My post coital glow froze over rapidly, chilling me with a frightening terror. My heart stopped – completely, rendering me incapable of logical, practical thought. Fuck, fuck, fuck! With every skipped beat my breath came shorter, shallower, my mind singular in its focus – panic. That was what this was; pure, crippling, blind panic.
Just like Dr Flynn taught me the day before, naming the emotion was what saved me from the attack that might have become full blown. That and Ray’s drill, a chanting distant voice in the back of my head to stay calm is what got me off my ass and racing to the team for help, finally letting the determination to help my husband override the fear that was holding me hostage.
The moment I burst into the room it was already on high alert. Collins was barking into the phone clutched between his tensed shoulder and ear, fingers flying over the keyboard with fevered strokes that could only spell trouble. I should have known that our system here would be connected to the GEH mainframe.
A second later saw Ray jogging into the house, Chris bouncing on his hip and Carl bringing up the rear, securing doors as he went. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that we were under lockdown. Ray’s schooled control inspired the same in me, prompting a steeling breath. When he reached me an authoritative hand curled around my upper arm and guided me away, “Let’s give these fellas some room.”
We filed into Ray’s study before he let Chris down. I took a seat, perched on the very edge of the wingback facing the desk, grateful for a minute to think then, almost instantly, hating the opportunity to do so. At least Chris seemed unconcerned as he climbed onto my lap, distracting me with their outdoor adventure.
On his desk PC Ray selected a movie for Chris and in a stroke of inspiration, enticed him into wearing headphones so that we could have a private talk. Only when we were sure Chris was engrossed and oblivious did Ray round the desk. He stood facing me as he leaned back against the table top with his arms crossed over his chest and a grim expression on his face, “What happened Annie?” His calm, reined-in baritone spoke of his taciturn nature, his stone cold grip on control providing the glue that kept me from tearing apart.
“I’m not sure daddy. Christian and I were chatting on Skype when they had a power outage at GEH. I heard an alarm or something then he severed the call.”
Ray nodded, “Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, that doesn’t mean anything and I’m sure they have a back-up power supply.”
Ray’s words were reasonable, logical but for now they didn’t fly in the face of the uncertainty I was feeling. Could someone use the time between an outage and the onset of the back-up power to breach the GEH fortress? Will Christian call the police or try to handle this in-house? What if the outage seemed innocuous and they missed something, something that came back to haunt us later? Ray was right, I was getting way ahead of myself but it was impossible not to speculate, the anxiety came off me like I was wearing it, like it thrummed in my very blood. There was no way to separate myself from it.
I nodded my assent, keeping the barrage of questions to myself. I felt as though I’d give them life if I dared to utter them. Clearly dread was making me superstitious. I also didn’t want Ray to worry about me any more than he already was.
Ray quizzed me about the flowers while we waited for news. I was happy to oblige, in spite of the crappy topic it was better than letting my uncertainties run riot in my exhausted head.
Later, when my brain was less mush and more substance I realised that our time in the study barely took up the best part of ten minutes but it felt like hours before Carl knocked on the door.
Ray and I lunged at the door but I made it first, wrenching it open with a pleading look and a silent litany falling from my lips – please let it be nothing.
Carl took a startled step back, no doubt in shock of the beseeching woman he saw before him. “Uhm… Mrs Grey,” he blinked then recovered, “seems we’ve had a false alarm. Several grids in Seattle have been without power, we’re confirming with the council but it seems they blew a transformer.”
The sensation of the heavy tension leaving my body now left me feeling dizzy and light, like I might take off in the slightest of breezes. Oh thank goodness! I clutched at my heart as I stumbled back to find a seat in lieu of my unsupportive legs.
A second later Collins rushed in, the sound of Somebody as soothing as balm when he held out my ringing phone to me. All in a single motion I expressed my gratitude with a heartfelt smile, took the phone and swiped it into action, “Christian?”
“Baby.” I heard the rush of his exhalation. “I’m sorry for leaving you hanging like that, I had to make sure things were secure here but we’re fine. We’re all fine, I’m sure the boys already filled you in.”
