“The very same,” he smirks.
“Her current submissive.”
“He’s in his mid-twenties, Anastasia. You know-a consenting adult,” he adds quickly, correctly deciphering my look of disgust.
I flush. “Your age,” I mutter.
“Look, Anastasia, as I said to her, she’s part of my past. You are my future. Don’t let her come between us, please. And quite frankly, I’m really bored of this subject. I’m going to do some work.” He stands and gazes down at me. “Let it go. Please.”
I stare mulishly up at him.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he adds. “Your car arrived a day early. It’s in the garage. Taylor has the key.”
Whoa… the Saab? “Can I drive it tomorrow?”
“You know why not. And that reminds me. If you are going to leave your office, let me know. Sawyer was there, watching you. It seems I can’t trust you to look after yourself at all.” He scowls down at me, making me feel like an errant child-again. And I would argue with him, but he’s pretty worked up over Elena, and I don’t want to push him any further, but I can’t resist one comment.
“Seems I can’t trust you either,” I mutter. “You could have told me Sawyer was watching me.”
“Do you want to fight about that, too?” he snaps.
“I wasn’t aware we were fighting. I thought we were communicating,” I mumble petulantly.
He closes his eyes briefly as he struggles to contain his temper. I swallow and watch anxiously. Jeez, this could go either way.
“I have to work,” he says quietly, and with that, he leaves the room.
I exhale. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath. I flop back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling.
Can we ever have a normal conversation without it disintegrating into an argument? It’s exhausting.
We just don’t know each other that well. Do I really want to move in with him? I don’t even know if I should make him a cup of tea or coffee while he’s working. Should I disturb him at all? I have no idea of his likes and dislikes.
Evidently he’s bored with the whole Elena thing-he’s right, I need to move on. Let it go. Well, at least he’s not expecting me to be friends with her, and I hope that she’ll now stop hassling me for a meeting.
I get off the bed and wander to the window. Unlocking the balcony door, I open it and stroll over to the glass railing. Its transparency is unnerving. The air’s chilly and fresh, as I’m up so high.
I gaze out over the twinkling lights of Seattle. He’s so far removed from everything up here in his fortress. Answerable to no one. He’d just told me he loves me, then all this crap comes up because of that dreadful woman. I roll my eyes. His life is so complicated. He’sso complicated.
With a heavy sigh and a last glance at Seattle spread like cloths of gold at my feet, I decide to call Ray. I haven’t spoken to him for a while. It’s a brief conversation as per usual, but I ascertain he’s fine and that I’m interrupting an important soccer match.
“Hope all is well with Christian,” he says casually, and I know he’s fishing for information but doesn’t really want to know.
“Yeah. We’re cool.” Sort of, and I’m moving in with him. Though we haven’t discussed a timetable.
“Love you, Dad.”
“Love you, too, Annie.”
I hang up and check my watch. It’s only ten. Because of our discussion, I am feeling strangely innervated and restless.
I shower quickly, and back in the bedroom, decide to wear one of the nightdresses that Caroline Acton procured for me from Neiman Marcus. Christian’s always moaning about my T-shirts. There are three. I choose the pale pink and put it on over my head. The fabric skims across my skin, caressing and clinging to me as it falls around my body. It feels luxurious-the finest, thinnest satin. Holy crap. In the mirror, I look like a 1930s movie star. It’s long, elegant-and very un-me.
I grab the matching robe and decide to hunt out a book in the library. I could read on my iPad-but right now, I want the comfort and reassurance of a physical book. I’ll leave Christian alone. Perhaps he’ll recover his good humor once he’s finished working.
There are so many books in Christian’s library. Scanning every title will take forever. I glance occasionally at the billiard table and flush as I recall our previous evening. I smile when I see that the ruler is still on the floor. Picking it up, I swat my palm. Ow! It stings.
Why can’t I take a little more pain for my man? Disconsolately, I place it on the desk and continue my hunt for a good read.
Most of the books are first editions. How can he have amassed a collection like this in such a short time? Perhaps Taylor’s job description includes book buying. I settle on Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I haven’t read this for a long time. I smile as I curl up in one of the overstuffed armchairs and read the first line:
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
I am jostled awake as Christian lifts me in his arms.
“Hey,” he murmurs, “you fell asleep. I couldn’t find you.” He nuzzles my hair. Sleepily, I put my arms around his neck and breathe in his scent-oh, he smells so good-as he carries me back to the bedroom. He lays me down on the bed and covers me.
“Sleep, baby,” he whispers and he presses his lips against my forehead.
I wake suddenly from a disturbing dream and am momentarily disorientated. I find myself anxiously checking the end of the bed, but there’s no one there. Drifting from the great room, I hear the faint strains of a complex melody from the piano.
What time is it? I check the alarm clock-two in the morning. Has Christian come to sleep at all? I disentangle my legs from my robe, which I’m still wearing, and clamber out of bed.
In the great room, I stand in the shadows, listening. Christian is lost to the music. He looks safe and secure in his bubble of light. And the tune he plays has a lilting melody, parts of which sound familiar, but so elaborate. Jeez, he’s good. Why does this always take me by surprise?
The whole scene looks different somehow, and I realize that the piano lid is down, giving me an unhindered view. He glances up and our eyes lock, his gray and softly luminous in the diffuse glow of the lamp. He continues to play, not faltering at all, as I make my way over to him. His eyes follow me, drinking me in, burning brighter. As I reach him, he stops.
“Why did you stop? That was lovely.”
“Do you have any idea how desirable you look at the moment?” he says, his voice soft.
Oh. “Come to bed,” I whisper and his eyes heat as he holds out his hand. When I take it, he tugs unexpectedly so I fall into his lap. He wraps his arms around me and nuzzles my neck behind my ear, sending shivers down my spine.
