I adore the Fifty Shades trilogy by E.L. James and three books weren’t nearly enough for me, so I thought I’d give myself more…. All credit to E. L. James and her stunning Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy for the inspiration. The ensuing story, however, is my own creation, as well as any new characters therein.
In order for my story to depart,
It was necessary to have them apart.
I know the thought breaks your heart,
But I promise — it’s only the start!
What if, when Anastasia finds out she’s pregnant, she runs instead of staying to face the music?
Chapter 1: Prologue
Ana’s point of view: My body is shaking with shock at the news. A baby? No fucking way, no way, NO WAY!!! Uselessly my mind is trying to grasp this staggering piece of information. Like a small child, I’m hopelessly, helplessly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I know Christian is going to go ape-shit on me, thermonuclear and then some. How could I have let this happen? In a daze I falter to the waiting Audi where Sawyer is already opening the door for me. Vaguely I register the frown of concern on his face as he takes in the pale moon of mine.
“Where to, Mrs. Grey?” he asks with his head cocked to the side, grappling with why I look like I’ve seen a ghost.
“The apartment, please.” I squeeze out the words past the strangling hands that have gotten hold of my throat as I duck into the car. The frantic beat of my heart provides a brisk tempo for the rising panic, a brewing swell of emotions ready to choke me. My breath comes in short, sharp bursts; hot tears sting behind my eyes but I blink them away. Using the last of my will to keep my words from wobbling, I ask, “When will Christian arrive back from Portland?”
“We‘re expecting him later this afternoon, ma’am, around three, I believe,” he confirms with a brief glance at me in the rearview mirror, the worry lines still visible on his brow.
Okay. I have time. I reach for calm as I exhale a long breath, forcing the air through the circle of my mouth. What to do, what to do…..? He’s mentioned children before, but in a disconnected way, as if he could only imagine them in a vision of some distant, ethereal future. Even I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that now is not that time. I can’t help wondering if he’ll be so opposed that he’ll make me get rid of it. I know that I would, if he asked me to.
No! Not my little blip! I run a protective hand over my still-flat belly — the belly that, for now, holds a devastating secret. I issue a shuddering sigh as I slide trembling fingers through the strands of my disheveled hair, staring unseeing out of the window. In spite of the heat in the car, I shiver, chilled as the bile of panic burns the back of my throat.
I know Christian thinks that he loves me; he says it all the time, but this is a first for us both. We’re in love — for now — but the shiny newness, and this much I know, never lasts forever. All too soon the reality of full-time commitment seeps into even the happiest relationship and in love gives way to what? Companionship, if you’re lucky, and if not — boredom, indifference, or worse: resentment. I’ve seen it often enough with my mom, currently drifting through her fourth marriage. She once said that her world began and ended with Ray but I remember, all too well, that even that love wasn’t enough. And since Ray, she’s managed to blaze her way through two more men.
Mentally I groan, how did I ever think I could hold on to this man? Uninvited, my cruel subconscious suddenly rebukes me with myriad scenes, flitting them through my mind as a visual reminder. I see images of so many people, even my mom, surprised at his interest in me. How on earth could I have missed these cues? If the love- tinted glasses I’ve been wearing blinded me this much, I can only assume it’s been the same for him. Sooner or later he’ll wake up to the shock of reality.
As if to confirm my realization, the nagging thought that I’ve tried so hard to suppress slithers back into my head, always unwelcome, constantly gnawing, telling me that I’ll never be enough for a man like him. No one understands better than I do that I can never be everything he needs, maybe even more so than Elena did when she hissed those words of accusation to me on the night of his party. The scalding memory of Dom Christian accepting Leila’s complete submission fills my mind’s eye. It’s all I can do to stop the dread from advancing, stealing more and more of my sanity.
My scattered faculties abruptly regroup, organizing themselves into a vague plan that becomes clearer as I shift my focus away from the cracks patterning over my heart. I can leave, hide, start over. The notion, at first, is as foreign as it is inconceivable, but I love him too much to hurt him like he’s been hurt before. I must stop forcing him into being something that he’s not. How can I ask him to be a father when I know he fears that more than anything?
Along with this startling moment of clarity comes the certainty that I haven’t improved his life. He was happy before I stumbled into his world; he was sure of himself, secure. I’ve only ever brought confusion. I can’t even be conscientious enough to get a contraceptive shot in time.
The sensation of my shattering heart is almost physical, unbearable in its intensity. Ripping away Christian’s half of me is unfathomably painful, certain to leave a permanent scar. I love him so much. Even the thought of being without him seems so surreal I almost want to laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Could I do this? Could I survive a life without him?
Mercifully, I feel an emptiness eclipse the panic as I reason with myself, wielding logic as a weapon. I’ll have the baby to love, to help me claw my way out of the dark hole of misery I’m rapidly getting lost in. I can give Christian the freedom to be the great man he’s destined to be, the *master of his universe, without inconvenient me screwing up his perfectly-ordered life.
When we arrive at Escala, Sawyer drops me off at the entrance. Unfeelingly focused, I make my way from the elevator to our bedroom with a detached sort of tunnel vision. I can hear my forced breaths as an unforgiving hand begins a slow squeeze around my heart. I feel as though one could see my pain, even from the outside — as if I’m wearing it.
I grab a few essentials from the closet and the bathroom, stuffing them into a random bag. I’m careful to leave anything that will remind me of him or could lead him to me. Mindful of cutting all ties, I disconsolately drop my wedding ring and the precious birthday charm bracelet, dangling with all our firsts, onto the nightstand. It stings just like real cuts to the flesh.
How will I get him to leave me alone? I wonder. Stalker that he is, I know he’ll attempt to keep tabs on me, try to find and contact me in an effort to find out why I left. I won’t stand a chance of resisting if he pleads, arguing with the might of his charm and will. But I can’t let that happen. He won’t understand; for now he’ll only deny the things that I know to be true, deep in my heart. I’m not and never will be enough for a man like him. If this plays out as I see it in the future, then we’ll put this innocent child though a divorce, or do something equally dire, like staying in a loveless, resentful marriage for the child’s sake, doing untold damage to each other.
Christian’s been damaged enough. Once his infatuation with me melts from his mind, he’ll come to acknowledge that I’ve done him a favor. Without strings to hold him back, he’ll be able to exert his formidable control and forge the success that he’s bound to achieve. My resolve hardens despite the crippling ache as I brace myself with another shaky breath. I know leaving is the right thing to do; he’ll have no useless distractions like me hanging around, or unwanted children, for that matter, to remind him of his harrowing early years.
