Chapter 48

3

The following is intended for mature audiences and may contain material that is not suitable for some readers. Discretion is advised.

Christian’s hands shake and he takes a tentative step towards her, but Gia doesn’t respond to his approach. Her face is curious, like she’s merely interested in what he’s going to do next rather than worrying about trying to stop him and maintain her position of power. It’s eerie because, gun aside, Christian could easily overpower her, but she doesn’t seem to have any concern over that. Maybe that’s because she really intends to make good on the obvious threat she holds in her hands and Christian approaching is only going to goad her. Or maybe there’s someone else in the house. Is someone watching us? Someone armed who will come to Gia’s aid the moment Christian steps over whatever imaginary line they’ve drawn around her? Luke won’t come upstairs for at least an hour. If she has reinforcements, we’ll be on our own. Unless… where’s Kommer? Is he dead too? Like Ava?

“Gia, please.” His voice trembles and I wonder if that’s because he’s come to the same conclusions I have. “You and I will work this out. I will give you whatever it is that you’ve come here for, just… please. Give me my baby and let her and my wife leave.”

She laughs. Not for show, but legitimately, heartily, laughs, and it sends a cold chill up my spine. Christian stops and glances around the still mostly dark apartment before taking another step in her direction. The moment he moves, she pulls back the hammer of her pistol and lifts it carelessly up into her lap, right next to my baby.

“No, please!” I shriek. Christian turns back and shoots me a sharp, warning glare and holds his hand back to keep me still. I sink to my knees on the hard, marble floor, tears pouring from my eyes as fear overcomes me, and reach out desperately for Calliope.

Gia’s eyes flit down to me, and she lets out her final cruel laughs before sighing and shaking her head. “Go? No. No one is leaving.” She twists the gun in her hand so she can look at the watch on her wrist and then frowns. “We’re in for a little bit of a wait though, so why don’t you two have a seat?”

“Gia…”

“I said take a seat, Grey.” Her expression suddenly grows hard, menacing, and her voice turns to ice. Calliope reaches out her tiny little hand for the silver barrel of the gun, which is too long because of the silencer attached to the end. When her fingers wrap around it, Christian’s whole body tenses and I do everything I can not to vomit.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll sit. It’s fine. We’ll negotiate on your terms but please, stop pointing that at my daughter.”

“Negotiate?” She laughs again, before reclaiming her stony demeanor. “Sit. Down.”

He holds his hand up in front of him in surrender and backs up to the couch behind me. I try to get up and slide into the seat next to him, because I know that listening to her and complying with her demands is the only way to keep my sweet, innocent little baby from being harmed, but I’m frozen. Her eyes narrow in on me and then a second later, I feel Christian’s hands wrap around my body. He picks me up, lifts me onto the sofa, and clings tightly to my hand, rubbing his thumb along the length of my index finger as if to silently promise everything is going to turn out okay.

My lip trembles as I stare singlemindedly at Calliope. My motherly instincts are in overdrive, feeling as though they’re burning me for keeping still and allowing her to remain in danger, but while I sit here running through a million different scenarios of how to get her out of Gia’s hands, I can’t think of even one that is safe or guaranteed to be successful. I’m paralyzed, impotent. Gia has the ultimate leverage in her hands and she knows it.

“I’m going to need your phones…” she says, and while Christian nods and then slowly reaches into his pocket to withdraw his iPhone, I shake my head.

“I don’t have it. It’s i-in my bag. I dropped it when I fell. It’s in the foyer.”

“You think you’re in a position to play games with me, Anastasia?”

“No.” My voice is high, the fear I feel coursing through me clinging to every word. “Gia, I swear to you, I don’t have it.”

She narrows her eyes at me and then waves her hand at Christian. He leans over to slide his phone across the floor to her and once her hands wrap around it, she gets out of her chair and gives us both a warning look.

“I swear to god neither of you better fucking move.”

We both nod and she turns to the foyer, taking my baby with her. The moment her eyes are no longer me, I start gasping for air, sure I’m about to succumb to a full blown panic attack, and Christian tightens his hand around mine. He looks around the apartment again, examining dark corners, focusing on what little of the upstairs we can see from where we sit on the couch. There’s nothing, but it doesn’t feel like there’s nothing.  

“It’s going to be okay, Ana,” he breathes so softly only I can hear him. “I’m going to get you and Calli out of here.”

“What about you?” I hiss back.

“I’ll be fine.”

“What are we going to do?” He shakes his head, unsure how to answer, and I begin shaking again. “They said he. Leila, Jack, Carter… they all said he. I heard him, Christian.”

“She’s not in charge. If she was, we’d already be dead. She’s just here to babysit us until he gets here. That’s what we’re waiting for.”

“What?”

