Chapter 43

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“Alright, Mrs. Grey. How’s that?”

I look up at my reflection the mirror in front of me and frown. This morning, I’m going to be making my first national television appearance and the makeup artist at the Today show has painted my lips bright scarlet. It makes my eyes look heavy and my skin more pale, something I don’t need help with. It’s too much.

“Umm…”

“Get that crap off of her,” Lydia says, coming up behind me. “Her makeup should be neutral, flawless, and above all else, understated. She’s an author, not Katy Perry.”

“Right,” the makeup artist says. She seems bitter as she picks up a makeup removing wipe and begins scrubbing my lips down while Lydia leans against the counter and stares at me.

“You ready?”

“Yes.” I try to exude confidence, even if I don’t feel it.

“Good. I’ve just talked to the stage manager and it looks like Lauer is going to try and turn this into a Dr. Phil special. You are not going to let him. People don’t buy sad books, Anastasia. They buy hopeful books. You will not let this interview be about what has happened, you will make it about how you have survived. This book is about strength and the resilience of hope. You got, that?”  

“Yeah. Of course.”

She nods. “Then go get yourself on the New York Times bestseller list. You go on in twenty minutes.”

I smile at her as she pushes herself away from the counter and claps me on the arm, then let out a long, calming breath into the mirror. When my makeup is finished and I’m left alone to collect my thoughts, my eyes flit down to my phone. Unfortunately, it’s 6:50 in the morning in New York, so not even 4 AM in Seattle, which means Christian probably isn’t up yet. Thankfully though, he texted me his reassurances last night so I’d have them to read over and over again before I go on air this morning.

Just go out there and be the woman I fell in love with and you’ll capture the heart of everyone watching.

I smile down at the screen and then glance over my shoulder to make sure no one is coming to collect me for my interview before deciding to try and call Christian anyway. I’m not there after all, and he usually doesn’t sleep as well alone. But, after dialing his number, I wait through a long litany of droning rings before I finally get his voicemail. Ignoring the sinking feeling of disappointment, I leave a message.

“Hey, I’m about to go on Today. Wish me luck. I miss you and love you.”

“Mrs. Grey?” I turn to see a young woman who’s wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard peaking uncertainly at me through a long black curtain. “This is your set call.”

“Thank you,” I tell her, then hang up the phone and check my appearance in the mirror one more time before sliding out of my chair and making my way to the set where I’ll be doing my segment.

To my surprise, there’s already another person waiting there, and he looks as nervous as I do. When he sees me though, his eyes widen.

“Oh! You’re… you’re Anastasia Steele.”

“Grey,” I reply, but the gentle correction only makes his eyes widen further. “I’m sorry… do I know you?”

“No.” He shakes his head as if to center himself and then reaches his hand out for mine. “I’m sorry, I’m Keith Brooks. I’m an author too… I’m recording my segment with Lauer after you for later in the week. I uh… I’m published through SIP. I think your husband owns it.”

“Oh, yeah. He does.” I smile at him. “I worked there last summer.”

He laughs. “Yeah, I uh… I know. They still talk about how good you were, actually. Especially with the stuff about the eReader. From what I’ve heard, I kind of wish you’d stayed and you could have represented me. I’ve watched your publicist running around barking orders at people all morning to make sure you don’t have any surprises during your interview and, hell I don’t even think mine showed up today.”

“No? Who’s working with you?”

“Jack. I mean, Hyde. Jack Hyde.”

“Oh…” I bite down nervously on my bottom lip as I turn to look at Luke, sitting on a chair across the stage from me, glancing interestedly between Keith and I as he sips his coffee and rocks Calliope’s carrier back and forth in the chair next to him. “And Jack? He’s here in New York with you?”

“Yeah, I mean… I think. He was on the fight, but I haven’t seen him this morning. He was hitting the bottle the bottle pretty hard at dinner though, I bet he’s just hung over. I’ve kind of heard that about him…”

“Right.” I swallow awkwardly and glance back at the main set where Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera are talking about today’s big headline. The last time I saw Jack was at the GEH New Year’s Eve Gala and he’d been drunk that night too. He also hadn’t seemed too happy to see me…

What was it he said to me?