My inner goddess and my subconscious are crying, huddled together, the gravity of my decision felt even by them. My inner goddess is quickly losing her vitality, her light fading fast, but I can’t dwell on that now. Determined again, I scan the room for anything I might have forgotten, when my eyes fall on my purse. Hastily I tip the contents onto the bed to paw through the mess for the things that I need. The blinking envelope on my phone’s screen draws my attention, announcing a missed call from José. I all but gasp with the force of the solution, which hits me like a blow. José! That’s it! I’ve no doubt that if I turn to him he’ll willingly let me walk into his arms — and his life.
The plan shifts and morphs, rapidly taking shape as I fit the details together on the fly. If José and I get married right away, Christian will believe I am carrying José’s child and he’ll leave me alone, especially if he thinks that’s what I want. I push aside the knowledge that I’ll be leaving this life, this home, this man, as only half of myself, that I’ll no longer own the part I’m leaving behind. I’ll never be able to give myself as a whole to anyone other than Christian.
I allow my desperation to gloss over the blatant abuse this would be of my friendship with José, the fact that I’ll be using his affections for me so mercilessly. Even now I know the relationship will never last, but then, I don’t need it to. All I need is for Christian to let me go.
Inwardly I cower as the dark strategy unfolds itself before me. If I tell José that Christian has rejected me because of the baby, then José — traditional man that he is — will come charging to the rescue, happily taking me and little blip into his life. The idea is gut-wrenchingly sad, but is the only out I can see.
Through the blur of my eyes I rip a page from my notebook. There’s a painful twist in my belly when I shakily apply the pen to paper, realizing that this will probably be the last thing I’ll ever get to say to Christian. My subconscious is embalming my inner goddess, wrapping her in gauze and laying her down. She’s gone and so is my resolve to fight back the flood of tears.
The sob escaping me is loud, ricocheting off the walls, startling me. I almost lose my nerve when I take a second to measure the pain as it tears through me. It’s so much, so severe, that I can’t begin to comprehend it and therein lies my saving grace. It’s simply too much to feel. The break is akin to being branded: indelible, something I’ll never get over. I find the last surge of courage I need in the love I hold for him. I must keep going, I will myself — for Christian, for little blip.
With my meager bag of worldly possessions clutched under my arm, I listen for sounds in order to pinpoint Sawyer. He’s on the phone in Taylor’s office with his back turned to the door. Quietly I sneak past to the main electrical board in the utility room. I flick the switch for the electrical supply, then mentally start the countdown before the generator kicks in. I make a dash for the fire escape stairs and barrel down, taking them two at a time. With any luck, Sawyer will waste time searching the apartment for me before he realizes I’m gone. I’ve made sure that no one will be able to track me. I’ve left the BlackBerry and the Mac behind, and because of the built-in tracking devices, Christian’s impressive fleet of cars is off limits. Leaving the building on foot then blending into the crowd is my best option for escape.
Christian’s point of view: Christian is checking the landing markers through the bubble windows of Charlie Tango as he neatly touches her down on Escala’s rooftop helipad. He looks to Taylor, giving him a nod and a slight smile. As they unclip themselves, he remembers the first time he buckled Anastasia into the harness. A slow grin spreads onto his impossibly handsome face, his memories so colorful now that he has her. As always, the intensity of his love for her takes his breath away, bubbling up with a joy he never gets enough of. He’s still amazed that he has this capacity inside of him. She brings out the best in him; she’s made him so much more than he was and he’s so, so thrilled that she belongs to him. He cannot wait to see her, hold her, kiss her, possess her… He just hopes that she understands what she means to him. He tries to show her, but his experience with hearts and flowers is limited and, of course, he knows he can be difficult to live with.
His grin spreads further as he thinks about how much she tries his patience sometimes. She’s like a breath of fresh air, he muses, before it dawns on him that the description doesn’t quite fit. No, rather — she is the air he breathes. Satisfied with his summation, he jogs across the rooftop, hunched forward to avoid the worst of the helicopter blades’ whir. As he reaches for the entry keypad, the building door bursts open, startling both him and Taylor. Sawyer is standing in front of them, breathing hard. The flush of the man’s face along with his harrowed gaze puts Christian’s body on high alert. With muscles bunching and adrenaline spiking, his honed instincts only take a second to kick in.
“Mr. Grey, she’s gone! I just…. I was busy… I…” Sawyer stumbles over his words, horror distorting his usually impassive features.
“What? What do you mean she’s gone?” Christian barks as his brow furrows. His tone is sharp, anger and shock most apparent, but there’s a part of him that’s hopeful he didn’t hear that quite right.
“Sir, she cut the power and sneaked out the fire escape stairwell while I was on the phone to Welch.” Sawyer holds Christian’s angry stare, taking responsibility for the slip he knows could cost him his job.
Slowly the blood drains from Christian’s face as fear starts to crowd his mind. All he manages past the claws of terror that have him in a firm grip is, “Why?”
Sawyer’s eyes flicker with anguish, then pity. “She left a note, sir.”
“Where?” Christian growls, as he strides purposefully past Sawyer. His heart is pounding, wild gray eyes grim and determined and filled with apprehension when he steps into the elevator. Before the doors have time to part completely he’s in the apartment foyer where he starts an uneasy run through the great room, calling her name. “Ana, Ana?” Try as he might, he can’t wrap his mind around the idea that she might not be there. Where would she go? Why did she give Sawyer the slip? Is she in trouble?
His mind reels with unanswered questions, the sense that his usual steely control is letting him down acute as he draws nearer to their bedroom. When he reaches their shared bed he sees it — a deceptively inoffensive-looking scrap of paper. He makes a grab for it, crumpling the paper with his fierce grip as fear blasts his senses.
What the fuck? His mind balks at the implications. How can this be? What the fuck happened? Slowly he sinks to the floor next to the bed with the note still clutched in his hand. He turns his disbelieving head to the door, Taylor and Sawyer witnesses to the devastation of his heart.
The gray light in his eyes turns dull, as though the fire behind it had been snuffed. The agony is a mask molding his features as his world seems to fall away, replaced with the darkness engulfing his heart to protect him from the nonsensical pain. If there was one good thing that came from his horrific early childhood, it’s the ability to steel himself against such grief.
