Stinging rays of bright light rouse me, still locked in Christian’s arm. For a moment I enjoy the sensation of his warm, hard body twined around mine before reality makes a stark appearance in my sleepy daze. We’re in hospital, it’s my husband’s uninjured arm that I’m wrapped in and today he wants to send me away.
Before I can start crying I open my eyes, blinking straight into the concerned slate of Christian’s. My first blush for the day shows up, pinking my cheeks just because his scrutiny is so close.
“Hi,” I say, missing him already.
“Baby.” It’s a greeting, a statement, a question – all in one. I’d be blind if I didn’t see the love in his eyes, and the pain. He’s torn up over our situation, not wanting me to go any less than I want to but our safety comes first. Always. Right now, I love and I hate him for it.
We stare at each other, miserable for a minute before Chris scales up our blanket covered limbs like a mountain. Turning, we both smile through our gloom. “Careful buddy, don’t bump daddy’s arm.”
Chris turns to Christian, “Does it hurt daddy?” His small finger prods against the white bandage, blissfully unaware of the grave implications of the injury.
With a soft Chuckle Christian pulls him closer, ruffling his hair before a giggling tickle attack ensues. “No champ, not so much.” They laugh as Chris tries to wiggle away from Christian’s grip, not too hard though; it’s fun to play with daddy.
I love hearing them so cheerful but that together with the emotions that are packed tight in my chest sends me to the en-suite, as much to brush my teeth as to hide the near tears.
The pitiful hospital shower does nothing to ease the growing tension in my body; I’d give anything to wash away our worries along with the soapy water down the drain. I throw on a pair of jeans and drag a comb through my wet tresses before I’m ready to face my treasured family again.
It occurs to me that Ray might not be home. Montesano is a long way from Vegas, he might still be on the road, enjoying the sights and unaware of the danger that we find ourselves in. Maybe Christian will change his mind about sending us there. It’s a slim sliver of hope but something I can hold on to for the courage I need to ask him. I still can’t believe that he’s used my vow of obedience against me.
The scene I walk into trips my heart into a free fall. Chris is laying with his back to me and Christian is staring at him with the same look of reverence he wore for me a mere half hour ago. They’re chatting, wholly at ease with each other. Christian’s unwavering love and relaxed demeanour, all in spite of the circumstances, is precisely what Chris needs from him right now. It will go a long way in reassuring him if we really are to take this trip. I dread him sensing the dangerous reason behind our escape.
The urge to find this bastard and pummel him with my angry fists is becoming a fantasy that I indulge in with greater regularity that I care to admit. I’m also trying my best to be fearless in the face of this fiasco but truth be told I’m breathless with fright. My consciousness hovers inches away from a panic attack that looms to overtake me; the only saving grace – it all feels strangely surreal.
Getting closer I hear them talking about the trip to Montesano and what little hope I had flits away like smoke in the wind. Of course Christian has managed to get Chris excited about it when I feel nothing but terror.
I stretch onto the bed, gating Chris in between us. “What are my favourite boys doing?” the sunny tone in my voice is completely false, only there to keep Chris at ease.
“Mommy, we’re going to visit grandpa!”
“Mmh,” I say, “I’m not sure if your grandad is home yet.” I risk a quick peek at Christian, a flicker of an annoyed spark clue enough that he knows what I’m doing.
“Ray is at home and expecting you.” I feel bad that I’m responsible for his current curt tone but I honestly don’t believe that we’re better off apart. Before I have time to question how he adds to his reply. “Taylor had our cargo pilot pick him up last night. Charlie Tango is already back and on stand-by to take you there today.”
I should have known, I groan. I just know that the hole in my heart will grow with every mile we travel away from him.
Resigned I give up a sigh as Chris yelps with joy. “We’re going in the helicopter?” His saucered eyes are sparking excitement. Scrambling onto his haunches he bounces on the bed, “Yay! Yay! Yay!”
I can’t share in Chris’ elation when I feel this deflated but I smile anyway, rubbing his back. Christian sees my bleak expression, knowing me well enough to know when my smile is phony.
“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be baby.” His voice is barely a whisper, so only I can hear, not that Chris is paying attention when he bounces on his bottom like that.
