The phone rings and Christian snatches it up, the gravel in his voice barking at the caller, “Grey.”
Mercifully it takes his drilling eyes off me and I can suffer the immense blow in relative privacy. How the fuck did I get this so wrong? Again? My thoughts are swirling around the images of the last few days, trying in vain to piece together something, anything that could have warned me of this doomed moment. The magnitude of the shock is thankfully keeping me numb, the black hole of my heart seemed to have sucked all emotions away. For now, it’s an empty shell.
Maybe it will deal with this grievous loss a little bit at a time. Yes I think, that must be it, sort of bite-size pieces of pain, quite manageable, quite clever actually – I congratulate it. That’ll be the way forward, process and move on, process and move on though; I’m not sure how long I’ll have to do that. Getting over the loss of Christian Grey hasn’t happened in the last five years so, realistically what am I looking at I wonder, another five? Ten maybe? Maybe never.
Through the haze of my encompassing numbness I vaguely hear Christian’s voice climbing a few octaves, not quite yelling, but almost. Uh-oh he’s mad my subconscious sing-songs at me.
The sharp crash of the phone back onto its cradle along with Christian’s expletive jolts me back into myself. “Fuck, shit!” two furiously agitated hands race through his hair then both fists dash with sharp tucks into his waist. “Fuck!” he spits again, looking at the phone with murder in his eyes.
He remembers me and zooms into my wide-eyed, vacuous stare, “Ana, listen that was Taylor, Ros has let things get out of hand in Seoul, the plant’s employees are rioting and we’ve received various threats regarding the takeover, I have to leave right now, we’ll talk about this later, I’m sorry but I have to go. The jet is standing by at SeaTac.” While he’s talking to me he’s stuffing documents into his briefcase then shuts it with a thud and a look of pure determination.
I nod my head and he mistakenly identifies my expression as fear. He walks up to me and places a warm hand on my shoulder, my head turns to watch it lie there as if it has some claim on me. “It’ll all work out, don’t worry. Please tell Chris that I’ll make it up to him – the sailing.” He moves his head into my line of sight to try and catch my gaze and automatically my eyes slide to his. “Please stay out of trouble, I mean it Anastasia! We’ll keep in touch.” The stern note compels me to nod again and then, he’s gone, his purposeful strides echoing in my ears.
So this is ground zero in the emotional sense. I can’t even muster concern for him and Taylor and Ros. By sheer force of habit my body turns and my feet walk out of the room, down the passage to my bedroom where I lie down and turn the light off. I’m poised, ready for the impact of the pain that doesn’t come since some smart internal system shuts my body down before I fry my nerves, promptly dropping me into an abyss of blackness.
When morning and wakefulness arrive I open one eye and groan in pain, I must be sick, some virus I think. My whole body aches and my limbs pumped full of lead. I breathe out a long breath and force my mind to focus on relaxing, maybe I can fall asleep again, I’m sure Christian will look after Chris….The brief, obliviously happy thought shatters as the full force of reality tackles me head-on in the gut and I gasp, praying that it’s the whole portion because if this is what a bite-size of grief feels like; I’ve reached my end.
I curl into a tight ball and wonder how I’ll make it through the day. I’m dying to rewind the night and never go for that final glass of water. Oh sweet ignorance that was bliss, for the first time I truly, fully comprehend that expression.
I feel utterly alone, I’m here in a strange city, I hardly know a soul in an apartment that I can’t leave – I don’t have the energy to argue with Christian about going home. Not that he’s here though, I must admit that it is a consolation. I don’t think I could face him today.
I have a deep need to talk to my mom and maybe Ray too, just for good measure. I hope Chris won’t be too disappointed about the sailing, I’m not sure I can handle a sulking child today. My muscles protest the move out of bed and I shuffle to the shower hoping to wash just a tiny bit of sanity back into myself.
Chris takes the news relatively well and I bribe his cooperation today with loads more TV than I would usually allow. For most of the morning I just sit and stare into space, my head jackhammering with a single question: why?
When Collins notices my state he wisely stays out of my way. Just before lunch I decide to call my mom. It takes a herculean effort from me to get up, find my phone and dial but when she doesn’t answer I’m forced to call Ray instead.
“Annie, I’ve been waiting for you to call me!” I groan, my low spirits sinking lower. The last thing I need right now is a lecture on how stupid I’ve been. I think I finally get the full picture.
