“Ana, upstairs, what’s going on? I was fishing for the apartment keys when these guys jumped out of nowhere and grabbed them. One of them was Christian…” Ethan’s voice trails off.
“You were late… Thank God.”
“Yeah. I met a friend from Pullman-we had a quick drink. Upstairs, what’s going on?”
“There’s a girl, an ex of Christian’s. In our apartment. She’s gone postal, and Christian is…” My voice cracks, and tears pool in my eyes.
“Hey,” Ethan whispers and pulls me close once more. “Has anyone called the cops?”
“No, it’s not like that.” I sob into his chest and now I’ve started, I can’t stop crying, the tension of this latest episode releasing through my tears. Ethan tightens his arms around me, but I sense his bemusement.
“Hey, Ana, let’s go get a drink.” He pats my back awkwardly. Abruptly, I feel awkward, too, and embarrassed, and in all honesty, I want to be on my own. But I nod, accepting his offer. I want to be away from here, away from whatever’s going on upstairs.
I turn to Taylor.
“Was the apartment checked?” I ask him tearfully, wiping my nose with the back of my hand.
“This afternoon.” Taylor shrugs apologetically as he hands me a handkerchief. He looks devastated. “I’m sorry, Ana,” he murmurs.
I frown. Jeez, he looks so guilty. I don’t want to make him feel worse.
“She does seem to have an uncanny ability to evade us,” he adds scowling again.
“Ethan and I will go for a quick drink then head back to Escala.” I dry my eyes.
Taylor shuffles from foot to foot uncomfortably. “Mr. Grey wanted you to go back to the apartment,” he says quietly.
“Well, we know where Leila is now.” I can’t keep the bitterness out of my voice. “So, no need for all the security. Tell Christian we’ll see him later.”
Taylor opens his mouth to speak and then wisely closes it again.
“Do you want to leave your bag with Taylor?” I ask Ethan.
“No, I’ll keep it with me, thanks.”
Ethan nods at Taylor, then ushers me out of the front door. Too late, I remember that I’ve left my purse in the back of Audi. I have nothing.
“Don’t worry,” Ethan murmurs, his face full of concern. “It’s cool, it’s on me.”
We choose a bar across the street, settling onto wooden bar stools by the window. I want to see what’s going on-who’s coming, and more importantly who’s going. Ethan hands me a bottle of beer.
“Trouble with an ex?” he says gently.
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” I mutter, abruptly guarded. I can’t talk about this-I have signed an NDA. And for the first time, I really resent that fact and that Christian’s said nothing about rescinding it.
“I’ve got time,” Ethan says kindly and takes a long slug of his beer.
“She’s an ex, from years back. She left her husband for some guy. Then a couple of weeks or so ago he was killed in a car crash, and now she’s come after Christian.” I shrug. There, that didn’t give too much away.
“Come after him?”
“She had a gun.”
“What the fuck!”
“She didn’t actually threaten anyone with it. I think she meant to harm herself. But that’s why I was so worried about you. I didn’t know if you were in the apartment.”
“I see. She sounds unstable.”
“Yes, she is.”
“And what’s Christian doing with her now?”
The blood drains from my face and bile rises in my throat. “I don’t know,” I whisper.
Ethan’s eyes widen-at last he’s got it.
This is the crux of my problem. What the fuckarethey doing? Talking, I hope. Just talking. Yet all I can see in my mind’s eye is his hand, tenderly stroking her hair.
She’s disturbed and Christian cares about her, that’s all this is, I rationalize. But in the back of my mind, my subconscious is shaking her head sadly.
It’s more than that. Leila was able to fulfill his needs in a way I cannot. The thought is depressing.
I try to focus on all we’ve done in the last few days-his declaration of love, his flirty humor, his playfulness. But Elena’s words keep coming back to taunt me. It’s true what they say about eavesdroppers.
Don’t you miss it… your playroom?
I finish my beer in record time, and Ethan lines up another. I am not much of a companion, but to his credit he stays with me, chatting, trying to lift my spirits, talking about Barbados, and Kate and Elliot’s antics, which is wonderfully distracting. But it’s just that-a distraction.
