The blue, flickering lights fade into the distance.
I want to follow, but the police are all over my ass, and I have to stay and deal. I send Sawyer to look after the boss at the hospital. And Ana. I need to know that Ana is… I need to know that she’s going to be okay.
I’ve failed her. My team failed her when she needed us most.
Damn it, Ana!
Why didn’t she ask for our help? A heartbeat. In a heartbeat, we’d have done whatever she needed.
Now she’s being rushed to the hospital.
She was so pale. So still.
Why wouldn’t she let us help her?
Something, some half-thought is fighting to make its way to the front of my brain, but I can’t catch it. It’s elusive, but teasing.
The police are securing the crime scene and a team of Crime Scene Investigators are on their way. The police are demanding to know about Ana’s weapon.
The Morgan woman is incoherent, crying and blubbing uselessly. I want to shake the truth out of her. She holds the key to this. If Hyde trusted her – or blackmailed her into helping him – she knows more than she’s telling. Not that she’s telling anyone anything at the moment. A woman officer is trying to calm her down in a motherly sort of…
Holy fuck! That’s it! When Grey was talking to Ana, she said, ‘It’s for you. It’s for your family.’ Grey’s family!
I ignore the police officer who’s trying to get a statement from me, and I call Welch.
“I need a sit-rep on all the Grey family members now!”
Welch doesn’t hesitate or ask dumb questions.
“On it. Stay on the line.”
I’ve counted to 124 by the time Welch gets back to me.
“Mia Grey is missing. She’s the only one we’ve not been able to contact. She was supposed to be in the sauna at her gym, but she’s not there. Her security guy said he hasn’t seen her for two hours. She’s made a fucking game of giving him the slip – but this time he wasn’t even aware. What’s going down?”
“I’ll get back to you – but I think Hyde has… had… Mia Grey.”
I interrupt Morgan’s mindless, pathetic sniveling, and get in her face, ignoring the annoyed police officer.
“Where’s Mia Grey?”
She wipes an arm across her tear-stained face.
“Don’t fuck with me lady!”
“Hey!” yells the cop. “Back off, buddy!”
I ignore her, and haul Morgan up by her jacket.
“WHERE IS MIA GREY?”
She points a shaking finger at a distant warehouse.
“I didn’t let him hurt her,” she whispers, but I’m off and running, cops trailing behind, the woman cop flanking me, her weapon in her hand.
The warehouse is locked, a new padlock too shiny on the front of the steel door.
“We’ll need a crowbar to open this,” says the woman cop.
I aim four bullets at the cheap padlock, and the bullets sing as they ricochet off of the twisted metal. Behind me, cops are diving to the ground, falling like ninepins, trying to avoid chunks of flying metal.
I ignore the woman cop who growls out, “Crazy fucker!”
The padlock hangs in a mangled heap, and I boot the door open. I enter crouching down, keeping low, reducing my profile. The woman cop has my back. Pissed or not, she knows what she’s doing.
The warehouse is gloomy, large, difficult to secure, but the rest of the cops are pouring in behind us.
A dirty white van is parked in the middle and that’s where we head for.
I shout out, my voice ringing out through the vast space.
I peer through the van’s dirty windows, but it’s impossible to see anything. I hope Hyde hasn’t booby-trapped this vehicle, or it’ll be me who goes out in a fucking blaze of glory. My last thought before I yank open the door is that Gail would be so pissed at me.
There’s no flash of light or loud explosion. Instead, all I see is a filthy mattress and Mia Grey’s prone form. Thin rope is looped around her wrists, ankles, and neck.
Her shirt is ripped open and I can see the rose pink bra she’s wearing.
Bile burns my throat but I focus on the job.
I check her pulse.
“She’s still breathing.”
I hear one of the police officers calling for another ambulance.
Mia’s eyes flutter open.
“Right here, Miss Grey. You’re going to be fine. An ambulance is on its way. Does it hurt anywhere?”
Tears leak from her eyes.
“I’ve been so stupid, Taylor,” and her fingers scrabble for my hand.
“It’s okay,” I whisper. “You’re safe now.”
“I d-don’t remember anything after that woman… she works with Ana… I knew I shouldn’t… I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I repeat. “You’re fine.”
“I… I can’t move my legs!” she gasps, starting to panic.
“Stay calm, Miss Grey.”
“Taylor! I can’t move my legs!”
She starts to thrash around but I grab her wrists, forcing her to look at me.
She starts to sob, and I crouch down next to her and pull her into my chest.
She seems so small and broken, and holding her is like holding Sophie. I stroke her hair and promise everything will be fine. I hope I’m not lying.
Without speaking, I take out my Gerber army knife, and cut the thin cords that bind her. She throws her arms around my neck, holding me tighter still, her tears soaking the collar of my shirt.
We stay there until the ambulance arrives. The paramedics try to put her on a stretcher but she starts to panic.
“Don’t leave me!” she begs.
