Chapter 38

1035_04647

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

Advertisements

Chapter 37

walla-walla-prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 13

Anastasia Steele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello, Christian Grey’s phone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Exactly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Won’t it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christian…”

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

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

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

“Taylor!”

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

“Yes, sir?”

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

Taylor glances uneasily at me. “Uh… sir?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, we take security…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t believe me?”

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

“Then why are you crying?”

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

“Ana… it’s not safe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

“That is correct.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you blame him?” I ask icily.

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

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

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

“Funny how that happened.”

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

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

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

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

“What I want?”

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

“Oh… that.”

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

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

“What game?”

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

“Could you?”

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

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

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

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

I stiffen. “How did you…?”

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

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

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

“Who is it?”

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

“You know my terms.”

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

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

“Did you help him?” he cuts her off.

“What?”

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

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

“Did you help him” Christian repeats.

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

“What about Anastasia?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what about him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then you can burn in hell.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds.

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

“Yes, sir,” Luke says.

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

Next Chapter

Chapter 25

Related image

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

Chapter 12

CHRISTIAN’S POV

7 weeks later

 

I have her, beneath me. She’s pinned, her knees held apart by mine and her hands tied to the bed post. We’re fucking, hard. I dive into her again and again. Fuck, she feels good.

Ah!” she cries.

That’s it baby, feel me. I want to make her come. I want her to come so hard she loses herself, loses all coherency. I pound harder knowing her orgasm is coming.

Fuck, ah!” she cries again and I feel her insides start to quiver. Oh yes, baby. That’s it, give it to me.

Come for me Ana, I want to feel you come for me,” I command, and she screams my name as her orgasm rips through her. Jesus christ, I love feeling her squeeze around me as she succumbs to the ecstasy. I thrust so hard, part of my mind wonders if I’m going to bruise her pelvic bone. I don’t care, I detonate and pour myself into her.

 

Shit! I sit up in bed and throw the duvet back, feeling around the sheets. Oh thank fuck, I didn’t come. Since Ana’s been home, my nightmares have disappeared but they’ve been replaced by graphic, erotic dreams where I wake up a sticky fucking mess. It’s humiliating. The first time Ana had been understanding, the second time, she laughed at me for the entire morning. After that she didn’t laugh anymore.

“Jesus, Christian!” She yelled at me when I told her I needed to help her out of the bed so Mrs. Jones could change the sheets again. “If you want sex this badly, make love to me!”

She was frustrated, she still is. I haven’t touched her yet. She’s too fragile. I’m afraid I’ll break her. It’s been three weeks since she got home from the hospital and she’s doing much better. Her bruises have faded away and the scars from her surgery are no longer pink. Her ribs are still painful though and she’s having a difficult time walking with the pain in her barely healed ankle.

I move out of the bed, careful not to wake her, and head for the bathroom, grateful once again that my dreams remained dry. It’s not that I don’t want to make love to her. Fuck, I’d give anything to take her. It’s been four months now. Four fucking months since I’ve been inside my wife. It’s so fucking depressing. But she’s hurt. I don’t want to hurt her. I see her wince every time she moves, hear the gasp of pain escape her lips when she takes too deep of a breath. Rage starts to build in me again. It’s been seven weeks since I found Ana in that fish storage warehouse and neither the police, nor my team still hasn’t been able to track down, who I suspect is going to end up being John Lincoln. I’m considering approaching Elena, that bitch abetted whoever it is afterall, but I don’t want Ana to know I’ve seen her. I don’t want her to know what I almost did. What the fuck was I thinking? A wave of revulsion sweeps over me and I cringe.

I didn’t do it. I didn’t even touch her. I never really wanted it, it was all the grief driving me mad. I didn’t do it. I repeat the mantra as I stare disgustedly at myself in the mirror.

I take a shower and when I’m finished, I wrap a towel around myself and walk back into the bedroom.

“Jesus!” I yell, grasping the towel as I see Mrs. Jones sitting on the bed with Ana. She’s holding Teddy and she has her breast out, trying to coax him to latch. I look away as the sight of her breast brings back my erotic dream.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey. I think he was on a bottle too long. He not going to back to breast feeding.”

Ana stares down at our son, frustrated. “I’m not ready to give this up yet,” she says.

“Gail!” I interrupt, wondering why they both seem to be oblivious to the fact I’m standing here in a fucking towel.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey,” she says as she climbs off my bed. She turns back to Ana and reaches out for the baby. “I’ll give him a bottle.”

“Bring it up to me. I want to feed him,” she says.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” Gail replies and disappears from the room. I shake my head and pull a pair of boxer briefs out of my dresser and head into the closet. I’m dressed in a charcoal colored suit, a white shirt, and a blue silver tie when I return to the bedroom. Ana looks up at me and frowns.

“Where are you going?” she asks. She’s got a bottle in her hands and she’s feeding Teddy.

I sit on the edge of the bed and reach out to brush our son’s hair, smiling to have him back in his mother’s arms.

“I’ve got a deposition downtown. The Taiwan thing,” I say distractedly.

“It’s a Saturday,” Ana replies, her tone reflecting her displeasure.

“Which is why I’m extremely irritated to be leaving you, Mrs. Grey,” I say, leaning over to kiss her. She stops me by raising her hand in front of my face.

“I don’t want you to go,” she whispers. “I want you to stay home and make love to me.” My face falls and I run my hands through my hair while I try to form a response.

“Please, Christian,” she begs, her voice so soft its barely a whisper. I reach out and take the hand she holds up in front of my face and softly kiss each one of her fingertips.

“I’ve got to go, baby. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Her face falls as I climb out of the bed and close the bedroom door behind me.

The deposition takes longer than I thought and it pisses me off. The Taiwanese government is attempting to counter-sue us for breach of contract. There is a responsibility of title party provision in the protection of assets clause that mandates the Taiwan government not be responsible for damaged or lost property if my company had been careless in protecting our own assets. I’m here to make a court documented statement recounting all of GEH’s protection measures put in place in Taiwan. The whole process takes three fucking hours and when I get home, I need a glass of wine. Gail pours one for me and I drink it gratefully. I turn and see the nanny sitting on the couch with Teddy so I walk over to her and reach out for him.

“There he is,” I say as I scoop him into my arms, but as I do he begins to cry.

“What’s wrong with him?” I ask, my fierce gaze turning down to the nanny. He feels very warm and his face is flushed.

“I think he’s getting sick, Mr. Grey,” she says.

“Have you called a doctor?” I demand.

“No, its just a cold. He’ll be fine in a few days.”

“Are you a doctor?” I ask incredulously, my irritation growing.

“No, Mr. Grey.”

“You’re fired,” I snap and turn towards the kitchen. “Gail, will you take Teddy and put him down? And call my mother and have her come look at him.”

“Yes, Mr. Grey,” She says, taking him from me. I watch after them, wondering if I should go sit with my sick baby until my mother gets here. I will, but I need to go check on Ana first. Make sure she doesn’t need anything. I follow Gail up the stairs but turn into my own bedroom instead of the nursery. When I open the door, Ana isn’t there. I walk to Teddy’s bedroom.

“Gail, have you seen Ana?”

“She’s in her office, Mr. Grey.”

“What the fuck is she doing in there? Why is she out of bed?” I demand.

“I believe she’s working, sir,” Gail replies as she lays Teddy in his crib.

“Stay here with him until I get back,” I say and run back down the stairs to the back of the house where Ana’s office is.

“What are you doing in here?” I ask when I burst through the door.

“Come in, Mr. Grey,” she says flatly, not taking her eyes off the laptop in front of her. Her hair is piled on top of her head in a messy bun. She’s wearing one of my t-shirts and a pair of leggings.

“You need to be in bed.”

She looks up and smiles at me wickedly. “I’d be willing to let you take me to bed.”

“You need your rest.”

Her face crinkles and she looks back down at her computer. “Sorry, Mr. Grey. I simply have too much work to do.”

“For the love of god, Anastasia!” I yell in frustration, my hands combing through my hair.

“Is it because of what he did to me?” She asks suddenly. “Do you think I’m defiled now? He didn’t touch me, Christian, I swear! Not like that. I’m still yours. I’m still only yours!”

My heart stops and I look back at her, incredulity and pain color my face.

“No, Anastasia! God no! You’re not defiled, you’re perfect! I don’t care about that– No.. No, I do care… I want you, Anastasia. I want you so bad, I come all over myself when I fucking sleep next to you! Jesus!” I lean over her placing my hands on each one of the armrests of her chair. “I will never not want you. You are my everything. I’m just afraid, if I touch you, I’ll hurt you.”

She grabs my tie and pulls my mouth down to hers. Her fingers reach into my hair and hold me in place while her tongue explores my mouth. I groan as I allow myself to kiss her, really kiss her for the first time since she’s been home. My cock hardens as she deepens the kiss, taking me ruthlessly.

“Please,” She gasps when she pulls away and I can no longer resist her. She sees it in my eyes and she reaches for my belt. I grasp her hands, stopping her as I look down at her with blazing eyes.

“No,” I say. “Not here. I want you in my bed.” I reach down and scoop her up into my arms. She gasps with pain as I pull her close to me and I freeze, my resolve wavering.

“It’s fine,” she says. “I’m fine.” She pulls me into another deep kiss. I growl as I pull away from her and bound across the room, racing through the house and up the stairs as quickly as I can with her in my arms.

When I enter the bedroom, I lay her down on the bed. She’s already panting with desire. We waste no time pulling off our clothes. By the time I’m out of my jacket, shirt and tie, Anastasia is unclasping her bra. When I see her breasts break free, I lunge at them, taking one of her nipples into my mouth and rolling my tongue around it while my hand gently pinches and rolls the other one.

“Fuck, Christian,” she moans and her hands fly into my hair. I sink my teeth gently into her nipple and she cries out, the sound going straight to my aching cock. The strain against my pants is unbearable and I reach down to release my erection. Her hand flies out and grasps me and I feel my breath hitch in my throat. Fuck, I’m not going to last very long. I begin to pull her leggings off her, thankful she’s wearing something so easy for me to get into and in one swift motion, she’s naked. Yes, I have needed this. Just looking at my wife’s beautiful naked body is enough to unravel me but I can’t allow myself release. She needs to come first. She always comes first.

I reach out and my fingers find her clitoris and I being swirling them around. She gasps again at the delicious contact. Fuck, she’s so gloriously wet. I could take her now. I want to take her now. I dip my fingers into her, swirling them around. She squirms and I place my free hand on top of her to hold her down.

“Christian, please,” She begs. “Please, I need you inside of me.” I groan and take her nipple back into my mouth.

“Take me, Christian,” she says and I can wait no more. I shake the pants hanging around my knees to the floor and climb out of them. I tear off my shoes and socks and push Ana farther unto the bed and climb after her. Grasping myself, ready to plunge into her, I pause and look down into her lust filled blue eyes.

“If I hurt you, you’ll tell me to stop,” I say, commanding rather than asking.

“Yes,” she breathes, and I force myself into her. Holy fuck, it’s heaven. I nearly lose control as the hot wetness of her clenches around me. Fuck, she’s tight. Really fucking tight. This is home, where I belong. Buried inside my wife. She gasps as I enter her and I freeze.

“Are you okay?” I ask through gritted teeth.

“Yes,” She responds. “It’s just been a while. I’m fine. It’s good. It’s so good, Christian. Keep going.”

I pull out and ease back into her, enjoying every inch of her.

“Gah!” she yells out and I’m in ecstasy. Again and again I ease out of her.

“Faster Christian, harder,” she begs. I hesitate for a moment before I pick up momentum. Holy fuck this feels so good. My thrusts become more urgent as my worries dissipate under the pleasure. She’s not stopping me and I can’t stop myself from taking more of her.

“Fuck, Christian!” She cries and I know she’s getting close. That’s it baby, let me bring you to the edge. Feel that baby? Feel how perfect we fit together? You were made for me baby, and I was made for you. Her insides start to quiver and I know her orgasm is building.

“Give it to me, baby. Come for me,” I demand and she does, screaming my name as she writhes beneath me. I lean down and kiss her, taking her screams of pleasure into my mouth. I can control myself no longer.

“Ana, oh god. Fuck, Ana!” I yell and I come violently, harder than I remember ever coming before. It’s bewildering, the pleasure that courses through me as I pound into her again and again, pouring myself into her. When at last my orgasm comes to an end, I lie over her, supporting my weight on my elbows. We’re both panting. She reaches her hands up and grasps my face, kissing me deeply again. I kiss her back eagerly, pouring all the love I feel for this woman into this one point of intimate contact.

I roll over and wrap my arms gently around her, still reeling from my powerful orgasm.

“You didn’t use a condom,” she says breaking into my reverie.

“No,” I said.

“I’m not on the shot.”

“Good,” I say, too incoherent to speak more than one syllable at a time.

“You want more children?” she asks. I nod.

There is a brief knock on the door and my mother enters the room.

“Christian I’ve just… Oh god!” She screams as both Ana and I reach for the duvet at the bottom of the bed. She turns and runs from the room, her face burning with embarrassment.

I turn and look at Anastasia, horrified and she looks back at me with shock until her face melts into a smile and she bursts in laughter. I can’t help it, the joy on her face, for the first time in weeks, melts me and I join her. She rolls over, laying her head on my chest as we both laugh uncontrollably.

 

Chapter 12

Image result for lamborghini reventon

The long plane rides, jet lag, and the constant feeling of never being settled over the past few months has made me forget how much I really love being home. Besides being surrounded again by the familiar city and the comforting, ever present rain, having long and numerous days where Christian and I can curl up together in front of the fireplace and read a book, or even spend an afternoon out on the sound on the yacht has felt oddly indulgent. Even when he has to go into work, there’s something about just being in our apartment that makes me feel close to him, though that could be because I’ve been using the time alone to talk with Barney from his R&D department to see if he can help me on a gift I’ve planned for Christian for Christmas.

When Monday comes, and I immediately feel an overwhelming sense of relief that I don’t have to fly back to Boston, I realize that I’ve convinced myself that having three days a week at home is enough to feel like Christian and I aren’t really living apart, but even just the first few unrushed days home makes me see that isn’t true. I’m home sick, and now that I know that, I think going back to Cambridge at the end of the week is going to feel impossible. Especially because with dead week and finals just around the corner, I probably won’t be able to fly home for any of the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break. That is  if I can go home at all…

“What time is my Mom’s flight getting in?” I ask Christian as I clear away the last of our breakfast dishes Wednesday morning.

“Not until this evening,” He replies.

“Are you going to work today?”

“No,” He shakes his head. “I’m keeping my phone on, but, physically, I’m yours for the rest of the week.”

“Mmm,” I hum approvingly as I feel him come up behind me. “Well, whatever will we do until my parents arrive?”

“Actually, I have some errands to run this afternoon and I’d hoped you go with me before we go to the airport.”

“Errands?” I repeat, curious, and he wraps his arms around me, resting both his hands over my stomach.

“Yes, some… shopping.”

I turn in his arms and look at him suspiciously, but he gives me an innocent, and extremely sexy, smile, then leans down to kiss my lips. I moan softly into his mouth and pull my body close to him, repeating a silent prayer in my head that the ever present morning sickness doesn’t rear it’s ugly head and break us apart. I briefly wonder if he’s worried too, because he seems hesitant at first, but once I slip my tongue into his mouth, he reaches down for my hips and lifts me onto the counter, pulling me close to the edge so I can feel his quickly growing erection between my legs. A shiver of anticipation washes through me when he reaches down for the hem of my t-shirt, but before he’s even begun to pull it over my head, we hear the ping of the elevator and seconds later Luke steps into the great room, followed closely by Taylor.

“One of these days,” He begins, whispering against my lips. “I am going to fuck you on a kitchen counter.”

I laugh and then take his hand as he helps me back onto the floor so that we can both head back into the bedroom to change for whatever shopping Christian has planned for the day. I move to the dresser to find a pair of jeans, but stop when I see him take one of his best suits off the hanger.

“What are we doing?” I ask, unsure whether or not I should also be dressing up, but he doesn’t answer me. Instead, he moves to my side of the closet and pulls out a navy, knee length Diane von Furstenberg sweater dress, one of the many additions that has been made to my closet in my absence, and hands it to me.

“Wear this,” He says.

“So, fancy errands, then?”

“Fancy errands?” He repeats, smiling again, and I shrug before stripping out of my clothes and changing into the dress Christian picked out.

We head back out into the living room, but as I begin to slip my coat onto my arms, Taylor steps forward and pulls Christian aside. I pause, looking over at them curiously, and when I hear Taylor say, “It’s Welch, sir,” Christian immediately turns towards his office without another word.

“It might be a minute,” Luke tells me, nodding towards my coat, so I let out a long, drawn out breath, drop my coat on the couch, and then turn the news on the TV to get an update on what’s going on on the east coast.