Ray’s voice turns anxious when I don’t reply immediately, “Annie, is everything okay?”
“Oh dad.” My voice cracks as the grief tears through me like nails on a chalk board – grating, sending hacking shudders through my rigid body.
I hear him sigh, “it was a long shot Annie, you need to be realistic, once trust is broken like that it’s almost impossible to repair.” His sane, reasonable explanation doesn’t begin to penetrate the depth of despair surrounding me even though the rational bit of my brain recognises the truth in his words.
I cry harder, surprised that I still have tears left to spill. “Why don’t you and Chris pack your things and come for a visit? Away from it all for a bit, you know; a clean break.”
“I can’t right now dad, but…but thanks.” I blubber in response.
“How are things with the book?” he’s out of his depth, desperate to help me but floundering in the face of such raw emotions, he can’t make me tea so he changes the subject.
“It’s good dad, promising, we’ll see.” I can’t bear to tell him the details; I’m not even sure what I’m going to do about that now. “How are things with you?”
“Good Annie,” he hesitates for a beat then continues, “I caught up with Jose senior.”
Ah, Jose’s dad!
“Oh, how is he, how’s Jose?” A new trickle of nervousness merges with all the other strumming emotions; I know that I seriously screwed with his feelings.
“Okay from the sounds of it, apparently had a girlfriend for a while, Jose says she was a dead ringer for you. I think he said she was an artist.”
Ray doesn’t have to spell it out for me, the accusation in his voice is clear enough. I’m glad that he’s finally managing to move on. For a brief moment I put my own hurt aside and, not for the first time, I wonder if I should call him to apologise.
“Oh, that’s good right? I wonder how they met?” I’m just making small talk, holding on to the brief reprieve before it’s just me, alone with the heartache again.
“I think he said that your old friend Kate’s brother knew her, I didn’t really pay too much attention.”
“I hope it’s the first step of many good ones for him.” I say and mean it. Boy, when I screw up I do it properly!
“Did you tell him that I lied about Christian throwing us out?” my question is tentative, one I’m not sure I want the answer to. I trace a circle with my toe on the floor, breath bated.
“No Annie, I didn’t think that would do anybody any good. If the boy is finally on the road to recovery, I figured, let sleeping dogs lie.”
I nod and wring my hands, more tears welling, ever so close to the surface. “Thanks dad.” It’s a strained whisper, just on the edge of another breakdown.
“I didn’t do it for you Annie. I love you but what you did, I find it very hard to reconcile with the daughter I know.”
He might as well have struck me in person. I double over and strain for breath. I clamp my jaw shut, imprisoning the wail trying to escape. He’s so right – what can I say – but it doesn’t make it any less excruciating to hear.
When I trust my voice not to waiver, I answer him, “I know. I never dreamed that it could get out of hand like this, I never meant for anyone to get hurt. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to do.” With that, contrition sears a permanent scar onto my heart.
We say our goodbyes and even though I wouldn’t have believed it before the call, my heart is even heavier now. Maybe it was necessary for me to hear, it’s put things back into perspective for me. My dad is right, what I did to Christian and Jose was appalling and unforgivable. I really can’t expect anything else. Christian’s flirtations got my hopes up but I shouldn’t have allowed it. It’s time I bury this and move on.
Strangely I feel a little better. Knowing that I don’t deserve absolution helps me understand it and somehow makes it easier to bare. I can begin to let the hope go. I don’t think that the pain will fade anytime soon but I can’t keep wallowing in it. I did what I did and I can’t take it away, much as I’d like to. Time to face the consequences.
I make some lunch for Chris and am relieved that Christian isn’t here to berate me for not eating. I decide that the best course of action is to stay busy. I pull my laptop closer and check my e-mail. Disbelief turns to annoyance when I see an e-mail from Christian. Can’t he leave me to grieve in peace?
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Safe arrival
Date: 24October 2016 01:27
To: Anastasia Steele
A quick note to let you know that we have arrived in Seoul. The time here is sixteen hours ahead of Seattle so please keep that in mind if you need anything from me, it might be better to call rather than to e-mail if it’s urgent. Collins has all the details of our itinerary and accommodation.
Please give Chris a hug from me.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
I see we’re back to formality and chastise myself for expecting something else. Now, more than ever I have to keep my expectations real.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Safe arrival
Date: 23 October 2016 12:52
To: Christian Grey
Thank you for letting me know, time difference duly noted.