“Why do we fight?” he whispers, as his teeth graze my earlobe.
Holy cow. My heart skips a beat, then starts pounding, coursing heat throughout my body.
“Because we’re getting to know each other, and you’re stubborn and cantankerous and moody and difficult,” I murmur breathlessly, shifting my head to give him better access to my throat. He runs his nose down my neck, and I feel his smile.
“I’m all those things, Miss Steele. It’s a wonder you put up with me.” He nips my earlobe and I moan. “Is it always like this?” he sighs.
“I have no idea.”
“Me neither.” He yanks the sash of my robe so it falls open, and his hand skims down my body, over my breast. My nipples harden beneath his gentle touch and strain against the satin. He continues down to my waist, down to my hip.
“You feel so fine under this material, and I can see everything-even this.” He tugs gently on my pubic hair through the fabric, making me gasp, while his other hand fists in my hair at my nape. Pulling my head back, he kisses me, his tongue urgent, relentless, needy. I moan in response and caress his dear, dear face. His hand gently pulls my nightdress up, slowly, tantalizingly until he’s fondling my naked behind and then running his thumbnail down the inside of my thigh.
Suddenly he rises, startling me, and he lifts me bodily onto the piano. My feet rest on the keys, sounding discordant, disjointed notes, and his hands skim up my legs and part my knees. He grabs my hands.
“Lie back,” he orders, holding my hands while I sink back on top of the piano. The lid is hard and uncompromising against my back. He lets go and pushes my legs open wider, my feet dancing over the keys, over the lower and higher notes.
Oh boy. I know what he’s going to do, and the anticipation… I groan loudly as he kisses the inside of my knee, then kisses and sucks and nips his way higher up my leg to my thigh. The soft satin of my nightgown rises higher, skimming over my sensitized skin, as he pushes the fabric. I flex my feet and the chords sound again. Closing my eyes, I surrender myself to him as his mouth reaches the apex of my thighs.
He kisses me… there… Oh boy… then gently blows before his tongue circles my clitoris. He pushes my legs wider. I feel so open-so exposed. He holds me in place, his hands just above my knees as his tongue tortures me, giving no quarter, no respite… no reprieve. Tilting my hips up, meeting and matching his rhythm, I am consumed.
“Oh, Christian, please.” I moan.
“Oh no, baby, not yet,” he teases, but I feel myself quicken as does he, and he stops.
“No,” I whimper.
“This is my revenge, Ana,” he growls softly. “Argue with me, and I am going to take it out on your body somehow.” He trails kisses along my belly, his hands traveling up my thighs, stroking, kneading, tantalizing. His tongue circles my navel as his hands-and his thumbs… oh his thumbs-reach the summit of my thighs.
“Ah!” I cry out as he pushes one inside me. The other persecutes me, slowly, agonizingly, circling round and round. My back arches off the piano as I writhe beneath his touch. It’s almost unbearable.
“Christian!” I cry, spiraling out of control with need.
He takes pity on me and stops. Lifting my feet off the keys, he pushes me; and suddenly, I’m sliding effortlessly up the piano, gliding on satin, and he’s following me up there, briefly kneeling between my legs to roll on a condom. He hovers over me and I’m panting, gazing up at him with raging need, and I realize he’s naked. When did he take off his clothes?
He stares down at me, and there’s wonder in his eyes, wonder and love and passion, and it’s breathtaking.
“I want you so badly,” he says and very slowly, exquisitely, he sinks into me.
I am sprawled on top of him, wrung out, my limbs heavy and languid, as we lie on top of his grand piano. Oh my. He’s much more comfortable to lie on than the piano. Careful not to touch his chest, I rest my cheek against him and keep perfectly still. He doesn’t object, and I listen to his breathing as it slows like mine. Gently he strokes my hair.
“Do you drink tea or coffee in the evening?” I ask sleepily.
“What a strange question,” he says dreamily.
“I thought I could bring you tea in your study, and then I realized I didn’t know what you would like.”
“Oh, I see. Water or wine in the evening, Ana. Though maybe I should try tea.”
His hand moves rhythmically down my back, stroking me tenderly.
“We really know very little about each other,” I murmur.
“I know,” he says, and his voice is mournful. I sit up to gaze at him.
“What is it?” I ask. He shakes his head as if to rid himself of some unpleasant thought, and raising his hand, he caresses my cheek, his eyes bright and earnest.
“I love you, Ana Steele,” he says.
The alarm blasts on with the six am traffic news, and I am rudely awakened from my disturbing dream of over-blond and dark-haired women. I can’t grasp what it’s about, and I’m immediately distracted because Christian Grey is wrapped around me like silk, his unruly-haired head on my chest, his hand on my breast, his leg over me, holding me down. He’s still asleep, and I am too warm. But I ignore my discomfort, tentatively reaching up to run my fingers gently through his hair, and he stirs. Raising bright gray eyes, he grins sleepily. Holy cow… he’s adorable.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he says.
“Good morning, beautiful yourself.” I smile back at him. He kisses me, disentangles himself, and leans up on his elbow, staring down at me.
“Sleep okay?” he asks.
“Yes, despite the interruption to my sleep last night.”
His grin broadens. “Hmm. You can interrupt me like that anytime.” He kisses me again.
“How about you? Did you sleep well?”
“I always sleep well with you, Anastasia.”
“No more nightmares?”
I frown and chance a question. “What are your nightmares about?”
His brow creases and his grin fades. Shit-my stupid curiosity.
“They’re flashbacks of my early childhood, or so Dr. Flynn says. Some vivid, some less so.” His voice drops and a distant, harrowed look crosses his face. Absentmindedly, he begins to trace my collarbone with his finger, distracting me.
