If there were some truth to José’s words, if I could see that he was thinking clearly, logically, maybe I could work through this with him. But he’s convinced himself that he’s the good guy in all of this, justified in his actions, saving me from a threat that isn’t there. How do you persuade a madman that he’s mad, that his perception of a situation is unrestrainedly warped, and that the lengths he’s gone to are as extreme as they are irrational? Do I play along, biding my time, or do I try to make him see the madness of it all?
I need more time, more information so I can wrap my head around what to do. There’s simply too much at stake to risk a wrong move. If he did in fact make an attempt on Christian’s life, and went to all the trouble and time to try to “rescue” Leila, and now me, then how do I formulate an escape plan when he is so volatile, when his reaction has the potential of being completely unpredictable?
Wildly, thoughts of strategies and likely consequences race around in my brain – some clever, some daring, and some plain dumb, but they all inevitably loop back to the safety of both the child in my arms and the tiny one in my belly. And who knows how long we’ll stay moored here? The slight chance I have of escaping will be slighter still once we’re on the move on the icy Sound. But if I wait it out, hoping for help to come, then the showdown might be viciously bloody, especially if that help comes in the form of my husband. Christian may be a trained fighter, and he’ll be mad as fuck, but even his honed skills are no match for the 9mm that’s still tucked into José’s pants.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Think, Ana!
I draw a ragged breath, willing myself to leash the rising panic that is threatening to drown me. “So why now? Why wait all this time?” I ask the question knowing the answer, but I want him to start talking again. In addition to gathering intel, it’s another way for me to stall for time, even if I have yet to find a way to use that time to my advantage.
Again he regards me, tilting his head to one side as he decides how much to share. “Like I said, for a while there you were safe. As long as you were away from him he couldn’t hurt you. And I had Leila,” he adds, looking pensive. He doesn’t seem to grasp that his relationship with her was built on a lie, that he himself is guilty of “using” the ones he claims to love.
His expression turns sad and his voice turns quiet. “But I had to stop seeing her. She didn’t want to get better.” He shakes his head, obviously affected by the memory.
“When I confronted her with the contract and the disgusting photographs Grey kept of his torture, she told me that it was consensual, that she wanted him to do those things to her. Can you believe it?” He frowns his incredulity just as his baritone turns harsh. He makes an imploring gesture with his hands, urging me to agree with him, but he’s too caught up in his tirade to wait for my reply. “I was livid. All I kept thinking was what the hell he did to make her that way and if he did the same to you. I sat her down, explaining how fucked-up I thought it was. And do you know what she said? She told me that I was the fucked-up one, not accepting her the way she was.” Indicating himself, he pokes a finger at his chest, freshly agitated by her accusation.
My short-lived hope dies as the notion of reasoning with him crumbles like the ruins of an ancient castle. He truly, absolutely has no concept about the nature of a BDSM relationship: that for a true sub the punishment is part of what she craves, what she needs, and that Christian lived the safe, sane, and consensual motto of the fetish world. José is too blinded by the manhandling, the punishment that can seem like torture, the whips, chains, and the steel-hard shackles of a Saint Andrew’s cross to see sense. More and more I think that going along with his insanity is the only option left to me if I have any hope of getting away from him.
Suddenly his gaze sharpens, clearing with a hard glint of anger, wrenching me away from my disheartening thoughts. “And then I saw that fucking article about the two of you reuniting in the Miami Herald. What the hell were you thinking, Ana? You were free of him, you know? Why would you go back? How did he get his filthy hooks into you again?”
Oh, I remember the stupid article, the slimy pap snapping an illicit shot of us at the Conrad when I met Christian for breakfast. And now the bitter irony of it stings: that José would act on a report which at that stage was completely unfounded.
Dismayed, I stare at my captor, sensing his ire. I can only shake my head. How do I explain that the hold my husband has on me is love – pure indelible love; shared, returned, and cherished above all else? I almost choke on the words as they rise to spill out, my need to defend my husband so powerful that I have to wrestle it down.
His eyes grow gentle, softening to a shade I once knew, mistaking my sadness for shame. “It’s okay, baby. You’re safe now.” He steps closer, brushing the side of my face with the ridges of his knuckles. It’s all so surreal, so disturbing, I can’t help the ominous shudders that ride down my spine.