My mind, my heart, my soul are all still in that apartment with my Fifty Shades and the woman who used to be his submissive. A woman who thinks she still loves him. A woman who looks like me.
During our third beer, a large cruiser with heavily-tinted windows pulls up next to the Audi in front of the apartment. I recognize Dr. Flynn as he climbs out, accompanied by a woman dressed in what look like pale blue scrubs. I glimpse Taylor as he lets them in through the front door.
“Who’s that?” Ethan asks.
“His name’s Dr. Flynn. Christian knows him.”
“What kind of doctor?”
We both watch, and a few minutes later they are back. Christian is carrying Leila who is wrapped in a blanket. What? I watch horrified as they all climb into the cruiser, and it speeds away.
Ethan glances at me sympathetically, and I feel desolate, completely desolate.
“Can I have something a bit stronger?” I ask Ethan, my voice small.
“Sure. What would you like?”
“A brandy. Please.”
Ethan nods and retreats to the bar. I gaze through the window at the front door. Moments later Taylor emerges, climbs into the Audi, and heads off toward Escala… after Christian? I don’t know.
Ethan places a large brandy in front of me.
“Come on, Steele. Let’s get drunk.”
Sounds like the best offer I’ve had in a while. We clink glasses, and I take a gulp of the burning amber liquid, the fiery heat a welcome distraction from the hideous blossoming pain in my heart.
It’s late, and I feel fuzzy. Ethan and I are locked out of the apartment. He insists on walking me back to Escala, but he won’t stay. He’s called the friend he met earlier for a drink and arranged to crash with him.
“So, this is where the Mogul lives.” Ethan whistles through his teeth, impressed.
“Sure you don’t want me to come in with you?” he asks.
“No, I need to face this-or just go to bed.”
“See you tomorrow?”
“Yes. Thanks, Ethan.” I hug him.
“You’ll work it out, Steele,” he murmurs against my ear. He releases me and watches while I head into the building.
“Laters,” he calls. I offer him a weak smile and a wave then press the button to call the elevator.
The elevator doors open, and I step into Christian’s apartment. Taylor is not waiting, which is unusual. Opening the double doors, I head toward the great room. Christian is on the phone, pacing the room near the piano.
“She’s here,” he snaps. He turns to glare at me as he switches off his phone. “Where the fuck have you been?” he growls but doesn’t make a move toward me.
Holy crap, he’s angry with me? He’s the one that just spent God knows how long with his loony ex-girlfriend, and he’sangry withme?
“Have you been drinking?” he asks, appalled.
“A bit.” I didn’t think it was that obvious.
He gasps and runs his hand through his hair. “I told you to come back here.” His voice is menacingly quiet. “It’s now fifteen after ten. I’ve been worried about you.”
“I went for a drink or three with Ethan while you attended to your ex,” I hiss at him. “I didn’t know how long you were going to be… with her.”
He narrows his eyes and takes a few paces toward me but stops.
“Why do you say it that like that?”
I shrug and stare down at my fingers.
“Ana, what’s wrong?” And for the first time, I hear something other than anger in his voice. What? Fear?
I swallow, trying to work out what I want to say. “Where’s Leila?” I ask looking up at him.
“In a psychiatric hospital in Fremont,” he says, and his face is scrutinizing mine. “Ana, what is it?” He moves toward me until he’s standing right in front of me. “What’s wrong?” he breathes.
I shake my head. “I’m no good for you.”
“What?” he breathes, his eyes widening in alarm. “Why do you think that? How can you possibly think that?”
“I can’t be everything you need.”
“You are everything I need.
“Just seeing you with her…” My voice trails off.
“Why do you do this to me? This is not about you, Ana. It’s about her.” He takes a sharp breath, running his hand through his hair again. “At the moment she’s a very sick girl.”
“But I felt it… what you had together.”
“What? No.” He reaches for me, and I step back instinctively. He drops his hand, blinking at me. He looks as though he’s seized with panic.