I click send and scroll through the list of e-mails trying to forget about him and for once it’s easy because my fourth e-mail is from Kate Grey. I inhale as I open it, my belly a tight ball of anticipation mingled with fear.
Why is she reaching out after all this time?
From: Kate Grey
Subject: I’m sorry
Date: 22 October 2016 23:46
To: Anastasia Steele
Dear Anastasia – Ana,
I realise that it’s been a long time since we’ve heard anything from each other and there’s no point denying that, for a long time, I was hurt by your seemingly flippant write-off of our friendship. With your sudden reappearance, Grace was kind enough to share the nature of your and Christian’s break-up and, for the first time, I understand.
I’m so sorry that you had to go through that on your own and that you didn’t feel you could trust me with the burden. I guess I can see the way you saw it, your friend engaged to the “enemy’s” brother and not wanting to spoil it for me. It’s touched me deeply and I feel awful that I didn’t realise sooner – that things weren’t as cut and dried as I thought. When we get back from Holland I might just give Christian the kick in the butt he deserves.
There are still a lot of things I’d like to clear up with you but most importantly, I’m sorry, I hope you can forgive me and secondly, congratulations on what I hear is a beautiful son.
(Still) your friend,
Keep it Green Building and Design
There’s no mistaking the similar thread that ran through Grace and Mia’s comments yesterday which makes sense if Grace told Kate but the question is why do they all seem to think that our break-up is Christian’s fault? What did Christian tell them?
Oh Kate! My heart spasms for the loss of our friendship. I hope she still wants to be friends once she hears my version because I know that somehow, Christian lied. I tap out an honest letter for her before I have a change of heart and steal this welcome ray of kindness.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: No, I’m sorry
Date: 15 October 2016 13:12
To: Kate Grey
I loved your letter and more than anything I’d like for us to be friendly again but before then, I think that you should know the whole story. I’m not sure what Christian told his folks but I know that it’s not the truth.
When I found out I was pregnant (possibly because I forgot to get a birth control shot) I was terrified of Christian’s reaction. That coupled with the shock of the situation waking me up to the fact that I was living a fairy tale that I never thought I deserved, made me run. I knew that having a child would be extremely hard for him to accept and I refused to force him into fatherhood. At the same time I already loved the baby I carried so, I did what I felt was saving both baby and Christian.
I believed that with time Christian would see that what we had was an infatuation and, at least for him, not love. Eventually he’d be grateful that I gave him an easy exit. I never told him I was pregnant. I knew that both you and Christian had the power to change my mind so I stayed away.
I was reckless and stupid and fifty shades of blind, I know that now. There’s no excuse and I know that I don’t deserve your sympathy or your forgiveness but you are right about one thing. I was keen to protect your relationship with Elliot, had it not been for that I do believe that I would have confided in you.
I am the sorry one.
Never stopped being your friend,
Right then I decide that whatever she chooses to do, I will abide by it. No more pursuing, just apologise and try to fix what’s left after the dust settles.
So, how’s owning-up going for you so far? It’s my subconscious – sometimes I wish I could kick her!
I listlessly troll though some more e-mails, mainly deleting them to keep my mind off my sad situation.
I don’t see Collins enter the room and I nearly jump out of my skin when he speaks to me, “Ms Steele, I have a call for you, it’s Mrs Grey.” He hands me the cordless handset.
Grace? I wonder what she wants. I take the phone and mouth my thanks. “Grace, it’s lovely to hea…”
Before I have time to finish my sentence a gritty shriek that I’ll recognise anywhere accosts me: “what the hell were you thinking, do you have any idea what you did to that poor man! You weren’t there to pick up the pieces; he was frantic with worry and apart from the deep pit of despair that you left him in, overrun with guilt! What is wrong with you?”
Shit, my e-mail warranted an actual call from Kate!
“Kate, I’m sorry, I…”
She interrupts me again, “don’t you know how much he loves you? Have you any idea the grief you put him through, I’ve never seen anyone so broken. I hope he’s whipped some sense into you; somebody should put some brains back into your head! I can’t believe you did that!”
Whoa! “I know I was…”
She barrels on, “hiding his son from him! I can’t believe he took the blame for this for you! I can’t believe he still loves you after all of that but there you go, maybe the two of you deserve each other!”
