My skin is like a map, of where my heart has been
And I can’t hide the marks, but it’s not a negative thing
So I let down my guard, drop my defenses, down by my clothes
I’m learning to fall, with no safety net, to cushion the blow
I bruise easily, so be gentle when you handle me
There’s a mark you leave, like a love heart carved (DOWN) a tree
I bruise easily, you can scratch the surface without moving me
I bruise easily, I bruise easily
I’ve found your fingerprints on a glass of wine
Do you know you’re leaving them all over this heart of mine, too
But if I never take this leap of faith, I’ll never know
So I’m learning to fall with no safety net to cushion the blow
I bruise easily, so be gentle when you handle me
There’s a mark you leave, like a love heart carved (DOWN) a tree
I bruise easily, you can scratch the surface without moving me
I bruise easily, I bruise easily
Can touch you
Can hurt you
Or heal you.
Can reach you
Can love you
Or leave you…
So be gentle
I bruise easily – Natasha Bedingfield
Ever since Christian came home for the break he has been so secretive. He won’t even go running with her, preferring his own company for hours on end. If Auntie Elena had been here Mia would have asked her to talk to him but she was away at a convention in Las Vegas and was only arriving home today.
Mia was tempted several times that day to pick up the phone to talk with Elena. Her mother’s friend was often the foil between Mia and her family as the hormones of adolescence kicked in. But every time she picked up the phone one of her parents would have some urgent task that they needed her to attend to.
Late in the afternoon Christian announced that he was going out and would probably not be home for dinner. Mia had already arranged to spend the night at Lily’s house so her mother asked him to walk her there on his way to wherever he was going. Christian begrudgingly agreed to take her. He was in a foul mood.
“Do you want to play tennis tomorrow?”
“No, I will most likely be out tomorrow.” That was the sum total of the conversation until they stopped outside Lily’s house. With tears threatening she ran towards the door as he stalked off down the road. Instead of going inside Mia dumped her overnight bag down the side of the house and followed him the six blocks to Auntie Elena’s house.
At first she considered walking up to the door and knocking after she saw him go inside. But then he didn’t go in the front door as she expected. He went down the side and let himself in through the laundry. That wasn’t so odd. What was odd was that he had a key. Mia searched for an open window without much success until she finally saw some movement through the window that she knew was a guest bedroom.
Careful not to make any noise, she maneuvered herself past the trellis wall and peered over the edge of the window frame. She expected to see Auntie Elena or Christian or both. What she didn’t expect was to see a girl who she knew worked at Auntie Elena’s salon. This girl had long dark hair and big brown eyes. It was lucky her hair was so long because she wasn’t wearing anything except underwear and she was kneeling on the floor at the end of the bed.
A moment later the bedroom door opened and Elena walked in with Christian behind her. She was wearing a tight black leather dress and her hair was tied up in a high ponytail. Christian had taken off his shoes and socks and his shirt. They looked odd, very mean and angry. The girl on the floor, Michelle, Mia thought, kept her head down as if she was afraid to look at them. Elena went to her and began to braid her hair, starting the work before handing over to Christian to finish. Mia knew he was good at braiding hair because he sometimes did hers when he was home.
The girl made no move to cover herself and Mia felt herself getting warm and tingly down there watching her. Then Christian seemed to ask her to stand up. He took the scarf from the holder that Elena had always had on the wall and tied her hands together in front of her body and then to a ring itself. Mia had often looked at that scarf and ring and thought how pretty it was but how strange that it was placed so high on the wall. Now the girl was almost suspended from it she wondered if she had misunderstood what it was for.
Elena had gone to the tall ornate chest of drawers that stood against the wall and taken out some items to lay on the bed. From where she stood Mia could make out a long stick, something that looked like a short whip and a feather. She went back to the drawer to take out something else and Mia saw her hand Christian a bottle. He quickly poured liquid from the bottle onto his hand and passed it back to Elena as he rubbed his hands together.