“Do you wake up crying and screaming?” I try in vain to joke.
He looks at me, puzzled. “No, Anastasia. I’ve never cried. As far as I can remember.” He frowns, as if reaching into the depths of his memories. Oh no-that’s too dark a place to go at this hour, surely.
“Do you have any happy memories of your childhood?” I ask quickly, mainly to distract him. He looks pensive for a moment, still running his finger along my skin.
“I recall the crack whore baking. I remember the smell. A birthday cake I think. For me. And then there’s Mia’s arrival with my mom and dad. My mom was worried about my reaction, but I adored baby Mia immediately. My first word was Mia. I remember my first piano lesson. Miss Kathie, my tutor, was awesome. She kept horses, too.” He smiles wistfully.
“You said your mom saved you. How?”
His reverie is broken, and he gazes at me as if I don’t understand the elementary math of two plus two.
“She adopted me,” he says simply. “I thought she was an angel when I first met her. She was dressed in white and so gentle and calm as she examined me. I’ll never forget that. If she’d said no or if Carrick had said no…” He shrugs and glances over his shoulder at the alarm clock. “This is all a little deep for so early in the morning,” he mutters.
“I have made a vow to get to know you better.”
“Did you now, Miss Steele? I thought you wanted to know if I preferred coffee or tea.” He smirks. “Anyway, I can think of one way you can get to know me.” He pushes his hips suggestively against me.
“I think I know you quite well enough that way.” My voice is haughty and scolding, and it makes him smile more broadly.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get to know you well enough that way,” he murmurs. “There are definite advantages to waking up beside you.” His voice is soft and bone-meltingly seductive.
“Don’t you have to get up?” My voice is low and husky. Jeez, what he does to me…
“Not this morning. Only one place I want to be up right now, Miss Steele.” And his eyes sparkle salaciously.
“Christian!” I gasp, shocked. He shifts suddenly so that he’s on top of me, pressing me into the bed. Grabbing my hands, he pulls them up above my head and begins to kiss my throat.
“Oh, Miss Steele.” He smiles against my skin, sending delicious tingles through me, as his hand travels down my body and starts to slowly hitch up my satin nightdress. “Oh, what I’d like to do to you,” he murmurs.
And I am lost, interrogation over.
Mrs. Jones sets down my breakfast of pancakes and bacon, and for Christian an omelet and bacon. We sit side by side at the bar in a comfortable silence.
“When am I going to meet your trainer, Claude, and put him through his paces?” I ask. Christian glances down at me, grinning.
“Depends if you want to go to New York this weekend or not-unless you’d like to see him early one morning this week. I’ll ask Andrea to check on his schedule and come back to you.”
Oh yes. “One of your many blondes,” I tease him.
“She’s not mine. She works for me. You’re mine.”
“I work for you,” I mutter sourly.
He grins as if he’s forgotten. “So you do.” His beaming smile is infectious.
“Maybe Claude can teach me to kickbox,” I warn.
“Oh yeah? Fancy your chances against me?” Christian raises an eyebrow, amused. “Bring it on, Miss Steele.” He is so damned happy compared to yesterday’s foul mood after Elena left. It’s totally disarming. Maybe it’s all the sex… perhaps that’s what’s making him so buoyant.
I glance behind me at the piano, savoring the memory of last night. “You put the lid of the piano back up.”
“I closed it last night so as not to disturb you. Guess it didn’t work, but I’m glad it didn’t.” Christian’s lips twitch into a lascivious smile as he takes a bite of omelet. I go crimson and smirk back at him.
Oh yes… fun times on the piano.
Mrs. Jones leans over and places a paper bag containing my lunch in front of me, making me flush guiltily.
“For later, Ana. Tuna okay?”
“Oh yes. Thank you, Mrs. Jones.” I give her a shy smile, which she reciprocates warmly before leaving the great room. I suspect it’s to give us some privacy.
“Can I ask you something?” I turn back to Christian.
His amused expression slips. “Of course.”
“And you won’t be angry?”
“Is it about Elena?”
“Then I won’t be angry.”
“But I now have a supplementary question.”
“Which is about her.”
He rolls his eyes. “What?” he says, and now he’s exasperated.
“Why do you get so mad when I ask you about her?”
I scowl at him. “I thought you were always honest with me.”
“I endeavor to be.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “That sounds like a very evasive answer.”
“I am always honest with you, Ana. I don’t want to play games. Well, not those sorts of games,” he qualifies, as his eyes heat.
“What sort of games do you want to play?”
He inclines his head to one side and smirks at me. “Miss Steele, you are so easily distracted.”
I giggle. He’s right. “Mr. Grey, you are distracting on so many levels.” I gaze at his dancing gray eyes alight with humor.
“My favorite sound in the whole world is your giggle, Anastasia. Now-what was your original question?” he asks smoothly, and I think he’s laughing at me. I try to twist my mouth to show my displeasure, but I like playful Fifty-he’s fun. I love some early morning banter. I frown, trying to recall my question.
“Oh yes. You only saw your subs on the weekends?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” he says regarding me nervously.
I grin at him. “So, no sex during the week.”
He laughs. “Oh, that’s where we’re going with this.” He looks vaguely relieved. “Why do you think I work out every weekday?” Now he really is laughing at me, but I don’t care. I want to hug myself with glee. Another first-well, several firsts.
“You look very pleased with yourself, Miss Steele.”
“I am, Mr. Grey.”
“You should be.” He grins. “Now eat your breakfast.”
Oh, bossy Fifty… he’s never far away.
We are in the back of the Audi. Taylor is driving with the intention of dropping me off at work, then Christian. Sawyer is riding shotgun.
“Didn’t you say your roommate’s brother was arriving today?” Christian asks, almost casually, his voice and expression giving nothing away.