“When did you last see her?” His question is directed at Sawyer, eyes cloudy and cold but his words holding a tense measure of severity.
“Sir, I picked her up from the hospital after she went to help Ray get settled. She came out looking pale and distracted. For a moment I thought she might faint, but I just figured that she was worried about her dad. I asked her where she wanted to go and she said to come here.” He swallows nervously, looking down as he orders his thoughts.
“She went straight to your bedroom. I went to Taylor’s study to call Welch and while I was on the phone the power went out. I hung up and went searching for Mrs. Grey. When I came in here I saw the note. I called you right away, but you were still in the air.” For a moment his eyes slice away as he keenly feels the burden of the responsibility he let slip.
He continues, his voice wavering in the knowledge that the info he’s sharing is affecting his boss deeply. “I…, I went back to the study to check the CCTV footage — the power was back up by then, the generator had kicked in. I saw her on the screen just for a moment as she exited the fire escape door into the parking garage. She had a duffel bag with her and appeared to be in a big hurry. That was the last time I saw her, sir.” He purses his lips as if to brace himself for his boss’s anger, but his gaze remains fixed.
“I rushed down to try and catch up but she was long gone by the time I got down there. I realized that she had tripped the power switch on the electrical board so I wouldn’t see her escape down the stairwell on the CCTV system.” With a quiet breath he releases the tale, relieved to be rid of it but dreading the sear of his boss’s rage.
Christian cuts his stare away from Sawyer. “Taylor,” he croaks, “find her. I want to know why.” His tone is gruff with emotion, gravelly with misgiving, the weight of which is felt by both men facing him.
With a nod, Taylor turns on his heel, purpose elongating his strides down the corridor. Christian remains kneeling next to their marital bed, desperately trying to make sense of the mess. His world is turned upside down — again. Everything is out of focus. If he gives in to the fear, no amount of self-control is going to keep the panic at bay.
It’s been two months and he hasn’t been able to get hold of her, not even through her parents, who seem intent on avoiding him like he’s some kind of plague. He knows they’re hiding information about her; what he doesn’t understand is why. He would never hurt her; all he ever wanted to do was to love and protect her. He just wants to know why. What did he do to push her away? What made her hate him?
He felt damned. She knows him well enough to evade him and his expert security team, and it was slowly driving him mad. The only news was a month ago, the request for a divorce. He signed the papers because the accompanying note, handwritten by her, asked him not to make it any harder than it already was. It was the worst moment of his life — soul destroying — but he loved her enough to give her the freedom she obviously wanted.
More of his precious vitality seeped away, the bottomless black hole of pain sucking the life from him. Even now, he longed for her in every way. Without her, every single thing was an almost insurmountable task. Now his life was empty, truly gray. He went as far as tripling his efforts to find her, but still — nothing.
A brisk knock on his home-office door alerts him to Taylor’s presence, the exhaustion and strain on the man’s face almost as deeply etched as his own. “Sir, I have news.” Christian’s heart skips a beat, expectant eyes flickering for just a second before he notes the grim set of Taylor’s mouth. It clearly is not good news.
“I found this today,” he says gently, handing Christian a copied document. With his long fingers scissoring it, his eyes quickly dart over the page as he processes the contents. The paper slips from his grasp as he issues a sharp inhalation, and his stomach lurches with a bitter roil as his mind recoils in horror. It’s a marriage license dated for yesterday: the groom, none other than José Rodriguez.
“There’s more, sir,” Taylor breathes, clearing his throat. Slowly, warily, Christian lifts the lifeless slate pools of his eyes to his trusted employee — his right-hand man — disconnectedly wondering if he could take any more. “She’s pregnant with Mr. Rodriguez’s child.”
The blow to his psyche is so harsh that for a moment he literally sees stars bursting in front of his eyes, as if something in his brain just gave way. He uses every inch of his formidable control to stay in the moment, his aching heart rebelling, kicking, and screaming as the echoes of a resounding NOOOOO crack through his consciousness.
A.P.O.V: I stare through the hospital window, lost in my thoughts. It’s been eight long months. I can hardly believe I survived them. Maybe survived isn’t the right word — merely existed — putting one foot in front of the other, doing what needed to be done but not living at all. In the quiet and the calm, as my newborn son sleeps soundly beside me, I can’t help but reflect on the horrific past months.
Just as I suspected, José was only too happy to let me walk into his life and to make an “honest” woman out of me, especially as he thought that the real father of my child had rejected us. I got a super quickie divorce from Christian, mainly because I made no claim on any of his assets, and then had a shotgun wedding to José.
It was such an overwhelming relief that Christian allowed me to go, signing the divorce papers without a fuss. I must admit that there was a small part of me that was surprised he let me go without a bigger fight. Something about it left me feeling uneasy, even if it did serve as proof that he had already moved on.
It was an incredibly difficult time, making sure that I couldn’t be tracked by his men. I can only imagine the effort he made to find me. At least it kept my mind off the immense, all-encompassing pain that I carried around. I never returned to SIP. I had to find a job where I could get paid in cash; I couldn’t risk using any traceable things such as social security numbers or credit cards.
I was very vague with my family, keeping communication to an absolute minimum, and even evading friends like Kate entirely as I put my single-minded plan into motion. I knew that once I was married again he would stay away.
At first José was very supportive, understanding of the ordeal I had been through, but all too soon our little scam of a marriage — predictably — fell apart. He began to realize that I was never going to get over the loss of Christian Grey. I couldn’t offer him anything, my body unable to respond to him in any way with my heart being so shattered and dark. I knew from the start that it would come to this but what could I do? My need to give Christian’s former life back to him and protect the baby growing inside me was far greater than my need for self-preservation — or José’s needs, for that matter. It was too late to change any of it but I felt the regret, hard and heavy, along with the suffocating shame.
So now, for my sins, I’m a single mom, José having left us just over a month ago. I remember receiving a call from his dad, shortly after he walked out on us, informing me that José was taken to the hospital to recover from a vicious attack outside his apartment. He was badly beaten up, and apparently lucky not to have any lasting injuries. Something about the incident reminded me of Christian and left me wondering, curious to know if he had a hand in it.
