Chapter 37

walla-walla-prison

Within the next thirty minutes, the great room is filled with Christian’s family. Elena’s book has a total of thirty chapters so we split it into five chapter increments between myself, Christian, Grace, Carrick, Kate, and Elliot and begin combing the pages for anything that could be damaging to Christian, GEH, or our family if it were made public. It takes only minutes for the room to be filled with the sound of pens scratching over paper as we note the page numbers of every horrifying thing she says.

“Oh my god!” I look up at Kate and watch her gag so hard she has to cover her mouth, as though she’s worried she may actually throw up. “Jesus Christ, don’t read chapter seven.”

“What?” Christian demands. He leaves his place on the couch next to me and moves to Kate, taking the book out of her hands and scanning the page she’s reading. It’s obvious in his reaction when he finds the passage that gave her such a hard time.

“Don’t read chapter seven,” he confirms, and despite the fact that I know from Kate’s reaction and the look on Christian’s face that I really don’t want to know, my fingers are suddenly itching to flip back through the pages to read what Elena has said. I stop myself though. Kate has the unfortunate job of reading through the chapters written about Christian’s time as her submissive and Elena has been graphic. Extremely graphic.

“At least she’s not shying away from the fact that she’s the villain,” Elliot says with disgust as he turns the page of his section. “There’s no way she can publish this. She’ll go to prison.”

“She’s already in prison,” Christian says.

“And we have to make sure that isn’t what she intends for you with this manuscript,” Carrick says. “Focus on what you’re reading.”

Kate takes a breath, nods, and turns her eyes back to the pages in her hands, and as Christian takes his place next to me again, I also have to physically prepare myself to continue reading. I’ve been given the chapters that cover Christian’s send off and subsequent first months at Harvard, and what I’ve read so far has me disgusted, angry, and feeling a way towards Christian that I haven’t felt since before we started dating. Like I’m once again an extra in this twisted relationship he shared with her. An intruder.

As I end Chapter 12, I learn, based on the date, that right before Christian kissed me for the very first time, he’d just had phone sex with her. That’s why he was late for the party that night I got drunk with Jose. It wasn’t because he was lost, it was because he was sitting in his car outside whispering dirty things into her ear until she got off. Perhaps that’s why he lost control and kissed me when he took me back to his dorm. She’d left him turned on and unsatisfied and I was just a warm body, drunk and willing, in front of him. Maybe he was picturing her…

Quickly, I shake the unwelcome thought away and turn the page to start the next chapter.

Chapter 13

Anastasia Steele

“Great,” I whisper. Christian looks over at me and once he reads the chapter title, he reaches out to take the pages from me.

“Baby, don’t… you don’t need to put yourself through that.”

I shake my head. “You think I’m not going to read the vile things she has to say about me? You don’t think I need to know what she plans on telling the entire world about how I came into your life?”

“Ana, it doesn’t matter what she says or what anyone thinks. We know that she’s going to try and make you out as the thing that’s ruined me, but you know that you are the best thing that…”

“Don’t!” I quickly withdraw from his outstretched hand. “Don’t touch me, Christian. Not right now.”

“Ana…” There’s hurt reflect in his voice after my rebuke and while I know that’s it’s not fair to hold him responsible for anything said in this manuscript or to punish him for what Elena has written, I can’t help the way this is making me feel. Reading all of this, learning details he’s kept secret from me for years, is ripping open wounds that I thought had healed a long time ago and somehow, despite the ring on my finger and the beautiful baby sleeping soundly in a basket on the floor only a few feet away from me, I’m suddenly once again the insecure nineteen year old girl from three years ago who wanted a boy that couldn’t love her back. I need space, and so I get up and move to the other side of the couch to sit next to Kate.

“Do you need a glass of wine?” Kate asks, but I shake my head and turn my attention back to the pages in my hand so I don’t have to look at the torment in Christian’s eyes.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard her voice. My husband was gone (again), I’d been drinking, and I was lonely. Solitude has never been my forte, it gives me too much time to think. My head was swimming with alcohol and memories of my lost sister and I needed a distraction. It was late in Cambridge, past the time I expected Christian to have parted ways with his brother for the night, so I picked up my phone and dialed his number, thinking at least I could distract myself with my vibrator and another round with my submissive. My dutiful, obedient, faithful submissive.

“Hello, Christian Grey’s phone.”