“I tried to show you,” he coos. “I knew you wouldn’t listen to me, that the hold he had on you was too strong, but I tried. I posted that sickening contract on a blog, hoping that the news of the great Christian Grey dabbling in the BDSM lifestyle would be picked up by the major news agencies and jar you to your senses.” His mouth turns down when he mentions Christian’s name, making air quotes to show that, according to him, my husband is anything but great. “I even fed a reporter buddy of mine the pic of him hitting Leila. But still, you stayed.”
I want to scream at the look on his face, at the pity I see there when he’s the fucking deluded one. “And when I didn’t get the message you decided to kill him.”
If he hears my scratching tone, he ignores it. “Yes. Surely you can understand that I had to do something drastic. Christian was too good at keeping the leaks under wraps so I started keeping tabs on you,” he tells me calmly, as if stalking us was the most normal thing in the world. “Hell, I was almost glad when you started dating that doctor guy but your jealous husband stopped that pretty quickly, didn’t he?”
His cold sneer turns my stomach. If he followed our movements, then the sudden trip to Vegas would have been a red flag he undoubtedly pursued. Taylor was convinced that the person who sent me the dead flowers must have bribed one of the Bellagio’s staff for info about us. That must be how José found out about our wedding.
Now that I have all the puzzle pieces it strikes me – again – just how thoroughly he’s planned this operation. It shows how deadly serious he is, how committed he is to “saving” me, but there’s one more piece that doesn’t quite fit. If all the trouble he went to was out of some unhinged sense of love for me, why send me the horror bouquet?
As he seems to be so willing to tell the tale, I may as well get all the facts. My voice sounds strained, hoarse from the shock of his revelations. “Why did you send me the flowers?”
Uncertainty crosses his features just before he scrubs his hands over his face. On a long exhale he starts, “That’s harder to explain. I was so fucking mad at myself for missing the shot, but I had ordered the card and the roses beforehand. I considered canceling but I guess I wanted to rattle you, to show you that living with that bastard would always be fraught with crazy shit. A high profile guy like that would always be a target and, by association, so would you, preciosura. I wanted for you to realize that you needed more, that you needed me, the stable, normal life I could give you. I had hoped that in your time of need you would reach out to the familiar, that you would reach out to me.”
Holy hell! Normal? Stable? That is psycho disturbed right there, more so because he fails to see that he is way worse than Christian, even with every one of his fifty shades. I shudder to think what else is going on in that scrambled head of his.
I know José is no idiot. He was smart enough to evade Taylor’s best efforts. He tracked us without our knowledge, at least for a while, got close enough to attempt to take my husband’s life, and managed to abduct us despite our constant guards. Seeing the full picture, the plotting and scheming, and the use of that unbalanced intelligence is nothing short of bloodcurdling.
Suddenly I’m fuming again. Yes, I spurned him and then used him, but none of that equates to his excessive retaliation, and I don’t give a flying fuck that he thinks his behavior is justified. Almost killing Christian, kidnapping us, and endangering and threatening my son is making my blood boil with murderous rage.
“And you think kidnapping me is okay? That taking my son away from his father, me away from my husband, is giving us a stable life? How is what you’re doing different from what you’re accusing him of? You’ve taken us as prisoners! How do you expect this not to damage us?”
My tone snaps him to attention. Gone is the softness, replaced by a fleeting wave of disbelief before he snarls at me. “No! Don’t you see? I’m saving you. Once the grip he has on you fades and you realize that you’re out from under his oppressive thumb, you’ll see. It will all be clear. I love you!” he intones in an almost pleading voice. “We’ll be happy together and I’ll be everything you need.” There’s a beseeching note in his words but I don’t see the love he claims. If the eyes are meant to be the windows to the soul, he must have lost that soul. All I see in the nut-brown pools are burning holes, empty of reason and filled with vengeance.
I try again to elicit some sense from him, this time banking on shock tactics. “You. Threatened. My. Son!” I grit through my wrath-tightened jaw, facing those menacing eyes head on. With Chris still pressed to my torso I’m acutely aware of his vulnerability. Unthinking, I let my free arm curl around my waist in a bid to shield my baby from this nonsensical drama. *William Congreve was wrong. Hell has no fury like a mother in full protective mode.
“Ana!” he cries, annoyed. “You’re not thinking straight. How else could I convince you to get away from him?” He takes a breath, then modulates his tone, injecting a measure of reason. “We’ll wait out here until our passports arrive, but when we steal away to where Christian Grey will never find us, you’ll be grateful!” His gaze turns cloudy as it drops to my arm resting against my belly. “And you might want to get rid of that.” With a small jut of his chin he indicates my midsection. “One of his brats is more than enough. You don’t want to breed with those broken genes.”