As the adrenaline ebbed, the tears flowed – big, splashy, silent, grateful tears. “Christian.” I breathed his name, my relief evident in the rasp of my tone.
His nervous chuckle didn’t surprise me though I had hoped that by now my concern for him would be less of a novelty. It reinforced what I already knew; he still needed the constant reassurance of my love and commitment and, with every blessed moment that he was available to me, I was only too happy to oblige. “I love you Christian.”
His intake of breath was sharp, as he remained silent for a beat. I got the sense that he was letting the words sink in, filling some unseen emotional reservoir in a rare moment of acceptance. “I love you too. More than you know.”
An exquisite moment of bonding silence followed, both of us revelling in what seemed to be an extension of our time together. Whether it was temporary or permanent I didn’t know but I was happy to take every minute I could get, any way I could get it.
Taylor calling for Christian’s attention in the background interrupted our emotional melding, broke our shared moment, “Baby I have to go, I just didn’t want you to worry. I’ll catch up with you tonight.”
After I whispered a reluctant goodbye I let my husband go but the unease that clung to me was much harder to shake. If fervent wishing could resolve the mess we were in the intensity of mine would have forced them to be granted – my fairy godmother was so freaking fired. I wanted no part of a creature whose sick sense of humour handed me the man of my dreams then dumped us in a pile so deep there was no end in sight.
By late afternoon I suspect my jumpiness was getting to Ray. If the hard line of tension drawing my shoulders in a bunch and the rigid set of my jaw wasn’t enough then the restlessness vibrating off me would be a dead give-away – I was on the edge of the edge.
When he called me to the lounge I groaned when I took in the foam mats covering the lounge floor. He’d moved the furniture up against the walls and along with an over-excited Chris was waiting for me to join their impromptu self-defence class in an effort to help me work off some steam. Even Sawyer who, unfortunately for him, was early for his shift was roped in to be my general punching bag/sparring partner.
Reluctance didn’t begin to describe how little I wanted to be part of this but Carl and Collins were grinning widely, their jeers encouraging me to wipe the floor with their colleague and Chris’ sweet animation was impossible to resist.
Considering our history I understood the glint in Sawyer’s eyes when we assumed our positions, feet planted wide, facing each other. The idea of him handing me my ass in a small motion of revenge for escaping him suddenly seemed very likely but I must admit that my mind was already off our crappy situation.
Ray issued some instructions as he faced Chris, his mini opponent almost expiring with enthusiasm as he stood ready to take on his grandpa in a phenomenal show of toddler bravery that’s never met with the jading events that teaches us fear.
I gulped a breath and tried to find my centre, forcing myself to visualise the drill I was going to execute. My body was humming with the multiple hits of adrenaline I’ve had over the last few weeks, my muscles flexing in anticipation as I steeled myself for being manhandled by the lug that had at least 120 pounds on me. A wave of exhilaration told me that Ray had hit the nail on the head, a release for all the pent-up frustration and hopelessness was exactly what I needed.
When Ray barked the command I threw myself at Sawyer, instinct taking over. A second later Sawyer was on his back, pinned down by my determined knee on the inside of his bulky bicep. I couldn’t help grinning at his saucered eyes as they betrayed his surprise. Take that!
Collins and Carl were both at the end of their shift and supposed to be leaving but they were up from their seats, edging closer to enjoy the spectacle of their Secret Service colleague in the prone position.
Carl was too respectful to say anything even though he couldn’t hold back his chuckle but Collins, feeling more secure in his relationship with Sawyer, had no qualms in starting up the playful banter. “Damn Luke! That’s gotta’ sting! And by an itty bitty girl!”
It felt good to laugh with them; it was good natured and reminded me that not everything had gone to pot. Sawyer grumbled something about not being ready, his thunderous expression ominous but I could tell it was only for show, it belied the sparkle in his eyes, giving me the impression that he was proud of me.
We spent the next hour going through stalling and break-away techniques with some strikes thrown in for good measure. I knew many of them from Ray’s training but Sawyer was up to date with the latest in the world of self-defence and taught me some useful new ones. He was a great teacher, calm and patient while Ray was happy to leave me in his capable hands as he spent his time instructing Chris.
