Ana is missing.
Grey is screaming orders and acting like he’s lost his mind. If Ana really has gone, he’ll have lost a lot more than that.
“Find her! Fucking find her! When did she leave? Why didn’t anyone stop her leaving? She can’t leave! She can’t just fucking disappear into thin air! Who’s checking the CCTV? What about her phone, for fuck’s sake! Ana? Ana!”
I’m just about to send Ryan to check the CCTV footage of all exits and the elevators, from the computer in my office even though I’m pretty certain she couldn’t have left without someone noticing. Although, if she’d gone out through the garage entrance on foot, we’d only be able to confirm that from the tapes.
And then she appears. From the playroom. That’s so not what any of us were expecting. Grey looks shocked.
Ana looks pale and tired, but not cowed. Beautiful and defiant. Grey is in so much shit.
“Sawyer,” she snaps, “I’ll be ready to leave in about 20 minutes.”
Wow. I could chip ice from the freezing tone of her voice.
“Would you like some breakfast, Mrs. Grey?”
That’s my Gail – always the care-giver. God, I love that amazing woman.
“I’m not hungry, thank you.”
Gail looks like she’s about to say something, but I throw her a quick look which she catches and interprets correctly.
“Where were you?”
The boss’s voice is hoarse – part hangover, part fear, part anger.
I jerk my head at Ryan and Sawyer, and as Gail heads to the kitchen, the rest of us scatter, getting the hell out of Dodge before the storm breaks.
The last thing I hear before Sawyer closes the door behind us is Grey, demanding but with an edge of desperation.
“Ana, answer me!”
I stand there with Sawyer, as useful as dicks on a donut.
As ever, I let the job consume me. I knew a guy once who worked in bomb disposal: he could concentrate on disarming a complex IED, even while bullets and shit were flying around him, because he knew that distraction was dangerous. He allowed himself to be utterly absorbed by his work.
I operate in a similar way. I can’t prevent the cloudburst taking place in the Grey’s living room, I just make sure I’ve got a fucking raincoat on hand. And the way Ana is cutting a swathe through Grey’s walls of anger, I probably need my Kevlar vest, too.
I turn to my computer and start working through emails. Andrea has sent details of the Taiwanese trip. Ros will be leaving soon. She delayed 24 hours to see if Grey would be going with her. Maybe he will now – I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to take some distance to deal with the emotional tidal wave that’s about to engulf him. Guess I’ll find out.
Seventeen minutes later, Sawyer stretches and stands.
“I’ll go wait in the garage, T. Buzz me when Mrs. G. is on her way.”
I nod, but don’t speak. There’s nothing to say.
Three minutes later, Ana strides past my office. She doesn’t look in my direction, so I simply let Sawyer know to bring the car around front. For a small woman, she looks like an Amazon this morning.
I feel real pity for the boss. All the years I’ve known him, he’s positioned himself so he doesn’t have to deal with the emotions of others – let alone his own. Ana has torn down every wall, kicked open every door with her dainty, size six boots.
Five minutes later, Grey appears in the main room and sits at the breakfast bar.
Egg white omelet.
Eating in silence.
Just like it was before Ana came into his life.
I hope it doesn’t go back to that. For his sake. For her sake. Maybe even for my sake, because I don’t think I want to work for that man again.
As I leave to collect the car, Gail places a soft kiss on my lips.
“Look after him,” she whispers.
I nod, but how do I look after someone who seems intent on self-destructing.
My mom gave me one piece of advice – never let the sun set on an argument. Guess the doc never told her middle kid that.
The drive takes place in silence.
Grey spends the entire journey staring at his cell phone. I can’t think of one word that he’d want to hear. Not a single syllable that will offer him hope. I’m more aware than ever that I’m an employee and not a friend. Because a friend would say,
“You fucked up, but it ain’t over yet. Talk to her. Grovel if she wants it. Begging works, too.”
Instead we sit in our separate silence. I watch from the rear view mirror, catching glimpses of the life draining from his body, the emotions that fueled his panic this morning quietly ebbing away.
I have an urge to turn on the radio, but it would be just my luck to hear Simon and Garfunkel singing, Hello, darkness, my old friend, and then I’d have to redefine the meaning of irony.
So it’s just silence.
My phone pings with a message from Sawyer, displayed on the center console. Ana has arrived at work. She didn’t say anything. He offered to get her some food. She declined.
