I do not own the Fifty Shades Trilogy or its characters; those belong to E. L. James. However, my characters do belong to me.

Chapter 14 | Alright

STEELE

“Ana, honestly, I don’t know that I ever want to return to Seattle…permanently.  I know I’ll have to go there on business, but to live…I can’t say.”…

“Baby, why would I go back to that?  Can’t you feel the difference between Townsville and Seattle?  It’s in the air, the sun, and the water.  You can feel it in the sand under your feet.  I don’t want to go back to Seattle; not right now at least.”…

“Ana, in my heart of hearts, I don’t want to go back to Seattle.  I’m not trying to be mean, I’m not trying to pressure you and I’m definitely not trying to control you.  I only know that for my own peace of mind, I can’t go back there, I just can’t.”…

Stay in Australia, permanently?  I can’t stay in Australia permanently?

For the sake of argument, why not?

I’m a citizen of the United States.  I can’t just pack up and move to Australia.

Ahem, why not?

I don’t belong here.  What about my dad?

He lives in Montesano and has for quite a while now.  It’s not like he’s a 95 year old man.  He manages just fine without you.

What about my mom?

I really, really, REALLY don’t want to touch that one.  Can you come up with a few more excuses first?  I need a lot of strength to tackle that conversation.  That and…

What about Kate?

I FUCKING KNEW IT!  THAT’S IT!  I…HAVE…HAD…ENOUGH…OF THIS!  Steele, and I mean that in name only, are you SERIOUSLY going to start this bullshit bash again?  I can’t think of another way to say this to you, GROW THE FUCK UP!  That bitch…oh my God why am I bothering?  You know what, fuck it.  YOU handle this one on your own.  I’m done trying to be the voice of reason here.  You don’t listen and you won’t learn.  Wake me when it’s over.

WAIT!  I need your help.  I can’t do this alone.  I need time to process all of this.

Sweetie, what’s there to process?  You think en-fucking-tirely TOO fucking much and that’s putting it more than mildly. Rhetorical questions dear:  (1) do you love him…

I…

Ahem, which letter in the word rhetorical did I mispronounce?

None.

Thank you, and I won’t repeat myself so listen well:  (2) do you trust him and (3) how much, of each?  You take it from there honey.

Well, one and two are no-brainers, yes I love him and yes I trust him.  How much?  I don’t know.  Is there a scale from one to ten I should use to measure how much?  How the fuck do I know how much?  I’m not leaving here without him though.  He’s just having a Christian Grey sized temper tantrum.  He hasn’t thought this through entirely.  There’s no way he’s going to run GEH from Australia.

I march off in the direction of Christian’s study.  As I approach the door, I hear uncontrollable laughter and…IT’S COMNG FROM CHRISTIAN!  The sound is so strange, but also comforting.  I’ve heard him chuckle every now and then, but never a full blow laugh.  I smile imagining the look on his face as I hear him pant for air.

What’s so funny anyway?

“Tay…Taylor. Her old man…was in Vietnam. He served in the air and on the ground. Her granddad…WOO, you should see your face…her granddad served in World War Two in Europe…oh fuck, I can’t breathe…this is too much…mainly on the ground. WOW! Did you just turn green…HA HA HA…don’t hate mutherfucker. I sent you to deliver a simple report, not a warning. Oh…ok…lemme catch my breath.”

Sent Taylor where to deliver what report?  What’s going on?  I have to hear this.

How does it go?

How does what go?

“Never listen to phone call that isn’t meant for you.  Never read a letter that isn’t meant for you.  Never pay attention to a comment that isn’t meant for you.  Never violate people’s privacy.  You will save yourself a great deal of anguish…”  Joseph Kennedy, True Compass by Edward M Kennedy

I sigh, you’re absolutely right.  What kind of trust am I showing by eavesdropping on his conversation?

Come on, there has to be a book in this place somewhere.

GREY

After talking with Taylor, I went looking for my sweet Ana and found her lounging on one of the balconies.  The view of the Coral Sea is magnificent, a continuous blue, from the sky to the water, deepening, becoming more intense as it defends onto Magnetic Island and the ocean below.  If not for the island itself,  you wouldn’t be able to tell where the one ended and the next began.

A soft breeze blows through Ana’s hair as she looks off into the distance, deep in thought.  I hope nothing’s wrong.  I want her to enjoy our time in this place.  In the event it’s the last time we’re together, I want it to be memorable in a good way.  She hasn’t said she wanted to leave with Jason and Gail, but I’ve learned not to underestimate her.  She may decide once and for all that her friends are right.  She may feel that I only want to control her and moving to Australia is just a ploy to exercise that control.

That’s not the case.  It’s not fair for her to hold something like that over your head.  You didn’t forbid her from going back to the United States, you simply said you wouldn’t be going back anytime soon…for your own peace of mind, not simply for business.  She has to see things are different here…you’re different here.

We both know you can’t control her…you can’t rush her either, remember?  She has to think about what you told her.  Let’s not get into a pissing match.  She’s here, in this beautiful location and you two have had a wonderful time so far.  Enjoy this.  Don’t dwell.  Keep a cool head and go to the beach party.  We can deal with the emotional flood later.

I nod.  You’re right.  “Hey Baby, everything ok…”


“Wow Christian, this is beautiful.”  As the Sun begins to set, we arrive at The Strand, a 2.2 kilometer palm tree studded beachfront promenade with a magnificent view of the Port to Townsville and Magnetic Island as well as view stretching all the way to Cape Cleveland.  This evening, the sky shines bright orange.  The Sun has not yet touched the horizon; instead, it hovers over the water like a fireball with clouds wafting past.  The scene is splayed over a vast deep blue sea.