“You’re running?” he whispers as his eyes widen with fear.
I say nothing as I try to collect my scattered thoughts.
“You can’t,” he pleads.
“Christian… I-” I struggle to collect my thoughts. What am I trying to say? I need time, time to process this. Give me time.
“No. No!” he says.
He looks wildly around the room. For inspiration? For divine intervention? I don’t know.
“You can’t go. Ana, I love you!”
“I love you, too, Christian, it’s just-”
“No… no!” he says in desperation and puts both hands on his head.
“No,” he breathes, his eyes wide with panic, and suddenly he drops to his knees in front of me, head bowed, long-fingered hands spread out on his thighs. He takes a deep breath and doesn’t move.
What? “Christian, what are you doing?”
He continues to stare down, not looking at me.
“Christian!What are you doing?” My voice is high-pitched. He doesn’t move. “Christian, look at me!” I command in panic.
His head sweeps up without hesitation, and he regards me passively with his cool gray gaze-he’s almost serene… expectant.
Holy Fuck… Christian. The submissive.
Christian on his knees at my feet, holding me with his steady gray gaze, is the most chilling and sobering sight I have ever seen-more so than Leila and her gun. The vague alcoholic fuzziness I’m suffering from evaporates in an instant and is replaced by a prickling scalp and a creeping sense of doom as the blood drains from my face.
I inhale sharply with shock. No. No, this is wrong, so wrong and so disturbing.
“Christian, please, don’t do this. I don’t want this.”
He continues to regard me passively, not moving, saying nothing.
Oh fuck. My poor Fifty. My heart squeezes and twists. What the hell have I done to him? Tears prick my eyes.
“Why are you doing this? Talk to me,” I whisper.
He blinks once.
“What would you like me to say?” he says softly, blandly, and for a moment I’m relieved that he’s talking, but not like this-no. No.
Tears begin to ooze down my cheeks, and suddenly it is too much to see him in the same prostrate position as the pathetic creature that was Leila. The image of a powerful man who’s really still a little boy, who was horrifically abused and neglected, who feels unworthy of love from his perfect family and his much-less-than perfect girlfriend… my lost boy… it’s heartbreaking.
Compassion, loss, and despair all swell in my heart, and I feel a choking sense of desperation. I am going to have to fight to bring him back, to bring back my Fifty.
The thought of me dominating anyone is appalling. The thought of dominating Christian is nauseating. It would make me like her-the woman who did this to him.
I shudder at that thought, fighting the bile in my throat. No way can I do that. No way do I want that.
As my thoughts clear, I can see only one way. Not taking my eyes off his, I sink to my knees in front of him.
The wooden floor is hard against my shins, and I dash my tears away roughly with the back of my hand.
Like this, we are equals. We’re on a level. This is the only way I’m going to retrieve him.
His eyes widen fractionally as I stare up at him, but beyond that his expression and stance don’t change.
“Christian, you don’t have to do this,” I plead. “I’m not going to run. I’ve told you and told you and told you, I won’t run.” All that’s happened… it’s overwhelming. I just need some time to think… some time to myself. Why do you always assume the worst?” My heart clenches again because I know; it’s because he’s so doubting, so full of self-loathing.
Elena’s words come back to haunt me. “Does she know how negative you are about yourself? About all your issues?”
Oh, Christian. Fear grips my heart once more and I start babbling, “I was going to suggest going back to my apartment this evening. You never give me any time… time to just think things through,” I sob, and a ghost of a frown crosses his face. “Just time to think. We barely know each other, and all this baggage that comes with you… I need… I need time to think it through. And now that Leila is… well, whatever she is… she’s off the streets and not a threat… I thought… I thought…” My voice trails off and I stare at him. He regards me intently and I think he’s listening
“Seeing you with Leila…” I close my eyes as the painful memory of his interaction with his ex-sub gnaws at me anew. “It was such a shock. I had a glimpse into how your life has been… and…” I gaze down at my knotted fingers, tears still trickling down my cheeks. “This is about me not being good enough for you. It was an insight into your life, and I am so scared you’ll get bored with me, and then you’ll go… and I’ll end up like Leila… a shadow. Because I love you, Christian, and if you leave me, it will be like a world without light. I’ll be in darkness. I don’t want to run. I’m just so frightened you’ll leave me…”
I realize as I say these words to him-in the hope that he’s listening-what my real problem is. I just don’t get why he likes me. I have never understood why he likes me.