He glances to our right, where Gia is returning from the foyer with my bag in her hand, and then opens my tightly clenched fist in my lap. With his fingers, he begins tracing letters into my palm.

J-A-N-E-D-O-E

Jane Doe. The woman who’d sent those photos of me. The woman who’d received a $10 million transfer this morning… It was Gia. But if she was being paid, that means that he’s still out there and since she’s still here even after the FBI’s pursuit tonight, he must not really be Gresham.

My eyes follow Gia as she moves across the room and finally sets Calliope down in the bassinet next to her chair, which she must have taken from my bedroom. There’s a tiny hint of relief in the knowledge that her hands are no longer on my baby, that Calliope is no longer staring down the barrel of a gun, but it’s not enough. Not nearly enough. Especially because, while she’s set the baby down, the gun is still in her hand and her finger is tapping absentmindedly against the trigger. Still, Christian shifts in the seat next to me. Preparing himself.

“Awh, you missed a call from your daddy, Ana. That sucks.” Gia gives me an obviously fake look of sympathy. “Maybe if you’d listened to your stupid fucking mother, you’d get to call him back.”

The redirection of her attention makes Christian shift again, but this time she notices and she once again raises the gun. Not at him, at me, and he’s paralyzed once more.

“Is that uncomfortable for you?” she sneers. “Knowing that if you’d just let her go, she wouldn’t be here right now? That if you weren’t so selfish and possessive, you’d be here with me and Ana and Calliope would be… oh, I don’t fucking care. Not here.” Christian starts to shake and his visible anger makes Gia’s eyes twinkle. “You should have fucked me when you had the chance.”

He squeezes my hand and then lets it fall into my lap, empty.

“Is that what this is about? Rejection? Because I turned you down?” She raises a challenging eyebrow and, after staring at her for a long time, his lips curl into same outrageously sexy half-smirk that has had me shamelessly chasing him for years. “I thought about it, you know. Last winter. I really, really thought about it.”

“Really?” She doesn’t believe him, but he nods all the same, slowly, and then drags his tongue over his bottom lip.

“Oh yeah. Every time I had you in the gym upstairs and you were in those tight sports bras or those tiny little shorts with your ass hanging out…” He pauses as though the memory makes him uncomfortable. Good uncomfortable. Delicious even. When he looks back up at her again, his eyes are blazing. “When you were sweating on the bench beneath me, I wondered what it would make you taste like. What it would sound like to hear you moaning, not from the weight, but from taking my cock. I wondered how much you’d be able to take down your throat or what I’d have to do to make you come. To make you scream.”

Gia swallows so hard, I can see her throat move and Christian leans toward her.

“Do you want to go into the bedroom and find out?”

She unconsciously reaches up and brushes her free hand across the back of her neck. When she drags it back down her body, she begins gnawing at her lip. “I–”

“You what, Gia?” His voice drops to a whisper. “Tell me what you want.”

“You, uh…” Another swallow and then her eyes meet his. “You must think I’m a special kind of stupid.”

Christian’s seductive act immediately drops. “What?”

“What do you think? I’m just going to turn around and skip my way to the bedroom, overcome with lust and desire, leaving Ana and Calliope completely unsupervised, and then you’ll… what? Wrestle the gun away from me? Maybe even tie me up with your little bondage toys so you don’t have to worry about me until the Feds get here? Then you come out here, the big hero, all ‘oh I didn’t mean it, Ana. I was just trying to save your life. I love you so much…’ Please.”

“No, I-I–”

“We need to get something straight between me and you, Grey.” She sits back down into the chair and spins it toward us, spreading her legs open and then leaning forward with her elbows rested on each of her knees. The gun dangles from her hand in between her legs. “I never wanted you, ever, because I know you’re a bad person. I know the things that you have done, and quite frankly, you disgust me. The flirting, the inappropriate touching, the giggles, the batting of the eyelashes, the sports bras, and the too short shorts, those weren’t for you. Those were for Elliot.”

“Oh really?” Now it’s Christian’s turn not to believe her.

“Yeah. I think you think my job was to spy on you and Ana, but it wasn’t. Ana was Leila’s responsibility. I was in charge of Elliot.”

“And why was that?”

“To isolate you. Everyone else in your life is just begging for a reason to jump ship. We already saw that right? I mean, your entire family cut you out for years. But not Elliot. Elliot is your ride or die, probably even more so than Ana since she left you too, so he had to go. It was too obvious just to kill him and his death probably wouldn’t have hurt you as much as abandonment. We just needed to find a way to make him abandon you. So, I put myself into his life and then threw myself at you. If you fucked me, it would be a betrayal. A personal betrayal against the person who had never betrayed you, who stood by you no matter what you did or how bad you fucked up. How could he continue to fight for you after that? He couldn’t, and once he was gone and we’d gotten Ana, you’d have no one else to turn to. You’d be alone. Vulnerable.”