Collins and Carl stayed to watch the entire session, their tired bodies forgotten as they watched Sawyer in action. By their awed faces I realised that they held him in very high regard, maybe even strove to be like him.
At the end of the session I was pleasantly exhausted, covered in sweat and endlessly grateful for Ray’s foresight. Sparring like this, especially as a woman, left me feeling powerful and strong. For the first time in days my edgy buzz was nicely under control, I felt almost like myself as I headed for the shower. When I rounded the corner into the passage I overheard Sawyer congratulating Ray on teaching me well. In spite of how unemotional Ray could sometimes seem I knew the acknowledgement would please him, especially considering the source.
After my shower I drew a bath for Chris then put him to bed with a story. The exercise had been good for him and a nice change from the boring routine we had fallen into. I grinned at his long yawns as he battled the weight of his eyelids, amused that one so tired would have the urge to fight it off.
Tiptoeing out of the room and down the passage I found Ray and Sawyer bent over an open file on the dining room table. Their voices were hushed but urgent, lending an eerie air to the normally welcoming space. I could just make out the words dangerous and cartel when they looked up; startled to see me. The uneasy mood didn’t improve and by their ruddy faces I could add guilt to the mix – they were hiding something form me.
I took a deep breath, straightening to my full height which – granted – wasn’t much, but I refused to be coddled. My eyes narrowed as I took them in, announcing my suspicion as I fisted my hands in my hips, “What’s going on?” My voice was clear and low, it held the exact tone I was hoping to attain – stern, uncompromising.
The two men flushed then shared a look. Ray shrugged his shoulders as he blew out an exasperated breath, “You better sit down Annie.” With his chin he motioned to the couch behind me that once again took up its rightful place in the lounge that doubled as our gym earlier.
My heart and knees didn’t like the sound of that, both seemed to stop working as Ray’s expression took on what he was really feeling – bleak. Seeing my ashen face he took charge by steering me to the sofa where he joined me, the file in his hand setting off all sorts of alarm bells in my suddenly hyperaware head. Sawyer headed for his station, leaving Ray the sole barer of what I knew had to be bad news.
Mercifully without preamble Ray started, sensing that prolonging my agony was not going to do any of us any good. “When I had a look through the perp’s files there was something about the David Blackmore guy that struck me as familiar so I cashed in some favours to check it out.”
We have files on the perps? I should have known. Apart from the perp’s photographs Taylor showed me I was not shown anything else, wasn’t even aware that we had the files that Ray obviously had full access to. Shaking my head I cursed that my “full disclosure” came with some restrictions. My lips thinned with displeasure but I kept my mouth firmly shut, allowing Ray to continue.
“I remembered an opp with a similar MO we were working in the mid-nineties. We were called in after a simple industrial espionage case got blown open by an overzealous reporter. The article he ran accused big mining and petroleum corporations of hiring spies to infiltrate growing “green companies” in an effort to undermine their cutting edge work to reduce the world-wide reliance on fossil fuels.”
Though full comprehension was still out of reach I could already make the connections between our situation and what Ray was telling me, but I didn’t understand how my dad and the military fitted into the picture. Nor did it stop the fear from creeping back, slowly tying my stomach in knots. I nodded, showing my understanding as I soaked up his well-loved face with the growing knowledge that the news was going to be devastating.
Clearing his throat in an obvious stalling tactic he rubbed unusually nervous hands on his denim clad thighs. Seeing Ray uptight was not something I was used to. It was very unsettling to watch his Adam’s apple bob along his throat as he searched for appropriate euphemistic words to soften the blow I was expecting.
“The reporter came to an untimely death and so did some key personnel who were working on a secret project for an up-and-coming green industrialist. That would still have been a police or maybe an FBI matter but my team was called in because the so-called industrial spy connected to this debacle had known links to a drug cartel in Columbia and he disappeared along with a hostage that the US government wasn’t prepared to sacrifice.”
Listening to Ray I was stuck in a nightmare, playing the most horrific game of connect the dots as I drew the correlations. The picture was becoming brutally clear not to mention very ugly to look at.