A thousand things assault my senses. I feel the sharp spike of panic as I realize that he knows about my pregnancy. It’s tightly threaded with blind hate and white-hot rage. My face flames with a flare of acute, fiery outrage, but my limbs feel heavy and cold as my blood stops moving. A tight band spans my chest, constricting my breaths.
Fucker! I want to scream. I want to jump up and strangle him with my own bare hands. I want to enjoy the sight of light leaving his eyes as I squeeze the life out of him. “Never!” I hiss. I use my sleeping son as an emotional anchor to force myself to keep my rage from boiling over. The innate impulse to protect my offspring overrides even my instinct of self-preservation. I will stop at nothing to safeguard them.
Ridiculously, José is taken aback by the intensity of the venom in my words, as if he’s unsure about why I am reacting so violently to his suggestion. Again he shrugs, shaking it off. When he speaks, it’s with that conciliatory lilt that grates across my nerves the same way the sound of fingernails dragging across a chalkboard does. “I understand that you think he loves you, but I’m going to prove to you that he doesn’t. Before this whole thing is over you’ll see Christian Grey for what he really is, a monster who cares only about his money and controlling you. To him you are nothing but a worthless puppet.”
Mutinously I stare daggers at him, wishing him a horrific, drawn-out death. He could never prove that Christian doesn’t love us. I’d be willing to bet my life that my husband would do anything to get us back, even giving himself up if need be.
A new wave of trepidation surges through me. Fuck! Is that what José has in mind? An exchange? Christian’s life for ours? Oh, please! No!
Petrified, I watch him fish into the front pocket of his jeans, pulling out a phone. His eyes, dark and calculating, never leave mine as he dials. “Christian Grey, please. Tell him it’s José Rodriguez.”
Desolation blankets Christian Grey’s senses. For a moment he doesn’t see anything but the deep, shadowy abyss in which he spent most of his life. The distant sound of Taylor’s voice is like static in the background, a quiet buzz, until his body is shot through with a monstrous surge of adrenaline, bringing the horror of his missing family into viciously sharp focus. Finally he manages a breath, a strained gasp as burning oxygen fills his empty lungs. How the fuck could he let this happen? Please, God, he prays with a plea. Help me find them. Please keep my family safe.
It would be so easy to give in to the rage, to welcome the darkness and lash out with the violence of the anger expanding inside him, eclipsing every bit of his rational thought. Already his hand is tightening around the handset of the phone with a force likely to shatter the plastic. Wrath boils in his veins, the building pressure bound to explode in a haze of irrational fury. But somewhere, in the midst of all this mania, the love he feels for his family holds him together – although it’s only by a thread.
With a herculean effort he draws from that precious bond; that and the overwhelming need to keep his wife and son safe are what he relies on now to push past the barriers of his mounting fury. But, he vows silently, before he sees out this black day, José Rodriguez will be a dead man.
With the return of his ire-forged control he casts the might of his analytical mind onto what he knows will be the fight of his life. In its entirety, his focus shifts to his kidnapped family. Every faculty he has blazes with the clarity of what needs to be done, of the lengths he would go to, to keep them from harm.
Quickly, methodically he runs through the heart-stopping info just delivered by his head of security. Anastasia and Chris were abducted about seven minutes ago. Seven minutes and counting, he reminds himself bleakly, trying not to dwell on what José has planned for his loved ones and swallowing down the heavy dose of searing hatred that scorches through his hard-pumping blood.
By some small mercy his full security team is intact. Jason already has a shaken but recovered Cindy, along with Collins and Carl, chasing around the streets of Seattle, canvassing possible witnesses and storekeepers, following up every available lead.
“Where are you now?” he husks at Taylor, the edge in his voice as dangerous as a blade. As he speaks to his head of security, he dials Ana’s cell number from his BlackBerry. His hands shake. Taylor mentioned that they found her phone destroyed in an alley near Tulley’s, but he isn’t prepared to leave any stone unturned. His stomach makes a sick roll when he hears it click straight through to her message bank, her sweet voice a harsh reminder of how much he loves her and his son.
“I’m on my way to the Seattle Police Department, sir. We need access to the security footage of the surrounds. There’s no time to lose and we definitely don’t want to waste precious minutes getting clearance up the ranks. If you could contact the chief of police, we can be sure of the SPD’s cooperation.”
“Fuck the chief. I’ll get the mayor. I’ll meet you there in ten.”