“Mrs. Grey, they’re ready for you on set,” the stage manager says to me, breaking my concentration.

“Right,” I smile at her, then turn back to Keith.

“Good luck, and congratulations on your deal. I hope you do well.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Grey. And, you as well.”

With a smile, I shake his hand and then follow the state manager onto the overly lit set, where she gestures for me to take a seat on the couch. Lydia rushes up to me to offer one last bit of advice and then takes my phone while the crew hooks me up to a mic pack.

“Alright, Matt will be here in about 45 seconds,” the stage manager tells me. “We’re going to start on camera three, just him, and he’ll give some background about you and your book. Then we’ll change to camera one, right there, on the both of you. I don’t want you to worry about any of that though, you just focus on Matt. We like these things to feel as conversational as possible.”

“Right,” I agree.

“Good luck.” She winks and then moves hurriedly off the stage while Matt Lauer moves onto the set with a few staff members surrounding him, holding out papers for him to read over while he prepares to change segments.

“Mrs. Grey,” he greets me, holding out his hand for mine. “May I call you Anastasia on air?”

“Oh, please. Ana even.”

“Great.” He smiles and then sits in the sofa across from me, letting one of the assistants powder his face while the stage manager counts us down into the segment. When she points silently at Lauer, he immediately switches into his TV persona.

“For over a year, Seattle based Grey Enterprises Holdings has dominated national headlines because of the successes and scandals of the company’s billionaire CEO, Christian Grey and his longtime girlfriend, now wife, Anastasia Steele. This weekend was no different as their highly publicized elopement has thrust their names back into the news, and today, I have Anastasia Grey here with me to talk about her much anticipated first novel, Escape, which the critics all seem to summarize in one word. Remarkable.” He turns to me. “Thank you for being with us today, Ana.”

“Good morning, Matt.” I smile back at him. “Thank you for having me.”

“So, we have to start this morning with the wedding…”

“Do we?” I joke, wrinkling my nose, and he laughs.

“For weeks all of the details of this lavish ceremony are being reported to the press. The castle just outside of Seattle, what dress you’re going to wear, and the millions of dollars of jewelry on loan from De Beers. Then the day comes and…” his voice trails off.

“And we had private ceremony all on our own.”

“But why?”

“For exactly the reasons you just listed. We didn’t call up The Times or TMZ to tell them what I was wearing or where we were getting married, it all just leaks. You know, someone fits my dress and then talks to a reporter and suddenly it’s splashed all over the paper. Christian and I just wanted one day away from all of that. So, we gave the media the event they all wanted but kept our actual ceremony as a private affair between us and our family.”

“But what about your guests?”

I laugh. “Oh, Christian left them with quite the party. There was a band and dancing, really great food, and favors for all of the guests to take home. My security team just told me this morning that we’re still getting emails thanking us for such a lovely time and congratulating us. I think a lot of them are happy to be apart of the story.” I smile, but his face suddenly goes serious.

“I did notice when you came in this morning, you had a full security detail with you. Is that because of the incident that occurred last March?”

I take a breath. I’ve rehearsed these questions with Lydia over and over again, trying to prepare myself, but somehow, the reminder still triggers an uncomfortable reaction in me and my response comes out sounding a little weak. “Mhmm.”

He gives me a sympathetic smile and then turns to the camera to give a brief synopsis of the attempted kidnapping before cutting away to a video segment that I can watch on the screen behind us. It begins with the audio of Christian’s panicked phone call to the police, reporting me missing. I’ve never heard this before and it throws me off guard. Hearing the desperation in his voice is agony as I remember those terrifying few hours, Christian’s heartbreaking confession afterwards, and the horrifying dreams and terror that plagued me for weeks after I was home again. So, once video segment is over and Lauer turns back to me, I’m feeling a little dazed.

“Terrifying,” he says. “Ana, can you walk us through that day?”