I initially thought a beach party was infantile, reminiscent of college days gone by or just a slacker’s way of throwing a fundraiser together.  Man was I wrong.  The bicycle and walkway paths are lit with lanterns and the glow coming from the mini-bonfires strategically placed along the beach.  Ella explained to me it was necessary to stay back at least 50 meters from the water’s edge and 2 meters above the high water mark.  The committee knew logistics for this event would be a challenge.  Taylor made certain he and the security team had additional preparedness and frontline medical aid training.  EMTs are nearby, but Ella stressed caution, even if we didn’t see warning signs.

In addition to the live music, playing a mix of jazz, 1980’s pop and R&B, the Entertainment Committee managed to procure carnival games.  Nothing major, Dime Pitch, Ping pong Ball and Fish Bowl, Balloon and Dart, a Weight Guessing Booth and what I’m told is an absolute must for a beach party…a Kissing Booth.  I shake my head at the whole lot.   The sights and sounds are wonderful and everywhere, then, gently floating through the air we hear,

Seeing that your love’s true
Never I’ll doubt you
My heart belongs to you
That’s alright with me

Worlds could end around me
So in love that I can’t see
You and me were meant to be
That’s alright with me

Friends come and friends may go
My friend, you’re real I know
True self you have shown
You’re alright with me

Through thick and thick to thin
I’ll love you till the end
You know it’s true my friend
You’re alright with me

Alright with me
(Alright with me)
Alright with me…

I look down at Ana who has a puzzled look on her face “Did you request this song?” she asks me.

“No,” I shake my head, “I was going to ask you the same thing.  Fitting though, huh?”  I pull her closer to me and we continue down the beach.

Catch a fallin’ star that shines
Make a wish clap three times
Dreams come true it’s in the mind
That’s alright with me…

I kiss the top of her head and wish for happiness.

…Your wish is my command
Never thought I’d fall in love again
Again with my best friend
That’s alright with me…

If she commanded me to return to Seattle, I’d go.  End of…  Please God let her stay here with me.

…Friends come and friends may go
My friend, you’re real I know
True self you have shown
You’re alright with me…

I think about Kate and Jose.  I wonder if keeping them in her life is more important to Ana than building a life with me.

…Through thick and thick to thin
I’ll love you till the end
You know it’s true my friend
You’re alright with me…

It’s true, I’ll love her forever, no matter the circumstance.  There’ll never be anyone else for me.  She’s ruined me for other women, no one will ever compare.

…Always and everlasting
This love is just not passing
We’re happy as can be
Alright with me…

Can’t we just be happy?

Alright with me
(Alright with me)
Alright with me

Worlds could end around me
So in love, I can’t see
You and me were meant to be
That’s your love it’s alright with me
Alright with me

Me too.

As the final words of Janet Jackson’s song Alright finish.  Ana snuggles up under my arm and we both breathe a sigh of contentment.  I whisper-sing, more to myself than to anyone else, “This is alright…with…me.”

All along The Strand we pass young and old guests alike, “It really did turn out lovely didn’t’t it?  I wasn’t sure how it would look.  This isn’t like any of the events my mother hosts,” but this isn’t her event.  I smile to myself.  I helped with this one, at least a little.  It feels good to participate, not just write a check.

Hmm, change is good after all.

No doubt.

“I think it’s wonderful, almost like going to the fair.”  Her eyes sparkle as she smiles.  I never went to the fair as a child, or as an adult for that matter.  All of the people bumping into me or touching me, even by accident, was too much for me to bear so I would stay home with the housekeeper while my family enjoyed the festivities.

We missed some great times it seems.  All the better to make up for it now.

I guess my contemplation is showing on my face, “What’s wrong Christian?”  Ana looks up at me with genuine concern in her eyes.  I shake my head, not wanting to spoil the evening, and we continue on.

After a while, we stop and eat some delicious smelling roasted pork and sample potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans, fresh fruit salads and many more trimmings.  Even Gail joined in the festivities and made my favorite…yepper mac-n-cheese and it was enough for the masses.

How does she do that?  Did she work for the military before coming to work for you?

Not that I know of and not that I care.  I am in heaven.  The Refreshments Committee added food from a local Korean Fusion restaurant onto the menu to try and cater to varied tastes.  A few committee members did some recipe hunting with regard to American cookout choices so I would feel at home.  Ella assured them it wasn’t necessary…apparently they ignored her.

They won’t hear me complaining.

Me neither buddy.

Ana giggles at me as I eat.  I guess dropping food down the front of my shirt qualifies as humor.  God I love that sound.

I raise a brow and ask, “Miss Steele, is something amusing you?”

Her smile slowly changes from playful to lust-filled and her eyes begin to blaze.  “Yes Sir.”  She whispers, so only I can hear her.  My breathing hitches and our eyes lock.  Oh Baby, what you do to me.

I shake my head to rein in my desire, “All good things Baby, you know that.  When we get home, we can make our wishes come true.”  She smiles brightly again and I give her a loud, wet kiss on the lips.

God, this feels so good.  Just think, we have no personal security trailing us.  The only security here is for the event.  We’re free!

I don’t know why it means so much to me not to have personal protection.  I am the one who stresses the need for security and here I am, not only breaking protocol but also enjoying it.

It’s called being normal Grey; no ivory tower, no need for Secret Service Agents.  We’re just plain folk enjoying the evening’s festivities.  No women falling all over themselves, batting their eyelashes and tossing their boobs under your nose…not that there’s anything wrong with that, occasionally…I am just saying.  Ana can go, do and see whatever she wants.  No one is following her and there’s nothing to report because she’s safe.  This is what life’s supposed to be like.