I scoop her up and stagger to my feet, carrying her to the waiting ambulance.
“I won’t leave you,” I reassure her, quietly.
Tears still leak from her eyes, but she smiles at me shakily.
“Are you angry at me, Taylor?”
“So angry,” I say, stroking her cheek.
Her eyes squeeze shut as she tries to fight back more tears.
She holds tightly to my hand the entire journey. I ignore the paramedics and phone Welch, filling him on the situation.
He does his job, and when we arrive at the hospital we’re met by Grey Senior and the doc.
“Oh my God! Mia!”
“I’m okay, mom,” she says, softly. “Taylor found me. I’m okay.”
Grey Senior turns to me, and I watch as his throat works but no sound comes out. In the end, I nod at him, and leave the family together.
I go to find Sawyer.
He’s on another floor. Ana has been taken for a MRI.
“Where’ve you been, T?” Sawyer asks, exasperated.
“Hyde had taken Mia Grey. I think that’s how he blackmailed Ana into helping him.”
“The fuck you say! Is she alright?”
“Yeah, fine. Drugged, I think. But she’s okay. How’s Ana?”
Sawyer shrugs and avoids my eyes. “No one’s saying – she’s still out cold. The blood from the scalp lac was minor, but they think she smacked her head on the concrete pretty hard. I don’t know… the boss is…” He shakes his head.
“Okay, I’ll stay here. Find out where they’ve taken Hyde. I want to know exactly which room he’s in. The police will be guarding him – make sure he’s secure. That fucker had help – and I don’t just think it was just the Morgan broad. Speak to Welch, find out who paid Hyde’s bail. Whoever it is, they represent a pretty fucking big threat. I want increased security for all the Greys. Again. This time, none of them are to drive themselves or to go anywhere alone. Check on Elliot Grey and Miss Kavanagh. Contact Kavanagh’s father and tell him to put his security team on the alert for the whole family. Ana’s father is in the hospital: I want a two-man security team on him. And I want it fucking yesterday!”
Sawyer nods. “Done.”
He turns on his heel and leaves.
I know he’s feeling pretty fucking pissed about Ana not trusting him and ditching him the way she did. But I don’t have time to hold his hand right now – some crazy fucker is bank rolling Hyde – and until I know who that is, and put him out of business, safety is my call.
No more fuck ups. No more civilians calling the shots. This is my gig, and I’m so fucking tired of being treated like a dog without a dick.
Next, I call Andrea with an update.
She’s shocked, but gets straight to work. She’d make a good Marine. Without the five inch heels, although there was this one guy… long story.
She promises to get Grey’s PR team to handle the media, too, because this is going to be big news.
“I’ll need to inform senior management,” she says. “They need to know what they can say, and what they can’t say. I’ll get a message to Ros. She’ll want to be here. I can get her on a flight tomorrow – that should give her time to wrap things up with the Taiwanese.”
I don’t give a fuck about that, but I know a lot of jobs are resting on the outcome of the negotiations, so I let it go.
Then I phone Gail.
“Oh, Jason! Everything’s going crazy! Alan Welch called me to let me know… I’ve got reporters outside. They’re saying that Ana… that Ana… oh God!”
“Ana’s unconscious and they’re doing a MRI – she hit her head pretty hard. We’re just waiting to hear. But she’s alive, Gail. She’s alive.”
“A MRI? What happened? Is her baby…?”
“I don’t know any details. The boss’s mom is here. They’ll do everything they need to do. Now listen: I know I don’t need to say this, but don’t answer the intercom for anyone; don’t accept any deliveries. Welch is sending a team to Escala now. They’ll also inform the other residents of the necessary protocols…”
“How’s Mr. Grey?” she whispers.
“I haven’t seen him yet.”
“Look after him, Jason.”
“I know you will.”
“Look, I have to go now, Gail. I’ll be in touch when I can.”
“I love you, Jason.”
You too, beautiful woman.
The next 48 hours are the longest of my life. I sleep maybe three hours. Grey sleeps less. He’s with Ana constantly, dying a little more each hour that she remains unconscious.
Kavanagh visited and looked really broken up to see her friend lying there. She’s angry, too.
“Ana! What were you thinking?”
Yeah, right. This is the same woman who made Ana a security risk to go to a fucking cocktail bar. I stare at her, and her face reddens.
Ana’s stepfather comes by, too. He doesn’t say anything – just sits holding her hand.
Grey soon takes his place. He can’t bear to be away from her. For once, Grey Enterprises takes second place. I think he’d burn every building he owned if it meant Ana would wake up.
Gail sends fresh clothes for me and the boss. I take the time to shower and change. He refuses to move and I know I couldn’t make him even if I put a gun to his head.
Gail has also sent me a batch of her chocolate brownies. I eat half and share the rest with Sawyer and Ryan. No other fucker is getting his paws on my girl’s goodies.
And then the news that we’ve all been waiting for: Ana is conscious. Awake, talking – not unharmed – but she’s going to be okay.
