What the hell does that mean? I wonder as fear tightens in my belly. If José is out to draw Christian into a fight there’s absolutely no doubt that he’ll get his wish, but to what end? And more importantly, at what cost?
“Where are we going, Mommy?” Chris’s whisper is tight, laced with all the uncertainty he must feel right now. His expression, his palpable fear, burns me like acid. I’m his mother, the one meant to keep him safe, but how do I do that now? What do I say?
Scooting closer to his seat, I try to offer my son at least a tiny bit of comfort with my nearness. “We’ll be okay, baby boy,” I soothe gently, giving him a non-answer, and praying that our captor won’t make me a liar.
I glare at the back of José’s head as he takes a left, turning into an underground garage. When he catches my dirty look in the rearview mirror I slice my stare away. Though I hate him for putting us in this position, I don’t want to antagonize him. The cargo I’m carrying and the precious life beside me are not things I’m prepared to gamble with – not for any reason.
“We’re going on a little trip, enano. If you’re a good boy for your mommy, everything will work out fine.” Obviously he heard Chris’s question, and to a child’s ears his words might be reassuring, but I caught the veiled threat despite the Spanish endearment. There may have been a time when José was willing to take Chris on as his own, but now? With the attempt on Christian’s life, his animosity toward my husband became frighteningly clear. Add to that Chris’s strong resemblance to his father, and I’m afraid that José might project that hatred onto my son.
José kills the engine when we pull into a dark corner of the garage. “Okay,” he drawls evenly as he turns in his seat to face us. “Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re ditching this vehicle and taking another. Please, no squandering time, no shenanigans. We don’t have time to waste and I won’t hesitate to… coerce your cooperation.” His pointed look is sharp and directed at me, bearing an intensity that I instinctively know not to underestimate.
Unthinking, one of my hands drifts protectively to my belly just as the other tightens around Chris’s shoulders, but I remember myself, redirecting the appendage away from my barely-there bump. I have no idea whether or not he knows that I’m pregnant, but I sure as shit won’t let on, offering him more ammunition to force my alliance.
Pushing down the sour mix of bile and apprehension that hits the back of my throat, I nod. Switching cars is just one tactic in an ever-growing list of clever moves he’s making to avoid being tracked. Whatever he’s up to, it’s evident that he’s planned every detail of this kidnapping. If I stand any chance of getting away, especially with my son in tow, I’m going to have to pick my moment very carefully. Also, if I come across as cooperative, maybe he’ll relax enough to let down his guard. Watch and wait is all I can do for now.
A scant few minutes later we’re heading out of the garage again, this time in a nondescript silver sedan with tinted windows. Before we left, José changed into a different colored t-shirt, pulled a baseball cap over his dark hair, and added a pair of mirrored aviators, effectively changing his look and adding more cunning measures to make it even harder for Christian to find us.
While he drives I watch him as closely as I dare. His mood seems focused but calm, and I’m still finding it hard to wrap my head around the strange way he’s acting. I’m burning to know what he has up his sleeve. Maybe I could simply ask, I think as I sift, ever grateful, through Ray’s one-time lesson on kidnapping. Make yourself appear as human as possible, mine your kidnapper for information to discern his motivation, try striking a resonant chord with captor and/or their cause, stay alert for opportunities to escape, and haul ass if you can. *
I can tell by the incessant way he glances at the car’s mirrors that he’s checking if we’ve picked up a tail. If he’s distracted, maybe now is as good a time as any to pump him for information. Swallowing my near-debilitating nerves I pop the first question. “Where are we going?”
“Somewhere safe,” he replies vaguely, keeping his eyes on the road.
Maybe safe for him, I think sarcastically. It’s a disheartening answer, but I’ve all the motivation in the world to get more out of him than that. I rack my brain for things that he might willingly share when it hits me: Kate! The e-mail she sent me and how it ties into José showing up at Tulley’s.
I’ve been so preoccupied with my fear that I’ve not given it another thought. Before I have time to filter, bitter words fall from my mouth. “Where is Kate? Do you have her? If you hurt her, so help me….” In consideration of the little ears to my right I bite back the string of expletives that was meant to come with my panicked rant.
“Whoa, slow down there, preciosura,” he says dryly. “I don’t have Kate. I just used her e-mail to get you away from that fortress your insanely possessive husband likes to keep you locked up in.”
What’s up with the precious, and my husband keeps me locked away because of lunatics like you! I rage silently. More confusion piles onto the already-steaming heap of crap we seem to be in. It’s too much to take in all at once and I’m finding it exceedingly hard to keep the reins on my temper. “So, what? You hacked her account?” My tone is scathing, angry; I’m struggling to keep my resentment in check.