I swallow and stare blankly back at him, the silence between us weighing heavily on me. I can feel the eyes of everyone in the room boring into us as they wait for me to answer and fill the dead air space, but my mind is blank. I glance over at Lydia, standing just off set. This is exactly what she warned me about and she motions for me to smile and keep the conversation upbeat. I take a breath and look back at Lauer.

“It was a horrifying experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It changed me, and the way I look at the world, but… it also gave me strength. That’s the message of my book. Strength in the face of adversity and the resilience of hope. It’s why I wrote this novel and it’s why I’m here today. To share that message.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Lydia beam and punch her fist in the air. Lauer doesn’t seem too pleased that I’ve robbed him of the chance to draw out my own personal horrifying experiences for the sake of engaging TV drama, but he doesn’t miss a beat as he’s forced to follow my lead and change the subject to my book.

I feel a small sense of victory to have most of the segment to discuss what I’ve written rather than the drama that constantly surrounds my life. Matt gives me the chance to talk about the emotions I put into the novel and how healing the entire writing process was. I express what I want out of publishing, which is to find people looking for a lifeline and offer it to them. I want to make people feel hopeful and optimistic after they’ve experienced tragedy.

“I worked through my own trauma thanks to the love and support of my family and through putting what I was feeling down on paper and leaving it on the page. If even one person who is struggling with heartbreak, or loss, or devastation can read this book and come out of it feeling like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, then I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do.”

Lauer smiles at me and turns for the camera again. “The book is called Escape, and it’s in stores today. Do yourself a favor, really, and pick up a copy. It truly is a life changing read.” He thanks me one last time and then looks at the camera focused only on him. “We’ll be right back.”

“And we’re off,” someone yells from off set. Immediately everyone, including myself, relaxes.

“Great interview,” Lauer says, reaching out to shake my hand. “Not what I expected… but your passion for this project really came through. You may have a career in journalism.”

“I think I’m going to stick to writing,” I say with a laugh, and he smiles back at me.

“Good-luck, Ana.”

I wait as he turns to walk back to the main stage where Meredith Vieira is still sitting, and then let out a long, relieved sigh. My first, solo, national interview is out of the way.

“Anastasia!” Lydia cries with excitement as she rushes towards me. “That was fantastic! They didn’t tell me about that video cut or I would have stopped it, but you handled it like a seasoned pro! I mean, maybe next time just a little less pause, but phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely. Now let’s go get you changed. We’re going to tape for The View and then we’ve got a book signing in downtown Manhattan before we head to Boston and Cambridge tonight for your reading at Harvard tomorrow.”

“Alright.” I stand and wait for Luke to follow me back to my dressing room, where I have approximately seven minutes to change.

“You did good, kid,” he tells me as I separate the dress bag Lydia has labeled The View from the other garments currently hanging on the wardrobe rack. “Personally, I’m a little offended that you seemed to credit your realization that life can go on after tragedy to writing this book rather than to the billion and one times I’ve watched It Happened One Night with you, but you know. You do you, I guess.” He gives me a teasing smile and I roll my eyes.

“Will you get out of here so I can change please?”

“As long as you promise not to wallow in guilt over that gross oversight you made out there.”

“I promise.” He hands Calliope off to the nanny, instructing her to follow stage security so they can load the car seat in the van and we can get out of here on time, then steps back out into the hall and leans against the wall just outside the door. After I’ve very purposefully slammed the door behind him, I let out a laugh through my nose and turn back to the wardrobe rack again. The moment I begin to pull down the zipper though, there’s a noise to my right and I turn just in time to see the bathroom door swing open and someone fly out at me.

“Don’t scream, don’t scream, don’t scream,” the stranger whispers, covering my mouth with his hand. “Don’t scream, it’s okay.”

My body seizes and I can taste something acrid creep into my mouth as the traumatizing memories begin flooding over me and panic sets in, but once the initial shock of his appearance gives way to the rush of adrenaline, I recognize that the man who has a hold of me. It’s Jack Hyde.