It was no secret he had never liked José, and me marrying the man would have made Christian crazy mad. If he found out that José had left me while I was pregnant with what he thought was José’s child, I shudder to think how angry it would make him. Christian is certainly capable of blind rage and so often his reactions were unexpected. I know that his possessive nature, his strong sense of right and wrong, could guide him into serving up justice as he saw fit even though I didn’t belong to him anymore. How pitifully sad and ironic was it that I gave up my Dom, but that I still belonged to him?
What could have been if things were different, if this little one didn’t show up so early? No, I berate myself, I can’t think like that. I was never going to be able to keep Christian. How much worse would the fallout be had I been stuck in a marriage with someone who didn’t love me and was only staying because of a child he didn’t want to hurt as he had once been hurt?
My baby boy stirs. Soon he’ll be awake and crying his will to nurse. I’m going to call him Chris, my way to honor his father, who will never know of his son’s existence. Broken as I am, I’m so very grateful for his arrival. He’ll help me get back on my feet, give me someone else to care for and love, a reason to go on. I can shed all the love I have for his dad onto him and he, in turn, can help me heal.
C.P.O.V: Christian stands in front of his office window on the twentieth floor of Grey House, looking out over Seattle as it lies, teeming at his feet. The sky is a steely shade, mirroring his eyes and his bleak thoughts as the rain softly pelts the mammoth glass pane. The water runs down the surface in little rivulets, blurring his view. Not that it matters, the sight is lost on him anyway as he looks into the past.
It was five years ago from this very day that she left him. After he found out about her marriage to José and the subsequent baby, she stopped hiding and it was easier to track her. Unable to let her go, he kept close tabs on her, but he knew — even if it killed him — that she belonged to someone else. He could taste his hatred for the fucker who took her from him even if she went of her own accord.
He did try to contact her shortly after her son was born, maybe for the hundredth time, and again she refused to take his call. He even went as far as sending something for the little boy, hoping that the way to the mother’s heart would be through her son; but no, her heart was still closed to him. She still wanted nothing to do with him. When she returned the gift he was shocked by how angry it made him. He wondered how he could still be so mad at her, and though he tried to deny it, he knew only too well what it meant — he still fucking loved her. Shit he thought, resigned, he would always love her.
After that he had started trying to get over her. At first he ran to Elena, thinking that maybe she could provide some balm for the mind-numbing pain. Of course she welcomed him with open arms — and legs — overjoyed to have him back, but it was for naught. He shook his head just as his mouth turned down, pondering the gargantuan mistake that had been. The moment she touched him he recoiled, actually flinched with revolt. It had shocked them both, deeply, and he had not seen her again after that.
Then he fell back into old habits — beating the crap out of a string of brown-haired girls in the playroom as he tried in vain to exorcize Ana’s clinging ghost. Not a single lash of a whip or crack of a belt made him feel any better, the sight of welts and bruises only getting him madder at the monster inside him. The faceless women offered him nothing but vacuous, meaningless encounters that only ended up fueling his self-loathing, and so he packed it in, his spirit more broken than before.
His frustration grew larger, his anger consuming him, and eventually he gave in to the eclipsing bitterness. He even stopped seeing Flynn — expensive fucking charlatan that he was. This break, he knew, was not something he would ever overcome.
The only thing keeping him going was the philanthropy and charity work of his company and regular, intense bouts with Bastille. Often knocking Claude on his ass, and perversely grateful for it, his white-hot anger spurred him on. He functioned on a day-to-day basis, doing only what he needed to do to survive. His life was back to being colored in shades of gray.
As always, he felt the surge of his self-doubt and loathing surfacing. On some level his twisted psyche almost delighted in the pain of losing Ana; it’s not like he could ever be deserving of someone like her. His arrogance had been his downfall, but what exactly had he done to drive her away? This was the question that plagued his mind with a relentlessness bordering on the obsessive. His analytical mind, always so useful in business, couldn’t help but hunt for answers, which evaded him like smoke. What could he have done differently and why did she hate him so?
The only thing he felt sure about was the night he had a hired gun fuck up José. Not even Taylor knew about his covert scheme. With his hands balling into angry fists he casts his mind back to the day he made that decision. He had just learned that José had walked out on Anastasia, leaving her with the trauma of another divorce just before their child was due. That, on top of his slowly simmering anger at the thought of José’s hands on his Ana, made his hatred for José glow brighter than ever, leading him to make a very rash decision — to finally teach the fucker some manners.
He should have done it earlier, that first night at the bar when Ana drunk-dialed him about the books that he sent her and he found the scumbag pushing his tongue down her reluctant throat. He just wishes he could have done it himself but that, unfortunately, was way too risky. He had to resort to hiring a guy who did it for him, teaching the asshole a lesson. There was no way in hell that he’d let someone get away with hurting her like that. For a brief moment, once it was done, he felt happy because the sweet revenge distracted him from the constant ache in his heart. He would never have abandoned her if she were carrying his child. Hell, he was certain that if she had remained his, he would never, ever have left her.
Andrea interrupts the dark turn of his thoughts as she knocks gently, stepping into his office. “Mr. Grey, Taylor is heading up and I have the brochures here, ready for you to take.” Unsmiling, he turns enough only to thank her with a nod in profile.
When Taylor strides into the plush confines of the office, Christian lifts the box and with the force of habit, runs through his mental to-do list. “Are you ready to go, sir?” Taylor asks, noting with dread that his boss’s mood seems blacker than usual.
After a curt reply they head out the door and down the elevator to the waiting Audi. As has become the norm, they make the trip to the airport in tense silence, Christian still unable to shake his miserable frame of mind. When they arrive, they drive directly onto the tarmac at Sea-Tac where the Grey Enterprises jet awaits.
Tomorrow his company will be the recipient of an award for the electronics recycling community programs that GEH established and funded all across the country. He loathes being in the spotlight at these events, but with Ros unavailable, and considering what a big deal this is for them, he has little choice. It’s another step up the ladder, bringing them closer than ever to making Grey Enterprises Holdings the most formidable “green” company in the United States.
As he boards the jet he feels the now-familiar trepidation that arises as he enters any space that reminds him of her. The memories flash by and taunt him, especially those of their wedding day. He remembers undressing her here on the plane, feeling her skin heating under the tips of his fingers, worshiping her body, loving her, the sheer joy he felt, her infectious happiness about the honeymoon, finally going to England. As always, these recollections trample over any healing he might have managed. He thought it would ease with time, but so far, not yet.