Mia was dumbstruck when Christian approached the girl and began to rub her body with oil. The girl writhed on the ring, her hips thrusting forward as he touched her. Without warning he smacked her hard and then leaned in to whisper something in her ear. Mia jumped with the shock of the slap and then noticed the girl nod and make her body very still. He tried again to rub her and once again she moved. Mia wasn’t surprised, she felt herself wanting to move too. Then the slap came again as a sharp retort that she heard through the closed window. The girl’s body sagged a little, he must have hurt her.
Watching was making Mia feel both sick and warm. She didn’t know what her body was reacting to but the pattern of rubbing and writhing, smacking and whispering was bringing such a warmth between her legs and she ached to touch herself there. Just as she was about to place her hand between her legs, Christian placed his hand inside the girl’s panties and began to rub back and forth. Mia felt short of breath as her own blood pulsed. Meanwhile Elena just stood and watched, guiding them from the side.
He left his hand between the girl’s legs as he pulled her panties down her legs, kissing her all the way. Mia looked away, not wanting to see her brother do those things. After a while she looked back, just in time to see him reach back and take the whip from Elena’s outstretched hand. The whip was nothing like anything she had ever seen before and as Christian gently pulled it back and forth across the skin of the girl’s back she could see that it was like lots of soft whips attached to the stick. As she wondered about what it was called he began to hit the girl with the soft tendrils, criss–crossing her skin in a careful pattern.
The girl jumped with each lick of the whip and Mia became concerned that Christian was hurting her. After a while he stopped hitting her and passed the apparatus back to Elena who then handed him the stick. Mia felt the horror rising in her throat. Until now she had thought she was the sick one for watching them playing like this. Now she wanted to look away from what she knew he was about to do but found she couldn’t. She was the rabbit caught in the headlights and as the first strike of the cane marked the girl’s pale skin with a vicious welt, the girl screamed and Mia cried.
“What? No, shit no!” The walls of the safe house are closing in on me. I can’t do this. I would never get away with it. Just thinking through the psychology of the whole thing has me on edge. I don’t know what has gotten into Mia to have put us in this position nor do I understand why Elena thinks this is who I am but the whole idea is absurd. My role is to observe, not to go deep cover. Pacing back and forth across the room is making me dizzy. There isn’t enough air in here.
“Ethan, Elena has pegged you as a dom. I don’t get it but that is what she saw. While there is a lot about the woman that can’t be trusted I believe that she has an insight and instinct where this is concerned.” I stare at the wall, temporarily frozen, wishing that for once Mia would just shut the fuck up. Rory is ready to jump all over this idea and she is just feeding him all the right ammunition to put a direct order in place.
“And what if I fuck this up? What if I can’t be the one who hurts you? The one who forces and humiliates you. Then our cover will be blown. You need someone who knows how to do this.”
“Well, as much as I am going to learn a lot by watching Elena and Isaac, it just won’t be the same as being dominated myself and I can’t ask my own mother to do that now, can I?” Jesus, this was her idea in the first place, hers and Rory’s. They insisted on doing this and now the whole fucking thing was about to blow up in our faces.
“Look, you got nothing out of Linc last night except to let him know that you exist. We need a new strategy and Elena has just handed it to us on a plate.” Rory, all 6ft 3 inches of him is leaning against the wall watching us as we bicker back and forth. The guy could be a GQ model which makes him the ultimate weapon in the field. Men and women swoon over him and drop secrets as quick as they drop their pants. Three years ago he got shot in the line of duty and he has been relegated to a supervision role ever since. If half the rumors about him are true then it is a huge waste to the nation.
“That’s easy for you to say.” I keep my voice low hoping that I’m not coming across as the kind of jackass namby-pamby coward that I think I am. After all, the issue isn’t my lack of experience going deep, nor is it that I don’t have enough knowledge of the psychology of a dom. In the end, my hesitation is physiological and the root of it is sitting in that chair with her arms and legs crossed firing daggers at me.
“Alright, if you’re going to be a fucking wimp about this then we go to plan B.” Rory shifts away from his post and walks over to where Mia is sitting. His massive arms take his weight as he leans down and rests his hands on either side of her. The barely suppressed challenge in his eyes is made all the more threatening and malevolent by the low light cast shadows across his face. “Kavanagh, you can start to introduce me around and I will take on the dom role.”