Gail cries when I tell her.
The boss starts to breathe again. No one could doubt that man’s love for his wife.
Well, maybe one person.
Elena fucking Lincoln sends flowers to the hospital with a card. I confiscate the card, and have the flowers sent to the geriatric ward. They were pretty and smelled nice, but no way I’d let them anywhere near Ana.
The day she comes home is a good day.
And I realize something: bizarrely, Escala has become my home. Gail is my home. But it’s not just that – this is the longest I’ve lived in any one place since I was a kid. I’ve found a place where… where I fit. Fuck me sideways now, because I’ve just said I fit with Christian I-don’t-have-all-my-dogs-barking Grey. Yeah, he’s not as fucked or fucked up as he was, but he’s not the poster child for mental health either. And call me Kathy Bates and give me a typewriter, because I just don’t care.
Gradually, life returns to normal. Or as near normal as it ever gets working for the boss. He treats Ana like she’s made of glass – and it’s pissing her off. It’s pretty funny really. I would have said he’s whipped, but bearing in mind some of the shit I’ve seen go down in this house, that’s probably not the best analogy.
Grey seems to have accepted that he’s going to be a father. I know he’s worried about it, and he’s right to be worried – it’s the scariest thing in the whole freakin’ world, to be responsible for a new life. Yeah, he’ll fuck up. We all do. But Ana has taught him how to love – so I think they’ll work it out.
As for me, life is good.
And I’ve got a wedding to plan.
– 0 –
Scratch that. Gail is planning a wedding – I’ll just shit, shower and shave, and turn up when she tells me.
Well, it’s not quite that simple – not when your future wife invites a fucking billionaire to your wedding.
Yep, it’s official: my twisted, fucked up bastard of a boss is going to be at my wedding – and I’m going to smile. Either that, or Gail has promised I won’t get laid for a month. Woman fights dirty.
“You know you want him there really, Jason,” she laughs. “Admit it – you like him. You care about him.”
“Pays the bills.”
She rolls her eyes.
“Fine. Be a guy about it. But you and I both know that you like working for Mr. Grey.” She raises her eyebrows. “‘Keeps life interesting’ – that’s what you said.”
Crap. I did say that.
“And you admire him,” she says quietly.
She’s not going to make me say it out loud, but she’s right. And she knows it.
Grey tries harder than anyone I’ve ever met to be a good man. He works hard and enjoys a level of wealth that is impossible to comprehend, but he’s selective about how he spends his money. He’s not ostentatious. He doesn’t shove five grand of coke up his nose everyday like some people I’ve worked for. He doesn’t have hookers and he doesn’t cheat on his wife. I can’t say I’m sorry that he’s given up his submissives. He treated them as well as he was able, but I was always uneasy with the idea that he got off on hurting women – even if they liked it. I’m relieved he’s finish it with that Lincoln witch. Ros says he’s severed all financial ties to her, too, and he’s taken her off his permitted visitor list – both at Escala and at Grey House. She’s out of his life. She poisoned him for so many years, but now she’s gone.
So, yeah. It’s true. I admire the boss. But those words are never passing my lips. Although, if Gail grabs me by the balls again like she did last night, all bets are off. Just sayin’.
One other debt has been paid in the last couple of months: Linc Lincoln.
Turned out it was the witch-bitch’s old man who coughed up Hyde’s bail money. Some sort of payback for the boss pounding his old lady when they were still married. Yeah, well, he fucked up big time, because the boss crushed him: took his business, took his house, took his reputation – and if the rumors are right – his new trophy wife upped and left, too. That must have been some party.
More seriously, I heard a whisper that when Hyde was arraigned while he was still in hospital recovering from the gunshot wound that I wish had ended him, he’d plead not guilty. I don’t know what happened after that but now, it doesn’t look as if he’ll stand trial, due to the fact he hasn’t got all his dogs barking – or plead not guilty by reason of insanity. That surprised a lot of people, and I can’t help wondering if the boss didn’t pull in some favors so Ana didn’t have to be cross-examined on the stand. I wonder what it takes to get a sane but sadistic fucker like Hyde declared unfit to stand trial? How much cash would you have to lay down to grease the wheels? How many important people would you need to have in your pocket.
Yeah, well, I said the boss was a good man – I didn’t say he was a saint.
I wanted to get married at Christmas, a quiet wedding. Small. Simple. Gail said she was too busy for that, what with moving over to the new house with the Greys.
It felt strange not living in the city even though I drove the boss to Grey House every day, but Gail loved our new apartment and for the first time ever, I was able to have Sophie to stay. Lucy bitched about it – of course – but she didn’t try to stop me.
A Spring wedding was nixed, too. I think Gail wanted to wait until after Ana’s baby was born. Yeah, because things get so much less busy with a newborn in the house. There was going to be a nanny, because Ana was adamant about going back to work, so it looked like the staff numbers were increasing exponentially.
