Taylor splutters, his bug eyed stare is uncomfortable. “Well sir,” he clears his throat. “It just confirms that we’re not dealing with a professional,” he holds up his hand when Christian wants to interrupt. “That’s a good thing.” He looks to his colleagues who are all nodding their assent. “If we were dealing with someone who had the wherewithal to find and hire a professional, I’d say we’d be in much deeper trouble.”
“Okay, so what else does it tell us?” Christian’s full attention is on Taylor, though an absentminded thumb is skating back and forth across my hand. I think it’s admirable that Taylor doesn’t wilt under the weight of that sharp, steel gaze.
“Quite a bit actually. Our perp is a hunter with a good eye and a serious grudge. I’d stake my life on the fact that we know him well, this is not some distant, unknown person with a skewed perception of bitterness.”
“So the list of candidates remains the same, which hasn’t brought us anything so far?” Christian isn’t expecting an answer, merely going along with Taylor’s train of thought.
“Yes sir,” he says in that measured, authoritative timbre of his. “Also the weapon was silenced. Neither the police nor any of us could find anyone who heard a shot.”
Christian bobs his head, “He’s bright enough to use a silencer but not experienced enough to predict the scope’s glint.”
“That’s correct; a professional would have avoided that angle or would have added an addition to the scope to stop the glint. It’s a rookie mistake.”
“Just hold on a sec,” I say, trying to piece things together in my own way. “A .308 is a big round right?” Thanks to Ray I know enough about bullets to at least understand the difference between the calibres.
Again Taylor nods, “It’s a big round alright. Almost three inches tip to bottom.” He holds up his index finger, measuring a section off with his other hand to demonstrate. I see him catch Sawyers watch to confirm the accuracy of his statement.
“So how come the glass didn’t shatter?”
I expect the answer to come from Taylor but Christian responds instead, “Baby, the glass is laminated so it doesn’t shatter. It’s a safety precaution, like shopfront windows. Also with the smart glass you want it to keep working even if it has a crack or, in this case, a hole.” He lifts my hand to kiss it, a momentary warm glow burning there just for me.
Ah. I smile with my small blush. He still thinks I did well turning the window opaque again though he’s the one that noticed the scope and ultimately saved us. I motion for Taylor to continue.
“There’s that and I suspect that the bullet’s charge was loaded. It makes for a heavy round that punches neatly through things like glass.” Taylor slips his thumbs into his belt and rocks back on his heels – done for now.
“How sure are we that we’re dealing with a man?” This time Christian directs his question at them all.
Brandon takes the cue sitting up in his chair, “Personally I’m in agreement with Taylor’s assessment of that sir. We’ve all seen the CCTV footage, the build, the movement and the size. It all points to a male perp.”
“Are there any others on the list besides Linc and Jose?” This time I face Christian, I want to measure his reaction.
If he’s surprised that I already know of two candidates on the list he doesn’t show it. “Yes, two more but you don’t know them. Both are former employees. One was dismissed for industrial espionage and the other for a sexual harassment situation.”
“Do we know if they hunt because I know for sure that Jose can handle a rifle, he and his dad have been hunting deer with Ray on more than one occasion.” Again the cold clutches of fear grips my heart, raising the little hairs on the nape of my neck.
“Welch is on it Ana, we should have that intel shortly along with the ballistics report that’s being rushed by a law enforcement buddy of mine.” Taylor scrubs the back of his neck, his brows drawn in deliberation. “As far as Linc is concerned I’m almost certain that he’s hunted enough times not to exclude him entirely.”
With the latest information on the table I notice the boys growing restless, like they’re itching to get out there and find this bastard. Christian picks up on it too, “Okay, let’s see what we have once Welch and ballistics come back to us. Sawyer, thanks for taking up the slack here, it’s been good to have you on the team again.” Sawyer flashes him a rare smile before Christian addresses the team. “Who’s with us tonight?”
After Carl looks to Collins he speaks up, “We’ll take the first shift. You better get some shuteye buddy.” They all look to Taylor whose exhaustion in written in his tired eyes and the blackened hollows surrounding them.
Taylor grumbles but concedes – a true professional he knows a clear mind is the most valuable tool on the job. Sawyer shakes hands with the guys and slaps a big paw on Taylor’s back, “I’ve got a little leave coming my way, I’m happy to stay on and help out. I owe Mr Grey one.” He gives me a pointed look with his one brow cocked, that wry smile still taunting me.
