“Jack.” My voice has disappeared, choked by fear. How is he out of jail? Why does he have Mia’s phone? The blood drains from my face, and I feel dizzy.
“You do remember me,” he says, his tone soft. I sense his bitter smile.
“Yes. Of course.” My answer is automatic as my mind races.
“You’re probably wondering why I called you.”
“Don’t hang up. I’ve been having a chat with your little sister-in-law.”
What? Mia! No! “What have you done?” I whisper, trying to quell my fear.
“Listen here, you prick-teasing, gold-digging whore. You fucked up my life.
Grey fucked up my life. You owe me. I have the little bitch with me now. And you, that cock-sucker you married, and his whole fucking family are going to pay.”
Hyde’s contempt and bile shock me. His family? What the hell?
“What do you want?”
“I want his money. I really want his fucking money. If things had been different, it could have been me. So you’re going to get it for me. I want five million dollars, today.”
“Jack, I don’t have access to that kind of money.”
He snorts his derision. “You have two hours to get it. That’s it—two hours.
Tell no one or this little bitch gets it. Not the cops. Not your prick of a husband.
Not his security team. I will know if you do. Understand?” He pauses and I try to respond, but panic and fear seal my throat.
“You understand!” he shouts.
“Yes,” I whisper.
“Or I will kill her.”
“Keep your phone with you. Tell no one or I’ll fuck her up before I kill her.
You have two hours.”
“Jack, I need longer. Three hours. How do I know that you have her?”
The line goes dead. I gape in horror at the phone, my mouth parched with fear, leaving the nasty metallic taste of terror. Mia, he has Mia. Or does he? My mind whirrs at the obscene possibility, and my stomach roils again. I think I’m going to be sick, but I inhale deeply, trying to steady my panic, and the nausea passes. My mind rockets through the possibilities. Tell Christian? Tell Taylor?
Call the police? How will Jack know? Does he actually have Mia? I need time, time to think—but I can only accomplish that by following his instructions. I grab my purse and head for the door.
“Hannah, I have to go out. I am not sure how long I’ll be. Cancel my appointments this afternoon. Let Elizabeth know I have to deal with an emergency.”
“Sure, Ana. Everything okay?” Hannah frowns, concern etched on her face as she watches me flee.
“Yes,” I call back distractedly, hurrying toward reception where Sawyer is waiting.
“Sawyer.” He leaps up from the armchair at the sound of my voice, and frowns when he sees my face.
“I’m not feeling well. Please take me home.”
“Sure, ma’am. Do you want to wait here while I get the car?”
“No, I’ll come with you. I’m in a hurry to get home.”
I gaze out the window in stark terror as I go over my plan. Get home. Change.
Find checkbook. Escape from Ryan and Sawyer somehow. Go to bank. Hell, how much room does five million dollars take up? What will it weigh? Will I need a suitcase? Should I telephone the bank in advance? Mia. Mia. What if he doesn’t have Mia? How can I check? If I call Grace it will raise her suspicions, and possibly endanger Mia. He said he would know. I glance out the back window of the SUV. Am I being followed? My heart races as I examine the cars following us.
They look innocuous enough. Oh, Sawyer, drive faster. Please. My eyes flicker to meet his in the rearview mirror and his brow creases.
Sawyer presses a button on his Bluetooth headset to answer a call. “T . . . I wanted to let you know Mrs. Grey is with me.” Sawyer’s eyes meet mine once more before he looks back at the road and continues. “She’s unwell. I’m taking her back to Escala . . . I see . . . Sir.” Sawyer’s eyes flick from the road to mine in the rearview mirror again. “Yes,” he agrees and hangs up.
“Taylor?” I whisper.
“He’s with Mr. Grey?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sawyer’s look softens in sympathy.
“Are they still in Portland?”
Good. I have to keep Christian safe. My hand strays down to my belly, and I rub it consciously. And you, Little Blip. Keep you both safe.
“Can we hurry please? I’m not feeling well.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sawyer presses the accelerator and our car glides through the traffic.
Mrs. Jones is nowhere to be seen when Sawyer and I arrive at the apartment.
Since her car is missing from the garage, I assume she’s running errands with Ry-an. Sawyer heads for Taylor’s office while I bolt to Christian’s study. Stumbling in panic around his desk, I wrench open the drawer to find the checkbooks.