Why would she want to leave here?  I don’t understand.

ELLA

“Hello Ellie, you look lovely as usual Sweetheart.”  My father strolls up from out of nowhere and kisses me on my cheek.

“Thank you Daddy.   You, however, are trying too hard.”  My father looks at me wide eyed as if he doesn’t understand.  Anytime he goes to a beach party or pig roast he wears light blue Bermuda shorts, a white polo shirt and brown flip-flops.  It’s almost his uniform; you can spot him a mile away.

He’s had a pedicure so he passes inspection.

This is true.

“Whatever do you mean Love?  The invite didn’t specify a dress code so I opted for comfort.”  He gives me a lopsided grin.  His curly, light auburn hair and grey eyes look orange as they reflect the light from the bonfires.  Even now, my father is still a very good-looking man, tall, broad chest, large biceps and a smile to die for.  Women have always been a biological hazard for him, as far as I’m concerned.  He’s my Daddy and no woman is ever going to be good enough for him in my eyes.

My brothers have dumped many a girl for making eyes at our father and Daddy eats it up.  He once bet Eran and Emerson that Everett’s new girlfriend wouldn’t make it through the first course at a family dinner before she winked at him…the first time.  When they looked stunned, he upped the anti and bet them exactly how many times she would wink at him before she left.

Not seeing Daddy for the good-looking man he is and putting entirely too much faith in the tramp population they all  seem to attract, they told my father he was senile and bet she wouldn’t give him a glance.  I had to get in on that one.  It was easy money.  Needless to say, Granddad threw her out for inappropriately addressing his son and forgetting with whom she arrived, while Daddy and I lined our pockets.  Neither Eran nor Emerson has made a bet, at least not with one of us, again.

“Sure thing Daddy,” I wave my hand at him dismissively, “whatever helps you sleep at night.”

“That’s no way to speak to your father young lady.  You were raised better than that.”  A deep voice rings out above me.  I turn my head, but no one’s there.  I look at my father who has a shit-eating grin on his face, but shrugs his shoulders nonetheless.

“Don’t look at him, you know very well that I’m right.”  This time I turn my whole body to face the sound and look up into the most beautiful, dazzling, emerald green eyes.  Eyes I know all too well.

“LIAM!”  I squeal and jump into his arms.

“Ellie, dolce, dolce Ellie.  Mi sei mancato così tanto” he whispers his endearment to me while stroking my cheek.  I’m smiling so hard I feel as if my face will crack.  He can be a very sweet man when he wants to be.  He can be every word in the definition of putz as well.

“And I you my Love.”  I whisper back to him.

My father clears his throat then speaks loudly, “Liam, it’s good to see you young man.  Are you back permanently or just stopping through?”  Liam puts me down and greets my father, who claps him on the shoulder…hard.

Must be a man thing.

No doubt.

“I am back for good Sir.  There’s only so much you can learn at school.  Sooner or later you have to put at least some of that knowledge into practice.”  Liam attended Yale…for a long time.  People make fun of we Browns, ‘Oh, they think they’re so smart…’ ’They have all of those degrees…’  ‘They’re so rich…’  “They’re TOO perfect…’  Well, I make fun of Liam.

Liam Jared Beckett graduated at the top of everything.

Well…someone has to be there, why not him?

That, my dear, is the definition of a rhetorical question.

Liam has his Bachelors of Arts in Economics and Mathematics, PhD in Economic History and was a participant in the World Fellows Program.

YUCK!

Tell me about it.

“You’ll need more than practice to beat this little one.”  Daddy says and kisses me on top of my head as he begins to walk away from us.  He turns back, grey eyes on fire as he says, “Oh, Liam, non cercare di parlare dolce mia figlia.  You’re not the only one who speaks italiano, spagnolo o francese to name a few” then he’s gone, into the crowd.

I shake my head, Liam knew Daddy would understand what he said.  We each speak various languages, especially when we’re pissed.  Granddad taught us it was necessary for business.  We’ve learned it’s a useful tool outside of business as well.

I look up at Liam again, “How are you Love?”  I’ve had a crush on Liam ever since I can remember.  We were born on the same day, six years apart.  I always took that as a sign we were meant to be together.  Although, the time he brought a girl home with him on holiday, I was devastated.  He came to visit me, out of habit.  I made sure I couldn’t be found.

There are advantages to living in a large, old house with lots and lots of hiding places.

“I’m well.  You all did a great job Ella,” he looks around the beach, “this is a new spin on an old tire.  Good to see young and old actually enjoying this event.”  He looks down at me with his green eyes dancing, as he smiles and says, “You look beautiful Baby.  How’s my little Sting Ray?”  I cringe and make a face.

I always hated him calling me that.  Just because I’m small, every man I’ve ever met has taken my diminutive size and easygoing persona for granted.  I can give better than I get and for some reason men take that as a negative.

He was twelve the first time I had to kick Liam’s ass for some reason or another.  He was picking on me, like boys always did and I got tired of his shit.  That’s when I first used my Daddy’s take down move.  Liam never knew what hit him.  His last recollection was pointing and laughing at me.  The next thing he knew, he was on the ground, face down, with my foot in his back.  When he twisted his neck to look up at me, I smiled and told him, “Liam, I’ll do this each and every time you piss me off.  Do you understand?”  He nodded his comprehension and I let him go.

That wasn’t enough for him.  The next time he felt high and mighty he was sixteen, trying to impress his friends.  He made a snide she’s just being a girl remark when suddenly, swoosh, he was on the ground wishing it would open up and swallow him.  To this day, his friends haven’t let him forget the incident and I bring it up now and again for good measure; keeps him in line.  His only response was to name me Sting Ray.