My teeth rake my lip in a bid to keep the tears at bay, I lock my gaze with his and nod; no words can scrape past the lump in my throat. I nearly come undone when he runs the back of his knuckles down the side of my face.
“It will all be fine, Taylor will be here shortly. We’ll have more information to go on. It’s the beginning of the end of this nightmare.”
I don’t know how he can be so sure, I’m fairly certain that he’s only trying to give me what he thinks I want right now – comfort. Any possible reply from me has the potential to send him into a tailspin, I don’t want to argue nor show him how frightened I am. It will only send his protective instincts into overdrive so I swallow my retort, almost chocking on the words jamming in my throat.
I’m never sure what he’ll do under extreme circumstances like this. He may not realise it but he needs managing, I can’t bear to think what would happen if he ever got his hands on this person, there would be no stopping the cold violence, the blinding, viscous rage that would almost certainly drive him to do something he’ll regret.
Mentioning the man brings him into Christian’s room with a rapid fire knock on the door and an entourage of alert men to watch over us. After a quick nod for us and a rare smile for Chris, Taylor hands Christian an envelope. “Sir, the ballistics report.”
Before he opens it I give him a look, a stern warning that elicits a slight wince, he knows what’s coming. “No secrets okay? I’ll take Chis for a walk.” I hop off the bed enticing Chris away with the promise of breakfast. Much as I’d like to stay to hear what we’ve learned I can’t allow Chris to hear this conversation.
With a fresh-faced Brandon manning the door Carl and Collins escort us to breakfast before they head home for some much needed R&R. I buy us all a round of coffee with a side of toasted sandwiches that only taste marginally better than cardboard. Out of the four of us Chris enjoys his the most, mainly because he’s able to slurp it down with a rare treat of chocolate milk.
Along with the melancholy that’s enveloped my heart like smog I feel edgy. The world seems awfully big to me right now, especially since we’re looking for one person in it. Maybe we’ll have some concrete news when we get back to Christian’s room.
We arrive back just as the boys step out from briefing Christian. Taylor holds me back for a private moment as Chris runs to Christian’s bedside. “We’ll be ready to leave in an hour Mrs Grey.” His watch slices away from me and onto the shiny grey floor as he contemplates his next words. When he meets my gaze again his is lit with a seriousness that makes my heart stutter. “I hope I can rely on your cooperation, Mr Grey will be livid knowing that I’ve spoken to you about this but you must appreciate that we have our plates full without you pulling some misplaced stunt.”
I swallow a guilty gulp of air, feeling like a child. In fact his tone is exactly like the one Ray would use to scold me. I know he’s right but seeing that we’re negotiating I’m not letting the opportunity pass me by. “You have my full cooperation Taylor but I must ask you something in return.”
I flush at his incredulous brow. His hard intake of breath heralds a string of words I’m sure I don’t want to hear. “Do you have any…”
I cut him off with a quelling look and words more heated than his, “Just give me a moment will you?” When he clamps his mouth into a tight line, folding his obstinate arms over his broad chest I continue. “If you find him…” Having to utter the actual words now I flounder, not sure how to express myself. “When you find him,” I correct myself, drilling deep into Taylor’s gaze, “you better keep Christian away from him. I don’t want my husband going to prison because he killed the bastard.”
Christian’s recount of beating the crap out of Hyde will remain a vivid reminder of what he’s capable of when someone hurts the ones he loves plus our current situation, at least to me, seems even bleaker than that one. As much as I’m terrified of this perp I’m more afraid of losing my husband to what will only come naturally to him under those conditions.
Narrowing his eyes at me he rubs the back of his neck before extending a brokering hand to me, “Okay.”
“Okay?” I ask, not ready to let my breath go just yet.
After a brief glance my way I get a glimpse of the avuncular Taylor that I got to know and love. His stern frown smooths as his eyes grow tender with familial affection. “Hey Ana, I get it. I’ve seen how he can be. You have my word. I’ll do everything in my power to keep him from doing something irresponsible.”
The pent up hug I’ve been holding for him finally breaks free. To his astonishment I fling my arms around his neck, embracing him like I would my dad. “Thank you. I promise there will be no stunts from me, escaping or otherwise.”