Leila’s gun slides forward into view. I feel an incongruous twinge of annoyance that Christian has not secured this weapon. He knows nothing about guns. Jeez, he could get hurt.
After a moment’s hesitation, I grab the pistol, check to ensure it’s loaded, and tuck it into the waistband of my black slacks. I may need it. I swallow hard. I’ve only ever practiced on targets. I’ve never fired a gun at anyone; I hope Ray will forgive me . I turn my attention to tracking down the right checkbook. There are five, and only one is in the names of C. Grey and Mrs. A. Grey. I have about fifty-four thousand dollars in my own account. I have no idea how much money is in this one. But Christian must be good for five million dollars, surely. Perhaps there’s money in the safe? Crap. I have no idea of the number. Didn’t he mention the combination was it his filing cabinet? I try the cabinet, but it’s locked. Shit.
I’ll have to stick to plan A.
I take a deep breath and, in a more composed but determined manner, stride to our bedroom. The bed has been made, and for a moment, I feel a pang. Perhaps I should have slept here last night. What is the point of arguing with someone who, by their own admission, is Fifty Shades? He’s not even talking to me now.
No—I do not have time to think about this.
Quickly, I change out of my slacks, pulling on jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and a pair of sneakers and put the gun in the waistband of my jeans, at my back.
From the closet I fish out a large soft duffle bag. Will five million dollars fit into this? Christian’s gym bag is lying there on the floor. I open it, expecting to find it full of dirty laundry, but no—his gym kit is clean and fresh. Mrs. Jones does indeed get everywhere. I dump the contents onto the floor and stuff his gym bag in-to my duffle. There, that should do it. I check that I have my driver’s license as identification for the bank and check the time. It’s been thirty-one minutes since Jack called. Now I just have to get out of Escala without Sawyer seeing me.
I make my way slowly and quietly to the foyer, aware of the CCTV camera which is trained on the elevator. I think Sawyer’s still in Taylor’s office. Cautiously, I open the foyer door, making as little noise as possible. Shutting it quietly behind me, I stand on the very threshold, up against the door, out of the view of the CCTV lens. I fish my cell phone out of my purse and call Sawyer.
“Sawyer, I’m in the room upstairs, will you give me a hand with something?”
I keep my voice low, knowing he’s just down the hallway on the other side of this door.
“I’ll be right with you, ma’am,” he says, and I hear his confusion. I’ve never telephoned him for help before. My heart is in my throat, pounding in a jarring, frenetic rhythm. Will this work? I hang up and listen as his footsteps cross the hallway and go up the stairs. I take another deep steadying breath and briefly contemplate the irony of escaping from my own home like a felon.
Once Sawyer’s reached the upstairs landing, I race to the elevator and punch the call button. The doors slide open with the too-loud ping that announces the elevator is ready. I dash inside and frantically stab the button for the basement garage. After an agonizing pause, the doors slowly start to slide shut, and as they do I hear Sawyer’s cries.
“Mrs. Grey!” Just as the elevator doors close, I see him skid into the foyer.
“Ana!” he shouts in disbelief. But he’s too late, and he disappears from view.
The elevator sinks smoothly down to the garage level. I have a couple of minutes’ start on Sawyer, and I know he’ll try to stop me. I glance longingly at my R8 as I rush to the Saab, open the door, toss the duffel bag onto the passenger seat, and slide into the driver’s seat.
I start the car, and the tires squeal as I race to the entrance and wait eleven agonizing seconds for the barrier to lift. The instant it’s clear I drive out, catching sight of Sawyer in my rearview mirror as he dashes out of service elevator into the garage. His bewildered, injured expression haunts me as I turn off the ramp onto Fourth Avenue.
I let out my long held breath. I know Sawyer will call Christian or Taylor, but I’ll deal with that when I have to—I don’t have time to dwell on it now. I squirm uncomfortably in my seat, knowing in my heart of hearts that Sawyer’s probably lost his job. Don’t dwell. I have to save Mia. I have to get to the bank and collect five million dollars. I glance in the rearview mirror, nervously anticipating the sight of the SUV bursting forth from the garage, but as I drive away, there’s no sign of Sawyer.
The bank is sleek, modern, and understated. There are hushed tones, echoing floors, and pale green etched glass everywhere. I stride to the information desk.
