company right now. It makes me miss Luke, and how nice it was always having him around when he was my CPO. So, before too long, I find myself meandering back to Taylor’s office and lurking in the doorway as he checks the security footage displayed on the monitors in front of him.

“Yes, Miss Steele?” He asks.

“You wanna hang out?” I ask, hopefully, and to my surprise, he lets out a low laugh and then motions for Ryan to take his seat. As he makes his way out of the office, he picks up a heavy looking, wooden box.

“Do you know how to play chess, Miss Steele?” He asks, and I nod happily.

“Yeah, my dad loves it.”

“Well then, let’s see how well he taught you,” Taylor says, and he leads me out to the dining room table to set up the board.

I’m either really rusty, or Ray hasn’t taught me as well I thought he did, because very quickly, my pieces are lined up on the side of the board while Taylor still has a full arsenal defending his king. I frown down at the blank spaces between our pieces, trying to decide what the best move is from here but, unfortunately, I’m finding that nearly everything I do will lead to me losing another man. Still, despite the crushing defeat I know is inevitable, there’s a welcome feeling of comfort sitting here playing with him. The way he concentrates very hard on the board before he makes his move and the small, almost vindictive laugh he lets out everytime I make a move that plays directly into his hands, reminds me a lot of being home with Ray. In fact, being around Taylor in general gives me the sense of comfort that I associate with my father. Perhaps this is why I’ve felt a little more at ease since he’s taken over as my CPO.

“No, don’t worry about it, Mom. I’ll find her,” Christian’s voice comes from the hallway, and both Taylor and I turn towards the sound with interest. He’s just hanging up the phone when he comes into view and I watch him take a deep, steadying breath before walking over to the table where Taylor and I are sitting. “Mia snuck out of my parent’s house. I need you to find her.” He says tersely.

“Right away, sir,” Taylor says, and he gets up from the table and heads for his office. I get out of my seat, looking at him with concern and wrapping my arms around him comfortingly. He lets me hold him for only a second though before the leans down to kiss the top of my head and then gently pushes me away.

“I’m going to call Sawyer and send him down to the spot he picked her up at on Friday. If she’s down there again… I don’t know, maybe he can head her off or find out who she’s buying from.”

I nod and then watch him take out his phone and then move across the room after Taylor. It occurs to me then that Ros is still back in Christian’s office alone, so I make my way down the back hallway to see if I can help her at all while Christian is busy trying to find Mia.

The office is a mess, with piles of papers stacked all over his desk and a few scattered around the floor. Ros is sitting in the chair across from Christian’s, carefully reading through a document while chewing absentmindedly on the end of a highlighter.

“Hey,” I say to get her attention and she smiles when she looks up at me.

“Hey, Ana. What’s going on with Mia? Is everything okay?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s probably not as bad as he thinks it is. You know how Christian panics… I wouldn’t be surprised if Mia just wanted to hang out with her friends but couldn’t because she was grounded. They’ll probably find her at a mall or something when they eventually track her down.”

“Mmm,” Ros hums as she turns her attention back to the document in her hand.

“Can I help you with anything?” I ask and she actually looks relieved.

“Actually, yes,” She says, reaching for a stack of papers next to her and picking up another highlighter. “Will you go through these and highlight any of the line items from Esclava? They’re usually marked with the ESC prefix, but sometimes there are miscellaneous items that got missed. If you look through the purchaser column for any instances of Elena Lincoln’s name, you should get all of them.”

“Okay,” I agree, and I take the chair next to her and begin looking through the list. I don’t find very many instances of Elena’s name. Mostly, it’s just Christian or Ros listed in the purchaser column, with a few of the other department heads scattered throughout, but Elena’s name appears the least. I do note though that her miscellaneous expenses do seem to be larger dollar amounts than what the other department heads request…

“I hope I didn’t miss any…” I say hesitantly as I hand the list back to Ros and she looks briefly at it before nodding.

“Don’t worry, she doesn’t purchase much so you shouldn’t find her name on there very often. It’s one of the things I’m going to miss about Esclava. High revenue, low overhead. Most of the profit that comes in from the salons goes directly into cash reserves. That’s actually how we paid for the security system overhaul Christian did a few weeks ago. It was nice having something profitable that didn’t require huge upfront investments to keep it growing and bringing in money… It’s almost a shame to let it go. Almost.”

“Is that normal?” I ask her, trying not to sound too suspicious. “For salons to be that profitable, I mean.”

“Oh god no, that’s definitely the Grey Touch at work. When Christian told me he wanted to buy the salons, I thought it was going to be a money pit, but he proved me wrong. He always has a plan and he always knows best in the end.”

“Hmmm,” I frown, but I don’t get to press her further because my phone begins vibrating on the desk next to me.

“Mia?” Ros asks, only half interested as she turns the page of the document in her hand.