The silence continues.
I’m ready to crack when we arrive at Grey House. I consider the risks of crossing the employee—employer boundary. Still weighing the options, I hesitate. Grey doesn’t wait for me to get his door, he just flings it open and strides into the building. Grey House. His building. It seems well named this morning.
I shrug. I’m a driver and a bodyguard. I’m not his friend. And I’m not his therapist. I wonder if I should let the good doctor know that his star patient is about to detonate. I hope Grey is smart enough to make that appointment himself. One thing I’ve always admired about the guy is that he knows he’s fucked up. And even though he’s convinced himself that he’s beyond repair, he keeps on trying.
Jeez. Did I just say I ‘admired’ him?
I check out of the window. Nope. The world’s still turning. Weird.
It’s a long day. Ros has gone. Andrea has been relegated to the outer office. No one goes in. He’s taking phone calls and has a video conference with his international law team hashing out the last issues on the Taiwan contract.
I keep hoping to get a message from him saying that we’re going to Flynn’s, or to Ana’s office, but there’s nothing.
I keep busy, sorting out security with Welch for their new house on the Sound – the house that may never become a home unless Grey gets his act together.
The highlight of my day is a text from Gail; the lowlight is a conversation with Welch. He’s heard a whisper that Hyde will get bail. I hope to hell that he’s wrong. The source of the intel is not the best, so we won’t act on it yet. If he does get out, I want a heads up so I can have the fucker watched 24/7.
By 21:00, my eyes are burning and I’ve given up trying to work.
Barney passes by just as I put my feet on the desk, and look up ‘Game of Thrones’ on HBO’s website.
“Princess Daenerys is hot,” he says, casually. “She sounds like purple.”
“She sounds like purple?”
He shrugs. “I’m a synesthete.”
“Is that some weird fanboy thing? You scare me sometimes.”
“It means I experience sound as color.”
I never know where the hell Barney gets half this stuff.
“What’s up with the G-man? He looks like Luke Skywalker when he found out that Darth Vader was his father.”
“Can’t tell you, Barney.”
“I know, T.” He stares at the ceiling. “I kinda liked it when he was, you know, connected.”
This guy has a PhD in talking in fucking riddles. I decide to play along.
“What do you mean, connected?”
“Well,” he says, seriously, “the boss operates in the top quantile of mathematical reasoning and logic: abstractions, reasoning, numbers and critical thinking. Fluid intelligence, ya know.”
“Bear with me, Barney, when I say, huh?”
He continues staring at the ceiling, like the answer to life, the universe and everything is stenciled onto the fire-resistant tiles.
“It’s the capacity to understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system. I mean, the boss is a legitimate genius, and speaking as a fellow genius, I know what I’m talking about. But seeing him with Mrs. Grey, it made me feel like if he could have a normal life, then there was hope for the rest of us.”
I stare at Barney, slightly shocked that he’s speaking in whole sentences.
“Seriously, MENSA doesn’t have a category for people like us. No one does.”
He shrugs and I know he’s not trying to be funny – he means it.
“The boss is off the chart smart, but he’s a dumbass, too. Like Raymond the Rain Man, you know what I’m saying, T. And it’s no fun being the one who never makes connections with other people.” He sighs. “Later, T. Look out for the Sith.”
I have no idea what the hell just happened. Did I fall asleep? Slip through the cracks into an alternate reality? Or did Barney just tell me that the boss gives him hope?
Gave him hope.
Two episodes later, Daenerys has been married to Khal Drogo and I’m so confused, I think my brain has been shit out through my ass, and finally Grey texts me to say he’s ready to go home.
I know his game, I played it enough times. He wants Ana to be asleep by the time he gets back; that way he won’t have to face her. Yep, used to do that when I was still married to the Bitch.
On the way back he tells me that we’re flying down to Portland the next day. Leaving early.
I’m dog tired and fall into bed, Gail wrapped around me as I lose myself inside her, feeling her love surround me. She clings to me and I want to promise her it’s all going to be okay. But I say nothing, because I don’t want to lie to my woman.
I wake in the night and hear a solitary note from the piano, repeated over and over again. One note, struck over and over, marking the seconds throughout the night.
It’s the sound of a man’s heart breaking.
Inside my head, I’m begging him to stop making that God-awful, piteous sound. In the end, I throw a pillow over my head and concentrate on listening to the hopeful sounds of Gail’s soft breaths.