“May I help you, ma’am?” The young woman gives me a bright, insincere smile, and for a moment I regret changing into jeans.
“I’d like to withdraw a large sum of money.”
Ms. Insincere Smile arches an even more insincere eyebrow.
“You have an account with us?” She fails to hide her sarcasm.
“Yes,” I snap. “My husband and I have several accounts here. His name is Christian Grey.”
Her eyes widen fractionally and insincerity gives way to shock. Her eyes sweep up and down me once more, this time with a combination of disbelief and awe.
“This way, ma’am,” she whispers, and leads me to a small, sparsely furnished office walled with more green-etched glass.
“Please take a seat.” She gestures to a black leather chair by a glass desk bearing a state-of-the-art computer and phone. “How much will you be withdrawing today, Mrs. Grey?” she asks pleasantly.
“Five million dollars.” I look her straight in the eye as if I ask for this amount of cash every day.
She blanches. “I see. I’ll fetch the manager. Oh, forgive me for asking, but do you have ID?”
“I do. But I’d like to speak to the manager.”
“Of course, Mrs. Grey.” She scurries out. I sink into the seat, and a wave of nausea washes over me as the gun presses uncomfortably into the small of my back . Not now. I can’t be sick now. I take a deep cleansing breath, and the wave passes. Nervously, I check my watch. Twenty-five past two.
A middle-aged man enters the room. He has a receding hairline, but wears a sharp, expensive charcoal suit and matching tie. He holds out his hand.
“Mrs. Grey. I’m Troy Whelan.” He smiles, we shake, and he sits down at the desk opposite me.
“My colleague tells me you’d like to withdraw a large amount of money.”
“That’s correct. Five million dollars.”
He turns to his sleek computer and taps in a few numbers.
“We normally ask for some notice for large amounts of money.” He pauses, and flashes me a reassuring but supercilious smile. “Fortunately, however, we hold the cash reserve for the entire Pacific Northwest,” he boasts. Jeez, is he trying to impress me?
“Mr. Whelan, I’m in a hurry. What do I need to do? I have my driver’s license, and our joint account checkbook. Do I just write a check?”
“First things first, Mrs. Grey. May I see the ID?” He switches from jovial show-off to serious banker.
“Here.” I hand over my license.
“Mrs. Grey . . . this says Anastasia Steele.”
“Oh . . . yes. Um.”
“I’ll call Mr. Grey.”
“Oh no, that won’t be necessary.” Shit! “I must have something with my married name.” I rifle through my purse. What do I have with my name on it? I pull out my wallet, open it and find a photograph of Christian and me, on the bed in Fair Lady’s cabin. I can’t show him that! I dig out my black Amex.
“Mrs. Anastasia Grey,” Whelan reads. “Yes, that should do.” He frowns.
“This is highly irregular, Mrs. Grey.
“Do you want me to let my husband know that your bank has been less than cooperative?” I square my shoulders and give him my most forbidding stare.
He pauses, momentarily reassessing me, I think. “You’ll need to write a check, Mrs. Grey.”
“Sure. This account?” I show him my checkbook, trying to quell my pounding heart
“That’ll be fine. I’ll also need you to complete some additional paperwork. If you’ll excuse me for a moment?”
I nod, and he rises and stalks out of the office. Again, I release my held breath. I had no idea this would be so difficult. Clumsily, I open my checkbook and pull a pen out of my purse. Do I just make it out to cash? I have no idea. With shaking fingers I write: Five million dollars. $5,000,000.
Oh God, I hope I’m doing the right thing. Mia, think of Mia. I can’t tell anyone.
Jack’s chilling, repugnant words haunt me. “Tell no one or I’ll fuck her up before I kill her.”
Mr. Whelan returns, pale-faced and sheepish.
“Mrs. Grey? Your husband wants to speak with you,” he murmurs and points to the phone on the glass table between us.
“He’s on line one. Just press the button. I’ll be outside.” He has the grace to look embarrassed. Benedict Arnold has nothing on Whelan. I scowl at him, feeling the blood drain from my face again as he shuffles out of the office.
Shit! Shit! Shit! What am I going to say to Christian? He’ll know. He’ll inter-vene. He’s a danger to his sister. My hand trembles as I reach for the phone. I hold it against my ear, trying to calm my erratic breathing, and press the button for line one.
