“Let’s go home, Mrs. Grey. I’ve had enough of sharing you with the world for today.” Christian’s voice is still low and lazy from our tryst, but beneath his playful griping I sense a measure of truth.
Yes, I muse, nothing like an afternoon delight to burn off the hard edge of anger. I hum my agreement, but in the back of my mind I file his spy-crazy ways as a fight for another day. Once this drama with José is resolved, things are going to have to change. Big time.
With a cocky grin Christian passes me the tiny scrap that passes as my panties, letting it dangle on the end of his finger. Arrogant ass, I think as I grab it from him, looking into those twinkling orbs of gray. He’s obviously delighted that he’s managed to subdue his cat into a purring kitten.
Narrowing my eyes at him, I’ll let him enjoy his victory – for now. Soon I’ll be putting my foot down. And how is it possible that he can still look that good after what we just did? I wiggle back into my dress, jealous for a moment of the stunning-looks genetic lottery he won at birth, until I remember the shitty hand he was dealt from that very same mother. With him being so supremely confident, so accomplished, it’s very easy to forget that he comes with a boatload of baggage, especially since it comes so beautifully wrapped.
As always, compassion and empathy are the counterbalances for whatever anger and resentment his actions may dredge up in me. Add to that the oceans of love we share between us, and we have something that oddly works – for us. Screw the world if they don’t get it.
Amazing what a little perspective can do, my inner goddess reminds me sweetly as she lounges on a chaise looking pleased with my conclusions.
Now all I need to do is to remember that in the face of all the rough storms that come our way.
Smiling, Christian takes my hand and leads me out of my office. When we step outside a hush falls over the open-plan work space. Every single person is trying their level best to look busy while they steal surreptitious glances our way.
Oh. My. Goodness! They know! I cringe, blushing with the ferocity of fire but my husband is unfazed. Calmly – and with a smirk – he turns to me, curls his arms around me, and kisses me – soundly and deeply.
Leaving me dazed he faces his staff once more. “Hot wife,” he grins, looking sheepish as he tilts his head in my direction. He holds out his hand for Chris to take, and with that we stride off, leaving the giggles, sighs, and whispers behind.
I could kiss him again! Way to show the world, at least the one at Grey Enterprises, that we are solid. I doubt there will be any more gossip about my fidelity or the alleged split in our relationship from anyone who witnessed that.
At home I kick off my shoes and swap my work wear for a pair of comfy yoga pants and a sweater. I’m looking forward to the weekend; they seem to be so much less stressful than our weekdays. Chris has another playdate tomorrow, this time with a little boy he met at the GEH daycare, Christian has promised to spend some quality time with us, and of course tomorrow is Mia’s big night. A chilled weekend will do us all good.
The vibration of my phone on the bed snaps me out of my hopeful thoughts, and when I see Kate’s face on the screen I flop onto the bed, settling in for a good long chat.
“Kate! Good timing. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” she peeps in a small voice, telling me that she’s anything but.
“Heyyyy. What’s up?” I ask gently, careful not to turn the wobble I heard into actual waterworks.
“I’m freaking out,” she admits, still teetering on the brink of a sob. “Next week is D-day and I don’t know how I’m going to handle a negative result, if I can handle it at all.” On her last words her voice cracks, giving way to the flood of worry I hear in her fearful tears.
“Oh, Kate,” I breathe as my own heart twists for my friend. What do you say to that? I don’t have any guarantees for her. Like her, I only have hope, but hers seems to be dwindling. All I can do is share her hurt, and be brave for her when she is not. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. There’s no point in being worried about something that hasn’t happened. And if you are pregnant, stressing isn’t good for either of you.”
“I guess,” she says lamely, sniffling quietly.
“Kate, honey,” I soothe, “even if the results are negative, this is only your first try. And didn’t you tell me that the doctor said that you were great candidates for the treatment?”
“He did,” she confirms wearily, “but I want it so badly, Ana. Elliot wants it so badly. I know I would feel like I’d failed him.”