“I don’t understand why you find me attractive,” I murmur. “You’re, well, you’re you… and I’m…” I shrug and gaze up at him. “I just don’t see it. You’re beautiful and sexy and successful and good and kind and caring-all those things-and I’m not. And I can’t do the things you like to do. I can’t give you what you need. How could you be happy with me? How can I possibly hold you?” My voice is a whisper as I express my darkest fears. “I have never understood what you see in me. And seeing you with her, it brought all that home.” I sniff and wipe my nose with the back of my hand, gazing at his impassive expression.
Oh, he’s so exasperating. Talk to me, damn it!
“Are you going to kneel here all night? Because I’ll do it, too,” I snap at him.
I think his expression softens-maybe he looks vaguely amused. But it’s so hard to tell.
I could reach across and touch him, but this would be a gross abuse of the position he’s put me in. I don’t want that, but I don’t know what he wants, or what he’s trying to say to me. I just don’t understand.
“Christian, please, please… talk to me,” I beseech him, wringing my hands in my lap. I am uncomfortable on my knees, but I continue to kneel, staring into his serious, beautiful, gray eyes, and I wait.
“Please,” I beg once more.
His intense gaze darkens suddenly and he blinks.
“I was so scared,” he whispers.
Oh, thank the Lord! Inside, my subconscious staggers back into her armchair, sagging with relief, and takes a large swig of gin.
He’s talking! Gratitude overwhelms me, and I swallow, trying to contain my emotion and the fresh bout of tears that threatens.
His voice is soft and low. “When I saw Ethan arrive outside, I knew someone had let you into your apartment. Both Taylor and I leapt out of the car. We knew and to see her there like that with you-and armed. I think I died a thousand deaths, Ana. Someone threatening you… all my worst fears realized. I was so angry, with her, with you, with Taylor, with myself.”
He shakes his head revealing his agony. “I didn’t know how volatile she would be. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how she’d react.” He stops and frowns. “And then she gave me a clue; she looked so contrite. And I just knew what I had to do.” He pauses, gazing at me, trying to gauge my reaction.
“Go on,” I whisper.
He swallows. “Seeing her in that state, knowing that I might have something to do with her mental breakdown…” He closes his eyes once more. “She was always so mischievous and lively.” He shudders and takes a rasping breath, almost like a sob. This is torture to listen to, but I kneel, attentive, lapping up this insight.
“She might have harmed you. And it would have been my fault.” His eyes drift off, filled with uncomprehending horror, and he’s silent once more.
“But she didn’t,” I whisper. “And you weren’t responsible for her being in that state, Christian.” I blink up at him, encouraging him to continue.
Then it dawns on me afresh that everything he did was to keep me safe, and perhaps Leila, too, because he also cares for her. But how much does he care for her? The question lingers in my head, unwelcome. He says he loves me, but then he was so harsh, throwing me out of my own apartment.
“I just wanted you gone,” he murmurs, with his uncanny ability to read my thoughts. “I wanted you away from the danger, and… You. Just. Wouldn’t. Go,” he hisses through clenched teeth and shakes his head. His exasperation is palpable.
He gazes at me intently. “Anastasia Steele, you are the most stubborn woman I know.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head once more in disbelief.
Oh, he’s back. I breathe a long, cleansing sigh of relief.
He opens his eyes again, and his expression is forlorn-sincere. “You weren’t going to run?” he asks.
He closes his eyes again and his whole body relaxes. When he opens his eyes, I can see his pain and anguish.