“No, Luke…” I reply and I give her a brief smile as I get out of my chair to take the call in the hallway. “Hey, Luke. Did you find her?”

“No, but you need to get down here,” He says tersely.

“Down where?”

“Beacon Hill. I’m on Dearborn and Rainier.”

“I thought you were supposed to be looking for Mia?”

“I drove around but I didn’t find her. What I did find was Elena Lincoln, and, trust me, you need to get down here right now.”

My breath catches in my throat as I stand there, mind whirling. “What did you find?” I whisper.

“I think I know why her salons are so profitable, and it’s not legal. But I need proof and to get proof, I need help.”

“I can’t…” I groan. “I can’t go anywhere without security, Luke. I promised I wouldn’t.”

“So bring Taylor with you, he’s more help to me than you are. Just don’t tell Mr. Grey.”

“Why?”

“Because if this is what I think it is, we need to keep him as far away as possible. We don’t want him to be implicated in any way.”

“Oh my god… it’s that bad?”

“Maybe, but I need to get a better look at what’s going on to know for sure. Get down here.”

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll text you when I’m on the way.”

He starts to say something, but I see Christian coming around the corner so I hang up the phone and try not to look guilty. “Did you find Mia?” I ask him.

“She left her phone at home,” He says bitterly. “But we will. I’m just going to go in and tell Ros that we’re going to have to pick this up tomorrow. I’m going over to my parents’ to wait for Mia to get home.”

“Do you want me to come?” I ask, nervously. I want to be there for him if he wants me to be, but I also don’t want to miss whatever it is Luke may have found… Thankfully though, Christian shakes his head.

“I don’t know how late I’ll be, and I don’t want to keep you up. Will you be okay here alone, or do you want me to send Kate over?”

“No, I’ll be okay. I’m bound and determined to beat Taylor at chess at least once tonight.” I say, smiling at him to try and cover the guilt I feel from lying. He doesn’t notice though, because he nods and then leans down to kiss me quickly on the lips before walking past me into his office. I hang back in the great room as Christian apologizes to Ros for wasting her time while they walk to the elevator where Ryan is waiting, ready to go. The moment the doors close behind them, I hurry forward into Taylor’s office, but when I get there, I find him already on the phone.

“Yeah, I have it,” He says distractedly into the phone as he begins to put several things into a black, canvas bag. He turns to look at me, his jaw tight, and then turns his attention back to his phone conversation. “I’ll be there twenty minutes.”

He hangs up without any kind of salutation and looks very seriously at me. “I need to get downtown, but I’m under strict instructions not to leave you alone.”

“You mean… you’re going to let me come with you?” I ask hopefully and he nods.

“I don’t really believe this is particularly dangerous, just something we need to do without being seen. I think you can handle that, if you do what I ask you to do. Now, go change into something dark, but not obvious. We’re not in a spy movie, Anastasia. Keep it casual.”

“Okay,” I tell him and I turn around and quickly head for mine and Christian’s bedroom. Pulling a pair of dark colored jeans from my drawer and finding a long sleeved black t-shirt to go with it, I change as quickly as possible. Once I have my chucks laced up, I put my hair in a ponytail and then head back out to the foyer where Taylor is waiting for me. He’s changed too, into a pair of black jeans and a dark, navy hoodie, and the black canvas bag is draped over his shoulder.

“Ready?” He asks and I nod. “Then let’s go.” He pushes the button to call the elevator and then ushers me inside. I expect him to lead me to the Lincoln, but he pulls out the keys for his own car instead. I climb into the front seat and then sit anxiously as he pulls out of the parking garage and heads to South Seattle.

There is a remarkable difference between this neighborhood and the one where I live with Christian. The buildings are run-down, some of them vacant and boarded up. There are empty concrete lots lining the street that are filled with trash and the walls surrounding them are covered in graffiti. Taylor pulls along the curb and puts the car in park, then scans the area around us, his gaze lingering on the bar across the street, before turning to look very seriously at me.

“If I tell you to do something, you do it. Understand?” He asks.

“Yes,” I reply, and he nods and then takes his bag out of the back seat. We get out of the car and walk along the sidewalk, keeping our heads down and saying nothing until we come up along side a black SUV. He stops and reaches out to open the back door for me and I look at him curiously but get inside when he gives me a sharp, subtle nod.

“Hey, Ana,” A voice says behind me and I jump, but catch my breath when I see Luke in the third row behind me, typing on a laptop. Taylor climbs through the door on the opposite side of me and throws the bag down on the floor at my feet.

“Okay, what do you have?” He asks, and Luke turns the screen of the laptop towards us. It looks like security camera footage of a dive bar, or a pool hall, maybe? There is a large square room in the picture and it looks like there is a bar along the far wall with several padded bar stools pushed up against it. It’s fairly empty and as I stare at the bartender leaning against the bar talking to his one and only patron, I feel a little deflated. What the hell does this have to do with Elena?