“Good, still dodging Granddad, but otherwise I’m good.”  He tilts his head to the side and raises an eyebrow.  Ok, so he doesn’t believe me.

“You know I don’t believe you, right?”  I nod.  I don’t know how, but he can tell when something’s bothering me.  It’s extremely annoying.

“I know you don’t believe me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m telling you I’m good.”  I nod my head with finality.

“Ok, ok, you’re good.  I’ll just have to stick with that story until the truth comes out; and you know it will.”  He says with his high and mighty tone.

Pest.

I absentmindedly nod my head.

“Ella.”  He struggles to say my name.  It’s with a mournful expression on his face that he says, “I saw the pictures of the two of you together…holding hands…laughing.”  Liam squeezes his eyes shut and asks me, “Do you love him Ella?”

When he opens his eyes, I see the hurt in them, I’m shocked and I know it shows clearly on my face.  I spent time with Christian to protect him.  When Granddad found out he was here, he knew Christian would be a target of the media as well as all of the gold-diggers on this continent.  I didn’t randomly run into Christian in the park…or at the coffee shop for that matter.  Granddad wanted Christian watched and protected.  Christian Grey didn’t know who Ella Brown was but Australia and places beyond do and I feel I’ve been effective in my task.  It was all a means to an end.

Befriending Christian afforded him the protection he needed.  No one is going to cross my grandfather, my father or me.  Sticking close to Christian prevented a lot of potential bullshit from the locals.  Holding his hand and letting shutter-fuckers get a few pics was just the way of make a broader announcement, LEAVE THIS MAN ALONE!  I wasn’t trying to tag him as mine.

“Ella?”  Liam’s strained voice brings me back from my reverie.  “Do you love him?  I have to know.”

“No Liam.”  I shake my head for emphasis, “I don’t love him…not like that at least.”  I whisper the last part or I thought I did.

“What do you mean, not like that at least?  I don’t understand Ella.  What about us?  You are mine.”  He pulls me to him.  I wrap my arms around his waist and hold him as tightly as I can.  My family followed me from Melbourne to Townsville after a graduated from Hawaii Pacific University.  I wandered over the continent and came to rest in Townsville.  I like the atmosphere, the people and the scenery.  The men in my family, and Liam, didn’t want me to be on my own so…they packed up EB, Pty and moved it to Townsville.  Granddad flat refused to be left behind and he refused to leave any portion of his business in the hands of someone unrelated to us.

We became acquainted with Liam’s family though one of my mother’s society circle things, as Daddy and Edward called them.  The boys welcomed Liam in as a snot-nose little brother and I…basically fell in love with him, forever ago.

Daddy, Everett and Liam arrived first, basically to survey the area.  They found the Family Home then sent for Granddad, Eran and Emerson.  Liam found a home for himself, but returned to Yale shortly after putting down roots.  He comes back from time to time, otherwise he’s in the united States or abroad.

Liam and I spent a lot of time together and little by little his feelings for me began to change.  He was determined to finish his education so…despite his feelings toward me, he went back to school.  He’s kept in touch and, again, visited every chance he could.

Now, he’s back for good.

Yeah, and I’ve got hot Shit Soup to serve him.

“I love you Liam.  I’m not in love with him, I never was and I never will be, I promise you that.  I love him like a…”

“There you are.  we’ve been looking for you.  How are you?”  Christian and Anastasia walk up, arm in arm, with smiles on their faces.  They’re so adorable together.

I lift my head off of Liam’s chest when feel him squeeze me tightly and look up in time to see his beautiful green eyes flash with anger before they turn fire-engine red; changing color based on his mood as opposed to the lanterns and firelight.  I know red is mad, but this is more than mad…

He’s super duper pissed.

I manage to turn and address the happy couple before Liam can, “Hello Christian, Anastasia.  I hope you’re both enjoying your evening.”  I try to sound as cheerful as I hope my face appears, but it’s not easy.  I have to straighten this out with Liam, fast.  His imagination can wreak havoc on the best intentions.

Christian smiles brightly, just like Daddy, then proceeds to introduce us, “We’re enjoying ourselves very much, thank you.  Anastasia Steele, this is Ella Brown.  Ella, this is Anastasia.”  She nods her head and offers her hand to me.  I do the same and we shake, all the while under Liam’s intense glare.

Dude, lighten up, DAMN!

“Hello Anastasia, welcome to Townsville and thank you for attending our fundraiser.”  She’s so pretty.  Her pale pink skin is flawless, her large eyes are bright blue, not tainted by the firelight and contrast well with her long, dark auburn hair.  Granddad is probably right, her eyes are a wonderful color blue.  That probably was the kicker for Christian.  I smile to myself thinking about it.

“Please call me Ana” she says, then she blushes, at me?  Why?

“This is Li…”

As I begin to make my introduction of him Liam burst out with “We’ll talk later my Love.”  He bends down, on the pretense of kissing my cheek whispers “Questa conversazione non è finita” then storms away, leaving me standing there, embarrassed.

“Ahem.”  Christian clears his throat and I reluctantly look first at Anastasia, who has a pitying expression on her face, then at Christian who looks like he’s surprised I associate with Liam.  “Is everything alright?” his smooth, baritone voice is strong and a tad bit protective in its tone; reminiscent of Daddy’s and Granddad’s.

I don’t respond.  I don’t trust my voice at this moment.  Tears I can control, I’ve learned how to hold those at bay and plaster on an impassive appearance well.  I would practice making faces in the mirror for hours at a time when I was a child until one day, I got it right, but the sound of my voice, I’m still working on that one.  Granddad always told me I would need an impassive voice as well…for the boardroom.  Well, I don’t have one so I simply shake my head no.