Those are the first words Anastasia Steele ever spoke to me, and to say they came as a shock would be grossly understated. Christian had been forbidden to have any form of contact with the opposite sex while he was at Harvard. He was mine after all, and I had no intentions of sharing him. But one week into his very first semester, I’d already caught him breaking the rules, and even over the phone, there was something about this girl that had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I knew she was trouble. What I didn’t know was that she would eventually lead to the complete and utter annihilation of everything I’d worked so hard to build.

“Fuck, here it is,” Carrick says. I glance up from the page I’m reading and feel my gut tighten when I see the look of foreboding on his face. Once he has Christian’s attention he looks at the manuscript in his hand and begins reading.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect that day. I’d hoped that what I’d said to him made a difference but I knew, deep in my heart, that I’d lost all the power I’d once held the day Anastasia Steele opened her legs for him. For the first time in almost 25 years, I was vulnerable, and though I’d refused to show it, when Christian took the stand I felt as though I was going to cry, or scream, or maybe just vomit all over the table in front of me.”

“I can’t recall most of his testimony. It’s all hazy to me now, like the vague memories you’re left with the morning after a night of too much drinking. But the most important question I remember with perfect clarity. The prosecutor asked, ‘were you subjected to any sexual contact, initiated by Mrs. Lincoln, on April 14th 2003’, and before the judge, Anastasia, his family, and God, Christian responded with an absolute and resounding, ‘no’. He lied. He’d done as I told him to do and lied. Starting GEH was that important to him. Important enough that he committed felony perjury and betrayed everyone who loved him, all for money he would have gotten anyway if he’d just waited three more years.”

“Somehow, after months of feeling him slip from my grasp, I’d reeled him back in. I knew with that one word that he’d lose the trust and support of his family and the love and devotion of the girl who’d stolen him from me. He was mine again, and even as he told me that he never wanted to see or hear from me again, even as I transferred the money to start his company that I’d promised in exchange for his lie, the money which was supposed to be the last exchange we ever had, I knew he was mine. He fought it. He’d spent months alone following the trial, single and shunned from his family, and he never reached out to me. Not until New Years Eve, 2008, when he’d called me just before midnight, feeling rejected again by the love of his life. The moment I heard the vulnerability in his voice through the phone, I hooked him, brought him back into my control, and together, we built an empire.”

“She said it…” Elliot says. “She said you lied under oath for money. That GEH was built on a bribe.”

“So what do I do?” Christian asks his father. “How do I keep this from getting into the hands of a publisher? Sue for defamation of character? For libel?”

“You can’t sue for libel if what she says is true,” Carrick replies. “She isn’t lying, Christian.”

“She’s writing about me without my permission. She intends to make a profit off my name, surely there is something I can do to stop it.”

“Technically… she’s writing an autobiography. You were a part of her life and she’s telling her life’s story. What she’s written is factual. She doesn’t make assumptions…”

“Doesn’t make assumptions?” Christian interrupts him. He flips back through the pages he’s reviewed, scans the text, and chooses a passage to read aloud. “It’s taken years of deep introspection to divine what makes her hold over him so much stronger than mine. She’s not more clever or more manipulative. She offers him no competitive advantage in the business world while I have time and time again helped GEH expand and prosper. She’s not willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead because her moral compass is stagnant and absolute. No, the power she wields over him is much more simple, instinctual even. As much as it wounds my ego to admit, Anastasia Steele is better at sucking dick than I am.”

Elliot snorts and then covers his mouth to hide his growing smile, and Grace turns a sharp look on him.

“This isn’t the time, Elliot,” she admonishes him.

“What?” he replies, innocently. “I thought we were debating the factual accuracy of what was written? Is he arguing that’s not true?”

“Of course it’s true,” Christian says, but the moment the words are out of his mouth, he frowns and shoots an apologetic look at me. “I-I… What I mean to say is… Shut the fuck up, Elliot.”

“What about her NDA?” I ask. “Don’t all GEH employees have to sign one?”

“Yes,” Christian says, perking up slightly. “Yes, they do.”

He disappears into his office, though none of us continue reading in his absence. Mostly everyone stares at Carrick, but while Grace, Elliot, and Kate all look hopeful, I can’t ignore the regretful impatience clear in his expression. Like he’s dreading having to give someone bad news.

