Chapter 45

Silence. We all sit in complete silence, gaping at Mia while she shakes in her chair. I don’t know what to say, I don’t think anyone does, until Christian finally shakes his head, dispelling his own shock, and starts.

“What you mean you know…? How could you…? I-I– Who is it?”

Her bottom lip trembles as she fights off tears, but before she has a chance to calm her impending breakdown enough so that she can speak, Luke gets out of his chair and moves to Christian’s little sister.

“Mr. Grey, perhaps we should move to somewhere more private before we have this conversation? There are three other families in this room, four individuals… We have no way of knowing that this is a secure place for Miss Grey to tell us what she knows.”

“No, we’re not waiting another–” Christian begins to argue, but as if to prove Luke’s point, a woman walks by and stops dead in her tracks when she glances inside our small little compartment. Her eyes fall on me and widen.

“Oh, good lord!” she exclaims in a thick southern accent. “You’re Anastasia Steele! I watched you on the Today show and then they said on The View that you’d been attacked in New York! What happened, honey? What are you doing down here?”

“Um…”

I stammer, unsure of what to say under this woman’s insistent gaze, but thankfully Luke saves me when he steps through the opening of the vestibule and guides the woman away. Once she’s gone, Christian’s body tightens with frustration and he glares at his sister.

“Is she one of them? Is she working for him too?”

Mia shakes her head. “I don’t know.”

“Are you sure? Or is that just another one of your fucking lies?” His voice is icy and full of malice. I’ve never heard him speak to her that way and clearly, it rattles her. She shrinks away from him, but his overbearing fury doesn’t recede when he sees how scared she is looking up at him.

“Elliot, go find Kate,” he barks. “We’re leaving. The second we’re out of this hospital, we stay together. All of us.” He turns angry eyes back on his sister. “And you are not to leave my sight. Do you understand me, Amelia?”

She nods and Christian reaches down to pick up Calliope’s car seat, which is resting against the foot of the chair Luke has just vacated. Elliot hurries out of the vestibule in search of Kate and while the rest of the family gathers their things, I take a breath and go to Mia.

“Come on,” I say gently, placing a comforting arm around her and pulling her into me. She’s still shaking and as I hold her, she starts to cry again.

“I’m so sorry, Ana. I’m so sorry.”

“I know. Let’s go.”

My dad has decided to sit with Taylor as a sign of respect for a fallen soldier and, despite my attempts to bring him along with us, he refuses to leave. Christian gives him the address of the hotel we’re staying at, in case he changes his mind, and asks him to contact us if there’s any changes in Taylor’s condition. He promises we will, so after I’ve hugged and kissed him good-bye, Christian leads us all out to the hospital parking garage where the town car that he drove to pick me up and another, larger rental car are waiting for us. Luke takes the driver’s seat of one, Harrison the other, and Christian pulls Mia into the same town car as Calliope and me.

Though he sits in the front seat and he never speaks, I can feel anger radiating off of him the entire drive to the hotel. Silent tears run steadily down Mia’s face as she folds her arms tightly across her chest and stares through the window. Several times, while I fish around in Calliope’s car seat for the pacifier she keeps spitting out, I reach over to her and try to hold her hand, but she shakes me off every time. Seeing her like this brings me back to the morning of my wedding and the cuts in her skin I’d found as she changed. She told me she was punishing herself. That she hated herself. Now I truly know why she felt that way and it sends me spiraling through a confusing mess of deep rooted betrayal and heartache for the little sister that I love.

Christian won’t be able to accept her reasoning for why she made the choices she did. He’ll never be able to see past the danger her silence has kept us all in, and maybe to an extent, he’s right. I should be furious with her. I should be sick to my stomach over the choice she’s made and everything we’ve lost or come close to losing because of it. But all I see when I look at her is a terrified 17 year old girl, who I know loves her family, and who I know has been tortured with the secret that she’s held and the decision over whether to keep her silence or to tell and risk the safety of her entire family.  