“Oh, Ethan,” I gasp. “I forgot. Oh Christian, thank you for reminding me. I’ll have to go back to the apartment.”
His face falls. “What time?”
“I’m not sure what time he’s arriving.”
“I don’t want you going anywhere on your own,” he says sharply.
“I know,” I mutter and resist rolling my eyes at Mr. Over-Reaction. “Will Sawyer be spying-um… patrolling today?” I glance slyly in Sawyer’s direction to see the backs of his ears turn red.
“Yes,” Christian snaps, his eyes glacial.
“If I was driving the Saab it would be easier,” I mutter petulantly.
“Sawyer will have a car, and he can drive you to your apartment, depending on what time.”
“Okay. I think Ethan will probably contact me during the day. I’ll let you know what the plans are then.”
He gazes at me, saying nothing. Oh, what is he thinking?
“Okay,” he acquiesces. “Nowhere on your own. Do you understand?” He waves a long finger at me.
“Yes, dear,” I mutter.
There’s a trace of a smile on his face. “And maybe you should just use your Blackberry-I’ll e-mail you on it. That should prevent my IT guy having a thoroughly interesting morning, okay?” His voice is sardonic.
“Yes, Christian.” I can’t resist. I roll my eyes at him, and he smirks at me.
“Why Miss Steele, I do believe you’re making my palm twitch.”
“Ah, Mr. Grey, your perpetually twitching palm. What are we going to do with that?”
He laughs and then is distracted by his Blackberry, which must be on vibrate because it doesn’t ring. He frowns when he sees the caller ID.
“What is it?” he snaps into the phone, then listens intently. I use the opportunity to study his lovely features-his straight nose, his hair hanging scruffily over his forehead. I am distracted from my surreptitious ogling by his expression, which turns from incredulity to amusement. I pay attention.
“You’re kidding… For a scene… When did he tell you this?” Christian chuckles, almost reluctantly. “No, don’t worry. You don’t have to apologize. I’m glad there’s a logical explanation. It did seem a ridiculously low amount of money… I have no doubt you’ve something evil and creative planned for your revenge. Poor Isaac.” He smiles. “Good… Good-bye.” He snaps the phone shut and glances at me. His eyes are suddenly wary, but oddly, he looks relieved, too.
“Who was that?” I ask.
“You really want to know?” he asks quietly.
And, I know. I shake my head and stare out my window at the gray Seattle day, feeling forlorn. Why can’t she leave him alone?
“Hey.” He reaches for my hand and kisses each of my knuckles in turn, and suddenly he’s sucking my little finger, hard. Then biting it softly.
Whoa! He has a hotline to my groin, I gasp and glance nervously at Taylor and Sawyer, then at Christian, and his eyes are darker. He gives me a slow carnal smile.
“Don’t sweat it, Anastasia,” he murmurs. “She’s in the past.” And he plants a kiss in the center of my palm, sending tingles everywhere, and my momentary pique is forgotten.
“Morning, Ana,” Jack mutters as I make my way to my desk. “Nice dress.”
I flush. The dress is part of my new wardrobe, courtesy of my incredibly rich boyfriend. It’s a sleeveless shift dress of pale blue linen, quite fitted, and I’m wearing cream high-heeled sandals. Christian likes heels, I think. I smile secretly at the thought but quickly recover my bland professional smile for my boss.
“Good morning, Jack.”
I set about ordering a messenger to take his brochure to the printers. He pops his head around his office door.
“Could I have a coffee, please, Ana?”
“Sure.” I wander into the kitchen and bump into Claire from reception, who is also fixing coffee.
“Hey, Ana,” she says cheerfully.
We chat briefly about her extended-family gathering over the weekend, which she enjoyed immensely, and I tell her about sailing with Christian.
“Your boyfriend is so dreamy, Ana,” she says, her eyes glazing over.
I am tempted to roll my eyes at her.
“He’s not bad-looking,” I smile and we both start laughing.
“You took your time!” Jack snaps when I bring in his coffee.
Oh! “I’m sorry.” I flush then frown. I took the usual amount of time. What’s his problem? Perhaps he’s nervous about something.
He shakes his head. “Sorry, Ana. I didn’t mean to bark at you, honey.”
“There’s something going on at senior management level, and I don’t know what it is. Keep your ear to the ground, okay? If you hear anything-I know how you girls talk.” He grins at me, and I feel slightly sick. He has no idea how we “girls” talk. Besides, I know what’s happening.
“You’ll let me know, right?”
“Sure,” I mutter. “I’ve sent the brochure to the printers. It will be back by two o’clock.”
“Great. Here.” He hands me a pile of manuscripts. “All these need synopses of the first chapter, then filing.”
“I’ll get on it.”
I am relieved to step out of his office and sit down at my desk. Oh, it’s hard being in the know. What will he do when he finds out? My blood runs cold. Something tells me Jack will be annoyed. I glance at my Blackberry and smile. There’s an e-mail from Christian.
Date:June 14, 2011 09:23
I love waking up to you in the morning.
Completely & Utterly Smitten CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
I think my face splits in two with my grin, and my inner goddess back-flips over her chaise longue.
Date:June 14, 2011 09:35
Dear Completely & Utterly Smitten
I love waking up to you, too. But I love being in bed with you and in elevators and on pianos and billiard tables and boats and desks and showers and bathtubs and strange wooden crosses with shackles and four-poster beds with red satin sheets and boathouses and childhood bedrooms.
Sex Mad and Insatiable xx
Date:June 14, 2011 09:37
Dear Sex Mad and Insatiable
I’ve just spat coffee all over my keyboard.
I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before.
I do admire a woman who concentrates on geography.
Am I to infer you just want me for my body?