Finally, I muster up enough courage to say, quietly, “I apologize.  Please don’t let me dampen your evening.”  I feel like a Class-A fool.  I have to get out of here, “If you’ll excuse me.”  I duck my head down and practically run past the happy pair.  I hear Ana and Christian each call my name as I move away from them, but I don’t turn around.  I simply wave good-bye over my shoulder and takeoff…to parts unknown.


That son of a bitch has got it coming to him.  How fucking dare he speak to me like that and in front of other people too.  He has no idea if they understood him or not and even if they didn’t, I don’t give a fuck.  Rudeness is NOT permitted.

I managed to get far enough from the crowd and sit at a picnic area further up the Strand with a calming view of Magnetic Island, where I can think.

Quietly I hear, from behind me, “You cannot give him the satisfaction Ellie.  You do know that do you not Little One?”  I look over my shoulder and straight up to see Granddad standing alone with his hands in his pockets leaning against a nearby palm tree.

“You startled me Granddad.  I know I cannot let him get to me.  It is difficult sometimes.  I care a lot about Liam, I always have, but his jealousy and snap judgment are ridiculous.  Why not wait until a situation plays out or a discussion is had before commenting or criticizing?”  I’m getting angrier and angrier the more I talk this out and Granddad sees it.

“Ellie…Love…ELLIE!”  He bellows.  I quickly raise my head to see a pair of lighting silver eyes glaring down at me.  “You cannot give him the satisfaction…period.  All of his years at university have not afforded him the ability to control his emotions.  He does not know better…yet.  He will learn because you will teach him.  The same as you taught Christian.  Although, I suppose Christian learned more quickly than Liam will.” I nod.  We know how Christian learned control.

I know what he’s getting at and I know I can’t talk to Liam about this.  Granddad was clear when he gave Daddy and me our assignments, “No one can know about this until he does.  Once we have discussed everything, and I do mean everything, with him properly then he will be free to make whatever decision he likes.  Control is mandatory in this endeavor.  No one outside of this office,” he looked pointedly at Daddy then me, “can know of this situation.  Emmett, that includes the three’” that was when Christian was leaving Taiwan and things were being finalized.

“I know Granddad, I know.  I have no intention of jeopardizing our work.  His attitude being the way that it is, will be challenge enough without throwing Liam into the pissing pot.”  Granddad smirks at my choice of words.  I grew up in a house full of men.  My mother passed away when I was young.  My grandmother and aunt, my father’s only sibling, passed away before I was born, so I am not held to the same dialectical criticisms as most women.  Translation, I grew up with men who cuss like sailors and I can do the same, especially in their presence.

“Good girl.  We will take care of Liam in due time.  Have you invited them for a meal, preferably brunch.”  Granddad has it in his craw that we get this out in the open…yesterday.  Daddy and I keep trying to tell him to be patient, but that’s not a character trait Granddad recognizes.

Like someone else we know huh?

“I got side tracked Granddad.  I will invite them before the event is over.”  I try to reassure my grandfather who is neither out of the loop nor behind the times.

“Provided you can catch them before he rushes her home.  They fuck like jack rabbits you know,” again with the smirking?  He and Daddy get on my nerves with that shit.

“Yes, I know.  I guess that is something else you all have in common, unless it is simply a gender flaw.”  Now it’s my turn to raise a brow.

Slowly, my red haze lifts and I go in search of Christian and Anastasia to invite them to tomorrow’s brunch.  The evening is almost over, nothing left but the fireworks display.  I hope they’ve enjoyed themselves.  I know it was important to Christian and Anastasia feel comfortable here.  He wanted her to relax and consider staying here with him, at least for a while.  Secretly, I hope so too.

I find the happy pair locked in an embrace.  I sigh at such a romantic sight.

If Liam would get his shit together we could be like them, couldn’t we?

Eh, I guess.

He seemed genuinely happy to see you and very interested in your relationship with Christian.

I should’ve made him sweat for a while.

You know you’re no good at that.  It’ll just come back to bite you in the end…pun intended.

I shake my head at my inner musings and approach Christian and Anastasia.

The twosome are in a heavy-duty lip lock.  I try to wait it out  and not be too obvious.  Off to my left, near one of the refreshment stands, I see Daddy and Granddad laughing, heads thrown back guffawing at me.  They’re getting on my fucking nerves with that bullshit.  Just wait until I have a man I my life.  I’m going to make them regret this.

I clear my throat to try and get Christian and Ana to break it up.

That or throw some cold water on them.

Don’t give me any ideas.

“Ahem, excuse me.”  I don’t want to tap either of them on the shoulder.  I don’t want them to feel like I am invading their personal space.  I just want to deliver my invitation and get the fuck out of here.

Awkwardly, I try again, louder this time, “Christian…Anastasia?”  She’s the first to come up for air.

“Hi Ella, how are you?  We tried to find you, but you disappeared.”  Anastasia immediately assumes the role of caretaker.  She’s here to spend time with her fiancée and she’s thoughtful enough to show concern for me after Liam’s earlier display.

“Oh, I am fine, no worries.  Thank you for asking.”  I lie.

“Would the two of you be available to have brunch with us tomorrow?  Nothing fancy, just family.”  I can tell by the fire in Christian’s eyes he had other plans for tomorrow, but I seem to have piqued Anastasia’s interest.

“That would be lovely Ella.  What time?”  I almost burst out laughing at Christian.  He’s the picture of Daddy and Granddad.  I think their hair stands on end all by itself when they get aggravated.  Each man has a habit of raking his hands through his hair, but it really isn’t necessary.  The damn stuff has a mind of its own.

“Ana, I was hoping we could sleep in late tomorrow,” Christian whines.  Again, I suppress a laugh.