She sighs before continuing.

“Unfortunately, Elliot was never really interested in me. He thought he was, he tried to tell himself that he was, but deep down, he was only ever with me to get Kate’s attention and no amount of blow jobs or nights spent having absolutely phenomenal sex could change that. So, he didn’t care that his girlfriend was practically begging his brother to fuck her because he always had one eye on Cambridge.” She shrugs. “It did make communication easier for me though, not having him watching me all the time. God he’s so fucking stupid.”

Christian’s jaw tenses and he stares back at her so intently it’s like his eyes are trying to bore holes right through her. “Isolation, huh? I’ve heard that one before. Tell me, is Elena really dead or is she on her way over here now?”

“Oh, no. She’s dead.” A wicked smile crosses her face. “He had a lot of fun with that one.”

“You psychotic bitch.”

She laughs, but it’s cut off by the ping of the elevator. Gia’s hand tightens on her gun and she practically jumps out of her chair, so I feel a rush of hope that someone knows we’re here and in danger and has come to save us. And for a brief second that hope is fueled when I see that it’s Luke who steps into the foyer, but that hope is dashed when Gia smiles.

“Baby!”

No. No, no, no. I refuse to…

Bang. Bang. Bang.

Gia raises her gun, pulls the trigger three times in quick succession, and Luke absorbs each of the bullets, one by one, into his chest before falling to his knees and collapsing on the floor. In his place, immediately behind where he’d been, Kommer stands with his own gun raised. Calliope starts to scream at the noise but I can’t look away from what’s in front of me to turn to her.

“No!” Without thinking, I leap from the couch and try to launch myself across the room at my fallen best friend, but Christian grabs me around the waist and pulls me back down.

“No,” he hisses. “You can’t help him. Don’t move, Anastasia.”

“Gia!” Kommer says, giving her a what the hell kind of look, but she brushes him off.

“Oh, please. I already had my chance at money-man taken away, it’s only fair that I get Sawyer. I’ve wanted that since New York. You were this close, Anthony. This close!”

A slow smile creeps across Kommer’s face. “Bloodthirsty.”

They laugh and she scurries across the great room to let him envelop her in his arms, but I don’t watch as they kiss. My eyes are wide and focused only on the floor where my best friend lies face down, not moving. I can feel my heart beating wildly in my chest as I struggle to breathe. I want to cry, and scream, and throw up, but I can’t. There’s too much shock. Too much fear. Not only does his motionless body mean that I’ve lost one of the people I love and care most about in the entire world, it means that Christian and I truly are alone. No one is going to come for us. Luke is dead, and Kommer is the one holding the gun.

I’m so absorbed in grief and the heightened severity of our situation that I don’t notice when Christian slinks off the couch behind me and creeps across the room. There’s no sound to alert me to his movements and he almost gets all the way to the bassinette before Kommer calls out to stop him.

“That’s far enough, Grey.” But Christian doesn’t falter under the threat of Kommer’s weapon. He looks defiantly back into his eyes and moves to place himself between our assailants and our child.

“No, no, baby,” Gia says. “Like this.” She pulls back the slide to make of show of ejecting one bullet but drawing another into the chamber, points the weapon at me, and then gives Christian a dark smile. “I’m a really good shot, Grey. Are you sure you’re want to test me?”

He freezes and glances uneasily back at me, but I want to scream for him to take the baby and run. The service entrance is just on the other side of the utility room, maybe I could head Gia and Kommer off long enough for him to get through the door. I’d take whatever they did to me, gladly, if it meant my husband and child would be safe. But he doesn’t run. He doesn’t move.

“Why don’t you go stand by the window, huh Grey? Hands up. Keep yourself out of trouble.” Kommer gestures for Christian to move away from the bassinet with this gun, and slowly, Christian steps back to the dark glass.

“I trusted you. I trusted you with the thing I care about most in the world. Tell me, Kommer, was it all a lie? Did you come onto my team knowing this is where we’d end up, or did he buy you out from under me?”

“He didn’t do anything. I’m not here for him. I’m here for her. She needed my help and there’s absolutely nothing in the world I wouldn’t do for her.”

“Even murder?”

“Would you, for Anastasia?”

He swallows, and I think it’s because he’s unwilling to answer that questions specifically because he’s trying desperately to keep us both alive, not coax him into what we can only assume they have planned. But then, to my surprise, he nods. “Yes, I would. And I can’t say that I’d care about the reason either, right or wrong. If that’s what she needed me to do, I’d do it. Absolutely. Because I love her.”

What the fuck is he doing?!