Completely & Utterly Shocked CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Subject:Giggling-and wet too
Date:June 14, 2011: 09:42
Dear Completely & Utterly Shocked
I have work to do.
Stop bothering me.
SM &I xx
Subject:Do I have to?
Date:June 14, 2011 09:50
Dear SM &I
As ever, your wish is my command.
Love that you are giggling and wet.
Completely & Utterly Smitten, Shocked and Spellbound CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
I put the Blackberry down and get on with my work.
At lunchtime, Jack asks me to go down to the deli for his lunch. I call Christian as soon as I leave Jack’s office.
“Anastasia.” He answers immediately, his voice warm and caressing. How is it that this man can make me melt over the phone?
“Christian, Jack has asked me to get his lunch.”
“Lazy bastard,” Christian gripes.
I ignore him and continue. “So I’m going to get it. It might be handy if you gave me Sawyer’s number, so I don’t have to bother you.”
“It’s no bother, baby.”
“Are you on your own?”
“No. There are six people staring at me at the moment wondering who the hell I’m talking to.”
Shit… “Really?” I gasp, panicked.
“Yes. Really. My girlfriend,” he announces away from the phone.
Holy cow! “They probably all thought you were gay, you know.”
He laughs. “Yeah, probably.” I hear his grin.
“Er-I’d better go.” I am sure he can tell how embarrassed I am to be interrupting him.
“I’ll let Sawyer know.” He laughs again. “Have you heard from your friend?”
“Not yet. You’ll be the first to know, Mr. Grey.”
“Good. Laters, baby.”
“Bye, Christian.” I grin. Every time he says that, it makes me smile… so un-Fifty, but somehow so him, too.
When I exit moments later, Sawyer is waiting on the doorstep of the building.
“Miss Steele,” he greets me formally.
“Sawyer.” I nod in response and together we head down to the deli.
I don’t feel as comfortable with Sawyer as I do with Taylor. He continually scans the street as we make our way along the block. It actually makes me more nervous, and I find myself mirroring his actions.
Is Leila out there? Or are we all infected by Christian’s paranoia? Is this part of his fifty shades? What I’d give for half an hour of candid discussion with Dr. Flynn, to find out.
There’s nothing amiss, just lunchtime Seattle-people rushing for lunch, shopping, meeting friends. I watch two young women hug as they meet up.
I miss Kate. It’s only been two weeks since she left for her vacation, but it feels like the longest two weeks of my life. So much has happened-she’ll never believe me when I tell her. Well, tell her the edited NDA-compliant version. I frown. I’ll have to talk to Christian about that. What would Kate make of it? I blanch at the thought. Perhaps she’ll be back with Ethan. I feel a rush of excitement at the thought, but I think it’s unlikely. She’d stay on with Elliot surely.
“Where do you stand when you’re waiting and watching outside?” I ask Sawyer as we get in line for lunch. Sawyer is in front of me, facing the door, continually monitoring the street and anyone who comes in. It’s unnerving.
“I sit in the coffee shop directly across the street, Miss Steele.”
“Doesn’t it get very boring?”
“Not to me, ma’am. It’s what I do,” he says stiffly.
I flush. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply…” My voice trails off at his kind, understanding expression.
“Please, Miss Steele. My job is to protect you. And that’s what I’ll do.”
“So, no sign of Leila?”
I frown. “How do you know what she looks like?”
“I’ve seen her photograph.”
“Oh, do you have it on you?”
“No, ma’am.” He taps his skull. “Committed to memory.”
Of course. I’d really like to examine a photograph of Leila to see what she looked like before she became Ghost Girl. I wonder if Christian would let me have a copy? Yes, he probably would-for my safety. I hatch a plan, and my subconscious gloats and nods approvingly.
The brochures arrive back at the office, and I have to say, they look great. I take one into Jack’s office. His eyes light up, and I don’t know if it’s at me or the brochure. I choose to believe it’s the latter.
“These look great, Ana.” Idly, he flicks through it. “Yeah, good job. Are you seeing your boyfriend this evening?” His lip curls as he says boyfriend.
“Yes. We live together.” It’s sort of the truth. Well, we do at the moment. And I have officially agreed to move in, so it’s not much of a white lie. I hope that it’s enough to throw him off the scent.
“Would he object to you coming out for a quick drink tonight? To celebrate all your hard work?”
“I have a friend coming in from out of town tonight, and we’re all going out for dinner.”And I’ll be busy every night, Jack.
“I see.” He sighs, exasperated. “Maybe when I’m back from New York, huh?” He raises his eyebrows in expectation, and his gaze darkens suggestively.
Oh no. I smile, noncommittal, stifling a shudder.
“Would you like some coffee or tea?” I ask.
“Coffee, please.” His voice is low and husky as if he’s asking for something else. Fuck. He’s not going to back off. I can see that now. Oh… What to do?
I breathe a long sigh of relief when I am out of his office. He makes me tense. Christian is right about him, and part of me is pissed that Christian is right about him.
I sit down at my desk and my Blackberry rings-a number I don’t recognize.
“Hi, Steele!” Ethan’s drawl catches me momentarily off guard.
“Ethan! How are you?” I almost squeal with delight.
“Glad to be back. I am seriously fed up with sunshine and rum punches, and my baby sister being hopelessly in love with the big guy. It’s been hell, Ana.”
“Yeah! Sea, sand, sun, and rum punches sounds like Dante’s Inferno.” I giggle. “Where are you?”
“I’m at Sea-Tac, waiting for my bag. What are you doing?”
“I’m at work. Yes, I am gainfully employed,” I respond to his gasp. “Do you want to come here and collect the keys? I can meet you later at the apartment.”
“Sounds great. I’ll see you in about 45 minutes, an hour maybe? What’s the address?”
I give him SIP’s address.
“See you soon, Ethan.”