The state of emergency still hasn’t been lifted from the storm, and the past few days has been non-stop footage of rescues, flooding, devastated houses and business, looting and crime, and pleas for donations and supplies. Today though, there seems to be some hope. The snow has stopped, and the transformers that were damaged in the initial wave of the storm have been repaired so power has been restored to a lot of the homes that have been without it since last Friday. Most of the news seems to focus on New York, where the devastation was the worst, so I have to watch the ticker at the bottom of the screen for an update on Boston. It takes a moment, but eventually, I see:

Boston: Emergency crews deployed to clear roads and free thousands of people trapped in their homes

“We would still be there, Luke,” I whisper, my voice shaking slightly as I think of all the people, even in my own neighborhood, who didn’t get out like we did.

“Well, they’re getting out now,” He says reassuringly as he comes to sit on the couch next to me. “Cambridge was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. We should at least be grateful for that.”

“Yeah,” I nod. “But, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So many people aren’t going to be able to sit down and have dinner with their families because they’re going to have to deal with the aftermath of the storm. It’s not fair.”

“I know,” Luke agrees, and after a few more seconds of watching the reporter on the TV talking in front of a Red Cross station, I decide that I’m going to ask Christian to donate to the relief effort. We can’t be there right now to help those who need it, but we can do something. I got out and I’m okay, because I had Christian. If he hadn’t come, I’d still be there, and with how dire our situation was Saturday, with no food and a quickly dwindling heat supply, I can’t imagine where we’d be now…

Christian comes back down the hallway then, looking tense and a little pissed off. He takes the his coat from Taylor and then looks expectantly at me.

“Are you ready?” He asks, his voice a little too sharp.

“Yeah,” I say quickly. I reach over for my own coat, then take his hand and allow him to lead me back to the elevator, wondering if I should ask him what’s wrong or what’s going on with Welch. When I look over at Taylor though, I see him very subtly shake his head.

So… something bad then.

I bite down on my lip, holding back the questions that desperately want to bubble out through my teeth, and then untangle my fingers from Christian’s so that I can wrap my arms around him instead. He’s still for a moment, but just before we hear the high ping that announces the elevator’s arrival, I feel his body relax a little, and his lips press softly into my hair.

When we pull out of the garage under Escala, I don’t pay much attention to where we’re going until I see Taylor signal for the I-90 towards Bellevue.

“Are we going to your parent’s house?” I ask, but Christian, who is looking down at his phone, simply shakes his head no. My lips press together as I glance out the window and at the water around the floating bridge, but my curiosity is getting the better of me.

“Are we going to Elliot’s house?” I ask hopefully.

“No,” Christian replies.

“Then where?” I ask. He looks over and smiles at me, reaches down for my fingers and brings them up to his lips, and then turns his attention back to whatever it is that has him so preoccupied on his phone. Clearly, he isn’t going to tell me.

“Sawyer, what’s the status on the Cambridge house?” Christian asks, as we pass through the long tunnels on Mercer Island and he loses cell reception.

“Emergency crews were deployed this morning,” Luke answers. “The roads are supposed to be cleared by this evening.”

“Good, then hire a crew to start work on the structural damage first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke replies. “Though, it may be difficult to get workers there in the morning with the amount of work that has to be done throughout the city and… well, the holiday.”

“That’s not my problem,” Christian says. “Find someone available and pay them whatever it takes. Unless…” He glances over at me and I give him a wry, exasperated look.

“I’m going back to Harvard, Christian.”

“And if the house isn’t fixed?” He challenges me. “If it takes me oh… three, four weeks to have the damage repaired?”

“Then I guess I’ll have to stay with Carter until finals are over,” I reply sweetly, and he immediately frowns, then looks back up at Luke.

“The house has to be livable by Sunday. Do whatever it takes to ensure it gets done.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says.

“Taylor, where are we on Leila?” Christian asks, and, suddenly, I feel my the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I have to work really hard to keep the look of panic off my face. I look up and make eye contact with Taylor in the rear-view mirror for a split second before he answers.

“Nothing to report, sir,” He says. “It appears as though she’s gone home to spend the holiday week with her family in Hartford.”

“Hmm,” Christian hums disinterestedly as we make it out of the tunnel and he has cell reception again.

“You’re…” I hesitate, unsure if I want to draw more attention to the topic or not, “You’re watching Leila?”

“Of course I am,” He says dismissively, still not looking up at me. “You’re pregnant, I’m not taking any chances anymore. Your safety is imperative to me.”

“So, only since we found out I was pregnant?” I ask, before I can stop myself, and he looks up at me suspiciously.

“I suppose… why?”

“Nothing,” I say, shaking my head quickly. “I just… I didn’t know you were worried about it.”

“You know me,” He says. “I’m worried about everything.”

“Right,” I try to smile, but I’m afraid it’s more of a grimace as I look up at Taylor again. He glances back at me, his expression unreadable, but soon looks back at the road as we pull into the parking lot in front of a luxury car dealership.

“Ready?” Christian asks, excited now as he slips his phone into his jacket pocket and reaches for the door handle.

“A car dealership?” I ask, but he simply smiles and climbs out of the car.

I’m a little shocked as I make my way around the SUV to take Christian’s hand and I glance over the cars we pass by: Mercedes, Bentley, Rolls Royce… even a few I’ve never heard of before but look like the kind of sleek sports cars you see on magazine covers or in spy movies. We head inside and are greeted by a man in an impeccable black suit, who greets Christian by name.

“Mr. Grey, welcome back.”

“Thank you, Lewis,” Christian says. “Is she ready?”

“Of course, sir. Please, follow me.”

I feel Christian’s fingers tighten around mine as we head through a side door off the main gallery room and into another room with polished white floors framed and blinding white walls. It all looks very clinical.

“I’ll have them bring it in now,” Lewis says, “Would you care for some champagne while you wait?”

“No, thank you,” Christian says, turning to me and giving me a sly half-smile. I roll my eyes as Lewis nods and turns to leave the room.

“This all seems like a lot of production,” I say, once we’re alone.

“Of course it is,” Christian replies. “This is really special.”

“You’re buying another car?” I ask, thinking of the Mercedes SUV out in the parking lot and the Maybach in the parking garage back home, not to mention my Lexus back in Cambridge.

“Of course,” Christian says. “I gave my Bugatti to Elliot. The Maybach is fine but I need something with a little more… speed.”

I raise a questioning eyebrow at him, but suddenly, the room is filled with the low groan of the garage door on the wall to the left of us opening, and I turn to watch as a sleek looking sports car pulls out onto the white floor in front of us. It’s unlike any car I’ve ever seen before, low to the ground, painted a matte smoky gray, and has huge black wheels. The engine is extraordinarily loud, and, when it comes to a stop in front of us and the driver gets out, I actually gasp when the doors open vertically, instead of horizontally like I’m used to. It’s like the Delorean from Back to the Future if it had been built by Batman.

“The Lamborghini Reventon,” Lewis says, coming up behind us again. “Ordered from the manufacturer specially for you, Mr. Grey. Only twenty of these beauties exist in the entire world.”

“It’s beautiful,” Christian says, looking down at the car almost hungrily. “Tell me about it.”

He releases my hand and follows Lewis around the car, listening to the extremely detailed list of specifications and features of the car. It takes him nearly twenty minutes to tell Christian everything there is to know and after they look over every single inch of the exterior and interior, Lewis gives Christian a challenging smile.

“Do you want to take it for a test drive?”

“Yes,” Christian nods. “Ana?”

“Uh… sure,” I say, and his face breaks into a wide smile. I take a step forward towards the car and slip into the front seat after Christian pulls open the door for me. Immediately, I realize that I’m never going to be able to get into this car by myself as the door opens so high over my head, I can’t reach the handle to pull it back down. Christian doesn’t have a problem though, and for a brief moment after he’s closed me inside, I’m alone in the car, surrounded by the smell of new leather, and I can feel the vibrations from the engine in my seat.

“Alright,” Christian says excitedly, once he’s closed himself into the driver’s seat. “Fasten your seatbelt.”

“You know, there isn’t room in here for a car seat…” I say pointedly.

“I have cars that can accommodate a car seat,” He tells me. “This is for us.”

Us,” I repeat, rolling my eyes.

He wags his eyebrows at me for a moment and I shake my head with exasperation, pulling my seatbelt over me as he shifts the car into reverse and we pull backwards through the garage door and swing around the building towards the parking lot. I wave at Luke and Taylor through the window as Christian pulls onto the street, though I don’t think they can see me through the darkly tinted windows, and then settle back into the seat as Christian flirts with the speed limit all the way back to the freeway.

Once we’re back on the I-90, and he has open highway in front of him, he hits the gas, weaving through the sparse, late-morning traffic all the way back to Seattle.

He looks like a kid on Christmas as he revs the engine and glides seemingly effortlessly across the five lane highway, and his excitement is so infectious I find that even I can’t keep the smile off my face. I don’t know how far he plans on actually driving, but we make it all the way to North Seattle before he finally signals for an exit off the freeway. Once we merge off the I-5 though, he doesn’t turn to head back. Instead, he takes a right and makes his way deeper into the university district until we pass a sign that says Laurelhurst. We wind our way through the unfamiliar streets until he slides into an empty parking place on the side of the road in front of a small ice cream shop.

“Come on,” He says, and I give him a confused look.

“Ice cream?”

“It’s one of your cravings, isn’t it?” He asks, and when I nod, he leans over, kisses me softly on the lips, and then gets out of the car.

Once I’ve secured a single scoop of mint chocolate chip on a sugar cone, Christian takes me by the hand and leads me out of the shop. I’m obviously not allowed to eat ice cream in Lamborghini so, since it’s a surprisingly mild and dry day for late November, we decide to take a walk through the neighborhood.

It’s actually really beautiful here. This block is lined with interesting shops, high end stores, and carts with fresh flowers on the sidewalks, and, once we make it a few streets over into the residential area, we’re treated to magnificent views of Lake Washington and block after block of amazing houses, with children laughing and playing together in the streets. It’s winter, so it’s hard to see now, but as I look at the trees lining the road, I imagine that it’s absolutely beautiful here in the spring and the summer.

We make it to the largest house at the end of the block and, suddenly, Christian pulls gently on my hand to stop me.

“What do you think? He asks.

“About what?”

“The neighborhood,” He clarifies, and I shrug.

“It’s beautiful,” I tell him. He smiles and then turns to the gate blocking the walkway to the house in front of us and enters a code into the box above the handle. I look at him suspiciously when I hear the lock click open, and his smile only broadens as we make our way inside and up the cobbled walkway.

“What are we doing?” I ask as he reaches out to open the front door, without so much as knocking.

“You’ll see,” He says.

My eyes widen as we step into the grand entrance hall. There are two staircases curving down towards us from the second floor and between them, a hallway punctuated by a floor to ceiling length window that gives us an amazing view of the lake behind the house.

“Mr. Grey?” A woman’s voice asks, and I turn to the left to see a woman with black hair tied back in a bun on top of her head looking at us expectantly.

“Miss Kelley,” Christian greets her. “I hope we’re not too early.”

“Not at all,” She says, smiling broadly at the two of us. “You must be Anastasia?”

“Uh… yes,” I reply, only just remembering myself as she reaches out to shake my hand.

“Olga Kelley,” She introduces herself. “I’m the real estate manager for this property. Shall we take a look?”

“Please,” Christian says, motioning her forward, and as she takes the steps through the entrance hall into the main room, I stop Christian so that we fall behind out of earshot.

“Real estate manager?” I ask him, and he smiles down at me before wrapping his hand around mine and leading me after Ms. Kelley.

The house is enormous with five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and over 8,000 square feet of living space. Though Ms. Kelley tells us the house was built in 1928, it looks newly renovated on the inside, with the exception of a few rooms that are covered in wood panelling. It’s three stories, if you include the finished basement, and comes complete with a full gym, movie theater, a garage that has multiple levels, and an enormous wine cellar. The master bedroom is the only bedroom on the first floor, but is bigger than the entire downstairs of my house back in Cambridge, with his and hers closets and a bathroom that has a tub big enough to swim laps in.

Once we make our way through the house, Ms. Kelley takes us through the backdoor to view the rest of the property and immediately, my mouth pops open. I’m standing on a terrace high over the back yard, but it isn’t just a backyard, it’s a park. The expansive lawn slopes right down to the water’s edge and includes a tennis court, a pool, and a professionally manicured garden. The terrace I’m standing on is enormous, more than large enough for us to fit everyone we know comfortably, and comes complete with a full outdoor kitchen on the other side of the covered sitting area.

I walk to the railing next to the first set of stairs that leads down to the lawn, and stare out over the water, simply amazed by how stunning the view is.

“There’s a private dock down on the water there,” Christian says, coming up behind me. “We could get a sailboat and spend summer afternoons out on the lake. My parents’ house is just across the water. We could sail back and forth when the weather is nice.”

“You really want to buy this house?” I ask, turning to look at him.

“I do,” He nods. “But only if you love it.”

“I thought you liked the penthouse and being in the middle of the city?”

“I do. I did,” He says. “But we’re having a family, Ana. I don’t want to raise a baby in Escala. It’s thirty stories in the sky and is covered in marble with sharp corners. That place is a death trap. Besides, our child should have a yard and neighbors with children to play with. We could have a life here.”

I look up into his eyes and feel warmth wash over me as I begin to imagine our future here together. Summer barbeques with the entire family out on this very terrace, teaching our children to swim from the dock in our own back yard, Christmases around the giant fireplace in the family room, movie nights in the home theater in the basement. It’s so perfect it feels like a fantasy, and as I feel his hands slide down to my belly, I know we wouldn’t just have a life here, we would be truly happy here.

“I love it,” I tell him. “I love everything about it.”

“So you want to take it?”

“I do.”

He smiles down at me and then presses his lips into mine. It’s hard to kiss him since I can’t control my smile as I continue to imagine the future in this house with him, and when he pulls away, I feel as though I must be beaming.

“Stay here,” He tells me. “I’ll let Ms. Kelley know that we’ll take it.”

“Okay,” I nod, but before he turns away, he reaches up to cup my cheek, again looking adoringly into my eyes.

“Welcome home, baby.”

It takes a while for Christian to work through the initial details with Ms. Kelley and get her the right contact information with his people to start the process of buying the house, and after I’ve recovered from my near heart attack from hearing the $14.5 million dollar price tag, he leads me from the house and back up the street towards the Lamborghini.

“A new car and a new house,” I say as we start back towards the dealership. “This has been quite the productive day for you, Mr. Grey.”

“The house is for the baby,” He clarifies. “But the car is for me, and before I decide to buy, I need to make sure of one thing first…”

I look at him curiously as he turns, not towards the freeway, but deeper into North Seattle. He winds through streets, which are are lined with houses not nearly as nice as the one we just came from, until he reaches the deserted University of Washington campus a few blocks away.

“What are you doing?” I ask, when he pulls into a parking garage in a remote corner of campus.

“Test driving,” He says mysteriously, but, as he winds around the corners, climbing higher and higher into the garage, he reaches over and brushes his hand over my knee. Oh…

The moment we’re stopped in a parking stall on the third level, he reaches over to me, brushing his hand through my hair and pulling me into him so that he can kiss me. I lean across leather armrest between us, eagerly matching the passion he pours into me as our tongues entwine together.

“Come here,” He says, reaching down to grip onto me so that he can pull me over the console between us.

“Christian, we’re in a parking garage!” I protest.

“I know,” He says. “But there’s no one here.” I bite down on my lip, hesitating for a second, but then climb out of my seat and into his lap so that I’m straddling him in the driver’s seat. It’s a tight fit, so he reaches down and pushes the seat back as far as it will go to give me enough room, and once I’m settled over him, I lean down to take his lips again. His hands slide down and begin tugging at my dress so that he can pull it up around my waist and he’s free to grab onto my ass. I feel him starting to get hard beneath me and if fuels the fevered lust running through me.

I gently nip his lower lip and tug it slightly with my teeth, and as I do he groans and presses his pelvis up into me, his hands gripping my ass more tightly. I reach up to hold each side of his face, my fingers running up into his hair, and digging into him as our kiss becomes more fervent. I begin grinding back and forth in his lap and he groans a deep, low sound into my mouth that makes my entire body tighten with desire.

“Is this what you had in mind when you told me to wear this dress?” I ask as I pull away from his mouth and move down to his chin, nibbling my way up his jawline.

“A man can dream,” He says, and when my teeth capture his earlobe, he groans again. “Oh, fuck, baby.”

His hands move to the side of my face, turning me so that he can kiss me again, and as my fingers begin exploring his body, gripping tightly to his suit jacket, he pulls away, and does one last scan of the parking garage.

“No one’s here,” He says, “We’re all alone, and I want you.”

“I want you,” I whisper back.

“Good,” He says. “Then start with my belt.”

I move my hands down to Christian’s waist, clumsily fumbling with the buckle in my over anticipation to get his pants open. As I do, he lifts me slightly off his lap so that I’m hovering over him on my knees, and then reaches around to touch me through my panties. I whimper slightly as I feel his finger flick softly back and forth over my clitoris, heightening my arousal.