“But I would also die for her if I could, because what I actually care about is that she’s safe. I would do anything for that, hire an entire security team to shadow her every step, move across the country and jeopardize the entire stability of my company… Anything I could do to protect her, I would. Do you love Gia like that?”

Kommer just stares back at him for a moment, clearly confused. “Of course I do.”

“Then why are you here? What do you think is going to happen when this is over? You think you’ll just walk out of here and go on with your life with the woman you love and more money than you could ever spend? Don’t you think that’s the exact same thing he told Leila Williams? That he told Charles Gresham, or Jack Hyde, or Elena Lincoln. He promised Carter Reed Harvard and he was gunned down in the street.”

“They didn’t do their jobs…”

“They were loose ends. And that’s all you’ll be after this is over. Someone who could one day identify him. He’s coming for me tonight, and then it’ll be you. It doesn’t have to be like that. Help me, and I’ll protect you.”

“Look at him,” Gia says, squirming playfully under Kommer’s arm. “All confident like he has the first clue about what he’s talking about.” She kisses her lover’s thumb and then pushes him off of her before sauntering back into the great room, the arrogant smile back in place on her face. “There’s a big difference between me and Leila Williams, Grey.”

“You really think so, huh?”

“Mhm. You see Leila Williams was hired because she loved you and she wanted to make Anastasia pay for taking you away. That’s why she got Ana, not you. Charles Gresham and Jack Hyde were blackmail, Elena Lincoln wasn’t really given a choice since we had her packaged up in a little box that we had absolute control over, and Carter Reed… Well, Carter Reed was future planning. He was never supposed to be there the night Ana’s mother was whacked. That was punishment. Carter’s job was going to be to stay in touch with Kate so we’d be able to monitor your progress in tracking us all down once this was over, but then he showed he couldn’t be trusted by immediately running off to you so we had to do away with him too. Just like Isaac when he sent Elena’s book to Ana instead of me. We all have a role, and we’re all chosen very specifically, and very carefully. And the thing that keeps me here, that’s protected me even though I failed to break up you and Elliot, is much stronger than anything the other’s had.”

“Bullshit.”

Her smile falters and spiteful anger flares in her eyes. “You did a background check on me when I started dating Elliot, right?”

“Of course.”

“And what did you learn?”

Now it’s Christian’s turn to be confused, and it’s clear on his face that he doesn’t know what she’s getting at. Her gaze is insistent though, so he takes a breath and starts. “You were born in 1987 in New Jersey to Holly Paine, a single woman who died during childbirth and left no record for the father. They shifted you into the foster system until you were 3 weeks old, when you were adopted by Peter and Connie Matteo, both of modest income, but a hard working blue collar family. You graduated with a 4.0 from Oakcrest High School a year early and decided to attend the University of Washington to study graphic design in the hopes you’d earn an internship with one of the Seattle local tech giants, but then changed your focus to interior design your sophomore year. In 2010, you were selected for a post-graduation internship at my company and moved into the construction division where you proved to be a valuable asset working on a low income housing project GEH had been contracted to build for the city, so your position was made permanent. That’s how you met my brother. He’d put you in charge of interior design for the new GEH headquarters.”

He stops, probably wondering how much longer she expects him to go on or into how much detail, but she just keeps staring expectantly at him.

“Mhmm.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand what the point of this is.”

“The point is…” She flops down into the same chair she was sitting in when Christian and I had come into the apartment earlier in the evening and begins to spin. “Pete and Connie were not my parents. I had a daddy out there somewhere and when I turned sixteen, I decided I wanted to try and find out who that was. It took a year, but eventually the private investigator and team of DNA experts I’d hired got me a name. That’s why I chose to go to the University of Washington, not because I wanted to work at Microsoft.”

Christian’s face falls. “You’re his daughter.”

“Yep. And Daddy’s got a whole lot of money that’s going to be all mine if I just help him take care of you. At first it was just pictures, compromising pictures that were meant to break up you and your girlfriend, but then it turned into something… else. Something much more exciting.”

There’s another ping from the elevator but it doesn’t give me hope this time. I know there’s no one coming for us. Instead, it ignites a new level of fear inside of me because I know in the deepest part of my soul that this is it. This is what they’ve been waiting for. He’s here.

I can’t see into the foyer, but I can hear his footsteps and each one feels like the seconds ticking away on a timebomb.

“Kommer!” A wave of cold washes over me as the voice from the phone, the voice from my nightmares, rings loud and clear in the foyer.

“Yes, sir?” Kommer answers.

“There are cameras in the garage.”

“Uh… yes, sir. They’re Grey’s. For the cars… I disabled them this evening after Sawyer left. Before Gia got here.”

“And in the elevator.”

“Grey had them turned off months ago. He uh… he likes to fuck her in the elevator.”

“I see… Well shut it down. No one else gets up that elevator tonight.”