A.P.O.V: I can’t help feeling a frisson of excitement. This will be the first time I can take Chris on a modest holiday because I’ve finally managed to squirrel away a tiny bit of cash. It’s just a long weekend trip, but I think a change of scenery will be good for me, a break from the mundane and, of course, an exciting adventure for my little bean.
I decide to go to Miami, Florida. I’m banking on an important meeting there but as yet, it still needs to be confirmed. I take great care in choosing exactly where and when I will go. Though it’s extremely unlikely, I can’t chance running into Christian, even after all this time. Apart from the strain it would put on my fragile heart, my reason is blindingly obvious. One look at my son and he would know, without a doubt, that he is Chris’s dad.
With his copper mop and earnest, angelic face, the only difference between Chris and Christian is their eyes. Chris inherited my blue ones but that’s where his maternal resemblance ends. He’s the spitting image of his father and as mercurial, but then, he’s only four. My mom is joining us for this long weekend getaway, a welcome helping hand with my busy little boy.
We’ve never really spoken about what happened between Christian and me, but I suspect that she knows I was too bold, flying too close, and got horribly burned by the fiery sun that is Mr. Grey.
With Chris between us, eagerly clasping both our hands, we stroll through the gates of the Miami Zoo. My boy is so excited, his love for all things animal leaving him almost frantic with anticipation.
With something akin to joy I watch him take in each exhibit, animated and chatty, almost as entertaining as the animals themselves. Stunned at the sheer size of the elephants, he points his tiny finger at them, gawking with round eyes. We stop to watch the zookeepers feed the ferocious alligators. When they snap their jaws he jumps and giggles, and further on he squeals with delight at the monkey’s shenanigans.
Walking around, my eye keeps catching glimpses of beautifully fashioned posters strategically placed all around the zoo. They advertise some event related to greening the planet that is to be held here today at the zoo’s amphitheater. In the back of my mind I register that by the obviously high-end design, it must be a fairly prestigious event.
When our tummies start to rumble, we decide on a picnic, the emerald hue of the grass and the big shady trees too inviting to pass by. Chris wolfs down his late lunch sandwich then, with his energy restored, runs around us, enthusiastically mimicking the silly animal noises. Looking at him I feel coddled in a cocoon of happiness for the first time in a long while. Yes, I think, he’s definitely beginning to heal me.
C.P.O.V: In the late afternoon, the award for Grey Enterprises Holdings’ monumental efforts in the recycling industry gets announced. Graceful as ever, Christian makes his way up to the podium of the impressive amphitheater, which is packed to capacity. The sea of people claps a roaring applause and he allows himself a glimmer of pride. His company has excelled in this field.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” his voice rings strong and clear, carrying effortlessly to the very back. “Thank you for this magnificent honor. It is Grey Enterprises’ sincerest hope that as the technology that sprang from these projects becomes widely available, all of industry will follow and we’ll finally be in a position to put our planet and its resources on a sustainable track.” As he lifts the award into the air, the press laps up the money shot, the snapping of pictures flashing like fireworks. The audience rises to a standing ovation as the deafening applause echoes off the well-designed acoustics. Walking off the stage, he wonders how happy he would have felt about reaching this very impressive goal if he could have shared his triumph with her…
After making the rounds past some tables to shake hands with various well-wishers, he catches Taylor’s eye. He jerks his chin in the direction of an exit, prompting Taylor to cut through the crowd to join his boss for their departure.
“Sir, if I may?” Taylor stops just a few paces outside the exit, looking intently at Christian. When somber gray eyes turn to face him, he speaks his mind for a rare moment. “Well done, sir. What you achieved here today, it’s monumental. Please take a moment to savor it.” Taylor’s expression is burning with sincerity, but Christian can only see pity in its depths. He knows that Taylor is the only one who’s glimpsed the size of the hole in his heart since she left.
“Thank you, Jason,” he pauses, “for everything.” Christian’s gaze slices away from Taylor, effectively ending the brief connection between them. He’s not in the mood to dwell on sentimentality; fuck knows he gets enough of that shit thinking about her.
He pushes a distracted hand through his hair, hoping that Taylor isn’t going to give him crap about breaking protocol and going for a solo walk. Right now, all he wants to do is to be as alone as he feels. “I’m hungry. I want to take a walk and grab a quick bite. Let’s meet back at the hotel, say about seven?”
For a beat Taylor wars with his thoughts — duty versus compassion. As good as he is at his job, he also knows Christian, and if experience has taught him anything, he knows that this isn’t the time to argue with his boss. Picking your battles with a client is a lesson that many close protection agents would do well to learn, and he was relying on that now. Christian wasn’t trying to be unreasonable, and Taylor understood that the constant presence of someone else was a bitch at times, especially when you’ve lost the will to stay safe. The second that thought flies through his head he realizes he’s just nailed the problem, but after five years he has no idea how to make it better for the man he respects so much.
Finally, he nods his assent, albeit with a downturned mouth. He isn’t happy about it but he could deal. In a final attempt to enforce what he knows is best for his client, he offers Christian the keys to the rental SUV, but he waves them off. “I’ll get a cab,” he dismisses before turning on his heel and heading in the direction of the zoo’s food court, leaving Taylor to stare after him with an almost paternal worry weighing on his shoulders.
A.P.O.V: While I repack our picnic things I call Chris over. There’s still so much to see, and without the possibility of returning soon I want to make the most of our day. He comes running, diving into my arms. “Can I go bafroom with Gran?” he grins with his baby-blues blinking up at me.
“Sure, buddy.” Turning, I find my mom. “Mom, do you know where to go?”
“Yep, I sure do but it’s a little ways away, big man, can you hold it until then?” she asks, holding out her hand for him to take. He looks down and then back up, meeting her questioning gaze as he gives her a serious nod. Sometimes his gestures so strongly resemble his dad’s that I have to fight the memories of Christian battering my senses.
“I’ll wait here at the bench, in front of the ducks,” I add, pointing as they turn to leave. My mom gives me a finger wave plus a little wink over her shoulder, and the sight of the pair of them warms my heart.
Quickly I get lost in thought, tracking the fluffy ducklings treading water as I wait for my little family to return. Absentmindedly my hand cups the back of my neck, drawn there by a strange prickling. In a rush of sensation I shiver, chill bumps racing over my skin as a sense of awareness compels me to turn my head.
Ever so slowly my gaze comes to rest on dull gray eyes that instantly grow and fuse to mine, the spark of recognition so shocking that my heart fails just as my belly goes into free fall. Everything around me disappears into a muted haze, my unsteady legs suddenly wanting to buckle beneath me.