“Here it is,” Christian says, brandishing the papers towards his father as he comes back into the great room. “Signed, March 19th 2009. Elena Lincoln.”

“So she can’t publish anything about Christian without being in violation of this NDA,” Kate says. “He can stop her. He can sue for an injunction.”

“No.” Carrick shakes his head. “You can’t sue for violation of an NDA until there’s been a violation. Writing this novel, sending it to another covered entity under that NDA with no clear threat to do anything with it is not a breach. Until this manuscript is placed in a publisher’s hands and a judge rules that this autobiography is in violation, she hasn’t broken your agreement. If both of those things happen, you may be awarded damages and maybe those damages will be significant enough to offset the profits she’ll make from selling her story, but by that point…”

“By that point, the damage has been done,” I answer for him.

“Exactly.”

“So what do I do?” Christian says, his frustration clear now. “How do I stop this?”

“You give her what she wants,” Carrick says. “She sent it to you, not directly to a publisher. Clearly, she wants something from you.”

“She didn’t send it to him,” I argue. “She sent it to me.”

“Knowing that you would tell Christian,” Carrick says, but I shake my head.

“No, if this were meant for Christian, if she wanted something from just Christian, she wouldn’t have involved me. She knows that I’d never agree to Christian associating himself with her in anyway again. If that’s what she wanted she’d have been more secretive. She’s reaching out. She thinks showing me her hand will bring me to her.”

“Which it won’t,” Christian says dismissively.

“Won’t it?”

He looks down at me with a furrowed brow. “Of course not. You’re not going to a prison, Ana. Absolutely not.”

“We don’t have a choice, Christian. This isn’t just about avoiding embarrassment or a scandal that could hurt your business. This is about you once again facing criminal charges. We can’t just ignore this.”

“She’s right,” Elliot agrees. “And we all know Elena won’t just give up if you don’t give her what she wants. This is a clear threat, and she makes good on her threats.”

“But what could she possibly want from Ana?” Kate asks. “If she wanted a buy out, she would go to Christian.”

“And she’s in prison. It’s not like money is going to do her any good when she’s behind bars,” Elliot adds.

“No,” Carrick says. “But she’s only got five years before she’s on parole, four and some change now. Coming out to a big payday could help her in a lot of ways.”

“But again… if it was money she was after, she would have written to Christian,” Kate says. “Whatever she wants has to be something she can only get from Ana, or from both of you, and really… there’s only one way to find out what that is.”

“We have to go talk to her,” I agree. “Together, as a united front. Be clear right off the bat that she’s not going to separate us, come between us, or play us against each other. Not anymore.”

Christian shakes his head. “No, you’re not going.”

“Christian…”

“No, Ana. I’m not taking you to negotiate with Elena Lincoln.”

“Why? So I don’t mess up whatever deal you’re going to make with her with my stagnant moral compass? Because you think that what she wrote about me here was correct? That I’m not as clever or shrewd as she is and that somehow I’ll go in there and fall for whatever master manipulation technique she has planned for us? I’m not useless, Christian. There is nothing she could say or do that would blind me to what she really is or what she’s really trying to do. I can handle myself against Elena Lincoln.”

“You think I’m worried about Elena?” he asks, and when I cross my arms, he lets out a humorless laugh and turns towards the foyer.

“Taylor!”

It takes a few seconds, but Taylor rounds the corner from the security office and stands expectantly in the entrance between the foyer and the great room.

“Yes, sir?”

“Will you bring me the box you found in Anastasia’s graduation gifts?”

Taylor glances uneasily at me. “Uh… sir?

“Please.” Taylor nods and disappears back into his office for a moment, and when he returns, he holds out a small, brown gift box with a piece of twine wrapped around it. Christian takes it in his hand and then looks up at me.

“You asked why security had been tightened in the hospital, why Taylor was interviewing the entire nursing staff? He found this box on the gift table when he went to collect your things from the arts center after graduation.”

He tosses the box to me and when I catch it between my hands, it rattles. I feel a sense of foreboding when all six pairs of eyes turn to watch as I unravel the twine and slowly lift the lid. Inside, nestled carelessly at the bottom of the box, there’s a small golden locket, which, unfortunately, I recognize immediately.

“This is Leila’s,” I say quietly. “I asked her about it when I first started working at GEH. There’s a picture of her grandmother inside of it, she wore it every day. She was… she was wearing it the day she saved me.”