“I thought-” He stops. “This is me, Ana. All of me… and I’m all yours. What do I have to do to make you realize that? To make you see that I want you any way I can get you. That I love you.”
“I love you, too, Christian, and to see you like this is…” I choke and my tears start afresh. “I thought I’d broken you.”
“Broken? Me? Oh no, Ana. Just the opposite.” He reaches out and takes my hand. “You’re my lifeline,” he whispers, and he kisses my knuckles before pressing my palm against his.
With his eyes wide and full of fear, he gently tugs my hand and places it on his chest over his heart-in the forbidden zone. His breathing quickens. His heart is beating a frantic, pounding tattoo beneath my fingers. He doesn’t take his eyes off mine; his jaw is tense, his teeth clenched.
I gasp. Oh my Fifty! He’s letting me touch him. And it’s like all the air in my lungs has vaporized-gone. The blood is pounding in my ears as the rhythm of my heart rises to match his.
He releases my hand, leaving it in place over his heart. I flex my fingers slightly, feeling the warmth of his skin beneath the thin fabric of his shirt. He’s holding his breath. I can’t bear it. I make to move my hand.
“No,” he says quickly and places his hand once more over mine, pressing my fingers against him. “Don’t.”
Emboldened by these two words, I shuffle closer so our knees are touching and tentatively raise my other hand so that he knows exactly what I intend to do. His eyes grow wider but he doesn’t stop me.
Gently I start to undo the buttons on his shirt. It’s tricky with one hand. I flex my fingers beneath his hand and he lets go, allowing me to use both hands to undo his shirt. My eyes don’t leave his as I pull his shirt open, revealing his chest.
He swallows, and his lips part as his breathing increases, and I sense his rising panic, but he doesn’t pull away. Is he still in sub mode? I have no idea.
Should I do this? I don’t want to hurt him, physically or mentally. The sight of him like this, offering himself to me, has been a wake-up call.
I reach up, and my hand hovers over his chest, and I stare at him… asking his permission. Very subtly he tilts his head to one side, steeling himself in anticipation of my touch, and the tension radiates from him, but this time it’s not in anger-it’s in fear.
I hesitate. Can I really do this to him?
“Yes,” he breathes-again with the weird ability to answer my unspoken questions.
I extend my fingertips into his chest hair and lightly brush them down his sternum. He closes his eyes, and his face creases as if he’s experiencing intolerable pain. It’s unbearable to witness, so I lift my fingers immediately, but he quickly grabs my hand and replaces it firmly, flat on his bare chest so that the hair tickles my palm.
“No,” he says, his voice strained. “I need to.”
His eyes are screwed up so tightly. This must be agony. It’s truly tormenting to watch. Carefully I let my fingers stroke across his chest to his heart, marveling at the feel of him, terrified that this is a step too far.
He opens his eyes, and they are gray fire, blazing at me.
Holy cow. His look is blistering, feral, beyond intense, and his breathing is rapid. It stirs my blood. I squirm under his gaze.
He hasn’t stopped me, so I run my fingertips across his chest again, and his mouth goes slack. He’s panting, and I don’t know if it’s from fear, or something else.
I’ve wanted to kiss him there for so long that I lean up on my knees and hold his gaze for a moment, making my intention perfectly clear. Then I bend and gently plant a soft kiss above his heart, feeling his warm, sweet-smelling skin beneath my lips.
His strangled groan moves me so much that I sit back on my heels, fearful of what I’ll see on his face. His eyes are screwed tightly shut, but he hasn’t moved.
“Again,” he whispers, and I lean into his chest once more, this time to kiss one of his scars. He gasps, and I kiss another and another. He groans loudly, and suddenly his arms are around me, and his hand is in my hair, pulling my head up painfully so that my lips meet his insistent mouth. And we’re kissing, my fingers knotting into his hair.
“Oh, Ana,” he breathes, and he twists and pulls me down on to the floor so that I am underneath him. I bring my hands up to cup his beautiful face, and in that moment, I feel his tears.
He’s crying… no. No!