He chuckles while patting me awkwardly on my back, reservation keeping him from showing emotion. The brief slip in his professional demeanour over when he straightens to give me my orders, “One hour Mrs Grey, we’ll come and collect you.”
I guess I can’t ask for much more, this is hardly the time for levity. Dismissed I go in to find my husband. Grace is standing by the side of his bed holding a film against the light of a window. She and Christian both beam remarkably similar smiles at me considering that they’re not genetically related before returning their attention to what I assume is an x-ray of Christian’s arm. Chris is staring intently at it as she points some things out for him. Hopefully there’s been no talk of bullets.
“Mommy, look! We have a picture of daddy’s bones!”
I’ll be damned if I’m going to make these last precious minutes unhappy. “Wow buddy I see! Isn’t that amazing?”
With a broad grin he rattles off the latest thing he’s learnt, eager to show his grandma that he listened. “My hand has 27 special bones.” He holds up his spread hand for me to see.
We all laugh but Christian grabs him around the waist, pulling him into a hug, “All your bones are special champ but mine are just separate.”
He giggles, “Oh yes, that’s what I meant. Separate.”
I give Grace a quick squeeze around the shoulders, “Hi mom, how is our patient today?” I lean over pecking Christian’s chiselled cheek before wiping the lipstick mark away with my thumb. Drawing me closer with an arm around my back I nestle into him, relishing every bit of intimacy I can get.
“I’m very impressed with Dr Davis’ work. I don’t see any residual bone fragments but he will need to take it easy for a few weeks.” She gives him a look that says she knows he won’t be heeding her words. “You may even need to go for some physiotherapy once we see what your movement is like.”
Before he can brush it off I interject. “Mom, Christian is sending us away until this blows over,” I make a sweeping motion with my hand, keeping my expression mild so I don’t betray how negative I feel about the idea. “He’s promised to look after himself and that you will take care of his wound seeing as I won’t be here.” I give my husband a pointed stare, repeating his promise to his mom so he can’t wheedle out of it.
“What am I? Five?” He protests with a chuckle but I can tell that he’s pleased that we love him enough to care and make a fuss.
Grace gives me a sympathetic glance before she stares him down, her matronly look not brooking an instant of opposition. “I’ll do just that Ana, thank you for letting me know and you my dear son will do exactly as your wife and mother tells you. You will take it slow and you will make yourself available for regular visits from me to check on you. One cancelation and I’ll be moving in with you.”
Momentarily stunned he gapes at us, with a perplexed frown he concedes but clearly under duress. “Okay,” he says carefully, darting his eyes between the two ferocious women that’s unexpectedly replaced the doting ones he had moments ago.
Grace and I share a small wink in victory before she lets her strict act go, “Thank you honey.” Her smile turns bright and satisfied, “Where will you be staying?”
Probably still in shock from his usually placid mother’s speech he answers quietly, “I’ll be at the Fairmont. Taylor knows the security there; we have a good working relationship with them.”
“Okay, you should be discharged tomorrow. Make sure you take your pain meds if the arm bothers you.” She leans over the bed to kiss his cheek.
The grateful, thanks mom, tugs at her heart as much as it does mine. Don’t cry, don’t cry, I beg my disobedient eyes as they begin to leak without permission. To cover them up I slip off the bed to give Grace a goodbye hug, echoing Christian’s gratitude, “Thank you.”
She gives me a reassuring squeeze on both my shoulders then turns her bright gaze on the other light of her life, “Bye gorgeous boy! I’ll see you when you get back. Have a good time and don’t forget to call me okay?”
Chris looks to me, not sure if he’s allowed to pledge a promise to make a call, it’s adorable, drawing an encouraging smile from me. Banding his arms around Grace’s neck he giggles, “Okay,” he says, the casualness of his words not preparing us for his next statement. “I’ll call you to tell you I love you. And grandad.”
Three collective adult breaths suck the air from the room. The leak of my eyes turns to a full blown gush. Grace still has him in her arms, now flexing as she hugs him tighter. I watch through the blur as she closes her eyes to savour every second of their embrace. I can tell that she’s transported back to a time when it was Christian in her arms, she must be feeling grateful that this little one will grow up with trust and care instead of abuse.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read the emotion on Christian’s face either, much the same as his mother’s though his bears a sharp determination to keep it that way. Chris pulls away from Grace, a little unsure of himself. He’s sensed the shift in emotion but assumes he’s done something wrong. “Are you mad?” the little V on his forehead presses into his smooth skin.