My mind draws a complete blank and my breath stays resolutely trapped in my lungs. In my ears I hear a torrential river gushing past, drowning out every other sound. Instinctively my hand flies to my chest, clutching a fistful of t-shirt in an effort to keep my now-racing heart from drumming right out of my body. The distinct chance that I might faint makes my belly flip with queasiness.
His utter shock is clear and compounded by his parting lips, accommodating his sharp inhalation. “Ana?” his disbelief is tightly threaded through the gravelly tone of his familiar voice.
My confounded senses and paper-dry mouth only allow me to rasp his name in return. “Christian.”
We stand there, completely caught up as the world passes us by in a blur of motion, unconcerned with the drama of our unplanned reunion. Locked on to each other, neither of us is able to tear away our glued stare. With each passing moment I feel long-stifled emotions popping like bubbles onto the surface of my troubled mind — feelings that I’ve more-or-less managed to bury in the depths of my denial.
For once my subconscious revels in the free flow of emotions. Unable to suppress our undying longing for him she whispers our heartbreaking secret. I love you, she breathes silently in my head, the echo reverberating through every cell of my being. With my slowly returning cognizance the first thing I notice is how lost he looks, so fragile, and I realize, so broken, his beautiful face etched with anguish.
Christian is the first to regain composure. Cutting away his stare he runs first one and then both hands through his hair, undeniably agitated. When his clouded gaze swings back to me I’m still stuck, dumbstruck, and incapable of coherency. What’s wrong with him? I wonder, perplexed. I understand the obvious shock but why does he look so forlorn? Though his handsome face has lost none of its appeal, the vacant look in his eyes appears to be deeply haunted.
For a flashing moment I think I see a flare of pain flickering like a newly-lit flame in those eyes but, once more, they’re neutral pools of unrippled mercury. Looking at him now only helps reinforce the belief that I did the right thing. He is the epitome of unobtainable, untamable male.
I watch as imploring eyes search my face, the baffled slate probing as they seek to find and measure my shattered soul. His brow furrows. “Why?” he breathes, the note of anguish the thing that finally drags me back to reality, and with that dose of realism comes an icy chill — my mom and Chris will be back soon.
I can’t let him see Chris! Frantically my mind scrambles for a plan, but just as the fear takes a proper hold of me, my little boy runs into me, throwing his arms around my legs, squealing as he looks straight up at Christian with a shy grin playing on his innocent mouth.
Suddenly I’m an outsider, immobile and disconnected. I watch the inevitable scene unfold with a bizarre detachment. Christian glances downward as the movement draws his eyes. The spark of recognition is sharp and instant, whipping his head back in a double take. Startled eyes dart back and forth, confusion a scant reprieve before giving way to comprehension.
“What. The. Fuck. Did. You. Do?” His cadence is low and soft but the threatening swell of anger bleeds through regardless, urging me to grab my son and run. But I’m rooted, too terrified to move, shaking with adrenaline and dread when my mom finally reaches us, the sight of us stopping her dead in her tracks.
“Carla.” Christian acknowledges her with a brusque nod, his expression strained before he lets his furious eyes bore back into my skull.
Despite her obvious distress it only takes a moment for her to assess the situation and for protective instincts to kick in. Swinging Chris onto her hip, she picks up her grandson, angling her body to keep him away from Christian.
With her head filled with the lies I told her, she scowls at him, her mouth turning down, the taste of his supposed rejection a bitter pill for her to swallow. Of course I had told my family the same thing I did José. If I had any hope of keeping Christian away I had to offer a plausible excuse for leaving him and find a way to guarantee their silence.
“What do you want to do, Ana?” her quiet question, laced with alarm, implores my action.
“Go, Mom, I’ll see you back at the hotel.” I can barely look at her, trapped as I am in his steel stare. She gives us a stern, pointed look, showing her intolerance. Shaking her head in dismay she strides off with Chris bouncing on her hip. He waves at me with a toothy grin. Numbly I lift my arm, forcing my limp fingers to wiggle at him, wearing a feeble smile just for his sake. When I turn back, it’s to face the radiating, angry powerhouse that is my ex-husband.
Christian’s shutters have dropped back in place, his trademark impassive look giving nothing away. I watch his demeanor change abruptly, bristling edgy energy. “We have to talk,” he barks as he takes my hand, dragging me off to the nearest exit. I half run, half walk to keep up with his long strides. My ungainly trot matches the disturbed, reeling mess in my mind.
Outside the zoo he hails a taxi with a flowing gesture, a mere lift of his hand. Even cab drivers bend to the force of his will as the first one by slips out of the traffic stream to obey his command. When he holds the door for me I duck inside, sliding across the seat and as far from him as possible.
Christian grunts a hotel name at the driver who sets off again, unfazed by his clipped words. From the corner of my eye I watch him staring out the window, his elbow resting on the open sill. His hand is bent over his mouth, cutting a ponderous picture as he wallows in deep thoughts, oh so far away from me.
Nervously I wring my hands in my lap, but it doesn’t take long for the pregnant silence to birth a mountain of emotions that rushes at me in an overwhelming landslide. Hot, silent tears roll unchecked down my cheeks. My throat constricts, those sentiments jamming into a thick lump. What have I done?
His passive regard is at odds with the kind handkerchief he produces for my tears. It hangs in his hand like a limp white flag — of surrender, of peace? Can I take it as a presage of what’s to come? Gratefully I pat my leaking eyes, but all too soon it’s too damp to be of any use. Balling it in my hand I squeeze it as the tense silence continues to stretch taut enough to snap.
When we reach the hotel Christian shoves a wad of cash at the cabby. It looks like way too much, but he steps out without a backward glance or even a word. Muttering my thanks to the driver, I follow Christian out and take his proffered hand to help me from the cab, but the contact is perfunctory, brief, before he pivots on his heel, confidently striding into the cavernous lobby of the Miami Conrad. I tag along a few paces behind, meekly keeping my shamed head down.
I avoid catching the professional smiles of the staff as I pass them on our way to the elevator, hiding my swollen, sodden eyes from their curiosity. At the sight of the shiny metal doors my subconscious quirks a brow and I feel the heat from an awkward blush. His touch, trailing fire on my skin in its wake, is an all too vivid memory I can do without right now.