Boy she’s mad! There’s a small part of me that’s happy to be yelled at. It feels right, this is what I deserve and just as I suspected, Christian told his parents that he made me go. Wow, I’m not sure what to make of that.
“I get it Kate, believe me, and rest assured he doesn’t want me back.” I guess the finality of my tone grabs her attention because she holds her tongue for a moment. I sit down on the edge of my bed, not trusting my unsteady legs.
“He doesn’t?” now she sounds taken aback, “But Grace said that he still had feelings for you.”
“No,” I say on the verge of tears again, I exhale a long slow, juddering breath.
She whistles through her teeth, “not that I agree with him but I wouldn’t have believed that you could do anything – ever – to put him off.” Her introspective lilt is gentler now.
“Well, I did.” My mouth twists into a slashed line as I contain the pressure of my emotions behind a flimsy wall of willpower but I can’t hide the feelings bleeding through my voice.
“Oh Ana, what were you thinking?” I can almost see her shake her head, mouth in an unhappy, turned down line.
“I don’t know. I never foresaw all these… these complications. I obviously didn’t think it through. I was panicking. All the time with him, I… I always felt like I was dreaming, like none of it was real, like it was happening to someone else and I was only watching. In the back of my mind I fully expected to go back to the real world at some point in time.”
“Jeez Ana, you and that warped self-image of yours! I always knew that you had issues but I never realised how deep it went. What happened to you? How does a beautiful, smart woman become so blind to her own appeal?” she’s getting riled again.
My breath stops short as I consider her question. “I don’t know.” I’m conscious of how lame that sounds but I’ve just always accepted it as fact about myself, I never questioned it. I was always shy, if I stood out it was because I was so clumsy and bookish – the textbook ugly duckling. It never occurred to me to analyse it.
“Well you should figure it out because it’s cost you the world.” The blade of her sharp words slices another piece off my already shredded heart but I can’t fault her reasoning.
“It has.” I agree in a low voice, a defeated slump draped around my shoulders.
“Oh Ana,” she says again and sighs, “what are you going to do?” In spite of my misery I don’t miss the conciliatory tone and I dare to hope that at least friendly terms with Kate might be a possibility.
“I don’t know.” Even to my own ears I sound like a broken record but I’m rudderless – no direction, no plan, very little of anything really.
She suddenly perks up as an idea hits her, “have you tried to make him jealous?”
“And then some!” I snort reminding myself how badly that backfired.
It didn’t backfire with Dr Shawn my inner goddess quips.
Neither did it bring us back together my subconscious throws back at her.
“Oh.” She’s dejected, right along with me and it’s a great comfort.
“Thank you for calling Kate, I’ve missed you.” I’ve never felt her absence more keenly. My lip trembles before a sob escapes, setting free the cry that I’ve been swallowing against for the length of the conversation.
She offers me a wry laugh, “even though I yelled at you?”
“Ye..yes.” I manage through the fresh barrage of weeping.
“I wish I could say something to make you feel better, you seem pretty certain it’s over and that’s bad I know, but it’s not the end of the world. You have a son, stay strong for him.”
I nod, gnashing my teeth against the unbearable agony of being without Christian mingled with Kate’s heart-warming and unexpected compassion.
She senses my distress and grasps that for now, I need time to recompose myself. “I’ll let you go now, but we’ll catch up okay?”
I’m grateful for her insight, “o… okay,” I blurt a hoarse, shaky reply.
Talk about rough, I feel like I’ve been in a car wreck. I fall back onto my bed, arms flung above my head.
The rest of the afternoon mercifully passes without any more crying. I spend it with Chris and Collins stuns us with a suggestion for an outing. I suspect Chris has had enough of the indoors when he bounces around the room yelling yay at the top of his voice.
Collins and Carl drive us to the Olympic Sculpture Park where Chris and I stroll through the amazing and strange creations, playing guessing games about what the abstract ones might be. The guys are unobtrusive, making me forget that they’re there and I have fun focussing on my son. I spoil him with some junk food and we eat it sitting on sculpture benches shaped like eyes watching the Father and Son Fountain.
The strong visual of the fountain’s theme isn’t lost on me and I quash the rising emotion it evokes. No more wallowing!
We leave just before sunset but not before we admire the golden light as it starts to dip low and change the whole atmosphere in the park, lending a surreal quality to the art. I pull Chris closer to me and hug him tight, pressing his head into my chest for much longer than he usually lets me before wriggling away. Maybe he senses that his presence and closeness is like a soothing balm for me right now.