I knew there were some things about what Ray did that he couldn’t share with me but I tried to read between the lines, picking up on what he could and couldn’t divulge. “So you went in to rescue the hostage?”
“Yes,” he confirmed, his eyes glazed over as he looked into the past. “And we were tasked to find the connection between the cartel and the hostage. You know, what would a drug cartel do with a pioneering eco scientist? It didn’t make sense and I guess the government was concerned that the narcotics industry was revolutionising or something if they needed this guy’s expertise.”
Frowning, I suddenly wondered the same thing and shuddered at the implications. Ray was quick to put me out of my misery, cutting his gaze – now focussed – back to me. “Turns out the only connection was just that – a connection. The cartel boss turned out to be the brother of one of the directors of the coal mining company that had instigated the espionage. The drug lord brother supplied his sibling with a contact he usually used for drug related business and it was the mining company who ordered the kidnapping of the scientist that they had tried to entice into their ranks for years.”
“And did you manage the rescue?” I was drawn into the story, unable to untangle myself from it even though what little good sense I had told me to squeeze my eyes tight, put my hands over my ears and hum to drown out the sound of Ray exposing the tale.
“We did along with the intel we gathered but the spy got away, escaping into the dense forests of Columbia but, all in all, it was regarded as a successful mission.”
“Okay,” I breathed, aware that there was still a vital piece of information I was missing, “so how is this related to our perp?”
I watched Ray lean forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his fingers massaging his temples in slow circles. “The spy’s name was John Finch and according to this file,” he tapped it, not yet willing to pass it to me, “aka Mike Duncan, aka Grant Russel, aka David Blackmore.”
Even though I was expecting the blow it came with no less force, knocking the wind from my lungs in a rush. Finally Ray held the file out to me, my hand taking and opening it in autopilot mode. Staring at what looked like various passport photos I could see how he changed his appearance every time he took on a new identity but with the benefit of having all the photos next to each other to compare it was easy to spot that it was the same man.
Sensing my distress Ray filled the shocked silence between us. I’m sure I would have had questions if my brain wasn’t too numb to think of them. “From what I can gather, after our mission he saw a gap in the market and reinvented himself to do what he was recruited for by the coal company – a specialist industrial spy with little regard for laws, hired by companies with dark intentions and very deep pockets.”
Having a spy at GEH was bad enough but one with this particular skillset and, it seemed, deadly determined was nauseating. “Does Christian know?” my voice was shaky, my mouth dry and my throat coated with the bitterness of bile.
“Yes, I got the e-mail right after you went for a shower and forwarded it to Taylor. I made this copy to share with Luke.” Hearing his name made the man look up from his monitor and Ray called him over.
Strangely the fear greased the cogs in my head; now turning they post the facts to the relevant mental files, slowly compiling a probable sequence of events. We already know that he could devise a rouse to access Christian’s office, especially if he used to work at GEH HQ; he owns a .308 calibre hunting rifle and finding The Grace as well as the location of Christian’s private residence would be child’s play for a criminal like him. Also Christian’s cop acquaintance lifted the BDSM file on Christian from the unlisted property he owned that happened to be filled with information about us and our movements which begged the question I asked, “So if this guy started working for GEH, how did his past slip by HR?”
Sawyer took up the baton from Ray, “This is not like a simple lie on your resume, something that Mr Grey’s HR department is very adept at sniffing out. This guy goes way deeper, actually stealing an identity that has a whole authentic history behind it. These days identity theft is an industry in itself and I would imagine a guy with ties to the cartels has all the right criminal contacts. It’s almost impossible to spot because the background is legit.”
“Yet, in spite of being so adept at lying he gets fingered for espionage?” I frown at Sawyer, my train of thought wanting to take me in a million directions.
He nods, pursing his lips, “Ah, yes. That’s where Mr Grey’s company is unique. Rooting out the trash before they even start at GEH is only the beginning of the security system. Between Mr Grey, Barney and Taylor they’ve devised a complex, multi-layered system with built-in fail safes to counter check each level. A network of imaging and data that can almost spit out a name at the press of a button if there was a suspicion and in the case of David that’s exactly what happened. The system picked up on files being opened by an unauthorised user and the team followed the trail from there.”