“Open it,” Christian says, but when I glance up and see the hard look on his face, I’m not sure that I want to. This is it. Proof that he got to her. He wasn’t lying. Leila really is gone.

I reach into the box, tangle my fingers through the long gold chain, and slowly pull it out. The small heart locket twirls innocently as it dangles over the box, but it’s like staring murder in the face and the sight of it makes me sick. Part of me hopes that’s what has Christian overreacting so much, that it’s the locket itself, the physical proof of Leila’s death, that has him so paranoid, but when I pry open the hinge and see what’s inside, that hope is squashed.

The locket no longer contains the photograph of Leila’s grandmother. Instead, it’s my face that looks up at me. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s me… it’s hard to tell because the face of the girl inside is obscured by a smear of something that looks horribly like blood. The juxtaposition between the smile on my face in this picture and the dark red color shrouding all of my features until I’m nearly unrecognizable is a clear and deliberate threat. Silent, but powerful.  As I close the locket in my hand, the saliva pooling in my mouth begins to sting my cheeks, and while I try to swallow it, I glance nervously down at Calliope.

“Have you considered that this could be a ploy by him?” Christian asks. “That Elena never meant to send that manuscript to you, that someone else did, and that if we go down to the prison to speak to her about it, we’ll find that something else is waiting for us? What if that package had your name on it because was meant to draw you out of this apartment, to isolate you so that he can try to take you again? Once we’re inside that prison, we’re not in control anymore. We have to do everything the guards in charge tell us to do, go where they tell us, and we already know he’s bought off the police. I highly doubt that’s where his power stops.”

“So, we take security…”

“No.” He shakes his head again. “That’s not good enough anymore. I don’t care if you have Sawyer with you, or Taylor, or the whole fucking military. I’m not going to knowingly put you in harms way and whether this is a trap being laid by him, or Elena playing games, this is a risk. I refuse to take the bait, Ana.”

“So, what do you want to do, Christian?” Carrick asks.

“Tomorrow morning, Taylor and I will drive up to Gig Harbor alone and I will talk to her. If she really is behind this, I’ll put an end to it.” He looks over at me again. “I promise.”  

“And how do you propose to do that?” Elliot asks. “Elena isn’t exactly best known for being reasonable. Or… sane.”

“I know how to handle her. She’s manipulative and self-serving, but she’s not stupid. There’s a way to stop her and, within reason, I’ll take care of it.”

“Great,” I snap, throwing what’s left of my part of the manuscript down on the couch and jumping to my feet. “So we’re right back to where we started. You and Elena will make your deals together behind closed doors and I’ll… what? Sit at home and trust you? Hope that this time it won’t be as bad as perjury or a secretly funded underground brothel?” I scoff, not bothering to hide the disgust on my face before turning back to him. “I really thought we were past this, but I guess we never will be.”

I reach down to scoop the basket that holds my sleeping baby into my arms and storm angrily from the great room to our bedroom. There’s too much anger inside of me, too much pent up energy begging for some form of violent release, but I can’t even pace while I’m holding Calliope for fear the movement might wake her. My jaw clenches as I hold back the furious scream I so desperately want to release into the room until my eyes fall upon the beautiful, frilly, white bassinet Kate has set up against Christian’s side of the bed. After taking a deep breath, I lay the basket over our comforter, gently reach down to take Calliope in my arms, and lay her down inside of her perfect little bed.

Her face bunches together as I withdraw my arms, but she doesn’t wake. She looks serene, peaceful, and while I watch her lying there without a care in the world, I feel the passionate anger inside of me recede and tears over the feeling of loss and rejection that consumes me every time I think of Christian’s involvement with Elena begin to well in my eyes.

It’s the same hurt I felt reading through Elena’s words tonight, so maybe, beneath the anger, that’s really all I’m feeling. I know Christian has changed. I know now that he would never make the same choice that he made when he was 19, so I shouldn’t worry about him speaking to her anymore. But she’s the problem. Not just for the horrible things she’s put us through or that we know she’s capable of doing, but on the basser level of what she represents. A time when loving Christian wasn’t easy. A time when he was satisfied, fulfilled even, with someone else, someone I hate. That she’s the only other person he’s ever shared his body with, when I never have, and while I never want to, the fact that he has feels as though it gives her some kind of power that I’ll never be able to take no matter how far he pulls away from her. Maybe that’s not fair, maybe that’s unreasonable and illogical, but the pain I feel from knowing that at one time he took pleasure in sleeping with her is very, very real, and it’s never felt more potent than tonight, after reading her describe it to me in clear, explicit detail.