Christian doesn’t bother calling Andrea from the intercom on his desk, rather he takes the five sharp strides to her space outside his office. The moment she gets through to the mayor he’ll take the call at her desk. “Andrea,” he barks, making her jolt. “Get me the mayor. It’s urgent.”
She cuts a quick look his way then jumps to her task, not batting an eye. He listens to her slice through the red-tape bullshit the secretaries are trained to feed to callers who are demanding a piece of Seattle’s leader. She’s well aware that the mention of her boss’s name opens doors, and fuck knows that’s what he’ll be relying on today for every ounce of help it’s worth. The mayor especially owes him – big time. He’s never bothered to call in a favor before; he’s never needed to. But if ever there was a day for payback, today sure as hell is it.
He has to will himself to stand still. His body vibrates with pent-up energy, the urge to get moving barely contained. He doesn’t want to wait here to speak to a damn bureaucrat, he wants to hit the ground, find his family, and wreak every hell there is on the fucker who took them.
A beat later Andrea hands him the phone and Christian comes straight to the point. With the mayor himself on the line and after a quick explanation, he demands every resource to be at his and his team’s disposal. His threatening tone and the shitload of good he’s done for Seattle – hell, for the whole fucking country – gets him his way with little argument from the man who knows that Grey has him by the balls. If his whole life’s work led up to this moment of the mayor’s ready acquiescence, then it was all worth it, he muses starkly.
When he hands the phone back to his pit-bull secretary he notes the ashen look on her face. “I’m sorry, sir. That’s terrible. Is there anything I can do?”
“Thank you, Andrea. Man the fort here. Clear everything from my calendar. Get Barney to come up here to set up a call trace program. If the kidnapper makes contact at all it will probably be through here. Send out an urgent memo and make sure that every person in this building knows that we might get a call and to put it straight through to you. Stall before you patch the call through to me to help Barney get a lock on the signal. Understood?”
After her solemn nod he leaves, rushing downtown to the SPD headquarters to join Taylor and his security team’s efforts.
Normally, even in traffic he enjoys the roar of the R8, the sure, easy way she handles, but not today. Today he floors the gas, making full use of the car’s excellent maneuverability as he weaves through the traffic of the Seattle streets, the very same streets where asshole José is driving around with the loves of his life – his precious ones in the care of a man he knows hates him.
With every shift of the gears, with every screaming, skidding turn he takes, he has to concentrate to keep on breathing, to pace the panicked beats of his worried heart.
“Fuck!” he yells out loud, banging a tight fist on the steering wheel when his fear becomes crushing. He tried so damn hard to keep them safe. He put everything into protecting them. Apart from literally locking them up, what more could he have done? But clearly it wasn’t enough and he hated himself for it, for being so weak. He should never have given in to his wife. Yes, it was a damn pain to stay cooped up in the apartment like that, but it was a million times better than being at the mercy of an abductor, and a cunning motherfucker at that. Jeez! And who’s to say that José is even sane?
Unbidden, horrific thoughts roll into his freaked-out mind, each more macabre than the previous, all bringing more waves of terror. The abduction was bad enough in itself but he can’t fathom what he’d do if José harmed them. Death wouldn’t be good enough for the bastard, and Christian wasn’t sure if he himself would survive seeing Chris or Ana hurt – or worse. No! Fuck, no! Just no. He’d rather die than let anything touch them.
Fighting for control of his rioting emotions he gulps a steeling breath, pushing aside the twisted images in his head. Concentrate, Grey! He scolds himself, redirecting his focus to driving through the congestion.
Christian stops at an intersection, impatiently waiting for the traffic lights to turn but when they do, the driver in front of him takes his time in heeding the green signal. He growls his frustration then pummels the horn with his fist, making it blare in loud bursts. “Thank fuck!” he mutters as the vehicle moves, making way. The slow progress of navigating the traffic is murdering his shot nerves.
A block later he screeches to a halt in front of the SPD building, neatly gunning the R8 into an illegal spot right in front of the entrance. He barely leaves the car before he’s joined by an overeager officer obviously waiting to escort him.
“Mr. Grey. Sergeant Tony Saunders, I’m here to escort you. The mayor and the chief of police extend you every courtesy. We’re here to help, sir,” he introduces, his voice breathy from rushing, not breaking his stride as he guides Christian through the maze of offices.
Christian barely registers the politics being played by the man as he mentions the big players in this favor-exchanging deal. Who gives a fuck when the lives of his family members are on the line? All he cares about is getting to that bank of monitors and finding José.