He doesn’t look the way the man who grabbed me last time did. There isn’t inexplicable fiery hatred behind his eyes. Instead, he looks almost pained, regretful, and I take that moment of hesitation to shove against his chest and pry his grip away from me.

“Jack, what are you doing in here?” I ask angrily. He frowns and lets out a huff that makes it so I can smell the alcohol on his breath.

“Ana…”

“You need to get out of my dressing room right now or Christian is going to have your job.”

“No… he won’t.”

I feel my face contort at the audacity of his drunken response. “You’re right. He’ll have it because you’re an incompetent fool who should be out with his client rather than stumbling around a televsion studio wasted and stalking my bathroom. What are you doing here?”

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

“No, you’re not.” I agree. “So, let’s go.”

I grab ahold of his jacket and attempt to pull him towards the door, but he doesn’t budge.

“Ana, I’m sorry.”

I turn around, giving him a hard, unsympathetic look, but notice his adam’s apple bob as he swallows, hard. “I never wanted to be apart of this…”

“Apart of wha-” My voice cuts off as he reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a knife. Instantly, the panic returns with paralyzing force. My eyes widen with fear as I instinctively take a step back and try to find my voice to call for help. “Lu-!”

He lunges, knocking me to the floor, but as he attempts to climb on top of me, I knee him in the groin and start to scream. The door flies open and Luke comes back into the room, weapon already drawn.

“Back away,” he commands, his voice calm but deadly. Jack tenses but slowly rolls off of me and drops the knife from his hand. “Get up and back against the wall. Do you have any other weapons on you?”

“No.” He takes several paces backwards, hands still raised in the air, until his back is flush against the wall. Luke approaches him cautiously, then reaches out and pats him down without ever losing his sights.

“Why don’t you take a seat, Hyde,” he says, but it’s more of a command than a suggestion. “You and I can have a little talk before they come take you away.”

“You might as well just call them. I can’t…” He swallows again. “I’m not going to tell you anything.”

“We’ll see.” Luke turns to me. “Ana, Lydia is down the hall. Walk to her, slowly, tell her that you’re not going to make your interview this afternoon, then call Hsu. Tell him we have a man to take into custody.”

Hyde laughs. “You think the police are going to help you?”

“No, I don’t.” Hyde’s face falters with confusion as he stares into Luke’s cold eyes.

“Ana, get out of this room. Now.”

I glance worriedly between the two of them, but nod and quickly back out of the room. The second the door closes behind me, there’s a loud crash from inside that makes me jump but I ignore it and take a steadying breath.

Despite Luke’s instructions, my first priority is to make sure Calliope was put in the car where she was supposed to be and not intercepted along the way. My heart thuds heavily in my chest as I hurry down the hall to the back doors, and I have to hold the wall to keep myself upright. But when I find her safely buckled into her seat, staring up at the small plastic toys spinning slowly over her head from the brace, relief washes through me and I’m able to think clearly once again.

“Give her to me,” I say to the nanny, using fumbling fingers to reach down and unbuckle the seatbelt that holds her carrier in place. Ava gives me a confused look as I pull Calliope from the car, but I don’t take the time to explain what has happened before heading back inside in search of my publicist and my phone.

I grip so tightly to the handle of Calliope’s car seat while I make my way back down the hallway of the studio that the strain in my knuckles actually starts to hurt. The discomfort doesn’t make me ease my hold though. I can’t. Horrible visions run through my mind of someone streaking by and snatching the carrier from my hand, like an old woman’s purse on a busy city street, and the fear that builds inside of me makes the thirty, maybe forty, foot walk from the door to where Lydia is pacing back and forth while she talks on the phone feel like an eternity.

“Hold on a second,” she says to whoever it is she’s speaking with and then pulls the phone away from her mouth. “Ana, what are you doing? We’ve got to get going.”

“We’re not going to make it,” I reply blankly. I’m crashing from the adrenaline rush and, as shock takes over, my body starts to shake.

“What are you talking about? Go get dressed, we’re going to get there with plenty of time.”