After putting Chris to bed I take my iPad to bed to read myself to sleep. I want to keep my ever dwelling mind away from Christian and facing Mrs Taylor tomorrow. Luckily my emotionally wrung-out mind doesn’t need much pushing to fall into a dark, dreamless sleep.
Morning brings with it an irrational, unreasonable irritation with Christian for not being here to shield me from a possibly less than welcoming Mrs Taylor. I throw the covers aside and march into the bathroom to shower in a bid to relax.
After getting dressed I put off going into the great room by checking on Chris. He’s awake and I crawl into his bed, settling in to read him a long story, even resorting to making up parts but Chris protests my creativity, urging me to stick to the original and much loved plot.
When I run out of time-wasting tactics and Chris starts to grumble about his tummy noises, I take a calming breath and make my way to what I’ve always thought of as her domain – the kitchen. The smell of pancakes and bacon greets us before we see her deftly flipping a pancake and catching it with the pan.
“Wow, that’s neat mommy, did you see that?” Mrs Taylor turns in surprise and Chris’ excited blue eyes look expectantly into mine.
I have no choice but to force a cheerful note into my tone. “I did buddy, Mrs Taylor makes the best pancakes.” I shyly lift my gaze to hers, hoping to see something other than judgement.
Her open, welcoming smile bursts the protective bubble of reservedness I was prepared to wield in my defence. She comes around the kitchen island, clasping her hands together in delight, “Ana, how lovely to see you! And you must be Chris! You’re as cute as a button!” She gently taps Chris on the nose with her index finger, her words thawing the edges of my nervousness but rousing my misgivings.
I hope Christian didn’t lie to her as well! I still need to deal with his folks and come clean about the real reason I left, there’s no way that I’m rebuilding that relationship on a lie.
“It’s lovely to see you too and I believe congratulations are in order Mrs Taylor, albeit a bit belated!” I step closer and straight into an awkward moment where we’re both unsure if we should hug. We catch each other’s hesitant gazes and laugh at our own silliness. It serves as the icebreaker that melts the tension and we embrace like old friends.
It makes me long for my mom and I take a deep breath, clawing back my carefully constructed constraint.
“Thank you Ana, I’ve made your favourite!” the light in her eyes is so genuine that I can’t help being taken in by it.
“And mine!” Chris is standing on his tippy-toes; eyes just above the counter, level with a stack of pancakes that looks golden and fluffy and smells divine. We giggle at his obvious craving, licking his lips in an overdramatic gesture. Mrs Taylor doesn’t torture him too long. She lifts him into his high chair and plies him with a helping that would make most grown men cringe. Chris repays her with a gorgeous smile that I’m sure will earn him sly treats from her for the rest of his life.
Before I have time to protest she smiles and winks at me, “every now and then a treat is fine, isn’t it mom? As long as we still eat the good stuff!”
Chris doesn’t acknowledge the early morning nutritional advice; lips far too busy smacking their pleasure.
I used to feel strange, being served like this in my own home when I was married to Christian but living on my own and constantly cooking and cleaning up after Chris gives me a new appreciation for Gail’s housekeeping talents. It’s lovely to sit here, sipping a leisurely cup of tea and eating a meal that I didn’t prepare.
Thankfully Chris only makes it halfway through his stack before he reluctantly gives up. I boost him out of his chair and he makes a bee-line for his room, refuelled and ready to play. I’m enjoying Gail’s account of her romantic wedding, eloping with Taylor to an island paradise when Collins clears his throat behind us. “Good morning Ms Steele, Mrs Taylor.”
“Good morning.” We chorus together as we turn to face him.
“I have a package here for you Ms Steele, it’s been checked, it’s safe for you to open.” His sombre timbre a harsh reminder of the threat still skulking in our lives, with all that’s happened with Christian it’s been at the far fringes of my thoughts.
“Thank you Collins,” I say taking it to test the weight, already distracted by the beautiful red velvet ribbon.
I wonder what it is.
Gail clears some space on the counter to accommodate the big box, both of us curious to see what’s inside.
“Ooo, maybe a gift from Mr Grey?” Her teasing lilt hinting at her interest and obvious hope for our reconciliation.
