If I could have brought Gail with me, I might have enjoyed Aspen more. As it is, she’s gone to stay with Allison and I’m cruising over the Rockies with three horny couples. Yay, me.
Well, two official couples, and one I-really-want-to-jump-your-bones-but-I’m-not-sure-about-your-whacko-brother sort of couple.
At least I’m not the only one on the airplane who won’t be getting laid this weekend. Kind of warms my heart that Mia Grey is more frustrated than a lounge singer in a convent. As for the Kavanagh Kid, he’ll need more than a Masters degree in Psychology if he decides to bag that. Cue cold shiver down my spine.
After waking in the night and getting Grey’s new orders, I didn’t bother going back to bed. Besides, I didn’t want to wake Gail. In the military you get used to pulling all-nighters, and that has changed less than I thought it would working in close protection. Being employed by rich people is the new form of serfdom. I’m paid, and paid well, to be on call 24/7. To be fair, Grey doesn’t abuse it like some people I’ve worked for. Hell, one or two of them seriously considered docking my pay for any time I spent asleep.
Having said all that and running on just a few hours sleep, I definitely get a kick out of the look on Ana’s face when she realizes her friends are already situated on the airplane. It’s been a rough week and although she’s tough, she’s still so… innocent. And although I can’t imagine her taking this lifestyle for granted, I suppose it’s inevitable one day. The thought makes me kinda sad. And what sort of life will her kids have? I can’t imagine them working in Walmart during their summer break, or doing a paper route, or working in a fast food joint like I did. “My daddy’s a billionaire – you want fries with that?” Security would be an issue, for one thing, let alone Grey’s control issues. No, his kids are more likely to have internships in daddy’s company. Or mommy’s. Grey’s level of wealth is its own gilded cage.
As soon as we’re on the plane, Kavanagh (female) goes straight into pitbull mode, beginning her interrogation by asking questions about Hyde. I can see the boss’s face and I’m pretty certain that the temperature around him has dropped by several degrees. Kavanagh either hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care. Surely she can give it a rest for Ana’s sake, the woman she professes is her best friend? But no, the journalistic instinct is stronger. She’ll make a good reporter; one more reason not to like her, and definitely not forgetting the way she fucked up my carefully planned close protection of Ana during the ZigZag Club incident. I have a long memory. Almost as long as my dick.
Then the boss’s brother makes some crass remark about Grey marrying his first ever girlfriend, aka Ana. It’s true. But the irony isn’t lost on anyone in the know, and Kavanagh regains some much needed points by cutting off that line of Elliot’s attempt at humor.
I think my temper is shorter than usual, it’s been a long week, and Gail and I had plans. I’ll have to make it up to her. Again. Thank God she’s an understanding woman – special in so many ways. And fuck hot.
The transport I’ve pre-booked is a minivan. It was all I could get at short notice, but I’m looking forward to driving it. I mean, vehicles with bulletproof glass aren’t exactly standard issue, except this is Aspen – party town for the seriously wealthy. And who’d a thought it was possible to get tired of limos? The minivan makes the whole weekend seem more like an ordinary camping trip and I can tell it makes Ana a little more comfortable – one of the reasons I didn’t worry about the van.
But right now I’m on shopping patrol. I trail behind, as useful as a sand pit in Saudi. Probably. But that’s the nature of the job – you can’t assume anywhere is 100% safe. Although I quite like the lingerie shops that Kavanagh and Mia Grey insist on visiting. So sue me. I’m engaged to Gail, not dead.
And then I see the boss’s brother go into a jewelry store across the road. A minute later… well, well, well… Gia half-a-slut Matteo follows. Accident or design? Yeah, I’m paid to be suspicious. I’m still watching the jeweler’s entrance when Ana happens to look out of the window at the same time. Elliot and Matteo exit together and she kisses him briefly. It looks like a friendship kiss to me, but Ana looks a little shocked. I like that she’s still so innocent, even though she lives with Mary, Mary quite contrarary, although I don’t think the boss has ever used thumbscrews. But hey, I am sooo not going through the playroom cabinets to check. No employee needs to know what the boss puts up his ass. Unless it’s his head. For obvious reasons.
After the shopping extravaganza, where the new Mrs. Grey spends more on clothes than the average American family’s monthly income, I get a couple of hours of downtime to eat a quick supper and shoot the breeze with Carmella and Grant. They have a good life here, despite the fact they work for Grey. The house is empty 40 weeks of the year, and Grant volunteers with the Aspen fire department. He fishes, he has hobbies. I’d really like to get into motorcycles again one day. Maybe things will be different once the boss moves into the new house out on the Sound. I hope so, because I want to have a real family life with Gail. And Sophie. I don’t want to miss her growing up anymore.