When Anastasia pouts at Christian, his entire demeanor changes.  Gone is Christian Grey, hotshot CEO and Master of the Universe.  Hello, love struck Christian.  I can’t help the smile that hides at the corners of my mouth.  “Ok, Ana, whatever you want Baby.  What time Ella?”  We make arrangements for late day and I tell them that Taylor and Gail are welcome as well, but I doubt they’ll attend.

I hope not.  None of us can stand that pretentious fucker.

I say my goodbyes and turn to leave, only to run straight into the all too familiar sight of Liam Jared Beckett, his eyes still flaring bight red.  As I begin to walk passed him, he grabs my arm and pulls me toward him, taking me by surprise.  I gasp then realize he’s been drinking…a lot.  Drinking is the last thing anyone should do when they’re mad, it only makes things worse.

“Liam, you’re drunk, let me go.”  I don’t raise my voice because I don’t want to cause a scene.  I know Liam would never do anything to me so I’m not afraid, but this brand of bullshit is more than annoying.  What the fuck is his problem anyway?

“We have…a conver…sation…to finish,” he slurs.  I laugh a little inside.

Not that this bastard would remember.

“You can barely finish a sentence, let ‘lone a conversation.  We can finish this when you sober up.”  I hiss and pull out of his grasp.

Liam’s eyes are wide and definitely hurt when he whispers, “It’s true, you do love him.  Why Ellie, I’ve told you how I feel.  We’ve shared so much baby.  Why him?”  The pain in his voice lances my heart, but Granddad will kill me if I give this away.

I look directly into Liam’s eyes and kiss him sweetly on his soft, full lips then tell him, “Liam, you’re the only man I love, the only man I’ve ever loved and the only man I will love.  Fidati di me.”  It is true.  I have always loved him.  There will never be another for me.

Somehow, my statement has touched his heart because he surrenders control to me by saying, “Sì il mio amore, ti darò.  My life, my heart…my soul are in your hands.”

GREY

It was a lovely evening.  We walked along the beach and talked about the music, the food, and the games.  We simply enjoyed each other like we never have before.  It felt so carefree.  It was heavenly.  I didn’t stress about coming home.  Was able to devote myself to Ana because I didn’t have to run off to my office and be debriefed about anything.  We came home, took a bath and fell into bed; into each other’s arms.

As we lay in our king sized bed, Ana takes a deep breath and sighs, “I owe you so many apologies, I don’t know where to begin.”  I turn onto my side and pull her closer to me, giving her my full attention and kiss her forehead.  She seems resigned to her fate as she continues.  “Christian, I’ve treated you unfairly.  I’ve unreasonably blamed you for things…for stifling my freedom when you haven’t.  I know you want to protect me and I know being your girlfriend puts me in the spotlight.  I, even better now, there are people who would love to get at you.  If someone could use me to achieve that goal, they would.  Unfortunately, no matter how immune I think I am, that’s not true.  I’ve even treated you like a villain for wanting to help me achieve my career goals.”  She shakes her head and I wipe the single tear that’s escaped onto her cheek.

“I’ve worried about what Kate, Jose, my co-workers and anyone else would think of me for being your girlfriend and working for you.  I worried I wouldn’t be considered an equal.  I worried my success would be due to your name, not my knowledge.”  She frowns and seems pensive as she speaks.  Why is she recounting all of this?  I thought her time away from me was so she could sort these thoughts out and come to her own conclusions, not hold onto them to rehash at a later date.  I don’t want to hear all of this anymore.

She’s a thinker Grey.  She takes her time and ponders a situation before taking action.  You, on the other hand, act out…period.  In business, thinking fast and acting quickly are virtues.  You’re not in the world of M&A right now.  Let her talk this out.  Just listen.

“…listening to Kate.  I don’t know when I gave her so much power in my life, but it happened.  I listened to what she had to say and took a lot of it to heart.  The times when I knew she was weak, I took the lead but more often than not I listened to her opinion and made it my own, that was my mistake.”  I knew Kavanagh was behind this shit.  Months of our lives wasted because of that bitch.  I don’t give a fuck what Elliott sees in her, I can’t fucking stand her…

Shut the fuck up Grey!  Listen!

“…overlooked the fact that she got her internship with her father’s company and she holds her head high when people say, ‘that’s Kavanaghs’ daughter.’”  Do you fucking mean to tell me Anastasia let that rich bitch cloud her opinion of herself?  That bitch caused Ana to doubt her own abilities?  She best be glad she is still fucking Elliott or she’d be the last one in the unemployment line…

GRRR!  If I have to tell you one…more…time…to shut the fuck up, this magnificent, multitasking brain of yours is going to shutdown and leave your carcass to the wolves.  For the last time…FOCUS!

ALRIGHT!!!

“…my opinion of me matters.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I know how hard I worked to graduate from college with my GPA in tact.  It’s unrealistic of me to want the world to even give a fuck about me, let ‘lone care about how I got from point A to point B.  The long and the short of it is I was wrong to let anyone other than me color my decisions.”

She sighs then looks me straight in my eyes and says, “I love you and you love me that was never in question.  I shouldn’t have let anyone or anything influence my self-image or our relationship.  We’re partners.  I need you to help me sort things out when I get stuck in life, that’s what partners do for each other isn’t it? “

I smile and nod, “Yes it is Baby.  And we’re going to be the best partners ever.  I love you so much Anastasia.”  I hold her tightly in my arms and kiss her deeply, with all of the love and adoration inside me.

I’ll only ever love you Ana.