The door opens behind me and closes with a soft click, but it remains so quiet inside the room that I can hear each and every footprint across the carpet until they stop directly behind me.

“I would never betray you,” Christian says quietly, and I once again have to take a deep breath to stop the tears leaking over my lower lids from becoming much more forceful before I turn around to face him.

“Not intentionally,” I agree. “But whatever she wants… you know it’s not going to be as simple as money.”

“I know.” He nods. “But I also know my limits, and yours, and I’m not going to cross those lines just to make a deal with her.”

His eyes are sincere but not comforting, so I look away from him and down at the floor. He reaches up and brushes his thumb over my cheek to wipe away my tears.

“You don’t believe me?”

“That’s not it. I know you want to do right by me, Christian. I trust that at least.”

“Then why are you crying?”

“Because you fucked her,” I whimper. “While you were chasing me, and kissing me alleys, and fuming over Carter and Jose, and making me fall in love with you… you were fucking her. And I knew you were, it’s just… I’ve never had it spelled out in front of me in black and white before. I never had to face the actual crossover between the two of us before tonight. That hurts, Christian. She hurts me. You being around her hurts me, and I can’t just go back to feeling like I’m on the outside of this connection that you have with her anymore. I don’t want you around her, I don’t want you alone with her. If you’re going down there, the only way that I am going to be okay with it is if I am by your side.”

“Ana… it’s not safe.”

“So we make it safe,” I argue. “We hold more power than you give us credit for. We’re not prisoners, so we don’t have to let them separate us. If they try, if they tell us our security can’t be around us or that I need to leave your side for any reason, we’ll leave. We just leave. We’ll come back here and we’ll figure out another way to stop her. But you know as well as I do that we’re better when we’re together, Christian. The only time anyone is ever able to gain the upper hand is when they come between us. That’s what she wants to do, that’s what she’s going to try to do. Let’s show her that she can’t.”

He doesn’t answer me right away. Instead, he looks over at Calliope in the bassinet next to us, and after staring at her for what feels like an eternity, he finally meets my eyes again, sighs, and nods.

“Okay. We go together, and we stay together.”

“That’s all I’m asking,” I reply, and as he nods again, I step forward to wrap my arms around his neck and take his lips with mine. This kiss is healing. The moment I feel the heat of his mouth on mine, it seems to wash through my body and ease away the pain and uncertainty Elena’s words have plagued me with. When I pull away, Christian’s mood is markedly improved.

“You know…” he says. “I’d forgotten about Jose. Whatever happened to him?”

I shrug. “He was kind of weird after you and I broke up. He tried to move in way too fast and came on a little too strong… Luke scared him away pretty quick.”

Christian smiles. “Remind me later to give him a raise.” I laugh and kiss him again.

 

The nerves of everyone in the apartment the next morning are palpable, but I don’t know if mine are more severe because of the impending meeting with Elena, or the fact that I’m about to leave my baby in someone else’s care for the first time.

“I pumped this morning,” I tell my father as I cling tightly to Calliope in my arms. “There’s enough milk in the fridge to get you through until we come back. We have a bottle warmer in the boxes with all the baby stuff in the dining room, you can use that or just run the storage bags under hot water from the faucet. Don’t the use the microwave. There’s diapers and wipes and extra clothes in her bag. If she gets fussy…”

“Ana, sweetheart. We’re going to be okay,” my dad assures me. “Trust me, I’ve had a daughter before and we did just fine.”

“Right, of course.” Though it feels as though it may rip my heart out to do so, I step closer so he can take Calliope from me, but the moment she’s out of my arms, I immediately feel bereft.

“We have our phones,” Christian says, and I’m pleased to note he sounds just as nervous as I do. “If you need us for any reason, don’t hesitate to call. We’ll come back right away.”

“Don’t worry, Son. I’ll take care of your little girl, you go do what you have to do.”

Christian nods and then takes my hand. “You ready?”

“Yeah.” I lean over to kiss Calliope’s cheek one last time, then do the same for my father, and after forcing myself to turn away from them both, I let Christian lead me to the elevator where Taylor and Sawyer are already waiting for us.

