Updates

Hi guys,

I just wanted to give everyone an update as to why there’s no update this week. Last week, my husband and I got a call that his aunt was in critical condition and we needed to get to Las Vegas to say our final goodbyes.

I live in Seattle and flights on a holiday weekend were exorbitant, so he and I got in the car at 5 AM last Wednesday and drove to Las Vegas, which is insane and was terrible (to be clear). Needless to say, I’ve been travelling for over a week and couldn’t write, so there was nothing to post. I just got back yesterday, so hopefully that’s enough time to get a new chapter finished by Monday (I’m optimistic).

Additionally, I want to let you guys in on the big secret as to why my posting has been so irregular over the last few months. It’s not tragic or sad, just the result of a plot that didn’t work. I told you all that for the first three books, I worked off an extraordinarily detailed and long outline, so when I decided to write a fourth book, the first thing I did was sit down and plot the whole thing out. But then I started posting and the reaction wasn’t great. I pushed through, as I usually do, but it became apparent that holding on to what I wanted to do wasn’t really worth it when my audience wasn’t connecting to it.

So I decided to make a change.

I’m taking the story in a completely different direction from my plan going forward, and am going to try writing without an outline. I know what is going to happen and how the story ends, but I haven’t plotted out every detail the way I did previously. Instead, I’m going to work in small archs. I’m worried it’s going to affect my ability to throw in the little nuggets of foreshadowing, but if it makes the story better in the end, that’s what I’m here for. I might go back and change the beginning when the story is done, we’ll see.

The result is, however, that I’m writing outside of my comfort zone and that affects productivity to a certain degree. I really do try and get updates done every single week, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen and I really am sorry for that. Every time I have to post one of these, I feel like I’m not upholding my end of the bargain. But I do want to reassure everyone that I WILL finish this story. I’ve spent too much time with these characters to just abandon them.

The plus side is changing my plan means this story is going to be much longer, so we can all look forward to more chapters. And, through this experience, I learned how to write for this genre better and will use that for all of my works going forward, so thank you for your feedback, both good and bad. This is a prime example of how much it really does help.

As always, thank you from the bottom of my heart (Britney reference) for all of your love and support through the years! You guys keep me wishingmrgreywashere.

xoxoxo

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Chapter 16

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September 2011

“Christian, I think it’s time we start considering that Ana might need REAL help. This isn’t healthy,” Carrick says.

“Don’t you think I’ve tried? I’ve flown in doctors from around the world, I’ve shielded her from the news and every mention of what happened. Hell, I’ve asked her to just… go see Flynn every single day since we left Escala, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. She’s not ready.” There’s a soft thud as, I imagine, Christian lets his head fall against the closed door between us. He should be at work now. I’ve heard through the bits of phone conversations he’s had with Ros and Welch as he paced the floor, thinking I was asleep, that GEH is launching a new, top secret energy project that he expects will take up most of his time until it’s complete. But he can’t go to work. He can’t leave the house. Because he won’t leave me.

I curl my fingers around the blankets that cover his childhood bed and pull them up over the top of my head, trying to block out their voices.

“She’s not eating, Son,” Carrick continues. “She’s not sleeping. She’s not taking care of herself…”

“She showered on her own this morning. That’s progress.”

“It’s been six weeks, a shower shouldn’t be a celebration. I think it’s time we thought about sending her to some kind of treatment facility. Somewhere beautiful and relaxing where she can get some separation. Find peace. They’re better equipped to deal with this kind of depression.”

“She’s not depressed. She’s terrified. And, sending her away from Calliope would only make her worse.”

“Christian…”

“She just needs more time, Dad. And if that’s what she needs, that’s what she’s going to get. I can take care of her until she’s ready.”

Carrick sighs. “Alright, I’m sorry I brought it up. Your mother is preparing a bottle downstairs. If you’ll get Calliope for me, I’ll take her down.”

I can hear the metallic grind of the knob as it turns, but Christian opens the door the rest of the way and moves across the bedroom in complete silence. The bassinet Calliope has been sleeping in since we moved in with Grace and Carrick is in the corner closest to the bed I’m lying in, and through sound and some other sense that seems to have been heightened in the aftermath of our ordeal with Andrew Lincoln, I know he’s lifting the baby into his arms and carrying her out of the room. Her small, sweet coos disappear with the click of the door closing and it takes everything in me not to call out for her, refuse to let them take her from my side.

My eyes screw tightly closed. ‘Grace is feeding her. She needs to eat. Grace is safe. This house is safe. We are safe.’

I repeat those words in my head over and over again, willing myself to believe them.

“I know you’re not sleeping,” Christian says, making me jump because I thought the room was empty. I take a deep breath to try and calm my system again, to stop the shaking, and pull the blanket off my head so that I can blink up at his worried face.

“How?” My voice is hoarse.

“You’re not screaming.” He takes a deep breath and sits on the bed beside me. His fingers move up into my hair, rubbing gently against my scalp. It feels nice, but I still involuntarily flinch under his touch, just as I have every time he’s touched me in the last six weeks. I know that it hurts him to see me recoil from his hands and I wish I could stop, but I can’t.

‘This house is safe. We are safe.’

“Ana. Baby…”

“Please don’t send me away,” I croak. “I’m trying. I’m really trying.”

“I know. You’re not going anywhere.”

I nod and then curl my bottom lip under my teeth, trying to hide the tremble from him. There’s heat from impending tears blooming in my eyes. “How long am I going to feel like this, Christian?”

“Baby–”

“I can’t stop seeing it. Every time I close my eyes, I see him. I feel him on top of me. No matter how much time passes, I can’t get out.”

“You are out, Ana. You’re right here, with me. Only me.” His voice is thick now too, and when I glance up to look at him again, I can see the pain etched in every crease in his forehead and around his eyes. As difficult as it is for me to simply press on day after day, I can’t imagine how devastating it is for him to see me this way. To watch me unravel over and over again. To be completely and utterly shattered. To know that every time he tries to pick me up and put me back together, I slip through his fingers and break all over again.

I feel weak, and I hate it. I hate what Lincoln has done to me. I hate that, even in death, he holds power over me. Christian, Carrick, Elliot, Kate, and my dad can all tell me that it’s over, that we’ve won and everything is safe now. But this isn’t victory. This, what I’m living right now, is the very definition of defeat.

“I promise you, Anastasia. I’m never going to let anyone hurt you ever again. No matter what it takes, no matter what I have to do, I’m going to keep you safe. I’m going to keep Calliope safe. No one will come for us ever again.”

“How do you do that?” I whisper. “How do you sound so sure?”

“Because I have to. I can’t fail at this again. I won’t.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Christian. You didn’t fail us. He was…”

“Insane, I know. But the holes in my defenses that he exposed will never be left open again. We’re wiser now. Stronger. I am in control, and no one is going to take that from me again. You’re safe, Ana. Please, let me try to help you.”

The pleading hope that looks down on me is nearly enough to break me in two.

“I love you, Christian,” I tell him, my voice cracking. I reach up and place a hand on his cheek. His eyes close as he leans into my touch and the look of relief that flashes briefly across his face makes my heart beat the first solid thump I’ve felt in weeks. But the warm, wholeness I feel pressing my fingers into his scruff fades as quickly as it came, changing instead into something cold and sharp. My hand recoils and I may as well have slapped him for the look of pain that instantly replaces his moment of serenity. “I just… can’t. Not yet. And I’m sorry. I wish I had your strength. I wish I felt any ounce of the control you do, but I don’t.”

He takes a deep breath through his nose and looks down at me for a long time, like he’s trying to solve a puzzle, but is continually coming up short. “What if…? I mean, maybe you can.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know how you’re feeling, Ana. I know that it feels like no one could ever understand, but I do. I spent a long time feeling like everything around me was out of my control. Like life was happening to you and you were helpless to stop it. I can… I can help you change that. I can help you take back control.” I can’t help but notice the caution in his voice, like he’s not sure he should really do what he’s suggesting. But the lure of his promise is too much to resist.

“Show me.”

He takes another deep breath in preparation and then nods. Slowly, his hands peel the comforter away from my body and the cold air of the room brings goosebumps to the surface of my skin. I want to pull them back. There’s a kind of vulnerability that comes from being exposed that I want to fight against on an instinctual level, but I force myself to bear it. The promise of respite from this constant fear is too strong.

“I love you, Anastasia,” he says, gruffly now. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I know.”

His fingers release the blankets still clutched in his hand, and he moves his palms over my legs. My muscles tense, and every sinew of my body aches to pull away, but I don’t. I stare down at his hands, determined, and watch them trace the curves of my body.

“These are my hands,” Christian says. “Not his. Not anyone else’s. You belong to me, Anastasia, and these are the only hands that will ever touch you again.”

I nod and continue to watch the drag of his fingers over my skin. For months, the parts of me that Andrew Lincoln had groped and molested seem to burn with the imprint of his touch. But when Christian’s hands sweep over them, tender and full of his love, that burn is extinguished for the first time. I feel like he’s swiping an analgesic over my limbs, numbing the guilt and the pain. When he touches me the memory of all other touch dissipates, and the relief is like being able to breathe freely for the first time in months.

“You are mine, Ana,” he repeats.

“Yours,” I whisper back.

“You are safe.”

“Safe.”

His hands move up my body, over my hip, my side, my breast, until his hands cradle either side of my face. Again, he pauses to look deep into my eyes and like a bear awakening from a long winter hibernation, I feel the first stirrings of heat between my legs.

“Christian.”

His hands tighten around the roots of my hair, making me gasp, and then he leans down to kiss me. A real kiss, not the hesitant press of lips I’ve come to know over the past few weeks that always breaks away in rejection and hurt. His mouth is demanding against mine, taking from me what he wants but maintaining an expression of love that cannot be denied. A part of me realizes that his power should frighten me. In the aftermath of everything I’ve experienced, I should cower under his insistent, commanding touch. I should fear the pain and humiliation that is sure to follow, that I felt when Andrew Lincoln touched me. But Christian’s dominance doesn’t frighten me. His certainty, his strength, and his love reassure me in a way that’s different than it’s felt in the past. Somehow, his sovereignty in this moment is also mine. It’s not something I can explain, even to myself, it’s something I can only feel.

“Tell me your safeword,” he growls against my mouth.

“Red,” I pant back.

“Say that word, and I’ll stop. Whether it’s pain or pleasure, all you have to do is use that word, and everything will end. Do you understand me?”

“Yes.” And it’s in that moment that I truly do. Because I think of Christian as the strongest man in the world. The most powerful. The most influential. And for all that he controls, I’m the one who can stop him. Only me.

That’s power. True power. And it’s mine.

“Yes, what?” he asks, voice low and dark.

“Yes, Sir.” And with that, I’m flipped around and his hand comes down hard on my behind, the pain searing all memory of foreign touch from my body. When Christian climbs onto the bed behind me, kneeling between my legs and working quickly to get his belt open, I’m a clean slate. I’m brand new again. Stronger. More Sure. Put back together again by his strength and the power he lets me wield through the guise of submission.

 

“Mrs. Grey?”

I start and blink away the memory, before turning to look at my CPO standing in the doorway to my office. Even through my exhausted state, I can see the hesitance in his eyes. Like he’s unsure whether or not to bother me. I’d attempted to go back to bed once Christian left for work this morning and I’d made sure Calliope was fed and taken care of, but the moment my eyes closed, the nightmares returned, filled with fire and smoke and the whisper of Andrew Lincoln. So, I dragged my tired body into the shower, dressed, and came into work, intent on occupying my mind with chapter submissions and whatever I’m going to say to Scott about Phoenix. Unfortunately, my capacity for critical thinking after my long, sleepless night isn’t as keen as my will. The speech I’ve prepared to convince him feels empty of the conviction that I feel so potently, I’m willing to put my career on the line for it.

“Yes, Woods?” I yawn.

He closes the door and steps into my office, settling down into the chair on the other side of my desk and leaning towards me. “Is there something I can get for you, Ana? Coffee? Food, maybe?”

“No. I’m fine, thank you.” I offer him a weak smile that doesn’t fool him for a second, then sigh. “Did you speak to Andrea?”

“Yeah, he’s been in a meeting with his lawyers and PR team all morning.”

I fight not to roll my eyes. “Yeah, I had about seven different text messages from Jacqueline when I got out of the shower asking me to post a picture of Calliope on PixC to distract from all the media coverage about GEH right now.”

“Which you ignored?”

“Obviously. But I’ve got lots of pictures of Christian and I from my last year at Harvard that I thought would be just as distracting. I’m about six months pregnant in the one I posted, so maybe someone won’t realize it’s old and a new rumor will be started and all this other stuff will be swept under the rug.”

“Do you want it to be?” Woods stares at me, but not as though he’s expecting an answer. His tone and the careful look of empathy behind his eyes tells me he already knows what I want to say. I swallow my doubts and turn away from him. “Look, Ana. Taylor told me when I was assigned to your service that Mr. Grey had been clear about not wanting another CPO to get close to you. That’s why I’ve tried to keep you at arm’s length and stay professional. But… I’m here if you want to talk. I was there yesterday. I saw it. I know how hard that must have been for you.”

I look down at my hands in my lap, blinking away the hot moisture pooling over my lower lids. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” he concedes. “But I’m here if you do.”

“Thanks… Evan.”

“My pleasure, Ana.” He gets out of his chair and grins at me, trying to be reassuring, I think. It’s a different side of him, something I haven’t seen before. I never thought I’d find another CPO like Luke Sawyer, but there’s something genuine his concern, in the almost avuncular gleam in his eyes, that soothes the sense of unease inside of me just a fraction. I smile as he turns to go, but before he exits my office completely, he stops and faces me again.

“He’s doing a press conference this evening.”

“What? Why?” Woods raises an eyebrow, an indication that I should already know. And, after a few seconds thought, I do. By addressing the media himself, he can try to re-shape the narrative. He can express his regret over what happened and reassure the public of all the steps they’re taking to make sure none of this happens again. Offense as the best defense.

“Should I go?” I ask, but Woods just shrugs.

“If you want. But if you don’t, it’s going to be televised.”

Of course it is.

My phone beeps on my desk, interrupting my internal argument over supporting my husband publicly and disagreeing with him privately, and Abby’s voice comes through the speaker.

“Mrs. Grey, Mr. Wallace is on line one for you.”

Shit.

“Thank you, Abby.” I look up at Woods, tell him that I’ll let him know what I decide before this afternoon, and pick up the receiver on the phone. “Hi, Scott.”

“Ana, hey. Are you alright?”

My heart sinks. I guess, if he’s heard about it in New York, yesterday’s incident is now national news. “Yeah, thanks.”

“Is Grey…?”

“He’s fine. Everyone was fine.”

He lets out a sigh of relief that sounds surprisingly real through the phone. “Good. Carmen said this morning she wanted to send you flowers or something, but we weren’t sure if you’d be in the office today, or even if something like that would be welcome.”

“I appreciate the thought, but we’re fine. My immediate concern is what book we’re going to put up for Carmen tomorrow.”

“Really?”

My brows knit together. “Of course. I’m in the office, I’d like to my job.”

“Well, when I saw the news coverage last night, I assumed you’d be out for a few days. I only called because Stevens said you were in today and I was surprised.”

“You talked to Stevens? Why?”

“To let him know that Daves’ contract was sent out this morning. I expect it to be signed and returned by end of business today.”

“What?!” Angry heat rises inside of me, scorching away the exhaustion and dread lingering in my bones. “You approved The Black Rose?”

“Like I said, Ana… I thought you were going to be out.”

“Well, I’m not! I’m here, fully prepared to talk to you about why that very decision absolutely cannot be allowed to happen. Jesus, Scott…” My teeth clench as my continually growing anger renders me speechless.

“Look, I know you don’t agree, and that’s a shame, but this was always the right decision, Ana. Daves is a proven best seller, this is going to float you through the rest of the fiscal year. And once his sales make the right impact on our bottom line, you can go ahead with that other title you want.”

If they make the right impact,” I argue, “which I have serious doubts over, that impact won’t be felt for a year. Maybe more. You expect me to ask my author to sit around for that long, praying this novel doesn’t tank and destroy her chances at being published?”

“I’m sorry, Ana. It’s done.”

“And Carmen just approved this, without even discussing it with me?”

He goes on the defensive. “Like I said, we didn’t think you would be in.”

“Do you think cellphones only work inside this building?”

“I thought you probably had more important things to worry about yesterday than getting whatever book you liked best that week to the top of the frontlist. Decisions had to be made and you left the office early. You’re welcome for running your branch while you were gone, by the way.”

I can’t even dignify that with a response. I pull the phone away from my ear, slam it back down on the receiver, and turn back to my computer. On the screen is an open document I’ve used to create an outline of all of the research I’ve done on the current sales climate and competing titles, which I’d planned to go over with Scott on that call. Instead, I exit out and pull up my email.

 

From: Anastasia Grey

Subject: Resignation

Date: April 3rd, 2012, 11:45 AM

To: Carmen Gallagher

Dear Ms. Gallagher,

Please let this letter serve as notification of my resignation from Greenwich Small Press, effective immediately. There is nothing I, nor anyone else, can do to save your publishing house as long as that motherfucking….

 

I stop, take a breath, then let my head fall into my hands. I’m well within my rights to resign. How can I be expected to do what’s asked of me when every time I try to make a change, I’m blocked by the old guard? Scott can preach about how this is the right move until he’s blue in the face but it’s my name that’s on the line here. My credibility. And if this release fails… no, when this release fails, all the blame is going to fall on me.

But I’m not a quitter.

The only thing I’ve ever walked away from my entire life ended up being one my biggest regrets. I’ve spent years now putting what I broke that day back together. And I doubt Scott or Carmen will be as forgiving of me leaving as Christian was. I don’t want to run anymore. I don’t want to be seen as the person who throws their hands in the air in defeat every time something gets too difficult. I don’t want to be the girl who things happen to, where everything is outside of my control. This is a shitty hand, but I’m not a novice to this game.