Quietly he chuckles. “No, but I might have had to if the girl changed her password from our WSU days. As it was, all I had to do was log into her account.” Casually he shrugs his shoulders as if it was no big deal.
Oh, fuck! Does that mean he read the threads of our conversations? Mentally I run through Kate’s and my recent e-mails. I know we’ve discussed her IVF but I can’t recall if my pregnancy was ever mentioned directly, although it might not be too hard to infer from our chats. Shit!
A tug on my sleeve pulls me from my jumbled thoughts. “Don’t be mad, Mommy. I’ll be a good boy,” Chris promises solemnly, latching on to José’s earlier directive and sensing my ire.
Fuck! I all but grit my teeth, seething and cursing José to the deepest pits of hell for not only dragging my precious son into this mess, but also for making him feel responsible for what might happen to us.
I fight to keep the glowing coals of anger from my eyes as I face my son. “Chris, honey, I’m not mad at you, and you’re always a good boy. You’re Mommy’s angel! You know that, right?” I force my lips to curve into a reassuring smile. He is so perceptive; it’s going to be hard as hell to keep the full truth of the situation from him.
Chris’s gaze searches mine, his innocent little face reading things in my expression that I’m keen to shield him from. Instead of replying he slips his little hand into my larger one, giving me a small squeeze. The ball of anxiety in my belly is suddenly a large, dry lump in my throat. Don’t cry, don’t cry, I chant wordlessly. For my son I have to appear composed.
Through the window past Chris’s head I spot the marina and realize that since we’ve left the garage we’ve taken a much more direct route, leading me to believe that José must feel sufficiently confident in our getaway to discontinue the evasive driving tactics he applied at first. To me, it’s just another nail in the coffin of our doom, a carefully calculated maneuver that speaks of meticulous preparation and single-minded determination.
More than anything, I wish I could gather my wits enough to think of a way to leave a trail for Christian to follow. Much as my husband believes he’s omnipotent, with José’s painstaking groundwork, I’m finding it harder and harder to visualize Taylor’s team mounting a successful rescue. Every minute that we’re missing is a minute that counts in José’s favor, helping him to evade even Christian’s substantial reach.
I’m surprised when we bear right, leaving Marine Drive to head into the waterfront precinct. I would have bet on him taking us as far away from our home city as possible, most likely to a secluded cabin somewhere in the forests of the western part of the state, if not crossing state lines.
When we stop at the marina car park my heart starts a violent drumming. I’m hoping that we’re not staying, but it makes sense from his point of view. A boat would be an excellent means to a clean escape, and moored offshore it would be a very effective way to ensure that we’d stay put. José must know that I would never risk Chris’s safety with a long, dangerous, and freezing swim. Also, it’s not subject to the big-brother-type scrutiny of the main roads and standard modes of transportation.
Fuck, crap, fuck! He really did consider every angle.
My panicked thoughts are grounded when José snaps at me. “Ana, put this on before you get out of the car.” A long blonde wig falls onto my lap, no doubt meant to be a disguise during the walk to the boat. Instantly I recognize this as an opportunity, a dent in his so far flawless plan. I’m assuming we’ll be walking amid the general public and maybe even marina staff before we make it to the privacy of a vessel. Could we just make a break for it? What if I screamed my head off? Wouldn’t the people nearby afford us some sort of safety? Some help?
Obviously my thoughts are etched on my face when José opens my door. “Don’t even think about it, preciosura. You wouldn’t want enano to become collateral damage, would you?” There’s that friendly lilt again, that singsong tone that belies the harshness of his threat. The contrast is unnerving to say the least and confusing as hell.
My uneasy stomach roils as my blood runs cold. My palms are clammy as near-blind terror swamps my senses. I fuse my wild-eyed stare with his, swallowing hard against the horror. “No.” With shaky fingers I retie my hair then tug the wig in place, ensuring that my own hair is tucked away.
“Good girl,” he smiles, brushing a light lock away from my face. My body protests the familiarity, shuddering in revolt. He leans over me and unclips Chris’s seatbelt. “Enano, we’re going on a boat. You like boats, eh?”
My son’s hand tightens around my arm as he looks up to me, the question in his eyes almost felling me. Without a word he’s asking me if he can trust this stranger. Now is not the time to rattle him with a half-truth, plus I need him to stay calm and obedient so he can stay under José’s radar. “He likes boats,” I reply on his behalf, sparing Chris the stress of speaking directly to the man himself.