“Uhm, no. I don’t think so.” I head off her budding excitement with the finality in my voice, a rubicund blush spreading its heat. My overstated concentration on opening the box is a desperate scream for her to not to pursue the subject.
Her face falls in a palpable display of disappointment but she doesn’t press me any further.
I lift the lid, discovering delicate tissue paper embossed with the Valentino logo. I push my finger underneath the sharp folds of the meeting sides to tear away the seal holding them together. The treasure inside is a stunning deep red, the colour so crisp that it seems saturated.
I lift out a dress made of the most delicate of silks, layered with a shimmering, gossamer thin, translucent fabric in the same shade of red that drapes in gorgeous, feminine folds across the bottom half. The slit looks like it goes on forever.
The bodice has a revealingly low V in the front that leads reedy slim straps over the shoulders and onto a barely-there back that plummets to the very edge of modesty.
Mrs Taylor and I stare at it in awe, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. “There’s more,” her low whisper drags my greedy eyes away from the dress and back to the open box.
I reach for a pair of Jimmy Choo, high heel sandals. They match the dress exactly and have uneven criss-crossing straps over the toes as well as the ankle where they go a tad higher than you would expect. I realise that the high ankle straps would look very sexy peeping from that slinky slit. With the crossings of the straps being asymmetrical they have a slight BDSM feel to them.
Gail hands me a small card that I missed in the presence of such extravagant couture, I slide the hand written note from the envelope and feel my heart pound and then slide into my shoes.
Oh shit, I forgot!
This is the best I could do on such short notice ;0)
I’m looking forward to tonight.
I’ll pick you up at 6:00pm.
I look up and meet Gail’s questioning gaze, my mouth open in a stunned “O”. The charity event with Dr Shawn – I never cancelled or confirmed our plans and it completely slipped my mind. Now he’s gone to the effort of buying this overgenerous dress for me, even making a little joke about it being “the best he could do” knowing full well that he couldn’t do any better, even if he tried.
I suddenly feel panicked and trapped as my eyes dart from her to the note and back again.
“Ana, what‘s the matter?” her head is tilted to one side and her hand gently strokes down my hair, soothing me.
“I… I forgot, Christian will be mad.” If I wasn’t so unnerved I’d realise that she wouldn’t know what I was talking about but instead she has to prompt me.
“Mad about what, what did you forget dear?”
I hand her the card and she scans it quickly, still not understanding. “Who is Shawn?”
“He’s just a friend, actually he is Chris’ paediatrician, one that Christian organised for him.” my faculties have yet to fire properly, still flustered I give her only one half of the explanation.
She nods and fills out the sentence for me, “and you forgot that you have to go to something with him?”
I nod, biting my lip, “Christian didn’t like the idea of me going with him, even though he’s just a friend.”
“I see. Forgive me for being so forward Ana but you insinuated earlier that you and Christian weren’t together, is that right?”
“Yes.” I breathe it softly; my mouth still reluctant to speak words that my body hopes isn’t true.
“Well then. Really, it isn’t up to Mr Grey and as long as you keep yourself and Chris safe I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t go if you wanted to.”
Oh the voice of reason! If only Christian would see it that way but at the same time I can’t lead my life according to the will of Christian Grey, especially since he’s not prepared to commit. There are some things that he’s just going to have to accept.
“You make it sound so simple but you’re right, I should be able to go.” I cast a longing look to the designer threads calling to be worn.
“There you go.” She pats me on the arm offering me an encouraging smile as she heads off to her duties.
If Grace and Carrick can come here to baby sit Chris – I don’t want to push my luck with Christian and take him out of the apartment – then I’ll go.
I go looking for Collins and find him in Taylor’s office. “Collins, I would like to go to a charity event tonight, I’m happy to take any security you deem necessary and I would like to ask Grace and Carrick to come here to look after Chris. Do we have enough men to cover that scenario?” the note of authority I interject doesn’t leave room for negotiation, for good measure I meet his watch directly.
“Uhm, Mr Grey didn’t leave instructions for that.” he shifts in his seat, looking uncomfortable.
“This is a recent development and as much as I’d like to accommodate Mr Grey, I’m not an errant child for him to control. Can we or can we not do this?”
“Yes, Ms Steele, we’re able to accommodate this scenario.” A small smile of admiration tugs at the corners of his mouth and I get the sense that he empathises with us, straining under Christian’s overbearingness.
“Good, thank you. I will contact the Grey’s to see if they’re available and I’ll get you the details of the event tonight.”