When they finally step through the secured doors of the hub where thousands of security footage feeds converge, he makes a beeline for Jason. “Taylor, what do we have so far?”
Jason takes a moment to assess the man he works for. He of all people knows just how rabid Christian must be right now. Though he understands that his employer wants to be part of the team that takes José down, if not the man himself, he isn’t about to fuck with their progress if his boss is going to be a liability. He’ll have no problem shutting Grey out if his emotions cloud his normally sound judgment. And there’s the promise he made Ana not so long ago: that if the shit hit the fan, he’d do his level best to keep Christian out of trouble. Right now, Jason was one hundred and fifty percent sure that if Grey laid eyes on Rodriguez this minute, he’d tear the limbs from the man with a happy smile on his face, not giving it a second thought.
He already feels responsible enough for the way Chris and Ana’s outing ended today, but as a professional he has a job to do that has no place for blind fear and panic. Later he’d square things with Christian but If Grey isn’t his usual, sharp self, Taylor himself would lock him out of this control room. For now, Christian, though obviously on edge, seemed to be holding it together.
Satisfied, he uses a remote to flick to a screen that shows an unmarked van appear from an alley. “I believe this is the mark, sir, leaving from the street behind Tulley’s. Right now we’re using a recognition algorithm to find the vehicle again, from earlier feeds as well as in real time, but I suspect that José planned his route very carefully, avoiding at least the known locations of security cameras. The moment the system finds a match it will let us know. Our team on the ground has also been notified and they will be looking at private security footage where they can gain access to it. I’ve instructed them to offer rewards to businesses if necessary, anything to view recent security images that we can’t see from here.”
Christian nods, okaying the measures, but Jason could see the frustration in his face. This part, the gathering of initial information, is a waiting game and one that’s tough on frayed nerves. It was also crucial. Any deductions they make now would steer the direction of the investigation and ultimately their actions. If they got it wrong this early on, they were fucked.
“Gotcha!” One of the officers manning a monitor draws their attention as he cheers and fist pumps the air.
Both Christian and Taylor rush to the guy as he explains that he’s found the empty van in an underground parking garage. Christian mutters a curse, his brewing frustration understandable. It’s less than what Taylor hoped for, but at least it’s a lead that he immediately relays to Collins just as Sergeant Tony dispatches officers to the scene.
Christian paces the short strip of floor behind Taylor’s back, the lines of his body rigid, tense with his mounting irritation while they scan through the footage of the garage’s cameras. Tactically, if he were José, he’d use the cover of the garage to switch cars, but the images are grainy and none of the suspects appears to be a perfect match to José.
It’s not surprising though, as they speculate that José might have worn a disguise. With his boss’s help they select the most likely images to send along to the tech geeks upstairs with a request to clean up the pixelation. Christian also forwards the same set of pictures to Barney, still stationed at GEH.
By the time Collins calls back, Jason and Christian are equally jumpy for news. “Sir, it’s clear that the perp switched vehicles and we found some long synthetic blonde hair on the front seat. It’s consistent with the theory that they left the garage wearing a disguise.
“Any traces of a struggle, of blood?” Christian interrupts urgently, the physical safety of his family the most important thing in his mind.
“No, sir. The perp even went to the trouble of installing a booster seat in the back of the vehicle. If I were looking to profile him I’d say that he was concerned for their safety, that he was looking to make a permanent getaway with them.
That’s a positive, Taylor muses to himself, but from the scowl on his employer’s face he knows that his boss doesn’t share his view. Once they confirm with Collins that they have all the latest info they can start exploring possible ways for José to cross state borders or leave the country.
Within the next couple of hours they dispatch APBs for José, Ana, and Chris. They send a forensic team to the van, alert all transport stations with up-to-date photographs as well as with identikits showing possible changes with disguises, and continue to scour the streams of footage on the monitors while they wait for the improved images from the garage.
At least Christian is maintaining the grip on his control. Keeping him busy and involved is proving to be the right way to go with his anxious boss. Jason’s thoughts are interrupted by the trill of Christian’s cell. The sound cuts through the hum of concentration around them with what he recognizes it as Andrea’s assigned ringtone. It could just be her needing to share something important, but they are all aware that it might also be José. His eyes meet Christian’s, mirroring his boss’s apprehensive look. The tension in the room is suddenly thick. Everyone holds their breath as Christian switches to speaker.
“Grey,” he answers in a measured tone that belies the high stakes this call may hold.
* William Congreve, The Mourning Bride, 1697
Be kind and review, please.