I’m never going to hear the end of this but at least he’s not mad. The awkwardness of the moment has all the guys except Christian looking everywhere but me, their reaction making me all too aware of my fierce flush of shame. Christian is plain glaring; he’ll never forgive me for that stunt.
Arrangements made they file out and I grab a moment to check on my sleeping boy. I’m glad that he fell asleep so easily and staying asleep. Those tiny ears are not meant to hear about things like perps and rounds.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” the note of concern in Christian’s voice is at once unmistakable and heart-warming, the undercurrent of regret speaks volumes. He loves his son.
I pull the covers right up to his chin, bending down to kiss his dozing head. “I hope so. It’s hard to say how much of this he understands.” When I turn to face my husband he looks forlorn. Two steps have me at the edge of his bed, “What’s wrong Christian?”
“You’re in danger because of me, I can’t stand it. You have to leave.” He grips my hands with both of his; he doesn’t even register the pain it must be causing him. His plea is fervent, impassioned and, as far as I’m concerned, dangerously close to being unreasonable.
What?! If this turns out to be Jose this will all be my fault. Doesn’t he see that?
I literally stomp my foot, ready for a fight. “No way!”
“Ana, this is not up for discussion. These are your LIVES we’re talking about and I’m not gambling with them no matter what you say.” His tone is low, not wanting to wake Chris but it bears no less bang. I know that look of determination a little too well, nothing I say will change his mind but it won’t stop me from trying.
“There is no way I’m leaving my injured husband to face this alone. I can’t believe you’re even asking me to do this.” A staccato squeak of frustration creeps into my voice, I glare daggers at him as I press my lips together in annoyance.
“That’s because I’m not asking, I’m telling.” He folds his arms across his chest as he lifts his chin, thinning his mouth into a stubborn slash.
Crap, shit!! I drop the anger in lei of a different tack, “Why are we fighting? It’s the last thing I want to do.”
“Me either baby but can’t you see how serious this is? Can’t you understand that I want you out of harm’s way?” he says with a dramatically tempered version of his former anger.
“Of course I do but can’t you see I feel the same? Can you imagine how worried I’ll be about you, here on your own with this… this… madman intent on hurting you – us?”
He blinks at me, startled. “I won’t be alone, I’ll have Taylor and you and Chris will be safe. That’s what I need right now.”
Ready again to take up this argument I cross my own arms in front of my chest, “And what about what I need huh? For in case you haven’t noticed: You’ve. Been. Shot! There was nothing Taylor or anybody could do about that. And where do you think Chris and I will be safe enough? If this fucker has the reach he obviously has, then where exactly do you think Chris and I should go? This whole thing is just too crazy, too unpredictable.”
Having expressed these thoughts out loud brings it home for me – enough to start crying. Not because I’m sad but because I’m burning with frustration, without hope for a solution that will keep us all alive and well. Like splitting up will force the shooter’s hand and he’ll throw everything he’s got into the pursuit of one of us alone.
“I know baby,” he motions me over and I go willingly, curling up in the nook of his good arm. “I want you to go to your dad’s. A military man who understands the severity of the situation and has a vested interest in keeping you safe, it’s the best place for you and Chris right now. He’ll appreciate the need for extra security and he’ll know how to manage them.”
“And what if this threat follows us there?” I whisper against his naked chest, taking a little comfort from the steady thump of his heart under my ear.
“It won’t. You’ll tell no-one, not even your mom and you’ll stay there until this is over. Carl and Collins will go with you.”
“I don’t like it Christian. I’m going to worry myself sick. Where will you stay? Who’s going to look after your injury?”
He kisses the top of my head, pulling me closer, “I’ll be fine baby. I’ll stay at the Fairmont and my mom can take care of my arm.”
I snort at his easy dismissal of my arguments, how does he know he’ll be fine? “You can’t say that for sure.” I’m exasperated that he seems to be unable to see that he’s not immune to this lurking danger.
I feel him shrug under me, casual, like his life doesn’t mean as much. I push up and away from him, staring in disbelief at his unfazed face, “It’s not just you anymore! There are two more people in your life that depend on you now. Do you understand?” I poke at his chest with my finger, really getting riled.
He catches my finger with an iron grip then flattens my hand onto his chest by covering it with his own. “What do you want me to do? I want to draw this fucker out so we can end this, if I hide it will only drag this whole thing on and on and I have a life I want to get back to. A wife and a son.”