It’s an hour drive to the Washington State Women’s Correctional facility, and I spend every second of it dreading what’s to come. I know Elena has a price in mind for the manuscript she sent to me, and while I have no idea what that is, I know it’s going to be steep. The longer I have to guess what that price may be, the more nervous I get.

We’re greeted outside of the prison by a severe looking guard, who takes our names from Taylor and then has us escorted through the gates to the main entrance where Christian and I are both searched for weapons or contraband. Once we’ve been cleared, another set of guards lead us down a long sterile hallway and as we approach a desk where even more guards are seated, I glance through the window behind them and realize we’re able to see right into the prison. The inmates are visible, just on the other side of this wall, and in spite of myself, I feel a tiny pang of fear. I didn’t realize we’d be this close…

“You must be Christian Grey,” one of the guards says as we come to a stop in front his desk.

“Yes.”

“Here to see inmate number 24783, Elena Lincoln.”

“That is correct.”

He glances up at us and narrows his eyes. “Wasn’t it you who put her in here in the first place?”

“No, I think it was the prostitution and money laundering that did that…” Christian says dryly, and I feel myself cringe when I see the guards reaction.

“What’s your business here today, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

Christian’s face hardens. “We’re here to see an old family friend. Surely, that’s not a concept that’s foreign to you.”

“No, it’s not,” he agrees, his voice cold. “Inmate number 42783 is classified by Washington State Women’s Correctional Facility to be a non-violent inmate. This means that she is entitled to unsupervised visits with those who have been approved by the board, in this case you, but you are also entitled to have a guard present should you feel it is appropriate.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Christian says.

“Fine. Hanson!” A guard sitting a few seats away stands and looks over at us expectantly.

“Yes, sir?”

“Please show Mr. Grey and Miss Steele to interview room number three. Rodgers over here will fetch the inmate.”

“Yes, sir,” Officer Hanson says. “Mr. Grey, Miss Steele, if you’ll follow me.”

Christian nods and turns to follow the officer past the desk and up a hallway to the right, and as I fall in behind him, I give a shy smile to the guard Christian spoke with. He narrows his eyes suspiciously and the hard, angry lines etched in his face remain firmly in place. As we move forward down the hallway identical to the one that led us to the desk, I can feel his eyes following us, and both Taylor and Luke fall in line behind me, both close enough that their hands brush my arms as they walk. Clearly, he makes them nervous too.

“Alright, Mr. Grey,” Officer Hanson says when we come up to a steel door with a large number three printed next to it. “This door doesn’t open from the inside to ensure the inmate remains secure. I will be just outside, so if you need anything, you can use that phone to dial the front desk or just bang real hard on the door and I’ll be here to respond.”

“Thank you,” Christian says. He steps aside to let me enter first and both Taylor and Luke move forward to each side of the door, like sentries put in place to protect an important diplomat. We both take a seat at the unassuming metal table in the middle of the room, and glance around at the cinderblock walls that feel cold and suffocating.

“Let’s make this quick,” Christian says quietly. “I don’t like the feel of this place.”

“It’s a prison,” I remind him. “I don’t think you’re supposed to.”

The door opens again and Officer Hanson steps inside, followed immediately by Elena, who’s dressed in orange and has cuffs around her wrists. She doesn’t look at us while they uncuff her or offer her thinly veiled threats about being right outside the door. In fact, she doesn’t even turn in our direction until the guards step out of the room and close the door behind them. Once they do, she faces us with a broad smile and I feel my heart sink a little. I’d actually forgotten, through my hate colored memories, how beautiful she was, and after everything I read last night about her and Christian, it’s not a pleasant reminder.

“Christian,” she says, her seductive tone only heightening my aggravation. “You look incredible. You’re much…” She lifts her hands up to her shoulders and holds them their, demonstrating the bulk Christian has added to his upper body over the last few months. “Have you started a new workout regimen?”

“Boxing,” Christian replies flatly, and her smile widens.

“Mmm, you always did like a good fight.” She bites down on her lip. “And it’s starting to look like a fight may love you. You really do look…”

“Enough, Elena,” Christian says, but her smile doesn’t falter.

“Sorry, I’ve spent a lot of time around too many women and like I told Ana last spring, they don’t allow conjugal visits unless you’re married and Andrew just doesn’t count anymore. Not that he’d come down here if I asked.”