No, my mind warns, don’t go there! Gingerly I step in first, but the moment he joins me it zaps us, the small confines of the car suddenly buzzing with the charge of our attraction. I gasp, dumbstruck. After all this time nothing has changed. He still wields this immense power over me and my slavish body. As the electricity between us cracks and sparks, I can’t help risking a curious peek at him, wondering if he feels it too.
Tipping back his head as if relishing the sun’s rays on his face, I catch his eyelids sliding shut and his nostrils flaring. The buzzing spell is only broken when the elevator pings its arrival on the penthouse floor. Almost imperceptibly he gives his head a small shake before stalking into the corridor with a renewed determination about him. I follow, feeling hot and dazed along with all the other tumultuous emotions pounding around in my head.
Once he unlocks the door he steps aside for me to pass, but I’m rooted to the spot, scared witless of the storm that’s about to break. Blinking, I look up at his stony face, uncertainty only adding to my nerves. I wish I knew what he was thinking. His eyes are ablaze but, as was often the case in our marriage, I can’t name the emotion. His irises darken with irritation when he silently gestures for me to enter, and my shaky legs obey, helplessly carrying me into the fray.
Halfway into the room I stop, awkwardly waiting in the tasteful open plan living area for his directions. Unsure of what to do with myself I absentmindedly toy with the hem of my strappy t-shirt. Seemingly too distracted to notice me standing uselessly in the middle of the room, Christian heads straight to the bar and grabs a crystal decanter around its cut-glass neck, making the amber liquid slosh violently against its harsh treatment.
“Would you like a drink, Anastasia?” I can tell that his baritone is deceptively calm as he pins me with those piercing eyes, and I all but flinch at the intensity. The sensation of him staring straight into the hell of my soul is jarring.
“Yes….yes, please,” I squeak in a hoarse voice, virtually breathless as I remember the way he used to say my name. Lashings of fresh pain strike their blows at my battered heart. The memories as much as the hurt have me staggering back, legs buckling, taking me down in an undignified heap. In a dashed stride he’s with me, reflexively scooping me up to stop my fall.
Like a rag doll I hang in his strong arms before he deposits me onto a nearby chair. I flush scarlet with shame, wishing the pillowy depth of the stuffing would swallow me whole. Gripping the armrests, he stares down at me with slitted eyes for what feels like an age while I worry about him hearing the drumming pound of blood through my veins.
In a moment of empathy I get a taste of how hard this must be for him. I can see his mind working, analyzing, formulating the questions that must be blasting his brain. Buying himself some time, he turns away to collect our drinks. When he hands me the tumbler I take it gratefully. With both hands I cup it, finding comfort in the sound of the jewel-like ice clinking against the facets of the glass. I press the rim against my lips, taking a big gulp, desperately hoping that a sip of the fiery spirits will take the edge off my crippling anxiety.
Sitting down on a wingback chair opposite me, Christian chugs his drink in one swift glug. After a beat he lifts the tumbler to the light with a frown, seeming surprised that it’s empty. Setting it aside he directs his redoubtable focus to me. He leans forward with his elbows resting on his knees and his joined hands hanging casually between his legs. His eyes are brighter now, expectant but cautious, still haunted.
Tell him the truth, Ana, get us some closure my subconscious implores. It’s the obvious thing to do but I’m drowning in uncertainty and no small measure of terror. I take another bolstering sip as I hunt for words to begin.
“I…., When…., You….” I shake my head, trying to order my wayward thoughts, but I can’t seem to string together an organized sentence. My head is swimming, overrun with mingled feelings, all as murky as pond scum. I send a quick prayer for this to be a dream, but the intensity of what I feel tells me otherwise. Dropping my shamed head I watch the carpet pattern blur through my welling eyes.
“Ana?” I hear the despondency in his whispered question, but self-preservation keeps my gaze glued to the rug and unwilling to meet whatever I might find in his face.
I release a shuddering breath, steeling myself against sharing the crushing truth before I begin. “I found out I was pregnant with your child the day we moved Ray from Portland to the Seattle hospital. Dr. Greene, she ran into me and asked me why I’d missed four of her appointments.” I risk a peek, curious to gauge his reaction. “You know, to get the shot again,” I clarify. I feel my nails sinking into my palms, still angry with myself even now for being so careless.
“She took me to her office and made me do the test. When I saw the strip turn blue and her mouth turn down, I knew, I just knew that I would ruin your life with this responsibility.” I squirm under his glower, but suddenly I’m keen to put forward my case. I did it for him, after all. “The responsibility of a constantly erring wife and a child you weren’t ready to have was not something I could do to you.” My face relights with shame and I watch my fiddling fingers to avoid looking at him. “I knew you would never abandon us because of your past, but I feared that you would only stay out of a sense of duty, eventually resenting me, maybe even the child.”
Again I cast him a quick glimpse to measure his ire before resuming. “I couldn’t even remember to get a stupid shot, after everything you did for me, gave up for me, changed for me. I knew I would make a terrible wife to someone like you.” In my defense I finally find the courage to meet his gaze, to plead his understanding.
“Besides,” my voice is low as I swallow the burn in the back of my throat, “I always knew that at some point you would tire of me, resenting me for forcing you into being something that you’re not. I couldn’t do that to you, I…” I falter in baring my soul, dry-swallowing again by reflex alone. “I loved you too much.” As the words tumble out, I’m strangely unburdened from their weight.
My breath catches in my throat when I look up to see his reaction. What I read in his face is unexpected. It grips my heart, squeezing like a vise. His eyes are glimmering with a sheen of tears, and his face is stark, ashen. “So it was me,” he grinds, bitterness twisting his mouth.
Cocking my head to one side, I gentle my expression. My whole being is aching to console him, but I don’t understand. “What do you mean, it was you?”
After a moment’s hesitation he breaks away from our locked look. “Anastasia, for the last five years all I wanted to know was why. Why did you leave, what did I do to drive you away?”
When his eyes dart back to mine he looks dejected and his shoulders slump. “Now I know. I wasn’t able to offer you the reassurance you needed to believe that I loved you and you left, too scared of me to tell me that you were carrying my child. I. Am. A. Monster.” He whispers, his self-loathing sinking its tentacles ever deeper into his soul. His mouth thins into a slash, only highlighting his disgust.