“Yes, sir.”

The footsteps sound again, then the man enters the great room and my body entire body seizes. He looks different than I remember, much less put together. His hair is longer and no longer perfectly coifed. His clothes aren’t as fine, he has facial hair now, and the practiced arrogance he used to carry himself with is gone, replaced now by something more careless and sloppy. But it’s none of those things that make it initially hard to recognize him, it’s the eyes. Once warm, they’re now cold, menacing, and entirely unfocused.

“Linc.” Christian’s voice is soft, devoid of any inflection, and the man standing in the entryway between the foyer and the living room smiles.

“Hi, Christian. It’s been awhile, well… for you. I’ve actually seen quite a bit of you and your life over the past few years.”

“So it would seem.”

They lock eyes for a long beat. Christian refuses to show fear or back down, but Linc seems to care very little about whatever kind of power play is going on between them. He turns and glances over to me, and the moment our eyes meet, a hungry kind of smile crosses his face. One I don’t like at all.

“Look. At. You.” His voice is husky and the intensity in his eyes terrifies me, but when I look down to break the overbearing eye contact between us, I realize for the first time since I looked into Ava’s eyes on the foyer floor that I’m sitting here only in a bra and a pair of panties, still covered in blood. Automatically, I move my hands up to try and cover as much of my body as I can but he doesn’t drop his gaze. Christian moves towards me, slowly, so he doesn’t draw attention to himself, but Lincoln doesn’t seem to care. He simply lets out long, energetic breath and takes a step forward until he comes even with Luke’s body.

“Who got Sawyer?”

“That would be me,” Gia replies, proudly, but Linc narrows his eyes at her.

“You really need to control this.”

Gia’s giddiness immediately dies out and when she speaks, her voice is flat and accusatory. “I thought you’d be happy.”

“I would have been had Kommer done it. But what did we talk about?”

“I-I-”

“I told you to calm down.”

They’re still here aren’t they?” She holds her arms out to gesture to Christian and I, but Linc just takes a deep, calming breath and shakes his head, as if to dispel his annoyance.

“Where’s the helicopter?”

“En route. It’ll be here any minute.”

Linc’s ravenous eyes move to me again. “Then let’s get to it.”

His words hit me like a jolt of electricity and when he moves again I find myself scrambling onto the couch, just to get farther away from him. Christian’s hand closes around my wrist and he quickly pulls me up so that I’m standing, and moves in front of me, protectively. It’s both relieving and infuriating, because while he’s protecting me, he’s leaving Calliope exposed. She’s at least six feet away from either of us, and now there are three of them, at least two of them armed. If Christian and I don’t get out of this, what will happen to her? Will he hurt her? Will he take her? Will she simply be found with our bodies, the way Christian was with his mother all those year ago?

Gia begins digging in a bag from the counter that I hadn’t noticed before while Linc marches through our living room like he owns the place. I begin to tremble as he moves to Calliope’s bassinette and then hold back an anguished scream when he reaches inside and pulls her out, grunting slightly as he settles her weight into his arm.

“Pretty baby,” he whispers. “You sure caused a lot of trouble coming into this world, you know that?” There’s a stark contradiction to his almost adoring tone and the sweet way he bounces her and tickles her tummy to the heaviness and terror that hang in the air because of his presence. My fingers curl into Christian’s arm, digging into his skin, and he reaches up to place a comforting hand over mine.

“Put her down,” he commands.

“In time,” Linc replies, and then uses his finger to tickle her under her chin. “First, we’re going to talk about some of your choices, Christian. That’s what tonight is going to be about. Your choices. What you chose then, and what you’ll choose now.”

“Choices?”

“Yes. You see, things have been a little one sided between us. A bit unfair really, and I’m here to rectify that. I made the choice to protect you, to turn my entire life upside down and inside out to fight for you, and you repaid me by lying, taking money from me, and stealing my company. You took my whole life away from me. Would you say that was a good choice, or a bad choice?”

The condescension in Linc’s tone clearly doesn’t sit well with Christian. “I didn’t steal your company, I–”

“I know how acquisitions work, Christian. I get it. Your business had a need and you had to fulfill it. But you didn’t have to come for me. Not after what you’d already taken from me.”

Christian exhales slowly, his body relaxes, and he nods. When he speaks, his voice is conciliatory. “You’re right. I didn’t have to come for you. Your company was the best fit for what I needed, the easiest to take on, and the most financially viable option, but you’re right. I didn’t have to take Lincoln Timber, and maybe I shouldn’t have after the history between us. I’m sorry. But I can’t give it back to you. It doesn’t exist anymore.”