“So he underestimated GEH’s level of security and the system pointed him out. Then he gets fired but not prosecuted? When did he leave?” Piece by piece I’m fitting the bits of information into a timeline.
“According to David’s file they picked up on the espionage very quickly, acted even quicker. He got away with too little to prosecute but he was fired three months ago on the spot. I’m not sure why Mr Grey let it slide, I wasn’t in Mr Grey’s employment at the time but I guess because so little damage was done and the guy left without making a big fuss.”
“How long did he work for GEH before they picked up on his activities?” I don’t know how far I can take this with Sawyer, it’s clear that the info he has is not from firsthand experience.
“If I recall about four months Mrs Grey, he took his time to find the lay of the land so to speak before he made his move. After he was fired the team would have had another look into his background but nothing in there would’ve been suspicious. Mr Grey questioned him about his motivation but being the professional that he is he had a plausible cover story in place.”
Sawyer sits back, crossing his ankle over the opposite leg’s knee, settling in to share what he knows. “He confessed to Taylor after some, uhm…” he broke off mid-sentence, grappling to find the right words when I realised that Taylor must’ve beat the crap out of him, “…persuasion that he worked alone and that he was after GEH’s unregistered patents to sell on the black market. The fact that he got away with so little worked against us in this regard because David still had plenty of room to lie. If he would have been caught with something more substantial it may have been easier to verify his story or connect him to a competitor.”
He catches my wide-eyed stare as I try to come to grips with the layers of deceit unfolding before me; it’s like something from a movie. His mouth turns a rueful line, his expression sombre, “Now we know why he took the blame on himself, he was protecting the corporation that hired him and keeping himself in a job that must be worth a good few million dollars.”
And he’s still out there, my head screams in protest to the influx of fresh facts. With resources, motive and apparently drive to do whatever it took to get rid of the other half of my soul. Just as that realisation settles another one strikes, leaving me breathless with fright. Even if we manage to find and eliminate this guy nothing stops the corporation that hired him to keep trying to derail Christian and his company. Fuck!
Christian is rich, very rich but just like him, they’re trying to protect what they’ve built and in spite of the astronomical size of GEH it’s owned by him and him alone. A multi-national corporation is almost a face-less threat. With every new thought my outlook gets bleaker, our future darker.
Ray’s voice breaks into my thoughts, anchoring me back to the moment. “Annie, you okay sweetheart, you’ve gone very pale?”
No, not in the slightest but that’s not what I say, “Uhm, yes. Just a lot to take in.” I’m vaguely aware that I don’t sound convincing but I’m too distracted to care. I get up, my legs moving without volition to carry me outside for a long gulp of air. I don’t feel the icy wind as it bites into my arms, my nervous system paralysed with processing the horrible possibilities. This is so much worse than I could ever have dreamed.
Sitting on the edge of Ray’s patio I use every ounce of strength not to give in to the barely restrained panic when something occurs to me, if this was such a cut and dried case why did Christian maintain surveillance on this guy? How did he end up on our perp list if he left months ago without a fight, leaving with a clear, albeit criminal explanation?
The uncertainty is enough to galvanise me into action. Pulling my phone from my yoga pants I dial Christian’s number in a final bid to get some straight answers. When he answers on the third ring the weariness in his voice is proof enough that he knows why I’m calling, no doubt Sawyer tipping him off while Ray and I were chatting. “Hi baby.”
“Hi yourself,” I’m not at all surprised that my voice mirrors the tone he’s just set. I hate that there’s a telling quiet filling the airwaves between us, neither willing to give an inch but also desperately clinging to the hope that we won’t be arguing. It’s a jarring, confusing blend of emotions.
I let out a frustrated sigh, massaging my forehead with my fingers, praying that he understands how important this is to me when he finally relents, “You can’t blame me baby, I was, am still terrified you’ll run.” His foreboding baritone is low, his heart wrenching insecurity where I’m concerned piercing but now he has me worrying about how much he hid from me.
“You knew about all of this?” the incredulous staccato of my voice must be harsher than I intended because his denial is almost instant.