Watching the claws of self-hatred shredding his confidence is like icy water sluicing over me. Stunned, I jump off my seat as adrenaline rushes me into action. “No!” I yell, shaking my head vehemently. “How can you possibly think that? Don’t you see? You. Are. Too. Good. For. Me. You’re everything — romantic, generous, gorgeous, rich, accomplished in everything. How could I ever hold you? Me?” My finger stabs bluntly at my chest. “Bumbling around, always stumbling, doing impossibly stupid things, making you mad!” With my flash tirade done I’m breathing hard, eyes wide with incredulity.
Suddenly he changes tack, mercurial as ever, but now he’s angry. “So you run to José?” he speaks the name with utter contempt, virtually spitting it through the clench of his jaw. “That nearly killed me, Ana, did you know? The thought of another man touching you…” His voice trails off, shivering with his eyes screwed tight. “You carrying what I then thought was his child. When he left you I nearly…..” His pained expression is all I need to paint the scene in vivid color.
“Why didn’t you contact me? Return any of my messages, my repeated pleas to talk to you?” Pushing himself up, he runs both agitated hands through his mad hair, beseeching me with a look to answer him.
Looking down at my hands again I try to explain. “I knew that you would talk me out of it and I told you,” my voice is small, low, “I wouldn’t… couldn’t expect you to make any more changes for me and ultimately for the baby. I … I thought that you would get over me and your infatuation in no time,” I make a dismissive, waving gesture with my hand, “and you would see what a waste of time I was.”
His eyes are glowing with rage, like the coals of a fire. “For fuck’s sake, Anastasia, don’t you understand? Of course I would have tried anything to get you back, to talk you into staying. I loved you! And no, dammit!” again his hand rakes a path through his hair, bewildered. “I didn’t get over you, can’t get over you. I. Will. Never. Be. Over. You!” His words come out sounding like a furious growl. Both hands fist in his hair, tugging in distress.
My breath evaporates. I should be glad to hear that he’s not over me, but I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. How ironic — I left because I was scared he would resent me for the baby, but now he resents me for leaving, for breaking him.
He paces the floor in the living room, up and down like a caged lion. The tension radiating off him is palpable, thick enough to slice. Shrinking back, I make myself as small as I can so I won’t add to his ire. On a pass he spots me as if he’s come out of a trance. He halts, turning to face me. Hooking a finger under my chin, he lifts my head to meet his eyes. My teeth immediately release my lip as his touch scorches through my trembling body. “I have a son,” he breathes in a quiet voice, his expression somber, subdued.
“Yes,” I mutter, “a beautiful, clever son that’s so much like his dad.” Nervously I clamp my lip between my teeth as my eyes grow large, regretting my unintentionally rebellious tone.
Keeping his finger under my chin, he maintains the small, precious contact between us, drilling his eyes into mine. “Who’s looking after you? Why are you so thin? Your clothes….” His voice fades out. I know he doesn’t want to be rude but he recognizes cheap when he sees it.
I’m wearing the standard “mommy uniform” — a pair of cotton, three-quarter cargoes plus strappy tee, all compliments of Walmart. “I have a job. I pay the bills.” I feel my defiance surge as I glare at him, disconcerted by the sudden change of pace. When I realize that I’ve done it again I sigh heavily. “See, this is exactly what I mean. You reach out and I stomp my stupid little foot, unthinking.”
He stiffens at my response and again I hear the undercurrent of his self-loathing when he speaks. “I’m sorry,” he mutters, “I’m too controlling.” He drops his eyes, hiding the turmoil by finding something else to focus his stare on.
My heart thaws instantly as memory recalls why he is the way he is. “Christian, your control, your possessiveness and jealousy were always part of what attracted me to you. I’m horrified that you think you had anything to do with me leaving. I can see now how I acted without thinking of the consequences to you. I was so young, so selfish. It just proves that I am the one who’s no good for you.” Reaching up I cup his cheeks, forcing him to look at me and the sincerity showing in my eyes.
A strangled moan escapes him. “Oh, Ana!” He closes his eyes, scrunching them up as he struggles with some internal battle. When they open I see a flicker of resolution before his strong arms wrap around me, holding on like a drowning man to a life raft. He crushes me against his length, his fevered heat almost burning.
My decorum unravels at the realization that it’s where I want to be. As tight as I can I cling back, eager to take the soothing balm his embrace offers for my ravaged soul — and his. Nothing can hold back the break of banked emotions. Flooded with feeling, I sob my broken heart out against his firm, familiar chest.
I don’t know how long we stand like this, the enormity of what I did to him — to us — washing over me, making me feel sick. Christian doesn’t seem to be okay, he doesn’t seem to be over the hurt like I thought he would be. Just like me he seems crushed, so very broken. I try to wrap my mind around how his self-loathing would have made the situation look from his point of view. I wonder if that’s why he let the divorce go through without a bigger fight.
The shards of realization crystallize in my mind while I look back. The memory of being in Dr. Flynn’s office, me asking if Christian still would have wanted me if he wasn’t so broken, reels through my mind. I see Dr. Flynn’s shocked reaction, his suggestion for us to delve into why I didn’t think of myself as attractive, as enough, as worthy….
Is it possible that my own insecurity brought on this heartbreaking split? I remember feeling so overwhelmed. Everything happened so fast, and so much happened all at once. I got carried away by the tidal wave that was our relationship and I just never found my feet in it.
There were days I longed to have a moment to myself, just to think things through. I never did get that moment. I never did get a chance to process it all. I never had the time to wade through everything that happened, to analyze, categorize and accept, then to file it away in an orderly fashion into my expanding mind. To incorporate and internalize all the new experiences and events into my system and form a new, improved version of myself — maybe one that would have been better equipped to deal with my wonderful new and complicated life.
I had misjudged how my inexperience would manifest itself in the novel world of saturated color that Christian introduced me to. It’s evident to me now that I couldn’t think clearly enough to make reasonable, rational decisions. I was barely 22 and so very sheltered. The baby was the ultimate excuse I needed to sabotage something I never truly believed existed. The sad thing is that he really did love me.
Suddenly I feel winded, my insides rolling like a tiny boat on a stormy sea. Breaking free from our embrace I stumble to the bathroom. I reach the toilet just in time and make a spectacular show of throwing up. I can feel Christian behind me, holding my hair off my face, and the irony isn’t lost on me.
This is how it all started….
Thank you for reading — don’t forget to review!
*Masters of the Universe was E. L. James’s original name for FSOG when it was still a Twilight FF story.