“No!” Mia and I simultaneously shout without thinking and Rory lets out a low chuckle as he straightens up without taking his eyes off Mia. Well, don’t that beat all. The prick was just baiting us. He walks around the table and stands right in front of me. His next words are for both of us but he is directing them at my face.
“Thought not. Whatever is going on between you two, has the potential to make this work… or to destroy this investigation. So you better make your fucking minds up which one it is cos we are running out of time. Now, would you ladies like some alone time so you can work out which one of you gets to wear the dress?”
Now this prick is just pushing my fucking buttons. He might be built but I’ve got at least twenty pounds and two inches on him which I draw up into fighting stance, step protectively in front of Mia and level a glare at him. There is no way that this bastard is going near her. I’ve never been an aggressive person. I’ve never needed to be but the aggression is radiating off us both in waves and I’m not backing down. He might be my boss but Mia is mine. I lost her once, I’m not fucking going there again. The ice in his stare is, I hope, quickly matched by my own. God knows I am trying damn hard not to blink. Suddenly it occurs to me what I am looking at. This isn’t Rory or my supervisor. This is the pure testosterone-driven challenge of male to male. He wants me to fight for my woman. Well, game on buddy.
Holding my ground gets easier with this recognition. I am not letting him touch her. My hand clenches and unclenches at my side and I hope like hell I don’t have to punch that dominant world-is-mine look off his face and end up on an insubordination charge. The pissing contest drags out for another minute or so before the look in his eyes changes from pure challenge to something akin to grudging respect. He nods and steps back from me giving me a moment to suck in some much needed air.
“Alright. That was easier than I thought. Grey, I want you and lover boy to meet me back here in four days.” The question is forming on her lips but I put my hand out to silence her. I sense her gasping like a fish out of water but she obeys and finally closes her mouth.
“We’ll be here.” His eyes still haven’t left mine, even while he was issuing orders to Mia. He nods again before turning back to a computer screen. We’ve been effectively dismissed so Mia stands and we move to the door.
“Oh, and Kavanagh, you need to do something about throwing your sister off the scent. We’ve been monitoring her computer and she is spending a little too much time looking into Lincoln Timber. We don’t need her in the way. She could get hurt especially if Hyde is as unmanageable as your report indicates.
So that was my mother-in-law.
I would have loved to smack that supercilious look off Elena Lincoln’s face as she dragged Mia down to her kinky dungeon. I had no doubt that Mia would be safe with Elena physically but I worried about the emotional damage that woman continued to do her. From the little that Mia was prepared to say I knew that things were still unresolved with her Dad. What a fucked up mess and Elena Lincoln seemed to be at the center of everything that was wrong with the Grey family.
After they left the fun in the club began. In all our planning for tonight, Elliot, Kate and I still had no real confirmation of who we were looking for. Jack Hyde is still just a name for Kate and Elliot although I know what he looks like from his police record. We figured that if he turned up tonight we would get some insight into who was really behind the blackmail scam and in the meantime our team was trying to download the human resources data from SIP where Ana and Hyde worked together. So it was somewhat of an unpleasant surprise to see him arrive in the company of Linc Lincoln.
The slave auction is about to begin and just as I settle back against the bar, I see Linc Lincoln heading backstage with his goon leaving Hyde alone at the table. He seemed to be enjoying the spectacle and drinking one hell of a lot of alcohol on what I presumed was Lincoln’s tab. I observed him for a while, trying to decide when and how to approach him when the stage doors opened again and Lincoln walked back out with none other than my sister in drag latched to his forearm. I glanced around for Elliot who was back at the bar and looking ready to vault it and go after her.
Needing to act fast I dabbed a little of the scotch I had been nursing behind my ears and staggered over to Lincoln’s center table, flagging TJ on the way to tell him to pull Elliot into line. The last thing we needed was for Elliot to launch into some ill- conceived challenge and blow the whole investigation wide open.