Life settled into a pattern, more or less. Until that night…
“Jason, why did you set your alarm so early? Did you forget to tell me about an early flight?”
Gail’s voice is groggy.
Then I suddenly realize that it’s not the alarm, but my cell phone.
“Shit!” I sit up suddenly. “I think this is it.”
I answer the phone and hear Grey’s voice on the other end. He’s trying to sound calm, but I can hear the underlying panic.
“I need to get Ana to the hospital.”
I don’t even get to finish the second syllable before he’s hung up.
“Is it the baby?”
“Yep. Grey Junior is on his way.” I can hear ‘Ave Satani’ playing in my mind. Kidding.
“Give my love to Ana. Let me know when there’s news. Don’t forget her maternity bag – it’s…”
“In my office where it’s been for the last month.”
She smiles and kisses me, totally distracting me from pulling on my pants.
“Go!” she laughs, shoving me out of bed.
“You’re cold, woman,” I grumble.
“Come back with good news, and I’ll show you how not true that is.”
Yeah, like that’s really going to help me leave.
Five minutes later, I’ve got the car in front of the house.
Grey looks tense. Ana is calm, but clearly uncomfortable, both hands wrapped around her enormous belly. She looks like a piece of string with a knot tied in the middle.
We’ve had a pregnancy plan in place since the day Grey officially told his staff. We’ve had plans for every prenatal appointment, every potential problem from Ana feeling unwell, to some sort of apocalyptic future where Seattle is plunged into darkness, hospitals are without power, and flesh-eating zombies stalk the streets. Okay, maybe not the last bit, but every detail, every possible angle has been worked out in advance.
Except one. Baby Grey isn’t cooperating.
For a start, he’s two days early.
I drive to the hospital as smoothly and carefully as possible – while trying to break a few land-speed records as I do it. The boss holds Ana’s hand the entire time.
I know how he’s feeling – I remember it too fucking well. When Lucy was pregnant with Sophie, I felt guilty every time she had heartburn, or reflux. I winced as her ankles swelled and her tits became tender. I massaged her back, her feet, her neck – everything that she let me get close to without her yelling at me for knocking her up in the first place.
Women’s bodies are made for babies, I guess, and we’re just the useless tools who considerately act as sperm donors. Other than buying copious amounts of chocolate, and providing aforementioned massages, we’re out of the equation. Which sucks.
But it totally sucks ass to see the woman you love in pain.
As I race along the darkened streets, I think about the last five years – the Grey years. They’ve been far from that. I think back to that 23 year old that I first met: the one who had the world at his feet, but who was so broken inside, he believed himself rotten – no good. The man who would only allow a very minimum of connection with the human race, keeping everyone and everything at a distance; who contracted women to fuck him, because he believed that he was unworthy and undeserving of love. That man is almost gone. I see a shadow of him sometimes, and perhaps he’ll never be entirely absent, but the man sitting in the back seat holding his wife’s hand as they prepare to bring new life into the world – he’s a man who is full of love. And finally, after all these years, he’s full of hope, too.
All I need now is a fucking orchestra to play me a love song. It’s so sweet, I’m in danger of going into diabetic shock.
The dark streets give way to the neon glow of the hospital, and the white, clinical lights.
Grey waves away the nurse who is waiting with a wheelchair. He carries Ana into the hospital. She rolls her eyes at me and smiles.
“Good luck, Mrs. Grey,” I call after her.
I park the car, then make all the necessary phone calls: Sawyer, Ros, Grey Senior and the doc, Ray Steele. Those are the priority calls. Level two calls can wait until daylight. Yep, it’s all in the plan.
I feel like a real spare part waiting in the maternity area. For a start, everyone assumes that I’m a father-to-be, but just too chicken-shit to be with my woman. Every nurse and female within a quarter mile radius throw me dirty looks. I wish I’d worn a button that says, ‘Don’t shoot the help’.
I don’t see Grey again, but I sense his presence when a young nurse leaves the birthing suite in tears. Yup, the boss hasn’t lost his touch.
At 8AM, Sawyer arrives with breakfast, courtesy of Gail: freshly-baked cinnamon rolls and four thermoses of good coffee.
“How’s it going, T?”
“Nothing to report. We’re in for the long haul, I think. First babies can take a while.”
He pulls a face. “Not my area of expertise. I’ll take your word for it. When d’you think she’ll calve down?”
“Luke, buddy, there’s a reason you’re still single.”
A male nurse passes us, a huge grin on his face. “Good luck, daddies!” he calls out.
Luke jumps then puts an empty chair between us.
He stays a while to shoot the shit, then heads off to make the level 2 calls: Ana’s mom, Kate and Elliot Grey.
A kid who looks about 19 is pacing up and down the room. His girlfriend has kicked him out – I heard the yells down the hall. Something about wishing she’d stuck to sucking his cock instead of… yeah, we get the picture. I give him a cinnamon roll. He inhales it then begs me for a cigarette. I can’t help with that.