“No, hell no! No!” in the pause I can actually hear his ragged breathing, his own apprehension preventing him from finding the words he wants to speak. “No.” he says again this time more measured, calmer. “What Ray dug up was extraordinary. We would never have found that information if it wasn’t for him but we had our suspicions that David wasn’t who he said he was.”
I hide my relieved exhalation; I don’t want him to think he’s off the hook quite yet. “So what didn’t you tell me?”
“Baby I…” he stops himself, maybe for the first time grasping the magnitude of the situation. With a steeling breath he finally relents, telling me what I want to know, “I neglected to mention that he was our prime suspect and the lengths to which guys like him are asked to go by the corporations that employ them. We kept tabs on him from the moment he left GEH but in the light of today’s revelations I now suspect that he knew he was being watched. This is not the first threat we’ve had to deal with, that’s why our security is what it is. I’m well aware of what’s at stake for companies whose livelihood I make redundant with our advances in cheaper, greener energy.”
His choice of words doesn’t go unnoticed, neglected my ass but I don’t dwell on it now. At least he’s answered my questions though there’s still something that doesn’t add up, “When we’ve spoken about the perp in the past, about his profile, the personal nature of the attacks came up time and time again. If David really is our guy why not just get it over with, why make it so personal?”
“We were never one hundred percent sure, the personal nature of the acts lead to the addition of the other three names on the list but now it all makes sense. He made it look personal to deflect the attention from himself. It was too soon after I fired him not to be included as a suspect if something were to happen to me but if he made the threat seem personal then he’d be in a pool of suspects where he hoped to look the least guilty. Taylor speculated that he was running out of time with his employer so he had to get creative.”
“I think he was shocked to get caught at GEH, he seriously underestimated our security system and because the whole incident was recorded and documented he realised that, probably for the first time, he wasn’t a faceless criminal that could just melt away once his job was done. He faced a real risk of being caught by the authorities in spite of his aliases if we didn’t get to him first.”
“Do you know which corporation he’s linked to?”
His wavering tells me he does but I wait for his confirmation, holding onto a terse breath and a badly fraying temper. I can only imagine him, pacing a ditch into the sumptuous carpet of the Fairmont suite, debating with himself about what to reveal.
“Yes.” The simple, short answer is spoken with absolute finality, irrefutably clear that it brooks no comment or question. Instantly I get the message that he’ll never divulge the who or when or how, at least not to me – too much risk involved if I knew.
I’m well aware of the fact that he can’t see me but I nod anyway, unable to speak as the tight band around my chest pulls tighter.
After long minutes his tentative voice interrupts our brooding muteness, “Baby, please say something, I’m going crazy here.”
“I’m not going to run, though I don’t know why I keep mentioning it, you obviously don’t listen.” I hope he gets used to my newfound grumpy disposition because for the foreseeable future it will be marking every interaction between us.
“That’s good to know Mrs Grey.” The smile I hear through his words is testament to his need for constant reassurance but also his mercurial ways – how he even manages one right now I would never know.
As soon as he realises that my mood isn’t shifting along with his he goes into comforting mode, “Anastasia, please listen to me. I know things are looking bleak at the moment but I’ve got it under control, you need to trust me baby.”
Why do I get the sense that he’s trying to tell me something that, for whatever reason, he can’t spell out? Surely he must grasp how much that is to ask of me right now, faced with what we’re facing I’m not sure anyone could.
“Do you trust me baby?” he urges, his voice ringing with uncertainty.
“I trust you Christian I just don’t see how that’s going to help us.”
“That’s all I’m asking Mrs Grey.” While I’m pondering his cryptic message of trust he changes the subject. “That reminds me, just so you don’t worry I won’t be available from 8:00pm to 10:00pm tomorrow night, I’m being inaugurated into the Commission on Sustainable Development.”
Huh? “Okay.” I draw out the word, perplexed.
“It’s an international commission made up of various delegates that represent government, industry, business and NGO’s to help advise future decisions on climate change, greenhouse emissions and sustainable development.”
Oh! “And you’ve volunteered to be on this commission?”