I have to admit I’m envious of what Carmella and Grant have out here. Grey’s family come for the skiing, although he hasn’t been here himself for a while. He lets a few friends of his parents use it, too, but mostly it’s a quiet life. I wouldn’t mind getting used to that. I know Gail thinks I crave the adrenalin of being Grey’s personal security, but I’ll be 38 next month and I’m looking forty in the face – the reflexes start to slow down. How many professional ball players are in their forties? Like I said: you get slower.
“It’s good to see Mr. Grey so happy,” says Carmella, thoughtfully. “I was astonished when I heard he was getting married. I never thought…”
She doesn’t finish the sentence but it’s pretty obvious what she’s thinking, not knowing about the sub club parade that worked its way through Grey’s penthouse over the last few years. Gay, celibate, yadda, yadda, yadda.
“Mrs. Grey seems very… pleasant. Young, but a sweet girl.”
I nod but otherwise don’t comment. It’s not that I don’t agree, or that I don’t trust Carmella, but not talking about my employees is a habit that’s hard to break.
“You like her, Jason,” she says, and it’s not a question.
When I don’t reply, wisely she changes the subject.
“So, you and Gail. About time, Jason. I don’t know what you were waiting for – a sign from God?”
I shoot her a look.
“Yes, I talked to Gail. We liaise over Mr. Grey’s guest lists – we talk,” she adds, knowingly. “Well, I’m pleased for you both. Good for you.”
She looks so damn proud, I think she’s going to hand me a button: Engaged! After 1440 days of sobriety! Give this man a drink!
“I understand they’re going out for dinner tonight – I presume you’re driving?”
She smiles. “I’ve made you a bag of sandwiches to take with you for a snack, and a flask of coffee. You may or may not find a cinnamon raisin muffin, too.” She winks at me. “Gail talked.”
“Thanks, Carmella. I have a feeling it’s going to be a late one. Don’t wait up.”
I park the minivan outside the restaurant and open one of the passenger doors while Elliot Grey opens another. Ana looks slightly worried and tugs at her very short dress. I’m surprised that the boss has let her out like that. Guess he’s not the one in charge anymore.
Then I get back into the driver’s seat and reverse six feet so I have a clear view of the entrance and into the far corner where their table is reserved. I’m not anticipating trouble in Aspen, but I’m not going to be sleeping on the job either. I’ve got my sandwiches and caffeine, courtesy of Carmella, and I’ve got my Kindle Fire with built-in light for reading at night – an early birthday present for myself. Gotta hold my hand up for self-love. I’m part way through William Bligh’s narrative of Mutiny on the Bounty – very educational. I should take notes.
But the drama going on in the restaurant is even more dramatic than Fletcher Christian’s leadership-for-beginners course – and about as rational. Elliot half-a-brain/half-a-ball Grey has asked Kate-killing-it-softly Kavanagh to marry him.
Clearly, I have nothing against marriage – not even after years of servitude with The Bitch who makes Roller Derby chicks look as soft as a pageant princess. But Kate Kavanagh has a selfish streak. I’d call it ‘driven’, but only if I liked her. I don’t think she always looks out for her friend. The very first time I met Ana, Kate had allowed her to get blind drunk so she was in danger of being molested by the horny under-grad photographer. In my line of work, you have to know that your friends have got your back. Maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion – after all, Ana trusts her. But then again, Ana thought it was safe to go to New York with Jack Hyde, and that Christian Grey was gay. What can I say? QED.
After the restaurant fiasco, Mia directs me to a nightclub that the Greys have been to before. With my five minutes heads up, I call the security at the club and tell them the Greys are getting VIP treatment. It’s a professional courtesy, too. In a place that size, I won’t be able to keep an eye on all of the Greys – the staff there will give me extra back up.
Once the package has been delivered, um, the Greys have exited the vehicle, I park around the back and head to the staff entrance.
“Taylor, good to see you again.”
I’m greeted by Julio Andreas, head of security at Xanadu.
“Hey, Julio. Sorry for the short notice.”
“No problem, T. You want to sit in the CCTV room?”
He eyes me thoughtfully. “Carmella didn’t happen to send any of her muffins down with you, did she?”
“Can’t say she did,” I lie, blandly.