TJ was Elliot’s friend, employee and the prick who along with his brother had been blackmailed into taking photos of the Grey family for the past few months. Luckily his loyalty to Elliot was in tact and in spite of his past misdemeanors he seemed to be able to take orders well. He reminded me why I hated ‘yes’ men but it would be TJ who would be relaying messages back and forth between the table and the bar. Hyde had seen TJ and his brother in some very compromising positions but he would not be surprised at his presence tonight since they had met at Sirens months ago. Yes, Hyde was a sick fuck who didn’t mind watching any sort of sex spectacle so the twitching wood in his pants right now as he glanced around at the clientele for the slave auction was on the ugly side of real.
“Hey, aren’t you Jack Hyde from SIP?” My attention is focused on Hyde as I drunkenly sway and stumble. Well, ain’t that an eat shit and die look. Oh, how I wish you would my friend, fucker.
“Who wants to know?” The fucking CIA, dipshit. He takes a big slug of his drink then leans back in his seat and peers up at me. I guess I must be taller than he thought because he just about tips his seat backwards in the process.
“Ethan, Ethan Tremaine.” I choose my Mom’s maiden name, I figure if it ever comes out who I really am I can claim it as a pen name. Kate gives me a look that says she can’t quite believe what I am saying and then goes back to impassively sipping her drink. Good girl. “I sent you a manuscript a few months back. I wanted to thank SIP for signing me up. I got the confirmation today so I am celebrating tonight. Let me buy you another drink.” Without being asked I plonk myself down in a seat and summon TJ. “Another round for everyone.”
“I…sure, I remember you.” You’ve got no fucking idea who I am, moron. I wonder how Ana coped working with this prick. I push on just in case he is testing me out.
“Well, it wasn’t you exactly. It was one of the other editors who got me the contract but I sent my manuscript to you because… I. Knew. You. Were. The best.” Just for sport I poke a finger into his chest emphasizing my words. “I guess it never made the cut for your personal attention but that is okay. I’m just glad someone was prepared to take a look at it.”
“Sure, fine kid.” Hyde is disinterested and distracted and that suits me just fine. “I don’t work at SIP any more, anyway.”
“Oh? You don’t?” I feign innocent concern, knowing full well that Christian Grey is about to stage a very public takeover of SIP and the first order of business was to fire Jack’s ass for sexually harassing Ana. I want to keep this prick talking so I try to give the impression that I would jump ship if he told me where to. “I only went to SIP because of you. Where are you now?”
He takes the bait. “Well, I might be starting up my own publishing house soon so if you’re interested I will give you a call.” Shit, I don’t have any cards with the name Tremaine on it, even though it is an alias I have used before.
“Sure. I would really appreciate that.” I pat down my jacket as if looking for a wallet meanwhile Kate shifts in her seat. Round one of the slave auction is winding up and she needs to get backstage. “Well it was nice to meet you, Mr Hyde. And you too Miss…?”
Holding my hand out she takes it demurely. “St James, Kit St James.” I shake her hand with a big goofy grin on my face trying to make it look like she is the best thing since sliced bread while Lincoln sits with a face like a twisted sand shoe. Don’t even think about it, fuck face.
“Fuck off kid. She’s not interested.” Kate grimaces obviously sickened by the thought. Let me be plain you ass, I will tear your fucking head off if you touch my sister. Kate seems to be reading my thoughts and gears up to intervene.
“Hey boys, play nice.” She swallows her drink and stands up. “Well, Linc, Jack, Mr Tremaine, it has been a real slice but a girl has to earn a living. Mr Tremaine, why don’t you stay and keep my friends company. The next round is on me boys.”
“Thank you Miss St James. Don’t mind if I do.” Putting just the right edge of inebriation on my speech, I give her a wink then call TJ over. I miss the rest of her goodbye when TJ leans over to take my order.
“You need to announce her for the next song. She has told Linc that her name is Kit St James and she is sporting a really bad New York accent. Can you get to a mic?”