“Let’s go,” Christian barks at her as we pull up to the modest, very un-Christian looking hotel, which he’s reserved under an assumed name to try and throw off anyone who may still be trying to find us. He helps me take Calliope’s car seat out of the back, then carries her into the lobby with his free hand wrapped tightly around Mia’s arm. He doesn’t release her for even a second while Luke checks us in and brings us the keys to our rooms, and when we’re finally behind closed doors again, he pushes her down onto one bed, then settles down on the other directly across from her. I try to put Calli down for the night as far away from the conversation as the cramped hotel room allows. I know she doesn’t understand what’s happening, but I want her to protect her from the amount of anger her father is projecting right now. It’s almost frightening, and even though our daughter is still an infant, I don’t want her seeing him like this.

“Christian, before you start…” Elliot says, the worry clear in his voice, but Christian holds up a hand to silence him. His cold eyes are focused only on Mia.

“Talk.”

She lets out a scared sob and diverts her eyes from her brother. “I’m sorry, Christian.”

“I don’t want to hear your fucking apologies, Mia. I want answers. Start talking.”

“I didn’t know the whole time,” she says defensively. “I thought he was just after me. I thought he was just trying to keep me from telling you who he was. He said all I had to do was keep quiet and no one would get hurt. I didn’t even know Ana was in trouble until she got kidnapped and even then, I didn’t think he was the same person until you said that you thought Gia was involved and then we were at dinner and she said his name…”

“What?” Elliot asks.

She turns and gives a pained look at Elliot. “Charles Gresham. His name is Charles Gresham. It’s the guy you and Gia were fighting over at the barbeque Mom threw for Ray.”

Elliot’s face goes blank, but Christian’s brow furrows in confusion. “Gresham? My finance guy? How could it be Gresham? Why the fuck would he want to come after me? After Ana?”

“Because you stopped him.”

“Stopped him from what?”

She swallows. “That night, when Ana found me at Elena’s club. When she grabbed me and took me away because Elena was trying to force me to have sex with that guy… It was Charles Gresham. He was the dominant who tried to… to…” Her voice cuts off, and this time, it’s Christian’s turn to look shocked.

“But you said… you said you didn’t know his name. When we questioned you before the trial, you said you didn’t know who he was. That’s why we didn’t go after him!”

“I didn’t. Back then, I only knew him as Mr. Darling, and that wasn’t his real name. They all used aliases and it wasn’t like I got their full employment records when they came into the club. They gave me a handful of cash, I took them back to Elena, no one asked questions. But, right before the trail, he found me while I was out getting ice cream with Tibby. He told me to keep my mouth shut, to never speak of him again, and as long as I could do that we wouldn’t have any problems. He wouldn’t have to hurt anyone. Not me. Not my family. I told him I’d never tell anyone, and at the time it was an easy promise to make because didn’t know his name. I couldn’t have told if I wanted to. Then… I found out. Last Thanksgiving, when Ana got caught in that storm, we were watching the news around the clock waiting for updates and he came on during the business segment. His name was on the bottom of the screen. Charles Gresham. I’d know his face anywhere. I’ll never be able to forget it.”

She stops and glances hesitantly back at Christian, but he doesn’t say anything. His expression hasn’t softened, his posture hasn’t relaxed, and he continues to look at her expectantly.

“I thought about telling then,” she continues. “Because I wanted him to have to face some consequences for what he did to me. But Christian had left for Cambridge, Mom and Dad were freaked out about Ana, Kate was caught in the storm too, and Elliot had fallen off the face of the planet… I didn’t really have anyone to turn to. Then Dad got cancer and everyone was worried about that, and Ana was pregnant… I felt like there wasn’t ever a good time to bring all of this up again. Especially with Christian proposing in Paris and planning for the baby. Once all the drama passed, it was like we finally had the chance to be a happy family again and I didn’t want to ruin it. I was just going to let it go. He never really got to touch me and Elena was already in jail. That seemed like fair retribution, I guess. I didn’t know he had anything to do with you or Ana. You never told us anything about Ana, and he had said that if I stayed quiet he wouldn’t hurt anyone. I thought it was just about me keeping his secret…” Her voice breaks as she begins to sob, but when Grace moves onto the bed next to her, she moves out of her reach and looks back up at Christian.