“All right,” José quips, still standing in the gap of the open door. “Like the family we are, we are going to walk to my boat. Enano, we will hold Mama’s hand and if you want to say something you can talk to me. You can call me Papa, okay?” His arched brow is a non-verbal reminder for Chris to behave, and in return, my child’s little nod is proof that he understands the role he’s expected to play.
Hatred sears through my veins followed by a violent rush of adrenaline. Given half a chance I’d happily hack José in two. It’s already unforgivable that he’s involved my little one, but with the added cruelty of a vicious threat he’s being utterly merciless. This is something I’d do well to remember if I manage to get my hands on that weapon in his waistband.
With me in the middle, we walk briskly in the direction of the water. José’s hold on my hand is firm, a physical prompt that while I don’t literally have a gun to my head, the danger is very real, constant, and frighteningly unwavering.
The passersby don’t give us a second glance. To them we are just another ordinary family out for the day on the ocean. Each stranger is a potential savior but my cries for help die in my throat, jammed by fear no matter how much they burn to ring out. As we make it onto the western concourse, the sound of our unhindered steps taunts me. I hate that José has me so neatly cornered. I like to think of myself as brave enough to at least try to escape, but Chris’s presence and safety are the only things that count, and they are what our abductor is using with ruthless effectiveness.
José leads us to a bay close to the end of the concourse and gestures toward a flybridge fishing boat anchored in the berth. It’s not large, maybe 34 feet long, featuring a cabin in the front. It’s nothing like the majestic Grace, but mercifully it appears to be seaworthy.
I help Chris on board but I refuse to take the hand José offers me. It was hard enough holding it on the walk over, the sham of it stabbing at my heart, and I’ll be damned if I’ll touch him for any other reason than to put a knee to his groin.
I notice that José leaves the bow line tied to the dock when he shepherds us to the double doors that lead to the cabin. His eyes dart left and right, ever watchful as he unlocks the entrance to the living quarters. Perhaps we won’t be taking off right away, I speculate to myself, kindling a feeble flame of hope. The longer we stay in one place, the better for us.
Below deck, the layout is typical of what you’d expect to see on a craft like this. At the far end, in the bow, I can see four berths, the openings of which are flanked by a door on each side. One, I suspect, leads to a bathroom, while the other is most likely a storage closet. The rest of the space is divided into an open-plan kitchenette, compact diner, and lounge area. The finishes are drab but practical.
My former friend eyes me speculatively. “It’s good to know I can trust you, preciosura. See? We always worked well together. It will be like that again. Soon you will forget all about being a slave and you’ll be free. We will be happy.”
Before I have time to ask José what the fuck he’s carrying on about, Chris interrupts. “Mommy, does Daddy know we’re here?”
His words punch the air out of my lungs and my resentment grows further. What sort of a monster has José become to force a child through this horrific trauma? I wonder angrily, glaring daggers at the man who snatched us away from our blessed lives.
Oblivious to my wild rage, José drops to his knees in front of Chris. “Enano, you need to be a big boy. Your daddy is gone. I am your papa now.”
“No!” I yell, turning Chris by his shoulders, pressing his front to my legs in an effort to protect him from those horrible words. I take a few steps back and sink onto the dinette bench before pulling my son onto my lap. In my hands I cup his bewildered face. “Chris, listen to Mommy.” I don’t care if José hears me. I’m not going to let him spew his crazy crap at my son. “Daddy loves you, he will NEVER leave us.” My clear voice holds my conviction and I’m glad José is right there to catch it.
José rises from his squatting position, shrugging nonchalantly. “If that’s how you want to play it, it’s fine by me, but sooner or later you’re going to have to tell him. It’s better to do it quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid.”
I push Chris’s head into the crook of my neck. “Tell him what? What are you talking about?” My voice sounds high, squeaky with incredulity.
Tilting his head, my ex-husband gives me a thoughtful look. “Don’t you get it, preciosura? Has the great Christian Grey brainwashed you so completely that you don’t even see that you’re a servant? Nothing more than a toy for the rich man to play with?”
I feel a frown marring my forehead as my confusion deepens. Is he insane? He seems to be totally out of touch with reality. “What do you mean?” I ask again, not nearly following his train of thought.
“Ana,” he breathes, looking perplexed himself. “You can’t possibly want to be with a man who beats you… who ties you up like a fucking animal! What life is that, huh? Even for him.” He points to Chris, but his expression is disdainful, making my blood boil.
It takes everything I have to control the fury fighting to break out. My brain scrambles to understand where this conversation is going. Does he not grasp the consensual nature of our play? Does he think I’m with Christian against my will? I suck in a breath and pick my words carefully. I need to find out what’s behind his irrational thoughts. “Why do you think that? Christian loves us. He would never hurt us.”