“No, you have to…” I swallow and try to clear the racing thoughts that are making it difficult to form a coherent sentence from my mind. “You have to call and cancel. I need my phone.”

“Ana, it’s release day and this is The View. We’re not cancelling. Now, go. Get dressed.”

“Lydia, there’s a man in my dressing room with Luke right now. He was in there waiting for me with a knife. We’re not going to make it to the fucking View.”

“What?” She quickly looks down the hall, and then back at me. “Oh my god, Ana.” Without even offering whoever she’s still on the phone with an explanation, she hangs up and starts to walk down the hall toward my room, but I reach out and grab onto her sleeve to stop her.

“No, no, no,” I say quickly. “Luke is handling it. Just give me my phone!.”

“Your phone? Oh, right.” She reaches into the pocket of her slacks and removes the phone I gave her before my interview. Once I have it in my hands, I glance back in the direction of my room and take a deep breath before slowly flipping through my contacts for the direct line to the FBI agent assigned to our case.

“Hsu.”

“Yes, hi. This is Anastasia Steele, er… Grey.”

“Good morning, Mrs. Grey. What can I do for you this morning?”

“I’m at studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza, Manhattan. I’ve just had someone try to attack me again. Hyde. His name is Jack Hyde, I know him.”

“Are you hurt?” His voice is urgent now.

“No, I’m fine. My CPO was there. We’ve apprehended him.”

“Good. Stay where you are, I’m going to be sending two officers to you to bring him in. Twenty minutes, okay Anastasia?”

“Twenty minutes,” I repeat.

The line goes dead and I take another deep breath to try and calm my pounding heart. Everything around me has taken on a surreal quality, like a dream, and for a moment, I wonder if that’s exactly what this is. I mean, Jack? How did he get involved in this? Sure, he didn’t get the job he wanted and I knew after New Years that he was bitter about it but… enough that he was willing to kill me?

“Should we call security?” Lydia asks.

“Uh… yes. The FBI is on the way so the studio security is going to need to know, but I’ll take care of that. You just focus on clearing my schedule.”

She bites her lip, but eventually nods and scurries away from me to make the necessary calls to cancel all of my remaining appearances for the rest of the afternoon. I continue down the hall, through the rest of the stage crew until I find a security guard standing just off the main set.

He radios in the emergency to his team, but surprisingly is willing to simply stand guard outside my dressing room while Luke finishes whatever he’s doing inside. I’m not interested in finding out what that is or hearing the repercussions of what may be going on, so I remain at the end of the hall, being sure to keep myself and Calliope in sight of as many people as possible, and then try to work through everything that happened so I can be clear and concise when the agents on their way show up and pull me aside for questioning.

The one thing I keep ruminating on is the reluctance I saw in Jack’s eyes. This whole thing felt so much different than last time, sloppier and much less thought out. I mean, Luke was standing right outside my door. If he planned to take me, I don’t know how he thought he would have gotten me out, and if he planned to just kill me, he would have been caught immediately. The question is, was that Jack’s ineptitude or is the man behind this starting to panic and making rash decisions? And if this was his big attempt to get to me, what does that mean for Carter and Atlanta?

Was that all just a ruse?

A new wave of panic crosses over me as I realize that, if Atlanta was a red herring, then Taylor is stranded uselessly down south while Christian is back in Seattle with only Kommer there for protection. Is that enough? My hands fly for my phone and I once again try to call Christian, but when he still doesn’t answer, this time I feel a rush of cold and my scalp begins to tingle with fear.

Again and again, I try Christian’s phone, but I never get through. Several important people from NBC come down to talk to me, looking horrified that I was attacked in their building, but I decline their offers for another room and choose instead to wait in plain sight until the FBI agents arrive. It’s hard to get them to leave me alone, but after ignoring them long enough while I continue frantically calling Christian, they eventually back off. In total, I make thirty two calls, and I get his voicemail thirty two times. Tears prick my eyes as I force myself not to think about why he may not be answering. He’s in the shower. He’s got to be in the shower. Or at the gym. He’s upstairs lifting and the music is too loud for him to hear his phone ring. My body slumps against the wall.