We spent our morning much like we spent our evening.  We have made love in the bedroom, bathroom, our walk-in closet, the kitchen, before Mrs. Jones got up of course, and on the couch in the TV room, before Taylor started walking around the place, which I’ve told him isn’t necessary.  It felt like two teenagers hiding from Mom and Dad.  It was kind of cool.

As we get ready to go to the Brown’s for Brunch, my lovely Ana says from the bathroom doorway “Christian, do you have security in this place?”  She has a concerned look on her face.  Is she afraid of something?

I immediately become tense.  “No.  Why, are you afraid of something?  Has someone been bothering you?  Do you want me to ask Taylor to stay or send for Sawyer?  What is wrong Ana?”

She shakes her head at me and smiles, “Calm down Christian, nothing’s wrong and no one has bothered me.  I’m just surprised you don’t have security here.  I mean, this place is much bigger than Escala and you are all alone.  There are no cameras, no one walking the halls…nothing.  It feels so…” she shrugs her shoulders, “…you know…”

I smile, “Normal,” I finish the sentence.  “Yes, I know.  I came to Australia on a whim and needed a place to stay.”  It sounds impossible, but it’s true.  I couldn’t face being in Seattle without Anastasia and I promised to give her the time and space she wanted.  So for all intents and purposes, I was homeless.

“I couldn’t bear go come back to Seattle.  The work I did in Taiwan took like fifteen minutes and the touring took another twenty.  I just hung around there, keeping up with GEH affairs, hoping you would tell me you wanted me to come back home.  When you didn’t call me, I moved on.”

“Ros and I joked once that GEH should have offices worldwide.  I’ve dreamed of making GEH an International presence, but never took it seriously.  When I thought I would never see you again, I figured why not make my business dream come true.  I’ve worked, non-stop, to make this happen; just like in the beginning of GEH.

I told you, work is my therapy.  I haven’t bothered with Flynn since I left the US.  I got in touch with Claude and he helped me find a gym in Taiwan and then here.  I run, workout at the gym here at home or with my kickboxing trainer, have breakfast then head off to Grey House. “

“I know you want to talk and I know you want to talk about the pictures you’ve seen in the press, right?”  She nods her head and looks down at the floor.  “Do you remember what I told you about the press?”

She speaks solemnly, “Yes, you pointed out that you would be in the spotlight even more than before we met.  You said our relationship would be questioned and basically you’d be the number one bachelor again.  I remember saying you were threatening me.  I need to apologize for that statement too.  I don’t know why I even said it.  It seems every time you try to prepare me for something, I take it the wrong way.  I need to work on that.”  She looks up and stares at me, there’s more, I know there is.  I’m not stupid.  She wants to know if I took a submissive.

“Ana, please sit down.  Let’s clear the air, get all of this shit out of our lives so we can move forward…together.  Can we do that please?”  I want this just as much as she does and we’re in the best place to have this conversation.  There’s nothing and no one to interrupt us.  We have all the time in the world, another reason why I love it here.

She twists her fingers in front of her then whispers, “Yes”.  I walk with her over to the balcony off our bedroom, which faces Rowes Bay.  It’s a tranquil view of the water.  I often get lost in the warmth of the Sun, the breeze from the bay and the hypnotic sound of the waves.  I love the water.  It’s so open, so free.  I take a deep cleansing breath and actually forget I’m not alone.

Her voice is almost as faint as the wind when she says, “This is totally different from Escala.  This isn’t your ivory tower.  You seem so happy, at ease here, trouble-free even.  It’s a welcome change to see you this way.  You look wonderful Christian.  Time away from Seattle has done wonders for you.”

I smile and nod my head.  “You’re right.  Life is normal.  No one knows me, or so I thought.  I can be just another face in the crowd.  I can walk down the street, sightsee, shop, whatever and no one looks at me.  I say, ‘I’m Christian Grey’ and people shake their heads, silently asking if my name is supposed to mean something to them.”  I chuckle a little remembering how offended I was at first.  In business, your name is your brand and my name has always been highly marketable.  In the world of M&A, no matter what continent I’m on, the name Christian Grey means money, power and prestige, but in the city of Townsville, it means the guy who lives over there.

It’s fan-fucking-tastic!

“My ego took a bit of a blow, until Ella told me people knew who I was and basically didn’t give a fuck, I was nothing special to them.”  I shake my head remembering the conversation.  It was before I knew who she was, who her family was.  It reminded me that money doesn’t matter.

“Who is Ella?”  I look at Ana and see something in her eyes I’ve never seen before.  Not anger or jealousy, not even a look of hurt or betrayal.  I see fear.  She fears Ella.  Why?

“Ella is a girl I saw when I finally got out of this house and ventured around Townsville.  I’m sure there are pictures of she and I floating around the gossip sites.  She reminded me so much of you, I almost called her by your name.”  Ana says nothing, but I can see the gears spinning.  I know how I would feel if it was the other way around.  I’m not a hypocrite.  I can’t expect her to simply take it all in without having any emotion.  I’ll answer any and all questions honestly and wait for her to decide her next move.

“Yes, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of you with her.  Seattle Nooze has you engaged and about to be married.  I was hurt when I first saw her picture, there were so many of you smiling, laughing, even holding hands.  I cried for days and Kate tried to set me up with a dozen blind dates.”  Tears begin to form in her eyes even now.

That’s what friends are for?

Humpf.

“Then I saw a picture claiming to be her hand with an engagement ring on it.  Kate was fanatical about that picture.  When I realized it was my hand and my engagement ring, I had to pose in the same position for her to look at my ring, but she still didn’t believe me.  I remembered you took the picture after your birthday, for insurance purposes.  I found it and showed it to her, which finally shut her up.  At that point, I decided to take everything I saw with a grain of salt.”