“Hi,” I murmur, trying in vain to steady my nerves.
“You’re leaving me?” Christian’s words are an agonized, breathless whisper.
“No!” My voice mirrors his. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no—how can he think that?
The money? He thinks I’m going because of the money? And in moment of hor-rific clarity, I realize the only way I’m going to keep Christian at arm’s length, out of harm’s way, and to save his sister . . . is to lie.
“Yes,” I whisper. And searing pain lances through me, tears springing to my eyes.
He gasps, almost a sob. “Ana, I—” He chokes.
No! My hand clutches my mouth as I stifle my warring emotions. “Christian, please. Don’t.” I fight back tears.
“You’re going?” he says.
“But why the cash? Was it always the money?” His tortured voice is barely audible.
No! Tears roll down my face. “No,” I whisper.
“Is five million enough?”
Oh please, stop!
“And the baby?” His voice is a breathless echo.
What? My hand moves from my mouth to my belly. “I’ll take care of the baby,” I murmur. My Little Blip . . . our Little Blip.
“This is what you want?”
He inhales sharply. “Take it all,” he hisses.
“Christian,” I sob. “It’s for you. For your family. Please. Don’t.”
“Take it all, Anastasia.”
“Christian—” And I nearly cave. Nearly tell him—about Jack, about Mia, about the ransom. Just trust me, please! I silently beg him.
“I’ll always love you.” His voice is hoarse. He hangs up.
“Christian! No . . . I love you, too.” And all the stupid shit that we put each other through over the last few days fades into insignificance. I promised I’d never leave him. I am not leaving you. I am saving your sister. I slump into the chair, weeping copiously into my hands.
I am interrupted by a timid knock on the door. Whelan enters, though I haven’t acknowledged him. He looks everywhere but at me. He’s mortified.
You called him, you bastard! I glare at him.
“You have carte blanche, Mrs. Grey,” he says. “Mr. Grey has agreed to liquefy some of his assets. He says you can have whatever you need.”
“I just need five million dollars,” I mutter through gritted teeth.
“Yes ma’am. Are you all right?”
“Do I look all right?” I snap.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Some water?”
I nod, sullenly. I have just left my husband. Well, Christian thinks I have. My subconscious purses her lips. Because you told him so.
“I’ll have my colleague bring you some while I prepare the money. If you could just sign here, ma’am . . . and make the check out to cash and sign that, too.”
He places a form on the table. I scrawl my signature along the dotted line of the check, then the form. Anastasia Grey. Teardrops fall on the desk, narrowly missing the paperwork.
“I’ll take those, ma’am. It will take us about half an hour to prepare the money.”
I quickly check my watch. Jack said two hours—that should take us to two hours. I nod to Whelan, and he tiptoes out of the office, leaving me to my misery.
A few moments, minutes, hours later—I don’t know—Miss Insincere Smile reenters with a carafe of water and a glass.
“Mrs. Grey,” she says softly as she places the glass on the desk and fills it.
“Thank you.” I take the glass and drink gratefully. She exits, leaving me with my jumbled, frightened thoughts. I will fix things with Christian somehow . . . if it’s not too late. At least he’s out of the picture. Right now I have to concentrate on Mia. Suppose Jack is lying? Suppose he doesn’t have her? Surely I should call the police.
“Tell no one or I’ll fuck her up before I kill her.” I can’t. I sit back in the chair, feeling the reassuring presence of Leila’s pistol at my waist, digging into my back. Who would have thought I’d ever feel grateful that Leila once pulled a gun on me? Oh, Ray, I’m so glad you taught me how to shoot.
Ray! I gasp. He’ll be expecting me to visit this evening. Perhaps I can simply dump the money with Jack. He can run while I take Mia home. Oh, this sounds absurd!
My BlackBerry jumps to life, “Your Love is King” filling the room. Oh no!
What does Christian want? To twist the knife in my wounds?
“Was it always the money?”
Oh, Christian—how could you think that? Anger flares in my gut. Yes, anger.
It helps. I send the call to voice mail. I’ll deal with my husband later.
There’s a knock on the door.
“Mrs. Grey.” It’s Whelan. “The money is ready.”