“I wanted to come to you after Ana was attacked and I realized it was the same guy, but I freaked out. I didn’t say anything so…  it was my fault. I couldn’t face that, I couldn’t face you. I really didn’t mean for any of this to happen…” She sniffs. “I just needed to talk to someone first and have them tell me it was going to be okay, that you’d forgive me. I called Kate a few times, but she never answered so I called Alexis instead. She worked at the club with me, as a submissive, and after everything closed down, she’d reached out to me and we’d gotten close. I could talk to her about everything that had happened and she understood. I mean, before he tried to get to me, she was Darling’s, err… Gresham’s favorite. So she knew what I was going through. He requested her almost every time he came in and he’d hurt her a couple times. I thought she would be supportive of me talking to you and would give me the courage to finally just do it, but she didn’t. She talked me out of it. She told me I was right. You would hate me and you’d never be my big brother the same way ever again. You’d only ever see this and it would all be for nothing because what happened to Ana was probably because of Gia anyway. Because Gia got caught opening her big mouth. But now Gia was gone and we were safe again as long as I stayed quiet. I believed that, and that I had to keep the secret because I could see now that he was serious. That he would hurt people.”

Mia hangs her head. “She must have had more to do with him than I knew because it was after that phone call when I started getting the pictures of all of you. He knew that I’d figured out who he was, and that I wanted to tell you. Alexis had to have told him.”

“Alexis?” Christian repeats, closing his eyes. When he opens them again, there’s recognition on his face. “Alexis Young?”

“Yes,” Mia confirms.

“I know her. I met with her after the trial. She was one the girls that wouldn’t take anything from me. She yelled at me and told me she’d never had a steady Dom before working for Elena and that I took that away from her. But she wasn’t the only one that felt that way. Several of the girls wanted to be in the lifestyle and I was fine with that as long as it was their choice. I never thought… Son of a bitch.”

“You said that he requested her every time he came in?” Luke asks. Mia nods.

“Every time. God, I’m so stupid.” She lets her head fall into her hands and then starts to cry again.

“You’re not stupid, Mia,” Grace says, trying again to comfort her, but Christian lets out a dark huff, so she turns a sharp gaze on her son. “You can be mad, but you can’t be cruel, Christian.”

“Oh, I’m more than fucking mad,” he says. “I have done everything I can to be there for you, Amelia. Hell, I’ve fought for you as hard as I fought for Ana, but that doesn’t seem to matter to you at all. I don’t care what else was going on, you lied to me and you keep lying to me, over and over again. This, the bar, hell the fucking party you almost got arrested at last year. It’s like Deja Vu all over again with you. If you had just come to me, I would have protected you. Then, now… I could have protected everyone. But instead, you kept your mouth shut and you lied and now we’re all in danger. Not legally this time. Actual danger.”  

“I was scared, Christian.”

“Oh, please. You’re not a child anymore, Mia. Stop acting like one. This isn’t a small thing that you’ve done and I don’t know we move forward from here. How can I trust anything you say? How do I even know this is the truth? How do I know he didn’t give you something to keep you quiet and that this is all just another distraction? You’ve been telling us all how good your lead role in Swan Lake this year is going to look on your Juilliard application. Did he get you that?” The longer he speaks, the more his anger becomes physically apparent. Mia cowers under his glare so Kate steps forward in her defense.

“Christian…”

“Not now, Kavanagh. This doesn’t concern you.”

“Excuse, you?” Elliot exclaims, jumping to her defense. “Don’t you dare talk to her that way.”

“Yeah.” Kate nods. “And don’t pretend like you haven’t been intimidated by someone into keeping secrets from your family, Christian Grey.”

“This is nothing like me and Elena, Kavanagh. This isn’t just keeping a secret about who my dick has been in, this is her withholding information from me that has almost led to my wife and my child being killed twice. Your best friend, Kate!”

“Well, if you would have just dealt with Elena when you were supposed to instead of lying and protecting her, she would have been in prison years ago and never would have been able to open that club and we wouldn’t be here right now!”

“Oh, here we go!” He throws his hands in the air in frustration. “Don’t try to deflect the blame on me, this is all because she is a sp-”

“Stop!” I scream, cutting off whatever biting response Christian was about to hurl at Kate. “Just stop, okay? This is stupid and it’s not getting us anywhere.”