“How many?” Taylor asks.

“Three,” Luke replies, “It’s been a slow night.”

“And how do you get in?”

“My best guess is through the back office. I pulled the building plans from the city hall website and this bar was used as a speakeasy during prohibition. There’s a door back there that conceals a staircase which leads down to the underground rooms.”

“No security footage from the basement?”

“I can’t get a signal for anything, and honestly, I doubt it. If I was running an illegal underground business, I probably wouldn’t want cameras around.”

“Illegal underground business?” I ask, but they ignore me.

“So we’re going to have to get in there,” Taylor infers, and I look between them, thoroughly lost.

“What is going on?” I ask, “What’s down there?”

Luke looks over at Taylor, waiting for confirmation, and when he nods, Luke turns back to me. “When I was digging into Elena’s financial information, trying to find a transaction that could link her to TMZ, I starting seeing some things that didn’t add up. Well, not really… everything was just too perfect and normal. The only deposits came from GEH, and the only transactions were automatic bill payments for her mortgage or utilities, or the occasional charge to a restaurant or store, but nothing extravagant. There weren’t any charges for vacations, lavish shopping sprees, expensive spa retreats… All things I know Elena Lincoln loves and all things that I know she’s had to pay for in the past few months. Then I noticed that all the accounts I was looking into were opened before her divorce was finalized in 2009.”

“That’s only a year old, why would that matter?” I ask.

“Because in 2009 her name was Elena Lincoln, but that’s not the case anymore. I did a background check and pulled her credit report and found out that after her divorce was finalized, she changed her name back to Elena Kelly, her maiden name, but she didn’t change any of her old financial information. When I started looking into Elena Kelly, that’s when interesting things began popping up. She’s been using her married name in public to hide a second business she’s been running underground.”

“What?”

“That bar?” He says, pointing to the run down building Taylor parked across from, and then gesturing back down to the surveillance footage on his laptop. “This bar. It’s owned by Elena Kelly.”

“Okay, so she owns a bar. Are you saying she stole the money from Christian to open it?”

“No…”

“Well, then, if she’s not stealing from Christian to keep it afloat, or whatever, then why does it matter if she owns a bar?” I ask.

“Because it isn’t a bar,” Luke says, and he pulls his laptop back to him. I sit there, anxiously waiting while his fingers move furiously over the keys of the computer and when he turns it back to me, there is a website open on the screen on some browser I’ve never seen before for what looks like some kind of nightclub or something called Kink.

“What is this?” I ask, and he looks at me like I’m being obtuse.

“It’s a BDSM club, Anastasia. It’s a place where men can go and pay to have sex with submissive women, and it’s located in the basement of that bar.”

“How did you find this?” I ask.

“It’s on the dark web. She’s gone through great lengths to keep this place a secret. But she’s not as good at it as she thinks she is.”

My mouth drops open as realization begins to dawn on me and my brain begins to work through the impact of Luke’s words. “Oh my god… she’s running a prostitution ring.”

“And she’s laundering the money she makes through Esclava,” Luke says. “That’s why her salons are so profitable. I went and looked through the financials of the salons again, and while they check out on the surface, if you really did the math to compare the number of transactions they have in a day with the number of stylists she has in the building at one time, they’d have to be turning our haircuts and dye jobs every seven minutes. When is the last time you got a haircut from a high end salon in seven minutes? Plus 65% of the transactions that go through her registers, are cash. How many people in downtown Seattle do you think are using cash for purchases over $100 instead of a credit card?”

“So what are we doing here?” I ask excitedly. “Let’s take this to Christian! This is better than just selling photos to a magazine. This is a felony! A serious felony. She could go to jail for… well, years, at least.”

“This isn’t a registered business, Ana. Everything that we have to prove its existence can be taken down in an instant or proved to be circumstantial evidence. We need something concrete,” Taylor says. “That’s why we’re here. I need to get inside and get ahold of something that will not only prove the legitimacy of the business, but that will implicate Mrs. Lincoln and hopefully prove that she’s laundering the profits.”

“So how do we get inside?” I ask. “Is there a secret password or something at the door?”

We don’t get inside,” Luke says. “But there is back entrance Taylor could get through, if you can jimmy a lock and do it without being seen.”

“Security footage?” Taylor asks, serious now.

“Two cameras on the back door. I can disrupt the feed but for only thirty seconds, and I won’t be able to tell what’s on the other side of the door.” Luke replies.