“Thank you.” I stand up and the room spins momentarily. I clutch the chair.
“Mrs. Grey, are you feeling okay?”
I nod and give him a back-off-now-mister stare. I take another deep calming breath. I have to do this. I have to do this. I must save Mia. I pull the hem of my hooded sweatshirt down, concealing the butt of the pistol in the back of my jeans.
Mr. Whelan frowns but holds open the door, and I propel myself forward on my shaking limbs.
Sawyer is waiting at the entrance, scanning the public area. Shit! Our eyes meet, and he frowns at me, gauging my reaction. Oh, he’s mad. I hold up my index finger in a with-you-in-a-minute gesture. He nods and answers a call on his cell phone. Shit! I bet that’s Christian. I turn abruptly, almost colliding with Whelan right behind me, and bolt back into the little office.
“Mrs. Grey?” Whelan sounds confused as he follows me back in.
Sawyer could blow this whole plan. I gaze up at Whelan.
“There’s someone out there I don’t want to see. Someone following me.”
Whelan’s eyes widen.
“Do you want me to call the police?”
“No!” Holy fuck, no. What am I going to do? I glance at my watch. It’s nearly three fifteen. Jack will call any moment. Think, Ana, think! Whelan gazes at me in growing desperation and bewilderment. He must think I’m crazy. You are crazy, my subconscious snaps.
“I need to make a call. Could you give me some privacy, please?”
“Certainly,” Whelan answers—grateful, I think, to leave the room. When he’s closed the door, I call Mia’s cell phone with trembling fingers.
“Well, if it isn’t my paycheck,” Jack answers scornfully.
I don’t have time for his bullshit. “I have a problem.”
“I know. Your security followed you to the bank.”
What? How the hell does he know?
“You’ll have to lose him. I have a car waiting at the back of the bank. Black SUV, a Dodge. You have three minutes to get there.” The Dodge!
“It may take longer than three minutes.” My heart leaps into my throat once more.
“You’re bright for a gold-digging whore, Grey. You figure it out. And dump your cell phone once you reach the vehicle. Got it, bitch?”
“Yes.””Say it!” he snaps.
“I’ve got it.”
He hangs up.
Shit! I open the door to find Whelan waiting patiently outside.
“Mr. Whelan, I’ll need some help taking the bags to my car. It’s parked outside, at the back of the bank. Do you have an exit at the rear?”
“We do, yes. For staff.”
“Can we leave that way? I can avoid the unwelcome attention at the door.”
“As you wish, Mrs. Grey. I’ll have two clerks help with the bags and two security guards to supervise. If you could follow me?”
“I have one more favor to ask you.”
“By all means, Mrs. Grey.”
Two minutes later my entourage and I are out on the street, heading over to the Dodge. Its windows are blacked out, and I can’t tell who’s at the wheel. But as we approach, the driver’s door swings open, and a woman clad in black with a black cap pulled low over her face climbs gracefully out of the car. Elizabeth! She moves to the rear of the SUV and opens the trunk. The two young bank clerks carrying the money sling the heavy bags into the back.
“Mrs. Grey.” She has the nerve to smile as if we are off on a friendly jaunt.
“Elizabeth.” My greeting is arctic. “Nice to see you outside work.”
Mr. Whelan clears this throat.
“Well, it’s been an interesting afternoon, Mrs. Grey,” he says. And I am forced to observe the social niceties of shaking his hand and thanking him while my mind reels. Elizabeth? What the hell? Why is she mixed up with Jack?
Whelan and his team disappear back into the bank, leaving me alone with the head of personnel at SIP who’s involved in kidnapping, extortion, and very possibly other felonies. Why?
Elizabeth opens the rear passenger door and ushers me in.
“Your phone, Mrs. Grey?” she asks, watching me warily. I hand it to her, and she tosses it into a nearby trashcan.
“That will throw the dogs off the scent,” she says smugly.
Who is this woman? Elizabeth slams my door shut and climbs into the driver’s seat. I glance anxiously behind me as she pulls out into the traffic, going east. Sawyer is nowhere to be seen.
“Elizabeth, you have the money. Call Jack. Tell him to let Mia go.”
“I think he wants to thank you in person.”
Shit! I glare at her stonily in the rearview mirror.
She pales and an anxious scowl mars her otherwise lovely face.