“Do you blame him?” I ask icily.

“Oh yes,” she affirms immediately. “For most things actually.”

I scoff. “You’re right. It was so unfair of him to break his marriage vows and molest teenagers behind your back. Oh wait, that was you.”

“You think he didn’t cheat on me?” she asks. “You think all those long trips he took were solely business related. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has children out there somewhere. And.. speaking of children, I expected you to look much different, rounder. I guess I didn’t receive a birth announcement.”

“Funny how that happened.”

“Hmm.” She takes the seat across the table from us and folds her hands on the table. “So? Did we have a boy or a girl?”

We didn’t have anything. You’re not and will never be a part of our child’s life, Elena. If I have my way, she won’t even know your name.”

“So, a girl then,” Elena says, and I roll my eyes.

“We’re not here to discuss our baby,” Christian interrupts. “We’re not here to make idle chit chat. We’re here to find out what it is you want.”

“What I want?”

“For the book,” I snap. “The tell all. The manuscript you put into an envelope with my name written on the front and sent to Escala to drag us all the way down here.”

“Oh… that.”

I let out a huff of frustration and Christian reaches over to place his hand over mine. “What do you want, Elena?” he asks again.

She smiles again and leans over the table. “I want back in the game.”

“What game?”

The game. My favorite game. You know… you watch prison shows on TV and they make you think there’s a certain glamour to this life, intrigue, hierarchies, schemes, and plots… but it’s not true. Most of these women are just here getting their GEDs and participating in vocational programs. Honestly, I’m so bored I could die.”

“Could you?”

“Ana,” Christian chides me, before turning back to Elena. “I don’t know what game you’re talking about, Elena.”

“Then let me make it clear for you. You use you influence, power, money… whatever it takes, to get me out of here, send me off to a quaint but lavish seaside villa in French Polynesia or perhaps along the Mediterranean, and make it so I don’t have to worry about money for the rest of my life, and I’ll give you the name of the man who wants to destroy you.”

The impatient look on Christian’s face vanishes immediately and is replaced with blank shock. “What did you just say?”

She leans in closer. “Better yet, I’ll help you bring him down. Destroy him before he can destroy you. Let’s face it, Christian. You’re outmatched here. You’ve never been a schemer and you have no idea what you’re up against, how deep this goes, how close it is to your inner circle he really is. I can help you. I can protect you, and Anastasia, and your precious little baby… Calliope.”

I stiffen. “How did you…?”

“Like I said, this shit goes deep. He’s not going to stop until he ruins you and you can pivot and maneuver out of his reach all you want, but eventually, he’s going to catch up to you. Eventually, he’ll take everything you hold dear away from you and leave you broken.”

“How do you know who he is, Elena?” Christian asks, and she raises an eyebrow at him.

“You think I wanted to write this book? You think I was just dying to tell the world our story so that when I get out of here, if I get out of here, I’ll be greeted as a child predator? No, I was commissioned. Threatened really. If I didn’t write that book, I’d end up just like Hyun, or Leila, or the countless others you don’t even know about.”

“Who is it?”

“Uh uh uh. That’s not how this works. That name is the only thing I have, so if you want it, you’re going to have to pay the price.”

“God damn it, Elena. Tell me who it fucking is,” Christian says, his anger rising, but she’s not intimidated by him.

“No.”

“You think he’s the only one who can threaten you? You think I won’t go to extremes to get what I need from you when what you’re withholding from me equates to Ana’s safety? What’s to stop Taylor or Sawyer from using whatever excessive force it takes to make you talk? What’s to stop me?”

“Decency,” Elena says simply. “Your conscience. The love you have for Anastasia, who would surely be implicated in anything you chose to do to me. And the love you have for the daughter you want to see grow up, in person, not from behind the bars of a jail cell. You see, that’s the difference between you and him, Christian. There’s nothing in this world he wants more or that is more important to him than seeing you suffer. There’s no punishment too great or too terrifying to dissuade him. That’s why you need me, because I’m the only person in your life who will do whatever it takes. I’m the only person who’s a match for him.”

“Give me the fucking name, Elena!” Christian roars.

“You know my terms.”

He shoves away from the table so violently I actually cringe and both Luke and Taylor move closer to the table as he begins pacing.

Elena sighs and leans back in her chair. “Christian, we can go back and forth all day if you want, but you know in the end that…”

“Did you help him?” he cuts her off.