My whole being fills with sympathy for her. Though not to the same extent, I got an inkling of what she’s feeling the day Christian made me take the pregnancy test. Looking into his excited face, there was a moment when we were waiting for the results where I felt the weight of his expectations on my shoulders. I was so scared that his world would shatter if the results were negative, and that he’d blame me.
“Elliot loves you, Kate – with or without babies. And even if it fails this time, you’ll try again. At least you have options. It’s not like the situation is hopeless.”
On the other end of the line Kate blows her nose. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right,” she says, obviously trying to convince herself. “I just can’t seem to be rational at the moment. These freaking hormones are making me crazy!”
Weakly we giggle together. “I hear you, girlfriend,” I muse drolly. “Been there, done that. Oh, wait! I’m still doing that!” This time we share a proper laugh, just two friends coming to grips with all the things that make us female, and sometimes a little nuts.
After my chat with Kate I go in search of my boys. I can hear Chris chattering to Gail in the kitchen, but before I get there Christian calls me into his office as I pass the open door of his study.
I make my way around his desk where he pulls me onto his lap. “Justice is served,” he grits, showing me the page on the tablet in his hand.
Quickly I read the retraction from the rag mag I swore never to support again, but sadly, it feels like too little, too late.
I have to admit that the full-page blurb is hard to miss. The black letters stand out against the red background, calling to the reader to read the short message. And who isn’t curious about a retraction, especially if it mentions us? Maybe that is what irks me the most. Even a withdrawn statement is still a reminder of what the original statement said.
“Thank you,” I say, turning into his warm chest and ducking my head under his chin.
Sensing the internal struggle I’m having with the whole issue, he bands both arms around me. “The reporter has lost her job, and the publisher is looking at a hefty settlement. I know it seems empty now, but it does show that we’re serious, and though you can expect the odd bitchy article, they’ll think long and hard before they spew any unfounded crap again.”
We lapse into a thoughtful silence as I sit there curled up on his lap, taking comfort from the unshakable current of power he exudes. Gently he strokes my hair while my mind flits around the whole debacle when I jolt. With my brain thinking clearly, I suddenly realize why I feel so lousy about the whole thing. I untangle myself from him and sit up. “You know what I hate the most?” I ask, lifting my eyes to meet his.
Christian doesn’t speak. With the shared grasp of a seasoned spouse, Christian understands instinctively that my question is rhetorical, and that I just want to get the words off my chest. He combs his fingers through the escaped strands of hair that’ve come away from my ponytail and gives me the silent support to continue. “I hate that she’s made me a horrible person.”
He cocks his head and quirks his brow, prompting me to explain further. “I’ve never been responsible for someone losing their job. Obviously I hate that she lied, but she might have a family, you know?” Ashamed, I drop my gaze and toy with the hem of my sweater.
“Baby,” he murmurs, cupping my jaw to lift my face. His expression is tender as he strokes his thumbs along my cheeks. “Your compassion is beautiful, but people can’t keep bumbling around like unsupervised toddlers when they’re adults playing in a grown-up world. She made a choice, and given who we are, she must’ve weighed the risks. The thing to remember here is that she made the decision to run with the story, despite her full knowledge that it was entirely fabricated. Our actions have consequences, and it’s a gross oversight on humanity’s part that she’s only learning that now. In fact, she can be glad that she only lost her job.”
I don’t want to dwell on what that last part means, but I can see his point, and I’m grateful for the peace it brings me. Maybe it is a good idea to make an example of her so I’ll never have to feel like this again.
Saturday morning sees Christian and me lazing at the dining room table while Chris and his playdate friend, Jonathan, play in a blanket and pillow fort that Christian built for them around the sectional in the great room. They hide from each other, giggle, and tumble over the massive couch as little boys do, and I love it. I love watching them, and if my husband’s grin is anything to go by, he’s also feeling the joy of the moment.
“They’re so cute,” I quip dreamily as I worm my toes onto Christian’s lap. He chuckles quietly as I nudge him with my feet, silently hinting for a massage.
“They are,” he confirms, curling his warm hands around my arches and working his fingers into the flesh of my soles.
With a sigh I close my eyes. “Hhhmmm. That feels sooooo good.”