With stubborn determination, I turn for my bag and pull out the beaten up copy of The Black Rose manuscript contained inside. The text on the page seems to mock me as I scan each chapter, picking up mistakes and lazy writing from even just a cursory glance. But this is now my cross to bear. The manuscript has been approved, the contract has been sent, and now I have to find a way to turn this into something remarkable. Or I have to leave.

Maybe it’s a side effect of spending too much time with people named Grey, but, despite how hopeless I feel this manuscript really is, I decide then and there that I’m not going to let it defeat me. I’m not going to throw away the work I’ve put in to fill this seat. Carmen told me when I was hired that she was essentially asking for a miracle, now it’s time for me to produce.

I press my finger into the zero on my phone to page reception.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey?” Penny responds.

“Penny, can you get Hailey Lewis on the line for me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Our conversation is brief. I don’t have the heart to tell her that I’ve failed her over the phone. So, instead, I invite her to lunch. The excitement in her voice stabs at my heart as we agree on a time and place, and when I hang up I feel a crushing sense of disappointment warring with my newfound determination. But my path is set now, thanks to Scott, and the only way to go from here is forward.

I gather my things and make my way out of the office to meet Hailey for lunch, texting on my phone as I go. It’s only after I’ve slipped my phone back into my bag and glanced up to find Woods that I notice the shift in the atmosphere amongst my employees. Stevens is leaning far back in his chair, his feet kicked up on his desk and a gloating smile plastered on his face. Those in his close proximity stare at him with admiration, except for Jacki, who shakes her head and focuses her attention on her own screen. Clearly, the word is out. Scott won, and I lost.

“Stevens,” I say sharply, He blinks and glances lazily in my direction, as if the very act of turning to face me is a great expenditure of effort.

“Ana?”

“I just wanted to congratulate you on how hard you fought for your author. It’s that kind of tenacity that the people who put their careers in our hands every day expect from us. Well done.”

He laughs, gloating again. “Sure.”

“And I’ve decided, since you are so sure that this is the novel that’s going to carry us through the rest of the fiscal year and keep us from closing our doors come Christmas time, that I’m going to personally see to its success.”

The smug look on his face vanishes immediately. “What?”

“You won’t be needed going forward.” I give him a saccharine smile. “I’ll take it from here.”

“That’s my commission,” he argues.

“No, it was your commission. Now, this project is moving in a different direction. A direction that does not include you.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Oh, yes I can. You see, I think you’re under the impression that I’m not your boss, but I am. It is my name on that door and as long as that is true, we’re going to do things my way. Try to go over my head to Wallace again, and you won’t be missing out on commissions, you’ll be packing your things.”

His face grows red as his mouth drops open in shock, and his eyes flit around the room as though he’s looking for support from his fellow co-workers. But no one comes to his defense. Eight pairs of eyes turn to their computers, leaving him alone and dumbfounded.

“Oh,” I continue, stopping on my way out the door to face him again. “And it’s Mrs. Grey.”

A series of disjointed sounds escape his lips as he attempts, and fails, to make a coherent argument, but I don’t stay to see if he regains his composure. I have a lunch appointment. So, I motion for Woods to follow, turn on my heel, and walk through the doors

Shaker + Spear is an upscale seafood restaurant located in a hotel a few blocks from my office. It’s quiet and not too busy, the perfect atmosphere for a meeting. I’m the first to arrive and I wait at the table to for Hailey to join me with a cold glass of Chardonnay, one of Christian’s favorites. The taste reminds me of him, and the memory of a kiss that I can’t quite place in time, so I pick up my phone and send him a text.

Thinking of you. I hope everything is going well today.

Is that what I hope, though? It’s a question that’s been running through my mind all day. I know Christian. I know that this investigation being launched by the city and all of the negative media coverage is getting to him. He wouldn’t have gone into the office today if he wasn’t worried that his absence would derail everything he’s spent the last half a year trying to build. Not after seeing me in the aftermath. For the past seven months he’s heard nothing but no. Elliot, Ros, experts brought in from NASA and research groups all over the world have all told him this dream he has of creating sustainable, unlimited energy is impossible. I wanted to be the person that told him yes. I wanted to be the person who believed in him. But after yesterday, after seeing the destruction caused by his intractability and feeling even an iota of the devastation that would plague me forever if I were to lose him, I’m not sure I can be that anymore. I’m not sure that I can stand by his side and give him my full support and faith when I know what’s at risk. Ros worries for the future of GEH. Carrick worries for the sustainability of the city he’s been charged to protect. And I worry for him.

Calliope was in that building.

“Sorry I’m late!”

I’m pulled out of my thoughts by the jolt of the table as Hailey crashes down into the chair across from me. Her eyes are wide with excitement, her smile stretched wide and open across her face. There is no hint of doubt in her expression, no clue that I’m about to crush her dreams.

“You’re not late,” I assure her. “I was early. Shall we order an appetizer? You’re going to die over their oysters.”

“Yum!” she chirps, then picks up her menu. We chat until the food arrives, or rather, she chats and I listen intently. I haven’t had a conversation with her that’s ever lasted more than a few minutes, and I’m surprised to find how light and fun she is. Like Kate was when we first went to Harvard. I thought, after reading her novel, that I knew her on a level more personal than idle conversation. I imagined her to be serious. Wise beyond her years. Introspective and deeply observational. Discovering her almost childlike persona actually has me far more impressed with her writing ability than I was before. It has me aching to further explore her potential, to learn what else lies below the surface of this seemingly ordinary young woman.

“I haven’t gotten my contract by the way,” she says, as if it were simply a continuation of her previous thought. “You said you were going to send it last week, but I haven’t seen it yet.”

I frown. “Yeah, that’s why I asked you here today.”

“Oh?”

“Hailey…” I pause, unsure how to break this news to her without breaking her heart. “I need you to know that I think you’re incredible.”

Her face falls. “Oh no…”

“I tried everything I could, but the stars just wouldn’t align. It was premature for me to call you and make you an offer, and I’m sorry about that. I was confident that the people above me would see everything I see in you, but the timing just wasn’t right. I can make you a future offer, for next year maybe, but…” My words cut off, and she finishes for me.

“But I’d have to wait.”

“And I don’t think you should have to. Especially because anything I offer you for the future can’t be guaranteed. This is about your work, your talent, and your moment. I don’t want to take that away from you. I believe in your work. I believe that it’s going to do good things for you and for the countless people who will read your words and find hope. That kind of power shouldn’t be caught up in something as mundane as budgeting considerations and bureaucratic power plays.”

“So what do I do?”

“Get a lawyer. Someone who will look out for your interests above everything else. Someone who can help you navigate offers being made to you and the contracts you’ll be asked to sign. Don’t let anyone push you into publishing before your book is perfect. You only get one shot at a first release, and that release will make or break your entire career. Never settle. You should demand the best editors, best artists, and the best representation. You’re worth it. Phoenix is worth it. You’re going to be big, Hailey. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

She nods. “Okay. So–” She’s interrupted as another woman slides into the seat next to her, drops her bag on the floor by her feet, and picks up a glass of water on the table.

“Alright, alright, I’m here. What’s the big emergency? And I swear to god if the next words that come out of your mouth aren’t, ‘I’ve finished my manuscript and am ready to send it to the editors,’ I’m leaving.”

“What a surprise! Hailey, this is Lydia,” I say, gesturing to my agent with a smile.

“Pleasure,” Lydia replies with an uninterested glance in Hailey’s direction. “Do you have a manuscript for me or not, Ana?”

“I do, just not mine.” She looks taken aback for a moment, but I simply reach for my own bag and rise from my seat. “Lydia, this is Hailey. I think the two of you will get along just fine.”

“What are you talking about?” Lydia replies. “Where’s your manuscript, Ana?”

I wink at her, then turn to leave without another word. Maybe it was unethical. There’s probably some violation of my non-compete, despite how careful I was to not actually pitch Phoenix to Lydia. But it’s what I could live with. She’ll be in good hands. The best hands. With Lydia representing here, she might even get a contract with a big five publisher, and that’s what her talent deserves.

With a new spring in my step, I make my way through the restaurant, deciding to stop at the restroom before I rejoin Woods, who’s waiting for me at the front door. But just before I step into the hallway that leads to the bathrooms, someone large and hulking moves into my path, blocking me.

“Wait,” Luke hisses.

“Luke? What are you doing here?”

“Shh.” He leans against the wall, trying to look casual while still blocking me from sight of the bathrooms. He stays that way for a long moment, and just as I’m about to push him aside for being ridiculous, I find out why.

Alexis Young steps out of the bathroom and pauses just a few feet away from us, scanning the restaurant. Her eyes land on the table where Lydia is still sitting with Hailey, and her face falls with disappointment.

“Shit.” I hear her hiss. Then she storms out of the restaurant and disappears from view.

“Holy fuck,” I breathe in disbelief. “What is she doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Luke says. “She’s following all of you.”

“All of us?”

“You, Mia, Kate, Grey…. She was at the hospital when Kate went into labor, she trails Mia to every one of her ballet rehearsals, and she spends every morning at the coffee shop across the street from your office. I saw her yesterday, at GEH, and she looked… I don’t know, disappointed?”

My heart stops. “Disappointed? In what? That Christian got out? She wants him dead?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t know. I’ve been following her for a few weeks now and I can’t derive any kind of motive. I’ve searched her car, but haven’t found any weapons. I’ve tapped her phone, but she’s not getting calls or instructions from anyone. I’ve got her emails and her browsing history on surveillance, but nothing. She just… follows you. Never getting close enough for you to see her, but always so that whoever she’s tailing is in her line of sight.”

“So she’s keeping tabs on us,” I assume. “She’s keeping track of where we are and relaying that information back to someone. Someone from the police department, someone we haven’t uncovered from the conspiracy…” My voice grows more and more shrill with each word, until Luke reaches out to cover my mouth.

“I don’t know,” he says. “But I’ll find out. In the meantime, I need you to stay with Woods. No more waiting at the door bullshit.”

A familiar feeling creeps over me, the same feeling that encapsulated my entire life last year. The feeling of knowing that Leila was out there, watching me, waiting for a moment of weakness, and feeling it again makes me nauseous.

“No,” I say firmly. “No, we’re not waiting anymore. Every second she’s out there, Calliope, Mia, Kate… they’re all in danger. And I’m not going to sit idly by and wait for our enemies to make the first move anymore.”

“Ana…”

“You’ll set up a meeting. I don’t care how, I don’t care where. I don’t care if she knows I’m coming or if we have to ambush her, but I’m going to confront her. I’m going to find out what she wants and take care of it before it has the chance to fester into something that will come back and destroy us.”

“You know I can’t do that, Ana. This isn’t like Kozlowski or even Harrington. She was Gresham’s submissive, a man we know was dangerous. Who threatened violence against your sister-in-law and who was in the very deepest parts of Lincoln’s circle. This girl could be an actual threat and I’m not going to voluntarily put you in harm’s way.”

“I’m already in harm’s way. As long as she’s out there, she’s a threat, and I will no longer tolerate threats against me or my family. She’s a problem that needs to be taken care of and I will do that with or without your help.”

“Ana–”

“Are you going to get me a meeting, or not?”

His eyes dart between mine, obviously looking for some kind of hesitation he can prey on to change my mind, so I ensure he doesn’t find any. I purposefully exude every ounce of confidence I feel in my gut, and eventually he sighs.

“It’ll take me a few days. Maybe weeks. Once I find a way to do this so that you’re safe, then we’ll talk about setting up a meeting.”

“Good.” I lean forward, feeling slightly guilty for speaking to my best friend the way I just did, and kiss him softly on the cheek. “Thank you, Luke.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now get out of here, and stay with your bodyguard, Anastasia. I mean it. I’ll call Taylor.”

“What are you following me too? How do you know how often I’m apart from Woods?”

“If I told you, you’d try to avoid me, and I can’t have that.”

My eyes narrow. “Don’t you have a girlfriend you could be stalking?”

“Nah, she stays where she’s supposed to, unlike someone I know.” He gives me a look that dares me to challenge him, but I don’t. I simply roll my eyes and turn away.

“I’ll be waiting for your call, Lucas,” I say in a sing song voice as I walk away. For a few more steps, I wait for some biting response, but it never comes. He doesn’t say anything. And when I turn to face him again, he’s gone. Disappeared, like a shadow at high noon.

“How does he do that?” I whisper to myself, and then realize, that’s how he keeps track of people. Me. Alexis. He can probably see me now and is having quite the laugh over me looking like an idiot, searching the restaurant to find him. I won’t give him the satisfaction. I turn and head outside, staying half a step in front of Woods the entire way back to the office.

Next Chapter

 

Updates

update2b

Happy Sunday!

I’ve been on vacation this week and didn’t quite get enough writing time in to finish this week’s update in time to have it up by Monday. I will not be taking a whole week though. I’m shooting to have this update posted on Wednesday and will continue on the following Monday.

I’m truly sorry that I’m late this week, but I hope this lighter chapter will be worth the wait.

Also, if you haven’t subscribed for email updates, now would be a great time to do so!!

And yes, even at Disneyland, I was still wishingmrgreywashere

xoxo

Tara

 

Chapter 38

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In my final weeks at Harvard, the thought had crossed my mind that I might be restless post graduation. I didn’t have a Monday through Friday job lined up the way Kate did, or even prospects to continue on in school like Carter. Essentially, I felt as though I’d be floating, bored. But that hasn’t been the case. If anything, I have more to do now that I ever did when I was up late writing papers or studying for exams.

Christian has hired a full time, live in nanny to help me with Calliope during the day while he’s at work, but, in addition to the time it took her get through Taylor’s new screening process, it was weeks before I allowed her anywhere near my daughter. Not just because of the deep seated distrust both Leila’s and Elena’s admissions have given me about any strangers infiltrating our tightly guarded inner circle, but because I simply want to be the one to take care of my daughter. I want to feed her, change her, put her down for her naps, and subsequently check on her every two minutes to make sure she’s still breathing. But since Calliope still won’t breastfeed, the sheer amount of time I spend just pumping in a day has made balancing the impending publish date of my book, being the sole caregiver for my daughter, and making plans for the wedding that Christian, in the wake of Calliope’s birth, now insists must happen sooner rather than later, impossible. In fact, I’m just retrieving the enormous list of guests Christian wants to invite to witness our impending nuptials from the printer when my phone rings and I look down and see Lydia Palermo, the agent I’ve hired to replace Dr. Ralston in representing me while my book is being published, splashed across the screen.

“Hey, Lydia,” I answer, tucking the stack of papers under my arm and hurrying back down the stairs where I’ve left all the other wedding planning materials spread over the coffee table.

“Hi, Ana. I just got off the phone with Random House and they’re willing to push back the soft release until July 19th and the hard release until 26th, but that’s the latest they’ll go, and they’re insistent your book tour will continue on the 26th as planned. They’ve already booked your first nine appearances.”

“And none of that can be pushed back?” I ask. “By even just a few weeks?”

“They’re not even willing to have a discussion about it,” she sighs. “The publicity materials about your signings and readings have already been sent to the printers. They told you they wanted to move fast and you signed a contract.”

“I know, and I want honor that contract, it’s just that Christian has kind of settled on July 30th as our wedding day and…”

“So pick a new date,” she interrupts me. “You’ll only be gone nineteen days.”

“Do you want to tell him that?”

She laughs. “Unfortunately that falls outside of my duties as your literary agent. I do wish you the best of luck though.”

“Mmm. Well, send me the confirmations and itinerary, I guess.  They’ve booked rooms and travel accommodations for Calliope, three security guards, and a nanny, right?”

“I made sure of it.”

“Thanks,” I reply, and then bite my lip as I prepare myself to ask my next question. One of the reasons I was so eager to hire Lydia is that she has clients and contacts through all five major publishing companies and several independent presses scattered throughout the US and the UK, and having her on my team means I can use her connections to my advantage.

“Have…” I hesitate, but force myself to continue. “Have you heard anything about the manuscript I asked you to look out for yet?”

“Nope,” she says, confident in her denial. “And I don’t think you have to worry about it. Harper Collins isn’t going to touch it because of their contract with you, and I’ve spoken to my partners at Hachette, Macmillan, Random House, and Simon and Schuster, anything that pops up will be sent back to you immediately. None of them are interested in fighting your fiancé and the power of Grey Enterprises Holdings through litigation for something that essentially equates to a celebrity tell all written by a woman who is serving time for committing sex crimes. The public outcry over selling her story would be outrageous, definitely not worth the headache. If she does try to sell it though, we’ll put a stop to it. We’re all on your side, Ana. You just worry about your upcoming book tour and getting started on book number two. Once Escape hits the stands, your fans are going to be ravenous for whatever your brilliant mind comes up with next.”

I laugh and roll my eyes. “Will do, and thank you so much for your help, Lydia. Seriously. Both Christian and I really appreciate it.”

“No problem, Ana. Talk to you soon.”

“Bye.”

I hang up the phone and sigh with relief, until I look back down at the guest list again and the information sheets for the two wedding venues in Seattle that had availability for the date Christian wanted, but that are now no longer viable. Finding anything that wasn’t booked for a date six weeks in advance has been extraordinarily difficult. Finding one available sooner than that is going to be impossible. Especially if we’re to find somewhere that can accommodate as many people as Christian apparently wants to invite…

I press my fingers into my temple, trying to relieve the tension headache growing stronger by the second behind my eye, then look up when I hear the elevator ping and watch Luke trudge dejectedly into the great room. His appearance instantly pushes my concerns over the wedding aside. The background checks Taylor has been pulling on essentially everyone we know are starting to trickle in, and day by day, everyone around me has been pulled into his office and questioned about what has been found in their past. Today, it was Luke.