“People made snide comments behind my back and I think a heard a couple women in my office clapping hands at the prospect of you being on the market again.”  As if anyone would have a chance with me.  “I remember wondering if they’d devote more time to their own lives maybe they wouldn’t be so miserable and happy to see someone else’s life in turmoil.”  She looks out over the bay as I move behind her wrapping my arms around her waist and pulling her into my chest.  This mess was just as hard on her as it was on me.

“Other reactions were absolutely Anti-Christian Grey.  There were comments about how could you possibly cheat on me since I was so sweet and innocent.  Others made you out to be a selfish bastard who didn’t deserve the likes of me.  There were even people who wanted to picket in front of GEH with signs saying people should stay away from your businesses and they never were and never will be in favor of you.  Watching all of that, reading all of the hateful comments against you made me see that you weren’t over exaggerating about how people see you.  The press and the public were obsessing with lives that weren’t their own.”

Guess she learned something about your world.

“Meetings at SIP were ridiculous.  Initially, my co-workers would stop talking and look anywhere except at me when I entered the room.  After seeing so many pictures of you on your own in Seattle and then in various parts of the world, they would pointedly ask me, ‘How are you today, Ana?’, ‘Did you rest well last night?’ or ‘Have you seen the latest article about Mr. Grey, Ana?’  I wanted to ask them just what the fuck their problem was.  They worked hard at getting under my skin.”  I blame that fucker Roach.  He’s the one who’s supposed to be in charge of that office.  Can’t he keep those dogs on a leash?

Just another subsidiary of GEH remember?  She can file a complaint like anyone else would…

Whatever fucker and you know it…and you agree with me.

“The end all-be-all was when Kate told me your leaving Seattle was the best thing you could ever do for me.  She was glad you finally realized you shouldn’t try to control me.  She was glad to see you tuck your tail between your legs and run because I stood up for myself and put you out of my life.  She couldn’t say enough about how horrible it was for you to be in the same breathing space as another woman and when she saw a picture of you holding hands with Ella, I thought she was going to burn a figure of you in effigy.  She was insane, all in the name of protecting me and being my one true friend.”

BITCH!

You took the words right out of my mouth Grey.

“Then there was the Grey Family Dinner night when you called home and she inserted herself in the conversation.  She and Elliott still aren’t doing well because of her comments about you.  Elliott asked her if she was jealous that you and I were together.  He asked her ‘Why the fuck didn’t you do the fucking interview your fucking self?’  He told her ‘It would’ve saved us all your unwanted behavior,’ then he told her to stop obsessing about someone else’s life or he would never speak to her again.  Needless to say, it has been a battle of wills ever since.”  Ana shakes her head and the unshed tears begin to fall.

NO COMMENT GREY AND THAT’S FINAL!

DONE.

“Ana, I told you, I promised you, I’d be faithful to you and to us.  I told you I wouldn’t be with anyone else and I haven’t gone against that.  If you want to hate me, if you want to leave me, I understand perfectly.  I know if things were the other way around, your eardrums would be pounding from all of my yelling.”

She turns around and puts her arms around my neck before looking me straight in my eyes and asking, “Christian, do you love her?”

I tighten my arms around her tiny waist and look directly into her eyes as I say, “No Ana.  I don’t love Ella or any other woman for that matter.  I only love you.  When Ella looked into my eyes, she saw my pain.  I was amazed at how intuitive she was.  She told me something that’s held me together and helped me deal with this situation so far.”

Ana looks at me expectantly, “What did she tell you?”

“She said,  ‘If you are hers, she will find you.  If she is yours, you will let her.’ that statement gave me hope that you would change your mind and come back to me.  It also helped me keep a clear head and, as odd as it seems to me, an open heart.  I can’t act as though my feelings weren’t hurt by all of this, but I refuse to just walk away.  I’m nothing without you Ana.  I’m not willing to give up, because I am yours.”

She nods her head at me, taking it all in, “The old adage is right, be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. I’ve continually told you I need to be alone to think, told you not to interfere in my affairs and told you security wasn’t necessary because I felt like I was being watched and controlled.  Then, when you give me everything I asked for, I, and it seems the rest of the world, turned on you and labeled you as contemptible and unfeeling.  You really can’t catch a break, can you Grey?”  I shake my head and hope she doesn’t hate me.

It’s all part of the package Baby.

“Christian, I know, better than you do, that you have a heart and you have feelings.  I know I hurt you with my words and my actions.  I was horribly wrong to do so.  In order for you and I to be together, I have to learn to talk to you just as much as I demand you talk to me.  Running to hide isn’t the way.”  I say nothing.  I’m still not sure where this is going so I just hear her out.

“I love you Christian and I apologize for pushing you away.  I also apologize for letting Kate cloud my thinking.  I can’t apologize for her treatment of you, she has to do that, but I apologize for not putting a stop to her chastising you.”  She hugs me tighter and lays her cheek on my chest.  I let out the breath I was holding, waiting for her tirade.

She knows this all could’ve been avoided.  This time she was wrong and she recognizes that.

Let it go.  Il est fini.

I bend over and kiss her cheek then whisper in her ear, “I love you Anastasia.”


LIAM

Ellie, dolce, dolce Ellie. Mi sei mancato così tanto. | Ellie, sweet, sweet Ellie. I missed you so much.
Questa conversazione non è finita. | This conversation is not over.
Sì il mio amore, ti darò. | Yes my love, I’ll (trust) give you.

ELLA

Fidati di me. | Trust me.

EMMETT

Liam, non cercare di parlare dolce mia figlia. | Liam, do not try to sweet talk my daughter.
…italiano, spagnolo o francese… | …Italian, Spanish or French…

GREY

C’est fini. | It’s finished.


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