“Laters,” he says and hangs up. What? Not Ethan, too? And it dawns on me that he’s just spent a week with Elliot. I quickly type an e-mail to Christian.
Subject:Visitors from Sunny Climes.
Date:June 14, 2011: 14:55
Dearest Completely & Utterly SS &S
Ethan is back, and he’s coming here to collect keys to the apartment.
I’d really like to make sure he’s settled in okay.
Why don’t you collect me after work? We can go to the apartment then we can ALL go out for a meal maybe?
Still SM &I
Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP
Date:June 14, 2011 15:05
I approve of your plan. Except the part about you paying!
I’ll collect you at 6:00.
PS: Why aren’t you using your Blackberry!!!
Completely and Utterly Annoyed, CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Date:June 14, 2011: 15:11
Oh, don’t be so crusty and cross.
It’s all in code.
I’ll see you at 6:00.
Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP
Date:June 14, 2011 15:18
Crusty and cross!
I’ll give you crusty and cross.
And look forward to it.
Completely and Utterly More Annoyed, but smiling for some unknown reason, CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Date:June 14, 2011: 15:23
Bring it on, Mr. Grey
I look forward to it too.;D
Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP
He doesn’t reply, but then I don’t expect him to. I imagine him moaning about mixed signals, and the thought makes me smile. I daydream briefly about what he might do to me but find myself shifting about in my chair. My subconscious gazes at me disapprovingly over her half-moon specs-get on with your work.
A little later, my phone buzzes. It’s Claire at reception.
“There’s a real cute guy in reception to see you. We must go out for drinks sometime, Ana. You sure know some hunky guys,” she hisses conspiratorially through the phone.
Ethan! Grabbing my keys from my purse, I hurry out to the foyer.
Holy shit-sun-bleached blond hair, a tan to die for, and glowing hazel eyes gaze up at me from the green leather couch. As soon as he sees me, his mouth drops open, and he’s on his feet coming toward me.
“Wow, Ana.” He frowns at me as he bends to give me hug.
“You look well.” I grin up at him.
“You look… wow-different. Worldly, more sophisticated. What’s happened? You changed your hair? Clothes? I don’t know, Steele, but you look hot!”
I blush furiously. “Oh, Ethan. I’m just in my work clothes,” I scold as Claire looks on with an arched eyebrow and a wry smile.
“How was Barbados?”
“Fun,” he says.
“When’s Kate back?”
“She and Elliot are flying back Friday. They’re pretty damn serious about each other.” Ethan rolls his eyes.
“I’ve missed her.”
“Yeah? How have you been doing with Mr. Mogul?”
“Mr. Mogul?” I snicker. “Well, it’s been interesting. He’s taking us out for dinner this evening.”
“Cool.” Ethan seems genuinely pleased. Phew!
“Here.” I hand him the keys. “You have the address?”
“Yeah. Laters.” He leans over and kisses my cheek.
“Yeah, kind of grows on you.”
“It does. Laters.” I smile at him as he collects his large shoulder bag from beside the green couch and exits the building.
When I turn, Jack is watching me from the far side of the foyer, his expression unreadable. I smile brightly at him and head back to my desk, feeling his eyes on me the whole time. This is beginning to get on my nerves. What to do? I have no idea. I’ll have to wait until Kate is back. She’s bound to come up with a plan. The thought dispels my bleak mood, and I pick up the next manuscript.
At five to six, my phone buzzes. It’s Christian.
“Crusty and Cross here,” he says and I grin. He’s still playful Fifty. My inner goddess is clapping her hands with glee like a small child.
“Well, this is Sex Mad and Insatiable. I take it you’re outside?” I ask dryly.
“I am indeed, Miss Steele. Looking forward to seeing you.” His voice is warm and seductive, and my heart flutters wildly.
“Ditto, Mr. Grey. I’ll be right out.” I hang up.
I switch off my computer and gather up my purse and cream cardigan.
“I’m off now, Jack,” I call through.
“Okay, Ana. Thanks for today, honey! Have a great evening.”
Why can’t he be like that all the time? I don’t understand him.
The Audi is parked at the curb, and Christian climbs out as I approach. He’s taken off his jacket, and he’s wearing his gray pants, my favorite ones that hang from his hips-in that way. How can this Greek god be meant for me? I find myself grinning like a loon in answer to his own idiotic grin.
He’s spent the whole day acting like a boyfriend in love-in love with me. This adorable, complex, flawed man is in love with me, and I with him. Joy bursts unexpectedly inside me, and I savor the moment as I feel briefly that I could conquer the world.
“Miss Steele, you look as captivating as you did this morning.” Christian pulls me into his arms and kisses me soundly.
“Mr. Grey, so do you.”
“Let’s go get your friend.” He smiles down at me and opens the car door.
As Taylor heads to the apartment, Christian fills me in on his day-a much better one than yesterday, it seems. I gaze at him adoringly as he attempts to explain some breakthrough the environmental science department at WSU in Vancouver has made. His words mean very little to me, but I’m captivated by his passion and interest in this subject. Maybe this is what it will be like, good days and bad days, and if the good days are like this, I won’t have much to complain about. He hands me a sheet of paper.
“These are the times that Claude is free this week,” he says.
Oh! The trainer.
As we pull up to my apartment building, he fishes his Blackberry from his pocket.
“Grey,” he answers. “Ros, what is it?” He listens intently, and I can tell it’s an involved conversation.
“I’ll go and get Ethan. I’ll be two minutes,” I mouth at Christian and hold up two fingers.
He nods, obviously distracted by the call. Taylor opens my door, smiling at me warmly. I grin at him, even Taylor’s feeling it. I press the entry phone and shout happily into it.
“Hi, Ethan, it’s me. Let me in.”