“How’d it go?” I ask as he plops down on the couch next to me.

“Rough,” he replies. “That was worse than when I was hired. Taylor’s been so granular going through every detail of my past to try to find something to connect me to this guy that he had my elementary school report cards in my file. He’s noted every phone call I’ve made in the past two years, gone line by line through my bank records, re-verified every one of my travel plans that I’ve made since Grey hired me, and still, he grilled me so hard that he almost had me questioning whether or not I was behind it all.”

“I know it’s not you,” I assure him. “But, you’re the one who is around me the most and you heard Christian. Every one is a suspect now and you just needed to be eliminated from that list. He’s just being thorough.”

“Well, I’m not a suspect anymore,” he says. “But I can’t say the same for Cardella.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, Taylor found out that her dad has a ton of gambling debt, like, hundreds of thousands of dollars. He thinks it’s motive enough that she could be leaking information about you and Grey.”

“Gambling debt?” I frown as I consider the consequences of this, and as I compare what I know of Cardella with what’s happened over the last few months, I feel my stomach drop. “Oh my god… she was supposed to be here that morning I was almost kidnapped. The rest of the security team went to GEH for that meeting with Taylor, but she was supposed to stay. She said there was a miscommunication, that she thought Kommer was staying, but… she was the last one to leave. She knew I was alone.”

“And she was the last to come back after the hospital called and said you’d been found,” Luke says. “She was also the person who’d brought all your gifts to the arts center for your graduation party, the gifts we found that box he’d left for you in. She was the last one to leave the building, and the one responsible for locking up.”

“So, it’s her. She’s the inside leak.”

He sighs. “She denied it, but obviously she would. We brought her into Grey’s office and our team team questioned her, tried to find any holes in her story, and to get her to reveal something useful, but she didn’t. She said she knew nothing, and that’s what we got out of her. Nothing. So, either she’s telling the truth or this guy who’s coming after you has actually thought of everything, including only hiring people who are excellent liars.”

“He’s been working with Elena, taking advice from her, letting her help plan…” I shake my head. “He’s thought of everything.”

“Grey said the same thing. He fired Cardella this afternoon and gave her employee file and statements from our team to the FBI.”

“FBI?”

“This guy has committed crimes across state lines, this is bigger than just the police now. Not that the police have been any help. An investigation has been started but, since this guy seems to have an insider leaking information, we’re keeping it as quiet as we can to prevent him from being able to evade us.”

“Who knows?”

“Grey. Taylor. Me. And now you.”

“Oh… so, what happened when he fired her? I mean, she didn’t make any threats or anything, did she?”

He shakes his head. “No, but she was upset. Grey was pretty harsh, vicious even, and he did it right in front of everyone. She was shaking when she left his office.”

“Great,” I reply in dismay. “As if we don’t have enough enemies.”

Luke shrugs. “He’s angry and I don’t think he can control it when he feels so desperate to protect you. He’s going to do anything and everything in his power to make sure you’re safe and that we find this guy before anything else happens. That’s the only thing he seems to care about right now and the longer we go without knowing who’s behind it all, the more furious he gets. Well, that and he’s not getting laid. He’s been cranky.”

He smiles at me but as I roll my eyes and push the pointless pile of papers on the table in front of me to the side, he sits up straight and begins scanning the room around us.

“Where’s my kid?”

“Your kid?” I repeat, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, my kid. Adorable little baby, brown hair, gray eyes, about this big… you can’t miss her. She’s the cutest fucking baby you’ve ever seen.”

I laugh. “She’s upstairs with Ava. She’s been fussy all afternoon so she’s trying to put her down for a nap.”

“She’s been fussy because Uncle Luke has been gone. But I’m here now and I’m ready for some baby time.” He jumps off the couch, bounds for the stairs, and I lean over the table, resting my cheek in my hand as I watch him go. The extent to which Calliope has everyone in this house wrapped around her finger is astounding, and yet, I can’t blame any of them. She really is the most perfect thing in existence.

“Ana?” Gail calls, stepping out of the kitchen. “Taylor just called, he and Mr. Grey are on their way home. Should I start dinner?”

“Yes, please. Thank you, Gail.”

She smiles and nods, and as she turns back to the kitchen, Luke begins to descend the stairs with a bundle of blankets in his arms, our new nanny trailing closely behind him.

“Here she is,” he coos as he takes his place on the couch next to me again. “I think she may have gotten bigger in just the couple hours I was at GEH today.” He frowns as he looks down at her angelic, sleeping face. “Stop growing, kid.”

“No, keep growing,” I counter. “She’s still almost a full pound smaller than she should be.”

“But I like her tiny. Look at these hands. Are you telling me you don’t want these hands to stay this size forever?”

“Mmm. Yeah, almost as much as I want her to keep her chubby little legs.”

He laughs and then leans down to kiss her on top of her head, squeezing her tightly against him before taking another long pause just to stare at her. As he reaches down and strokes his finger softly over her cupid’s bow, I push myself up off the floor and slide onto the couch next to them.

“So, what else isn’t Christian telling me. It’s been six weeks and nothing…”

“It takes a long time to review this stuff, Ana. We’re trying to be as thorough as possible.”

“No, I mean, it’s been six weeks and nothing has happened. No more threats, no more attempted kidnappings, no more phone calls. What is he waiting for?”

Luke sighs. “I don’t know. It’s got Taylor on edge too. I’d like to think he’s pulling back because we’re getting close, but in reality, I think he’s just biding his time. Regrouping and looking for an opening. But I won’t let him find one. I haven’t taken my eye off of anything, I promise.”

“You’re sure you’re not spread too thin?”

“No. I can handle it.”

I take a breath, wishing I had full confidence in his assertions, but I know how much he has on his plate. How much the entire security team has on their plate. And without Cardella, that load just got a little heavier for everyone.    

“How are you doing reviewing the security footage you got off the server at the prison?” I ask. “Do we know who’s been to see Elena yet?”

“No,” he sighs. “But I’ve still got 872 hours of footage left to review.”

“I just feel like you should have already seen something. I mean, I wrote a book, I know how long it takes, so he had to have commissioned it in the summer or early fall. And, we know he was in contact with her before she started writing because she was the one who came up with the plan to oust Welch and that happened over Thanksgiving. If Christian is right and the head guard has tampered with the visitors log to erase any proof of this guy meeting with her, then he may have also erased the corresponding security footage. What if he never visited her at all? What if all of this was coordinated through letters or over the phone?”

“Then we’ll find ourselves at a dead end. But until I’ve gone through everything we have, I’m not just going to give up.”

“I’m not suggesting you do. I just want to know what our plan b is.”

“Well, plan b is probably going down to the prison and…” he begins, but his voice cuts off when the elevator doors open again and Christian and Taylor step into the foyer. Because it’s Christian, Kommer, who’d stayed behind with me while Luke was being interviewed at GEH this afternoon, steps out of the security office and waits to be dismissed so he can take his turn at being interrogated by Taylor.

“Where is she?” Christian asks, and Kommer nods in our direction.

“In the living room, sir.”

“Good. I’ll leave you to it then.” Both Kommer and Taylor nod and disappear back into the security office while Christian turns to lock down the elevator with the new external security system that’s been installed and then steps into the great room, but as he approaches the couch where Luke and I are sitting, his eyes aren’t searching for me.

“There she is,” he says, groaning slightly as he reaches down and lifts Calliope out of Luke’s arms and into his own. Once he no longer has a hold of her, Luke turns to me and scrunches his face together in a look of disappointment, but as I laugh, he claps his hand over my knee, perhaps a little too hard, and heaves himself off the couch.

“Stop distracting me, Ana,” he says. “I have work to be doing.”

“Yeah, okay.” I roll my eyes, but smile after him as he quickly moves out of the great room and ducks into the security office to join Taylor and Kommer. When I turn back to Christian and see the now customary look of pure adoration he gives her as he sways back and forth, rocking her gently in his arms, my smile widens. The longer I stare though, the less my fascination is focused on his love for our daughter, and more on simply him.

“What?” he asks, looking down at me while I subtly bite down on my bottom lip.

I shake my head. “Nothing. Just you.” My eyes rake over him again, drinking him in, and my breath hisses between my teeth. “You know maybe you should change before you come home from work. You standing there, looking like you do in that suit… it’s not really fair.”

“Don’t talk to me about fair. I watched you folding laundry yesterday in nothing but one of my t-shirts and a thong. Do you have any idea what bouncing on the exercise ball with Calliope all day, every day, has done to your ass? Good things, Ana. Very good things.”

His eyes darken as they shift down to my bare legs, curled beneath me on the couch, and I feel all of the muscles inside of me clench. Unfortunately though, I still have five days before our six week celibacy constraint comes to an end, so I quickly change the subject.

“How was your day? Is the new building everything you hoped it would be?”

“Yeah, it’s been great actually. The integrated technology interfaces have really changed our productivity. Meetings are easier, my communication with Ros has vastly improved, our servers are running faster, and it finally feels like we’ve visually caught up to the success we’ve had. Elliot did a great job, except I wish he’d had the foresight to put a daycare in my office.”

“You think I’d let you take my baby out of this apartment to be around a bunch of germy little kids all day?”

“A bunch of kids? No, I meant in my office. Next to my desk. Basically I’m telling you that I’m going to buy a pack n’ play and start taking her to work with me.”

“I don’t think so,” I laugh. “You’ll have to fight me for her.”

“In a few days, I’d be more than happy to subdue you until you agree to my terms.” He smirks and raises his eyebrows at me suggestively, and while I giggle at his not so subtle promise, Mrs. Jones steps out of the kitchen again and begins laying dinner out on the dining room table. Christian reaches down for my hand and helps me to my feet, then regretfully relinquishes Calliope to Ava.

“Again?” he asks, once we’ve settled down at the table and I pass him the bowl of Chicken Caesar salad. “What, did Gail forget how to use the oven while we were in Cambridge?”

“That’s my fault. I have a wedding dress to fit into and despite hardly eating anything in the hospital for 10 days and doing about a billion squats over the past few weeks whenever I have to try and calm Calliope down, I still have nine pounds to lose before I’m back to my pre-pregnancy size.”

“I wish you wouldn’t worry about that. I think you look just as good as the day I met you.”

“That’s because I am the same size I was when you met me. But I didn’t work my butt off on a treadmill for 2 ½ years to be that size on my wedding day. The internet says my uterus should be back to it’s normal size by now, there’s no excuse for… all of this.” I wave my hands over my body where I feel as though I’m carrying extra weight, and Christian frowns.

“I think you’re beautiful.”

“And I appreciate that. But I want to feel beautiful.” I reach out for the glass of ice water next to my placesetting, but stop when Christian gets out of his chair and comes around the table towards me. His hand moves into my hair and, slowly, he pulls me into him until his lips press against mine. The soft moan he lets out as I kiss him back sends shivers down my back and when his tongue tangles with mine the tension the stress of the day has left in my body immediately melts away and there is no longer a wedding to plan, a book to publish, a crazy psycho on the loose, or even dinner on the table in front of me. There is only Christian. This beautiful, sexy man, who I want with every fiber of my being.

“How do you feel now?” he asks when he pulls away.

“Aroused.”

He laughs at my flat, sardonic tone and then adjusts himself through his trousers as he straightens his back and glances down at me with lust burning in his eyes. “Right back at you, baby. More so than you know.”

“I think I have a pretty good idea.” I bite down on my lip, and his eyes narrow before he lets out a long, disappointed sigh and takes his seat again. We eat for a moment in charged silence, until I finally say something to take our minds off what we both want, but can’t have.

“So, what do you want to do on Saturday?”

He raises an eyebrow and gives me sly smile. “You want a play by play of everything I’ve been fantasizing about over the last six weeks?”

“Not that part of Saturday. Your mother called me this morning, she wanted to know what you want to do for your birthday.”

“My birthday?”

“Yes, Saturday is also your birthday.”

“Really?” He takes his phone out of his pocket and flips through the apps, presumably for his calendar, and then lets out a surprised, huh, before leaning back in his chair and eventually smiling. “I guess that really changes what I’m allowed to ask for…”

I shake my head, but don’t bother hiding my smile. “I’m looking more for family oriented requests. You know, activities your parents and little sister can be present for.”

He frowns. “I don’t really want to make a big deal out of it. We have more important things to worry about right now.”

“I disagree. I think we need normalcy and things to celebrate now more than ever. This year’s been tough, but it’s also been really great and we keep forgetting that. We’re engaged, we’ve had a baby, we’re only a few weeks away from moving into the house that’s going to be our daughter’s family home… there’s so much I’m grateful for and all of that is because of you. I want to celebrate you, Christian. We all do.”

He takes a deep breath, considering the sincerity of my words for a moment, and then nods. “Okay. We’ll take the yacht out for the weekend and bring the whole family along. We’ll all be together and we won’t need as much security so Taylor can stay behind to continue his investigation.”

“How’s that going? I heard you fired Cardella today.”

“Mmm,” he hums, confirming but not elaborating.

“Do you really think she’s the inside leak?” I press him.

“I don’t know, but I have more reason to believe she is than she isn’t. She didn’t give us any useful information to help us find this fuck though, so it all feels like a wash in the end.”

“Not if she was giving him inside information. I want us to find out who he is and I want for him to be out of our lives for good, but until we can make that happen, the most important thing is keeping Calliope safe. And we do that by circling the wagons and keeping him from seeing our hand.”

“I know,” Christian nods. “And we don’t need Cardella to find him. He’s going to slip up, and I’ll be there when he does. He can’t hide from me forever, and once I find him, I will make sure he never comes near you or Calliope ever again.”

“I know you will,” I assure him, and as he nods, I lean over the table to kiss him once more.

“So, how was your day?” Christian asks, picking up his fork to eat again. “Did you pick a venue?”

“Actually… I need to talk to you about that.”

“Oh?”

“Lydia called me this afternoon. Random House won’t postpone my book tour. I’m going to be travelling from July 26th to August 15th. We can’t get married on the 30th.”

His chewing slows as he stares at me, but when I don’t say anything else, he swallows, takes a breath, and then nods.

“Okay, so we move the date up one weekend.”

“Or… postpone it…”

“Postpone it? You mean, until you get back?”

“Or, maybe, until next summer…”

“Next summer!”

“I just feel like we’re rushing this so much that we’ve had to compromise on everything and this wedding doesn’t even look the way I’d dreamed it would anymore.”

“Okay,” he says, his voice controlled and patient, telling me he’s about to shift into negotiation mode. “What do you want to change?”

“Well, for starters I don’t want to get married in just some random hotel or skyscraper in the middle of the city. There’s nothing about either of those places that makes me feel a connection to you or reminds me of the wonderful parts of our life that we’ve shared together. I’d love to get married in Paris or Vermont, or… by the ocean. Don’t you remember standing on that beach in Hawaii and how beautiful it was when the sun went down over the water? The way it felt standing there together, like we had our whole future ahead of us and it was bright and exciting? That’s what I want for our wedding, not just whatever place is available.”

“Okay, then let’s try the yacht club. It’s on the sound and we can get married at sunset.”

“I did. They’re booked through the end of the summer and have already started taking reservations for next spring. There’s no where on the water that isn’t booked solid until next year.”

“I’ll try. I’m sure someone would be willing to give up their reservation for the right price, and if that’s what you want, I’ll pay whatever it takes.”

“And what are you going to do about the guests? That list you sent me has almost 350 names on it.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

“But… why? I looked at that list and I don’t even know like 80% of those people. I mean…” I get up and hurry back to the coffee table in the great room where I’ve left the guest list Christian sent me that afternoon and begin flipping through it as I return to him. “Okay, who is Lois Greenman?”

He sits back in his chair and folds his arms. “City councilwoman. She’s the head of the committee that approves land grants and zoning initiatives for the city of Seattle. Her approval means that I may be able to expand my shipping yard in the next fiscal year, which is key to the sustainability of my manufacturing division. Her approval will be much easier to get if she feels as though we have a personal relationship and I’ve worked extremely hard to cultivate that relationship at all of those galas and charity events that you hate being dragged to.”

I purse my lips together. “Fine. As much as I’m not crazy about the idea of you using our wedding to broker a business deal, fine. But what about… Astor Harrington?”

He shrugs. “Some people just need to know that you are officially and forever will be mine.”

I narrow my eyes at him and then, very purposefully, reach down and cross Astor’s name off the list. Christian doesn’t flinch, so I look down at the pages in front of me to find more names to remove, but looking through line after line of unfamiliar names just seems to overwhelm me again and I have to stop. I rest my face in my hands and as I take a deep, calming breath, I hear Christian sigh.

“Ana, are you… are you getting cold feet?”

My eyes snap up to him immediately. “Of course not. This has nothing to do with marrying you, Christian, this just isn’t how I dreamed our wedding would be. I was picturing something intimate and beautiful, with all of our friends and family watching as we pledge our love to one another. That when we take our vows, we’re doing it because it’s right and we’re ready, not because we’re being scared into it by some faceless psycho who’s hanging over our lives like the specter of death.”

Christian leans forward to rest his elbows on the table and begins scrubbing his hands over his face, but he doesn’t say anything.

“You’re mad…” I say softly.

“No.” He shakes his head. “I’m just trying to understand what you’re feeling because… what you’re saying doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, we’re both under a lot of stress, and yes, I’d ideally like our wedding to happen without the weight of what we’re facing hovering over us, and maybe we’ve made these plans very quickly, but I don’t feel like we’re rushing into this. If anything, I feel like I’ve been waiting an eternity for this day to finally come and… I don’t want to wait anymore. Maybe I’ve tried to make this bigger than you wanted, or grander, and maybe I am going overboard, but… I love you, more than anything, and I just want this day to be as big and momentous as it feels to me. If you don’t want the big guest list, we won’t have it. If you don’t want the expensive venue and grand ballrooms for the reception, consider them gone. We can get married right on the lake in my parents back yard, or on the yacht, or we can put everyone on my plane and fly to that same beach in Hawaii and get married at sunset. I don’t care. At the end of the day, all I want is to finally be married to you, and I can’t wait another year for that to happen, Ana.”