Grace and I both stifle a sob, Christian the only one with the presence of mind to soothe him. “No champ, we’re just very happy that you love grandma and grandpa.”
The small frown doesn’t leave his face, still confused about the disappearance of the happy mood. “I love you too daddy. And mommy and gran and pop.” He adds, not wanting to leave anyone out. He grins; a mischievous glint is his eyes, “And Collins.”
Just like that my little boy breaks the icy grip of melancholy that threatened to steal over us, leaving us laughing. His affection for Collins directly related to Chris’ measure of all things cool.
Grace slips the chart back into the slot at the end on Christian’s bed, getting ready to leave. “Mom, do you need to go? Can we have ten minutes or so?” Surreptitiously I point my chin in Chris’ direction. If she can take him off our hands for a few minutes I can get briefed before going to Ray’s.
“Of course Ana, any extra time with this little monkey will only be a pleasure.” She turns to him, lightly pinching his chin, “Do you want another balloon honey?” A bounce and a jump later have him off the bed, racing her to the door.
The sudden silence is oppressive as is the ache in my soul. Wordlessly I plaster myself along Christian’s form, suddenly needing to join our bodies. A sure, steady hand glides into my hair as he cups my head to catch my sad gaze. He closes his eyes before he kisses me, soft and tender enough to belie the hardness of his body. I melt into his endearment, wanting nothing more than to stay there, moulded to him forever.
Apart from a song, Night-time Sun by Marianne’s Wish that’s been haunting me all morning I also hear a ticking clock, the down-counting seconds speeding the valuable minutes away. I’m powerless to stop it, helpless to halt the passage of what little time I have left. I cannot rid myself of the fear that this could truly be a final time. Please no! I beg, bargain and pray in my head, ready to give forego any vice to never see the truth of that future.
“What do you need baby? Tell me? I hate to see you like this.” There’s a touch of desperation in his voice that annoys me because he knows exactly what I want. When he feels my body stiffen, ready to throw the words at him like daggers he halts them on their way out. “Anything except that. Please baby, don’t ask to stay.”
My coiled body slackens in his hold, all the fight draining with what little hold I had on my wrung out emotions. “Just hold me,” is all I can muster through the wet sop of tears.
“Hush now, just let it all out. I’ve got you.” In an effort to get me closer he bands both arms around me. I hate myself for making him use the injured one but if this is the last time I’m in the circle of his embrace then I selfishly want the full experience.
Out of what I imagine must be desolation he starts to tell me about the ballistics, anything to take my mind off the foreboding place I’m wallowing in. “The ballistics confirmed the calibre of the rifle but only three of our suspects had probable opportunity. One of the former employees we had on our short list, Adam, has now been scrapped altogether. Taylor’s confirmed that he’s been in police custody for the past two days on an aggravated assault charge.”
He kisses the top of my head, not minding the shudders wracking my shoulders because they’re easing. “So progress you see. Already we’re down to three.”
I pull away slightly, fixing my red rimmed gaze to the striking ash of his, “And Linc? Taylor said he would check if he was a genuine enough hunter to be included.”
Brushing wet strands of hair off my face, he pins them behind my ear. “Both Linc and David, the guy I fired for industrial espionage, are still on the list. We know they own .308 calibre rifles, both with track records of some serious deer hunting.” He lodges my head back under his chin, like me he’s eager for any and all contact between us.
“Jose is the only one who is looking iffy at the moment. Although he’s here in Seattle at the moment, apparently he’s snowed under with arrangements to leave for a Bahamas shoot today. It doesn’t exclude him but considering the eyes we have on him it does seem unlikely. I can tell you this much, Taylor is right. This is someone that knows our MO. To slip away from the teams’ watchful eyes this fucker must have known he was being watched.”
The thought tightens the knot in my belly. “So one less suspect and three definite maybes?”
“Hey,” he says tipping my chin, “don’t look so despondent. We’re getting there and with you safely out of the way I can concentrate on getting this sorted.”