“Sure” He runs back to the bar and moments later I see TJ handing her a hand mic as the lights dim and his voice comes over the PA.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Club Orpheus presents straight from New York, Miss Kit St James and the dancers of Burlesque Siren.” Kate looks stunned but catches my eye as I give her a wink. The usual Kate Kavanagh confidence kicks in as she plays a little game of touchy feely with his face before heading up on stage. I have to turn my head away as both Linc and Hyde adjust themselves under the table. Fuckers.
What I learn as the night goes on doesn’t add to my good mood. Hyde is a raving lunatic and the way he talks about women has even Linc doing a double take. I have never heard so much disgusting innuendo nor seen such a blatant display of sociopathic behavior since my training at Langley when we were made to sit through hours of offender testimony. Immediately after that particular semester they sent us to the Farm to get Special Forces combat training. There’s nothing like Navy Seals training officers for physically working that stuff out of your system and your head. Top that with a few weeks of Mental Acuity including some sleep deprivation and you soon learn not to let that shit get into your nightmares. Sitting here with Hyde has me sweating buckets as I realize that Lincoln has either no interest or ability to control him. By the look of discomfort on Lincoln’s face it would seem that our man Hyde has become a hired gun that has learned to lock and load all by himself and all his hostility is aimed at the Grey family and anyone associated with them.
Next thing I see Kate heading over to our table, singing her song to Linc and Hyde as if there is no one else in the room. Linc just watches uncomfortably as Hyde, the sick fuck, starts to grope Kate pulling her hips towards his face. Don’t react, Kavanagh. They’re out in the open, nothing can happen. Then his hands shift from her ass to her breasts and I can feel the shit about to come down. Linc looks like he wants to kill him. I hear the thud behind me of someone landing heavily and I can only assume that Elliot is on his way, probably with TJ close behind. The goon looks ready to take out his piece and aim it at someone.
I clap along drunkenly with the song and stand up to reach over and grab Kate, trying for all the world to make it look like it is my turn for a piece of the action. She looks ready to come with me but the little prick won’t let her go and she winces as he squeezes her nipples. Two things occur to me at this point. The bastard is seriously hurting her and the blue veins on her skin standing out under the stage lights. As if this whole thing wasn’t bad enough, if I am not mistaken my little sister is pregnant.
I grab her arm and pull her close into my body trying to shield her from Hyde’s groping hands. As I do so, I pretend to stumble and knock my full glass of whiskey into Hyde’s lap. If he didn’t deserve it for being a sexual predator then he certainly deserved it for wearing that fugly white suit.
“Fuck, what the hell?” Hyde leaps up out of his seat and looks ready to take a swing. Luckily to do that he has to let go of Kate who steps towards Linc for safety. Out of the fricking fire pan and into the fire, baby girl. A couple of bouncers appear out of nowhere and drag Hyde outside while TJ and Elliot latch on to me. Kate keeps Lincoln occupied as the boys escort me through the stage door.
“What the hell are you doing?” I turn on them once the door to Kate’s dressing room is closed. “Jesus, Elliot, Lincoln is still out there with Kate. You can’t leave her there.”
“Shit, Ethan, I know that but if you make another scene then you’re just going to make it worse. This is no longer your fight; we need to get you away.” God save me from do-gooder civilians.
“I had everything under control. Now for Christ’s sake, get out of my way.” Rationality is not being served on the Ethan Kavanagh menu tonight and I defy Elliot to want to do anything other than join me as I punch Lincoln’s lights out and go after Hyde to rip off his testicles.
“Cool down, bro. We slipped a little something, something into Linc’s drink. Pretty soon his little world is going to tilt on its axis and Kate will be free of him.”
You are sadly mistaken if you think for a moment that while those two assholes are walking upright that anyone will be free of Linc Lincoln.
“I need to get somewhere where I can see what’s happening out there.” Luckily, TJ steps in at this point obviously sensing that Elliot is going to become a casualty to my mood.