“No!” Christian shakes his head as his body radiates with anger. He turns back to Mia. “I want answers. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me exactly how you justified keeping this to yourself. This is your fault, Amelia. Ryan, Taylor, Carla… that’s on you. I want to know how you sleep at night.”

“Her fault?” I snap. “That’s what you want out of this? Blame?”

He gives me a dark look and I feel my entire body tighten in defiance as I stare into his cold, gray eyes.

“Fine. Let’s play the blame game, Christian. Mia, yes, you should have spoken up before now. After everything we’ve all sacrificed for you and the choices you’ve made in the past, and how we all still stood by you, it’s really shitty that you wouldn’t trust us now.”

I turn, but look past Christian.

“Carrick, maybe if you were a little bit less concerned about what people thought about you and how your children would reflect on your precious legacy, you wouldn’t have made the exact same mistake with Mia that you made with Christian and she never would have turned to Elena in the first place. Grace, if you focused a little less on making sure your children loved and adored you and actually parented them, you’d have a better idea about what was really going on in their lives and we wouldn’t keep ending up in situations like this. Elliot, maybe if you wouldn’t have had your head shoved so far up your ass about Gia and her involvement in all of this, and if you hadn’t put up such a fight about Christian investigating her, we could have deduced her connection to this Gresham guy sooner and avoided Mia’s involvement altogether. Kate, if you would have given the girl who loved and adored you for years just an iota of your time after you broke up with Elliot, perhaps she would have had someone to talk to while her family was falling apart. Christian, if you learned to control your temper a little better and to forgive a little bit more and if you didn’t turn every small betrayal into some gigantic ordeal that drags us all through hell, she’d have been a little more willing to talk to you. And if I would have listened to her when she was trying to talk to me before, instead of assuming I knew what was wrong or trying to just fix her problems like I’m the one that knows what’s best in every fucking situation, she would have told me about this months ago when she first tried to. There is plenty of blame to go around in this room, but while we’re all in here pointing the finger at each other, he’s still out there. So let’s stop trying to assign blame and just fix the fucking problem!”

I’m shaking now and as everyone in the room gapes at me, I take several deep breaths to calm myself down.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “This anger isn’t going to do anyone any good. I was angry the last time I ever spoke to my mother. I told her I wanted nothing to do with her, and today, I lost her. I’m never going to get the chance to make things right with her again. I’m going to hold that with me for the rest of my life, so I’m not going to let that happen with us. We’re a family. At the end of the day, we’re all each other has and we’re going to deal with this as a family, not adversaries.”

Christian takes a deep breath and finally, he seems to relax. “You’re right, Ana. The enemy isn’t in this room. Mia, I’m sorry…”

“No, I’m sorry, Christian.” He reaches out and takes her hand, then moves to his knees on the floor in front of her so he can look her in the eye while she hangs her head in shame.

“I will never not love you, okay? Never. No matter what you do, and no matter how mad I get or how much I yell, you’re always going to be my little sister and I’m always going to be on your side. But you have to come to me when you’re in trouble. You have to talk to me. No matter what, okay?” She nods, so he kisses the backs of her hands and then looks up at Luke.

“Sawyer, you’re my point man now. We’ll have Mia talk to Hsu, but I don’t want to take any chances on circumstantial evidence. Find me something concrete on Gresham that I can turn over to the FBI and let’s get this son-of-a-bitch behind bars. In the meantime, I want to know where he is at all times and I want to know about anyone he’s in contact with.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says, and after gathering his laptop bag, he leaves for his own room to get to work.

“Harrison,” Christian continues. “Go back to the hospital and wait with Ray. None of us should be alone right now. I want regular updates on Taylor’s condition. We’ll rejoin you at the hospital in the morning.”

“Yes, sir.”

Once he too has left, Christian rounds on his family and lets out a low, exhausted sounding breath. “It’s late and it’s been a long day for all of us. We should all try to get some sleep.”

“Yeah,” Carrick agrees. “We’re just next door and Mia’s staying in our room. Kate and Elliot are in the room on the other side of you. We’re all around if you or Ana need anything.”