As I walk back to make the calls I feel satisfied that I’ve stuck to Christian’s rigorous security parameters, even though I know he won’t like me going with Dr Shawn.
A call to Grace leaves her excited to perform her first grandmotherly task but the happy moment doesn’t last long as she starts a cautious conversation. “Ana, I spoke to Kate this morning, she told me that you and Christian weren’t going to make a go of it and I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. I know that the two of you belong together but sometimes things just don’t work out, do they?”
I’m relieved that the relationship talk has been taken off my plate and I make a mental note to thank Kate but I still need to tell her the truth about my leaving however, I don’t want to do it over the phone. “No Grace, they don’t.” I mirror her regret.
We’re both quietly introspective for a tick before she continues, “so what are your plans for tonight?” her forced cheer doesn’t go unnoticed.
“I’m going to a Doctors without Borders Charity event with a friend, actually Chris’ paediatrician.”
“Dr O’Reily is here in Seattle?” happy surprise colouring her comment.
Grace knows Dr Shawn?
“Uhm, yes, for some lectures at a hospital, he’s date dropped him so….”
“Oh Ana, he’s lovely! I was wondering if Christian got hold of him to see Chris.”
I smack myself against the forehead for being so stupid; of course Grace would be the first person Christian will call to get a referral for a good doctor.
“He sure did,” I remark wryly.
When I end the call with Grace I fire a text off to Dr Shawn to get the address for the venue and to thank him for the dress.
I get an immediate reply that alters my hesitant excitement into full-blown despair; the event is being held at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel.
Of all the possible places in Seattle it has to be there! Just my rotten luck, I just know that I’ll be spending the night battling some powerful memories.
Too late now, comes the very unhelpful remark – compliments of my subconscious and I pull a mental, mocking face at her.
Once I’ve relayed the information to Collins I seek out the consoling effect of my son. When Chris and I race to the kitchen for lunch we run into a line of five brawny guys – obviously security – filing into Taylor’s study with Collins at the door, shepherding them inside. His thunderous expression is bleak, matching their serious demeanours.
I wonder what’s up; surely that’s way too many bodies for tonight’s excursion.
All through lunch with Gail I make small talk but I’m distracted, stealing furtive glances at the study, waiting for them to emerge so I can ask Collins if something’s happened. I gratefully take her up on her offer to keep an eye on Chris this afternoon so I can get ready for tonight when they march out of their meeting.
When Collins comes back from seeing them off I follow him into the study. “What was that all about, and don’t tell me nothing, I know trouble when I see it?”
He shifts from one foot to the other, looking uncomfortable. “Mr Grey said not to worry you.”
“Collins, you must appreciate by now that I don’t like being left in the dark. If something has happened, especially relating to this…, this situation of ours,” I make an all-encompassing gesture with my hand, “I’d like to know. Please remember that this concerns me and my son.”
He blows out a breath, looking resigned he casts his grim look down, “the skipper that keeps an eye on the Grace, Mr McConnell went on board this morning to check on her and she’s been trashed.”
The low level panic I’ve been managing quite well suddenly kicks up a few notches.
He holds up a hand to me when I start to speak, indicating that he isn’t done, “we’re not sure if it’s because this person expected you to be on the boat yesterday or if it’s a coincidence and the Grace was merely a relatively easy target, but the thing that is becoming clearer is that these incidents are related.”
“How can this person know that we were planning on going sailing yesterday? Apart from Christian and myself and Chris, only you and Taylor knew, right?”
“I believe so Ms Steele, personally my gut tells me that the perpetrator is finding it hard to get to his target because of the elevated security so he’s being creative, finding things that aren’t so heavily guarded to drive his point home, whatever that may be.”
“I hope you’re right, if this person had access to our private plans….” My words fade, the implications hanging heavily in the air.
“Do you think I should cancel my plans for tonight?”
A startled look flashes across his face before he considers the query. “No, I don’t think so.” He slowly shakes his head and elaborates, “we have an outstanding relationship with the Fairmont Olympic and the security head there. If you were going anywhere else, I would have insisted you stay but, as it is, precautions will be tight there tonight, a lot of rich and famous attending and you’ll still have your own close personal protection.”
“And Chris?” I’m frantic for any reassurance he can give me.