“Perhaps I should have asked you to be naked under this dress,” He says, his fingers continuing to tease me. “Of course, this is our first time truly attempting something this public. If that isn’t memorable, I don’t know what is…”

“Don’t you dare, these are my favorite pair,” I tell him firmly, and before he can argue, I finally am able to release him from his pants and wrap my hand around his erection. His breath hisses through his teeth as I grip him tightly and then move my hand up and down over him.

“Then take them off,” He says, his voice husky with need. “You’re ready for me, and I for you.”

I release him so that I can reach down to slide my panties off, but the moment I touch the band beneath my dress, I see the conundrum I’ve gotten myself into for the first time. There isn’t a lot of room for me to move with me settled on his lap, how am I supposed to…

“I need to get off of you,” I say, moving his hands away from me and shifting slightly so that I can climb back into the passenger’s seat, but he grabs me again, holding me firmly in place before reaching beneath me and, in one fluid motion, tugging my panties to the side and thrusting up into me. I cry out as I feel myself stretching around him and then move back so that I can sink fully onto him.

“Yes,” He hisses. His hands grab onto my hips while he slides down into his seat, taking me with him, and then thrusts up into me again. I begin to move with him, rising and falling as best I can under the low roof of the car until my legs begin to burn. Soon the windows begin to fog over, but something about it makes everything hotter and Christian’s animalistic instincts take over. His hands are everywhere, pulling desperately at my dress, yanking my hair to expose my neck to him, reaching around to grab my ass… When I lean back against the steering wheel, using the dash and the door to steady myself so that I can help him hit that place inside of me that will cause me to unravel, he even slides his hand up my body and around my throat, his fingers gripping tightly to my jaw and just under my chin as he pushes into me again and again.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I whimper in time with each of his movements and he lets out a low growl.

“Almost there, baby?” He asks.

“Yes,” I reply, my response reduced to only a harsh sounding breath as my body begins to heat and I feel sweat beading over my skin. With his free hand, he reaches between my legs, finding my clitoris with his thumb and masages me in time with his thrusts.

“Christian,” I whimper. “Fuck, I’m going to… I’m going to…”

“Scream for me, baby,” He commands me. “There’s no else to hear you. Scream my name.”

I gasp again, my entire body now reduced to an erotic cocktail of heat and sensation. I’m close, only seconds away, and when he presses his thumb against me harder and begins moving it faster over my clitoris, the dam breaks and I explode, shouting his name as I spiral off into oblivion.

“Fuck, Ana!” He cries out. His hands move to my hips, forcing me down on him until he is as deep inside of me as possible, and he stills, pouring his release into me. I collapse on top of him, panting heavily as I revel in the post-sex haze that relaxes my entire body.

“Yes, I’m definitely buying this car,” He says softly into my ear, and I giggle.

“I think you have to now.”

He chuckles too and then helps me off his lap and back into the passenger’s seat. After rolling down the windows and turning on the defroster to clear the fog away, we take a moment to readjust our clothes and then, with one final kiss, Christian puts the car in reverse and turns us back towards Bellevue.

It’s nearly dinner time by the time my mom and Bob land at SeaTac. It takes awhile after the flight touches down for the crew to the get everything ready for my parents to be able to disembark, and as Christian and I wait in the front seats of the Maybach, I see him glance down at the leather on the steering wheel forlornly every few minutes. I know he wants to be driving his new Lamborghini, but there isn’t room in the two-seated car for my parents.

When the doors finally open and my mother appears on the staircase that leads out of the plane, I open my own door to step out onto the tarmac and she immediately bolts to me.

“Oh, Anastasia!” She cries, her voice laced with overwhelming relief as she wraps her arms around me. “I was so terrified watching the news. Thank god you’re okay.”

“I’m fine, Mom,” I tell her, attempting to covertly push her away as whatever perfume she’s wearing hits me like a wrecking ball. We’re not announcing my pregnancy until tomorrow, but it’ll be pretty obvious if I throw up all over her.

“Christian,” Bob says, reaching out his hand.

Christian shakes it firmly and nods toward the plane. “Welcome to Seattle,” He says. “Did you have a good flight?”

“Wonderful,” Bob says. “Although Carla spent most of it snooping…”

“I wasn’t snooping,” My mother says defensively. “My daughter is on that plane twice a week. I just wanted to make sure she has everything she needs.”

“I assure you, it’s well stocked,” Christian says, and my mother nods and then holds her arms open for him. I glance up at Christian, wondering how he’s going to react since I know he’s not great with people touching him, but, to my surprise, he steps forward and allows my mother to hug him.

“It’s very good to see you, dear,” My mom says when she finally releases him.

“Likewise, Carla,” He replies. “Shall we get home? My housekeeper is preparing dinner as we speak.”

“Sounds good,” She smiles. “We’re starving.”

Christian smiles, nods, and then helps Bob load their bags into the trunk of the car, and as we make our way home, Mom and I listen to Bob and Christian talk about the Maybach and then Christian’s subsequent excited descriptions about the Lamborghini in the parking garage back at Escala. They’re so lost in their car talk that when we get home, Christian drops my mother and I off at the elevator, but ignores Taylor’s offer to go park the car, deciding instead to park himself so he can show off his new toy to my step dad.

My mother has been here before, over the Fourth of July weekend last summer, so I don’t have to give her a tour, but I do take her up to the guest room and sit with her while she unpacks and we wait for Christian and Bob to come upstairs. It’s awkward being in this room with her, sitting on the bed and listening to her give me a play by play of life in Savannah. Especially when I glance over at the chair next to the door and remember the last time I was in that chair, Christian had me tied up with leg restraints and handcuffs…

Thankfully, Mom doesn’t have much for the weekend, so it doesn’t take her long to unpack, and just as she tucks her suitcase into the closet, Christian knocks on the door.

“Dinner is ready,” He tells us.

“Perfect,” My mom smiles back. We let her walk ahead of us so that I can hold Christian’s hand as we make our way down the hallway, and while we go, I feel a sense of surprised happiness at my mother’s attitude. Even after her heart to heart with Christian last summer, she still hasn’t been the most accepting of Christian and I being back together, and I know she doesn’t approve of me travelling home nearly every weekend from school. It’s one of the things that has me most nervous to announce my pregnancy tomorrow, and I think it has Christian nervous too because, when we get downstairs and I see the dining room, I can tell he’s clearly trying to impress her.

The table is beautiful, set with what must be new china and Christian’s Baccarat wine glasses. There are long tapers in the center of the table, illuminating the fall themed floral centerpiece with soft, flickering candlelight. We’re having Filet Mignon for dinner with salad and spiced pears, which both my mother and stepfather seemed over joyed with. Everything is perfect, that is until Christian brings out the wine…

“This is one of my favorites,” He explains as he fills my mother’s glass. “It’s from my special reserve collection.”

“Delicious,” She replies with delighted approval after taking a sip. He smiles down at her and moves to put the bottle in the bucket at the end of the counter but my mother reaches out to stop him.

“Oh, Christian, Ana hasn’t gotten any.”

“Oh…” He says awkwardly, holding the bottle over the bucket and looking down at me like he isn’t sure what to do.

“That’s fine,” I say quickly. “I uh… I actually haven’t really been loving wine over the past few months. I think I had a bad glass a little while ago and it’s kind of put me off it for a while.”

“Oh,” My mother replies, furrowing her brow, but before she gets to ask any follow up questions, Bob unwittingly comes to my rescue.

“You know that’s going to happen to you with tequila,” He says. “I got sicker than I’ve ever been off tequila one night and now I can’t even stand the smell of the stuff. It seems like everyone I know has a similar story.”

“Right, I’ll keep that in mind,” I reply.

The rest of the dinner goes off without a hitch and we actually end up sitting at the table for a few hours, having a really great time. I can tell that my mother is really trying with Christian again, and, when she asks about GEH, she actually seems genuinely interested to hear him talk about it.

“What about you, Ana?” She asks, turning to me. “Anything new and exciting going on in your life?”

Christian almost chokes over the sip of wine he takes and I have to use every ounce of self control I have not to glare at him.

“Yeah, actually,” I begin. “Christian and I just bought a house this morning.”

“What?” She asks, looking between us with surprise.

“Yes,” Christian nods. “Up in Laurelhurst.”

“Laurelhurst?” My mom repeats, with something close to shock echoing in her voice. She didn’t live here with Ray long, but apparently it was long enough for her to get acquainted with the best neighborhoods in Seattle. “Doesn’t Bill Gates live there?”

Christian shakes his head. “No, he grew up there, but he lives in Medina now. Actually, not too far from my parents’ house in Bellevue. Paul Allen lives on our street though.”

“WHAT?!” I exclaim, turning a quick, sharp glance on him. “Are you telling me that the owner of the Seattle Seahawks is going to be our neighbor?”

Christian laughs, “Yes, but I don’t think team practices are held in his backyard.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean John Schneider, or Pete Carroll, or Matt Hasselbeck won’t get invited to a dinner party at his house. A dinner party that we could also be invited to as his new best friends. Seriously, Christian, woo him.”

He laughs again. “I actually do need to get in touch with him. I’ve heard that he petitioned to have a helicopter pad put on his property but it was blocked by the HOA. I’m going to have to help him find a solution to that problem.”

“I feel like you’re not focusing on the Seahawks right now…” I accuse him.

“Those damn Seahawks.” Bob says, rolling his eyes, but as I turn to glare at him, we’re all surprised to hear the ping of the elevator come from the foyer.

“Who in the world…” Christian begins, but before he even finishes the sentence Ros comes storming into the living room looking livid.

“Christian Grey!” She shouts. “You fired Welch?”

Immediately, Christian stiffens and sits up straighter in his chair. “Yes, I did,” He replies calmly.

“And you didn’t think to talk to me about that first?”

I look over the table and see my mother and Bob exchange awkward glances with one another, and I think Christian sees it too, because he gestures over to them.

“Ros, this is Mr. and Mrs. Adams, Anastasia’s parents. Bob, Carla, this is my COO and partner, Rosaline Bailey.”

Partner?” Ros repeats in an incredulous sounding breath. “Can I talk to you alone for a moment, please?”

“Of course,” Christian says, taking our interlocked hands from under the table and pulling them up to his lips so that he can kiss the back of my fingers. “Excuse me for a moment, please.”

Mom, Bob, and I all turn to watch them walk out of the living room, but even after hearing the door to his office slam close, we can hear them yelling at each other, and each sharp barb makes me flinch. I’ve heard Christian and Ros get into it before, but I’ve never heard them yell. I’d always thought they’d had that rare, perfect working relationship where somehow they just meshed really well together and were always on the same page. I’ve even made jokes in the past with Christian about how Ros is his work wife, because she’s the only one at GEH that really gets him, and who can talk him down when he gets angry… Apparently, he doesn’t have that same skill set with her.

“Welch was a key member of our executive team, someone who has been with us since the very beginning, Christian. You didn’t even think to consult me before you just let him go?” Ros practically screams.

“Consult you?” Christian shouts back at her.

“Yes, consult me. We’re in this together, remember? You and me. These past few months, it’s like I’m not even here, or you don’t care what I have to say or what direction I think we should be going in. You bought SIP without telling me and then just gave it to me with no warning, I had no idea you were even chasing Lincoln Timber until I got the email with the rest of the team saying it had been acquired, and you didn’t tell me you were going to sell Grey Construction to your brother. Now, you’re firing key members of our executive team and I have to find out from HR? What the hell is going on?”

“I’m the CEO, Ros. I made those decisions, this decision, as the CEO, for the best interests of my company. Welch was toxic and I wanted him gone immediately. Had I been in the office today, yes, I would have informed you of my decision, but regardless, it was my decision. I didn’t know Menke would speak to you before I did. I would have told you Monday.”

Told me?” She repeats. “Christian, we’re partners! We have to make important decisions like this together, but instead, I’m just left to play catch up while you do everything on your own. Just like you do everything else.”

“Yes, I do make decisions on my own, and we’re going to break profit records again this year.”

“I’m not saying that you’re not good at your job, Christian.  I am the Chief Operations Officer. You have to discuss things with me that are going to affect the operations of our company. I am your partner, not your subordinate. We built this company together, we are supposed to run it together.”

“Together?” Christian spits at her. “Tell me, if we’re supposed to run this company together, why is it GREY Enterprises Holdings? Why is it MY name over the door? I don’t see Bailey anywhere in the letterhead.”

I cringe as Christian’s words echo down the hallway towards us followed by a silence so poignant it’s nearly deafening. It seems to go on forever, but when Ros finally does speak again, her voice is full of venom.

“Fuck you, Christian,” She says, and a second later, we hear the door slam again. She comes back into the great room, her face flushed, and she’s clearly fighting back tears.

“Ros,” I say, getting up from the table as she hurries for the foyer.

“I’m sorry if I ruined your dinner, Ana,” She says, dismissing me. “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.” She turns and walks into the foyer, and I get up from the table to go after her, but the elevator is there waiting and she’s able to disappear before I catch up with her. Christian is already back to his seat by the time I make it back to the dining room, and as he looks up at me, I put my hands on my hips and give him a stern look.

“What?” He asks.

“What?” I repeat, incredulously. “What was that?”

“You know,” Bob begins awkwardly as he gets out of his seat, “We’ve had a long day with the flight, and it’s almost 11:30 our time. I think we’ll head to bed.”

“Yes,” My mother says, getting up eagerly behind him, “We’ll see you in the morning.”

Mom walks over to me and gives me a quick hug and kiss on the cheek and after we watch them walk up the stairs and hear their door close behind them, I turn back to Christian, waiting for him to explain what’s going on. He stares at me for a minute, clearly hesitant to have this discussion with me and possibly challenging my resolve, but when I don’t break eye contact, he sighs.

“Gail,” He calls, breaking eye contact with me and looking towards the kitchen.

“Yes, sir?” She responds. I turn and see her peeking through the archway between the dining room and kitchen, glancing nervously between us as the tension in the room is now tangible.

“Dinner was delicious, thank you, but we’re finished now.”

“Yes, sir.”

He nods and then crosses the room towards me, taking my hand and then pulling me with him into the bedroom. Once we’re inside, I move to sit on the bed and then stare at him expectantly again.

“Okay, maybe I was a little hard on her…” He admits finally.

“Hard on her?” I repeat. “Christian, she left here in tears. Why would you say that to her?”

“Look, Ros is good at her job, excellent even. She shares my vision, I can count on her, and she’s loyal, almost to a fault. But that loyalty is a double edged sword. I didn’t tell her about Welch because I didn’t want to fight with her about it. I’m just… I’m tired of fighting with her, with everyone. I needed him gone and she would have tried to stop me. It’s my decision, my company, and I don’t need Ros or anyone else telling me how to run it.”

“Why did you need him gone so suddenly?” I ask, “I’ve worked with Welch before, on the eReader we designed. He’s good. I mean, you’ve said that yourself…”

“He’s an instigator,” Christian says, and I raise an eyebrow at him.

“What?”

“Remember what I told you on Halloween? The developers in my R&D and Technology department are becoming more and more insistent  that I hand over control to a board. They’re collectivizing, threatening walk-outs… and that sentiment is starting to spread through the company. I’m starting to hear noise from my manufacturing division, fiber optics, hell even SIP has thrown their support behind the idea.”

“So what does that have to do with Welch?”

“He’s behind it. He’s uniting everyone, pushing them to follow his lead. Taylor found a few emails on his server, he’s been talking with everyone, even Jack Hyde.”

“Oh,“ I say. “Well, what are you going to do then? I mean, if he’s already got everyone pushing for a board…”

“I’m going to find someone who understands my vision and will keep their team on track. I’ve said it before, no one is irreplaceable and Welch is no exception. He’s good, but a lot of people are good, and firing him is going to send a message. I’m not going to tolerate insubordination. This is my company and I will not relinquish control. Not after what I had to sacrifice to get it.”

I bite down on my lip and break eye contact with him for a split second, but nod. “Okay. If that’s what you think is best, then I won’t argue with you about it. Just… just don’t alienate Ros. You need her. You need people you can trust and people who have your best interests at heart around you, and that’s Ros. She’s always been there for you, and she wants the same things as you. Don’t push her away.”

“Okay,” He nods in conceit. “She’s taking the jet to San Francisco tomorrow morning to spend Thanksgiving with her family. I will have flowers and a handwritten apology waiting for her.”

“Good,” I nod, and then cross the room to wrap my arms around him. He holds me for a minute and then tilts my chin up so that he can kiss me. I melt into him, smiling a little when I feel his tongue begin to play against my lips, and when I open my mouth for him and push my entire body flush against him, he moans.

“It’s been a stressful night,” He says.

“Yeah, what else is new?” I reply, but he gives me a mischievous look.

“Nothing, which I why I know the best way to relieve this stress.” He reaches down and lifts me by the back of my legs, forcing me to tighten my hold around him so that I don’t fall, and I giggle as he makes his way across the room and then tosses me onto our bed.