Christian nods. “Thank you. Lock your deadbolts and don’t open the door for anyone. Everyone should have Luke or Harrison’s number, in case you need security.”

“I have both,” Kate says.

“Text them to me?” Mia asks. She nods and then Grace helps Mia off the bed.

“Come on, sweetheart. You and I need to have our own talk.” She frowns, though she gets off the bed willingly, but before they leave the room, Mia stops to hug me one last time.

“I’m so sorry about your mom, Ana. I’ll never forgive myself for what you’ve lost.”

“You didn’t pull the trigger, Mia. At the end of the day, this all comes down to him, to Gresham, and now we’re going to be able to make sure he never hurts any of us, or anyone else, ever again. Thank you for being honest tonight.”

She gives me a weak, rueful smile and then releases me so that Grace can hug me too. “I can’t imagine how painful this must be for you, dear. I’m so sorry this has happened. But you know, you’ll always have family, right? You have us and we all love you very much.”

“I know. Thank you, Grace.” My throat grows tight when she kisses me on the forehead, telling me that tears from the grief I feel are imminent, so once she releases me, I subtly recoil away from Carrick by moving into Christian’s side. I can’t handle anymore condolences. I’ll break down and there’s still so much I want to talk to Christian about once we’re alone. Thankfully, I think I can see understanding of this need expressed on Carrick’s face and Kate for sure is able to pick up on it. She wraps her hand around Elliot’s and tugs him towards the door.

“We’ll talk later. Okay, Ana?” she says. I give her the most grateful smile I can muster, nod, and then sigh in relief as Christian untangles his body from mine and moves to close the door behind everyone. After the deadbolt drops, he turns back to face me but his body slumps against the door.

“I don’t know what to say to you. I’m so sorry I couldn’t stop this, Ana.”

I shake my head. “No. You tried. This isn’t your fault. You’ve done everything you can and…” I stop, knowing that it’s this exact line of thinking that’s had him thinking about walking away from me all day. The pain in just the idea of that is overwhelming and as I look up at him, my eyes start to tear up again.

“Baby…”

“Please don’t leave me, Christian.”

“Hey.” His voice is soft as he pushes off the door, crosses the space between us, and takes me into his arms. “Baby, I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“No, that’s not what you said earlier. You said you were putting me in danger. You were going to leave. I’m not safer without you, Christian. You know that. Separating wouldn’t make him stop coming after us, it would just make us both more vulnerable. We’re stronger together.”

“I know.”

“Then how could you even say that to me?”

“Ana.” His voice is pained and I can see him struggle to find the words to explain himself. His hands move to cup each side of my face and as we stare into each other’s eyes, all that’s reflected back at me is guilt and pain.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” he finally admits. “Everything he’s done, he’s pulled off unimpeded. I can’t even predict his plans and if I don’t know who or what he’s targeting next, I can’t guarantee it won’t be you. Hell, it was you. Hyde was in your dressing room, Ana, and people here died today. Can you even comprehend what it would have done to me if the voicemails I had in my phone when I landed this morning had said he’d actually gotten to you? That it was you in the hospital clinging to life? Or worse, that you were dead too? That’s all I’ve thought about all day!” He swallows the lump in his throat. “I can’t lose you like that, Ana. If he was trying to hurt me by going after the people I love, then I thought I had to take you out of that equation.”

“But he’s not just after you. I’m the one who pulled Mia out of Elena’s hands and I’m the one who put her in a car and drove her away. I made Mia tell you about the club, so I’m the reason it was shut down. If he’s seeking revenge because of what he’s lost, then it’s not just you he’s after. I’m just as culpable as you are.”

“We know that now, but this morning…” He pauses again, and by the look on his face I surmise that it’s to stop himself from going down the same dark train of thought he’s been stuck on all day. When he looks into my eyes again, there’s a new sense of determination. “All I wanted to do was protect you. I need you, baby. Please understand that.”

“I do understand that. Because I need you too.” He stares into my eyes for a long time, his gaze pleading, but I’m not sure what for. Forgiveness, maybe? Understanding? I can’t read him, so to cement the sentiment of my words hanging between us, I stand up on my tiptoes and press my lips to his.