I lean my cheek on my hand as I listen to what he says and then nod. It’s a compromise. He’s conceding what I don’t want in exchange for what he needs. It’s fair and while I would prefer to postpone our wedding until we’ve resolved this horrific nightmare with whoever is after us, maybe the lesson that the universe tried to teach me with the almost kidnapping and Calliope’s birth is that I need to stop taking time for granted. There are no promised tomorrows, or next years. Life isn’t a guarantee and so you have to take what you want while you can. Right now, I want Christian. I want to be his, and for him to be mine, until death do us part.  

“Okay, we won’t wait,” I tell him. “We’ll talk to your parents about having the wedding at their house while we’re out on the yacht this weekend and we’ll get married on the 23rd before I leave.”

“Good.” He nods, and as he talks a breath of relief, I get out of my chair, move to him, and straddle his lap.

“We don’t need the expensive venus and the grand ballrooms for our wedding to feel momentous. It already will be, because that’s the way I love you. You are the center of my universe, Christian Grey, and whether we get married next month or next year, nothing will change that. I will love you with everything I have inside of me until my very last day.”

“Forever.”

“And ever, and ever, and ever…” I continue, until eventually, he cuts off my words with a kiss.

 

****

 

Leaving for the marina Friday morning is chaos. When Christian handed Calliope off to me in the morning before he left for work, she immediately melted down into a fit of tears that nothing seems to be able to stop.

“You’re certain she’s not wet or something?” Luke asks as I fight to get her fastened into her carseat in the back of the SUV.

“No, she’s not wet, she’s not hungry, she doesn’t want to sleep… she just wants to cry.” I snap, my frustration coming out more than I mean for it to.

“Here, try a pacifier,” my dad suggests, passing it to me, but when I lean over her seat and brush the tip of the nipple against her bottom lip she doesn’t even attempt to suckle.

“Please, Calliope,” I beg over the sound of her screaming.

“Harrison just texted me,” Luke interrupts. “Kate just got to the marina with the rest of the Greys. They’re waiting on us.”

“Okay.” I sigh and try to take a moment to compose myself before I crawl into the seat next to her, but her shrill scream is like a hammer chipping away at my heart.

“You always slept in the car,” my dad assures me as Luke begins pulling out of the garage beneath Escala. “Anytime you got into fits like this, your mom and I would put you in the car and drive you around until you fell asleep. It worked every time.”

“Well, I hope she takes after me then.” I lean over her seat and make soft clicking sounds with my tongue as I twister her tiny fingers around my index finger. “Please, take after me…”

She doesn’t. The entire time we fight the traffic of downtown Seattle on our way to the marina, she screams and screams with as much force as her little lungs can muster.

“Oh dear, Calliope,” Grace says while I finally step out of the car on the loading dock next to the yacht and she reaches inside to pull my crying baby from her car seat. “What’s the matter, angel?”

“Her dad left and he’s the only one she loves,” I say dejectedly.

“Oh, do you miss your daddy?” Grace continues. “It’s okay, my sweet little baby, he’s going to be here tonight. Oh…” She pulls her more tightly into her chest but it does nothing to comfort her. If anything, it makes her scream louder.

“She is just not having it today,” Kate says. She reaches out to take her from Grace and gently bounces her in her arms, but nothing.

“I think they’re done with the security checks,” Elliot says, walking up behind Kate. He nods over his shoulder at Ryan, Kommer, and a few crew members coming up from below decks, but frowns as Calliope’s incessant tantrum catches his attention. “What did you do to her, Kate?”

“Nothing, she’s just a little cranky this morning. That’s all.”

“Give her to me,” Elliot says. Kate turns to place her in his arms and, like magic, the moment she’s nestled in and her eyes lock with Elliot’s, the giant, alligator tears rolling over her cheeks and the high piercing screams she emits, stop. She falls completely silent and simply gazes up at her uncle with a look close to wonder.

“There, see?” Elliot says proudly.

“Oh my god, you’re a miracle worker,” I tell him gratefully, and he smiles.

“Elliot Grey, baby whisperer.” He turns to Kate. “Sorry, she loves me more.”

Kate narrows her eyes. “I’ll cut you.”

“Okay, okay,” Grace says, moving up the dock and glancing longingly at her son as though she’s desperate to take my baby from him. “Let’s get going. Your father and sister are already aboard and those jet skis aren’t going to ride themselves.”

I stifle a laugh as I remember Christian’s idle threat to have the jetskis removed from the yacht after Elliot’s seventh phone call last week reminding him to have them serviced before we disembarked, and then hook my arm through Kate’s as we follow Grace and my father aboard the yacht.

It’s nice when we set sail. I don’t want Calliope out under the sun or being wind beaten and battered while we carve our way through the deep blue water towards the Strait of Juan Del Fuca, so we open the all the doors and windows to let in the cool sea air and settle down in the sitting room to visit with one another. Elliot keeps Calliope calm and quiet, swaddled in his arms, until we’re far enough off the coast that we can cut the engines and drift while my dad and Carrick throw fishing lines off the top deck and Mia, Kate, and Elliot pull out the jetskis.

“I’ll stay with her,” Grace offers when she sees me laying Calliope in her bassinet after I’ve finally rocked her to sleep. “You should go out on the jet skis too. Have some fun.”

“Oh, actually I was kind of looking forward to the peace and quiet,” I tell her. “I’ve started writing again and… I actually really like what I’ve got so far. I’ve been excited to work on it, and I don’t get a lot of time back home.”

“Another book?”

“Maybe. I don’t know… This has been a much different experience. Last time, I needed to put my thoughts and feelings on paper to work through them. This time, I just… I want Christian to know.”

“Know what?”

“The way I love him. The way he’s changed me. The way he’s made me see the entire world differently. Better. That despite everything we’ve been through, I’ve never felt closer to heaven than when I was fighting through hell with him. I don’t feel the way about him, even about what happened, as I did when I wrote Escaping Neverland. I don’t want that to be the legacy I leave behind of our love. So I’m starting over.”

“A love story.” She smiles. “I can’t wait to read it.”

“We’ll see.” I laugh, and as she nods and squeezes my shoulder, she turns to face the bassinet that contains my sleeping daughter.

“Well, what if I take Calliope in the other room to read with me? I’ll keep an eye on her while you take the afternoon to write.”

“Really? That’d be great actually. I’ll just go into the office in mine and Christian’s room. Just bring her to me when you need a break.”

“Never,” she says. I let out a soft, disbelieving laugh as I remember Calliope’s tantrum from this morning and then peel myself off the couch, kiss her gently on the forehead, and thank Grace again before disappearing back into the office inside the main cabin.

Just the way we did in the sitting room, I open all the windows and allow the salty sea air fill the room before I settle down at Christian’s desk with my laptop and begin reading through the last few pages of what I’ve already written and picking up again where I’d left off. It’s difficult to concentrate at first, the sounds of the jet skis’ motors and Kate’s and Mia’s laughter are almost a little too enticing, but I know how rare this opportunity to just sit down for an indeterminate amount of time to write now that I have my baby home with me, so I want to take full advantage of it while I can. With every ounce of self control I possess, I focus all of my attention on the blank page I have in front of me and begin to type, and while the words don’t come as readily as I wish they would, they do come, and I’m actually able to get an amount done that I’m proud of before there’s a knock on my door and Luke pokes his head inside the office.

“Ana?”

“Yeah?”

“Mr. Grey is on the phone for you.”

I glance down and see the satellite phone in his hand and frown. “Is everything okay?”

“Oh yeah, he and I had a long conversation, shared our hopes and dreams, and talked all about our feelings before he asked me to speak to you, so I know exactly what this phone call is about.”

I roll my eyes. “You’re such a pain in the ass.”

He laughs as he tosses me the phone, but I wait until the door closes behind him before I answer. “Hey, baby. Are you on your way?”

“No, that’s why I’m calling. Taylor may have found something in Leila’s financial records, a paper trail. Her tuition, her apartment, her living expenses were all being paid out of an offshore account owned by a company called Limited LTD, based in Panama.”

“Panama? Wait, I thought this guy was in Seattle?”

“He is. It’s a shell corporation.”

“I don’t know what that is…”

He sighs. “It’s a company that exists only on paper. Wealthy people use them to hide assets for tax evasion purposes. You can transfer money or property through the shell company into an offshore account because the ownership of the company is tied up in a blind trust so the wealth can’t be traced back to the legitimate owner. It’s a good way to make millions of dollars in revenue look like millions of dollars of loss, or to pay people without the government being able to track it.”

“How do you know about that?”

“Because I have three myself, in Panama, the Cayman Islands, and Monaco.”

I bite my tongue to prevent myself from veering off subject at Christian’s casual admission to tax evasion, and try to sort through the things I understand of what he’s told me.

“So what does this mean? If it’s in a blind trust and we can’t trace the owner of the account, how can we use this to find out who he is?”

“We can’t. But with some help from Welch, we may be able to find out who else he’s paying to work for him and when we do, hopefully one of them can lead us to him.”

“Good,” I say, immediately feeling a tangible sense of relief as for the first time since we knew what was coming for us, it actually feels like we’ve chipped away at the perfect defense he’s put in place to shield his identity from us. “So… are you not coming, then?”

“No, I’ll be there. Just late. Welch is running code now to try and break through the securities on the account so we can trace the payments, and once he does, it’ll take him a few days to sort through the data. I just don’t want to leave until I at least know we have an access point.”

“Okay. Then I’ll see you tonight.”

“I love you, Anastasia.”

“I love you too. Bye.” I hang up the phone and glance down at the screen of my laptop in front of me again, but I don’t think I can write anymore. Now that I know Christian is making some progress at finding out who’s been after us, my concentration is shot. I don’t, however, want to sit here driving myself crazy all afternoon running through a hundred implausible scenarios of what he’s going to find, so I tidy up the desk I’ve been working at and head out to rejoin the rest of the family.

Carrick and my dad have had a great afternoon and their catches have been passed off to Christian’s chef to prepare for dinner, so I find them in the sitting room with Grace. Calliope is laid out over her favorite blanket on floor while my dad dangles a soft lamb plush toy over her, which she watches with absolute fascination.

“How has she been?” I ask, sitting next to Grace on the sofa.

“Wonderful,” she beams at me. “After I fed her, we read a little bit and then grandpa came inside to change her.”

“You’re on diaper duty, dad?” I ask with a laugh.

“I’d change a million diapers for this little girl.” He reaches down to brush the tip of his finger over her full lips but she doesn’t look away from the toy my father still holds over the top of her until she sneezes and while we all melt over the adorable sound, her face crinkles in indignation. As though she’s angry the sneeze has broken her concentration.

“Oh my god, she’s so freaking cute. She’s going to be the death of me,” I beam, and then quickly slide from the couch to the floor to play with her and my father. We lie there with her, fully engrossed in peek-a-boo and the little piggies game for much longer than should be acceptable for a room full of grown adults, until Kate, Elliot, and Mia come in looking for dinner.

“I’m just going to go change,” Kate says through chattering teeth. “I’m freezing.”

“Of course you are,” Elliot replies. “You’re soaking wet. Why did you wear a tank top under your life jacket?”

“Because… I don’t like the way the zipper feels against my skin when I’m wet.”

“You never cared before.”

“Well, I do now.” Her tone is defensive and it takes Elliot off guard. He furrows his brow at her as she turns and hurries through the exit that leads to the main cabins and then turns a questioning look on me, but I quickly glance away because I know exactly why Kate is wearing a tank top under her lifejacket, but clearly, she’s not ready for everyone else to know.

“Mom, when are we going to eat?” Mia asks.

“We’re waiting for Christian, sweetie.”

“Oh…” I interject. “I’m sorry, he called me a little while ago and he’s going to be late. We should start without him.”

“Late? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, Taylor thinks he’s found a way to find out who’s behind all of this.”

“What?” Elliot exclaims. “Are they going after him? We should go back…”

“No, it’s not like that. They found his bank account or something and it’s all anonymous so it doesn’t tell us much but they’re hoping Welch can use it to find out who else he’s paying so we can use one of them to find out who he is.”

“Sounds like a good way to end up with more bodies…” my dad says darkly, but Elliot shakes his head.

“I honestly don’t care. These people have hurt my family and have threatened to do worse… I don’t care what happens to any of them. No matter what role they’re playing, they’re helping him, and they deserve whatever they get.”

“Elliot,” Grace says, admonishing him, but he doesn’t back down.

“Why would would you feel remorse for them after what they’ve put Ana and Christian through? After the horrible things he’s done to his own people, what do you think he has saved for Ana? For Calliope? And what if he doesn’t stop there? What if Mia is next? Or Kate? Christian has this right. We need to find this guy and stop him. By whatever means necessary.” He looks over at Luke purposefully and Luke’s subtle return nod doesn’t go unnoticed by me.

“What do you mean by whatever means necessary?” I ask. “What has Christian said?”

Neither of them answer and before I can press them, the head of the yacht staff appears in the entryway and announces dinner.

“Wonderful,” Grace says, clearly glad for the subject change. She jumps to her feet and quickly begins ushering Mia towards the dining room downstairs while my dad scoop Calliope into his arms and walks with Carrick, discussing fishing plans for the next day and where he thinks they should cast out. I remain in place, glancing uneasily between Luke and Elliot, but neither of them says anything. Elliot simply turns to follow the rest of his family and Luke comes to me, holding out his hand to help me off the floor.

“What has Christian told you to do?” I ask him, and he frowns.

“Don’t worry about it, Ana.”

“No, don’t shut me out like that, Luke. I deserve to know.”

He sighs. “You’ve said the words, Ana. He told us to stop him by any means necessary. It’s up to Taylor and I to decide what that is.”

I bite my bottom lip as he tries to turn me and lead me to the dining room with the others, but before we’re fully out of the sitting room, I stop him.

“Just… don’t do anything illegal, okay?”

“Illegal? You think what Taylor and Welch are doing right now is legal? You don’t have a problem with that.”

“No one is going to get hurt, Luke…”

“Plenty of people are going to get hurt, Ana. That’s the kind of monster we’re dealing with now. Our job is simply to make sure that you and everyone you love aren’t one of those people. That’s what I care about, that’s what your fiancé cares about, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

I hesitate, not knowing what to say. Reading between the lines, I have a good idea of what that means and the thought of it not only makes me extremely uncomfortable, it almost makes me sick. What we’re willing to do, and what we’re not willing to do is what should separate us from what he is. But I’m a soldier’s daughter. I understand that sometimes peace comes at a cost and when it comes right down to it, if it were someone I loved, I don’t know how far I’d be willing to go to keep them from being harmed. I just hope I never have to find out.

 

There’s a much more welcome sense of levity to dinner. Grace especially seems eager to direct the conversation in ways that can’t turn back to what Christian is currently dealing with and both Carrick and my father are happy to help her. We’re all just discussing plans to attend a fourth of July parade in Montesano that is honoring my father’s service, when Kate finally returns, and when I look up at her, even my mouth pops open.

She’s gotten some sun out on the water today, which not only means that her skin is glowing, but that her champagne colored hair looks a shade or two lighter and it’s tumbling softly over her shoulder in beachy waves. The long, white, billowy halter dress she’s changed into looks fantastic contrasted against the caramel tint to her skin and she’s put on just enough makeup to look fresh and natural, but also unattainably beautiful.

“Kate,” Elliot says, jumping out of his seat so quickly that it falls backwards and clunks noisily against the hardwood floor. “You look… stunning.”

“Thank you, Elliot,” she smiles radiantly, and as she moves to take her place at the table next to Mia, she glances over and winks at me. Elliot moves around the table and pulls her chair out for her and then stares down at Mia for a moment, almost as though he’s going to ask her to move, but thinks better of it and returns to his own seat.

“So, did you kids have a good time out on the water this afternoon?” Carrick asks.

“Yeah, it was a little flat,” Mia says. “But it was fun.”

“Flat?” Kate asks. “You got like a three foot swell. I thought for sure you were going in the water. I’d already turned around to come rescue you, thinking we were going to have to tow you back to the yacht for first aid, and then you just spun out and went off.”

“Kids play,” she says, waving off Kate’s concern with her hand. “I wanna go ride somewhere where the water is less stagnant. Like Chile, I hear they have swells there that can get up to 25 feet tall. Could you imagine riding through a wave tunnel like that? So awesome.”

“My sister,” Elliot says, sniffing and pretending to wipe away a very proud tear.

“That all sounds very exciting until the wave collapses on you and you’re stranded, tumbling around underwater in the middle of the ocean with that heavy machine on top of you,” Grace says. “Then what would you do?”

“That’s not going to happen, Mom.”

“Mhmm, I don’t think so.”

“You’ll be eighteen soon,” Elliot says with a smile. “Then I can take you.”

“Over Christian’s dead body,” I say with a laugh.

“He’ll probably be right there with us,” Mia says. “I know that when we go on vacation now that you two hole up or are happy to make out on the beach all day but before you came along, Christian was always up for anything. Skiing, surfing, parasailing, jet skiing… he did it all. He and I used to spend days just going up and down Hyde Park when we would go to Aspen.”

“Ah, my favorite run,” I say, rolling the shoulder I’d dislocated going down that very ski run three years ago and listening to the sickening popping sound it still makes.

“Looks like you’re really holding Christian back, Ana,” Kate says with a laugh. “I didn’t realize he used to be interesting.”

“We just need to get him back on the horse,” Elliot says. “It’s so damn difficult getting him to leave work unless Ana is literally in danger. He needs to learn how to vacation again.”

“Oh, he’ll come around now that Calliope’s arrived.”