Next Chapter

Chapter 10

Related image

“I just think that Thanksgiving is supposed to be about family, Ana,” My mother says over the phone as I gather the things I need to take my last test before break. “You’ve only been back together for a few months. Don’t you think we should, I don’t know, take some time to see where this goes before we start changing family traditions for him?”

“First of all, I don’t know what family traditions you’re worried about sacrificing, because we literally do something different every year and I normally spend Thanksgiving with Dad. Second of all, we know where this is going… Christian and I are not going to break up, Mom. This is for real this time. He is my family now and we’re starting traditions together. We’re asking you to be apart of them.”

“So why don’t the two of you come here? He can come here. It seems like we’re always the ones traveling, but we’re closer to you here in Georgia than he is in Washington.”

“Mom,” I groan. “He’s got a bigger family and you don’t have the room for everyone. We’re trying to make this as easy on everyone as possible, and, honestly, I don’t know why you’re not ecstatic. You’re not going to have to cook, you’re not going to have to clean, and Christian is flying you to Seattle in a private jet where you’re going to stay in a penthouse with a full staff. You’re going to have a good time, I promise. I want you with me, please?”

She sighs. “Okay, fine. We’ll come to Seattle.”

“Thank you,” I reply, relieved.

We haven’t told anyone about my pregnancy yet because Christian and I decided to wait until Thanksgiving when we could get everyone together and tell both of our families at one time so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the drama of who to tell first or what would happen if one of our parents found out from someone who wasn’t one of us. Unfortunately, making sure everyone finds out at the same time has been harder than I expected. I’ve been fighting with my mom for two weeks now to try and get her to come spend the holiday with me and the Greys’, which, until this moment, has felt like a losing battle, and keeping the secret from Grace and her baby senses has been like a rabbit trying to hide from a bloodhound.

I’ve only been back to Seattle once since we found out I was pregnant, the first weekend after I told Christian, but just that one weekend was almost enough to blow the lid off of everything. After almost a whole day of non-stop vomiting, I spent that Saturday night in the Emergency Room at the hospital Grace works at for dehydration, and we were only just able to avoid her as she rushed in in the middle of the night for a patient who needed an emergency appendectomy. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum that night and it has been like a neon sign announcing to the world that I’m pregnant. The nausea has been out of control and, after having brunch with the Greys the following day and subsequently running off to the bathroom because Gretchen set a plate of salmon in front of me, I know Grace suspects something. I can hear the suspicion in her voice every time she calls.

Thankfully though, my Contemporary African American Literature professor has assigned a hugely weighted test for the last day before Thanksgiving Break, so I’ve spent the last two weekends at home studying, rather than back in Seattle under Grace’s ever vigilant gaze. Christian hasn’t been thrilled, but I’m relieved. I know I couldn’t have made it through two more weekends without slipping up somehow.

“Okay, Mom, I’ve gotta go,” I tell her. “I’m going to be late for my test.”

“Alright, good luck. Call me when you land in Seattle. You know how I worry having you flying back and forth so much.”

“I know,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I’ll call you. I love you.”

“Love you too, sweetie. Bye.”

I hang up the phone, letting out another sigh of relief, and then look at the snow falling steadily outside my bedroom window. Winter has pre-maturely reared its head in Cambridge and it hasn’t come quietly. Already there’s close to six or seven inches outside and it’s only supposed to get worse over Thanksgiving break.

After one last glance around my room to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, I pick up my backpack and jacket, then grab the handle of my suitcase and head for the stairs. Before this test was announced, I’d actually thought I was going to get out of Cambridge on Wednesday and have some extra time back home. That didn’t end up being the case and after the argument I got into with Christian when I told him I’d be here two days longer than he originally thought, Luke and I have made a plan to get on the plane back to Seattle as quickly as possible following my test, which means that I have to have all of my luggage in the car before we leave.

Kate and Luke are both already in the kitchen, eating breakfast and watching the news through the doorway to the living room, when I make it downstairs. Kate is listening to the weather report with mild interest, but Luke seems to spend equal time glancing at the TV and then back through the kitchen window to the snow falling outside.

“It’s really coming down,” He says nervously, as I pour myself a mug of tea and pull a sleeve of saltines out of the box in the cupboard, which is the only food I’ve been able to manage in the mornings for weeks.

“I heard last night that we’re supposed to get up to five more inches today,” I tell him.

“This is crazy,” Kate says. “It’s way too early in the season for snow like this.”

“That’s called climate change, my dear,” I say, as I too turn to watch the forecast. Unfortunately for those who don’t get to fly across the country for the next week, the huge storm brewing just off the coast that will be dumping snow and freezing rain on the entire Boston metropolitan area for days was just upgraded in severity this morning. While I listen to the weatherman list the all the precautionary measures people should be taking to weather the storm, I actually find myself happy, for once, that I’m going to be stuck on an airplane for hours.

“Jeez, you’d think he was predicting the apocalypse,” Luke says, when he finally holds up the remote to turn off the TV.

“It probably feels that way to some people,” Kate says. “But at least in this, the end of days, the mail still seems to be functioning adequately. You got a letter today, Ana.”

“Me?”

“No, the other Ana,” She says, rolling her eyes and then nodding towards the kitchen counter. I quickly scramble out of my seat and hurry to retrieve the thick envelope and when I look down and see my dad’s messy handwriting, I immediately feel tears of relief spring to my eyes.

Ray has been in an active combat zone for months with no access to the mail system, so I haven’t heard from him since the last letter I got back in August. No one has been willing to say it, I haven’t even allowed myself to consider the possibility, but the complete silence has left the lingering fear in the back of my mind that the worst has happened. Now that I have confirmation that it hasn’t, I can’t rip into his letter fast enough.

Annie,

I didn’t think it was going to happen, but by some miracle it did. I’m back on base, safe and sound, and I’ll be able to call you on Thanksgiving. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the sound of your voice, my darling baby girl. I’ve missed you so much.

Love,

Dad.

I re-read the words a dozen times, wishing there was more, but still feeling overwhelmingly grateful for what’s here. Unfortunately though, his succinct letter gives me too much leeway to overanalyze every word, and the more times I read what he’s written, the more the joy I feel at holding the physical proof of his safety turns into fear. He didn’t think it was going to happen? What does that mean? That he didn’t think he’d get back to a base in time to call me for Thanksgiving or that he didn’t think he’d make it back at all? Was he in danger? Maybe he was hurt. The letter says he’s safe, but it doesn’t say he wasn’t injured. Something could have happened…

Suddenly, the now expected nausea hits me full force and I have to run for the toilet, but I’m not sure whether it’s because of the pregnancy, or the horrifying images of my father on the battlefield that has me wretching up everything inside my stomach.

“Ana?” Kate’s worried voice comes from behind the closed door. “Is everything, okay?”

“It’s… fine,” I call back. I reach up to flush and then peel myself off the floor to rinse my mouth out. It takes a couple deep breaths to calm my stomach, but once I’m sure I won’t throw up again, I turn to open the bathroom door, only to find Luke and Kate standing in the hallway waiting for me, cautious looks on both their faces.

“I’m fine,” I reassure them again, more firmly this time.

“How’s Ray?” Kate asks.

“He’s back on base,” I say quickly, not wanting to speak aloud all the fears now bouncing around in my head. “He’s going to call me on Thanksgiving.”

“That’s good,” Luke says, “You’ll get to tell him about the baby with the rest of your family. That’s what you wanted.”

“Yeah, it’s what I wanted,” I agree, and then I step out of the bathroom to gather my things for class, still trying to shake the sense of unease my dad’s letter leaves me with.

Kate is done with classes until after the break, so while I make my way to campus with Luke, she’s staying behind to finish up the last few items she has for the Crimson before we head back to Seattle. I’m grateful because, unlike Luke, Kate wouldn’t be able to hold back from asking questions about my letter and I don’t really want to talk about it. I don’t even want to think about it. My entire body feels stiff with a mixture of fear, guilt, and pain, and the only thing I can do about it right now is try to push the thoughts of what my father may have just gone through out of my mind, think over what I’ve been studying for the past week, and try to distract myself by staring at the snowflakes falling around the car.

Now that we know I’m pregnant, even Luke has started to question whether or not keeping Christian in the dark about Leila is a good idea. The truth is I’m not sure if he’s right or not, but Ray is the reason I can’t bring myself to tell him. I’ve always  felt guilty over the sacrifice my father has made to allow me to get into and stay at Harvard, but that guilt has been magnified ten times over since Christian started paying for my school.

My dad being in Iraq, seeing the things he’s seen and living the way he’s been forced to live for almost four years, that’s all for nothing now. If he hadn’t re-enlisted for another two years after coming home the summer after my Sophomore year, nothing would have changed for me. He’s endured this for nothing, and everytime I think about that, it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. The only thing that I can think to do to make sure that he isn’t completely devastated when he finds out, is to graduate. I have to graduate so all of this means something, and I know in the deepest part of my soul, that if Christian finds out about Leila, that’s not going to happen.

He’s made it clear ever since I’ve come back here that he’s tolerating me being here, but that it’s not what he wants. He wants me home. When I told him I was pregnant, that was the first thing he went to, and even after the tentative truce we made that night about me staying in Cambridge, he’s hinted at least three more times that he’s not happy about the arrangement. Leila will be an excuse, but if she is only here to do me harm, which I’m not even sure about anymore since I haven’t seen her since New York and the more I think about that day, the less and less I’m sure about what I saw, what’s to stop her from following me to Seattle? I’ll still have the same security team back home, would I really be safer there than I am here? I don’t think so. I’m not being careless. I’ve followed Luke’s and Taylor’s rules to the T. I just need to make it six more months. Six more months and I’ll have my degree and I can move home. Everyone will win.

“How long do you think you’ll be?” Luke asks, as we approach the parking lot closest to the building my test is taking place in.

“I’m not sure, it depends on how many essay questions there are. An hour, maybe?” I reply.

“Well, let’s get you there so you can finish and we can get out of here,” He says. “The roads are going to be a disaster getting into Boston.”

I nod and climb out of the car, and while we walk to the Barker Center, we make a plan for getting out of here as quickly as possible. Luke takes me all the way to my classroom, telling me he’ll be back in an hour with Kate and for me to wait for him here if he’s not back by the time I’m finished, and then leaves. Once the rest of the students settle in and the professor enters the room, covered in snow and clinging tightly to a briefcase filled with tests, I force myself to forget about the letter from this morning, about Leila and whether or not I’m making a huge mistake, and focus my attention towards the front of the room.

Unfortunately, the test is much harder than I thought, and I was already prepared for it to be difficult. Nearly every question requires at least three to four long paragraphs to answer and my final two essays are over two pages each. The hour I estimated for Luke quickly comes and goes, but I’m so engrossed in the test I don’t even notice until my phone, along with every other phone in the room, suddenly begins beeping or vibrating.

“Professor Vaughn, what does this mean?” A girl with blonde curls a few desks away from me asks. The professor quickly glances over at his computer, his mouse clicking furiously as he works his way through whatever it is he’s looking at, and then he frowns.

“Campus is being shut down due to the weather,” He says, at last. “Please, finish your exams and then head back home. Any other classes you have today have been cancelled.”

I see some people around me exchange nervous glances, and a few even get up to turn in their tests, despite the fact that they haven’t completely finished. I look up at the clock on the wall and then to the door, where I can see the silhouetted form of Luke pacing back and forth through the opaque window. I’m most of the way through my final essay, so I take a deep breath, re-focus, and then hurry through the rest of it.

It’s nearly noon by the time I leave my class and as Luke nearly drags me through the snow towards the waiting car, I feel a creepy sense of unease cross over me. I’ve never seen campus so deserted while classes are supposed to be going on. The silence around us is almost eerie.

“Oh my god, what took so long?” Kate asks, when I finally climb into the car and we pull out onto the road.

“Sorry, my professor is a sadist,” I tell her. “That test was no joke.”

“Did you do okay?”

“I think so, but we’ll see. Mostly, I’m just happy he didn’t give us any homework.  As it is, I don’t have anything to work on over the entire break and that should make Christian happy.”

Suddenly, the low music playing over the stereo cuts out and is replaced by a flat ringing tone. “Speaking of Grey…” Luke says, reaching down to press the button on the steering wheel to answer the Christian’s call. “Sawyer,” He says in greeting.

“Do you have her?” Christian asks urgently.

“Yes, sir,” Luke replies. “We’re on route to the airport now.”

“Good. My pilot just called and said he wasn’t able to land at Logan. All non-scheduled flights are being re-directed because of the storm.”

“I was afraid of that,” Luke says, leaning forward over the steering wheel to look up at the thick blanket of shocking white clouds above us. “Traffic looks to be pretty heavy, but I’ll have her to the airport as soon as possible. We’ll wait it out.”

“Don’t,” He tells us. “The weather is only supposed to get worse. Go inside, buy tickets for whatever flight is leaving the soonest, and my plane will meet you when you land. I don’t care where it is, or how much it costs, just get off the East coast.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says again.

“I love you, Christian,” I call as Luke reaches down for the button to disconnect the call.

“I love you too, baby,” He says. “Get to me.”

“I will,” I promise. “I’m on my way.”

Luke hangs up and we both look out the windows at the snow again. We’re on the highway now, crawling our way over the snow, and there are several cars on the side of the road, having clearly slid off.

“You girls have your seatbelts on, right?” Luke asks.

“Yes,” I reply. Kate doesn’t say anything so I glance over at her and see that she’s not paying attention to us at all. She’s gaping through her window at a car that looks as though it’s flipped over the median from the other side and is currently resting upside down in the far left lane of traffic.

“We should stop,” She says. “Maybe we can help…”

“No, no stopping,” Luke says.

“But they might be hurt! Someone could be stuck,” Kate argues.

“There are dozens of accidents on this road, Kate,” Luke says. “The police are all around us and they’re better trained to handle this situation. I have to get you two to the airport. If they’ve already redirected non-scheduled flights, I bet it won’t be long before nothing is getting off the ground at all. We’ll be stranded in Cambridge until the storm passes and that could be days.”

Kate bites down on her lip and then looks guiltily out the window at the car  slowly disappearing behind us. I can see the conflict on her face and I feel it too, but Luke is right. Watching the blizzard brewing around us gives me a deep feeling of unease and I’m already worried about what we’re going to be told when we get to the airport. Even if we do get on a flight tonight, I can’t imagine flying through this mess is going to be pleasant.

The normal 30 minute drive into Boston takes over an hour and a half  between the snow, traffic, and countless accidents we see piling up alongside the road. When we finally do pull into the long term parking garage at Logan International Airport, I glance quickly over at the runway and the fact that I don’t see any planes taxiing over the airfield, doesn’t make me feel better.

It’s ridiculously crowded inside, with possibly hundreds of people sitting on their suitcases or fighting to get to the ticket counter. Luke takes my luggage from me and then uses his free hand to pull me over to the departures board, Kate dragging along in the wake we leave through the crowd. I know, like me, his eyes immediately scan every line looking for anything with a departure time, but each and every row is punctuated with the blazing red letters that spell out CANCELLED.

I look over at him, my eyes widening. “What do we do?”

He presses his lips together in concentration as his eyes dart back and forth between the giant windows displaying the still heavily falling snow outside and the ticket counter, and I can tell from the expression on his face that he isn’t sure.

“I’ll see what I can do,” He says at last. “Maybe if I can get Mr. Grey on the phone, we can work something out. In the meantime, you two go wait over there. Don’t move, and don’t let each other out of your sight.”

“Okay,” I nod, and as I reach back to take Kate’s hand, Luke pushes his way over to the ticket counter. There aren’t any seats left, so we make our way to the only place there seems to be room for the two of us to stand with our luggage and then pace back and forth, watching the snow accumulating steadily over the next hour.

“They can’t just close the whole airport down,” I whine. “How long could they possibly keep all flights grounded?”

“Until the storm passes,” Kate says. “And I don’t think that’s anytime soon.”

“No, it isn’t,” Luke says, coming up behind us and surprising us both.

“Nothing?” I ask, and when he shakes his head, I add, “Did they give you an estimate when flights are going to make it out again?”

“No,” He says. “But we should head home. Nothing’s leaving tonight and the storm is getting worse. I don’t want you snowed in at the airport with all these people around and nowhere for you to sleep. Grey will have a heart attack.”

“Well, if we’re just going to drive home, why don’t we just drive to Springfield? It’s less than 100 miles away and there’s an airport. The news says the storm isn’t so bad once you get further inland, maybe Christian’s plane could just meet us there.”

“It took us almost two hours to get here from Cambridge, Ana. Do you know how long it would take us to get to Springfield?” Luke asks.  

“It’s too dangerous,” Kate adds, nodding up to the TV mounted on the wall, which is showing a news report about over 106 accidents that have occurred on the highways in the last 6 hours. “I don’t even know if we should drive home…”

“We’re going to try,” He says, and he picks up my bag and then reaches for my hand before leading us back out to the parking garage. I reflexively reach down to place a protective hand over my stomach. This is bad… and I’m just starting to realize how bad. I might not get home… This storm could last days, maybe the whole week, and if nothing is getting out until it passes, I could miss the whole week I’m supposed to spend with Christian.