As if nothing gives him greater pleasure than seeing me happy, he kneads harder, seeking out the pleasure points and making me purr in contentment. It’s also the perfect opportunity to bring up a few things I’d like to discuss with my despotic man, but I think I’ll ease into the tricky conversations by starting with a less contentious one.
“Anything new on the renovation front?” I ask lightly, keeping my eyes closed.
“All on track according to Elliot. They had some issues sourcing the stone tiles for the patio, and we still need to make a decision about whether or not we want to be able to enclose the veranda in wintertime, maybe with bi-folding glass doors, but other than that, it seems we’re set for early March.”
Lifting my head I open my eyes to snare my husband’s gaze. “Really? That’s wonderful!” I can’t help the pleased smile curving my lips. Moving into the house on the sound feels like it could be a new beginning for us, another full circle we’ll be drawing, and a new chapter to fill with happy memories.
Christian’s answering beam is equally delighted, and his eyes are glinting. “I love seeing you happy, Mrs. Grey.”
My heart squeezes in a half-elated, half-pained clench. Yes, we’ll be happy there, but I want more. I can so easily picture us there – my small family, but I also want to see Kate and Elliot, Mia and Ethan, and lots of little cousins for Chris and our new baby. I want to see Grace and Carrick, my mom and Bob, and my dad frazzled from chasing busy toddlers around the meadow. I want to hear the laughter from the sheer joy of being together as a family.
I’m not prepared to lose this precious time with my husband, so I push my nose-diving thoughts aside, hold on to my smile, and broach another topic. “Do you know how Elliot is holding up with the IVF? Kate is very nervous about next week.”
“I can imagine, and no. Elliot hasn’t said much but he’s grumpy as fuck. Last week I sent Bastille out to my parents’ place to see if kicking the shit out of something would improve his mood.” He chuckles and runs a hand through his hair. “Claude said he had his work cut out. He said Elliot worked the punching pads to death.”
That’s my husband, ever thoughtful, I muse proudly. “That was a nice thing to do,” I coo, leaning forward to kiss his nose. “I’ve also been thinking about our baby.” My look cuts away from his to hide my apprehension. I know he’s not going to like what I want to say.
“Oh?” he says in a voice warm and honeyed now that we’re onto his favorite subject.
“Yes,” I confess carefully, looking up at him through my lashes. “You know I had some… uhm… complications with Chris’s birth, right? Everything happened so fast after that and with the emergency cesarean, I feel like I missed the whole thing.”
Weariness steals over his features. “Where are you going with this, Ana, because I sure as hell hope it’s not where I think it’s going?” Gone is my smiling man, and in his place I have one that’s looking decidedly mad as he clenches his jaw, holding on to what must be his fraying control.
I count it as progress. At least he’s hearing me out – sort of. “I want to try having this baby naturally.” My teeth pinch my bottom lip as I watch him unravel and then, to my surprise, rein himself back in.
His lips thin into a tight line, and the pressure of his hold on my feet is as strained as his emotions right now. “I don’t like it, Ana. You’re putting me in a position where I potentially have to choose between you and something else, and as much as I love this unborn child, there’s no contest for me. Can you understand that?”
Wow. That’s a much better reaction than I expected. Much less than the full-blown war I thought I’d have on my hands right now. Finally my control-freak husband is taking my needs into account. Relieved and deeply touched, I frame his face in my hands. “Yes, I completely understand, and I’m happy to discuss it at length with Dr. Malone and any other expert that might help us make the decision. I don’t want anything bad to happen to us either,” I breathe sincerely, patting my abdomen with one hand. “But I do want to look into the possibility.”
I can see his nerves are stretched taut, and the battle raging in his darkening eyes. “We can talk to Dr. Malone, but I want you to promise me that you’ll abide by the safest option. No fighting the outcome. I’m not taking any fucking risks with you and this baby.”
Inside I breathe a sigh of relief. “That’s all I’m asking for.” Leaning into him I brush my lips against his. “Thank you, Christian.”
“Hmf,” he grumbles and his eyes slit in warning at me, but nothing can hold back the bubble of joy that pops on my face with a smile.