He gives me a look that says he’s not buying my brand of bullshit. But he’s too late anyway. You snooze, you loose, and that cinnamon raisin sucker is already parked in my gut.
Julio gives me a desk and monitor that lets me watch the Greys. Half the screen shows their table, and the other half shows the dancefloor. Ana looks toasted. I don’t know whether to be impressed with Grey for loosening the leash, or irritated that he’s done it in a public place where I can’t secure the room.
Then gorilla breath tries it on with Ana. I’m out of my seat before Julio realizes what’s happening. Xanadu is about to have a radiation breech if Grey sees another man’s hands on Ana’s ass.
I feel like cheering (in a completely manly, non-pompom waving way), when Ana smacks the shit out of the gorilla’s grinning face. Ouch. That gotta hurt.
Julio speaks into his radio and I can see two security staff zeroing in on Ana and Kong. But they’re too slow. Grey is there and after a very brief exchange of words, lays the fucker out. Nice one, boss.
Shit. I hope Grey can rein it in, otherwise Julio’s guys will be on him, no matter how much of a VIP he is. But then I see Ana working her magic, taming the beast, and I see the exact moment when the madness fades from his eyes. She’s good for him, no doubt. It remains to be seen whether he’s good for her, although I don’t doubt that her loves her. I hope – for Ana’s sake – that love is enough.
There are no further incidents but I’m pretty certain that Julio’s team breathe a sigh of relief when I drive away with my VIP cargo. I’ll have to talk to Carmella: the Xanadu guys have earned their cinnamon raisin muffins.
The flight back is quiet with most of the party sleeping. Grey, of course, is working. Mia Grey and the Kavanagh kid aren’t speaking. Seems to me like he’s had a lucky break. He doesn’t look like he agrees. Maybe the guy should see a shrink, not study the subject. I consider slipping him one of Flynn’s business cards. I wonder if I’d get a commission.
Ryan meets us at Sea-Tac with the SUV. I’m happy to let him drive.
“Mr. Logan has been spoken to. He’ll be considerably more careful when buzzing deliveries into the building.”
Hmm. I’d rather wanted to speak to the media-hippy myself. But Ryan deserves to have some fun. After all, he did take out Hyde. Yeah, about that fucker.
“The repairs on Charlie Tango have been completed. She’s at Boeing Airfield and is good to go.”
Ana won’t be happy about that: Grey will.
“And Hyde? Any news?”
“No. Hyde isn’t really talking. He’s still singing this tune that Mrs. Grey came onto him.”
“Lying scum bag.”
“Yeah, Clark wants to interview Mrs. Grey again.”
“That won’t go down well.”
“He doesn’t think Hyde will get bail.”
“Everything in place for the ASA function tomorrow?”
“Yes. Extra security arranged, and venue has been scoped. Report on your desk, T.”
Yep. Business as usual.
For nearly two weeks, things are quiet. I should be pleased, but it makes me nervous. It’s like when Sophie was a kid: if I could hear her, I didn’t worry; but when I couldn’t hear anything, yeah, that’s when it’s time to worry.
But then… Leila-bunny-boiler Williams. Just to make life more interesting.
The first thing I know about it is a panicked call from Prescott.
“T, Leila Williams has got into the SIP building. She’s asking to see Mrs. Grey, and, um, Mrs. Grey knows she’s here.”
“What the hell, Belinda?! She’s on the proscribed list.”
“I know, but, um, I was taking a bathroom break. I’ve told Claire on reception a million times, but…”
“Look, we’ll go over this later. Just get her the fuck out.”
“Mrs. Grey is insisting on seeing her.”
Oh fiery fucking shit.
Then Grey comes flying out of his office.
“We’ll be there in five.”
“How the fuck did this happen, Taylor?” Grey snaps. “I gave specific instructions that she was never, NEVER to be allowed anywhere near my wife. I want Prescott out.”
There’s nothing else I can say, even though I’ve made worse mistakes. All I can do is make sure she gets some sort of severance pay. Not that she’s earned it; I just happen to know she needs it.
I run six stop signs getting Grey to SIP as fast as possible. Neither of us care if I get a ticket. One look at our faces is enough to clear a Red Sea-sized path through reception and into Ana’s office. I keep seeing an image of the Williams bitch holding a gun on Ana, and I know it’s the same for Grey. He’s keeping the panic locked in, but only just. I know Prescott has had her searched, but still – that image. I can’t shake it. Grey never will.
The first thing we see is Susi Petrowski sitting outside the SIP meeting room.