It’s worse getting home than it was getting into Boston. The news report about the car accidents wasn’t descriptive enough in how the number of accidents has left traffic at a standstill. They can’t even get the snowplows through the roads as ambulances and firetrucks take priority getting to the injured victims on the side of the highway, so the snow continues to accumulate on the roads making them a slick, tractionless nightmare. My house is only about 10 miles away from the airport and despite the fact that we’re driving so slow I truly believe I could have walked there and back by the time we finally pull onto our street, we’ve nearly slid completely off the road three times. I imagine my heart rate is off the charts from the stress of the drive, and as Luke helps me from the car and safely back into my house, I find myself wishing I could feel the baby inside of me moving or kicking just so that I would know it’s okay. Since I can’t, I’m close to panicking.

We’d turned the heat way down before we left this morning since we thought we were going to be gone for a whole week, so coming into the kitchen through the back door doesn’t feel very comforting. Kate immediately makes for the thermostat and, while Luke pulls blankets and heating pads from the hall closet, I call Christian.

“Hey,” He answers, the relief apparent in his voice. “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“We’re fine, we’re back home,” I tell him. “Nothing is getting out tonight, or probably for a few days. I think we’re going to be stuck here until the storm passes.”

“I don’t feel good about that,” He says. “The news says this storm is supposed to get bad.”

“It already is bad,” I admit. “But we’re safe in the house. I’m safe.”

“I want you home, Ana. I don’t want you there… you’re supposed to be with me this week.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I don’t want to be here either, but we’re stranded.” I say, and he let’s out an irritated breath.

“I’d just like to point out that Seattle isn’t in the midst of a superstorm,” He says. “It’s perfectly safe here.”

“Yeah, now,” I reply sardonically. “Talk to me when Rainier blows.” I wait for his equally sarcastic response but it doesn’t come. He’s silent for a long beat, and when he finally does speak again, his voice is quiet.

“I’m worried about you, Anastasia.”

“Don’t be, we’re safe,” I assure him again, reaching down as I do to trace my fingers over my belly. “Luke is going to watch the flights and the road conditions and we’ll get out of here the moment we can, I promise.”

“Stay inside,” He says. “Call me if anything changes, and just to check in. I’m going to be a mess until you’re on a plane back to me.”

“I will,” I assure him. “I love you, Christian.”

“I love you too. Bye, baby.”

“Bye.” I hang up the phone and stare down at it for a moment. I’m not sure exactly when the airports were shut down, but now that I’m stranded in my house, I can’t help but wonder if I could have prevented it. If I’d been less wordy on my essay questions, or maybe just turned in my test when the people who bailed early did, would I be in Seattle now? I don’t know, and I think not knowing is going to drive me insane for as long as I’m cooped up in here.

I make my way back out to the living room and find Kate glued to the news while Luke stands in front of the living room window, probably watching to see if the snow is letting up. It isn’t though, so instead of letting the sight of the white out going on outside crush my spirits even further, I sit on the couch to cuddle under the blanket with Kate and focus on the TV, hoping we’ll at least get some good news about the airports being reopened.

Unfortunately, most of the news stories over the next few hours revolve around car accidents and a house that flooded over in Somerville after a frozen pipe burst in some poor guy’s basement. By the time the later hours of the night creep by, a state of emergency is declared for the entire Boston area, and Kate and I both watch nervously as Luke reaches into his pocket for his phone, and then steps out of the room to talk to Taylor.

“What does state of emergency mean?” Kate asks, and even though she’s trying to keep her voice down so Luke can’t hear her, I can tell she’s scared. “Do we have to evacuate?”

“No,” I shake my head. “It just means that they’re preparing for the worst. It’s good. It means they’ll have more resources to clear the roads and get us out of here sooner.”

“You’re sure?”

Her eyes search mine, looking for any sense of hope, so I do my best to swallow back my own doubt and give her the most reassuring smile I can muster. “Of course, I’m sure.”

“Ana,” Luke interrupts us, hanging up the phone as he comes back into the living room. “You need to call your boyfriend and calm him down.”

“Why? What’s he doing?” I ask.

“When he saw the state of emergency bulletin, he asked what it would take to get the airport open, and Taylor told him the only person who could override the no fly order was the President. He’s on the phone right now trying to get through to the White House.”

“Oh, good lord,” I say, rolling my eyes and getting off the couch. I head up to my bedroom, knowing this could take a while, and it does. I spend nearly 30 minutes doing everything I know to do to placate Christian, but by the time I get off the phone with him, I know everything I’ve said is only going to keep him calm for a few minutes once I’m off the phone. I have a feeling he’s going to call me every five minutes for the rest of the night. I might even have to turn on Skype when I go to bed, just so he can see I’m still breathing once I’m asleep.

Sleep seems to be impossible by the time 11 o’clock rolls around, though. The wind has picked up outside and the silent drifting snowflakes have been replaced by loud, thumping hail bouncing off the roof. The snow covering everything we can see through the windows is now coated with a bright, shiny layer of ice as the hail and freezing rain pour down over the top of the pristine white blanket. The TV signal is cutting in and out, which is driving Kate insane, but Luke seems to be preoccupied by the telephone wires over head swaying violently back and forth in the wind.

“Is there wood for the fireplace, anywhere?” He asks, not turning around to look at us.

“I don’t think so,” I reply, but Kate places her hand on my arm, and then interjects.

“Elliot always kept some in the shed out back.”

“Okay, I’m going to go see what I can find,” He says. “In the meantime, Kate, I want you to go fill both bathtubs upstairs with water and Ana, you can look for matches, lighters, candles, flashlights, batteries, and the first aid kit.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Just go,” He tells me, and then he grabs his coat off the hook by the door and disappears through the kitchen and out into the storm. Kate and I hurry to do what he’s asked of us, and just as I’m climbing on the dryer to reach the back of the cupboard where we keep the first aid kit, the lights above me flicker twice and then go out.

“Ana!” Kate calls, panicked.

“In the laundry room, Kate!” I yell back. My fingers clasp around the plastic handle of the first aid kit, and after I’ve pulled it down at gotten back on the floor, Kate comes through the laundry room door, holding her cellphone up as a flashlight.

“There’s no power,” She says. “The heat’s off.”

“Well, that’s probably why Luke wanted the wood,” I tell her. “Come on, let’s see if he needs any help.”

We walk back out into the living room and find Luke kneeling next to a large pile of wood with his head in the fireplace. Without the heat constantly blowing through the vents, the house is already starting to feel drafty, so while we wait for Luke to build the fire, Kate and I climb onto the couch and curl up under the blanket once again.

It’s so much worse now that we don’t have news reports to give us storm updates. We’re completely isolated in the house with nothing to do but watch the wood Luke brought in from the shed, our only heat source, slowly burn away under the mantle in the living room. We were able to follow some news through our phones for a while but the cell phone towers must go down not long after the city wide blackout because soon, we lose cell service too. It means I’m completely cut off from Christian, and I can only imagine what that’s doing to him right now.

“Ana, when’s the last time you ate?” Luke asks.

“Uh… this morning, I guess. Before my test,” I reply.

“Come on,” He says, reaching for my hand. “Let’s find you something to eat.”

“I’m fine,” I tell him, shaking my head, but he furrows his eyebrows at me and extends his hands out further.

“You’re pregnant, Ana. You need to eat.”

“Right,” I concede, taking his hand and letting him help me off the couch. There isn’t much left in the kitchen since we dumped all our perishables the day before when the garbage was picked up, but there is canned soup in the cupboard. Apparently, it’s dangerous to cook food in the cans, especially for pregnant women, so Luke pours the soup into a pot, telling me it’ll most likely be ruined, and then takes it out to the fire. Using the fire pokers, he creates a bed in the logs to rest the pot on and then sets the soup over the fire to heat. Surprisingly it doesn’t take long and soon, we all have hot soup and crackers to help keep us warm as the cold from the rest of the house wars with the ring of heat contained to only the living room.

Eventually, I can’t stay awake anymore to try and wait to see if the power will come back on, so while Luke brings in a chair from the living room to put by the fire so he can keep it going through the night, Kate and I cuddle up next to one another on the floor. I can feel the tension radiating off of her as we settle in to go to sleep, so I reach over to wrap my arm around her, pulling her into me to try and give her some amount of comfort. After a few minutes, her body relaxes, her breathing evens out, and she drifts off to sleep. I close my eyes too, picturing my cellphone sitting on the rug beside me and the last thought to cross my mind before I drift off is the imagined picture of Christian, 3000 miles away, staring at his phone in panic, waiting for me to call him.

Whether it’s the stress from the day, the noise of the storm, or the uncomfortable floor, I don’t sleep easy that night. I dream that I’m running along the sidewalk a few blocks from my house in Cambridge, the same sidewalk Kate and I run every morning. It’s dark, which is weird, and none of the neighbors Kate and I have gotten close to over the past few years are outside. The streets are deserted and cold, and the unease of it all pushes to me to run faster.

I take a right onto Antrim Street so I can make the loop back home, but I only make it a few paces up the block before I’m stopped dead in my tracks. There standing in front of me, is Leila Williams, staring at me intently. The same knowing smile she wore in the coffee shop in New York plays at her lips, and as I begin to back away from her, suddenly there are hands on me. I scream but am quickly silenced and my struggles are fruitless against the three men,who have come out of nowhere, dragging me back into a van. They lock me inside, keeping me down as they drive away so I can’t see where we’re headed, ignoring my pleas for mercy and to let me go.

When we finally stop, I have no idea if we’re still in Cambridge and I’m taken into a house I don’t recognize. The men from the van carry me into a basement and tie to me to a chair, then leave me in the cold, damp room. The only thing that exists in the darkness around me is the sound of my own heavy, panicked breathing until a man’s voice, which I vaguely recognize but can’t place, speaks to me from somewhere close by.

“Welcome, Anastasia,” He says. “I hope you’re comfortable. You’re going to be here awhile.”

“Who are you?” I demand.

“You don’t know me?” He asks. “I’m hurt. I worked so hard to be kind to you the few months I got to know you. But that’s all about to change.”

“Please,” I beg. “I’m pregnant.”

“Oh, I know. That’s what makes this so perfect. You should really thank me, you know. Grey has told you over and over again how much you mean to him, how much he’d be willing to give up for you. I’m about to help you find out whether or not he means it.”

“Christian won’t give you anything if you hurt me,” I bluff, but he simply chuckles.

“On the contrary, I think the more I hurt you, the more he’ll be willing to give to get you back. And I expect a lot, Anastasia. What do you think I’d have to do to you for him to give up GEH? I’m sure it’ll come at a hefty price.”

“GEH?” I reply, my voice catching in my throat as the fear his threats induce wash over me. “You want his company?”

“Oh no, Anastasia. I don’t just want his company. I want everything. I want him to suffer. I want him to lose everything he’s ever cared about. I want to leave him desolate. And, I’m going to start with you…”

Suddenly, I’m bathed in a blinding light and the room is filled with a high screeching noise. The man, whose face I still can’t see, takes a step towards me, his polished shoes now visible in the ring of light.

“Prepare yourself, Anastasia,” He says, though it’s hard to hear him over whatever the screeching noise is. “This may hurt a little.”

I scream and begin the thrash against the ropes holding me to the chair, but just as the man leans towards me and I’m about to see his face, another voice breaks through the darkness.

“Fuck, Ana!”

The screeching noise intensifies and is followed by a loud crash, and I’m jolted awake by something hard hitting my body. I scream again, for real this time, until I realize that the hard thing is Luke. He’s covering my body with his, shielding me from something, and while I’m not sure what that is, I start to notice a cloud of dust swirling in the air of my living room, mixed with a lot of loud, strange noises, and the smell of gasoline.

“Oh my god!” Kate screams, quickly scrambling out of the blankets next to me and running for the kitchen.

“Kate!” Luke screams at her. “Get back here!” She doesn’t listen though, and I start to hear shuffling sounds mixing with the cacophony of noises I still can’t identify.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Luke asks.

“No, I’m not hurt,” I say quickly, and the moment the words are out of my mouth he leaps off of me and runs after Kate. It takes me a moment to orient myself, to try and sort through the last few seconds and decide what was a dream and what wasn’t. Kate and Luke begin arguing with one another and when I hear the high metal screech from my dreams, I jump to my feet. As I turn towards the kitchen though, I’m stopped dead again, and my mouth pops open in shock.

The kitchen wall is destroyed, a gust of cold air now pouring in through the giant hole left in the side of my house, and there, in the middle of the room where the dining room table used to be, is a car that Luke and Kate are fighting to get into to try and release the driver inside.

Oh my god.

Next Chapter

Chapter 09

Image result for sick tissues

By the time the weekend ends, the strangely intense, periodic bouts of nausea and overwhelming exhaustion haven’t passed, so I’m forced to stay home from school on Monday, and then again on Tuesday.  It leaves me with a deep feeling of regret because I had also skipped classes on Thursday. So, while I’m either bedridden or sprinting to the bathroom as quickly as possible, I’m also desperately trying to catch up on homework. I’d really hoped this was just food poisoning, but when Kate got back from school on Monday, she told me that half of her classes were empty because of a really bad flu that’s going around. It’s the worst scenario because a flu can last over a week rather than a few days like food poisoning, and while I know there’s nothing more that I could be doing to get better, Christian has been his usual, over-worried self.  

“I think the nausea is starting to go away,” I assure him over the phone on Tuesday morning. “I’ve only thrown up once this morning. I’m mostly just tired now.”   

“How many days have you been nauseated?”

“I don’t know, four or five. There’s a flu going around and you know me, if there’s something to catch within 100 miles of me, I’ll get it.”

“Is the nausea made worse or better when you eat?”

“Uh… better, I think.”

“Have you been ingesting excessive amounts of acetaminophen?”

The specifics in his line of questioning suddenly has me suspicious and I frown. “Are you on WebMD?”

“You could be having acute kidney failure, Ana.”

“It’s the flu, Christian.”

“You don’t know that until you go to the doctor.”

“I know what the flu feels like, and if I go to the doctor, they’ll just tell me to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids, and I’m doing both of those things already. There is nothing a doctor can give me to make me feel better.”

“What if you have Meningitis or Typhoid… or Dengue Fever?” He asks, his voice becoming more and more panicked as I assume he scrolls through the list of possible conditions on his laptop screen. “Jesus, this says you could be having a brain aneurism.”

“Christian, I promise you, I’m fine. Get off the internet and get back to work or I’m going to call Ros and have her come take your phone away.”

“Go to the doctor, Anastasia.”

“I love you. Good-bye.”

I think I hear him say my name in protest once more, but I’m not positive because I pull the phone away and hang up. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Christian is overreacting and if I wasn’t so tired, I probably would go to the doctor just to placate him. Part of me does love that he cares so much, but, right now, all I want in the world is sleep and going to the doctor is counterproductive to that.

I stretch my tired muscles for a moment and then put my phone on my nightstand, close the book open on my lap, and nestle down in the pillows to take a quick nap before picking my homework back up. Unfortunately, just as I fall into the peaceful place between dreams on consciousness, there is a knock on my door that drags me back to reality.

Fucking Kate.

“What?” I groan, but when the door opens, it isn’t Kate who steps inside, it’s Luke. I sit up in bed, surprised. Since Kate’s slip during Christian’s visit, Luke has been staying at his apartment again, trying to take advantage of me being bedridden to put some distance between us until Christian gets fully over our kiss. I also know that he’s using his newfound free time to look into Leila, so his appearance now has me on high alert. If he’s here, it must be because he’s found something.

“Hey, how are you feeling?” He asks, coming to sit on the bed next to me.

“Fine,” I reply, but when he lifts his hand to check the heat in my forehead, I push him off and stare at him expectantly.

“Well?” I ask.

“Well, what?”

“What did you find out about Leila?”

He sighs. “I’m not here because of Leila.”

“Oh,” I deflate a little. “Then why are you here?”

“You know how sometimes I can be your best friend, and sometimes I have to be your CPO?” He asks.

I narrow my eyes at him. “Yes.”

“Well, this is CPO time and I just got a call from Mr. Grey. I’m here to take you to the doctor.”

“Well, you may as well leave and go and enjoy the rest of your time off.” I tell him, rolling my eyes as I fall back into my pillows. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I don’t think you understand me, Ana. I was told to take you to the doctor, even if I have to carry you down to the car and drive you there against your will.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Please just get up and come with me,” He pleads. “I’m really not in the mood to manhandle you down the stairs.”

I glare at him for a moment, testing him, but when I see the unwavering determination behind his eyes, I sigh and then pull back the covers to get out of bed. He gives me a few moments privacy so I can change from my pajamas into more suitable clothes for public, and the I reluctantly trudge out into the hallway.

The cold November air actually feels a little good when we get outside, but the motion of the car as we work our way through the streets towards Student Health triggers my nausea again. I need something to distract me to keep from throwing up all over the interior of my new car, so I turn to Luke.

“So, have you found anything out about Leila?” I ask, and he lets out a long breath.