The door buzzes, and I head upstairs to the apartment. It occurs to me that I have not been here since Saturday morning. That seems so long ago. Ethan has kindly left the front door open. I step into the apartment, and I don’t know why, but I freeze instinctively as soon as I step inside. I take a moment to realize it’s because the pale, wan figure standing by the kitchen island, holding a small revolver is Leila, and she’s gazing impassively at me.
She’s here, gazing at me with an unnerving blank expression, holding a gun. My subconscious swoons into a dead faint, and I don’t think even smelling salts will bring her back.
I blink repeatedly at Leila as my mind goes into overdrive. How did she get in? Where’s Ethan? Holy shit! Where is Ethan?
A creeping cold fear grips my heart, and my scalp prickles as each and every follicle on my head tightens with terror. What if she’s harmed him? I start breathing rapidly as adrenaline and bone-numbing dread course through my body. Keep calm, keep calm-I repeat the mantra over and over in my head.
She tilts her head to one side, regarding me as if I’m an exhibit in a freak show. Jeez, I’m not the freak here.
It feels like an eon has passed while I process all this, though in reality it is only a split second. Leila’s expression remains blank, and her appearance is as scruffy and ill-kempt as ever. She’s still wearing that grubby trench coat, and she looks desperately in need of a wash. Her hair is greasy and lank, plastered against her head, and her eyes are a dull brown, cloudy, and vaguely confused.
Despite the fact that my mouth has no moisture in it whatsoever, I attempt to speak. “Hi. Leila, isn’t it?” I rasp. She smiles, but it’s a disturbing curl of her lip rather than a true smile.
“She speaks,” she whispers, and her voice is soft and hoarse at the same time, an eerie sound.
“Yes, I speak,” I say gently as if to a child. “Are you here alone?”Where is Ethan? My heart pounds at the thought that he might have come to some harm.
Her face falls, so much so that I think she’s about to burst into tears-she looks so forlorn.
“Alone,” she whispers. “Alone.” And the depth of sadness in that one word is heart wrenching. What does she mean? I am alone? She’s alone? She’s alone because she’s harmed Ethan? Oh… no… I have to fight the choking fear clawing at my throat as tears threaten.
“What are you doing here? Can I help you?” My words are a calm, gentle interrogation despite the suffocating fear in my throat. Her brow furrows as if she’s completely befuddled by my questions. But she makes no violent move against me. Her hand is still relaxed around her gun. I take a different tack, trying to ignore my tightening scalp.
“Would you like some tea?”Why am I asking her if she wants tea? It’s Ray’s answer to any emotional situation, resurfacing inappropriately. Jeez, he’d have a fit if he saw me right this minute. His army training would have kicked in, and he’d have disarmed her by now. She’s not actually pointing that gun at me. Perhaps I can move. She shakes her head and tilts it from side to side as if stretching her neck.
I take a deep precious lungful of air, trying to calm my panicked breathing, and move toward the kitchen island. She frowns as if she can’t quite understand what I am doing and shifts a little so she is still facing me. I reach the kettle and with a shaking hand fill it from the faucet. As I move, my breathing eases. Yes, if she wanted me dead, surely she would have shot me by now. She watches me with an absent, bemused curiosity. As I switch on the kettle, I’m plagued by the thought of Ethan. Is he hurt? Tied up?
“Is there anyone else in the apartment?” I ask tentatively.
She inclines her head the other way, and with her right hand-the hand not holding the revolver-she grabs a strand of her long greasy hair and starts twirling and fiddling with it, pulling and twisting. It’s obviously a nervous habit, and while I am distracted by this, I am struck once again by how much she resembles me. I hold my breath, waiting for her answer, the anxiety building to an almost unbearable pitch.
“Alone. All alone,” she murmurs. I find this comforting. Maybe Ethan isn’t here. The relief is empowering.
“Are you sure you don’t want tea or coffee?”
“Not thirsty,” she answers softly, and she takes a cautious step toward me. My feeling of empowerment evaporates. Fuck!I start panting with fear again, feeling it surge thick and rough through my veins. In spite of this and feeling beyond brave, I turn and fetch a couple of cups from the cupboard.
“What do you have that I don’t?” she asks, her voice assuming the singsong intonation of a child.
“What do you mean, Leila?” I ask as gently as I can.
“Master-Mr. Grey-he lets you call him by his given name.”
“I’m not his submissive, Leila. Er… Master understands that I am unable, inadequate to fulfill that role.”
She tilts her head to the other side. It’s wholly unnerving and unnatural as a gesture.
“In-ad-e-quate.” She tests the word, sounding it out, seeing how it feels on her tongue. “But Master is happy. I have seen him. He laughs and smiles. These reactions are rare… very rare for him.”
“You look like me.” Leila changes tack, surprising me, her eyes seeming to focus on me properly for the first time. “Master likes obedient ones who look like you and me. The others, all the same… all the same… and yet you sleep in his bed. I saw you.”
Shit! She was in the room. I didn’t imagine it.
“You saw me in his bed?” I whisper.
“I never slept in Master’s bed,” she murmurs. She’s like a fallen ethereal wraith. Half a person. She looks so slight, and in spite of the fact that she’s holding a gun, I suddenly feel overwhelmed with sympathy for her. Her hands flex around the weapon, and my eyes widen, threatening to pop from my head.
“Why does Master like us like this? It makes me think something… something… Master is dark… Master is a dark man, but I love him.”
No, no, he’s not. I bristle internally. He’s not dark. He’s a good man, and he’s not in the dark. He’s joined me in the light. And now she’s here, trying to drag him back with some warped idea that she loves him.
“Leila, do you want to give me the gun?” I ask softly. Her hand grips it tightly, and she hugs it to her chest.