“Especially once we get her her first set of skis,” Elliot says gleefully. “Can you imagine the look on his face the first time we take her on a run? He’ll literally have a heart attack.” He laughs, but I shake my head.

“You’ll never get to know because there’s no way Christian would ever allow it. That little girl is going to be the most overprotected child in America.”

“Which is why she has godparents,” Kate says, smiling mischievously at Elliot. “By this time next year, she’ll be out on the jet skis with us.”

“No she won’t,” he says. “We won’t be here.”

“And where will you be?” Carrick asks.

“Kayaking the inside passage,” Kate says. “It’s a five week trip from Seattle to Skagway. Elliot’s always wanted to do it. He was telling me about it on the phone the other night and he reeled me right in. We’re already planning.”

“Really?” I ask suspiciously, and she nods, but not with the implication in her expression that would tell me making plans together is anything more than two friends sharing their love of a common hobby together, and as they explain the trip more to Grace, Carrick, and my father, the more that seems to be solidified. Even when Carrick asks where they plan to sleep along the 1,500 mile journey, they explain there is plenty of storage space in the kayak for individual sized tents and sleeping bags, and not once do they crack a guilty smile or exchange secretive glances across the table. Still, I know how Kate feels about Elliot, and how Elliot feels about Kate. They’re playing it cool but if they’re having late night phone conversations and Kate’s making an effort to look the way she does for a family dinner, there might be something more going on. I don’t know why she’d hide that from me, but now, I have to find out.

“Well, sounds like a fun trip,” Carrick says. “I’ll look forward to hearing all about it.”

“Me too,” I say suspiciously, before narrowing my eyes on Kate. “Me. Too.”

After dinner we head back into the sitting room and since we haven’t heard from Christian yet, we decide to spend the evening playing some of the board games Grace brought along just in case there was a freak storm that mean we’d be stuck inside. Based on my history with Christian and what he’s told me about playing games with Elliot growing up, I pass on Monopoly and we all settle for Clue. But instead of paying attention to Colonel Mustard’s activities in the Conservatory, I try and solve the mystery of what’s going on between Elliot and Kate. They’re competitive during the game, though that’s just in their nature, but aren’t any pet names exchanged among the pointed, taunting barbs they throw at one another, and never once do I catch them locking eyes when the attention is focused elsewhere around the table. When I finally get up to put Calliope to bed though, I do notice that his hand is on her knee under the table, and his thumb moves in soft, slow circles over the fabric of her dress.

“Good night, sweet baby,” Grace coos as I reach in her arms to take my daughter. She kisses her softly on the head, and after I’ve taken her around the table and said goodnight to everyone still seated there, I head off through the open room to the stairs that lead up to the main cabin, alone.

Calliope is a little fussy as I set her down, but she falls asleep fairly quickly. I think briefly of waiting up for Christian, maybe even writing to pass the time, but I have no idea when he’s actually going to arrive and it’s already late enough that my eyelids feel heavy. With a sigh, I gently stroke the soft hair on top of my daughter’s head one last time and then crawl into the cool, crisp bedding. The waves lapping against the side of the yacht are calming, the perfect background noise to lull me off into restful sleep, but it simply won’t come. My mind is no longer occupied with what may or may not be going on between Kate and Elliot, nor with the plot holes in my new story I haven’t worked out yet, or the not so idle threats Calliope’s godparents have made about turning her into the next Evel Knievel before she’s even out of diapers. Instead, I find myself lying there in the darkness, trying to keep absolutely quiet as I listen desperately for the whir of helicopter blades through the open windows.

Today has been a wonderful respite from the stress of everything going on back home and the noise and chaos of the city, but it’s been lonely too. I’ve enjoyed having time to write but I would have rather spent that time with Christian fishing with our fathers or maybe even out on the jet skis with Kate and his siblings. This weekend is supposed to be about him and so far, he is the only part that’s missing.

As I lie there, trying not to think about the actual reasons he isn’t here, I finally do begin to drift, but I’m not able to lose myself in dreams before I’m awakened abruptly by the screeching metallic sound of the Charlie Tango’s landing gear touching down on the helipad just above me. I glance nervously over at Calliope, praying the sound hasn’t woken her too, but she sleeps soundly through the noise of the helicopter powering down and the voices that drift down through the window as Christian is welcomed by the night staff.

Excited anticipation takes grip of my stomach while I wait for his appearance and the moment he comes through the bedroom door, the tense exhaustion on his face immediately melts away in favor of delighted relief. He closes the door behind him and begins stripping out of his clothes as he stalks towards the bed and climbs over the top of me.

“Hi,” I tell him as he covers my body with his.

“Hi. I’m sorry I’m late.”

“It’s okay. Did Welch get what he needed?”

“Mhm. He’s downloading the data file over night and he and Taylor will begin pouring through it tomorrow. I almost wish I’d left Sawyer behind. He’s good at this kind of thing.”

I hum in agreement and Christian leans down to take my lips with his. I feel my entire body relax as he kisses me, the warmth of his affection chasing away the loneliness that’s kept me awake half the night. Everything’s perfect now, exactly how it should be, and I can feel that contentedness with each brush of his lips against mine. Finally, our restful weekend away can really begin.

“It’s after midnight, you know,” Christian says as he pulls away. “It’s my birthday.”

“Happy Birthday,” I whisper. He smiles and shakes his head.

“No, that’s not really what I meant. It’s June 18th, officially six weeks from Calliope’s birth.”

“Oh…”

He smiles again before reclaiming my lips, but just as the tenacity of his tongue against mine begins to spark the welcome heat between my legs and his hand starts to creep beneath the t-shirt I fell asleep in, Calliope wakes and begins to cry.

And she doesn’t stop until the pink light of dawn creeps through our bedroom windows.  

Next Chapter

Chapter 37

walla-walla-prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 13

Anastasia Steele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello, Christian Grey’s phone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Exactly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Won’t it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christian…”

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

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

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

“Taylor!”

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

“Yes, sir?”

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

Taylor glances uneasily at me. “Uh… sir?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, we take security…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t believe me?”

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

“Then why are you crying?”

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

“Ana… it’s not safe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

“That is correct.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you blame him?” I ask icily.

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

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

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

“Funny how that happened.”

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

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

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

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

“What I want?”

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

“Oh… that.”

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

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

“What game?”

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

“Could you?”

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

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

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

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

I stiffen. “How did you…?”

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

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

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

“Who is it?”

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

“You know my terms.”

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

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

“Did you help him?” he cuts her off.

“What?”

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

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

“Did you help him” Christian repeats.

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

“What about Anastasia?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what about him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then you can burn in hell.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds.

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

“Yes, sir,” Luke says.

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

Next Chapter

Chapter 25

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Normally, I have packing for Seattle down to a science. I know exactly what I’m going to take, exactly where it’s at in my room, and exactly how to fit it in my suitcase. Unfortunately, this isn’t a normal trip home. I’ve been shopping all week, trying to find lingerie that looks sexy despite my now obvious baby bump, because this weekend is Valentine’s Day, and my Harvard t-shirt and sweatpants now have to make room for the various colors of lace and satin that I’m hoping will drive Christian crazy. Or rather, they would if I could find that stupid pink bag.

I begin tearing through the mess of unpacked clothes all over my room, wondering how something I just had in my hand an hour ago could have grown legs and walked away, when my door opens and Kate comes in and flops down on my bed.

“Look at you being proactive,” she says. “I thought you always put off packing until the last possible minute?”

“I do, and I have. I’m flying out of Boston tomorrow morning at six,” I tell her distractedly. “I’m skipping classes tomorrow to try and surprise Christian for Valentine’s Day by getting to Seattle early in the morning.”

“That’s adorable. Did you get him anything?”

“I booked us a suite at the Fairmont Olympic.”

“And?”

“And… Once we get there, I’m going to fuck his brains out for the rest of the weekend. Happy Valentine’s Day, Christian.”

“You’re so romantic it kills me sometimes,” she says, rolling her eyes, and I laugh.

“Well, I might not do anything if I can’t find that stupid shopping bag!” I yell with frustration. She shakes her head.

“Then we definitely need to find it because I’m going to need you to be out of the house this weekend.”

“Why’s that?”

“I had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon to get everything checked out and he says I’ve recovered very well. He thinks I can go back to school on Monday and if I’m well enough to go to school, then I think I’m well enough to make this thing with Carter… you know, official.”

“What do you mean?”

She gives me a pointed look. “I mean that I’m going to sleep with him. It’s Valentine’s Day, I think it’s very fitting.”

“I don’t understand how that makes things official. You’ve already slept with him.”

“Yeah, but not when we were together. I don’t know, it feels different, meaningful, and I’m actually… a little nervous about it. Sex hasn’t meant anything to me since… well, since Elliot.”

“Oh. Well… I think Carter’s great. He’s been amazing since you’ve had your surgery, taking care of you and everything. I can tell how much you mean to him. You two are really good together.”

“I know.” She nods. “And I really like him. He’s sweet and funny, and he makes me feel comfortable. I’m just anxious, I guess. Breaking up with Elliot was really hard, I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready to put myself out there like this again. It doesn’t seem like we’re moving too fast to you, right?”

I shrug. “You’re the only one who can know that.”

“I guess you’re not really the best person to ask anyway. Every time you and Christian have made it official, you slept with him immediately.”

“That’s not true!” I snap. “I slept with him before I got back together with him the last time.”

She laughs. “And then a week later you move in with him, and then four months later you’re having a baby with him, and then three months after that you’re getting married…”

“Okay, okay, I get it. Christian and I move fast.”

“Yeah, but I like that about you guys,” she says, more seriously now. “You’re both usually so careful and you overthink everything way too much, but when it comes to each other, you’re not too cautious or afraid to do what feels right. You truly live your life when you’re together and I love that.”

“Awwwww.” I crawl onto the bed next to her and wrap my entire body around her, making sure to be careful as she’s still just a little sore. She hugs me back for a moment, but when she tries to pull away, I don’t relinquish her.

“Ana, let me go.”

“Never.”

“Anaaaaaaaaa!” She tries to give me a tortured look, but the effect is dampened by the smile she can’t hold back, and as she attempts to struggle out of my arms, I tighten my hold on her.

“Stop fighting me! Let me love you!”

She devolves into a fit of giggles as she lets her entire body go limp and I pin her down. Now that I’m victorious though, I’m not really sure how long I’m supposed to hold onto her, but I still have packing to get done so I don’t hold her there long. When I do get up from the bed and start looking for the lingerie bag again, she rolls over on her side and looks purposefully at me.

“How’s Christian doing anyway? He left here so suddenly last weekend. I was shocked when we woke up on Saturday and he was gone.”

I frown. “I don’t really know. I’ve only talked to him twice this week and both times it was only for a couple minutes. All he’s told me is that he’s busy and he misses me. I talked to Taylor briefly and Mrs. Jones and they both told me that he’s been going into the office between six and seven every morning and staying past midnight.”

“What about Ros?” Kate asks.

“He fired her. He had the new technology guy dig into her profile on the server and found some emails between her and some of the board members at PixC. Apparently she was trying to sway them towards hiring a new CEO before Christian even got involved. She’d actually used Christian as a bargaining chip… like a threat. That they should hire her or GEH would take over the company and they’d all lose their jobs.”

“But, why? That just doesn’t seem like Ros.”

“I know. I don’t understand either.”

“What did she tell Christian?”

“He called her into his office on Monday morning and told her what they’d found and she got mad that he’d gone into her emails, but when he confronted her about the deal with PixC, she just tried deny everything. She said she’d never contacted PixC prior to their negotiations with GEH, but he had the proof in his hand. So, he told her she was done and had Taylor escort her out. He hasn’t talked to her since. I guess he’s thinking about taking legal action against her now.”

“That’s so crazy, they were like… best friends. I can’t believe she would do that to him.”

“Well, he hasn’t exactly been the best friend to her over the last few months,” I admit. “When I was there for Thanksgiving, they got into an argument and he basically told her that she wasn’t as important to GEH as she thought she was. Maybe that was enough to make her want to leave.”

“Yeah, Christian’s a dick when he gets mad, we all know that. She knows that better than even probably you do, and she’s known that since she started this with him. So, what? She just put up with that long enough for him to make her rich and powerful enough to take over a company and get the big job and now she’s just going to leave Christian to deal with the fallout at GEH by himself? That’s the real dick move, and I hope he does sue her. I don’t care how pissed you get, you don’t fuck over your friends like that.”

“I just rather they worked it out,” I tell her. “You’re right, he can’t run GEH all on his own, but he’ll try and he’ll either work himself into an early grave or he’ll fail, and he doesn’t do well with any kind of failure. He won’t admit it, but he needs her.”

She shrugs but I can tell by her face she doesn’t really agree with me. Kate’s always been a fiercely loyal friend, but she’s also not the kind of girl you’d want to get on the bad side of. I think that whole “a woman scorned” saying is actually her life’s mantra.

“Well, since you’re leaving me again, I’m going to have a sleepover in here with you tonight, cool?”

“Whatever makes you happy, my dear.”

She smiles and shifts back onto the pillows as though she’s going to crawl under the covers and settle in for the night, but the moment she leans back, she frowns and looks back at the pillow behind her.

“What in the world?” Her hand reaches under the pillow and after struggling more than she should, she pulls out a shiny, pink bag.

“There it is!” I exclaim.

“Glad I could help,” she smiles as she tosses the bag to me. “Just remember that when you’re having your first orgasm this weekend. It’s literally because of me.”

“Shut up, Kate,” I laugh, and I pull out the sheer lavender chemise and put it in my suitcase.

 

Luke wakes me up at four the next morning, being careful as he moves around the room not to wake Kate while I begrudgingly get out of bed. I do take note when I get out of bed that my pillow, which is the match to the one I bought as a Christmas gift for Christian, isn’t glowing, which either means he isn’t using it, or he hasn’t gone to bed yet. But, since I’m flying to Seattle this early to try and surprise him, I don’t want to call and find out which it is.

“Alright, is it just this bag?” Luke whispers once we’re back out in the hallway.

“Yeah, I’m ready to go,” I reply. “We’ve got to hurry. This plane won’t wait for me like Christian’s will.”

Luke nods and takes my bag with him as he heads for the stairs, but as we make our way past a very sleepy Champ in the kitchen, Anthony, the new security guy, comes in through the back door to stop us and I immediately freeze. I haven’t gotten comfortable with the new security team yet, especially Anthony. He’s very tall and bulky, with a severe jaw line and angular features. He’s bald, but there’s usually a shadow on his head that tells me that he purposefully shaves all of his hair off. He kind of reminds me of a hit man you’d see in old gangster movies and even though he took the time to introduce himself, and insisted I called him Anthony or Tony rather than Kommer, since that’s how I address Luke, part of me is a little afraid of him. I guess that’s good though. He’s intimidating and maybe that will scare off whoever he is…

“Sir, we have a problem,” he says to Luke.

“Problem?”

“Down the street, about five hundred feet, there’s a white Toyota Camry with a Massachusetts license plate number 643FW7. It’s been parked there every night this week so Harrison finally called in to have the plates run. It’s registered to Leila Williams.”

“Is she alone?” Luke asks.

“I’m not sure, sir. He’s doing a sweep of the block now, but, yes, she appears to be alone.”

“Well, let’s get Ana to the airport and call Harrison back. He should be ready to fall into pursuit in case Miss Williams follows us.”

“Yes, sir.” Anthony steps aside and lets Luke move through the back door, which has been replaced with french doors rather than the sliding glass door so that they could put deadbolts in them, but once I follow after him, they both surround me until I’m shut safely away in the back of my Lexus. It feels ridiculous and way over the top, but it’s what Christian needs to feel safe and, with as much stress as he’s under at home right now, I don’t want to do anything to make things harder for him and that means following security protocol to a T.

Anthony takes the driver’s seat while Luke slips in the front, and they both look very attentively through the windows surrounding us as we pull back down the driveway. Their attitudes make me paranoid and almost a little worried to be leaving Kate behind, but I can at least feel better knowing that, in addition to Carter and Champ, Kate will have Harrison and Cardella, my new female CPO, remaining behind with her.

 

We arrive in Seattle just after nine o’clock, which gives me time to go home, take a shower, and get ready before I head to GEH to see Christian. I’ve secretly blocked a half hour out of his schedule today, the maximum amount of time Andrea could help me secure, and as we make our way out of the parking garage under Escala and up 5th avenue, I dial the number to the front desk of Christian’s office to make sure that half hour is still on his calendar.

“Christian Grey’s office, this is Olivia speaking, how may I direct your call?”

“Hi, Olivia, it’s Anastasia. Can I speak with Andrea please?”

“One moment.” There’s a beat of silence and then Andrea’s voice comes over the phone.

“Hi, Ana.” She sounds exhausted.

“Hi, Andrea. I’m on my way in. I just wanted to make sure we’re all set.”

“Umm… yes,” she says hesitantly. “But, I have it on the calendar as an extension of the meeting he has with his brother at 10:30 and he’s asked me to cancel the extension three times. I haven’t yet, but I don’t know if he’s filled the time with something else.”

I feel my heart sink. “Well, we’ll see. I’ll be there in about five minutes.”

Once I hang up the phone, I turn and look gloomily out the side window and realize that we’re stopped at a light on the same corner where Christian’s new building is going up. I haven’t come down this way to see it since last fall and the difference between then and now is staggering. It looks… complete. No longer is there just a shell of iron beams and concrete floors on each level, the building standing before me is an architectural marvel of glass and steel. It looks like there are workers on the inside, putting up what looks like a giant screen in screen in the lobby but from the outside, Elliot’s vision has come to life, right down to the Grey House mounted proudly over the front doors. I smile to myself as we pull away and I think of all the times Elliot taunted Christian by telling him he was going to put his name on the building.