“No. Well, nothing that would suggest she’s here as a threat to you. She really is enrolled in Boston University and both her attendance and grades are good. Her parents do live in Hartford and, according to her credit card records, she went home to visit them a few weeks ago. This last weekend, she had Broadway tickets and had done some shopping in Manhattan… Her trip there appears to be legitimate,” He pauses, and gives me a nervous side glance before he speaks again. “Are you sure she had someone following you? Is it possible she just met someone for coffee and whoever she was with was just leaving?”

“No,” I shake my head. “No, he was following me.”

“Okay,” Luke nods, “Well, I’ve given Taylor everything I’ve been able to dig up and he’s going to see about getting Welch or Barney to take a closer look. He’s just got to make sure they won’t say anything to Grey before he tells them what it’s for.”

I swallow, feeling guilt rising up inside of me again. “Luke… maybe I should just tell Christian. He’s not entirely unreasonable, and if he sees everything you and Taylor have done to ensure I’m safe while I’m here, maybe he won’t try to force me to come home after all…”

“You know that I’m driving you to the doctor for a mild flu right now, right?” Luke replies. “He wanted me to take you to the Emergency Room until I talked him down to a general practitioner. I don’t think that man is capable of being reasonable when it comes to you.”

“Well, then I guess I hope you’re right and I’m just paranoid,” I sigh as Luke pulls into the parking lot at the on campus clinic and kills the engine.

“So do I,” He agrees. “But in case you’re not… I could use your help convincing Grey to pay for a home security system without tipping him off. Now that I’m not there all the time, I think it’s necessary.”

“I can do that,” I nod. “I’ll just tell him it’ll make me feel better about leaving Kate behind when I go back to Seattle. She still has a hard time staying in the house alone.”

“Good,” He replies. “Now let’s get this over with so you can get back to bed.”

With flu season in full swing, Student Health Services is packed, and, once I’ve checked in at the receptionist’s desk, I’m given paperwork to fill out and am told that it’ll be almost an hour before the doctor can see me. I spend a good deal of time glancing around at the waiting room at other students and I feel my spirits sink as I watch a girl a few seats away from me curl up into a ball in her chair, looking miserable. Apparently, even though I’ve been sick for days, I haven’t even gotten to the worst of this flu yet. She’s clearly much worse off than I am.

“Anastasia Steele?” A small woman dressed in sea green colored scrubs calls, and I smile at her as I reach over to squeeze Luke’s arm and then get out of my seats. She leads me to a small examination room, takes my vitals, asks for any medications I’m taking or allergies I have, and then sits me down on the exam table. She leaves the room and I have to wait almost another half an hour, this time without Luke to talk to, before the doctor finally comes in.

“Good Afternoon,” She greets me, as she reaches out to shake my hand. “I’m Dr. Young.”

“Anastasia Steele,” I reply. “But Ana, if it’s easier.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ana. What brings you in today?” She asks.

“I have the flu,” I tell her.

“It’s going around,” She sighs. “When did your symptoms start?”

“Last Friday,” I reply.

“And what symptoms have you been experiencing?”

“Nausea mostly. Fatigue. A low fever. Maybe a little dizziness.”

“Any aches or pains? Chills?” She asks.

“No, not really.”

“Has your nausea led to vomiting?”

“Yes,” I reply, and she gets up and walks around me, lifting my shirt a little to press on my lower back.

“Any pain here?”

“No.”

“And have you experienced a sore throat? Congestion? Diarrhea?”

“No,” I reply quickly, and while she hums under her breath she moves back to her computer, in front of me this time, and when I smell her perfume, I immediately feel my stomach lurch. I gag, and quickly reach up to cover my mouth with my hand, but I know from the past few days, once the nausea starts, there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Dr. Young quickly reaches for the wastebasket by the door and holds it out for me to throw up into, and when I’m finished, I apologize and take the paper towel she offers me to wipe my mouth.

“Well, you don’t have a fever or any of the other symptoms we’ve seen with this flu,” She says, “But clearly you’ve got something going on. Have you eaten anything unusual lately?”

“Not for the past few days,” I reply. “Toast and crackers mostly. But I did think the clams in the pasta I ate on Saturday tasted funny.”

“Are you sexually active.”

“Yes,” I tell her, feeling the unnecessary embarrassment rise to my cheeks.

“And what do you use for birth control?”

“Just the Ocella.”

“Condoms?” She asks, but I shake my head.

“Birth control pills don’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases,” She says disapprovingly.

“I have one partner,” I assure her. “I’m not concerned.”

“I see.” She writes something down on the clipboard in her hand, and then looks at me again. “And when was your last menstrual period?”

“Uh…” I hesitate. “I usually have it the 3rd week of the month. It’s hard to remember. Ever since I’ve started birth control, my periods have been pretty spotty. Some months I don’t really even have a period.”

“Okay.” She nods, making a note. “Have you gone out of the country recently?”

“No,” I shake my head. “I went to Hawaii a few months ago.”

“Any bug bites?”

“A couple maybe.”

She nods again as she makes another note and then gets up from her chair, setting her clipboard on the desk. “I’m going to order a few different tests so we can get a better idea of what’s going on, so if you’ll take this cup and give me a urine sample, I’ll have the phlebotomist come in to draw some blood.”

“Okay,” I agree. I take the cup and head into the bathroom. It’s awkward and almost a little embarrassing leaving the sample in the small metal box next to the toilet, but the embarrassment isn’t nearly as daunting as what’s waiting for me back in the room. A young man, who doesn’t look like he could be much older than me, is sitting next to the bed I’d just vacated, pulling tubes and vials out of a box.

Needles. I hate needles.

Once I’m back on the bed, he makes idle chit chat and begins wrapping my arm with a rubber band and feeling around for veins. When he actually pokes me with the needle, he asks me questions about my major and my plans for the coming Thanksgiving holiday to distract me, and I have to answer them while staring up at the cabinet next to the exam table. Thankfully though, he’s pretty good at finding a vein and the whole process is fairly quick. Almost as soon as I feel the sharp prick just below my elbow, he’s wrapping my arm with gauze and tape and then wishing me good luck, taking the vials of blood with him as he steps out of the room.

Luke is allowed to come sit with me while I wait for the results of my tests to come back and, while he tries to scare me by telling me I’ve most likely caught some horrific tropical disease, I lie back and fight the unrelenting exhaustion that seems to be my sole personality trait right now.

“Ana?” Dr. Young’s voice asks, tapping on the door.

“Come in,” I reply.

The door opens and I force myself to sit up, feeling a little bit of the dizziness now that I’m no longer upright. She enters the room, closes the door behind her, and settles down in the stool across from me.

“Well, I’ve reviewed the lab results and great news, your blood work looks great and you, my dear, are just as healthy as you can be.”

“So, I don’t have the flu?”

“No. You don’t have the flu.”

“Then what’s wrong with me?” I ask, confused.

“You’re pregnant,” She says, and as I stare blankly back at her, I think for just a moment that I might have hallucinated.

“I’m sorry,” I say, shaking my head slightly, “What?”

“You’re pregnant,” She repeats.

I gape at her, feeling as though all the blood in my body has suddenly gone cold. Pregnant? How could I possibly be pregnant?

“Anastasia?” Dr. Young checks, and I look up at her, feeling my eyes widen with my panic as I try and sort through this in my head.

“H-how…?” I ask.

“Well, oral contraception isn’t 100% effective-” She begins, but as I feel the reality of what’s happening beginning to weigh on me, my denial begins to bubble through my lips and I cut her off.

“No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” I repeat, over and over again. “I’m careful, diligent…  I can’t be pregnant. I can’t.”

“Well…” She hesitates. “Our tests have been wrong before. Why don’t you change into a paper gown and we’ll run an ultrasound, just to be sure.”  

I turn to look at Luke, who has gone completely pale, and he gets quickly out of his seat to exit the room. The doctor takes a hospital gown out from the cabinet and hands it to me, then steps out of the room to let me change. It takes me longer to get out of my clothes then it should because I’m shaking so badly I seem to have lost nearly all my coordination, but when I am covered again, I crack open the door and then take a seat on the table once more. Dr. Young comes back into the room a few minutes later, and she’s pulling a heavy machine with her.  

Once she’s set up, she helps me get into the correct position on the table and then pulls out a long stick, which she covers in plastic and lubricant.

“Okay,” She tells me, smiling much too brightly for someone holding a torture device in her hand. “This might be a little uncomfortable.”

I take a deep breath as she pushes the wand inside of me, and then immediately turn to look at the monitor. It’s hard to tell what I’m looking at and everything seems to be a little blurry, but I’ve never been so engrossed in anything in my life. I can’t even feel the discomfort of her searching around inside of me, and when she finds the small, round ball of black, she stops.

“Okay,” She says, pointing up to the screen. “This is your uterus, and this small white bean shape here is the fetus. That flicker you see in the picture, that’s the heartbeat.”

I inhale sharply as I look at the tiny bit of static on the monitor which is irrefutable proof that I am, in fact, pregnant. Dr. Young begins taking measurements and pictures of the baby, while I attempt to control the shakiness of my breathing. This has to be a nightmare. A fever induced nightmare. I’m going to wake up, in my bed at any second…

“Alright,” Dr. Young says as she finishes up and pulls the wand out of me. “It looks to me like you’re around eight weeks along. It’s going to put your due date right around June 18th.”

“How did this happen?” I ask again. “I’m perfect with my birth control. I’ve never missed a dose.”

“Oral contraception can be tricky,” She tells me. “They have to be taken at the same time every day…”

“I have an alarm on my phone,” I interrupt her. “I take it every morning at ten. I even have a different alarm for when I go to the west coast on the weekends so I can make sure that I’m consistent.”

“Have you taken any other medications or antibiotics?” She asks, and while I start to shake my head, I immediately freeze.

Antibiotics.

Fuck, fuck, fuck… when was I sick? The second week of September, that was… eight weeks ago. Fuck!

My birthday. I had a sinus infection on my birthday that I took antibiotics for and Christian and I… oh god.

I think Dr. Young can see the realization hit me, because she starts to nod as she prints the ultrasound pictures from the machine and then begins working on something on the tablet she’s brought into the room with her.

“I’ve been,” I swallow, trying to get a grip on myself. “I’ve been taking birth control and… and drinking.”

“Well,  you’ll need to stop doing both of those things immediately,” The doctor tells me. “I’ll give you some information about the dos and don’ts you should be aware of for the next few months and I can get you a 30 day supply of prenatal vitamins to take home with you today. If you’re interested, the clinic offers a maternity program that is generally more cost effective than traditional OB care, I can include information on the program with the rest.”

I look up at her, my mouth still open with shock. This is really happening. “I-I don’t… I don’t,” I stutter, still unable to form coherent sentences, and as she looks at the shock and panic clearly etched in my expression, the comforting smile she’s held in place since she’s come back into this room vanishes.

“Or… We could discuss other options?” She suggests.

“Other options?”

“Termination?”

“Like… like an abortion?” I clarify, and while she doesn’t nod yes or no, the careful, non-judgemental face she’s making is all the affirmation I need. Could I do that? Do I want to do that? Is that what Christian is going to want? Oh my god, Christian! What am I going to say to Christian?

As the reality starts to set in, my heartbeat quickens and I can feel my breathing become more shallow. I might be about to have a panic attack.

“Anastasia,” Dr. Young says, reaching out and placing a comforting hand over mine. “You don’t have to decide anything right now, we have time. Maybe you should go home, take a few days to process, and decide what you really want. When you’re sure, you can make another appointment and we’ll go from there.”

“Okay,” I agree.

“Do you want your ultrasound pictures?”

“Yes, please,” I nod, and then, because I’ve been such a headcase for the last few minutes and she’s shown me nothing but kindness, understanding, and patience, I add, ” Thank you.”

“Of course, Anastasia.” She hands me the photograph, which I take with shaking hands, several informational pamphlets, and the package of prenatal vitamins she promised, and then smiles at me as she leaves the room to allow me to get dressed again. I place the ultrasound photo on the examination table and stare at it as I pull off the paper gown and slowly slip back into my clothes. The small white spot in the center of the dark circle looks so unthreatening from here, but right now, it feels as though it’s going to cause my world to fall apart.

When I’m dressed, I pick up the picture and turn for the hallway where I find Luke waiting, looking as pale as I’m sure I do. He doesn’t say anything to me, he simply holds my coat up for me to slide my arms into and then leads me through the office towards the car. We’re silent as we pull out of the parking lot and start towards home, mostly because I’m not even sure what to say.

“You didn’t call…” I start hesitantly.

“No,” He replies, “You think I want to be the one to tell him?”

“What am I going to do, Luke?” I ask desperately.

“Well, I think you’re going to have a baby.”

“Am I?” I ask, and his head jerks sharply to the side.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m still in school. Christian and I don’t even live on the same side of the side of the country. I don’t even think he wants kids. I mean, I’m not ready for this. We’ve only been back together for five months, that’s nothing. We’re not married. He hasn’t even met my fath-” I freeze. “Oh god, Ray! My dad doesn’t even know Christian exists. I’m pregnant with a man my father knows nothing about. This is a nightmare! I can’t do this…”

“Are you saying you want to… get rid of it?” Luke checks, and immediately I fall silent. Is that what I’m saying? This whole thing feels so unexpected, definitely not how I have ever planned to have this situation go. But, even being as freaked out as I am right now, do I want to terminate the pregnancy?

I reach down to cover my stomach with my hands, imagining the small peanut shaped blob of white inside that isn’t just a spot on a picture. It’s a baby. It’s Christian’s baby. It’s my baby. It’s a life that we’ve created together through a physical expression of love.

My mind immediately shifts back to my birthday, to that night when this baby was conceived. It had been perfect. In all the times Christian and I have made love, I had never felt more connected to him than I did that night, and in that connection, we made a baby together. Heat floods my body as I once again feel the depth of the love that had filled me that night as I listened to his words and felt his touch, and I know in that moment that, though this was unplanned, it was meant to be. I glance down at my hands and picture the flicker of the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor, and as I imagine that flicker just beneath my palms, I know that termination isn’t an option.

“Ana,” Luke says with cautious anger when I don’t respond to his question. “You need to talk to Grey before you make that decision because I’m not going to…”

“I’m not going to get an abortion, Luke,” I cut him off. “No… I don’t want that. I’m going to keep the baby. Of course, I’m going to keep the baby.”

He relaxes a little and nods. We’re home now, so once he’s pulled up the alley behind our house, he kills the engine and then turns to look at me.

“So what do you want to do?” He asks. “We’re supposed to go to Seattle on Friday, are you going to tell him then?”

And live with this secret for three days?

“No,” I reply, shaking my head. “I can’t wait until the weekend, but I don’t want to tell him over the phone.”

“Well, let’s start by getting you inside.”

I nod and then climb out of the car, dragging my feet as I walk towards the house. I’m so numb that I don’t even feel the difference in temperature when I step through the glass door, let alone notice Kate sitting at the dining room table with food and book propped open in front of her.

“Hey, how’d the doctor go?” She asks.

I stare back at her blankly, still unable to say the words out loud, and as she waits for my response, her face steadily falls into a look of panic. “What’s wrong, Ana?”

“I– I’m,” I take a deep breath. “I’m pregnant.”

“What!” She exclaims, her eyes immediately shifting to Luke as though she’s looking for confirmation.

“Oh, you heard correctly,” He assures her.

“Okay…” She replies slowly, clearly still trying to process this new information. “So… just so I’m clear, are we happy about this or…?”

“Happy,” I tell her, though my voice still doesn’t have the conviction I feel growing stronger and stronger with each passing second, so I reaffirm the statement again. “We’re happy about it. I’m keeping it.”

“What did Christian say?” She asks.

“I haven’t told him yet.”

“Ooh,” She says, sucking a sharp breath in through her teeth, like she just saw someone take a horrible fall down the stairs.

“Can you guys give me a minute?” I ask. “I’m going to call him.”

“Yeah,” Luke says, pushing off the wall and turning to leave the room. Kate gets up from the table and turns to follow him, but she stops very suddenly and then rushes across the room to wrap me in a hug.

“Congratulations, Ana.” She says. “I’m happy for you, and whatever he says… I’ll be here for you.”

“Thanks, Kate,” I nod, and she gives me a small, nervous smile before turning to leave the kitchen.

I pace back and forth in front to the oven for a minute, trying to work up the nerve to make the call, but it’s impossible. I don’t know if he’s going to be angry and if he is, I don’t think I’m ready to face that. This is a good thing, a wonderful thing. I want him to feel that with me, and maybe he will. With shaking hands I pull out my phone, find Christian’s name in the recent calls, and then hold it up to my ear.

“What did the doctor say?” He answers immediately, the concern already apparent in his voice.

“Christian, I– I need you to come to Cambridge,” I tell him.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I just need you to come here, okay?” I say weakly, as, for the first time since I found out, I feel tears begin to prick behind my eyes. “Please?”