That’s what I’m afraid of but how do I tell him? “Promise me something?” I whisper against the sound of his beating heart in my ear.
Keen as he is to keep me happy he can’t hold the weary tone from his voice. “What is it baby?”
After a deep breath I give him a euphemised version of what I feel, “Please be careful, I couldn’t bear this being our last moment together.”
His chuckle scoffs at me, once again underscoring the fact that he doesn’t seem to value himself as we do. “I don’t want you to worry about me.”
How can I not?
Suddenly it becomes important to me to make him understand at least this. Breaking our contact I nail him with a fierce glare, “That’s not an answer and believe it or not I’ll be worrying about you as much as you’ll be worrying about me. If you want me to respect that and keep myself out of harm’s way you need to do the same for me. I. Love.You.” I cup his face with twin imploring hands. “I’ve spent too much time away from you. I will not lose you again. You will not do anything to jeopardise your safety and our future together.” I can feel the wild dart of my eyes, imploring him.
Instead of the anger I expected from him he crushes his lips to mine, smashing into me with a violence that robs me of all thoughts on the matter. I guess my reaction pleases him, I savour the taste of love and desire in his insistent mouth.
With racing breaths we part, stunned at the strong current of our connection. “I want nothing more than to come back to you and Chris.”
“You’d better.” I look away, seeing the swirl of emotion in his eyes will break me if I don’t. I need to get off the subject before doing something unreasonable – like chain myself to him. “How will we communicate?”
“Barney has transferred your old hard drive onto a new laptop that’s security encrypted, we can Skype, e-mail, whatever you want.”
I nod, not surprised about the measures he’s gone to. “Thank you, I’d like that. What will you be doing while we’re away?”
For a beat he looks at me as if the answer should be plain, “Anastasia, I thought we’ve spoken about this. Apart from staying at the Fairmont I’ll be going about my business as usual. Considering what this person knows about us and our routines I don’t want a change in our habits to tip him off on how close we are to finding him.”
Are we close to finding him? It doesn’t feel like it to me.
Even though it’s what I expected it still leaves me winded. If ever there was a time I’ve wanted to tie my husband up and hide him in a crate it’s now. “Christian I…” It’s so hard to admit needing help but I can’t do this on my own, I’m too scared. I’ve got too much to lose. “I don’t think I can deal with this by myself. Do you think Dr Flynn would see me, like on Skype or… I don’t know…” Unsure and uneasy I drop the ball in his court.
Very quickly the shock on his face morphs into what looks like pride but given the circumstances I’m sure I’m reading him wrong. “Baby,” he breathes. “Context aside I can’t think of a better thing for you and yes, I’ll set it up. I’ll e-mail John today. I’m so happy that you’re taking steps to ask for help.”
There’s a slight affronting sting to his words in the sense that he seems to think that I need this so much but at the same time I want to be happy and healthy and stable. I offer him a weak smile, “Thanks.” I think.
My eyes stretch remembering something, “What about Julie, I was supposed to start working with her this week?”
Now he’s laughing at me, thoroughly amused. “You might recall baby that it’s my company. Miss Logan will work around the situation. I suggest you Skype her as well.” The good humoured sparkle in his eye is almost distracting enough to take my mind off our impending departure but not quite.
The fleeting break from or worries comes to a grinding halt as Taylor and Grace show up at the same time. Panic flares in my chest, I’m not nearly ready to go but I make my shaky legs stand to make room for Chris to say goodbye to Christian. Even that is a heart breaking sight, Chris curling his little arm around his daddy’ neck. I stand by, cracking open as I hear Christian telling him to be a good boy and to listen to me. After a muffled promise he earns another kiss and cuddle from Christian, “Good boy.”
Christian looks no less pained than I feel when I fling myself across his chest, the urge to never let go so great I fear Taylor might have to drag me away. “No tears Mrs Grey, I’ll see you soon. Don’t make me come out to Ray to spank you.” His whispered words, though spoken to jest cracks with the strain of emotion it bears.
My half-hearted giggle is laced with anguish; to me it seems more like a grunt. “I love you Christian.”
“And I you baby. Don’t ever forget that.”
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