His words hit me with the force of a blow, nasty realisations rattling around in my brain. “You want to use yourself as bait? Even though his low voice was even, confident I’m sure I must’ve misheard him. Please let me not have heard right.
“It’s the only way baby.”
Holy fuck! Jerking myself even further away I look at him, horrified. “No way Christian, sending me to Ray is one thing but playing chicken with a crazed maniac is not something I’ll stand by and let you do. How can you even consider….”
“Anastasia!” He cuts me off. “Need I remind you that you made a promise before God and the world that you would obey me?”
I issue a loud gasp, sucking in a sharp, shocked breath. We stare at each other, the stalemate of our conversation dawning on both of us. When I regain my ability to speak my voice is a raspy whisper. “Really Christian, you’re playing that card. Now?”
The stubborn set of his jaw together with the rigid line of his shoulders are answer enough even if I don’t consider the hard glint in his cold, steel stare. “I’ll play whatever fucking card I have to if it means keeping the two of you safe and to end this fucking nightmare.”
Shit! I knew that might come back to haunt me. It’s clear to me that, for the moment, we’ve reached an impasse. I’ll have to sleep on it and try a different tack in the morning. On top of this fucking nightmare, as Christian so eloquently put it, I’m clashing with my beloved, injured husband when all I want to do is take care of him – this is such a mess!
I release a slow breath, hanging my head in defeat. Fear, nausea, anger, frustration – all make up the vile boil in my knotted belly as I flop onto the side of his bed. The room blurred through the shimmer of tears that film my eyes.
I feel Christian shift on the bed, dragging himself closer to me, “Baby?” he whispers. “I love you, I don’t want to argue. I want you to listen to me and do as I tell you. You knew the deal and you agreed. Don’t force me into doing something drastic to keep you safe, I don’t want to scare you.” One hand is rubbing my back, the other stroking my thigh.
Images of bonds and gags and crates cross my mind’s eye before I risk a look into his pleading face. Desperation is what I see there together with a good measure of despair. In that instant I know that I can’t be responsible for doing that to him ever again. He’s forced my hand, my nod as slight as my approval for this foolish scheme.
“I would die if anything happened to you, please tell me you understand that?” with my tone, my gaze and my being I beseech him, frantic to make him understand my degree of my reluctance and dread. I rest my palm on the prickly stubble of his dear cheek.
He pulls my upper body into his chest, banding his arm around me with complete disregard for his injury. In his tight embrace is where I feel safe, the only place I want to stay. “I do baby. Trust me.”
After a long while of mentally counting the reasons I should stay he sends me to the en-suite to get ready for bed. With the steady beat of water sluicing against my skin I cry hard, able to give free rein to the panic twisting my insides. I really don’t want to go to my dad’s and in spite of Christian’s general competence I don’t trust this plan one bit. Maybe Ray can help me talk some sense into him.
Christian is still awake when I slip into the cot next to him, my whole body tense with worry. “You feeling better baby?”
I can’t answer without lying; if I start talking I fear I’ll never be able to stop the brimming tears. “You should be resting Mr Grey, you must be exhausted.” Already he’s not taking care of himself.
“I’m not tired and you’ll be gone tomorrow, I’d rather talk to you.” I hate the sound of that, like he’s saying that he wants to chat while we still can, like there may not be another opportunity but I can’t deny his logic. My brain is too fried to sleep anyway.
I sigh and relent, turning in the starchy bed to face him. “How is your arm feeling? The doctor said that it should heal well.” If I really am leaving tomorrow then I’d best avoid the topics that will reignite a row.
He shoots me a lopsided grin, “Dunno, painkillers are good though.” His attempt at levity fails entirely but I smile anyway, albeit weakly, plastic.
Every time I look at him the enormity of the situation threatens to engulf me, currently it prompts me into a wave of gratitude, “I’m so glad you’re okay.” The words feel hollow in my mouth, horribly inadequate. I reach over to touch him, first running my fingers through his hair then trailing down his neck so I can trace the vital veins that are mercifully still throbbing with his life. No, glad does not begin to describe how I feel.
Christian senses my sentiment, “I’ll be fine baby, this will all be over soon,” he promises then returns my gentle stroke by cupping my jaw. I wish with all my might I could believe him.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, what ever happened to that psycho boss I had at SIP? John was it? No, Jack. Jack Hyde?” The guy has been clattering around the back of my mind for some time now. Why is he not on the list?