Looking at Grey the next morning, you wouldn’t know that you were looking at a man with half his soul ripped out. I can see in the glazed expression on the WSU receptionist’s face, that she’s just as affected as ever.
It’s an interesting day. The Farming Division has made some impressive progress in their GM research. But I know for a fact that Grey wouldn’t be here if he didn’t need distraction from thinking about Ana. I’m guessing that he also wants reassurance that he’s not a completely soulless bastard. What better way than to spend the day having his ego stroked by people grateful for his money, appreciative of his keen understanding and tenacious logic. I don’t blame him for that. We all crave acceptance from somewhere. Those of us who are human.
I get the call from Sawyer just after 15:00.
“Go ahead, Luke.”
“T, I wanted to let you know Mrs. Grey is with me.”
“With you where?”
“She’s unwell. I’m taking her back to Escala.”
“Christ! How unwell?”
“I’m not a freakin’ doctor, T! I asked if she wanted me to call one for her or take her to the ER, but she said no.”
“Yeah, okay. Just keep an eye on her because…” Shit, I know I’m overstepping the mark here. “Luke, you have to keep this to yourself… Mrs. Grey is pregnant. She’s probably experiencing nausea.”
I can hear the surprise in his voice. “I see.”
“But have Dr. Greene’s number ready – just in case.”
“I’ll tell Grey. I’ll let you know our eta.” I pause, trying to think of something else to say. We’re military guys, me and Luke. But we’re not trained to deal with pregnant women. Definitely not in the job description. “Do you think she’s okay?”
There’s a long silence, then I hear him expel a deep breath.
“Yes,” he mutters. “Over and out.”
It’s the kind of ‘yes’ that means ‘hell, no!’ It unnerves me.
I slide my cell back in my pocket and approach the group of lab coats surrounding Grey.
“Sir?” I say, to the boss.
Grey knows I’d only interrupt him with something important. He turns away from the scientists he’s been talking to.
“What is it?”
I lower my voice so it’s only audible to him.
“Sawyer just called me to say that he’s taking Mrs. Grey home. She wasn’t feeling well.”
All the color leaves his face, leaving his eyes looking black and haunted.
He swallows back the expression that is trying to break across his face, but he holds himself in.
“Get Charlie Tango prepped. We’re heading back.”
Thank fuck for that.
“Forgive me, gentlemen,” he enunciates clearly. “I have to cut this meeting short. I’ll look forward to your report.”
And before they have a chance to close their mouths, he strides from the room.
We’re at the airfield in Portland when Sawyer calls me to say that Ana is resting in her room.
It’s a short conversation, but Grey watches me anxiously the whole time.
“She’s back at Escala, sir. She’s refused medical attention and…”
“Christ, Ana!” he snarls, infuriated, afraid.
He throws himself into Charlie Tango’s cockpit, clearly agitated, but runs through the pre-flight checks thoroughly. I’ve seen him do this so many times, I could probably fly the damn chopper myself. Not so sure about the whole landing angle though…
The flight seems interminably long, but it’s just the usual 50 minutes.
I can feel a slight relaxation in the tense atmosphere when we land at Escala. The nearer he gets to his wife, the safer he feels.
That Newton dude will have to write a new law of gravity for Grey and Ana – they can’t help being pulled toward each other. He’s a cold planet to her sun.
The rotor blades are still turning when my cell rings again.
“T, fuck, man! Ana just skipped out on me!”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
He’s not making sense.
“I mean, she deliberately distracted me, sent me on some stupid ass job, and then took the SUV. Just fuckin’ took off! What the fuck is going on?”
“Fuck!” Ana! What the hell are you doing?
Grey’s stare is intense. Reluctantly, I put my cell on speaker.
“You’re on speaker, Sawyer. Mr. Grey is present. Where are you now?”
“I’m tracking Mrs. Grey using the low-jack in her car. She crossed Boren Avenue and headed north toward Capitol Hill. I’m outside Umpqua Bank. Watch and wait or enter?”
“Wait there, Luke, and tell Ryan. Enter only on my say-so. We’ll be there in…” I check my wristwatch, and my eyes flick up to Grey.
“We’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Wilco. Roger and out.”
Grey closes his eyes.
“Ana,” he whispers.