“Ms Steele, the incident on the Grace proves that there is no safer place for him than right here. We have the panic room and every angle of this building is covered and secure.” He straightens a little, a fiercely protective glint in his eyes revealing the unmistakable pride in his work.
I nod, satisfied and convinced. “Thank you Collins.” The note of respect making him stand even taller. “By the way, do you know when Christian will be back?”
“No Ms Steele, not exactly but I expect it will be within the next twenty four hours or so, according to Taylor things are more or less sorted in Seoul.”
Late afternoon sees me taking a relaxing bath with Chris in the capable hands of Gail. I don’t have much to do for tonight’s event, just shave, wash my hair and a little make-up. It’s not a date after all. It might even be fun if I can get over the fact that it was in this very hotel that Christian first told me that he loved me.
The recollection sticks painfully in my throat, like a creeper it weaves and binds and twists around me in a way that makes it impossible to separate myself from it. Effectively making me a prisoner of my own memories.
Half an hour before Dr Shawn is due Gail pops into my bedroom and announces the Grey’s arrival. I mumble my thanks, hairclips between my lips and struggling to get my hair to behave.
“Here, let me.” her eyes bear a maternal look that I can see in the reflection of her behind me where I sit at the dressing table, frustrated with my own fumbling fingers.
I take the clips out of my mouth and watch her expert hands curl and pin tendrils up. “Wow Gail, a woman of many talents. Thank you.”
She doesn’t say anything, her lips curving into an enigmatic smile.
I make use of the intimate moment with her and ask her outright; “what did Christian tell you about why we parted?”
She keeps her eyes carefully trained on her task and her voice devoid of telling clues, “he didn’t say anything and it’s not my place to ask.”
“I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, I just wasn’t expecting you to be so, so… welcoming, I thought Christian might have said something.”
She catches my eye in the mirror and smiles again, “I’m not judging you if that’s what you’re asking.”
That’s all the encouragement I need to unburden my tortured heart to her. “I know I made a mistake leaving him even though I’m certain he would’ve had a meltdown over the pregnancy, I was so scared he’d do something stupid and ruin everything.”
“So you did something stupid instead?” the gentle delivery speaks of her clear understanding of my exact thoughts five years ago. I bob my head in accent, overawed at her simple summary and I feel our timid friendship firm up. I’m glad to have her on side.
“Do you like this doctor?” she asks still working on taking up my hair but I think she knows that the gravity of disobeying Christian weighs heavily on my mind.
“I do but not like that. He’s quite a catch though,” I grudgingly admit.
“He obviously likes you and you know how Christian can be, just watch yourself Ana, be sure before you leap into anything.”
I laugh, getting the message loud and clear, “there’ll be no leaping of any sort Mrs Taylor, thank you for the warning.”
I stand up and we appraise my look together. The dress is a perfect fit but the design makes it impossible to wear any underwear except for the briefest of low cut panties. The silk clings like cream to my body, creating a painted-on illusion that’s softened by the sheer fabric on the bottom half. If I’m honest I’m a little nervous about it staying on, it’s seems so delicate, like a gust of wind might blow it right off me.
The sandals give it an edgy look, contrasting with the heady femininity of the deep V on my chest, skimming my breasts precariously close to my nipples – relying solely on the snug fit to maintain my modesty.
“Wow!” Gail looks slightly shocked, eyes round.
“Wow indeed. Do you think it’s too much?” I ask, worried now and chewing on my lip.
“No, you look stunning, just a pity that Mr Grey isn’t here to see you, I think he might have fainted.” We giggle and I grab a throw for my shoulders before I stride to the great room on the towering heels.
Dr Shawn is already there and is chatting animatedly with Grace. They all turn to look at me and suddenly my face catches the flame colour of my dress. I cast my eyes down in response to the embarrassed flush.
Their appreciative murmurs only make me shyer and desperate to escape their scrutiny. Dr Shawn’s is openly carnal and I remind myself to reiterate that we’re not on a date. He steps closer, into my personal space where I catch his gaze lingering on the creamy flesh of my half exposed breasts before locking onto my mouth that he kisses in greeting.
I thank Grace and Carrick for staying the night to look after Chris even though I expect to be home no later than ten or eleven tonight. On Collins’ insistence they’ll only be driving home to Bellevue in the morning.
I kiss and cuddle my darling son before Dr Shawn offers me his arm, leading me away. Cinderella to the ball or maybe a lamb to the slaughter……
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