I really miss that Elliot.

When we get to GEH, Luke takes me up the elevator from the parking garage and after he’s swiped his badge against the electronic pad next to the door to let me through the security doors, I immediately feel the tension filling Christian’s office. Andrea is surrounded by boxes of files piled so high you can barely see her over them and Olivia hangs up one call and answers another in the four seconds it takes us to get from the doors to her desk.

“Anastasia,” Andrea greets us, saying my name as though it’s the first chance she’s had to take a breath all morning. “Mr. Grey is on a phone call…”

“That’s okay, I can wait. I’ll just…” I point back to Christian’s office as Olivia answers yet another phone call, and Andrea hesitates for a moment, as though she wants to stop me, but ultimately decides objecting isn’t worth the time away from her work. Luke ducks into the security office down the hall and I wave at Taylor as I pass before gently easing open the doors to Christian’s office and stepping inside.

He’s behind his desk, on the phone, and the first thing I notice is how exhausted he looks. His hair is in disarray, his face is covered in what looks to be a day or two of stubble, and even though he’s dressed in an impeccable suit, he looks a little disheveled with his tie hanging loosely around his neck.

“So, when’s the vote?” he asks, pausing for a moment and then following up with, “And how many board members are going toward GEH? Jesus… what the fuck did she sell them?” He sighs. “Give me some names, I’ll make some calls.”

He turns in his chair and the moment he sees me standing just in front of the closed door, his eyes widen and his back goes stick straight.

“No, I can handle it,” he says, talking to the person on the phone again. “This isn’t my first hostile takeover. Thank you, I’ll talk to you soon.” He hangs up the phone and looks back up at me.

“Well if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain…” I say, but the tension in his face doesn’t relax.

“Why are you here? What happened?”

“Well…” I begin, trying not to let the almost accusatory way he says why are you here get to me as I lower my voice seductively and saunter towards his desk. “Time has gone on, days have past, and now, it’s Valentine’s Day weekend. I flew here early to surprise you with an extra day and now that I’m here, I thought maybe you’d like to take a break.”

A brief flash of conflict washes over his face as he watches me reach for the top buttons on my coat, but he lets out a hard sigh and regretfully shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Ana. I don’t have time right now. I’ll see you tonight, okay? I’ll try to get out of here early.”

“Oh.” The shock of rejection I feel is more poignant than I’m prepared for. Never before has Christian turned me away or said no. He’s always made me his number one priority, at all times, but… that’s because he used to have Ros. She was always willing to step in for him when he needed her to so that he could free up his schedule to be with me and his family. Now, he’s at the helm alone, and if he’s not here, no one is. He’s an island and, as I see the fatigue and the frustration behind his eyes again, I suddenly feel the quick anger that I’d seen from Kate last night for myself. He needs Ros, she knows that, but she went and did this terrible thing anyway. Maybe Kate is right and she was just using him.

And that’s when it really hits me. It’s not just exhaustion that I see in him right now, it’s hurt. I’ve been thinking about the business perspective, that Ros saw an opportunity and jumped at it. It was a shark kind of move, but she’s learned from Christian and that’s exactly the cutthroat attitude he’s always had. Act now, apologize later. Except, that this isn’t just climbing the corporate ladder, this is using her position in GEH, the position that Christian put her in, to get what she wants with absolutely no concern for the consequences to him. In fact, it’s almost specifically to spite him. And now that she’s just so carelessly moved on, tossed everything she and Christian have built together aside as if it were nothing, one can’t help but wonder if ever meant anything to her at all. Perhaps she was using Christian, and if that’s true, their entire friendship, the friendship that was all he had for so long, has been a lie.  

Elena… Ros…

He’s once again had someone he allowed himself to be open with prove that they never cared about him, and that thought hits me like a bullet to the heart.

“Christian…” I say softly, but he cuts me off.

“I really don’t have time right now, Ana, I’m sorry. I’ll be home tonight.” The phone on his desk rings and he immediately reaches over to answer it. I stand there for a moment, watching and listening to him bark a few orders to some department head over the phone, before I turn around, but when I hear the phone slam down on the receiver behind me, there’s a brief moment of silence before his agitated voice cuts through empty space between us.

“Fuck it. Come back here.”

I turn cautiously and see him get out of his seat, pulling his unknotted tie from his collar and moving to the top buttons of his shirt as he moves around his desk and stalks towards me. He doesn’t even reach for me to pull me into him, he just lets his entire body crash into mine, his hands only reaching up to my face to keep my lips against his as I stumble backwards a few paces.

“On my desk,” he whispers against my mouth. His hand takes mine and he pulls me roughly back with him to the desk. I quickly close his laptop and move it, along with some files and stacked papers, to make some room, and when I glance over at him, a huge smile crosses my lips as he very purposefully picks up his desk phone, pulls the cable out of the back, and sets it down on the floor.

“We can’t ever be to cautious with you, can we, Miss Steele?” he asks lasciviously as he comes around the desk, but when he reaches out for me, I move deftly out of his reach. The sudden spark of lust I see in his eyes has given me the opening I was waiting for to do what I wanted to for Valentine’s Day, namely play out every one of his fantasies. Starting with a little office role play…

“Mr. Grey,” I say firmly, reaching out to stop him, and he does, but he looks at me confused.

“What’s wro-”

“I’ve been told by my superior that I’ve broken GEH policy,” I interrupt him. “But you have to understand, I didn’t realize when I left the house this morning that my outfit didn’t adhere to the dress code.” I reach up and open the long trench I picked out specially from my closet back at Escala and when he sees the short, lacy, champagne colored babydoll lingerie I’ve been concealing underneath, his expression twists with desire for a moment before the CEO shutters come back down.

“Well, Miss Steele,” he says. “Let’s take a look shall we?”

He moves to a file cabinet on the wall next to his desk and removes a paper bound book, which he brings back and drops it on the desk in front of me. I stare down at it for a moment as he lowers himself into his chair again and gestures at the book.

“Your um… outfit does seem a little short. Why don’t you find what the handbook says about skirt length?”

“Yes, sir,” I reply. He smiles at the emphasis I put on the last word and, as I step between his legs and bend over the desk right in front of him, I hear his sharp intake of breath and the sound of his fingers tightening on the leather arms of his chair as he tries to stop himself from reaching up to touch me.

“Let’s see…” I continue, flipping through the book. “This says that skirts and dresses may fall no less than four inches above the knee.”

He clicks his tongue, and even though the lace of my lingerie isn’t even covering my behind with the way I’m bent over the desk, he says, “I suppose we’ll have to measure.”

“Whatever you say, Mr. Grey.”

He reaches around into one of his desk drawers and pulls out a metal ruler, and my breath hisses through my teeth when he presses it into my skin.

“Cold, Miss Steele?”

“A little…”

“Well, perhaps you should be covering more of your skin.” His tone is chiding as he marks the place on my thigh where the ruler ends with his finger, and then slides the metal further down my leg to continue measuring. “Sixteen inches. That’s a foot too short…”

“I’m sorry, sir,” I tell him, but he simply clicks his tongue disapprovingly. The ruler slides up my leg, catching the hem of my lingerie, and as he continues to move it higher, he begins dragging the lace along with it.

“Such a grave violation should lead to immediate termination…”

“No, please, sir!” I beg. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”

“Miss Steele, I can’t simply look the other way. You knew the rules, and you’ve chosen to break them.”

“There has to be something I could do… some other way you could reprimand me.”

“Perhaps there is,” he says huskily. “How badly do you want to keep your position here at GEH, Miss Steele?”

“I have to, sir. I need this job. I’ll do anything…”

“Then don’t move.” He flips the hem of the skirt over my behind and then smacks me with the ruler. I let out a small, surprised yelp and he stops. “Too much?”

“No,” I reply. He hesitates for a moment but then pulls the ruler back to hit me again. When I moan this time, he doesn’t pause before he brings the ruler down on me once more. The crack of the pliable metal on my skin sounds threatening, vicious even, and the sting is biting, but not so much that I can’t handle it. He hits me four more times before the final blow makes me whimper again, and this time, rather than pausing to check that I’m okay, he simply lets the ruler fall to the floor. While I listen to the metal thud against the rubber mat under his chair, his fingers curl beneath my panties and he pushes them deftly to the side, his mouth making contact with me in the next second.

The stubble on his face scratches against my lips, contrasting and heightening the sensation of his tongue swirling softly around my clitoris, and it immediately has my legs shaking. I moan and gasp as I writhe over his desk, wishing I had something to sink my fingers into rather than the hard, unrelenting surface beneath me, but he seems encouraged by the sound of my fingernails scraping desperately against the wood.

“Oh god,” I whisper as I feel the building heat inside of me. “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop!”

His lips begin pulling at me, sucking my clitoris between the long, tantalizing strokes of his tongue, and soon, the shaking in my knees seems to migrate up my thighs and between my legs, adding pressure to and ultimately unwinding the concentrated ball of pleasure inside of me waiting to explode. I cry out as my orgasm hits me and Christian pushes his face harder into me, between my legs, and it sends the shockwaves coursing through me rebounding back, intensifying my orgasm. Fuck, he’s so good at this.

“Holy fuck, Christian,” I pant as I start to come down, the roleplay I’d set up now completely pushed out of my mind. He kisses me one last time before he gets out of his chair, stands behind me, and I hear the promising jingle of his belt. Taking a deep breath to prepare myself for round two, I move so that I’m in the best position for him, higher off the desk, but he reaches down for my hips and flips me onto my back.

“I want to see you,” he says, and then he thrusts inside of me. My mouth falls open in a silent scream of delight as he pushes in and out of me, harder and more viciously with each thrust. Our harsh breathing synchronizes, filling the air around us, and as I look up in his face and see the serenity there that has replaced the uncertainty, I know he’s losing himself in me, and I want to go along.

“Kiss me,” I plead. He leans over me, pressing his body into mine as he claims my lips, and I reach up to tangle my fingers in his hair. He allows me free reign to touch him for only a moment and then reaches up for my arms and pins them to his desk, next to my head. His fingers entwine with mine and it’s more intimate than I would have supposed. A long time ago, when he used to restrain my hands to keep me from touching him, I could feel the distance in the gesture, but this feels less like he’s pushing me away and more like he’s trying to connect. There’s tenderness in the way his hands hold mine and it makes it seem that, even though he’s fucking me in a carnal, instinctual way, we’re somehow still making love.

“I love you, Christian,” I whisper, and he moans.

“And I love you. Give it up for me, baby. Come with me.”

I bite down on my lip as his mouth moves down my body to the swells of my breasts above my lingerie. His sure hands hold tightly to my sides, lifting me from the desk, holding me firm while he moves in and out of me. I can see the muscles in his jaw tensing and his eyebrows furrowing as he climbs closer and closer to release, trying to hold off for me to join him, and once again the thought of his pleasure is enough to push me off the edge and send me tumbling into the warm abyss of welcome madness. He lets out a strangled kind of groan as he feels the force of my orgasm clenching tightly around him and then he too lets go.

“Oh… fuck, I needed that,” he says when we’ve both come down and he’s pulled out of me. I smile up at him as he straightens his clothes and then moves to put the phone back on his desk. Once I too am wrapped back in my trench coat and decent to be in public again, he takes me by the hand to walk with me back out to the elevators, but I stop him before he even unlocks his office door.

“I booked a room for us this weekend. I was kind of hoping we could spend the next couple days just getting lost in every one of your fantasies.”

“Mmm,” he hums. “I want that too. I might be here a little late tonight, though.”

I want to sigh, but to try to hold it back. “That’s okay. I was going to go see your dad this afternoon and I still have to go for a run so I’ll just meet you at the Fairmont Olympic tonight?”

“I can’t wait,” he tells me, and then kisses me once more before we open the door and Luke comes out of the security office to follow us up to reception.

I remember the phone call I had with Andrea on my way into the office this afternoon, so I half expect to see Elliot waiting in the lobby, but I’m disappointed when I see that it’s Gia who practically leaps out of her seat when we come around the corner.

“Good afternoon, Christian,” she says. “And… Ana, what a surprise. You’re… early, aren’t you?”

“No, not really,” I say coolly. “There isn’t a time I’m supposed to be here so how could I be early?”

“I just thought you usually get here late on Fridays,” she says, brushing me off as she turns to look at Christian. “I assume she’s leaving, though? We have an 11 o’clock.”

“No,” Christian says irritably. “I have an 11 o’clock with Elliot.”

“Right,” she nods. “He’s just a little busy this afternoon, so he asked me to fill in. He wants to make sure everything is wrapped up at work before we take off for the weekend. He’s taking me to St. Barts for Valentine’s Day.”

Christian’s expression hardens. “Look, I know that you have a personal relationship with my family that may make it feel like the lines between us are blurred, so let me make things real clear for you. I’m the CEO of one of the largest companies in the country and I do not have meetings with salaried employees. The meeting I have scheduled is with Elliot Grey and that is the only meeting I will be taking.  You do not belong in this office and you should remember that going forward. Now get your things and go.”

“Christian…” she protests, but he cuts her off with one biting word.

“Go.”

She gives him an indignant look but she gathers the briefcase and folders she left on the chair next to her and moves towards the doors that lead to the elevator regardless.

“That was kind of harsh,” I tell him once we watch her disappear behind the elevator doors.

“Well, that’s how I would handle any subordinate employee who came into my office. No special treatment. Grey Construction is no longer a part of GEH, and I only ever meet with the executive management team of other companies. I never deal with anyone who would need to confirm with their boss before giving me a concrete answer. It’s waste of everyone’s time and time is not a luxury I have now.”

“Yeah… but he’s not just another CEO, he’s your brother.”

“I’ve been lenient on procedure for people close to me before. With Elena, with Ros… and I’ve been burned every time. Not anymore. I’m happy to do business with Elliot, but when he steps through those doors, he isn’t my brother anymore. He’s the owner of a company I have under contract and when he schedules a meeting with me, I expect him to show up, not an Interior Designer.

There’s a definite note of disdain in his voice when he says Gia’s title but I’m not sure I want to get to the bottom of that with Andrea and Olivia standing only a few feet away, so I don’t reply, and Andrea takes my silence as an opportunity to get Christian’s attention.

“Mr. Grey? Miss Bailey has called for you three times this morning…”

Miss Bailey is to be directed to my lawyer or HR,” Christian says through clenched teeth.

“Yes, sir, she has,” Andrea continues. “And the lawyer, David Kramer, has called for you as well.”

“Alright, get him on the phone. I’ll take it in my office.” He turns to me and I give him a sad kind of smile before I reach up and give him a quick kiss on the corner of his mouth.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” I promise him, and he nods.

“And I will get to you as soon as I can.” He squeezes my hand as I turn for the glass doors with Luke and when we step into the elevator, Christian stare at one another, holding eye contact, until the doors close and I can’t see him anymore.

It’s only 11:30 by the time we get back to Escala, but since I’ve technically been up since one AM local time, I’m in desperate need of a nap. It’s a good way to kill a couple hours and by the time I get up, finish my run with Luke, shower, repack, spend a little time in Bellevue with Christian’s family, and make it to the Fairmont Olympic, it’s after six, which I hope means Christian is going to be arriving soon.

There’s a menu for room service next to the hotel phone so I order dinner for Christian and I and have them set up the dining table in the suite with candles and flowers, but by 7:30, I’m still sitting at the table alone. There’s a clock in the sitting room adjacent to me that ticks away the seconds I sit there, staring at the wall across from me, until I finally pick up my phone to call him.

“Grey,” he answers quickly.

“Hey, where are you?”

“Oh… Ana. I’m sorry, I’m still in the office. I’m trying to get out of here but I’m just so buried…”

“Is something wrong?”

“No, not really. I’ve just had to take on all of Ros’s clients and it’s a lot to go along with the acquisitions I’m already working on. I’ve got a million things going on at once.”

“Oh, well… I ordered dinner.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, and at least I can hear the true regret in his voice. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, I promise.”

“Okay, I love you.”

“I love you too, bye.” He hangs up and I stare solemnly down at the phone in my hand. Not only is he not almost here or on his way, it doesn’t even sound like he’s leaving any time soon.

I look down at the food in front of me, cold now, and push it away. I know that Luke is in the room next to me, so after pacing the floor of my suite a few times and deciding that I’d rather have company than wait for Christian to get back by myself, I change out of the sexy nighty I’m wearing, throw on a pair of leggings and a t-shit, and then make my way down the hall to his room.

“Ana?” he asks curiously when he opens the door.

“Christian’s not going to be here for awhile and I’m kind of lonely. You wanna come watch a movie?”

“Uh… sure.” He picks up the keycard on the table next to the door and then follows me back to my suite. I let him order the movie while I call down to the front desk to ask them to bring popcorn and as many packages of Scooby Doo fruit snacks as they can possibly haul up here and then settle down on the couch in front of the TV with the comforter from my bed.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Sure. What bloody, gory, ridiculously implausible action movie do you have planned for us tonight?”

“The bloodiest, goriest, most implausible once I could think of, of course.”

He lifts the remote and points it at the TV and hits play, and a smile crosses my face when I see the main title card come up.

It Happened One Night.

“Awh, I knew this was your favorite movie,” I say, pushing him slightly as he reaches into the bowl of popcorn on my lap.

“I can’t help it,” he says. “That scene where she lifts up her skirt to show her knee and flag down the passing drivers, whew… it just really gets my blood boiling.”

I laugh and then reach for a pack of fruit snacks, and he shakes his head.

“I can’t believe you’re eating those again,” he says. “How many fruit snack have you consumed over the past six weeks?”

“A million,” I reply while I chew.

“You know those things are loaded with artificial flavoring and corn syrup, right? You should at least get the ones with actual fruit juice in them.”

I shrug. “The baby wants what the baby wants, and the baby likes the ones that look like Shaggy and the gang.” He rolls his eyes as I plop another opaque fruit snack in my mouth and then turn my attention back to the TV.