“Okay,” He says. “I have an important meeting tomorrow at three but, once it’s over,  I’ll get on a pl…”

“No,” I interrupt him. “I need you to come here, right now. Tonight.”

He’s quiet for a heart beat, and the silence breaks the last of my resistance, causing irrational, probably hormone fueled tears start flowing freely down my cheeks.

“I’ll be there in 7 hours,” He says, at last.

“Thank you.”

“I love you,” He tells me, and the way he says it almost sounds as though he’s not sure I’m going to say it back.

“I love you, too. I’ll see you soon, bye.”

I hang up the phone and quickly dash the tears from my eyes. I can’t be like this when Christian gets here, it’ll only freak him out more and I don’t want that. This is scary but the longer I have to think about this little life growing inside of me, to feel connected to it, the more I’m able to feel the resounding joy in it. I’m going to be a mother, I’m going to have a family with Christian, and if he accepts it, shares my happiness, I think this will actually mean that I’m going to get everything I’ve ever wanted.

But only if he’s on board.

I need to get a grip and put on a strong front so I can show him that this is a good thing. It’s scary now, but in the end, it’s going to be wonderful. I take a deep breath and decide to go take a shower, hoping the hot water will help me relax and clear my head so that when Christian gets here, I’m ready to face whatever version of him I’m going to be up against.

The next few hours are the longest of my life. I have homework I should be catching up on since I’ve missed three days of school, but I can’t sit still long enough to work on anything. I can’t do anything but stare nervously out the window.

Christian texts me at about 11:30 to tell me he’s landed in Boston, and in the 20 minutes it takes for him to get to Cambridge, Kate and Luke both disappear upstairs. I’m pacing back and forth across the living room, rehearsing what I’m going to say for the hundred-millionth time, when I see headlights of Christian’s rental car pull into the back alley through the kitchen window. The nerves creep up into my throat, choking me slightly, so I take a long, shaky breath and then remind myself over and over again that he loves me, until I hear the door slide open.

“Anastasia!” He calls, his voice fully panicked.

“I’m in here,” I call back meekly. His footfalls are heavy as he moves quickly through the kitchen, and when he comes around the corner and sees me standing there, waiting for him, he stops  for a moment, looks me up and down, and then practically charges towards me to wrap me in his arms. I see Taylor out of the corner of my eye, shooting a concerned look in my direction before disappearing up the stairs as well.

“I’m here,” Christian whispers against my hair. “What is it?”

“Have a seat,” I tell him as I push out of his arms and gesture to the couch. He backs up slowly, not taking his eyes off of me, until his legs hit the cushions and he slowly lowers himself down.

“I don’t really know where to start…” I tell him, and I watch his adam’s apple jump as he swallows.

“Is it cancer?” He asks.

“What?”

“Is that what’s wrong with you? Is it cancer?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head quickly. “No, I’m not dying, Christian. I’m fine.”

He hesitates for a moment, examining my face as though he’s trying to decide whether or not he believes me, but a second later, he exhales with relief and his entire body relaxes.

“Oh, thank god,” He says. “Don’t you ever do that to me again, Anastasia. Do you have any idea how terrifying the last few hours have been for me?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d go right to death! I just, I didn’t want to tell you this over the phone…”

Immediately, he’s back on his guard again. “Tell me what?”

“Just… I just need you to… what I mean is that…” I stutter, struggling to find the words.

“What is it, Ana?” He demands.  

“I’m… Christian, I’m pregnant.”

The moment the words are out of my mouth, his face immediately goes blank. “What?” He asks, the strength completely gone from his voice.

“I’m pregnant,” I repeat. “About eight weeks. Apparently, the antibiotics I was taking when I had that sinus infection made my birth control fail. I got pregnant on my birthday.”

I pause, waiting to see if he’s going to respond to me, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything. His face is still completely blank, his eyes wide and unmoving. I think he might actually be going into shock…

“I’m sorry,” I tell him, tears welling in my eyes again. “I didn’t know. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I know you said you wanted to wait and I did too, but it’s happened now and… and I want it. I didn’t know I would, but I do. I want this baby more than I’ve ever wanted anything.” I stop and stare at him, waiting for anything, and it takes forever. I can see it when the initial shock wears off and he starts to process because his eyes start shifting back and forth. Still, I don’t say anything, I let the words sit between us until finally, he looks up at me.

“You’re pregnant,” He says, not a question.

“I’m pregnant,” I affirm, and then, miraculously, he leaps to his feet and kisses me, hard. It takes me a moment to react, but when I do, I’m hit with a tsunami of emotion at once. Elation, joy, relief… they all crash over me, rise up inside of me, until it all comes bubbling through my eyes.

“You’re not mad?” I check, astounded by the happiness I see reflected in his eyes when he pulls away from the kiss to look at me.

“Mad? No. Anastasia, we’re having a baby. You and I… We’re going to be a real family. Forever. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. How could I possibly be mad?”

“You said you wanted to wait,” I say, tears of joy now streaming down my cheeks and over the uncontrollable smile stretching wide across my face. “You said you weren’t sure you even wanted kids.”

“You know me,” He replies, beaming. “I never know what I want until it hits me right in the face, or at least runs into me in dormitory at Harvard University.”

I laugh. “So, you’re happy? Really? You’re not just in shock?”

“Oh, I’m definitely in shock,” He says. “And I’m probably going to be in shock until I hold our baby in my arms, but I promise you, I am more than just happy right now. I love you so much, Anastasia.”

He kisses me again, more passionately this time. I feel his tongue brush my lips, and so I open my mouth for him, reaching up into his hair so that I can hold him to me while we share our jubilation with each other.

“Well,” He says, stepping back once again and reaching up to cup my cheek. “Let’s get you packed. We’ll take whatever you’re going to need for the next few days and then Sawyer can bring the rest. I’ll find someone to marry us first thing tomorrow and then we’re going to find you the best Obstetrician in Seattle.”

“Wait… Seattle?” I ask, my smile faltering a little. “What do you mean?”

“You need a doctor, Anastasia,” He says. “A good one. I only want the best for you and for our baby. But don’t worry, my mother knows everyone, she’ll make sure we have the best.”

“Yeah, but I’m not going home, Christian. I’m not dropping out of school.”

“But… you’re pregnant,” He says, and now it’s him who sounds confused.

“It’s not a disability. I have six more months until I graduate and the baby isn’t due for seven. I’ll have to find an OB in Cambridge, or Boston maybe. I’m not leaving Harvard.”

“What do you mean you’re not leaving Harvard?” He asks, and now I hear the defensive anger rising in his tone. “Of course you are, I’m not leaving you across the country while you’re pregnant.”

“That’s not up to you,” I tell him, “Wait… Is this why you’re happy? Because you think I’m going to move home?”

“Of course not,” He says, but his confidence in his denial lessens when I raise an accusatory eyebrow at him. “Okay, fine. Yes, a little. You’re having a baby. That’s wonderful and I’m happy, but I also want you home. What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with that is that you don’t care what I want at all. Why can’t you understand what Harvard means to me, Christian? I worked hard to get here, I’ve worked hard to stay here, and I made a promise to my dad and to myself that I would graduate. I’m not going to give up my dream of graduating from Harvard six months before I achieve it. Not for anything.”

“Don’t say that I haven’t supported you finishing your education. I didn’t try and stop you when you wanted to come back here,” He argues. “When you said you wouldn’t stay, I accepted it. I don’t want to take this away from you, but this pregnancy isn’t just about you, Anastasia. That’s my baby, too.”

“I never said it wasn’t.”

“Well, if you stay here, I’m going to miss everything. Doctors appointments, lamaze classes, the first time it kicks… What if you go into labor and I’m 3000 miles away?”

“First of all, if I go into labor and I’m still in Boston, we have bigger problems than you being in Seattle because it will mean I’ve gone into labor more than a month early. And, I know that this isn’t ideal and the timing of this sucks, but I’m not going to throw away my dream so that you can go to lamaze classes.”

“So, I just don’t get a say in that?” He snaps.

“Do you really think that you’d be there anyway?” I accuse him, and he narrows his eyes at me.

“I got on a plane at a moment’s notice and flew across the country for you today, Anastasia. Are you really questioning my commitment to you right now?”

“No, but you thought I had cancer. Not every doctor’s appointment is exciting or life changing, Christian. Most of the next few months, I’m just going to go in there to get a regular check up. Can you honestly tell me that you would cancel a lunch with a client, or your operations meeting, or a business trip so you could hear a doctor tell you nothing has changed or so you could go practice breathing exercises with me?”

“No, you would run all of your appointments through Andrea first so we can align your appointments and classes around my schedule,” He says, and before the words are even all the way out of his mouth, I can see the regret in his eyes. “That came out wrong…”

“I don’t think it did,” I say angrily. “Our lives can’t be all about you and GEH, Christian. I’m not giving up my dreams and everything that I’ve worked for to structure my life around what is convenient for you. I’m sorry that you may miss things, that kills me, but I’m not leaving.”

“Well, I don’t agree with that.”

“Tough.”

He takes a deep breath through his nose, clearly trying to calm himself so that he doesn’t explode on me, and while he turns away from me, running his hands through his hair while he paces across the living room, I start again so that I can head off whatever argument I know he’s formulating.

“Don’t act like I’m not home three days a week,” I argue. “Or that I’m not going to be home for over a full week later this month, more than four weeks between December and January, and another week in March. I will make sure that you get to experience this pregnancy with me as much as possible, but I’m not going to drop out of school with six months left just so you have the choice to go with me for a checkup at the doctor’s office if it’s convenient for you.”

His jaw tightens and his lips push together into a tight line as he turns around and sits on the couch. I stand there and wait for him to work through this for a minute, but when the anger recedes and he looks up at me again, he doesn’t look pacified or even defeated. He looks sad, and that makes me feel much worse.

“Fine,” He says at last. “Stay.”

I sigh and then move next to him on the couch, lifting his arm and placing it over me so that I can cuddle into his side.

“I know this is hard,” I say softly. “I’m sorry. I wish this would have happened six months from now so that we could do this the way we both want to. But, if I’ve learned anything over the past three months, it’s that we can make this work. We’re so great now. We’ve learned to communicate and to compromise… we know how to make each other a priority without abandoning everything else in our life. I love you, Christian, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you don’t miss anything. I promise.”

He leans over and kisses my hair. “Okay,” He says at last. “I love you, too.”

“Mmm,” I hum. “You know the doctor told me today that my due date is on June 18th. Our baby could be born on your birthday.”

“I couldn’t think of a better gift,” He says. “Do you have a picture or something I can see?”

“Oh, yeah.” I quickly get off the couch and make my way into the kitchen where I left my purse. The ultrasound pictures are in an envelope inside so I pull them out and then hurry back into the living room to give them to Christian.

“Right here?” He asks, pointing to white little peanut in the center of all the black.

“Mhm,” I nod. Christian brushes his finger over the picture, staring at it intensely until he has to push his lips together to hide the barely noticeable quivering that has begun.

“We’re having a baby,” He says again, and I let out a small breathy laugh.

“Yes, we are.”

“You know… I just proposed to you and you haven’t said anything yet.”

“That’s funny, I never heard a question,” I tell him, and he looks up at me for a moment, then sets the picture down on the table and takes my hands in his.

“Anastasia…” He begins, and suddenly my eyes widen with panic.

“No,” I say quickly, yanking my fingers out of his grasp. “No, no, no. Not like this.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t want you to propose to me just because I got pregnant,” I tell him. “What about all the other stuff you said before about not wanting us to be apart for our entire engagement and asking my father?”

“I think it’s a little late to ask your father, don’t you?” He asks sardonically, but I ignore his tone and shake my head.

“No, I don’t. We might be going out of order, but I don’t want us to go into marriage feeling like there’s a shotgun coming up the aisle after us. I want you to propose to me only because you love me and you want to spend the rest of your life with me, not because I got knocked up. I want us to be ready and with me living here, and you living there, and all of the stress that this pregnancy is going to add to our situation, I don’t feel ready. Especially if even your proposal comes as an afterthought to the baby.”

“You want romance,” He infers.

“Yes,” I agree, and he sighs.

“I do love you, Anastasia, more than anything. I do want to spend the rest of my life with you. But you’re right, you deserve the perfect proposal. I don’t even have your ring on me. So I’ll wait, for the right moment.”

“Thank you,” I tell him, and then lean in and kiss him softly on the lips.

“It’s late, we should go to bed,” He whispers against my lips. “Your body needs all the rest it can get.”

“Okay,” I nod, and as if to emphasize his point, a deep yawn forces it’s way out of me as he gets off the couch and reaches for my hand to help me to my feet. He doesn’t say anything more as he leads me up the stairs, but it’s a comfortable silence. His thumb runs lovingly over the back of my knuckles the entire way up to my bedroom until I have to let go of his hand to change into pajamas and then move into the bathroom to wash my face..

He’s quicker than I am at getting ready for bed, so he’s the first to crawl under the covers, and when I finally am able to settle in next to him, the bed is already warm and inviting. He pulls me against him, encircling me with his arms, and when I feel his hand come down to rest over my belly, I feel a warm feeling of comfort that I carry with me until I fall asleep.

Next Chapter

Chapter 02

Image result for landline phone

I groan as the alarm on my phone pulls me out of the last dregs of sleep. It’s Monday, spring break is over and it’s back to reality. Not that it was much of a break… I’ve been killing myself for months trying to finish my first full manuscript, but the days when the words flowed from me as freely as a faucet turned all the way to high are over, and it’s been weeks since I’ve made any progress. The truth is, I don’t know how the story ends… because I’m still living it.

I sit up and push my laptop across the mattress. I really need to stop trying to work at bedtime. I’ve turned into a fairly restless sleeper and one day, I’m going to wake up and find my laptop on the ground broken into smithereens.

My phone is still vibrating furiously on my bedside table, so I reach over to turn off my alarm, and the moment I do, I see a Google notification flash across the screen.


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, March 22nd 2010: ABA Recipient Announced. Grey Enterprises Holdings CEO, Christian Grey, is to be honored as Executive of the Year at the 8th Annual American Business Awards ceremony taking place in New York on April 2nd for his outstanding work with […]


Of course he is.

It’s been nearly two years since I broke up with Christian Grey, and yet, he’s still as big a presence in my life as ever. Maybe it’s because I spend every day with his brother Elliot, or because I’m still living in the house we picked out together when we were happy, or maybe… it’s because, for all my talk, I still can’t let him go. Something clearly demonstrated by the Google Alert still open on my phone.

I clear the notification and scramble out of bed to get dressed to go to the gym with Kate. In the very beginning of my P.C. (Post Christian) days, I’d taken up running as a way to clear my mind and work out some of the physical anxiety caused by his absence. I hated it at first but now, I can’t go a day without it. I’ve officially turned into one of those “gym people” that I used to hate.

“Good morning, Ana,” Kate greets me cheerfully when I get to the kitchen. “Did you make any progress last night?”

“No,” I reply solemnly as I grab everything I need to make a bowl of cereal and drag it to the kitchen table with me. It’s not unlike Kate, sleuth reporter extraordinaire, to know about my writer’s block, even though I haven’t really talked to her about it.

“You’ll get it,” She reassures me.

Kate is much better about breakfast than I am, but that is also probably because she takes it upon herself to make breakfast for her boyfriend as well. After he graduated from MIT last year, Elliot got a job as an engineering consultant at a large company in Boston. He hates it because he doesn’t get to actually design or build anything, but unless he wants to find a job somewhere else and leave Kate behind in Cambridge for her senior year at Harvard next year, he’s stuck. I think she feels bad about it because lately, she’s done everything she can to make things easier for him.

There’s been a pretty drastic change in Elliot’s personality over the last two years. He’s not as jovial as he once was and I’m not sure if he’s just growing up, or struggling with hating his job, or worse, becoming hardened from being stuck in the middle of one of the worst family feuds since the Montagues and the Capulets, his father on one side, and his brother on the other.

Kate sets a plate of toast, bacon, and a bowl of scrambled eggs on the table. Once she has her own plate filled, she takes the seat next to me, but the second she sits down, the phone hanging on the wall by the fridge begins to ring. Kate groans.

“I’ll give you a hundred dollars to answer that,” She pleads, but I narrow my eyes at her.

“Fat chance,” I reply. She sighs and drags her feet to the phone.

“Hello?” She answers. “Hi, Christian. Nope, you just missed her. No, I don’t know when Ana’s going to be back but I can tell her that you called.”

Elliot comes into the kitchen then, picking up a piece of toast off the table and turning to look curiously at Kate.

“Is that Christian?” He asks, and I nod as I take a bite of cereal. Of course it’s Christian. It’s always Christian. Elliot turns back to Kate and motions for the phone.

“Hey, Christian…” She says. “Elliot wants to talk to you, hold on for a second, okay?”

“What’s up, Christian? How’s the world of mergers and acquisitions?” Elliot asks as he takes the phone from her. “Oh, well that sounds… boring as shit, actually. Hey, are you really going to this thing this weekend? Really? ‘Cause if I take Friday off work and fly all the way out to Seattle and you’re not there, I’m going to be fucking pissed. Alright… well, I’ll see you this weekend, I guess. Laters, bro.”