He chuckles, “No baby, you get nominated by your industry peers and then invited if you suit the requirements. It’s kind of a big deal. I’ll be in a much better position to affect positive change for our planet.”
I couldn’t ignore the note of pride threaded with subtle excitement even if I tried. I’ve forgotten how passionate he is about alternative energy sources and now, understanding the endorsement brings home how far he’s come in his industry.
“Congratulations Christian, I’m proud of you.” I mean it though it’s hard to say knowing that it’s that very excellence that’s brought this threat to our door. I never thought of myself as an activist but suddenly I have the urge to wave a protesting placard in the face of some big corporation’s CEO, maybe hug a tree in demonstration of the injustice of hunting a man who is only trying to save our home – damn greedy bastards!
His incredulous lilt takes me by surprise, doesn’t he know? “Of course. Always. I’m proud of you and I respect you. I thought you knew.”
“You’ve never said.” My heart aches at the vulnerability if his words, when you’re as broken as he is those things aren’t implied in I love you. I feel like kicking myself for never actually spelling it out.
“Well, now you know. I am and I do and I love you.” I swallow against the rasp in my voice, betraying my shallow tears.
His gentle chuckle takes away the sting of my imminent eyes, “Are you sure you didn’t steal that line from a song Mrs Grey?”
“I am Mr Grey,” I say on a weak giggle. “Just made it up on the spot.”
“I love you too, I wish you could come with me.”
After an emotional goodbye we hang up and I head for bed, a million and one things reeling through my head to keep me in that restless state between wakefulness and deep sleep.
Friday morning I’m wearing my lack of sleep like a badge. Along with my sore muscles, achy from the vigorous workout from yesterday leaves me in a strange mood. Regardless of Christian’s insistence that I trust him I feel empty and numb. It would be a pleasant change from the relentless fear if it wasn’t so disconcerting to feel disconnected from everything.
I’ve kept myself busy answering e-mails from my mom, even a surprise one from Kate demanding to know what’s going on. Any other time her straight shooting ways would have brought a smile to my lips regardless of how crappy I felt but not today. I answer her as best I can and hope she doesn’t pick-up of my lacklustre reply. In no fit state to talk to Flynn I rashly cancel my Skype session for today, making myself a half-hearted promise to continue tomorrow.
Christian calls me on various occasions during the day but from my side our conversation is stilted. His efforts to cheer me up do little to lift my aura of disinterest and by the end of the day I have him exasperated with me. “What’s the matter baby?” he pleads, desperation bleeding through his words. “I never thought I’d say this but I actually prefer you being mad at me.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know. I guess I’m just tired.” For a moment I ponder if this is what it feels like to have a nervous breakdown, so flat and uninterested.
“Mmhh,” he muses, unconvinced. “Maybe you’ll feel better if you could share my night with me. I’ve e-mailed you the link to the webcast that will stream the whole thing tonight. I should be up by around 8:30pm.”
I make an effort to sound excited and I think I pull it off because he stops hounding me. In turn I insist on full disclosure of the security measures he plans on implementing for the night.
Ray mercifully takes up my slack with Chris and by early evening I feel guilty enough about my neglect to offer to make dinner. Around the table I barely keep my mind on the conversation, with both Ray and Chris needing to repeat things in order for me to answer.
Chris and I place a last call to Christian to wish him well before Chris goes to bed and I curl up with a book to distract myself, waiting for Christian’s webcast to begin. I setup my laptop on a small, open corner of the dining room table, Ray and Sawyer both joining me to watch the proceedings.
As the candidates file into the Seattle auditorium I recognise a large number of heads of state and captains of Industry. I relax a little thinking that the security at an event like this must be tighter than a drum. A reporter on site gives a brief outline of the commission’s tasks and explains that the formation of the CSD was a direct consequence of the International Earth Summit. The more I listen the more I realise that it isn’t just a big deal, but a huge one.
The first real kernel of emotion blooms in my chest as I watch Christian, dashingly handsome in a bespoke black tux as he swears his oath. His expression is solemn, a testament to how seriously he takes what he does, how passionately he feels about helping hungry people and our precious planet.