I can tell he wants to run down the fire escape steps to release some of the painful tension that is swirling inside him, but it’s quicker to take the elevator, and we’re heading straight for the garage now.
He’s restless, tugging at his tie, checking his cell phone for messages, drumming his fingers on his thighs. I’ve never seen him so agitated. Literally, never. His usual m.o. is to descend into stillness. It unnerves his opponents. But Ana isn’t his opponent – she’s his reason for living.
He closes his eyes again but doesn’t speak.
Reaching the garage, I decide to take Ana’s Saab. I press the fob key that is programmed to work for all the Grey vehicles and jump in. I’m surprised when the boss sits up front with me. Surprised, but then again not.
I slide my cell into the holder, and have just exited onto the street when it rings again.
This time Andrea’s voice comes through loud and clear.
“T, I have a Mr. Troy Whelan on the line. He’s the manager at Umbqua Bank. This is all very unusual, but he insists on speaking to Mr. Grey immediately.”
Grey seems even paler, but he nods quickly.
“Put him through, Andrea.”
“Ah, am I speaking with Mr. Grey?” asks the disembodied voice.
“This is Grey,” snaps the boss.
“Ah… I have a woman here claiming to be Mrs. Anastasia Grey. Although her driving license says she’s a Miss Anastasia Steele. Ah, well, she wishes to withdraw, ahem, five million dollars from your checking account. She has the appropriate checkbook, sir, but I have to say this is most unusual so I merely wished to, ah, well…”
“Put me through to my wife,” Grey orders.
I can hear the relief in Whelan’s voice when Grey takes over.
There’s a pause, and I imagine the look Ana is giving the poor bastard, stuck between a rock and a hard place that is the Grey’s marriage.
Ana’s soft voice echoes through the car. I think Grey has forgotten that I’m here. He takes a deep breath, but it’s a gasp that comes out.
“You’re leaving me?” he says, and I hear the raw agony in his voice.
“No!” She hesitates. “Yes.”
Grey’s head falls into his hands.
“Ana, I…” but he can’t speak.
“Christian, please. Don’t.”
“You’re going?” He tries again, desperate to believe that he’s heard her wrongly.
“Yes,” she says.
I grit my teeth, and accelerate through the early evening traffic. If she could just see him breaking apart, maybe she’d stay. Maybe.
I run a red light.
The boss doesn’t notice.
“But why the cash?” he whispers, brokenly. “Was it always the money?”
I understand why he’s asking. He never found it easy to believe that she loved him.
Her voice is even quieter.
“Is five million enough?”
“And… the baby?”
It’s the first time I’ve heard him say the word, to acknowledge that he’s going to be a father. The first time since he got drunk and screwed up his world.
“I’ll take care of the baby.”
He drags his hands across his face, as if wishing he could tear it off so the pain on the outside equaled the pain on the inside.
“This is what you want?” he manages to choke out.
A single syllable.
That’s all it takes.
I see the exact moment his world shatters. His pain comes out in an ugly hiss.
“Take it all!”
“Christian! It’s for you. For your family. Please don’t.”
Something is wrong. Her reply doesn’t make sense. I know it. Something is off in her voice. Grey is too far gone to hear it.
“Take it all, Anastasia!”
His voice drops to a whisper. “I’ll always love you.”
He hangs up.
His eyes close, and the man he was beginning to be disintegrates in front of me.
My cell rings again, and I want to smash it against the windshield.
“This isn’t a good time, Welch!” I snap.
“You need to know this, Taylor. Hyde got bail. We don’t know how, and I’m working on who put up the bail money. But he was released four hours ago.”
“Fuck, I know, Taylor! It looks likes someone deliberately blocked the information getting out. I thought you should know.”
“Crap. Okay, thanks Welch. Keep me informed if you hear anything else.”
I glance at Grey. He’s frowning, and I can practically hear the neurons firing in his brain. He pulls out his cell, and I guess that he’s calling Ana to tell her, to warn her. But she doesn’t answer. And before I have time to put together what it all means, another call from Sawyer comes in, piercing the painful silence inside the car.
“T, Mrs. Grey has ditched the SUV. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. She saw me and she looked… scared. She left via the bank’s staff entrance at the rear. She was seen getting into a black Dodge with an unknown female. Something stinks.”
“Has she still got her cell phone with her?”