“Gah!” he exclaims, throwing his hands in the air. “You see? You are brainwashed! Don’t you see how he controls you to be his plaything?”
This thing with José started well before we made our kinky confession to GQ, so he must be getting his ideas from somewhere else. In my mind I’m beginning to form a picture of how he’s looking at this but I have to confirm it. I need him to spell it out for me – in clear and precise detail – so I can get an idea of how to handle him. Like Ray’s advice suggested, I have to mine him for the particulars.
Still holding my son to me, I focus all my energy on slipping into a more demure role. “He’s a good man, José. We want for nothing. He loved me enough to marry me again.” With my statement I’m hoping to bait him into telling me why he doesn’t have faith in Christian’s devotion to us.
He shakes a finger at me, narrowing his eyes as he considers my words. “He’s very clever. I’ll give him that, but I always knew there was more to your relationship than meets the eye. I saw the way you changed, the way you… heeded him when you were with him, and my mind started to wonder, you know?” Twice he taps a rigid finger to his temple.
Thinking back to those early days, I recall trying really hard to make our relationship work, giving and compromising as you do to smooth the way between two people so new to coupledom. Christian was equally busy changing and growing, giving and learning to love. To encourage José to continue I nod, but he doesn’t see me; he’s too caught up in remembering.
Thoughtfully he strokes his chin as he paces the length of the cabin. He glances my way before he starts again. “He was such a closed-off man, so… so… formal. And you? You were so full of life, and fun, and playful.” He pauses while I watch his eyes turn hard and his mouth turn down. “And you were innocent. He stole that from you.” I can tell that he’s mad. His tone is accusatory, harsh as he stabs at the air.
I can’t deny that I was going through a rough time adjusting to life with Christian in the beginning of our relationship: the insecurities that haunted me, my lack of experience, how quickly – and hard – I fell for him. And yes, initially there was fear — fear that Christian needed to punish me, fear that I wasn’t going to be enough, and fear of his past, that whatever secret lay there was so big that it would swallow our fledgling relationship. Did José pick up on this? In his mind, did he make it into something it was not? Even Kate found it hard to understand initially; how much harder would it be for a man who claimed to be in love with me?
“You can’t deny it, preciosura. I can see it in your eyes. You remember.”
I have to keep him talking. I have to worm my way into his messed-up head. “I was in love, José – for the first time. And it was a big adjustment to fall for someone like him.” Maybe reasoning with him will help me appeal to his humanity.
“But he’s not in love with you! He hurts you.” He squats in front of me, grabbing ahold of my upper arms, and fuses his imploring stare with mine. “And don’t you dare cover for him. He’s not here. You don’t have to be scared anymore, Ana.” He gives me a small shake. “I know about everything. Does he have the same hold on you that he had on Leila?”
My hiss is sharp, utterly shocked. How the hell does he know about Leila? And then, like a freight train, the next scary thought hits me. Are they working together? My stomach is a tight fist and my muscles tremble, already exhausted from the constant fight-or-flight roller coaster I’ve been on since José stepped into that damned bathroom. I’m desperate to know more, but I don’t want him to realize that I’m pumping him for answers. Finally I decide to go for something simple, feigning a loss of memory. “Leila?”
The moment her name leaves my mouth I recall Ray mentioning that José dated a woman who looked like me at some point in time. Was it Leila? With her mental history and her skewed love for Christian, did she finally decide that revenge was in order? My mouth pools with saliva as my queasiness intensifies. Oh, fuck!
José’s stare turns speculative, searching my face for the lie. He stands up, then starts to pace again. “You must remember her. She broke into your apartment. Another victim in the long line of girls your husband broke with his sick perversions.”
Like a car crash that you cannot look away from I can see where this is heading, but I’m irrationally fascinated, riveted to see it play out. “She was…” I doubt that he’s still seeing her, but I’d rather play it safe with my choice of words, “…unstable, but Christian got her some help. She got better.”
“She did,” he agrees, “but your husband was still responsible.” José pauses his uptight stride to take a seat on a nearby chair. “It’s a good thing Ethan was there otherwise I would never have gotten the truth.”
It’s almost as if he’s talking to himself. I hold my breath, not wanting to do anything to hinder the free flow of his deranged conversation. And Ethan? What the hell??
He has a faraway look in his eyes as he hikes up the leg of his jeans to undo the Velcro strap of an ankle holster. I have no problem identifying the butt of a .38 special poking from the top. My gaze never leaves the revolver, but José is too distracted to take note of my fear as I pull my son closer. Fleetingly I register that he’s so still, he must be sleeping – a little thing for which I’m immeasurably grateful under the circumstances.