I send the rest of the rolls and coffee into the Greys’ room. I hope they get it. Ana loves Gail’s cinnamon rolls. If she marketed them, I reckon they could bring world peace, they’re that good.
But I must be off of my game, because it occurs to me later that Ana can’t eat and would surely choke Christian for eating in front of her. Hmm, I may have not thought that one through. I hope they give her enough drugs not to remember. I blame Gail – her cinnamon rolls can make a man forget his own name. She’s good at that.
When the rest of the Grey family arrive, I leave Sawyer to deal, then head home for a few hours and take a nap.
By 10PM, Grey Junior still hasn’t made an appearance. I swap over with Sawyer while he goes to SeaTac to collect Ana’s mom.
The waiting room is empty now but I can hear Grey’s voice echoing down the corridor. He’s yelling, although he’s trying not to. I can hear Dr. Greene’s voice trying to calm him down. Good luck with that, doc.
“Mr. Grey, this isn’t helping! Ana is still insistent that she wants to give birth naturally. At this stage, we have no reason to deny her that. If she or the baby were in distress, we would perform a C-section. But not at this stage.”
“For fuck’s sake! It’s been 13 hours! She’s not capable of making a rational decision!”
“And you are?”
He doesn’t answer, except to swear again.
“She’s getting the best of care, I can assure you,” the doc continues, placating him.
Don’t you just hate it when doctors say that sort of thing to you?
She leaves him in the corridor, pacing up and down, tugging on his hair.
If the boss doesn’t stop panicking, I might have to shoot him to put him out of his misery. Can’t say that I blame him either.
Gail has been sending food parcels throughout the day, but I haven’t seen Grey eat anything yet. That alone tells me how stressed he is.
He’s called back into the birthing suite and he almost falls through the door to get there more quickly. I can hear Ana’s soft voice soothing him.
I think that happens a lot: the woman giving birth ends up comforting the poor sucker who can only watch as the woman he loves is ripped in half. Fate is one sick fucker.
Two hours later and the tension has increased unbearably. Dr. Greene has been trying to persuade Ana to have a C-section – her contractions have slowed and it’s becoming dangerous.
Sawyer stands beside me, shocked into silence as Ana is wheeled away for surgery. Grey is beside her dressed in blue scrubs, pale, his eyes burning with fear.
All his money – the best medical attention he can buy – and it doesn’t meant shit. Not at this moment.
My eyes start to desiccate as I stare at the clock on the wall, each slow tick mocking me. Sawyer chews a thumbnail absentmindedly. The Korth digs into my side and the overheated waiting room makes me sweat, despite the fact the temperature in here is colder than Elena Lincoln’s left tit. I suppose it’s to kill off germs. Regardless, I can’t take off my jacket – seeing a man with a weapon on display probably won’t be the most soothing thing anyone could see. I’m sensitive like that.
So I sweat.
And I wait.
And finally, finally comes the news that’s been a long time wanting.
Grey appears, stunned but smiling, with blood staining the blue scrubs.
“She’s fine,” he whispers. “They’re both fine.”
“Congratulations, sir,” I say, offering him my hand.
“Thank you, Jason,” he says, a grin spreading across his face. “I’m a father!”
“Welcome to the club, sir.”
He laughs delightedly, shakes hands with Sawyer, then disappears back to Ana.
“Did he just smile?” says Sawyer.
“Did he just call you ‘Jason’?”
“You’re not my type, Luke.”
– 0 –
Three months later
What’s wrong with just standing in front of the judge, swapping rings, signing a piece of paper, and heading to the local sports bar to see the Mariners game? Simple. Everyone enjoys it. No stress. Is it that hard to imagine?
Apparently, if you’re female, the answer to that is yes.
Besides, I’m out-maneuvered and out-gunned. Gail has hit me with the lethal shot:
“Sophie is sooo looking forward to being a bridesmaid, Jason! You can’t disappoint her like that.”
No I fucking can’t. She knows it. I know it. The whole freakin’ world knows it – and I’m so whipped.
“Allison has agreed to give me away…”
The sister who makes Morticia Addams look like a cheerleader. The sister who’d like to use my guts to make suspenders. Oh the joy.
“Have you decided who you’re going to have for a best man, Jason?”
“I’m the best man, baby. There’s no one else.”
“Very funny. Seriously, who have you got in mind? Sawyer? Someone from your unit, perhaps?”
“Sawyer! Best man? Are you kidding me? He’d probably shoot me in the leg trying to get the ring out of his pocket!”
“You do talk nonsense sometimes, Jason. What’s wrong with Luke?”
“Nothing. I don’t need a best man!”
“Fine. If you don’t find someone within 24 hours, I’ll ask Mr. Grey to stand up with you.”
She stalks out of the room, and I roll my tongue back up and stick it in my mouth. She did NOT just threaten to make Christian I-still-keep-handcuffs-in-my-briefcase Grey my best man!