Christian’s loving look is instantly replaced with a sour one. “That might be the only good thing that came from you leaving. If I couldn’t find you then he sure as hell wasn’t going to.”
His cryptic statement leaves me baffled, “What do you mean?” I say as my brow knits into a tight frown.
He shakes his head, looking away as he remembers the past. “I very nearly killed him Ana. I’ve no doubt that he would have gone after you if he had a choice but instead he targeted Mia.”
I gulp, staring at him with rounded eyes, “He went after Mia? What happened?”
He flips back onto his back, his good arm’s bicep bulging when he throws it over his head. His gaze cuts to the ceiling, “he kidnapped her, tried to negotiate a ransom for her.”
I grip the front of my neck in shock, “No!” the implications flash across my mind, if it were me instead of her I’d be pregnant and at the mercy of a derailed psychopath bargaining with Christian. It’s too horrific to even contemplate.
He nods in answer to my word as he hears the sick abhorrence in my tone. “Sawyer and Taylor really came through for me when we made “the drop” but when we found him I lost it. If the boys didn’t pull me off him I don’t think I would’ve been able to stop.”
The air commas he uses tells me that doing a fake drop was what they planned in order to catch Hyde. I’m not surprised that he beat the crap out of Hyde; he wanted to do that the night he met him. I’m sure that his frame of mind wasn’t helped by me still being MIA. With that realisation I glean yet another reason to feel guilty.
Pushing my own musings aside I get back onto the track of his story. “Christian that’s horrible, please tell me he didn’t hurt Mia.” I hold my breath, my hand pressed against my heart to stop it from hammering right out of my chest.
“No, I made sure that he knew what would happen to his payload and to him if he hurt a single hair on her head.” The shadow of disgust crossing his face is fleeting as my earlier thought dawns on him, blackening his gaze. “You were pregnant then.” He doesn’t say anything more, replaying the whole horrid saga with me in the lead instead.
“Don’t do that Christian,” I touch his shoulder to snatch his attention away from the past and into the now with me. He’s clenching his jaw so hard I hear the angry grind of his teeth. When he lifts his stare it still burns bright with the latent embers of his hatred for Hyde.
“I’m fine, I’m here, there’s no point in thinking about what could’ve happened,” I breathe gently to pierce the enraged aura that comes off him in waves.
A moment later I see the bulk of his tension slip away as he shifts his focus back to me. “Where is he now? Shouldn’t he be on our list?”
“He’s in jail, where he belongs and if I can help it will be there until he rots to death.”
Not often but every now and then he says things with such violence, such menace that he scares me. I can only nod as I cross Hyde off my mental list of perps. Dare I broach another possibility or is he still too mad? I wonder as I eye him through my lashes.
“Do you think it could be more than one person trying to get to us, maybe even unrelated to each other?” I’ll ease him into the question I really want to ask, figuring it’s best to get him talking again.
“We’ve considered every conceivable option; this isn’t something I’ve taken lightly Anastasia.”
I backtrack quickly, not liking the assumption he just made, “I wasn’t implying that you did but if you consider Dr Shawn for instance. He doesn’t seem the type but is it possible that he’s mad enough to take a shot at you for punching him?”
For some reason this makes Christian chuckle, “No, I don’t think so.”
Oh. “Do you think he’ll press charges?” I probe.
“No, I don’t and it’s not Shawn.”
His reaction has piqued my interest, he sounds so sure. His small smile is a little unnerving considering the conversation we’re having so I can’t help feeling suspicious. “How can you be so sure?”
“Trust me, I know.” His quelling look tells me the conversation is over but now I’m certain that he’s hiding something. Hhmmm.
“Let me worry about all this crap. Why don’t you go to sleep baby.”
Just then my body betrays me with a yawn so I can’t deny my exhaustion to keep talking to him. I kiss his lips, the soft touch of our mouths almost painfully wonderful under the circumstances. The thought of losing that mouth and the body attached to it the thing that will keep me from sleep for the rest of the night.
I punch my pillow into place wishing I could snuggle with him in his bed but I want him to be as comfortable as possible, hopefully he’ll be able to get some rest.