“I understand that, I don’t expect you to.” He lets out a hard sigh and begins to pace. “It doesn’t really matter. Hell, I hadn’t taken any joy in work for years anyway. I’d lost my passion for it. So, maybe it was best in the end that it went to you. My people have good jobs in a thriving industry, I got a very generous pension, and that’s because of you. I can forgive Lincoln Timber.”

Christian nods, but neither of us relax. He hasn’t done what he’s done to be satisfied by an apology and he isn’t here to give his forgiveness. This is all just the preamble for what he’s really after.

“But it’s not just Lincoln Timber that you took from me,” he continues. “Not even close. You ruined me, Christian. You have no idea what you did to me, not in the slightest. I had to run, flee the state and re-headquarter my company because of the way you humiliated me. I lost half of the fortune I’d spent my entire life building. You took everything. And so tonight, I’m going to give you the chance to make it right by giving you a choice.”

“Which is?”

Linc smiles. “Your money or your family.”

I feel a pair of hands wrap around my arms and then violently yank me backwards. Both Christian and I had been so focused on Linc that neither one of us noticed Kommer sneaking around behind us, and now he had me restrained against his body with his gun pressed into my throat, just below my jaw.

“My family!” Christian shouts immediately. “My family. I choose my family.”

“Good choice.” He looks over to Gia and nods. She pulls a phone or maybe a small tablet out of the bag and turns to face us, but Christian quickly shakes his head.

“Let her go. You get nothing as long as you have a gun to my wife’s head.”

I shake again, wondering if Christian is in the position to make any kind of demands or if he’s just going to make the situation worse. Linc though, seems non-plussed.

“Let her go, Kommer.”

“And get the fuck away from her,” Christian growls.

Kommer’s hands drop from my body and I feel my fingers begin to throb at the rush of blood that had been choked back by his tight grip on my wrist. He stares Christian down as he saunters away from me and moves to the chair next to where Gia is still standing, making a show of slumping down into the seat and rocking back and forth.

“And Calliope…” Christian says, but this time, Linc’s eyes narrow. He’s losing patience.

“I think I’ve made enough concessions, Christian. It’s your turn. One hundred grand, if you please.”

Christian seems to do a double take. “Wait… a hundred grand? All you want is a hundred grand?

“Weren’t you listening? Tonight is about making things fair. You stole $100 thousand from me, I want it back.”

“You stole $65 million from me two fucking days ago!”

“Let me rephrase. I want you to give back the $100 thousand dollars you stole from me. I want you to make a choice, Christian.”

“You’ve killed people, Linc. You’ve destroyed lives, families… all over a hundred grand?”

“Sound familiar?”

Christian shakes his head with disgust at the challenging look Linc gives him and then reaches for Gia and the tablet in her hands. She smiles broadly as she moves towards him, but as she stretches out her hand to give the device to Christian, he suddenly lunges forward, grabs her by the arm, and pulls her against him the same way Kommer just had me. They struggle for half a second while Christian forces her to drop the gun and then grabs her by the throat, squeezing so tightly she starts to gasp for air and gag over the pressure.

“You have my daughter,” Christian says in a voice that is more menacing than anything I’ve ever heard from him before. “I have yours. Give her to me and I’ll let her go.”

What remained of the patient look Linc has worn since he first arrived vanishes. His eyes darken, the lines in his face seem to deepen, and his mouth stretches into a thin line.

“You always choose the money,” he says darkly. “You’ll always choose the money.” Everything that happens next plays out too quickly for either Christian or I to react, but so purposefully it’s like I’m watching it in slow motion. Linc reaches behind him, removes his own weapon from the back band of his jeans, and thrusts it forward at Christian. I scream as he pulls the trigger and the sonic boom of the bullet leaving it’s chamber echos through the room.

The glass behind me shatters. My face is showered with a burst of hot, fresh blood, like I’ve stepped out into a stormy summer night and tilted my face to the sky. I can’t move. I’m held in place by the sheer brutality of what has just happened.

Christian’s face is colored with shock and flecks of blood. He doesn’t shake the way I am, but he immediately withdraws his hold and let’s Gia’s body slump unceremoniously to the floor. Her skin makes a sickening slapping sound as she falls hard against the marble, and the lifeless arm that reaches out towards me is soon surrounded in a pool of deep, dark crimson.

“You have nothing to hold over me, Grey,” Linc says. “Nothing in the world matters to me. All I have left is hatred and anger and an overpowering need to make you pay. I’m not even a man anymore.”

My lungs tighten and I realize it’s because I’ve stopped breathing, but the silence that settles in after Lincoln’s threat is suddenly broken by Kommer’s cry of agony. The shock has passed, and he’s only just now processing what has happened right in front of him.  

“No!” He’s at Gia’s side in the time it takes me to blink and pulls her into his arms, shaking her, calling her name, refusing to believe what his eyes tell him. Eventually though, the reality of the situation to too much for him to deny, and he starts to shake with fury.