Next Chapter

Carrick POV: Birthday Dinner

Image result for dinner table

“Mia, I swear to god if you’re not home in fifteen minutes…” I threaten her coldly through the phone.

“You’ll what dad?” Mia snaps. “Cut me off? Throw me out? Pretend I don’t exist? At this point, I think I’d find that preferable.”

I take a deep breath and swallow back the anger at the words my teenage daughter spits at me. This attitude of hers has gotten out of control. “Amelia Grey, I am not playing around with you anymore. It is your mother’s birthday and you will be here to celebrate with her. Get your rear-end home right now.”

“If Christian isn’t good enough to come, than neither am I,” she says bluntly, and then I hear a small click as the phone goes dead and she’s gone. I immediately dial her number again, but it goes straight to voicemail and as I hang up to prevent myself from leaving my 16 year old daughter a long, angry, expletive filled voicemail, I lean against the wall trying to compose myself. Today is supposed to be about Grace. All she wanted was to have our family together for her birthday and I’ve now driven two of our children away from this dinner.

No, Christian has. I think darkly, my mind immediately shifting back to him seated across from her in the restaurant the other day. It always comes back to this. Christian and his involvement with Elena Lincoln. He’s picked her and her fucked up lifestyle over his family, I can’t be held responsible for that. I will not have him around my daughter while he’s still involved with that woman, and I will not let him walk back through the door until he takes responsibility for the choice he made in that courtroom.

I feel a stab of pain at that sentiment, knowing that deep down that’s not really what I want. I want him here too… I want to hear his stories about how he’s built his company and all of the things he’s seen and done over the past two years. I want him here for holidays and Sunday brunch… I miss Christian just as much as his mother does, but I can’t just accept what he did. He lied to his whole family, to a court of law, and he betrayed everyone who loves him. His lies have threatened my law firm, have started a silent cold war amongst all of our friends and Elena Lincoln, destroyed our friendship with Andrew Lincoln, and nearly shattered the girl who loved him.

My throat tightens thinking about Anastasia and I quickly reach over for one of the scotch glasses on the desk next to me and pour myself two fingers of the amber colored liquid. Once I throw it down, I take another deep breath and make my way out of my office and into the dining room where Grace, Elliot, and Kate are waiting, ready to eat.

“Did you get ahold of her?” Grace asks, the worry apparent in her voice.

“She not coming,” I say shortly. “Let’s eat.”

“What do you mean, she’s not coming?” Elliot asks, and I shoot him a warning look, but he ignores it and pushes me further. “Where is she?”

“She’s staying with a friend this weekend,” I reply as concisely as possible, because frankly, that’s all I know. “I’ll deal with her when she comes home, but for tonight… she won’t be here. She’s refusing to come.”

“Then call the police,” Elliot says, “Report her as a runaway.”

“And have your sister brought back here in handcuffs on your mother’s birthday?” I ask him and he looks over at me, conflicted for a moment, and then frowns. When he doesn’t say anything more, I take a deep breath and then start sawing into the filet of salmon on my plate, pouring my frustration into the violent movement until the serrated edge of my knife is scraping against the china.

“You know, you could just call Christian and ask him to come over,” Elliot says, quietly. My teeth grind together as I silently, but very purposefully shake my head. “I know why Mia’s not here, Dad. It’s because you blew up at Christian and now he’s not here and so she doesn’t want to be either. She misses him, Dad. We all do.”

“No we don’t,” I say emphatically.

“Yes, we do,” Grace chokes next to me and I feel a fresh slice of guilt and pain cut through me when I look over at her and watch her set her fork down on her plate and break into tears.

“Mom,” Elliot says, getting out of his seat and wrapping his arms around Grace. “Please, don’t.”

“All I wanted was to share my birthday with my family,” she sobs into her napkin. “ With my children. With the son I haven’t seen for more than a few seconds in almost two years. But instead…”

She chokes out another sob and as Elliot holds her more tightly into his chest he shoots a dark look at me.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” he says, though he looks at me. “I’ll call Christian.”

“You will do no such thing,” I say flatly.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Elliot says as he stand up. “Do you really have your head so far up your ass that you can’t see how this feud you’re in with Christian is ripping this family apart? My whole life you taught me that family is the most important thing in the world, but the first time this family is faced with any real kind of adversity, you’re willing to just watch it slip through your fingers. You can fix this, just pick up the fucking phone and call Christian.”

“I don’t need you to tell me how to take care of this family, Elliot,” I say, getting out of my own seat now.

“Maybe not. But you sure as hell need someone to tell you how to be a fucking father,” he says, and as the impact of his words hit me, he storms out of the room.

“Excuse me,” Kate whispers uncomfortably as she gets out of her seat and hurries out of the room after Elliot. I lower myself back into my chair, picking up the napkin that has fallen to the floor and toss it on the table. My wife is staring at me across the table with an almost incredulous look in her eyes as she slowly shakes her head back and forth.

“This is where we are,” she says. “This is what your pride and your stubbornness has done to our family.”

“Grace, you know that I…”

“I don’t want to hear it, Carrick,” she interrupts me. “I’m so tired of hearing your excuses. I can’t take it anymore. I never thought you’d be the kind of man who would make me choose between my marriage and my children, but I can’t keep pushing Christian away for you.”

“Grace…”

She holds up her hands to silence me again. “I’m not going to do this with you right now. It’s my birthday, so if you’ll excuse me… I’m going to go and spend it with the one child you haven’t managed to drive out of our lives.”

She gets up from the table and stalks out of the room, leaving me alone. I sigh and slump back into my chair. No matter what I do, I always seem to be the bad guy. All I wanted to do was to help my son, to have justice for the atrocious things that were done to him by the woman I brought into his life, because after everything that’s happened, that’s still the part I can’t seem to get past. Everything that happened to him, happened because of me and as hard as I fought for him, it wasn’t enough. The truth is, Elena Lincoln took my son from me a long time ago, without me even noticing, and I couldn’t bring him back. And when I tried, it blew up in my face and has destroyed my family.

Because I failed to see what was happening right in front of me, my son is lost to me and my family hates me.

So maybe I am the bad guy. Maybe I am letting my family be ripped apart because I won’t let go of what happened, but I can’t in good conscience go back to the way things were without a little give from Christian. How am I supposed to just invite him back into our lives when he still openly and proudly maintains a relationship with Elena Lincoln? How do I look past what he did when he is completely unapologetic for the things he’s done? To forgive him without his acknowledgement of his wrongdoings would be to accept that we not only failed to put a child molester behind bars, but that we still continue to protect her because we’re all protecting him from what he did.

I swallow back the lump in my throat and leave the dining room, circumventing the family room where I can hear Elliot and Grace talking. I don’t want to do anything to further ruin this night for her, so I lock myself in my office and pour myself another drink, leaving my wife to spend the rest of her birthday with her son, alone.

When I finally go to bed, Grace is still awake. She’s sitting up in bed staring into space and when I see her, I step into the room, and very cautiously close the door behind me.

“Do you remember when we bought Christian his first bike?” she whispers.

“Yes,” I nod.

“He spent so much time trying to learn how to ride it. It was so frustrating to him that he couldn’t just get on it and ride away the way Elliot could. He didn’t like being left behind.”

“Christian’s always looked for shortcuts,” I say bitterly, but she shakes her head.

“He’s never been patient and he’s always been stubborn, something he gets from his father. He used to stay out in the street until after dark practicing riding his bike…” Finally, she looks up at me. “And you were out there with him. No matter how long he wanted to try, no matter how many hours he would stay out there, no matter how many times he failed, you stayed with him. You gripped onto the back of his seat and ran along beside him until he asked you to let him go. When he fell, you kissed his bumps and scrapes and told him that being good at something doesn’t mean you never fail, it means you never give up.”

“I remember,” I tell her, and she reaches up and wipes a tear from her cheek.

“What happened to that man, Carrick? What happened to the man who put his family before anything else? What happened to the man who knew that to love a child meant to love them unconditionally? What happened to the man who stayed out in the street until it was dark trying to help his son learn how to ride a bike?”

“I haven’t stopped loving him, Grace,” I say, diverting my eyes as I shrug out of my dinner jacket. “I’ll always love him, but that’s not enough this time. I can’t just forget about what he did.”

Her head falls and tears roll down her cheeks. I cross the room to sit on the bed next to her, but when I reach out to take her into my arms, she pushes me away.

“Don’t,” she says, sharply. I look back at her, confused by the hostility in her voice, and she takes a deep breath and sits up straighter in the bed before she speaks again. “I’ve seen a lawyer, Carrick.”

“A lawyer?”

“A divorce lawyer,” she clarifies and, suddenly, I feel winded.

“You’re… you’re thinking of divorcing me?” I ask. Her eyes begin to glimmer again with a fresh wave of tears, and she nods.

“My family means everything to me, Carrick, and that includes Christian. It’s my job to love and to protect my children and I’ve failed at that. I won’t fail at it anymore. You see his continued involvement with Elena Lincoln as a lack of remorse, but all I see is that our child still needs our help.”

“He’s not a child, Grace,” I say in a low voice.

“He’ll always be our child, Carrick. And you if you don’t understand that, then I’m… I think it’s better that we separate. I can’t do this with you anymore. I won’t abandon my children for you.”

I look at her, feeling a thousand thoughts and emotions tugging at me, pulling me in different directions, but I can’t hold onto any one of them long enough to verbalize the conflict I’ve been trying to work through for almost two years to my wife. She lets out a harsh, incredulous breath through her nose and then shakes her head before turning her eyes away from me again.

“I’m tired,” she says. “I think it’s better that you sleep in the guest room tonight.”

“Grace…” I argue, but she shakes her head again.

“Just go.”

I stare at her for a moment, imploring her to say something more, to ask me to talk this out with her, but she doesn’t. She crosses her arms and looks back at me expectantly, waiting for me to leave. So I do. I get up from the bed and slowly walk to our door, pausing for a moment to allow her the chance to change her mind, but when she doesn’t say anything I step into the hallway and close the door softly behind me.

I’ve lost Christian. I’ve lost Mia. I’ve lost Elliot. Now, I’ve lost my wife.

I can’t lie to myself any longer… I am the bad guy.

Next Chapter

Epilogue

ANA’S POV

Christmas 2013:

“Christian!” I gasp, my hands clasping around his bare back as he makes love to me on the floor of the family room in front of a crackling fire. The christmas tree twinkles in the corner.

Slowly, achingly slowly, he pulls out of me and then pushes back in, pushing, pushing, pushing, Ah!

He leans down kisses me, his tongue rolling through my mouth, and I groan. My whole body is alight with need and sensation.

“You’re body is so beautiful, Anastasia,” he says when his lips separate from mine. He moves my hair to the side and kisses, sucks, and nibbles on my neck just below my ear. He’s moving inside of me at a maddeningly slow pace. It’s torture, but also exquisite to feel every inch of him as he plunges, purposefully, in and out.

“What did I do to deserve all of this?” he asks, and his hand runs over my naked breast. “I’m a lucky man, Mrs. Grey.”

“Christian,” I moan again, desperate for release.

“Are you ready, baby?” He asks, and I can feel rather than see his smile against my skin.

“Yes, Christian, please!” I beg and he swirls his hips around, circling inside of me. His rhythm quickens and I feel the muscles deep inside begin to tighten.

“Oh god, I’m so close,” I moan and he groans.

“I love having you like this, baby. Slow and deep. You feel so good, Anastasia.” His arm reaches up under my leg and pulls it further up, towards my chest and I feel him thrust deeper inside of me. I’m building and building.. fuck!

“Christian!” I yell and I come, gloriously, feeling him move in and out of me as my nerve endings explode.

“Yes, Anastasia,” He whispers gruffly. “Fuck, give it to me baby.” My orgasm goes on and on, intensifying as I hear Christian’s moan of pleasure when he finds his own release inside of me.

We lay together, basking in the glory of our post-coital bliss, and Christian runs his fingers over my skin.

“Can we wake him now?” He asks, and I turn disapproving eyes on him.

“It’s too early, Christian. Let him sleep. The presents aren’t going anywhere.”

He pouts and I lean over and kiss him. “You’re going to be impossible in a couple of years when he’s just as excited about the presents as you are,” I say, and he smiles at me. I kiss him softly once more and stand up to put my robe on. It is still too early to wake Teddy but I can get breakfast started so it’s ready when we do finally wake him. I pick up the baby monitor sitting on the table next to the couch and walk into the kitchen. I’m making homemade cinnamon rolls and Christian inhales deeply and moans approvingly when he smells them cooking in the oven.

I’m just pulling the buns out to ice when we hear the unmistakable cries for “Dada” over the baby monitor. Christian’s face breaks into a breathtaking, overly-excited smile and I laugh as he turns around and practically sprints up the stairs to retrieve Teddy from his crib.

When he comes back downstairs with our toddler in his arms, I’m setting breakfast out on the table. Christian grins as he sits down to his cinnamon roll and mug of hot chocolate with a candy cane sticking out over the side. I cut Teddy’s bun up into tiny pieces and he smiles broadly as he reaches down and pops them into his mouth.

“Mmm,” Christian says, looking over at Teddy.

“Yummy!” Teddy cries excitedly and I giggle. When we’ve finished, Christian wipes down the baby’s sticky face and fingers while I pile the breakfast dishes in the sink.

“Presents?” Christian asks, and I nod. He reaches down, takes Teddy’s hand, and leads him into the family room where the Christmas tree is surrounded by an outrageously large mountain of presents, nearly all of which are for Teddy.

I don’t know if I’ll ever stop loving watching how patient Christian is with Teddy. He sorts through all the presents, handing Teddy his gifts and watching delightedly as he struggles to rip away the wrapping paper. Teddy opens dozens of presents, clothes, toys, and even a model train that is really more for Christian to play with than Teddy. I reach under the tree and grab the small package I’ve wrapped for Christian.

“Teddy,” I say, “Give this one to Daddy.” Teddy stumbles over to me and wraps his little fingers around the small rectangular box. He runs to Christian and holds it out for him.

“I thought I got my present this morning,” Christian says lasciviously and I roll my eyes. I reach out, grab Teddy, and pull him into my lap as Christian tears the wrapping paper of the package. He opens the small box and pulls out a small white stick with a blue cap. His eyes widen as he looks down at the little digital screen that reads Pregnant.

“Really?” He asks, his voice trembling with his held back excitement.

I nod and he launches himself at me, pulling both me and Teddy into a tight hug.

“Oh god, Ana!” He says, and when he pulls away, there are tears in his eyes. “This makes me the happiest man in the world.” He reaches down and places his hand over my stomach.

“How far along?”

“Only about five or six weeks,” I answer and then his lips are on mine. I feel Teddy yank on my robe and we both look down at him. Christian picks him up, lifting him into the air, and spins him around. Teddy laughs and screams with joy as Christian pulls him down into a tight hug.

“Do you want to be a big brother?” he asks.

“No, I want presents.” We both laugh and Christian reaches out and digs with him through the gifts under the tree as I watch, staring at the two men who make my life complete.

The End.

 

Chapter 23

ANA’S POV

“It’s done,” Christian says as he hangs up his cell phone. I’m sitting on his desk and he looks up at me. “Leila said she practically ran from the apartment.”

I nod but I’m still feeling uneasy. All the people we’ve been fighting, they’re gone. The only problem left to face is us.

“What is it, Ana?” Christian asks. “It’s over. Linc and Elena are behind bars and Rachel is out of the picture.

“I don’t know what to do now,” I say. “We’re supposed to move on from here, but I don’t know how.” His eyes darken and he looks away from me, staring down at the desk or maybe into nothing as he speaks.

“Are you going back to Escala tonight?”

“I don’t know, Christian,” I whisper.

“What do I have to do, Ana? Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I’ll give you anything, do anything. Just tell me what you want and it’s yours.”

“It’s not that simple. There isn’t a quick fix. I need to find a way to trust you again.”

“We could see Flynn,” Christian suggests.

Hm. That’s a good idea. He hasn’t been to see Flynn in months. Not since before the kidnapping, not since Teddy was born. Maybe Flynn could help us both.

“Yes, I think that’s a good idea,” I say.

“I’ll make the appointment tomorrow morning,” He replies. He stands and presses his forehead against mine. My body is aching for his touch but I don’t move.

“Stay with me tonight,” He breathes.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Christian. If I stay, we’re going to end up having sex and I don’t want us to just push these problems aside. I want us to deal with them so we can move on. I don’t want any more dark clouds hanging over us.”

“Ana,” he pleads, and I can feel his head shift slightly. He wants to kiss me and I want to kiss him, but I know where that will lead. I need to leave.

Slowly, I maneuver around him and slide off the desk. I’m walking out of the office when his voice stops me.

“Can I keep Teddy?” he asks. I turn and look at him, struggling with myself. I have had Teddy all week, but I don’t want to go back to Escala alone.

“Please, Ana,” He begs. “I’ve been alone in this house all week.”

“Okay, Christian,” I concede. “Call me in the morning.”

“I love you,” He says.

“I love you, too.”

I walk back into Escala with a heavy heart. Ryan and Sawyer have followed me home and when we emerge into the foyer, they head straight for Taylor’s office.

“Mrs. Grey?” Archer, my security guard, asks as he watches Sawyer and Ryan walk past.

“Archer. I’m bringing Mr. Grey’s team back on so I won’t be requiring your services any longer.” I reach into my purse, pull out a small white card and hand it to him. “This is Jason Taylor’s card. Give him a call. I’m sure he’s always looking for a good man.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Grey,” he says and he walks past me. I feel bad as I hear the elevator door ping. How is Christian so good at firing people?

I walk into the kitchen and pour myself a glass of wine, and as I’m staring out at the view of Seattle, I hear a loud crash and the sound of wood reverberating over the floor.