Now I’m really pissed. Belinda sure as fuck didn’t mention that she was here, too. What the hell?
She stands nervously as Grey’s eyes sweep over her, and I see a blush rise in her cheeks before she drops her gaze to the carpet.
“Sit!” he hisses at her, and the woman’s knees collapse.
The receptionist looks shocked. Yep, better than an episode of reality TV.
Grey storms into the meeting room and I catch Ana’s eye briefly. She tries to smile, but she looks upset and confused. If it weren’t for Belinda’s bladder and Claire’s gnat-like memory, we could have avoided all this. I wait outside with Petrowski as the door swings closed, cutting off contact, leaving only a memory of Ana’s pale face.
“Hello, Taylor,” Petrowski says, shyly.
“You can call me Susi. I must have told you that like a thousand times!” she giggles.
“Why are you here, Miss Petrowski?”
She sighs. “Lulu needed to see her. To see Mrs. Grey. I only said I’d come with her because I thought it would help her. Like closure or something. She needed to see Chris… Mr. Grey, too. She still loves him.”
I’ve never understood this. Why do these woman fall in love with a man who beats them for pleasure? I don’t get it. I know it was mutual, consensual. But sane? Not in my book. If that makes me sound close-minded, ain’t gonna argue.
Susi’s smile dissolves. “But he never loved us. I’m not even sure he liked us sometimes. I mean, he was kind, but in the way you’d be to a stranger. Like polite. But he must love her. I mean, he married her. I saw her picture online – she looks like us.” Her eyes seek out mine. “Why did he marry her?”
“I’ll arrange for a car to take you home, Miss Petrowski.”
She looks down.
Belinda suddenly exits the meeting room, her shoulders slumped.
“He fired me.”
Susi gasps. “Oh, I’m so sorry! We never wanted… I’ll tell sir it was my fault. I’m so sorry.”
Belinda looks at her coldly, but then shrugs.
“I’ll have to go back to Escala, T, pick up my things.”
I shake my head slowly. “I’ll have Ryan bring them over to your place. You can get a ride with him.”
She gives a tiny smile.
“Okay. It was good working with you, T. Say goodbye to Gail for me.”
She stands close and brushes a small kiss over my cheek.
“Sorry I screwed up,” she whispers.
I nod wearily. She smiles and waves goodbye.
“I’m so sorry,” Petrowski whimpers again.
I look at her impatiently.
“What exactly did you think would happen?”
“I don’t know. Not this.”
A moment later, Grey and Ana leave the office together. I say nothing. It’s part of my job. I’m good at it.
The following few days are peaceful. Clark has tried to schedule a meeting with Ana, but so far Grey has refused to cooperate. He wants to keep Ana away from all the crazy – he doesn’t seem to realize that he brought the crazy with him when he married her. Or maybe he does, and feels guilty for it. Either way, he tries to block it out.
Security is still tight. Not only is there no further information on Hyde’s probable accomplice – and I’m more certain than ever that the fucker wasn’t working alone – but we’ve got the Taiwanese faction here. Ros has worked her balls off to set up this meeting. It’s not just worth billions of dollars, but thousands of West Coast jobs. Grey wants it, but Seattle needs it.
They’re waiting for Grey in the boardroom.
The first I know of a problem is when I get an amber alert code from Sawyer. He’s Mrs. Grey’s driver today. I call him immediately.
“T, I’m in the car with Mrs. Grey. We’re on our way to Portland. Her father has been involved in some sort of accident. I don’t know the details.”
“Claire said that she got a call from a man named Mr. Rodriguez. I have two permitted callers with that name, but I don’t know which one it was.”
“Okay, I’ll deal. Keep me updated, Luke.”
Shit. Poor Ana! Jeez, Grey is going to lose it.
I call the airfield immediately and get the on-call pilot to Escala. It’ll be quicker than Grey driving out to the airfield and I know he’ll want to be with Ana as soon as possible. Next, I call Gail.
“Jason! This is a nice surprise!”
“I’m sorry, baby, not a nice one.”
“Ana’s step-father has been involved in an accident. I’m trying to get the details but she’s on her way to Portland with Luke. Grey will fly up in Charlie Tango. Can you get some clothes together for both of them? I think we’ll be there in about two hours.”
“Oh my goodness! Poor Ana! Poor Mr. Grey! Yes, of course, Jason. I’ll take care of it. I’ll see you soon.”
And she hangs up.
I didn’t get a chance to tell her that I love her. I hate that.
“Taylor!” snaps Grey.