“Yes, but the weird thing is, she asked for that Whelan guy’s cell before she left. We just found it in a dumpster outside. He was pretty pissed about that. What the fuck, T?”
“Track her phone!” I yell at him. “Tell Welch. Call the police. Don’t lose her! And look out for that fucker Jack Hyde – he made bail four hours ago.”
Grey is staring at me, completely stricken. I don’t need to explain.
“Taylor,” he barks, “it has to be him – Hyde has to be behind this! Find her! Fucking find Ana! I’m going to kill the fucker. If anything happens… if one hair of her head… if…”
But he can’t continue. He rubs his eyes so hard I’m afraid he’ll gouge out his eyes.
“Just fucking find her!”
I bring up Ana’s GPS on the car’s console. Grey leans forward, his eyes fixed on the small screen. Neither of us speak as I violate every fucking driving law ever made to close the distance between that small red dot on the screen and us.
We drive through the city, screaming around corners on two wheels, and even catching air as I drive over a speed hump. Soon, we’re racing down South Irving Street through a district full of warehouses and weed-covered lots.
I realize that the red dot has stopped moving, and see the black Dodge parked at a crazy angle as if it’s just been abandoned.
“Christ, Ana!” Grey yells, fear and frustration pouring from him. “Where are you?”
I brake hard and Grey leaps out of the car as I draw my weapon. I’m right behind him and we both hear the sound of a single gunshot at the same time. Unarmed, Grey rushes forward, his wife’s name on his lips.
Ana is down, blood trickling from the back of head. Grey kneels beside her, afraid to touch her, his eyes wide and full of fear.
And Jack fucking Hyde is turning white as he grips a flesh wound on his thigh. And Elizabeth bitch-face Morgan is standing frozen with fear and disbelief.
“I didn’t want to do it!” she shrieks.
“Shut the fuck up, you stupid bitch!” snarls Hyde.
I kick his weapon away from him and stamp hard on the hand that was reaching for it. Hyde screams loudly; a very fucking pleasing sound.
I see a second gun on the floor. The last time I saw that weapon, it was in the hands of Leila Williams. I know for a fact that Grey kept it in his office. I can only assume that Ana found it and took it with her – and she used it on Hyde.
Pride wells up inside me. So fucking brave. She took on that twisted fucker for the second time in her young life. I wish she’d hurt him some more. He needs to pay, so much more.
The boss is cradling Ana in his arms, his eyes screwed tightly shut and a low pitched cry like a wounded animal coming from his mouth. I hear the sirens of the emergency services.
I have just a few seconds to decide what to do.
I turn the gun on Hyde.
“You don’t deserve to breathe the same air as them,” I say, inclining my head toward Grey and Ana.
The Korth .357 Combat revolver has a double action trigger. It was quite hard when I first got it, but it’s completely adjustable. It would take less than four pounds of pressure to send a bullet hurtling down the chamber. Just one, small neural reflex and this fucker is out of the picture for good. He can’t hurt anymore women.
I want to do it so badly. So fucking badly. But I hear Gail’s voice in my head. I know that she wouldn’t want me to do this. But I wonder. Would any court in the land charge me? I don’t think so. And what’s more, I know the boss wouldn’t let anyone touch me. But I hesitate, and it’s half a second too long. Four police cruisers skid to a halt. I drop my weapon and hold out my ID.
“We need an ambulance,” I order, pointing to Ana, ignoring the piece of shit at my feet.
The police take over. It takes three of them to try and pry Grey from Ana.
“Let them help her,” I say urgently, grabbing his arm and pointing toward the ambulance crew. “They can help her.”
He staggers back and nods.
“Oh, God! Ana.”
Her body looks lifeless as they take her away. Only the tiniest movement of her chest shows that she’s alive. Grey is desperate. I can see his lips moving, but no sound is coming out.
“Sir, I’ll follow you in the car.”
He doesn’t hear me. He doesn’t see me.
He sits beside her in the ambulance, holding her hand, his eyes fixed on her pale face, his mouth moving wordlessly.
“Take them,” I snap at the ambulance crew.
They ignore my tone. They’ve heard it all before – seen it all.
I suppose that’s something we have in common – the paramedics, me, and Grey. We’ve all seen people die.
+ + + +
Oooh! Thanks for sticking with me! Not long to go now… And if you need something to cheer you up after all that angst, check out my new romcom, ‘Dazzled’ – just 99₡ on Amazon.