“Why are you doing this, Elizabeth? I thought you didn’t like Jack.”
She glances at me again briefly in the mirror, and I see a fleeting look of pain in her eyes.
“Ana, we’ll get along just fine if you keep your mouth shut.”
“But you can’t do this. This is so wrong.”
“Quiet,” she says, but I sense her unease.
“Does he have some kind of hold on you?” I ask. Her eyes shoot to mine and she slams on the brakes, throwing me forward so hard I hit my face against the headrest of the front seat.
“I said be quiet,” she snarls. “And I suggest you put on your seatbelt.”
And in that moment I know that he does. Something so awful that she’s prepared to do this for him. I wonder briefly what that could be. Theft from the company? Something from her private life? Something sexual? I shudder at the thought. Christian said that none of Jack’s PAs would talk. Perhaps it’s the same story with all of them. That’s why he wanted to fuck me, too. Bile rises in my throat with revulsion at the thought.
Elizabeth heads away from downtown Seattle and up into the hills to the east.
Before long we’re driving through residential streets. I catch sight of one of the street signs: SOUTH IRVING STREET. She takes a sharp left onto a deserted street with a dilapidated children’s playground on one side and a large concrete parking lot flanked by a row of squat, empty brick buildings on the other. Elizabeth pulls into the parking lot and stops outside the last of the brick units.
She turns to me. “Showtime,” she murmurs.
My scalp prickles as fear and adrenaline course through my body.
“You don’t have to do this,” I whisper back. Her mouth flattens into a grim line, and she climbs out of the car .
This is for Mia. This is for Mia. I quickly pray, Please let her be okay, please let her be okay.
“Get out,” Elizabeth snaps, yanking the rear passenger door open.
Shit. As I clamber out, my legs are shaking so hard I wonder if I can stand.
The cool late-afternoon breeze carries the scent of the coming fall and the chalky, dusty smell of derelict buildings.
“Well, lookee here.” Jack emerges from a small, boarded-up doorway on the left of the building. His hair is short. He’s removed his earrings and he’s wearing a suit. A suit? He ambles toward me, oozing arrogance and hate. My heart rate spikes.
“Where’s Mia?” I stammer, my mouth so dry I can hardly form the words.
“First things first, bitch,” Jack sneers, coming to a halt in front of me. I can practically taste his contempt. “The money?”
Elizabeth is checking the bags in the trunk. “There’s a hell of a lot of cash here,” she says in awe, zipping and unzipping each bag.
“And her cell?”
“In the trash.”
“Good,” Jack snarls, and from nowhere he lashes out, backhanding me hard across the face. The ferocious, unprovoked blow knocks me to the ground, and my head bounces with a sickening thud off the concrete. Pain explodes in my head, my eyes fill with tears, and my vision blurs as the shock of the impact resonates, unleashing agony that pulses through my skull.
I scream a silent cry of suffering and shocked terror. Oh no— Little Blip. Jack follows through with a swift, vicious kick to my ribs, and my breath is blasted from my lungs by the force of the blow. Scrunching my eyes tightly, I try to fight the nausea and pain, to fight for a precious breath. Little Blip, Little Blip, oh my Little Blip—
“That’s for SIP, you fucking bitch!” Jack screams.
I pull my legs up, huddling into a ball and anticipating the next blow. No. No.
“Jack!” Elizabeth screeches. “Not here. Not in broad daylight for fuck’s sake!”
“The bitch deserves it!” he gloats to Elizabeth. And it gives me one precious second to reach around and pull the gun from the waistband of my jeans. Shakily, I aim at him, squeeze the trigger, and fire. The bullet hits him just above the knee, and he collapses in front of me, crying out in agony, clutching his thigh as his fingers redden with his blood.
“Fuck! ” Jack bellows. I turn to face Elizabeth, and she’s gaping at me in horror and raising her hands above her head. She blurs . . . darkness closes in. Shit . . .
She’s at the end of a tunnel. Darkness consuming her. Consuming me. From far away, all hell breaks loose. Cars screeching . . . brakes . . . doors . . . shouting . . .
running . . . footsteps. The gun drops from my hand.
“Ana!” Christian’s voice . . . Christian’s voice . . . Christian’s agonized voice.
Mia . . . save Mia.
Darkness . . . peace.