“You said you would never leave me,” I whisper into his mouth. “Last year, after the trial, you said I’m never going to leave you. You don’t get to take that promise back, Christian.”

“I won’t. I’m sorry, Ana.”

“I need you to say it again. I need to hear you say you’re not going to leave.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m never going to leave you, Ana.”

“Good.” I take a deep, calming breath, and once again stare purposefully into his eyes. “I vowed to you on our wedding day that I would remain by your side and that I walk with you wherever our journey leads us. I vowed for better or for worse, and I meant those words, Christian. I would rather walk through hell with my hand in yours than spend an eternity in heaven without you.”

He stands there for a long moment, saying nothing, until eventually his arms wrap around me and he pulls me into a tight embrace. “I don’t deserve you.”

“Yes. You do. We’re meant to be, Christian Grey. You and me.” My hand moves to the back of his head and I once again pull his lips down to mine. The contact between us is soft at first, needy, but as we wrap ourselves more securely around each other, his ardor increases and the kiss morphs into something more fierce and passionate. His hands move back to my hair, unfurling the tie that holds it in a messy knot on top of my head before he discards the band carelessly on the floor. We break away for an instant, looking desperately at one another, until he sweeps me into his arms and carries me to the bed.

I gasp when I fall on the mattress, but the sound is short lived as he covers my body with his and kisses me again. My fingers move up and begin undoing the buttons of his shirt one by one until it’s open enough that I can slip my arms inside and feel his warm skin against mine. He hums a low sound of content at my touch, then reaches down to pull my blouse over my head.

“Ana,” he groans, then moves his lips down my body, between my breasts.

“Love me, Christian.”

His lips softly caress the swoop of my breast before he uses his tongue to trace a path up to my nipple. I’ve only just recently stopped breastfeeding so for the first time since Calliope’s birth, he truly is able to tease and torment my nipples the way that drives me crazy. Licking, sucking, biting. When he nips me, I cry out with a befuddled mix of pain and pleasure that heightens my growing arousal. After a long, arduous day like today, this is what I need from him. To lose myself in our gentle love peppered with his barbaric desire. The intensity of his passion burns away everything until nothing else matters. Only this. Only us.

I groan and fist my hands in his hair, pulling him back up to my lips. The kiss is wild and feverish, and while he claims dominion over me with his tongue, I reach down to undo his fly and then use a combination of my hands, legs, and finally feet to divest him of his pants. Once he’s naked, my hips buck up against his erection, yearning for him to fill the emptiness inside of me that is the result of everything I’ve lost today.

“Christ, Ana.” His words come out in a breath, but are full of the longing that is no doubt a reaction to my own fervor. His lips part from mine and move down to the curve of my neck, where he nuzzles me and covers my skin in soft, sweet kisses, while his hand moves down between my legs.

“Already so wet…” He sweeps his index finger back and forth across my clitoris a few times before he delves inside of me in one slick motion. Instantly, I clench around him and push against his hand. He moves his fingers in and out of me, in time with the rhythm of his tongue and his lips on my neck until I start to build and his hand is drenched with my arousal.

“Oh, fuck. Christian!”

“Taste,” he whispers. His fingers disappear from between my legs and move into my mouth. I suck hungrily, keeping my eyes fixed on his while he stares down at me with unbridled lust and wonder. After my tongue has removed most of my essence from his fingers, he pulls his hand away and immediately attacks my mouth with his again. His tongue is forceful as it moves with mine, seeking out every trace of my arousal that still lingers there.

“Delicious. You are so sweet, Ana.”

“Baby, please…” I beg.  

He sits up on his knees and places my leg over his right shoulder, lifting me even with his erection, but he doesn’t take me right away. Instead, he kisses my ankle and moves his hand tenderly up my calf towards my thigh. After sweeping the pad of his thumb lightly over my aching clitoris again, he moves my other leg over his left shoulder, then repeats the motion.

“Ready?”

“Yes. Please.”

He reaches down and guides his erection between my legs then grips tightly to my hips as he thrusts inside of me. As the euphoric feeling of the fullness takes hold my body, my legs curl around his shoulders, pulling me further into him, and he lets out a deeply gratified moan.