Progress indeed. Christian is learning and growing.
We fall into a quiet spell but it’s peaceful and I relish simply being with him. We do far too little of this, and it’s doubly nice to be able to watch Chris together. But even in the good moments, the bad is always haunting the jumble of my thoughts, and it doesn’t take long for my mind to wander to José. “What will happen with Chris’s name change if we can’t track José down or if he refuses to surrender his parental rights?”
Instantly Christian’s demeanor changes, going from relaxed to rigid as the flash of anger I see on his face streaks through his body. I know his tone is measured only for my sake when he replies. “If he doesn’t relent, he’s looking at a fine and then jail time beyond that, and if we can’t track him down, the judge will make a call based on the facts of the case. He has the genetic proof on file; there really is no gray area here.”
I’m still chewing on that when Chris and Jonathan come barreling to the table. “Daddy, Daddy, it’s time!”
“Time for what?” With an exaggerated gesture Christian shrugs, playing dumb, and easily brushing off his blackening mood from a second ago.
Chris grabs his forearms and points to the clock mounted on the wall. “Look! You said when the hands are together on top we could have a supwise!”
“I did?” Christian teases, pressing his lips together to hold back his laugh.
“Yes! Yes!” they cry in unison, each of them taking a hold of one of Christian’s arms in an effort to pull him from his chair.
“Oh, yes, I remember now! I was going to eat you for lunch!” With a growl he stands and the little guys scatter, squealing delightedly as they duck out of his way.
Just when they’re out of his reach, he looks to me. “Awww. I wanted to take the boys to race mini speed boats in the pool, but now I guess I’ll have to go alone.” When he issues a dramatic sigh, they come running back, howling a chorus of noes.
With a little boy dangling like a monkey off each of his arms, Christian heads out to Escala’s indoor lap pool with Collins and Carl in tow. He’s booked out the entire space for the next hour, just so they can race their boats along the lanes.
My heart warms seeing them having fun, and I love that Christian is keen to spend time with his son, bonding. And while they’re doing their guy-stuff, I’ll be baking. This baby and I have been craving chocolate chip cookies all week long.
When the boys come back they babble excitedly about all their fun, boast about beating Christian, and wolf down still-warm cookies with milk before Jonathan’s mom, Susan, collects him.
Reflecting on the day, I can only feel grateful when Christian and I wander back into the apartment after seeing them off, but that feeling slips away when we meet Taylor waiting for us in the kitchen.
“Sir, a word please.” Some unspoken message passes between them. Christian squeezes my hand and then takes off in the direction of the study.
I stare after them, wondering if I should be satisfied with the victory I had today, or if I should push for more.
Start as you mean to finish, comes the reply from my subconscious, and I’m inclined to agree. Whatever it is, it’s sure to affect all of us, and my obstinate side refuses to be nuzzled out of the loop.
In the study Christian is swiping at a tablet screen, muttering expletives as an annoyed-looking Taylor watches on. “I don’t want to keep fighting for the right to be included in whatever is going on in our lives,” I admonish in a firm voice, ready to do so if I have to.
Christian scrubs his face with his hands then blows out a nervous breath. “You don’t need to see this crap, baby. It’s meaningless and it only hurts you,” he warns in a bid to change my mind.
Oh no. My gut rolls and my heart sinks. It’s another article, and judging by my husband’s face, it’s even worse than the last one. I shake my head and round his desk. “What now? More infidelity?” Maybe if I get a feel for what it says beforehand, it won’t be such a blow.
He takes my hand, lacing our fingers, and pins me with a concerned look. “Once you see this, it will stay with you, and I’d much rather you pay attention to what I feel for you than read the shit these people write.”
He may very well be right, but at the same time, I hate not knowing what I’m up against. “Show me,” I croak hoarsely before I have time to rethink.
Holy shit. Gasping and shocked to the core I find the nearest seat, which happens to be on Christian’s lap. Without a word he wraps me in his arms as if to shield me from the pain and humiliation. It’s like this woman saw into my head and dragged out every one of my insecurities, and then scathingly shared them with what feels like the entire world.