“What?”

He storms around to her side of the table, leaning so far over her chair that his nose is nearly pressed against hers. “Did you help him? Besides writing this book, what have you done to help him?”

I glance between them nervously, watching the power of wills warring with one another. Christian is furious and his size and temper are terrifying in conjunction, but Elena has a pathological, blood thirsty need for control and so she stares blankly into the eyes of the beast with no sense of remorse or fear.

“Did you help him” Christian repeats.

“Yes,” she finally responds. “In the beginning. Welch was my idea, and Ros. I told him who to go after, when, and how. I gave him the names of the people inside your company most willing to turn on your for a pay out. I told him that the best way to get to you was to make you distrust the people closest to you, the ones who would never betray you, the ones who stand by your side no matter what, because once you’d pushed them away, there was no way you could stop him. You’re always at your weakest when you’re isolated and it’s so easy to isolate you.”

“What about Anastasia?”

She shakes her head. “No, I knew that was a lost cause. You’re too in love with her. She could fuck someone right in front of you and you’d take her back in the end. There’s no way to isolate you from her. I’ve tried that, and look where it’s got me.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Christian says. “Did you have anything to do with the plan to kidnap her? With the threats he’s made against her?”

“No,” she says. “Blood and gore isn’t really my style and the things he has planned for Anastasia…” She shudders and Christian’s knuckles turn white as his hands curl into fists on top of the table.

“Ana,” he says, the deathly calm in his voice more chilling than the rage he displayed only moments before. “Let’s go.”

“Go? But we haven’t solved anything. Her book… her…”

“She not going to publish the book,” he interrupts me. “Not if she has any say in it, and if she’s already sent it to him, we’re wasting our time here anyway.”

“And what about him?”

“We’ll handle it. I’m not making a deal with her to lessen her prison time.” He turns back to Elena. “In fact, in five years, I will be here doing everything in my power to see that you don’t make parole. You deserve every second you spend in here, you evil bitch.”

“Christian, I promise, I’m trying to help you,” Elena says, but he ignores her and reaches his hand out to help me out of my seat. I take it, stand, and begin moving towards Luke and Taylor, but Elena’s voice stops us again.

“Christian, please!” she practically shrieks. “You don’t understand how far he’s willing to go, what he’s willing to do… He’s fucking insane. He’s never going to stop coming after you.”  

His back stiffens and he slowly turns around to face her again. “Good,” he says, with the same frightening calm. “Because the next time comes for Anastasia or my daughter again, I won’t be unprepared and I’ll fucking kill him. When you see him again, you tell him that.”

“Please,” she repeats, begging now. “Get me out of here. Let me help you.”

“Give me the name, Elena.” He stares her down and for the first time since I’ve known them, she cowers slightly under his glare.

“I can’t,” she whispers. “He’ll kill me too.”

“Then you can burn in hell.”

He turns back to me, takes my hand, and without a second look over his shoulder at the trembling woman who, just seconds ago, held all the power, he bangs on the steel door and leads me back out to the hallway.

“We’re finished,” he says to Officer Hanson. He nods and first directs the guards outside to collect Elena, and then leads us back down the hall to the main front desk. As we pass, the main guard watches us with an almost venomous kind of vindictiveness clear on his face.

“You have yourself a real nice day, Mr. Grey,” he says coolly, and while Christian doesn’t stop or respond, he grips tighter to me and pulls us more quickly towards the main door.

There’s no pause as we get into the back of the SUV, even to put seatbelts on. The moment the doors close behind us, Taylor hits the gas and Christian starts barking commands.

“Taylor, I want new background checks and investigations done on anyone who has come into contact with myself or Anastasia in the last sixteen months. My family, Kate, Ros, Flynn, lawyers, doctors, our security team, employees at GEH, everyone. No one is exempt, everyone is a suspect. I want to know every detail you can find, specifically anything that could connect them to Elena Lincoln or a mutual acquaintance between us.”

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds.

“Sawyer, I want to know who has been in that prison, who sorts her mail, who monitors her phone calls, who approves her visitors, and who those visitors have been. No one goes in to see her from this moment on without me knowing about it.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says.

“We’re not just playing defense anymore,” Christian says. “We’re going to find this motherfucker, and when we do, he’s going to wish he’d never heard of Christian Grey.”

Next Chapter

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