He sets a relentless pounding rhythm that is kept in time with our increasingly harsh and desperate breaths. I have to reach up and hold the headboard to keep it from slamming into the shared wall between ours and Kate’s and Elliot’s room, but when he grabs ahold of my left leg and pulls it over his head, holding my legs together over one shoulder while he continues to move in and out of me, tightening me so I can feel every inch of him, I give up. I don’t care if Kate and Elliot hear us, I don’t care about anything. Only him.

“Christian!” While my screams of pleasure reverberate around us, he lets my legs slide off his shoulder and then twists the lower half of my body to the side so that my legs are still together on the bed while my back remains pressed into the mattress. I reach out for him, pulling him down over the top of me so I can taste his sweet mouth again and as he pounds on and on, we’re reduced to nothing but hands and tongues and touch and overpowering, mind blowing sensation.

“Come for me, baby,” he whispers against my lips. I gasp and tilt my head back, prepared to scream his name again into the charged air around us once my orgasm finally takes hold of my body, but he reaches up and grabs my chin to stop me. “Look at me.”

I do. Our eyes lock and the pure and uninhibited want in his gaze, want for me, is enough to send me tumbling into the warm, dark depths of blissful release. I start to keen loudly as my orgasm overpowers me, but he absorbs the sound into his mouth, taking my screams for himself. With a loud, final grunt, he pushes as deep inside of me as he can reach and finds his own release, which, like mine, seems to go on forever. The feel of him, pushing me into the bed as we lose ourselves completely in one another, as he fills me, as his tongue entwines with mine… it’s perfect. We’re perfect, as long as we’re together.

The final waves of my orgasm come to an end and my entire body melts into the bed as Christian slowly rocks his hips back and forth, holding himself inside of me. I moan, and reach up to brush the locks of hair caught in the sweat on his brow away and stare up at his beautiful face.

“I love you so much.”

“I love you too.” He shifts so that I can wrap my legs around his body as he once again lays over the top of me, resting his weight on his forearms, then leans down to kiss the sensitive skin on my neck. With him so close, his scent surrounds me and I’m instantly inebriated. I don’t want him to ever move. I want to lay with him like this forever, stuck in this one perfect moment.

A pleasant, well satisfied moan breaks through my lips and his hands move lazily down my sides so he can explore my body. But soon, the gentle brush of his fingertips starts to tickle and it sends me into a fit of giggles. A breathtaking, genuine smile crosses his face and his fingers become more purposeful and insistent against my body. I try to struggle away from him but his hands clamp down around my sides and he continues to tickle me with just the pressure of his fingers.

“Oh my god, Christian! Stop!” I laugh, but he doesn’t. He just beams down at me until we hear a loud banging against the wall, presumably from Elliot, who I assume has officially heard enough from us.

I have to catch my breath as he finally rolls off of me, but as he settles down on the bed at my side, he turns and stares back at me with warmth and love radiating from his eyes. Despite how terrible these last 24 hours have been, in this moment, I’m actually able to feel something wonderful.

“You’re so beautiful,” he tells me. I smile in response.  

“Mmm. You’re not so bad yourself.” He leans in to kiss me again, but our tongues have only just touched when there’s an insistent vibration of his phone from the pocket of his pants, laying haphazardly at the bottom of the bed. He lets out a huff and then rolls over the top of me again, straddling me as he pulls out his phone and checks the notification.

“Work?” I check.

“No, it’s Luke. He’s running an algorithm to get through the security on Gresham’s system but he wants to know if he should try to find someone who can work security detail for your dad in Montesano.”

“Oh…” Just like that, our bubble is popped and the real world seeps back in. “Actually, I was thinking about asking him to come live with us in Escala for a while, if that’s okay. Just until we’ve resolved this issue with Gresham. I don’t really want him so far away, you know, after my mom…”

“Of course it’s okay,” Christian says. “I’ll call Kommer and have him prepare one of the guest rooms and to give him more space, just in case he wants to bring some of his own things to feel more at home.”

“Kommer?” I repeat, and for first time since I landed in Georgia, I realize that he’s been absent. “You left Kommer in Seattle?”