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I try a few of the guys in my old unit, but it’s not looking good.
Troll is in Libya providing security for a team of men defusing mines and destroying small arms ammo – dufus even posts the burns he does on YouTube. Stumpy is on a sweet deal at a sultan’s palace in Dubai, getting fat on good food and too much standing around with his thumb up his ass (probably a safety precaution); Jethro is running a training seminar at Parris Island and told me he’d rather chew off his foot up to his elbow rather than wear a tux and mix with the great, the good, and the Greys.
Gail is unsympathetic; probably due to the fact that I’ve had months to get with the program and have left it until two weeks before the wedding.
Welch, Sawyer and Ryan are already guests. I get so desperate that I even consider asking Barney. Hell, maybe Ros would do it – she’s got bigger balls than most men I know.
“No way, Jason,” laughs Ros, in my face. “You’re on your own with this one. Besides, Barney has a date, and I don’t really think he’s the kind of person you want making a funny speech. I mean it would be funny, but just not in the way that would stop anyone from wanting to commit violence on the buffet.”
“What do you mean Barney has a date?”
“Just that. He’s got a date for your wedding?”
“Animal, mineral or vegetable?”
Ros smirks at me. “Species, human, as far as I know. Gender, female.”
“Holy shit! Barney has a date with a woman?”
“And it’s not his mother?”
“Nope. A real live woman. Rumor has it – his girlfriend.”
“Holy shit! We’ve just proved the existence of God!”
I’m pleased for Barney, really. But now what the fuck am I going to do?
I scroll through the contacts list on my cell phone. There is one possibility.
James Rayment. Ex-SAS. Who dares wins, and all that. He should be able to cope with a wedding.
It takes some arm-twisting, and the bastard insists on season tickets to see his soccer team Arsenal as payment. I agree before I realized I’d have to sell my blood to pay for it. And I nearly pull the plug for good when he asks for a dance with Gail, as well. He’s an expert at winding me up and I’m fucking clockwork.
I didn’t want a bachelor party and Gail knew that. So it was with some fucking sense of surprise that I found myself on Grey’s private jet on my way to Vegas with Sawyer, Ryan, Rayment and Allison’s long suffering husband, Bill – my soon-to-be brother-in-law.
We drop a few K at the Golden Nugget casino, take in a floor show at the Flamingo, and end up at a strip club run by the Mafia. Bill begs me not to say a word to Allison, and proceeds to stuff dollar bills in the thong of a redhead like it’s 1999 and the world is about to end. Nope, not a stereotype in sight. Except when Sawyer pukes his guts over Al Capone’s uglier twin and spoils his crocodile hide boots, splattering them with diced carrot. Me, I don’t touch any drink anyone else has bought for me and remain a functioning professional at all times. I don’t even look when $20,000 worth of surgically enhanced tits are just begging to be motorboated right in front of me. Okay, I may have glanced.
And if Ryan says he has photographic evidence to the contrary, I’ll politely remind him that I’m armed and dangerous – and I know where he lives.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
And finally, finally, after over five years of wanting and wishing and hoping and praying, today is the day when Gail Elizabeth Jones becomes my wife – Mrs. Taylor
Sophie looks like the princess I’ve always said she is, and is currently being looked after by Ana and giggling like she’s on helium. She sounds so happy and it cuts me to the heart. In a good way, because despite all the odds, and all the crap that I’ve seen, I’m here and alive and about to become sickeningly happy for the rest of my life.
Except for my best man who looks like he’d rather eat dung. Whose idea was it to invite the ex-SAS hard-as-brass-balls bastard to our wedding? Oh wait, that would be me – in a weak moment – another weak moment when Gail had me by the short and curlys.
“You ever thought about getting married again, Jimbo?”
He fixes me with an unblinking, thousand yard stare.
“Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, mate.”
Yeah, I really need a best man to cheer me up. Asshole.
I throw back four fingers of whisky and follow it with a Polo mint chaser.
“I’ve got the car parked out back,” he mutters. “Still time to make a run for it.”
“I’m marrying Gail not Glenn Close.”
He stares at me, his face unmoving. Kinda reminds me of me – except uglier.
I pull on my vest, straighten the tie and pick up my jacket.
“Oi, JT,” Rayment coughs. “Do you want to leave your piece?”
He gestures towards my shoulder holster.
Fuck. I don’t think the Korth matches the tux.
“Mind you,” he smirks, “as you’re getting married, perhaps you’d better keep the gun.”
The wedding is taking place at the Edgewater Hotel in downtown Seattle. Grey has rented the Forrest Room for the day, as well as booking out the whole restaurant. Welch says it’s to eliminate security issues but I call bullshit on that. It’s the boss’s gift to us. He knows that anything that involves the newsworthy Greys invites unwanted media interest. His gift is to give us privacy so I don’t have to be on duty. I appreciate it, I do. But I’m still yearning for a quiet drink in a sports bar.