“Yeah, that was a really lucky break for me. Did you know I ran into him about two months after our divorce?” This time he glues his once-friendly chocolate browns to my blues, waiting for my reply. The gun dangles from his hand as he rests his elbows on his knees.
Slowly I shake my head, shivering from my blood turning to ice in my veins. I want to focus on his story but the weapon, in plain sight like this, is just too threatening to allow me to concentrate.
“I was drowning my sorrows in a bar, thinking about you and how things ended with us, wondering why being with him made you so fucking cold.” The expression on his face is a bitter one, reproachful. He takes a long breath then stands. I watch him take the four steps that bring him to the kitchenette across from where I’m seated. Casually, as if it’s nothing significant, he plunks the gun into the top drawer before he locks it with a small key on a carabiner hooked to his belt loop.
Turning to face me he leans his backside against the short counter, crosses his legs at the ankles, and folds his arms across his chest. “And there he was, a familiar face, also lovesick — over Grey’s sister.” He arches a sardonic brow. “Seems the whole family is fucked-up.” I hate hearing him speak about my husband and sister-in-law like that, but the chance to get an insight like this is too valuable to screw up with sentiment.
“Anyway, we got to talking, he’d heard about us from Kate, offered his condolences, blah, blah, blah. And then he said he didn’t blame you for ditching Grey, that the guy had baggage.”
I know for a fact that Ethan didn’t know enough about Leila or Christian’s lifestyle to give José the private facts he seems to have, and I also know that Kate would never have given up the story, not that she knew much about Leila either. So that leaves me and the time I spent with Ethan on the horrid day Leila confronted me in my apartment. Again my belly clenches with a wave of nausea as I think back on what I told Ethan.
I remember the shock of seeing Christian so commanding in his Dom persona, like he was made for it, and the bond he still had with Leila. I vividly remember sitting in the bar across the street from my apartment, wondering what was happening between the two of them, and resenting the hell out of the fact that I couldn’t confide in Ethan because of the NDA I had signed. It might have been a long time ago but the memory is seared into my brain, permanently etched there with crystal clarity. I didn’t even mention her name. I referred to her only as an ex of Christian’s, added some very sketchy details about why she was so unstable, and I explained who Dr. Flynn was when he came to pick her up. Nothing more, of that I’m certain.
I don’t think I could handle being responsible for another disaster in Christian’s and my turbulent path, but José is ignorant of my inner turmoil. “With my suspicions already aroused, Ethan’s mention of baggage piqued my interest. With a little probing he was quick to spill his guts about a psychiatrist named Flynn picking up a deranged woman who threatened you with a gun. I knew I had to get hold of this lady, find out what Grey did to her to make her go off the deep end like that. I needed so badly to understand why you were still in love with him after the way he screwed you over. From there it wasn’t hard to track down the doc, get access to his files, and find the girl. And once I did…” he shrugs, pursing his lips.
He’s obviously insane, my mind races wildly. Shortly after Christian and I got remarried, I sent José an e-mail explaining that I had lied about Chris and my true motivation for leaving Christian, so he has no reason to think that my husband “screwed me over” anymore, but his reply to that mail was very weird. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but looking back now, I don’t think he believed me. And in light of what he’s told me so far, I think it’s more likely he’s convinced that Christian made me send it or at least had a hand in writing it.
For a minute I fear that he’s done talking, but after another breath he starts up again, staring into space as he speaks. “She looked so much like you. For a while there I convinced myself that I could be with her, that I could find out what the fuck Grey did to hurt her, that I could fix her, maybe even love her. At least you were out of danger, away from him.” His look turns sad and he shakes his head. “Things didn’t work out between us, but she filled in enough subtle blanks to steer my search in the right direction. One day, when I was rifling through her stuff, I found photos and a contract she and Grey had signed. A contract where he made her choose how he could punish her. I always knew he was a sicko but that just confirmed it. Who the fuck does that?”
Holy fuck! That’s how the contract ended up on that blog, and it must be Leila in the picture that was leaked to the press. We always suspected that she broke into Christian’s safe; now we know what she took. This is way more serious than I thought. José is more than a lover scorned. This is more than revenge for unrequited love. The lengths he went to, starting a relationship with Leila to get information, the time he’s spent pursuing this — all point to a deep and dark obsession and, as far as I can tell, an extremely dangerous one…
Thank you, Kereny, for the help with the Spanish terms in this chapter:
Enano is a common Spanish endearment. Directly translated is means little midget but it’s usually used with affection, very much like little man would be used in reference to a small boy in English. Having said that it can also be used in irritation.
Preciousura is the Spanish term for precious and is used as an endearment for a loved one.
Be kind and review, please.