“You son of a bitch!” Kommer leaps from the ground to lunge at Linc, but with two more quick pulls on the trigger, which seem almost lazy, the threat is neutralized. Kommer staggers and reaches to touch the red stains growing across the front of his shirt, then coughs a bubble of blood and falls to the floor next to Gia.

All I can do is stare. My mind registers nothing, my ears ring with the sound of the gunshot still echoing inside my head, and every part of me is numb. It’s a defense mechanism I think, protecting me from the brutality of what I’ve had to witness tonight, and it holds me until a loud whirring sound fills the apartment and a bright light comes through the broken windows and catches my eye. We all turn to face the helicopter sweeping up the side of the building to the roof, where Christian’s helipad is waiting.

“That’s my ride,” Linc says. “We don’t have long,” He moves back to the bassinet to dispose of my baby, who is once again screaming her little lungs out. She’s hurt and I can only imagine it’s because of the gun firing too loudly for her little ears right over her head. But I can’t get to her. She needs me, and I can’t get to her.

Once Calliope no longer in Lincoln’s arms, he reaches down to gather the bag Gia had, and then slides the tablet she’d dropped back across the floor to Christian’s feet.

“You make the transfer. Gresham has already set it up, all you have to do is press the button. Ana can take your precious baby.”

It’s the only thing that could have broken the trance. I let out a strangled cry and shuffle forward, arms already outstretched for her.

“Ana, no!”

Christian’s cry is too late. The moment I’m within reach of the bassinette, Linc is on me. His hands wrap around me like pythons, squeezing me, violating me, his gun pressed tightly against my temple, and the low groan of pleasure he gives at my anemic struggle against his hold makes bile creep up into my mouth.

“Okay!” Christian screams. He leans down to pick up the tablet and presses his finger into the glass. Once the transfer is sent and he has the proof of it depicted on the screen, he turns the tablet so Linc can see. “It’s done. You have your money, a willing gift from me. I’m sorry I ever took it. Now, let her go.”

“No, I told you tonight was about your choices. You made it, and you chose wrong. You don’t get to give me anything anymore.”

He nods in agreement. “You’re right. Not a gift. I took the money from you, you took the money from me. Fair is fair.”

“Fair is fair? Fair is FAIR?” His grip tightens around me, making me whimper with pain, and Christian takes a cautionary step forward.

“Linc, please…”

I will make this fair! You took my money, I took yours. You fucked my wife…”

Christian’s face sallows the instant the words escape Linc’s lips, but when he speaks again, the anxious quiver is gone, replaced by restrained but growing anger. “Let her go, Linc.”

“How long did you have my wife, huh Christian? How long were you shoving your filthy cock inside of her behind my back? Four years wasn’t it?”

“Let. Her. Go.”

“You’re not making demands! I am the one who makes demands!” He shifts the gun, moving away from me and pointing it directly at Christian. “This is how it’s going to go. You can have your company, and your pristine reputation, and your daughter, but I am leaving with your pretty little bride tonight. She’ll stay with me until she’s satisfied the debt your disgusting affair with Elena has put you in. I will use her every night, in whatever way I see fit. Just the way you did with my wife. I will come in every one of her tight little holes, and at the end, if I haven’t gotten her pregnant and my baby hasn’t ripped her apart the way yours tried to, I’ll send her back to you. What’s left of her anyway. Let’s see how much you want her then.”

“I’ll fucking kill you!” Christian shouts, his teeth bared, and his entire body trembling with rage. All sense of self preservation gone, he strides forward like a bear, ready to maul and destroy, but before he even gets within arms reach, Linc’s hand squeezes the gun, and a shot rings loud and sure through the apartment.

Christian stumbles backward, looking stunned, and then his knees crumple until he falls backwards. Through the opening in his tuxedo jacket, I can see the red starting to spread over his pristine white shirt.

“No!” With everything I have I fight and pull against Linc’s grip. He tries to reach around me, to restrain me, but I’m no longer threatened by the gun and the tightness of his grip no longer causes me any pain. I’m sure I do as much damage to myself as I do to him while I kick and punch and knee every part of his body that I can reach, and finally, when my teeth sink deep down into the hand he tries to cover my mouth with, he roars in pain and releases me.   

“You little fucking bitch!”

I fall to the ground and scramble on my hands and knees to get to Christian. His breathing is ragged, shallow, and his eyes move wildly back and forth. I pull the jacket away from him to get a better look at his wound, then refuse to let the startling amount of blood coloring the shirt across his entire abdomen mean anything.

“You’re okay,” I whisper in panic, using my hands to press down on where I can see the bullet went through his shirt. “You’re going to be okay.” It’s not an assumption, it’s a demand. Because he has to be okay.