“What was that?” Kate asks when Elliot hangs up the phone.

“I need you to skip class on Friday, is that okay?”

“I guess, but how come?”

“It’s my mom’s birthday and when Dad asked her what she wanted to do, she said all she wanted was a dinner with the family. The entire family.”

“Wait, all of you?” I ask, dropping my spoon in surprise. Elliot shrugs.

“My mom doesn’t hate, Christian. She wants to see him. She misses him and so does Mia.”

“But, your dad…” Kate hesitates. “He and Christian are going to be in the same room together?”

“Looks like it,” Elliot says, and Kate gives me an uneasy sideways glance.

I know that Carrick hasn’t seen or spoken to Christian since the trial almost two years ago. He took what happened that day really hard, so much so that he nearly lost his license to practice law after he’d had a break down in court defending a man who’d been accused of kidnapping and murdering a seventeen year old girl a few months later. Shortly after that, he sold his practice and went to work for the Washington state prosecutor’s office for a while, until he eventually settled at a small general practice firm where he now mostly represents clients going through divorces, bankruptcy, or who have committed misdemeanor crimes. Elliot doesn’t think he has the same sense of satisfaction in his work anymore and is maybe even thinking of retirement. It’s added fuel to the fire between Carrick and Christian, and now the more success Christian finds in the business world, the more unlikely it seems that Carrick will ever forgive his son.

“Look,” Elliot begins. “It’ll be fine. Dad will sit on one side of the table, Christian will sit on the other, they won’t talk to each other all night, it’ll be awkward as fuck, and then Christian will leave. Honestly I’m getting really fucking tired of all this shit. It’s been two years, everyone needs to get the fuck over it. Shutting him out or letting him cut himself off from us isn’t helping anything. He needs us all now more than ever.”

I blanch and Elliot looks at me regretfully. “Um… well, it’s different for you, Ana. I mean, I get it. He lied to you, and you can’t trust him, and all that is fine, but he’s family to us, you know? I mean, it’s not like my Dad can shut him out forever. For you…”

“It’s fine, Elliot,” I tell him, and then turn to Kate. “Look, I have to finish some things up on campus before class today so if we’re going to go to the gym, we need to leave.”

“Okay,” She says, taking a long drink of orange juice and getting up from the table. I gather all the things I’m going to need today, including a change of clothes for after the gym, wish Elliot a good day at work, and head out the back door to Kate’s Mercedes.

After a long, sweaty run, I take a shower and head out to grab some coffee before class. When I get to the coffee house, I run into my friend Luke Sawyer, who I met at the beginning of my sophomore year. He was hired as part of the security initiative put into place over that summer in response to Kate’s stalker incident the year before. A few days after school started, he had walked me back from the library to Kate’s car, which I had borrowed so I could stay on campus later. I liked him instantly. He was funny and had some great stories. After that, I saw him a few more times on campus and, eventually, we became friends. Now, besides Kate and Elliot, he’s probably the best friend I have at Harvard. He’s a little older than me, but only by a few years. It’s nice though, he’s mature.

“Hey, Ana,” He greets me. “Just getting back from the gym?”

“Yeah, and I’m running a little bit behind this morning,” I tell him as try and balance the books in my arms with the coffee the barista hands me.

“Here,” He says, taking the books out of my hands and chuckling. “Why don’t I walk you to class?”

“My hero,” I say gratefully, and he rolls his eyes.

“It’s literally my job,” He laughs, then he opens the door for me and we set off towards the English building.

Courses are much different now than they were my freshman and sophomore years. I only have one lecture class, Representation of Race in Post War American and British Fiction, and the rest of my classes are more directed study. My favorite is my Advanced Fiction Writing course, not only because it gives me time to work on my impossible manuscript, but because it gives me a chance to get insight from Dr. Thomas Ralston, who is not only the head of the English Department here at Harvard, but who has also written dozens of books that have changed my outlook on countless things. He’s the reason my focus has shifted from literature to writing.

I take my regular seat at the front of the class and wait eagerly for Dr. Ralston to begin. He starts the class with his usual Q & A session where students can ask his advice for where they are in their own writing or questions about writing in general. I always take accurate notes, transcribing every word he says verbatim, and it’s helped me on more than one occasion. When the Q & A session is over and he gives us a thought to ponder for the day, he turns the class over to us, allowing us time to work on whatever writing project we have going.

I open my laptop and stare down at the last sentence I was able to type out on my manuscript, which was written nearly six weeks ago. It’s frustrating not being able to move forward from here, but I can’t figure out how the characters will realistically overcome the obstacles I’ve given them. Everything seems so insurmountable, but the idea of not giving them relief or resolution in the end is just too much for me to handle. I’ve lived this life with them for almost a year now, it would break my heart to leave them wounded.

By the end of class, no progress has been made. I morosely place my laptop back in my bag and as I do, I’m approached by Dr. Ralston.

“Anastasia, do you have a minute to spare after class? I’ve finished reviewing the draft you submitted and I’d like to talk to you about it in my office.”

“Sure,” I tell him, standing eagerly and following him out of the classroom. He leads me up a flight of rickety stairs at the end of the hall and opens the door to his office for me. I take a seat across from him at his desk and wait anxiously for him to begin.

“How’re things going, Anastasia?” He asks.

“Slowly… I’m having trouble with the ending.”

“Well, I have to say that I’m very impressed by what I’ve read so far. Mental illness is an extraordinarily difficult topic to explore in fiction and you’ve done it beautifully. Your depiction of living with depression is truly moving.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’d love to work with you more on this. I think you have something special here. Perhaps with some fine tuning, this work could be publishable.”

“Really?” I ask, shocked.

“Absolutely. It’s a remarkable piece.”

“I’d love any advice you could give me, sir. Thank you so much!”

“Absolutely, it’ll be my pleasure. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I am the faculty advisor for The Crimson, the paper here on campus. We’re always looking for writers with a fresh perspective to submit content. Perhaps you could draft a few pieces for my staff to review? If you’re any good, you could become a regular contributor.”

“Really?” I ask again, feeling as though I must be positively beaming. I don’t know whether or not I should bring up the fact that the editor of The Crimson, Kate, just so happens to be my best friend in the whole world and that unless my piece is submitted anonymously, the review will be biased… but, I decide against it. It might not be the most ethical thing to withhold, but being published in The Crimson is a really big deal. Besides, Kate wouldn’t put anything in there if she didn’t think it was good enough.

“Your writing is really outstanding, Anastasia,” He continues with a smile.

“I’d be honored. I have some samples I can bring to you later this week.”

“Then I shall let my staff know to expect them.”

“Thank you, Dr. Ralston,” I smile. He shakes my hand and I leave his office feeling as though I’d like to skip across campus. The Thomas Ralston is going to mentor me through completing my first novel AND he’s recommending me to be published in The Crimson! The vindication is overwhelmingly satisfying.

I dig in my bag and fish out my cell phone, scrolling through my contacts until I find Luke’s name.

“What’s up, Ana?” He asks when he answers.

“You’ll never guess what just happened!”

“Should I try?”

“Meet me in the Quad. You’re going to flip.”

“You’re joking!” Luke says when I tell him the good news. I shake my head, smiling broadly at him and he pulls me into a hug. “Congratulations, Ana! That’s awesome!”

“I’m dying a little,” I tell him. “Now I just have to go home and decide which pieces I want to send to The Crimson.”

“I’m sure whatever you pick is going to be fantastic. You’ll remember me when you’re famous, right?”

I laugh. “I don’t know… I think I might be having trouble already. What’s your name again?”

“Shut up,” He says, shoving me playfully. I giggle as I grab onto his jacket to prevent myself from falling over, and he looks guiltily back at me as he helps steady me on my feet. He always forgets that my inability to stay firmly on two feet at any given time is practically a disability.

“Well, I better get going. It’s getting late and it’ll take me a while to walk home. I’ve got loads to get done,” I tell him.

“You’re walking?”

“Sure, you know where I live. It’s not that far.”

“It’s getting dark… let me go with you.”

“Thanks Luke, I’ll be okay.”

“Hey, my job is to ensure the safety of the young women on this campus. You don’t intend on preventing me from doing my job, do you?” He asks seriously.

“No, I suppose not,” I tell him, and he motions me forward. I shake my head at him exasperatedly and then hook my arm through his as I being walking in the direction of my house. On the way home, he tells me about his day and the weird things he’s seen on campus. Fortunately, a lot of the new programs Harvard has put in place to protect the student body have been really successful. Unfortunately for Luke, most of his days are filled with little more than people watching, which is, more often than not, completely dull.

When we get to my house, I ask if he wants to stay for dinner, but he says he has to get back to campus. I give him a grateful hug for the escort and then wave goodbye as he disappears down the street and around the corner.

“Kate, I’m back!” I call when I walk through the front door of our townhouse.

“In the kitchen!” She calls back. “There’s mail for you on the breakfast bar.”

I hurry over to the kitchen and pick up the stack of letters addressed to me. Two of them are junk, one is my phone bill, one is a letter from Ray, and the last one bears the logo of the company I applied to for an internship in New York this summer.

“Oh…” I say nervously, turning the envelope over in my hands.

“That’s for your internship, right?” She asks excitedly as she stirs a pot on the stove. “Open it!”

I bite down on my lip and scan the letter. It’s good news… and bad.

“Well?” Kate asks.

“I got accepted…”

“Ana, that’s great!” She replies. “Congratulations!”

“It’s unpaid…”

“It’s an internship,” She shrugs as if this should have been obvious.

“But, I can’t take an unpaid internship. Especially not in New York. How will I pay for a place to live, or food, or all of my other bills?”

“Maybe your parents could help you out?” She suggests.

“No, they can’t afford that. Mom and Bob bought my books again this semester and I can’t ask my Dad for money… Not after everything he’s already given me to keep me here.”

“Well, we’ll figure something out,” Kate reassures me, but I shake my head.

“There’s other places I can apply. New York was always kind of a pipe dream anyway.” Honestly, I don’t even know why I want to go back there. My last trip to New York was memorable for all the wrong reasons and I still have the emotional scars to show for it.

“I can see if there’s anything available at my Dad’s company,” Kate offers. “You could live with me so you wouldn’t have to worry about a place to live or any other expenses.”

“Maybe,” I reply, noncommittal. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the office, it’s just that I know Kate is working there this summer and, as much as I love her, I don’t want our internships to become competitive. Kate has a thing with being the best and I really need a solid recommendation at the end of the summer for my resume. Graduation is fast approaching and soon, I’m going to have to start looking for jobs in the real world.

“You know, there is one person you could ask who I bet would be more than willing to offer you a position for the summer…” She says carefully, and I glare at her, knowing immediately who she means. “I’m just saying,” She continues defensively. “He owns a really big company and a personal recommendation from him at the end of the summer could go a long way.”

“I already live in a house he bought,” I tell her, a little too harshly. “I don’t need to be anymore beholden to Christian Grey.”

“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, Ana. Besides, Carrick bought the house… It’s just Christian’s name is on the deed.”

“Not anymore,” Elliot says as he enters the kitchen and kisses Kate on the cheek. “He bought the house from Dad last year.”

“What?” Kate asks.

“Yeah, Dad sent him some legal thing that told him he had to sign the deed over or pay for the house. Christian sent him the money.”

“So, Christian’s our landlord?” I ask, but Elliot shakes his head.

“I think he’d have to charge us rent to be considered a landlord.”

“And you didn’t think to mention any of that?” I ask irritably. Elliot looks at me like he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do anymore.

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk about him!”

I shake my head, pull the letter from Ray out of the envelope, and immediately smile when I see his messy handwriting. He tells me about what he’s been up to lately, about some of the people he’s grown close to over there, complains about the food, and tells me for the hundred millionth time how proud he is of me. It’s a bittersweet kind of feeling. He seems to be doing okay, but… I miss him. His two years in Iraq turned into four immediately after my sophomore year. I saw him for three days over this last summer before he had to go back. The entire time I’ve been at Harvard, our relationship has been reduced to sporadic letters and phone calls on Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In a weird way though, it’s good. I never told Ray about Christian when we were still together. I didn’t want to put something that at the time felt so momentous in a letter. I wanted to at least do it over the phone… but Christian and I broke up before I got the chance and now, I’m grateful. Unlike my mother, Ray doesn’t call me every time Grey Enterprises Holdings is in the news or ask me if I’ve heard from Christian lately. He doesn’t give me looks of pity every time there is a child molestation case on the front page of the newspaper or ask if I’ve thought about dating yet. Even when he wrote me to ask about the care package sent by the Greys over that first Christmas, I was able to play it off by saying it was from a friend, who he now thinks is Elliot.

Christian and Ray are completely separate parts of my life, and I prefer it that way.

As I read more of the letter, I come across a part that is a little confusing:

Mr. Anderson wrote to me, you know, our neighbor in Montesano? He’s been looking after the house for me while I’m over here, mowing the lawn, and getting the mail. He told me that the checks I’ve been sending to Harvard to pay my portion of your tuition have been returned. Now, I know you’ve been in school, so maybe you should check with the admissions office to make sure there isn’t a problem with your enrollment. I’d hate for you to lose credit for all the work you’ve done.

Let me know what you find out. Love you, Annie, and miss you every day.

-Dad

I stare down at the letter confused. What does he mean the checks have been sent back? Shit, what if my enrollment didn’t go through and I’m not actually getting credit for all these classes? No… If I wasn’t enrolled, the professors would have no record of me. I’ll have to go down there tomorrow and find out what’s going on. Maybe my scholarships were just bigger this year and I just didn’t realize it. I did make the Dean’s List the last four semesters…

“Hungry, Ana?” Kate asks as she dishes a bowl of soup and passes it to Elliot.

“Yeah,” I tell her, setting down the letter and getting my own bowl out of the cupboard. When we sit down to dinner I tell Kate and Elliot what happened with Dr. Ralston and she beams at me and begins asking which of the short essays that I have saved on my computer I plan to send into The Crimson.

“What about that one… oh, what was it called? Feminism is the Dirtiest F Word. I’ve really wanted to do a piece about institutionalized sexism in elite education,” She suggests.

“Maybe,” I say. It’s not a terrible idea, even if the professor who graded me on it didn’t seem to like it very much. I have a feeling though, that has something to do with the “institutionalized sexism” Kate is talking about. I didn’t hold back in that essay…

“I can’t believe you’re book is going to get published!” Kate squeals. “Elliot, isn’t that amazing?”

“Uh… yeah,” He says, looking up from his phone which I’m sure he’s using to check baseball scores. “That’s the sad book, right?”

“It’s not sad,” Kate says defensively. “It’s moving.”

“It’s pretty sad,” I laugh. “But don’t get ahead of yourself, Kate. He said he would work with me on it. It’s not like it’ll get published just because I finish it.”

“It’ll get published,” She says confidently. “It’s so good, Ana.”

“Thank-you,” I tell her, feeling heat rush to my face as I blush.

After dinner, I help Kate clean the kitchen while Elliot screams at the Mariners on the TV. Apparently they haven’t been having a great season… When we’re finished, I tell Kate that I’m going to work on my manuscript some more and she smiles, nodding excitedly as I turn for the stairs. In my room though, with my laptop open on the bed in front of me, the same familiar feeling of uncertainty plagues me. Apparently, the idea of working with my favorite professor and the possibility of getting published hasn’t re-sparked the creativity in my brain and I still have no idea where to go from here.

I stare down at the screen for what feels like forever. I hear when Kate and Elliot go to bed through my door and still, I’ve got nothing. I guess I’ll call it a night… Maybe tomorrow I can go for a run along the river and try to figure this out in my head. It worked last year when I got stuck on that impossibly long term paper for Nineteenth Century Women Writers.

I close my laptop, remembering to place it back on my desk rather than leaving it on my comforter this time, and crawl into bed. As I lie there, trying to figure out what to do about this ending, my mind begins to drift and I wonder idly what Christian would think about everything that’s happened today. He’d probably say he wasn’t surprised and that he’d known it was only a matter of time before my name appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. He was always good at that, making me feel like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish. I miss that, I miss a lot of things about him.

My nights are lonely now and it gives me too much time to think. As I lie there, staring at the dark ceiling above my bed, I wonder what he’s doing at this very moment. It’s 12:30 here so almost 10:00 in Seattle, maybe he’s in bed too. I wonder if he watched the Mariners game tonight like Elliot did or if he’s too busy running an empire for things like that now. I wonder if he thinks of me when he lays in bed at night, the way I always think of him.

He still calls every day so I know he hasn’t forgotten about me, though that’s what I should want. I should want him to move on, maybe even find someone else, and be happy… But there is a selfish part of me that is glad that isn’t the case. It’s the same part of me that can look past the hurt, and pain, and, in the darkness of my lonely bedroom, admit that even after all these years and after everything that’s happened, I’m still in love with him.

As I begin to drift off to sleep, the last thing I wonder is whether that will ever not be true.

Next Chapter