An hour later I’m still awake. Unable to shut off the scary imaginings of my mind, I’ve shifted and tossed at least once every minute so far when I hear Christian’s quiet voice, “Come here baby.”
Oh great! Now I’ve woken him with my relentless turning. “Why are you not asleep?” I whisper at him in the dark.
“Because I’m worried about my wife not sleeping.” He’s not mad but his timbre is dry.
Sighing I lift the covers and crawl onto his bed, careful not to bump his arm. His uninjured arm is stretched out in welcome as he lies on his side. I slip into the familiar spot, my back to his front and instantly feel better, safer, calmer. He kisses my hair while he drapes the hurt arm over my hips.
A second later I gasp as a naughty hand slips into my panties. “What are you doing?”
With his chin he clears my hair off my neck before he places a fleeting kiss behind my ear. “I’m getting you off so you can relax and we can get some sleep.”
His hot breath on my neck is already doing wonders for my stress levels but we’re basically in public with our son sleeping a few feet away. “What about Chris…” I stammer on a shiver as his magic hand slides a finger into me.
He drops another kiss on my neck but this one is hot and slow and wet, “You’ll just have to be quiet,” kiss, lick. “We have our backs to him,” long lick. “And we have the cover over us.” Kiss, lick, bite.
I’m not sure about this but my reservations disappear along with a second finger pushing inside me. “Aah.”
“Hush baby. Sshhh.” He soothes as my body temperature starts to climb.
His plan sure is working because, for the moment, I cannot think of anything but the slow, teasing movement of his hand in my pants. I reach behind me to return the favour but he stops me, “No, this one is just for you.”
Under different circumstances I’d be surprised; concerned even but right now my brain is lit up in a thousand places that has nothing to do with rationality.
“Open your legs baby. I want to feel all of you.” There’s no way he’s not turned on, I hear it in the gravely rasp he’s just ordered me in, the lay of steel pushing against my backside.
I hook my top leg over the side of his to give him better access. “Always so eager Mrs Grey, feel how wet you are.” He groans, low and appreciative, the vibrations of the sound moving through me, into me, making me quiver with need I didn’t know I had.
He rims the shell of my ear with the tip of his tongue before pushing up on his shoulder. Leaning over he waits for me to turn my head to him so I can find his mouth. His tongue moves past my lips with the same deliberation and rhythm of his stirring fingers. His other hand brackets my throat, just firm enough to make his grip feel possessive.
Licking into my mouth he strokes me below, his fingers sinking deep before he drags them out, gently along the length of my slit. Over and over, in and out, touching that jolting bundle of nerves with every passing but never for longer than a split second. It’s maddening, the anticipation between moments so great that I bite down onto his lip as I pump my eager hips into his tantalising hand.
“Aaahh,” I gasp. “Please Christian.”
“Hush, if you make a noise I’ll stop.” Those sexy, spoken words of his, no matter what they are, are always at least partway responsible for how hard I come, like he could make me orgasm by speech alone.
As if he knows, he continues talking, “hold still baby, feel me touching you.” I bite back my moan as the tide in me starts to rise, waiting for that one wave that will send me breaking on the shore of release.
Sensing my stiffening he adjusts the speed of his fingers to match the rate of my pounding heart, setting off the ripples that grow larger and larger. When I arc my back his free hand flies to my mouth to shut it up, halting the gathering scream. “Come for me baby,” is the last thing I hear as oblivion takes me.
He finishes me off with a slow circular motion, three fingers massaging me into the last of my pleasure as I jerk against him. “I love watching you come Mrs Grey,” he says, pressing another kiss on my neck.
When I come to my senses I turn to him, curious to see what will happen next. “I love you. Thank you.”
He smirks at me then slips those very three fingers into his mouth and sucks them off. It never fails to make me blush. “Mmm-hmm,” he murmurs, licking his lips. “We aim to please Mrs Grey.”
Giggling I stroke his face, “What about you Mr Grey?” with my knee I gently nudge the impossible-to-ignore erection prodding at my belly.
After a sharp breath he kisses my nose, “I want you to sleep baby.” From playful he’s gone very serious. I see the concern etched in the lines on his anxious face.
To lighten the suddenly sombre mood I use my patented distraction technique, “Is it safe to assume that that was another first for us Mr Grey?” to make my point I jangle the charm bracelet around my wrist.
Softly he laughs, “Yes Mrs Grey, definitely another first. I’ll have to get you a little hospital bed.”
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