“Charlie Tango will be prepped at Escala by the time you finish your meeting, sir.”
He nods and turns on his heel.
I move heaven and earth and piss off a load of people to get permission for Charlie Tango to land at OHSU. The helipad is for ER emergencies. But I’m trained in survival, even if these days it’s mostly using the company credit card. Whatever. I get the job done, and three hours later Grey is walking into the ICU.
Ana looks broken, her blue eyes too large in her pale face. She’s clutching a paper cup and her hand shakes slightly. She’s also wearing a heavy jacket that isn’t hers. Oh, right. The photographer boy.
Grey won’t be happy, but I’m glad she has her friend there.
I nearly die of fucking shock when Grey doesn’t say anything, I certainly twitched an eye when he shook hands with Rodriguez Junior. Maybe learning has taken place.
I hate this, too. I know why Grey gets so crazy when he can’t control things. Shit happens; I just don’t want it to happen to Ana. She’s been through so much. But Grey is there, and he’s doing the right thing.
Yeah, that lasts for about three minutes.
A doctor in blue scrubs emerges from behind a set of doors.
Ana jumps to her feet.
“You’re his next of kin?”
“I’m his daughter, Ana.”
And then the boss opens his mouth. “It’s Mrs. Grey.”
The doctor is flustered but whether it’s by the interruption or Grey’s aggressive stance, hell, who knows. I don’t know why Grey doesn’t just piss on Ana’s leg if he wants to mark his territory that badly. What a fucking tool.
“My apologies,” stammers the doctor. “I’m Dr. Crowe. Your father is stable, but in a critical condition.”
Ana looks like she’s about to collapse but Grey holds her firmly. Whatever else, it’s obvious he loves her.
“He suffered severe internal injuries,” the doctor continues. “Principally to his diaphragm, but we’ve managed to repair them, and we were able to save his spleen.”
He sighs, and I know more bad news is coming. I can’t bear the pleading look in Ana’s eyes.
“Unfortunately, he suffered a cardiac arrest during the operation because of blood loss. We managed to get his heart going again, but this remains a concern.”
I slip out of the room discreetly as the doctor continues his catalog of Mr. Steele’s injuries. I can’t afford to get caught up in the misery unfolding in that room. My job is to take away the small problems.
I phone the Heathman and reserve Grey’s suite. They arrange for me to use one of their town cars for a few days. I know Grey was planning on having a celebration for Ana’s birthday, so I phone Andrea and get her to put everything on hold until further notice.
I see Sawyer leaving with the photographer boy and his father.
“T, I’m taking Mr. Rodriguez and his son home. I’ll be a couple of hours. Let me know if… Let me know, okay?”
“Sure, Luke. I’ve got you a room at the Heathman. We’ll de-brief when you get back.”
He throws a hasty salute and an embarrassed grin. We all fall into old habits at times of stress. It’s the training – it always takes over. There’s time for feelings later. Maybe.
I drive to the Heathman with the Greys’ luggage. I’ve just checked in when my phone rings.
“Oh, Jason, how’s Ana’s father?”
“Critical, but stable.”
I shrug because there’s nothing else to say. I hear a soft sigh at the end of the line.
“I don’t want to burden you, Jason, I know you have enough to do, but I forgot to pack nightwear and a few other things for Mr. and Mrs. Grey. I’ve telephoned Nordstrom and put in an order but they don’t have anyone to deliver it. Would you mind just going over and picking it up? I’m so stupid. I should have thought and…”
“Baby, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
I hear her sniffing softly at the end of the phone, and I’m desperate to hold her.
“Baby, what’s wrong?”
“I’m so sorry,” she gasps. “It’s just… the same… exactly the same when… when… getting a phone call like that. I’m sorry, I know I’m being silly…”
My heart beats so hard, my chest vibrates with pain.
“God, Gail. I love you so much, baby. I want to hold you so badly, right now.”
“I know,” she whispers. “I love you, too.”
I’m left holding a useless piece of plastic, a knot of wires. But I’m not with Gail.
Ana’s father is critically injured; the boss is holding on by a thread; Gail is in tears because it reminds her of her the phone call that brought the news that her husband had been killed in a drive-by shooting, and I’m not with her.
Could this day get any worse?
Smart money says yes.
~ ~ ~ ~
Hope you’re enjoy Taylor’s ride before he gallops off into the sunset. And for all you lovely people who’ve asked me, ‘Dazzled’ is definitely, positively coming out Friday 13th! My lucky number : )