“Please,” I whisper, a plea to the universe, and then tears start to roll down my cheeks.

 

Luke comes out of my dressing room only seconds before the agents Hsu sent arrive, which means I have no time to speak with him before they pull him aside to get the story of what has happened.

“He attacked her, I stopped him,” Luke says simply, nodding in my direction.

“And your hands?” I glance down and see his knuckles are cut and covered in blood, which seems to have also splattered over his pristine white shirt.

“He resisted.”

“Right.” The agent turns to look at the NBC executives once again hovering close by. “Is there a room we can use to interview the witnesses?”

“Of course, right this way.”

We’re led down another hall into a different, much smaller dressing room and then separated so they can take our stories individually. Thankfully, the entire thing happened so fast and without much fanfare that I’m able to answer the questions from the agent interviewing me fairly quickly. Mostly, I tell him about my history with Jack and everything I know of him, but when the agent asks if I could think of anything that would give him motive to help the man trying to harm my husband and I, I again find myself coming up short.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “A job, I guess. He works for Christian and he didn’t get the job he wanted.”

“We’ll see what we can find out, Mrs. Grey. Don’t you worry.” He closes his book and shakes my hand, then leaves me to wait for Luke, who is interviewed for much longer. It’s mid-afternoon before we’re both finally cleared to leave the scene but as Lydia organizes the transportation of all my things, Luke pulls me back into the dressing room so we can talk in private.

“Have you heard from Christian?” I ask immediately.

“What? No, I haven’t had a chance to call them yet… Are you okay?”

“No. I can’t get Christian on the phone. I’ve called over forty times and nothing. His family hasn’t heard from him. Elliot was on his way to Escala to check on him, but he hasn’t called me back. Luke, what if…” My voice cuts off as I can’t force myself to verbalize my darkest fears, so Luke picks up his phone. He works his way through the entire chain of command, but he can’t reach Christian, Kommer, Ryan, or Taylor and no one knows where they are. Each phone call that puts us at a dead end is like a punch in the gut, winding me, until I physically can’t breathe.

“What do you want to do, Ana?” Luke asks.

I shake my head, unable to speak. I don’t know what I want to do. Fly to Seattle, maybe? But what if the reason he’s not answering his phone is because Hsu called him right after we got off the phone and he got a flight to New York? That sounds like something he would do. It’s the first even semi-logical reason I’ve had for Christian’s silence and I cling to that tiny ray of hope in order to prevent myself from falling completely apart.

“What did Jack say?” I ask weakly, another distraction.

“What?”

“Jack. What did he say? Please tell me he gave you something useful.”

He takes a deep breath and sighs. “He doesn’t know who it is.”

I let out a bitter laugh and shake my head. “So he lied to you.”

“No, I really don’t think so. He’s not in this deep like Elena Lincoln or Leila Williams was. Which makes me feel better since I checked up on him and ruled him out as a candidate months ago when we still thought Welch was trying to drum up support to oust Grey from GEH and SIP was listed on Welch’s contacts. He hadn’t received any payments or taken any suspicious leave, so I didn’t think he had been involved, but it turns out he’s not helping him for money. He’s only here because he’s being blackmailed.”

“What?”

“Apparently, he’s got an affinity for some really fucked up shit in the bedroom, particularly with girls who aren’t exactly legal yet…”

“Are you…? Oh my god!”

“Yeah. Anyway, the head guy has pictures and and video of him and some girls that he hacked off his computer so signing up for this plot against Grey was the only way for Hyde to keep the evidence of his perversions from making it into the hands of the police. He was supposed to come for you last night, but he got the wrong hotel.” He fights a very self-satisfied smile and I remember that he’d purposefully convoluted my accommodation arrangements for this exact purpose. “The good news is, if he tries anything to get out of this with the FBI, it’s still not going to work out great for him. From what we know of this guy, he doesn’t seem to have a very forgiving nature when it comes to the people he has working for him not coming through, and this was Hyde’s second assignment. He got this because he’d already fucked up the first.”