I stand at the head of the room with Rayment at my side. I’m not nervous – I’m eager. I want this. I want to be married to Gail. I want it now before she realizes that she can do so much better. God, I love that she has low standards.
Bill is sitting looking relaxed with his daughter Rachel, an elegant 19 year old who reminds me of Gail; Kimmi, 15 going on 35, with the makeup awareness of a drag queen in Denver. Celia, my soon-to-be mother-in-law, glares at me from a seat near the front. I think it’s just her glass eye glinting in the candlelight – hard to tell.
Welch is sitting looking smug with Sawyer and Ryan at the back. Ana and the boss are on the other side of the room. Ana looks alternatively happy and tearful, but I put that down to her post-baby hormones dancing a fandango; Grey looks impassive, and ignoring the lascivious glances thrown by Kimmi and, somewhat more discreetly, by Rachel. Ana looks amused, but fastens her hand around his arm a little more tightly. I see him glance down at her and smile. A genuine, happy smile. I want to say it looks unnatural on him, but he smiles so much these days, I’ve had to take to wearing sunglasses indoors.
The music starts and Rayment whispers, “Heads up: officer on deck.”
Then ‘Kiss from a Rose’ echoes through the hidden speakers. It’s one of Gail’s favorite songs. Today, the words mean everything. I know she picked it for me – for us.
You became the light on the dark side of me.
God, this woman. She knows… she just knows me. She understands. My woman. My world. My everything.
Almost afraid, I turn and look. Her hair is swept back elegantly and she’s wearing a pale blue, floor length dress. It’s simple and natural and beautiful – just like Gail.
I meet her eyes, and emotion threatens to choke me. I feel… I don’t know what I feel – proud, happy, destroyed, fulfilled, adrift, repaired, saved. And love, so much love, it’s overwhelming.
If I fucking cry now I’ll have to shoot myself to find a way to explain the tears. I’m regretting not wearing the Korth.
Princess Sophie is walking in front, her little face solemn, clutching a basket of white and pink rose petals. But then she looks up and sees me and gives a little wave before she remembers to be serious. My face splits with a smile and Gail winks at me.
And I realize I’m a lucky bastard. I have everything I want in the world right here. Everyone that I love is in this room.
And then Gail is standing by my side and promising to be mine forever. Forever.
“Jason, I love you because… because there aren’t enough hours in the day when I want to tease a smile from you; because you dare to love; because you take a chance on life; because you never stop showing me your love; because you care; because you’re a good man; because I love you more than life, and if you weren’t in my life, it would be dry and tired and without joy. You are the sun on my face, and the stars in my sky, and hearing your voice brightens each and every day. I will love you through this world and to the next. Always yours.”
And I can’t speak. The words won’t come.
I stand, breathless and voiceless, watching the tears gather in Gail’s eyes as she looks at me, our fingers entwined.
Rayment prods me in my left kidney, causing me to squeal like a girl.
“You’re supposed to say your sodding vows, you muppet,” he whispers, loudly enough for everyone to hear.
“Fuck off, I know!”
Everyone is trying not to laugh, except Princess Sophie, who looks stern.
“I’m going to tell on you!” she sing-songs. “Daddy said a bad word!”
I pull myself together and take a deep breath. I’m about to blow my reputation as a man of few words.
“I fell in love with you the day I met you, and I’ve been in love with you every day since. You’ve seen my highs and my lows, and you’ve never stopped supporting me, helping me, loving me. It took me a long time to get you to agree to marry me but I knew you’d see reason in the end…” (Muffled laughter) “and I will do everything in my power – everything – to make you as happy as you deserve to be. I don’t know why you picked me to love, but I’m so fuc… very happy that you did. I will never take you for granted and I will love you every day while there is breath in my body, Gail Elizabeth Jones Taylor. Thank you for being mine.”
There’s a muted applause and soft sighing from the womenfolk – and from Rayment – who is fucking soft for an ex-SAS staff sergeant.
Gently, as if she’s made of spun glass, I push a plain, platinum band onto the fourth finger of Gail’s left hand, where, God willing, it will stay until the end of time.
The cool metal of a matching ring slips onto my hand and I stare down at it. I’ve never worn a wedding ring before, not even when I was locked in unholy matrimony with the Bitch. This is new; this is for me and for Gail. And no fucker is ever separating me from my jewelry. Okay, that sounded weirder than I intended, but it’s the truth. My wedding ring is now part of me: blood, body and bone.
“You may now kiss the bride.”
I throw the officiant a look at that says, Too fucking right I will, you brass neck pencil-pusher.
And I take my woman in my arms and kiss her until there’s no air in my lungs. Sophie’s giggle brings me back to the real world, and Gail’s cheeks are a delicate shade of pink.
“That’s how you do it, JT! Thought I was going to have to show you, you lily-livered bastard!” roars Rayment.
Sophie slaps his wrist hard. “Stop swearing! You’re a naughty man.”