“I’ll take care of it,” Taylor says. Luke shows him the layout of the building according the schematics he downloaded off the internet and they come up with a plan for entry. It’s fascinating to listen to. I don’t care what Taylor said earlier, this feels exactly like a spy movie to me. When the plan is set, Taylor reaches into the bag in the front seat and pulls out a radio and a small earpiece that is hard to notice once he puts it in. He fixes a square, black box, to the strap of the bag and then places it over his shoulder.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Body cam,” He replies. “Stay in the car with Luke. I’ll be back in no more than 30 minutes. If we lose communication for any reason, call the police.”

Luke nods and I give him an encouraging smile as he steps out of the back of the car. We watch nervously after him as he casually crosses the street and then disappears into the shadows around a convenience store three buildings down from the bar he’s supposed to get into. There’s a nerve wracking minute or so of silence, and then his low, gravelly voice comes over the radio in Luke’s hand.

“I’m around the corner. Kill the feed,” He says tersely and Luke starts typing on the keyboard again, concentrating very hard, before picking up the radio and saying, “You’re good.”

I climb into the backseat with Luke and we both stare anxiously at the blank computer screen for the next thirty seconds and when the feed comes back on, we can’t see Taylor.

“Is he in?” I ask and Luke nods.

“He’d tell us if he didn’t get in. Now, we wait…”

The minutes feel like they drag on for hours as I oscillate between staring at the computer screen and staring out the window at the bar. A few more men walk in through the front door, which is good because when Luke switches back to the interior security footage, we can see Elena upstairs. He assures me that means it should be easier for Taylor to get in without being seen. Still, he keeps looking down at the clock in his dash and as we get closer and closer to the 30 minute deadline, I see his cool facade start to falter. What are we going to do if this doesn’t work? Will the police be able to find the evidence needed for us to proceed or is this a situation that would call for a warrant? And if they did have to get one, how likely would it be that Elena could clean everything up in time to avoid being caught? I don’t know…

Thankfully, with three minutes to spare, we hear Taylor’s voice come through the radio. “I’m at the door, kill the feed.” He says quietly, and once again Luke does whatever he does to cut out the surveillance footage.

“Go,” Luke says into the radio and again, we sit in silence until Taylor slides into the back seat of the SUV.

“Did you get it?” Luke asks and Taylor smiles.

“Oh, I got it. She’s a fucking idiot. I got her entire book of business off the computer in her office, including hundreds of documented cash transactions to Esclava.” He holds up a small USB drive, his eyes glinting victoriously at it.

“Excellent,” Luke says, and he too begins smiling broadly. “Then let’s get this back to Grey so we can put this bitch away.”

“With pleasure,” Taylor says, and we get out of the SUV so that we can make our way back to Taylor’s car. As we walk towards the bar, I feel a very vindictive sense of victory wash over me as I stare at it, but my selfish celebration is cut a little short when we hear the loud bang of a door slamming open followed by the distant echos of a woman yelling. Taylor grabs on to me and yanks me roughly behind a car parked against the curb to shield us from view, and as we kneel down out of sight, I ease myself up to look through the car’s windows at the scene unfolding in the alley across the street from us.

“Get your ass back inside, I’m not going to tell you again!” It’s Elena and she’s positively fuming at a small, brown haired girl, who is turned away from me, but who I can see is shaking.

“I’m not doing it. You said I wouldn’t have to do it!” The girl screams back at her and her voice is so garbled with tears it’s hard to hear her from across the street.

“Oh don’t be naive,” Elena spits down at her coldly. “I said we would take it slow but this is the nature of the business and it’s time you got on board with that. You knew this was coming and I’ve given you plenty of time to prepare yourself.”

“No! I’m not doing it! Please!” The girl screams as she crumples to the ground and begins sobbing into her hands.

I feel a deep ache inside of me as, once again, I’m confronted with Elena’s heartless, brutal demeanor being targeted at someone who doesn’t have the power to stand up for themselves. I have to fight the urge to get up and go to the aid of the girl, and I start shaking as I watch Elena yelling at her, demeaning her in full view of the street. There is an overwhelming feeling of impotence surging through me because I can’t do anything to stop what’s happening. I know the best way to help the girl is for us to get home and give what we have to Christian so that the business that this poor girl is caught up in goes away permanently. I don’t want Elena to know we know what’s going on, I don’t want to give her time to do anything to stop us…

But all of that goes out the window as I watch Elena yank harshly on the cowering girl’s arm, pulling her to her feet, and as the girl tries to twist out of her grip, I see her face.

I don’t even realize that I’ve gotten to my feet until I’ve already started to move towards them. It’s like my body is running on autopilot as I launch myself forward to put myself between Elena and the girl she’s wrestling with. Taylor’s hand reaches out to grab onto me, to try and pull me back behind the car with him, but I struggle out of his hold.

“Ana, stop! Get back here!” He commands me, but I don’t listen.

“I can’t,” I reply breathlessly. “It’s Mia!”

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