“Come with me. We’ll hit the tech booth. You should have a clear view of the floor from up there.” As he grabs my arm, Kate comes through the door looking like she has run a marathon and I try to reign in my emotions. If she really is pregnant then she doesn’t need me stressing her out. I get the feeling that Elliot will be doing enough of that for both of us. I follow TJ at a trot as we head up a set of stairs to where the lighting and sound technicians are monitoring the show. Sure enough both Hyde and Lincoln have gone. Just to confirm this I get a text from the surveillance team to say that Lincoln’s car has left the car park with him in it and Hyde is loitering outside the building. I give them orders to follow Lincoln. I don’t want to take any chances. Hyde I will take care of myself.
When TJ leaves me I walk back down to the club floor trying to text Mia as I go. I exit the building through the side doors hoping to double around and intercept Hyde. I want to make sure that he isn’t hoping to get another go at Kate. As I approach the front corner of the building I see him striking out with a few of the dancers who are leaving the club. He is about to go to his car and I don’t have a vehicle to follow him. I race back into the club and grab Elliot knowing that his friend Taylor, Christian’s body guard, will have his team nearby. It shits me having to use non-agency personal without briefing them first but Taylor looks like he knows what he is doing so I am just going to have to trust that the team is well-vetted and nothing will go wrong.
Elliot and I chase after him and Elliot gets the message to allow access to the second surveillance car. We play a game of cat and mouse across town until we get outside Hyde’s apartment. When I see who emerges from the other car I curse the God’s of unlucky breaks. Phil Johnson is in the other car and he starts to call in the orders. I knew of him when he was still at the agency and the guy is an idiot. He couldn’t run a trace on his own grandmother. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do as I watch Johnson take his team in to persuade Hyde to leave town. I can only hope that he has the good sense to put some sort of tracking device the fucker’s car.
Once they have delivered the threat to Hyde, Elliot and I begin the drive back to the Treehouse. TJ will have taken Kate back there and their friend Stella who seemed more freaked out by Linc Lincoln’s presence than is strictly reasonable. This is a piece of intel I will have to get Rory and his weasels to follow up. I feel deflated by how things have turned out. I know that I have no jurisdiction to have Hyde or Lincoln thrown in jail but every bone in my body knows that is where they both belong. After a while I break the silence.
“I had lunch with your sister today.” Mia had arranged to have lunch with Ana today but when I arrived to pick up the keys to the apartment for a second time Ana persuaded me to take Mia out to lunch. While we had been trying to arrange to meet at Christian’s birthday fate stepped in in the guise of Ana Steele newly appointed editor at SIP and helped us out.
“I wasn’t aware that you knew her.” Icy or what? I just love this double standard. The Seattle Playboy is allowed to fuck my sister and potentially knock her up but I am not allowed to touch his? Shit and I thought Christian was going to be my biggest issue.
“Don’t go the double standard with me Elliot. As I understand it you’ve knocked up my sister.” Oh, yeah. I went there, my man.
“Don’t start Ethan. This isn’t the same.” It is exactly the fucking same. At least I married your sister first.
“Really? Are you going to do the right thing or are you going to cut and run?”
“I love her. I will marry her but she isn’t ready to make that decision yet. I’ve been waiting as patiently as I can for her to come around to the idea but it is fucking killing me. So please, don’t make this any worse by trying to have this conversation with her.” Wow, so not the answer I expected. Poor bastard.
“Okay.” Obviously, not the answer he expected.
“Okay?” This is almost comical. He actually looks like he wants me to knock the crap out of him.
“Look, I’m not exactly over the moon. As her big brother I feel an obligation to say something. But I know that you love her. Hell, by anyone’s standard, you’re totally whipped.” Boo-yeah! Maybe he will smack me and I will finally get to let go of some of this aggression.
“Yeah, I am. Are you going to tell me how you know Mia?”
“Nope.” There is no way that we are getting into this shit fight tonight. Mia and I have so much more work to do before we can remotely open up that Pandora’s box.
“No?” That’s what I said.
“None of your business. Get a ring on Kate’s finger and we’ll talk.”
“Done. Just remember, blunt knife…” Sure buddy. Blunt knife is going to be the least of my worries when you find out about what went down in Denmark.
“Yeah, yeah. The Kavanagh code…” The rest of the ride home is in silence which is fine by me. I just wish that Mia could be at the Treehouse to greet me.