“This is mine. It’s all I have left.” She gently caresses the gun. “So she can join her love.”
Holy shit!Which love-Christian? It’s like she’s punched me in the stomach. I know he will be here momentarily to find out what’s keeping me. Does she mean to shoot him? The thought is so horrific, I feel my throat swell and ache as a huge knot forms there, almost choking me, matching the fear that’s balled tightly in my stomach.
Right on cue the door bursts open, and Christian is standing in the doorway, Taylor behind him.
Glancing at me briefly, Christian’s eyes sweep over me from head to toe, and I notice the small spark of relief in his look. But his relief is fleeting as his gaze darts to Leila and stills, focusing on her, not wavering in the slightest. He glares at her with an intensity I have not seen before, his eyes wild, wide, angry, and scared.
Oh no… oh no.
Leila’s eyes widen, and for a moment, it seems her reason returns. She blinks rapidly while her hand tightens once more around the gun.
My breath catches in my throat, and my heart starts thumping so loud that I hear the blood pounding in my ears. No, no, no!
My world teeters precariously in the hands of this poor, fucked-up woman. Will she shoot? Both of us? Christian? The thought is crippling.
But after an eternity, as time hangs suspended around us, her head dips slightly and she gazes up at him, through her long lashes, her expression contrite.
Christian holds up his hand, signaling to Taylor to stay where he is. Taylor’s blanched face betrays his fury. I have never seen him like this, but he stands stock-still as Christian and Leila stare at each other.
I realize I’m holding my breath. What will she do? What will he do? But they just continue to stare at each other. Christian’s expression is raw, full of some unnamed emotion. It could be pity, fear, affection… or is it love? No, please, not love!
His eyes bore into her, and agonizingly slowly, the atmosphere in the apartment changes. The tension is building so that I can sense their connection, the charge between them.
No! Suddenly I feel I’m the interloper, intruding on them as they stand gazing at each other. I’m an outsider-a voyeur, spying on a forbidden, intimate scene behind closed curtains.
Christian’s intense gaze burns brighter, and his bearing changes subtly. He looks taller, more angular somehow, colder, and more distant. I recognize this stance. I’ve seen him like this before-in his playroom.
My scalp prickles anew. This is Dominant Christian, and how at ease he looks. Whether he was born to or made for this role, I just don’t know, but with a sinking heart and sickened stomach, I watch as Leila responds, her lips parting, her breathing picking up as the first flush of color stains her cheeks. No! It’s such an unwelcome glimpse into his past, agonizing to witness.
Finally, he mouths a word at her. I can’t make out what it is, but the effect on Leila is immediate. She drops to the floor on her knees, her head bowed, and the gun falls and skitters uselessly across the wooden floor. Holy fuck.
Christian walks calmly over to where the gun has fallen and bends gracefully to pick it up. He regards it with ill-disguised disgust then slips it into his jacket pocket. He gazes once more at Leila as she kneels compliantly beside the kitchen island.
“Anastasia, go with Taylor,” he commands. Taylor crosses the threshold and stares at me.
“Ethan,” I whisper.
“Downstairs.” He responds matter-of-factly, his eyes never leaving Leila.
Downstairs. Not here. Ethan’s okay. Relief floods hard and fast through my blood,and for a moment I think I’m going to faint.
“Anastasia,” Christian’s tone is clipped in warning.
I blink at him, and I’m suddenly unable to move. I don’t want to leave him-leave him with her. He moves to stand beside Leila as she kneels at his feet. He’s hovering over her, protectively. She’s so still, it’s unnatural. I can’t take my eyes off the two of them-together…
“For the love of God, Anastasia, will you do as you’re told for once in your life andgo!” Christian’s eyes lock with mine as he glowers at me, his voice a blistering cold shard of ice. The anger beneath the quiet, deliberate delivery of his words is palpable.
Angry at me? Surely not. Please-No!I feel like he’s slapped me hard. Why does he want to stay with her?
“Taylor. Take Miss Steele downstairs. Now.”
Taylor nods at him as I stare at Christian.
“Why?” I whisper.
“Go. Back to the apartment.” His eyes blaze frostily at me. “I need to be alone with Leila.” He says it urgently.
I think he’s trying to convey some kind of message, but I’m so thrown by all that’s happened that I’m not sure. I glance down at Leila and notice a very small smile cross her lips, but otherwise she remains truly impassive. A complete submissive. Fuck!My heart chills.
This is what he needs. This is what he likes. No!I want to wail.
“Miss Steele. Ana.” Taylor holds his hand out to me, imploring me to come. I am immobilized by the horrific spectacle before me. It confirms my worst fears and plays on all my insecurities: Christian and Leila together-the Dom and his sub.
“Taylor,” Christian urges, and Taylor leans down and scoops me into his arms. The last thing I see as we leave is Christian gently stroking Leila’s head as he murmurs something softly to her.
As Taylor carries me down the stairs, I lie limply in his arms trying to grasp what’s happened in the last ten minutes-was it longer? Or shorter? The concept of time has deserted me.
Christian and Leila, Leila and Christian… together? What is he doing with her now?
“Jesus, Ana! What the fuck is going on?”
I am relieved to see Ethan as he paces the small lobby, still carrying his large shoulder bag. Oh, thank heavens he’s okay!When Taylor sets me down, I practically throw myself at Ethan, wrapping my arms around his neck.
“Ethan. Oh, thank God!” I hug him, holding him close. I was so worried, and for a brief moment, I enjoy some respite from my rising panic at what is unfolding upstairs in my apartment.
“What the fuck is going on, Ana? Who’s this guy?”
“Oh, sorry, Ethan, this is Taylor. He works with Christian. Taylor, this is Ethan, my roommate’s brother.”
They nod at each other.Fifty Shades Freed Extended Version