“Christian, please, don’t cry. I meant it when I said I’d never leave you. I did. If I gave you any other impression, I’m so sorry… please, please forgive me. I love you. I will always love you.”
He looms over me, gazing down into my face, and his expression is so pained.
“What is it?”
His eyes grow larger.
“What is this secret that makes you think I’ll run for the hills? That makes you so determined to believe I’ll go?” I plead, my voice tremulous. “Tell me, Christian, please…”
He sits up, though this time he crosses his legs and I follow suit, my legs outstretched. Vaguely I wonder if we can get off the floor? But I don’t want to interrupt his train of thought. He’s finally going to confide in me.
He gazes down at me, and he looks utterly desolate. Oh shit-it’s bad.
“Ana…” He pauses, searching for the words, his expression pained… Oh? Where the hell is this going?
He takes a deep breath and swallows. “I’m a sadist, Ana. I like to whip little brown-haired girls like you because you all look like the crack whore-my birth mother. I’m sure you can guess why.” He says it in a rush as if he’s had the sentence in his head for days and days and is desperate to be rid of it.
My world stops. Oh no.
This is not what I expected. This is bad. Really bad. I gaze at him, trying to understand the implication of what he’s just said. It does explain why we all look the same.
My immediate thought is that Leila was right-“Master is dark.”
I recall the first conversation I had with him about his tendencies when we were in the Red Room of Pain.
“You said you weren’t a sadist,” I whisper, desperately trying to understand… make some excuse for him.
“No, I said I was a Dominant. If I lied to you, it was a lie of omission. I’m sorry.” He looks briefly down at his manicured fingernails.
I think he’s mortified. Mortified about lying to me? Or about what he is?
“When you asked me that question, I had envisioned a very different relationship between us,” he murmurs. I can tell by his gaze that he’s terrified.
Then it hits me like a wrecking ball. If he’s a sadist, he reallyneedsall that whipping and caning shit. Oh fuck. I put my head in my hands.
“So it’s true,” I whisper, glancing up at him. “I can’t give you what you need.” This is it-this really does mean we are incompatible.
The world starts falling away at my feet, collapsing around me as panic grips my throat. This is it. We can’t do this.
He frowns. “No, No, No. Ana. No. You can. You do give me what I need.” He clenches his fists. “Please believe me,” he murmurs, his words an impassioned plea.
“I don’t know what to believe, Christian. This is so fucked-up,” I whisper, my throat hoarse and aching as it closes in, choking me with unshed tears.
His eyes are wide and luminous when he looks at me again.
“Ana, believe me. After I punished you and you left me, my worldview changed. I wasn’t joking when I said I would avoid ever feeling like that again.” He gazes at me with pained entreaty. “When you said you loved me, it was a revelation. No one’s ever said it to me before, and it was as if I’d laid something to rest-or maybe you’d laid it to rest, I don’t know. Dr. Flynn and I are still in deep discussion about it.”
Oh. Hope flares briefly in my heart. Perhaps we’ll be okay. I want us to be okay. Don’t I? “What does that all mean?” I whisper.
“It means I don’t need it. Not now.”
What? “How do you know? How can you be so sure?”
“I just know. The thought of hurting you… in any real way… it’s abhorrent to me.”
“I don’t understand. What about rulers and spanking and all that kinky fuckery?”
He runs a hand through his hair and almost smiles but instead sighs ruefully. “I’m talking about the heavy shit, Anastasia. You should see what I can do with a cane or a cat.”
My mouth drops open, stunned. “I’d rather not.”
“I know. If you wanted to do that, then fine… but you don’t and I get it. I can’t do all that shit with you if you don’t want to. I told you once before, you have all the power. And now, since you came back, I don’t feel that compulsion, at all.”
I gape at him for a moment trying to take this all in. “When we met, that’s what you wanted, though?”
“How can your compulsion just go, Christian? Like I’m some kind of panacea, and you’re-for want of a better word-cured? I don’t get it.”
He sighs once more. “I wouldn’t say cured… You don’t believe me?”
“I just find it-unbelievable. Which is different.”