“Which was?”

“He’s been waiting for Elena’s manuscript. His job was to use his connections in the publishing industry and put it in the hands of someone who would make sure it hit shelves by summer. But he never got the manuscript. The person who was supposed to deliver it to him, Elena’s contact at the prison who I haven’t been able to track down, never sent it. Well, that isn’t true. He did send it. He just sent it to you, not Hyde.”

“He? As in…”

“No. Not him. Just another one of his henchmen.”

“Did Hyde say who he was?”

He nods. “Isaac Warren.”

“Isaac Warren?” I pause. Something about the name nags at me even though it isn’t familiar. Luke promises he’ll start digging tonight to find out who he is, but before he’s through encouraging me about how positive this development is, my eyes suddenly widen with recognition.

“Isaac,” I repeat. “Oh, my god Isaac. Luke, it’s Elena’s submissive.”

He pauses, considering what I’ve said, and then begins to slowly nod. “From the bar. Holy fuck, he worked at the bar. We still have the employment records that Grey used to hunt down all those girls. If he’s was an employee, we should have his phone number and address. Or an old one that could lead us to where he is now.”

“And if he’s acting as a liaison for Elena…”

“Then he definitely know who it is.” He smiles, and jumps out of his seat. “Come on, I’ve got to get to my laptop. We’ve got work to–”

His words cut off at the sound of my ringtone and when I reach down to pick up my phone and see Christian’s name on the screen, relief more tangible than I’ve ever felt before crosses through me.

“Oh my god, Christian,” I breathe when I answer.

“Ana, what’s going on? Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Warmth fills my veins at the sound of his voice, distracting me from the worry ladening his gravelly tone. “I mean, I was attacked again but…”

“What!”

“I’m fine,” I say quickly. “It was Jack Hyde. He tried to grab me while I was changing to leave the studio but Luke was here and nothing happened. I’m okay, Calliope is okay, we’re all perfectly safe. The FBI is here now.”

“Hyde?” In just that one word, I can hear the anger in his voice, and when he speaks again, I can hear his temper threatening to boil out of control. “That son of a bitch…”

“They just took him away.” I assure him. “He’s in custody, and he’s going to have to answer for his part in this. But the real point here is that Atlanta was a ruse, Christian. He used Carter to send Taylor on a wild goose chase. You were right, he was trying to separate our security team. Call him. Bring him home. They could try to go for you next.”

“Ana…”

“He talked, Christian. Jack talked. He doesn’t know who’s behind this but he told us the plan was to come for me in New York, not Atlanta, and he gave us a name. Someone who might lead us to him. The person who sent the manuscript and who’s been coordinating contact between this guy and Elena, is Isaac. Her submissive. He knows who he is, Christian. So all we have to do is find Isaac and we’ve got him.” I pause, waiting for his elated or at least relieved reaction, but it doesn’t come. “Christian, did you hear me?”

“Yeah, I heard you.”

“Then why aren’t you more excited? Christian, we have a lead. A good lead.”

“No, we don’t. We already have Isaac.”

“Wait, what? You do?”

“Yes.” He pauses again. “Ana, the reason I missed your calls this morning is because I was on a flight. To Georgia. It wasn’t a ruse, it’s just… Atlanta wasn’t the target.”

“What do you mean? What the target? Is Isaac there?” He doesn’t answer me right away, and when he does, there’s a nervous quiver in his voice that immediately has every one of the hairs on the back of my arms and neck standing on end.

“Baby…”

“What?”

“Isaac was the contact sent to help Reed. Last night, they were sent to eliminate their target and when Taylor and Ryan went to intervene, all hell broke loose. Several people were severely injured, others were killed. Isaac was one of them.”

My scalp tingles again and my throat goes dry. “One of them?”   

“Ana, baby. I’m so sorry…”

“Who?” My voice quivers and it takes Christian several long seconds to finally answer me.

“Your mom is in the hospital. You need to get here as quickly as you can.”

Next Chapter

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