“You tell him, sweetheart,” I say. “That’s my girl.”
Ana stands up and starts taking photographs on her cell phone, while Sophie tosses rose petals into the air, frowning at Rayment who looks abashed.
Too fucking funny! My eight year old staring down an ex-SAS flathead. Yeah well, she is her father’s daughter, and I couldn’t be prouder. I just hope she doesn’t kick him in the kneecaps, as well.
Suddenly, the doors to the Forrest Room spring open and seven men pour in. I’m about to reach for my missing Korth, when I realize that four of them are in Marine uniform and forming a guard of honor, along with:
“Troll! You bastard! I can’t believe you came!”
“Course I did, T! Not about to miss you getting your own monogrammed ball and chain!”
He’s followed by Stumpy and Jethro, looking ridiculous, stuffed into too-tight suits.
“I can’t believe you bastards pulled this stunt!”
“Language, Jason!” hisses Gail, trying not laugh.
“Did you know about this, Mrs. Taylor?”
“Why yes I did, Mr. Taylor. What are you going to do about it?”
Her eyes are challenging.
“I’m going to kiss you soundly, Mrs. Taylor!” and I do.
A ragged cheer goes up, and we walk beneath the guard of honor, smiling hugely. Fuck. My face hurts.
Married life is a blast.
The meal is something else, or so Rayment tells me later. I don’t remember much about it, just that Gail looked so beautiful and happy and smiled the whole time. I don’t remember smiling quite so much, but looking at the photographs later, I realize that I did. I’ll have to get a job as a crossing guard if I don’t get my face back in order at some point. I mean who heard of a close protection officer who doubled as a toothpaste model? Credibility, that’s all I’m saying.
Rayment’s speech was short and loud, and Gail had to put her hands over Sophie’s ears. Allison pretended to be shocked, but I saw her talking to Jimbo later, and giggling as he flexed his biceps for her. I thought I was going to vomit $400 champagne over her bunion-pinching shoes. Would have served her right. Celia just squawked like a goose at a feather-duster convention, and drank half a bottle of brandy before passing out, um, retiring to her room for a nap.
The party is winding down, and I’m itching to get Mrs. Taylor alone in the honeymoon suite, when I feel a twitching in my right eye which can only mean that the boss is close.
“Congratulations, Taylor. I think you’ll be a very happy man.”
“Thank you, sir. I think so, too.”
“I think there’s every chance that you’ll be as happy in your marriage as I am in mine,” and he glances at Ana, who is glowing with happiness – and one glass of champagne too many.
He clears his throat.
“And I wanted to thank you, Taylor, for everything you’ve done for me and for Mrs. Grey. Without you… I… Ana… it’s not been an easy adjustment for her – all of this – but she trusts you and you’ve made it easier for her. I thank you for that. We both do. Anyway… Mrs. Grey thought that you’d both enjoy a three-week honeymoon in Hawaii. You’ll find the jet waiting at SeaTac for you tomorrow afternoon.”
He throws me a sly glance.
“I didn’t want to make the flight too early for you.”
“That’s… three weeks? Have you got security cover for that?”
“Of course! Enjoy your vacation, Taylor. Oh, and here’s something for when you come back.”
He throws me a set of keys. The badge on the key ring is Triumph – the English motorcycle marque.
“Triumph Tiger, 1962. Needs some work,” he said, and walks away smiling.
Bastard. Now I have to be grateful to him. Twice over.
Gail walks up to me and takes my arm.
“Did you know about Hawaii?”
She smiles enigmatically.
“Mrs. Taylor, have you been trained in covert ops?”
“I think you’re about to find out Mr. Taylor,” she says, kissing my cheek, and rubbing my back suggestively. “But there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you…”
She flushes slightly. “We haven’t really talked about it…”
“What is it, baby?”
“How do you feel about being a father again?”
Gail’s voice stops me in my tracks.
“You mean…? Are you…?”
She raises an eyebrow and smiles at me.
“No, not yet. But I’m hoping after the honeymoon…”
“Right! That’s it!” I yell, much to the guests’ surprise. “Party’s over – everyone out. Mrs. Taylor and I have some business to take care of.”
And to the sounds of laughter and jeers, I whisk her off her feet and carry her out of the room. The sound of happiness follows us down the hallway.
“Honestly, Jason! Couldn’t you have waited another half an hour?”
And in all honesty, I couldn’t have waited another second. I want my life with her to start now. Right now.
The Very End.
The Complete and Utter End.
Thanks so much for joining me on Taylor’s journey. I’ve had the most amazing comments and reviews from you all. I’ve read and enjoyed everyone. I loved hearing which were your favorite lines and special moments. I’ve appreciated every word.
Look out for a PDF of Taylor’s entire story on my fsog website.
If you’re feeling inspired to check out my original writing on Amazon, please look under Jane Harvey-Berrick. My new novel, ‘Lifers’ will be out February 7th 2014.