I can’t even cry. I’m too shaken. “Why would someone write something like that?” I whisper, not really expecting an answer from Christian.
“Fuck,” he spits. “This, right here, is exactly what I try to protect you from, why I like to have control over what you see and what you don’t. I hate that they hurt you, and they do it because of me. These tabloid reporters, especially the women, are a catty bunch that loves nothing more than to rip someone to pieces for breakfast. It’s what sells. Please, baby, try not to take it personally.” He drops a kiss on my head, breathing in my scent as he holds me close.
Strangely, the knowledge that it’s a recipe they follow for the sake of sales alone makes it seem less like a personal attack and more like the inevitable price one pays for fame, almost like a hazing, but I can’t deny that it hurts like hell. Flynn and I have worked so hard to earn back my confidence, and to have this person that I don’t even know take that away from me is unfathomable.
One of Flynn’s many mantras pops into my head: you may not always be able to choose what happens to you, but being a victim of your circumstance is a choice. It’s great advice, absolutely pertinent, but damn hard to take. I certainly feel victimized.
I may not like it, but I can live with people being envious of me. On the surface of our lives, it must seem that we have everything, especially with Christian’s wealth, but the thought that there are people out there who believe he could have done better than me is as personal as it gets. It’s also the insecurity that I’ve fought most to overcome, the one that still torments me most. I’m almost sure I wouldn’t feel bad if this reporter lost her job. Pity there’s no recourse for being a skank.
“It’s not all bad,” Christian supplies, breaking into my thunderous thoughts as he strokes my back.
I snort, finding it impossible to see even the thinnest sliver of a silver lining.
“Just have a look,” he says, pressing his lips against my hair. With his free hand he swipes away the offensive article to show me another.
Oh my. Our little scene at the office also made it into the tabloids. And I see what Christian means. At least this one is much kinder, but still. What an invasion of our privacy. It seems I’m going to have to find a way to live with the day-to-day gossip that surrounds us.
Tonight Christian pulls another rabbit from his hat when he leads Chris and me to the media room for a movie night. I can only smile at his effort to give us something so very conventional. While this may be a perfectly ordinary evening for most families, it’s a novelty for us. Chris has limited TV time, and for us there never seem to be enough hours in the day to watch anything.
Grinning, I take up the middle seat on the couch, stretch my legs out in front of me, and snag a big bowl of popcorn for myself. “Good thinking, Mr. Grey.” I wink up at him and pat the seats on either side of me, inviting my guys to join in.
Chris whoops then jumps onto his spot, curling into my side. My husband looks on in amusement before he takes up his seat on my other side. With his arm stretched behind me along the back of the couch, I waste no time getting comfortable against him and enjoying the normality of the situation.
The movie might be animated but it’s great, the ideal choice for us to watch as a family. Perfect, just like my husband and this blessed time I’m spending with my family.
I’m surprised Chris makes it through the first half of the film before he falls asleep. He’s had a long and exciting day, plus it was well past his bedtime when we started watching. He’s obviously exhausted, but in contrast, his daddy is wide awake and apparently enjoying this rare viewing treat because when the first movie ends, he cues up another for us to watch.
I snuggle closer, enjoying his heat and the reassuring beat of his heart against my ear. It’s so comfortable, and it’s not long before I too begin to feel my lids droop with the need to rest. Just as I give in to the tempting call of sleep, I’m jarred from slipping into dream world by the sound of the phone, the quiet buzz indicating a call coming from inside the apartment.
“Taylor,” Christian snaps as he answers, his tone clearly stating his annoyance at being disturbed at this late hour. I can already feel his body hardening with tension, so I sit up to give him space. Instantly the dreamy stickiness of sleep melts away from me when I catch the tone of Jason’s clipped words. No way would he intrude on our evening if it wasn’t important, and a second later I have my confirmation.
Christian jumps from his seat and drags a tense hand through his hair. “What the fuck do you mean, she’s missing? Where the hell is your security team in all of this?” he yells, already taking long strides out of the room, no doubt to meet his right-hand man in the midst of whatever new crisis lies ahead.
Be kind and review, please.