“Ana,” he croaks. “I love you.”

“No, you’re not saying goodbye.”

“You need to run…”

His words choke off as he continues struggling to breathe and tears prick my eyes. “I’m not leaving you. Don’t you dare leave me.”

His entire body shudders with pain and I feel the blood gush up through my fingers. He needs a hospital, now, or he’s going to bleed out.

“Anastasia, run!”

My rejection of his command is cut off with a scream of pain as Linc’s fingers twist through my hair at the back of my head and he yanks me backwards off of Christian. I feel his hands trying to wrap around me, to pull me back and away from my husband, so once again I begin fighting against him as if my life depended on it. Because Christian’s life does.

“No, no, no!” I scream, kicking him away and scratching against the marble floor to try and crawl my way back to Christian. His hand secures around my ankle and he pulls, hard, dragging me away again. My hands leave blood colored streaks across the floor as I search for something, anything to grab onto.

There’s nothing. And I am no match for Linc’s strength.

He leans down over the top of me and takes hold of my arms, finally pinning me to the floor. “You want to do this the hard way? Good. The harder you fight me, the more you struggle, the harder I get.” He grinds his pelvis into, proving he’s not speaking metaphorically. I start to sob as grief and terror begin to overwhelm me and he shifts his grip, holding both of my wrists above my head with one hand and subduing the rest of my body with his. I feel his free hand come down and begin to grope my breasts over my bra and then he leans in to drag his tongue over the lobe of my ear. “Should we start now? Maybe Christian should see the first time. That way, he won’t have to imagine what’s happening to you later. He’ll know, and he’ll get to feel what it’s like to have everything he’s ever wanted or cared about stolen away from him. Just like he did to me. I want him to wake up every morning knowing that I have what’s his. That I have you.”

“Ple-ease… let me go.”

He groans. “Fuck yes. Beg me to stop, Ana. God, you’re going to be fun. Mmm, it’s been a long time since I’ve had pussy as young as yours. I can’t wait to taste it.”

His hand moves away from my breast and then moves down. At first, I think he’s going to try and remove my panties, but when he reaches into his own pants and pulls out a syringe with clear liquid inside from his pocket, the fear that bursts inside of me is so much more palpable than anything I could have ever imagined. Whatever he tries, I can still fight him. I can still try to escape. I can still try to stop him. That needle is the kill switch to whatever hope there is left.

I squirm and thrash beneath him but his grip is so sure, it doesn’t even seem like he notices me struggling. He lifts the syringe to his mouth and uses his teeth to pull off the cap, then twists it in his hand and brings it down hard and fast into my thigh. I scream both from pain and defiance, but he’s only pushed the plunger halfway down when something hard hits him and he’s knocked onto the ground at my side, ripping the needle from my skin.

My head swims and my eyelids start to feel extremely heavy. It’s like a fog that has taken hold of my consciousness that I can’t shake away. It makes everything around me feel like a dream that I’ll only half remember in the morning.

With great deal of effort, I turn my head toward the movement I can see out of the corner of my eye and realize that the thing that hit him was Christian. He has Linc pinned beneath him and he hits him across the face so hard it sends a splatter of blood from his mouth across the pristine floor.

“No one threatens my wife,” Christian growls. He lifts his fist to punch him again, but Linc strikes first, hitting him in the side where he’s been wounded by the bullet. Christian lets out a horrifying yell, filled with pain, and it’s exactly the opportunity Linc needs. He shoves Christian away and then clamors over the top of him before he begins delivering his own rain of blows. A voice far in the back of my head screams at me to do something, to intervene, but my body is so heavy with the drug that I can’t get anything to move. Everything in my field of vision starts to move, like the colorful swirl of light on the surface of a bubble. I shake my head again, fighting desperately to stay alert, but it’s getting harder.

“Ana.” The almost ghostly sounding call comes from the other side of the room and when I turn to look, I see Luke struggling to pull himself across the floor.

“Luke!” I gasp with relief. He’s hurt, I can see that in his face and the way he can barely move, but he’s alive. And alive is help…

With a heavy groan, he pulls his hand back and then thrusts something forward at me. As it skitters to a stop at my side, I can only just make out that it’s a gun. My eyes move back to him, panting and struggling to stay conscious through the pain of his wounds, and I realize that he’s giving me the weapon because he’s not going to be able to get close enough or aim well enough in his state to be sure he won’t hit Christian.

But how could I?

I reach for it, struggling against the blackness that is trying desperately to cloud over my eyes, and wrap my hand around the handle of the gun. It’s heavy, maybe too heavy for me to lift while I’m fighting off the sedative, but before I even have the chance to turn back to the life or death fight taking place only feet away from me, another gunshot rings through the apartment.

And then everything goes black.

Next Chapter

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