“Shit,” a voice says, and I set my glass down and walk around the counter to investigate. As I turn around the corner, I see Leila gathering items into a box and reaching out to pick up the canes that are rolling across the floor, Ryan rushes out into the living room.

“Mrs. Grey, the visitors haven’t…” He begins but stops as he realizes I can clearly see Leila standing in front of me.

“It’s okay, Ryan. I’ll call if I need anything.”

“Mrs. Grey?”

“I’m fine. Go,” I say and he turns around and disappears. I take two steps forward and bend down to pick up the canes that have rolled across the floor to me.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey,” Leila says, reaching out to take them from me. Her face is burning bright red. “I didn’t think you’d be home so soon.”

“Are you here by yourself?” I ask, hoping I’m not about to face the entirety of Christian’s sexual past.

“Yes,” She says. “The girls left right after Rachel did but Mr. Grey wanted all of these things gone before you got back here.”

“I see,” I say. “Can I help you?”

“No, Mrs. Grey,” She shakes her head. “This is the last of it. I’ll just see myself out.”

“Good-bye, Leila.”

“Good-bye, Mrs. Grey,” she says. She walks to the foyer but pauses and turns back to me. “I was sorry to hear about what happened to you. I know that must have been a nightmare for you and for Mr. Grey. I’m glad that he found you. It’s nice to see him happy.”

“Thank-you, Leila,” I mutter, not knowing what else to say. She nods and turns to leave. Are we happy? We were. So happy. Obliviously happy. Will we ever be there again?

I’m an emotional wreck the next morning but after our session with Flynn, I feel a little better. Christian and I have the same goals. We both want to be together in a fulfilling, passionate, nurturing relationship. We both want to be loving parents to Teddy. We just need to find a way to let go of the hurt and accept that at the end of the day, we both love each other deeply and neither one of us wants to hurt the other.

I’m not innocent in this. I’ve been blaming it all on Christian. He almost betrayed me, he contacted Elena, he went to Escala… but, just as he’s touched on those insecurities deep inside me, that I’m not enough because I can’t be a submissive to him, I’ve hit him back the same way. I have betrayed his trust as well. I think back to what he said in the session with Flynn.

Everytime it gets hard, you run.

And it’s true. When that package came, I didn’t even give him a chance to talk to me. I just stormed away and shut him out. When I found Elena’s phone, I couldn’t get away from him fast enough, and every time he tried to talk to me, I refused to listen. If I want him to earn my trust, than I need to earn his in return. No more running, Anastasia.

“Are you going back to Escala?” He asks when we’re in the parking lot outside Flynn’s office.

“No,” I say. “I think it’s time for me to come back home.”

He smiles. “Ride with me?”

“But I have my car,” I argue.

“Ryan can take it.” He motions to the SUV parked on the other side of the parking lot and Ryan gets out. I hand him my keys and climb into the front seat of the Saab while Christian buckles Teddy into the car seat behind me.

Driving down the highway to our house feels right. Christian holds my hand, rubbing his thumb over my fingers, while our baby sleeps in the back seat. This is everything I want. Right here in this car.

“What are you thinking about?” Christian asks as we pull up the driveway towards the house.

“How much I love you.”

“I love you too, baby. More than the world.”

When we walk into the house, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. I’m home with Christian and Teddy, where I belong. Christian disappears into his office and I take Teddy out to the living room, planning on putting on a movie and relaxing on the couch with Christian for the rest of the afternoon. I’m looking over the movies when I hear Christian behind me. I turn and he’s standing behind the couch looking at me, determined, but also nervous.

“What’s wrong?” I ask. He comes around the couch and holds out a CD in a blank jewel case.

“What is this I ask?” shifting Teddy so I can hold him with one arm and take the disk from him.

“This is the CCTV footage from Escala, from that morning…” He begins. “There isn’t a camera in the playroom but I thought maybe you’d like to see the rest.”

I look down in the disk in my hand. Why didn’t I think of this? Of course there is security footage. This will prove it. I’ll know for certain what happened after all. I frown and hold the disk back out from Christian.

“You don’t want to watch it?” He asks.

“No,” I say. “I want to move on. I believe you, Christian, and I’m choosing to let go of these past few weeks and move on. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and if you say nothing happened, nothing happened. I don’t need security footage.”

He smiles and wraps me in his arms, and tells me, softly, that he loves me.

“Never again will I give you a reason to doubt me, Ana.”

We spend the rest of the afternoon watching movies and playing in the back yard with Teddy. Christian and I talk like we haven’t talked in ages and we watch the sunset over the sound. We have dinner alfresco on our balcony and when it’s time to put Teddy down for the night, I stand in the doorway and watch Christian sing him to sleep. I don’t know if I could think of a more appropriate lullaby than I’ve Got You Under My Skin and my heart melts as Christian moves away from the crib and gazes at me singing, Yes I’ve got you, under my skin.

He leans down and kisses me and as I feel his love wash over me, I know we’re going to be okay.

We walk down to the living room and I pour us two glasses of wine while Christian turns on his iPod. I want to laugh as I walk into the living room and hear the familiar guitar chords of Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon.

As the tempo picks up, Christian turns around and begins “doing the twist”. I laugh and when Caleb Followill begins to sing, Christian animatedly mouths the words along with him. Oh, playful Fifty, how I’ve missed you. He dances around the living room while I giggle and when the chorus begins, I can’t help it. I’m jumping around too, lip syncing along with Christian.

He reaches out for my hand and twists me into him, holding me close as we sway back and forth. When the song ends, he doesn’t let me go.

“I love you, Anastasia,” he tells me. “Let’s never fight again.”

“No,” I say, turning around so I’m facing him. “Let’s fight all the time. Because after the fight, comes the hot make-up sex.”

“Anastasia,” he says, feigning shock.

“We have a lot of fighting to make up for,” I say. “I hope you’re up to the challenge.”

“We aim to please, Mrs. Grey.”

He scoops me up into his arms, kisses me deeply, and carries me off to our bedroom.

 

Chapter 22

RACHEL’S POV

When I get to work on Friday, there is a new computer being installed on my desk. I’m surprised, isn’t it a little early for IT?

“Miss Carrington,” one of the IT guys greets me.

“Hello,” I say. “What’s all this?”

“Mr. Grey has ordered a computer for you, Miss Carrington. We’ll have it set up in no time.” I nod, place my purse in the bottom drawer and set off to start a pot of coffee. Where is Andrea? She’s always here before me. Seriously, sometimes I wonder if she sleeps here. Not last night, I guess.

Once I’ve got the coffee started, I grab a banana out of the snack drawer and head back to my desk, remembering: The submissive will not snack between meals, with the exception of fruit.

Andrea’s at the desk when I get back.

“Thanks, Gus,” She says as the IT guy walks away and her eyes snap up to me. She looks weird for a moment but then she smiles. She’s been acting weird this week, I wonder what’s up? Maybe something’s going on at home and that’s why she was late this morning. Is it too soon for me to ask a personal question like that?

“Good morning, Rachel,” she says. “I’m sorry I was late.”

“No problem, I got the coffee started. What’s with the computer?” I ask again.

“Oh..” She frowns. “Mr. Grey ordered it. He said he didn’t want me sharing an email program with you.”

I smile, oh yes. I’ve got him.

“He’s so weird sometimes,” I say with false bemusement. She narrows her eyes at me. Oh no, Andrea, this is one thing about Mr. Grey that I’m going to know and you aren’t.

The elevator pings and we both turn to greet Mr. Grey as he steps into the lobby.

“Good Morning, Mr. Grey,” I say, beating Andrea to the punch.

“Good Morning, Rachel,” He says, his voice is darker than usual, heady. My breath hitches as I realize he’s addressed me by my first name for the first time. He glances over me sending a shiver up my sigh. He’s so damn beautiful.

“Get me some coffee,” He commands, and he nods at Andrea before he enters his office.

“Huh…” Andrea says. “I was Miss Parker for a year before he started calling me Andrea.”

That’s because you can offer him what I can, Andrea.

He knows. I know he knows its me now and he’s… intrigued.

“Rachel!” Andrea snaps. “What are you doing? Coffee, now!”

Oh, right. I hurry to the break room and get a cup for… Master. Hmm. I like that. I wonder how this is going to work with Mrs. Grey? I know he has two houses. Will he meet me at his apartment and keep Mrs. Grey at home with the baby? Well, that’s for him to figure out. All that matters at the end of the day, is that I have him.

I smile with satisfaction as I stride purposefully across the lobby to the double wooden doors to Grey’s office. I straighten my skirt and walk inside. When I enter, his eyes glance up and he watches every step I take across the room. There’s something different about the way he looks at me. I’ts.. possessive almost. Oh yes, he wants this.

“Your coffee, Sir,” I emphasize the last word.

“Miss Carrington,” He says. “Have a seat.”

I move to the chair across from him and slowly sit down, his eyes following me as I go.

“What can I do for you, sir?” I ask.

“You’re fired,” He says simply, and my stomach drops. What? Shit!

“M-Mr. Grey?” I stutter. Fuck, I’ve read this whole thing wrong. He can’t be firing me for the -S stuff… he has no proof it was me. Does he?

“This is you, isn’t it?” He asks, turning his monitor towards me. “Stealing confidential documents of the GEH server?”

It’s a video of me at the desk, the day I found the contract. Cameras, fuck! Why did I look around?

“I-I,” I stutter. I don’t know what to say.

“I found a lot of interesting things on this video. You know, I never did get those contract revisions Mrs. Klein dropped off on your desk. And going through my phone? Miss Carrington…” he clicks his tongue disapprovingly at me. He’s mocking me. Well, Grey, if that’s how you want to play it.

“I don’t think you want to fire me, Mr. Grey,” I say softly.

“Oh, don’t you?” he asks.

“No, because what’s to stop me from sending that contract out? I’m sure Harvey Levin would love some personal information on the elusive Christian Grey.”

His eyes narrow and he brushes his finger over his bottom lip. “I’d rather hoped you planned on signing that contract.”

I breathe in deeply. I wasn’t wrong. He does want this. “You mean, you’re looking for someone to fulfil the terms of that contract for you?”

“I’m saying that just because our professional relationship has to end, doesn’t mean a contractual one can’t exist.”

I stare into his stone gray eyes. He reaches out and presses the intercom button on his handset.

“Yes, Mr. Grey,” Andrea answers

“Fax me the contract, Andrea. I need it by this afternoon.” He doesn’t take my eyes off of me.

“Yes, sir,” she says.

“We’ll need to set up a meeting place, so I can have you sign the contract this afternoon,” he tells me.

“There is coffee shop right around the corner from my apartment,” I tell him and he nods.

“I’ll have Taylor meet you there at 1:30.”

I smile. “Well, if that’s all Mr. Grey. I shall speak to you very soon.”

His mouth curls into a half smile and I turn to leave. Well, I’ll need to find a new job, but I’ve gotten what I want. Besides, I’m sure, after our first night together, Mr. Grey will give me an excellent reference.

Later that afternoon, I walk from my apartment to the coffee shop on the corner. I order a latte and sit by the window. I see Taylor walk in at 1:28.

“Miss Carrington,” he says, and he pulls out a manilla envelope and hands it to me. I reach inside and slide out the contract and read over it again. The only revisions he’s made has been to input my information. I sign my name on the bottom and date.

Taylor takes the contract back and hands me an envelope with the address to Escala, a time to meet him there, and a code to get inside.

Before heading home, I decide to stop by the salon. Per the contract, Mr. Grey will reimburse me for the services I have done and I want to make sure I’m perfect when I meet him this evening.

At exactly 7 o’clock I pull into Escala, parking in the spot the information Taylor gave me tells me to. I punch the code in the elevator and am whisked up to the 31st floor. I’m released into a beautiful foyer and walk out into a vast, modern looking living room. I don’t see anyone… Strange. I was sure he’d be here. Maybe he’s late? It doesn’t sound like him, but I guess he does have to get here without his wife knowing.

I’m distracted from my worries by the beautiful view of the Seattle skyline. Wow, I can see the whole city from up here. There is a noise behind me and I turn to see a girl with long light brown hair coming down the stairs behind me. Shit, Mrs. Grey? No, this girl is taller than Mrs. Grey. Who the hell?

“Hello,” She says to me. “You must be Rachel, or do you prefer to be called S?”

“Who are you?” I ask, my eyes narrowing.

“Uh, uh, uh,” she says. “Rule number one, no questions. A good submissive does as she’s told and never asks questions.”

I stare back at her blankly. What the fuck is this? Her eyes narrow slightly.

“We’re here to help, Rachel. You’re inexperienced and Mr. Grey will be very intimidating for a first timer. We’re going to… help you through the basics.”

“We?” I ask. She motions for me to follow her with her finger and heads back up the stairs. When I’m in the upstairs hallway, I see another brown haired girl standing outside an open door that pours light into the hallway. She’s standing with her head pointed down to the ground.

“It’s okay, Susie. You can look up,” the brown haired girl who led me up the steps says and the other girl, Susie, snaps her head up. She smiles at me too.

“Oh, Lulu, she’s overdressed,” Susie says. Lulu? The first brunette nods and Susie turns to address me.

“Strip,” Susie commands. Fuck she’s serious. No! Where is Mr. Grey?

“Uh, oh, Susie. It looks like Miss Carrington here just disobeyed a direct command. What would Mr. Grey do?”

“I bet Sophia knows what Mr. Grey would do,” Susie says. I hear the crack of a whip from inside the room and the sound of high heels clacking against hard wood. What?

Another woman, again a brunette, walks out of the room, brandishing a whip.

“Does there seem to be a problem, Leila?” Sophia asks and she glares down at me wickedly.

“It doesn’t look like Miss Carrington wants to wear the appropriate attire for the playroom, Sophia.”

“Oh dear, that is a problem. I think five lashes ought to cure that.”

“Mr. Grey would do six,” Susie says. Sophia raises the whip, shit!

“Okay, okay,” I say, and I strip down to my panties. Fuck, this is humiliating.

“Follow me,” Leila says and she leads me into a dark red room. I’m floored, there must be ten brown haired women in here. Who are these people? Ex-submissives? It would explain why they keep telling me what Mr. Grey would do. There is a girl on the floor next to the door, her hands on her knees. She too stares down at the floor.

“Amanda here is demonstrating submissive pose,” Leila tells me. “Get on you knees.”

I crouch down, nervous now. What are they going to do to me?

“Do you have a blindfold, Julia?” Susie asks.

“Absolutely, Susie,” another voice answers. I look up.

“Uh oh..” Lelia says. “She looked up without being told.”

“I don’t think she’s scared of the whip, Sophia. Better grab the cane,” Susie says, she looks down at me. “Mr. Grey loves the cane.”

One of the brown hair girls throws a long wooden cane across the room and Sophia catches it. She twirls it in her hand and then brings it down, hard, on my back. I scream as I feel the bite of the cane. Pain ricochets through me and my skin feels like it’s on fire. Fuck that hurt. That really fucking hurt.

“Have you had enough?” Leila asks, and I nod my head profusely, unable to speak as my skin is still blazing where I was hit.

Sophia bends down to my level. “Mr. Grey would do six,” she says again. I’m shaking.

“Get her up,” Leila says and Amanda and Susie pull me to my feet. Leila walks across the room, and stands in front of a large wooden cross.

“Here will do,” She says, and I’m dragged across the room by Amanda and Susie. They push me against the cross and my hands and feet are attacked by the woman who wrap leather straps around my wrists and ankles, restraining me. I can’t move.

“Which drawer, would Mr. Grey choose?” A girl sitting on a large wooden cabinet asks.

“She doesn’t have any limits,” Leila says. “I say, go broke or go home.”

The girl on the chest smiles and reaches down into a drawer, pulling out some horrible looking metal object. Where does that go? Fuck, what does Grey have in those drawers? She approaches me with a malevolent smile.

“Wait!” Leila says. “We’re forgetting something. Addison?”

The girl against the far wall approaches and pulls out a camera. She brings it up to her face as Sophia hits me with the cane down again. I scream and the camera clicks. It’s a polaroid camera and I hear the picture begin to print. It clicks again and again as I try to regain my focus after the second blow.

“Insurance policy,” Leila whispers in my ear.

I can’t do this. I’d imagined kinky sex with a hot man, with Mr. Grey. Not being tortured and tied up by a group of crazy women. Is this what he’s into? More than handcuffs and ball gags? Sophia’s voice rings in my head: Mr. Grey would do six. I think back to the contract:

Which of the following types of pain/punishment/discipline are acceptable to the Submissive?

  • Spanking
  • Paddling
  • Whipping
  • Caning
  • Biting
  • Nipple clamps
  • Genital clamps
  • Ice
  • Hot wax
  • Other types/methods of pain

Fuck, that was serious? I look around at the canes and whips on the wall. No. I was thinking spanking, maybe a slap or two. This is some heavy shit. I don’t want that… I don’t want any of that.

“Stop!” I scream.

“That’s not a safe word, Rachel,” Leila says. “Mr. Grey only stops for safe words.”

Fuck… what was the safe word?

“Red!” I yell.

“Take her down,” Leila says, and, in seconds, I’m released. I look into the eyes of the women around me, staring at me, glaring at me.

“You’re all crazy!” I scream.

“No, we’re all submissives. This is what Master wants. Is it what you want S?” The girl with the camera, Addison, says. I need to get out of here, now!

I move quickly for the door, picking up my clothes, and begin to sprint for the stairs.

“Oh, Rachel,” I hear Leila call after me once I’m in the living room. Remember, you have the contract but we have pictures. I’d hate to hear anything about Mr. Grey on TMZ. Almost as much as I’d hate for everyone you know and love to see pictures of you tied to a cross, along with anything else Taylor can dig up…”

“I won’t!” I yell and I reach in my purse for the folder I keep the contract in. I dump it on the ground and run.