Christian nods absentmindedly. “He doesn’t live at Escala the way Taylor or Sawyer does. Ryan’s call came very suddenly and in the middle the night. I’d relieved Kommer hours before and I didn’t have time to track him down before I left for the airport. It worked out after I found out my parent’s house had been broken into because it reminded me that there’s other people in Seattle that are vulnerable right now. Ros and Gwen are staying in our apartment until we return and Kommer is with them and Gail. I’m going to have to find a way to make another security shift to ensure there’s someone with them at all times.”

“He made threats against Ros?”

“No, but he goes after people I care about. Ros is not only my best friend but she’s an integral to my company. I need her, and so I need to ensure she’s well protected until we resolve this issue once and for all.”

“Oh,” I reply, and then frown as he starts responding to Luke’s email. “Christian?”

“Hm?”

“Are you sure this was about targeting people you love?”

“You, my family, your mother… seems the most likely.”

“Elena?”

He frowns. “No. That had to be because he never got the book she wrote. People who don’t give him what he wants end up dead.”

“So, why didn’t he go after Hyde? Why did Hyde get a second chance and she got a fake prison riot? Why did Isaac?”

“Because…” he stops, unable to answer.

“I don’t think this was about going after you this time. I think this might have about tying up loose ends. The shooter from the car didn’t target my mom or your team, they mowed down everyone, indiscriminately. And from what we can tell, that wasn’t a reaction to Taylor showing up. It had all been planned. Carter said he never heard an exit strategy, it looks like that’s because there wasn’t one. There wasn’t ever supposed to be one. He wanted Isaac and my mother, maybe even Carter, and he got them all at once. Or he thought he did. Taylor and Ryan were just a bonus. Then he went after Elena, and he probably went to your parents’ house to get to Mia.”

“Maybe, but that still doesn’t answer your original point. What about Hyde?”

“Well… it wasn’t a very well thought out plan and we know that isn’t this guy’s modus operandi. I mean, even while he was on top of me holding a knife I was wondering how he planned to get out of that room. There was only one exit and Luke was standing outside the door.”

“So Hyde is incompetent, that doesn’t answer the question.”

“It might though. Leila told me right after she saved me that he, well Gresham, would know how difficult it would be to get to me once he’d showed his hand. If he really wanted me, he wouldn’t have sent someone who would bumble their way through it. I think he knew that Luke would stop Hyde, probably kill him, which mean that he wouldn’t have to. That or he’d succeed and bring me straight to him. Even now, in the worst case scenario where Hyde is alive and we’ve got him in custody, he doesn’t know enough to reveal who he is and they’re probably going to put him in prison. Just like they did Elena and we know happened to her. It’s all a win/win for him.”

He looks down at me for a long beat, examining me carefully, then gets out of the bed and starts to pace the room.

“So, if he’s getting rid of of all of his people…”

“Then we’re coming to the end. It’s all about to come to a head.”

“Because he hasn’t gotten what he really wants yet.” Christian starts nodding, as though all of this is starting to make sense. “He’s going to make a final move and he’s going to come after us. Hard. With everything he has left. He’s wants to end this too, just in his way.”

“We have to stop him, Christian. And we have to move fast.”

“We will. Once we settle your mom’s affairs, we’ll go home and we’ll take care of this once and for all. He can’t hide from us anymore.”

I nod, feeling reassured that we at least seem to be fighting on equal ground now, but as Christian walks towards me again, his phone rings in his hand.

“Harrison?” he answers. I wait while he listens to whatever Kate’s CPO is saying to him, trying to gauge the news by his face. He gives nothing away though, and when he hangs up the phone, his salutation is blunt. “We’ll be there soon.”

“Taylor?” I ask.

“He’s awake,” Christian says. “They took him off the vent and he’s breathing fine. The doctor says he’ll need a few more days of recovery, but the worst is over. He’s going to be okay.”

“Thank god.” All of the air in my body seems to leave my body in one long breath, taking with it the heavy weight of the fear I’ve held in my heart for Christian’s most trusted right hand man. “Thank god.”

Next Chapter

Advertisements