I go from no feelings to a crushing swell of them, so overwhelming I have a hand clutched over my heart as it expands with it. My beautiful, broken, brilliant man! My longing for him acute as my eyes follow him stepping off the podium and to the left of the screen where Taylor waits to escort him back to his seat. Just a couple of seconds before we lose sight of them something obviously captures Taylor’s attention. His head swings to the direction of whatever has his eyes the size of saucers.
I watch in horror as he turns his body in an effort to blanket Christian, driving them both into the ground. Because they’re lying between rows of seats we can’t see them anymore but pandemonium erupts in the auditorium with many close personal protection staff going into security hyper drive. Off screen we can hear shots being fired, shouting and then the screen goes blank with the snowy hiss of a broken connection.
“Nooooooo!!!!!” I yell at the laptop, my heart pounding a marathon in my chest, my expression beseeching as I look to Sawyer for answers that I know he doesn’t have.
He wastes no time, hitting a speed dial button on his phone while pulling on a headset so his hands are free. He places an emergency call with the police then tunes into their radio channels to stay updated.
I can only look on. A debilitating mix of shock and dread runs rebellious in my veins, riveting me to the floor. My earlier concern about not feeling anything becomes redundant as every possible emotion related to fear bombards my brain at once.
The next call is to Brandon. I know only because Sawyer tells me so as he hits a second speed dial button to get hold of Taylor’s 2IC. Ray bands an arm round my shoulder, pulling me close. Together we stare at Sawyer, willing Brandon to answer his damn phone.
After what must’ve been countless rings Sawyer hangs up, frustrated. The sound of the cordless handset slamming into the cradle makes me jump, effectively rebooting my brain. I shuffle over to the sofa to hug my knees to my chest, rocking myself as I try to hang on to the tenuous hold I have on my sanity.
With every effort Sawyer makes to gain some intel I hear the minutes tick by, settling an unbearable weight of worry onto my shoulders that only grows with every failed attempt. Ray does his best to comfort me, keeping me plied with tea and muttering about no news being good news but his words mean nothing when I see his own features distorted with concern, his body strung tight with tension as he paces past me.
Stubbornly my mind refuses to indulge in memories of happy times with Christian, like a defence mechanism protecting me from the painful possibility of losing him. What happened, where is he, was the attack aimed at him or someone else, why hasn’t anybody called us? I only seem to have the capacity to replay these questions in my mind.
Sawyer has every available news channel streaming in tiny PIPs across all monitors and the police frequency crackling it’s static in the background. Even after three hours there were no mention of any events relating to what we saw happening at the CSD inauguration.
If I wasn’t so caught up in my own world of panic I might have found that strange but my current mental capacity was not running at full tilt. I felt trapped in my useless body, unable even to cry as it continued to refuse my brain’s commands.
When the tension finally coiled too tight I heard a snapping sound in my head, the ping echoing through my vacuous head before releasing a flood of supressed tears. I jumped up, grabbing Sawyer by his collar, desperation making off with my sanity as I yelled at him, “Why haven’t we heard anything?”
Sawyer, bewildered by my outburst just gaped at me, his extensive list of expertise not including the skills to handle a woman going off the deep end while Ray stepped in to unfurl my death grip from Luke’s shirt. Pulling me to his chest, I let out a gut wrenching sob, pounding his chest with my fists.
When I calmed down enough for him to let me go he pushed me back onto the sofa where I sat, nervously bouncing my leg, as agitated and unsettled as I’ve ever been. I almost screamed when we heard someone banging on the door but Ray’s honed reflexes clamped a sealing hand over my mouth.
I caught his eye, nodding to indicate that I would keep my mouth shut so he could let go. I watched in horrid fascination as the two men drew firearms and communicated with each other via hand signals that I couldn’t follow. Ray took a position behind the front door while Sawyer checked the monitor for a view of the front door.
The dramatic sag of his shoulders were soon followed by the holstering of his gun, “It’s Mr Grey.” The relief in his voice was tangible but to my broken mind, temporarily unfathomable.
By the time I began to process what he had said I was already wrapped in Christian’s arms.
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