“If you’d never left me, then I probably wouldn’t feel this way. You walking out on me was the best thing you ever did… for us. It made me realize how much I want you, just you, and I mean it when I say I’ll take you any way I can have you.”
I gaze at him. Can I believe this? My head hurts just trying to think this all through, and deep down I feel… numb.
“You’re still here. I thought you would be out of the door by now,” he whispers.
“Why? Because I might think you’re a sicko for whipping and fucking women who look like your mother? Whatever would give you that impression?” I hiss at him, lashing out.
He blanches at my harsh words.
“Well, I wouldn’t have put it quite like that, but yes,” he says, his eyes wide and hurt.
His expression is sobering and I regret my outburst. I frown, feeling a pang of guilt.
Oh, what am I going to do? I gaze at him and he looks contrite, sincere… he looks like my Fifty.
And unbidden I recall the photograph in his childhood bedroom, and in that moment realize why the woman in it looked so familiar. She looked like him. She must have been his biological mother.
His easy dismissal of her comes to mind: No one of consequence… She’s responsible for all this… and I look like her… Fuck!
He stares at me, eyes raw, and I know he’s waiting for my next move. He seems genuine. He’s said he loves me, but I’m really confused.
This is all so fucked-up. He’s reassured me about Leila, but now I know with more certainty than ever how she was able to give him his kicks. The thought is wearying and unpalatable. I am so tired of all this.
“Christian, I’m exhausted. Can we discuss this tomorrow? I want to go to bed.”
He blinks at me in surprise. “You’re not going?”
“Do you want me to go?”
“No! I thought you would leave once you knew.”
All the times he’s alluded to me leaving once I knew his darkest secrets flash through my mind… and now I know. Shit. Master is dark.
Should I leave? I gaze at him, this crazy man that I love, yes love.
Can I leave him? I left him once before, and it nearly broke me… and him. I love him. I know that in spite of this revelation.
“Don’t leave me,” he whispers.
“Oh, for crying out loud-no! I am not going to go!” I shout and it’s cathartic. There, I’ve said it. I am not leaving.
“Really?” His eyes widen.
“What can I do to make you understand I will not run? What can I say?”
He gazes at me, revealing his fear and anguish again. He swallows. “There is one thing you can do.”
“What?” I snap.
“Marry me,” he whispers.
What? Did he really just-
For the second time in less than half an hour my world stops.
Holy fuck. I stare at the deeply fucked-up man I love. I can’t believe what he’s just said.
Marriage? He’s proposing marriage? Is he kidding? I can’t help it-a small, nervous, disbelieving giggle erupts from deep inside. I bite my lip to stop it from turning into full-scale hysterical laughter and fail miserably. I lie back flat on the floor and surrender myself to the laughter, laughing as I’ve never laughed before, huge healing cathartic howls of laughter.
And for a moment I am on my own, looking down at this absurd situation, a giggling, overwhelmed girl beside a beautiful fucked-up boy. I drape my arm across my eyes, as my laughter turns to scalding tears. No, no… this is too much.
As the hysteria subsides, Christian gently lifts my arm off my face. I turn and gaze up at him.
He’s leaning over me. His mouth is twisted with wry amusement, but his eyes are a burning gray, maybe wounded. Oh no.
He gently wipes away a stray tear with the back of his knuckles. “You find my proposal amusing, Miss Steele?”
Oh, Fifty! Reaching up, I caress his cheek tenderly, enjoying the feel of the stubble beneath my fingers. Lord, I love this man.
“Mr. Grey… Christian. Your sense of timing is without doubt…” I gaze up at him as words fail me.
He smirks at me, but the crinkling around his eyes shows me that he’s hurt. It’s sobering.
“You’re cutting me to the quick here, Ana. Will you marry me?”
I sit up and lean over him, placing my hands on his knees. I stare into his lovely face. “Christian, I’ve met your psycho ex with a gun, been thrown out of my apartment, had you go thermonuclear Fifty on me-”
He opens his mouth to speak, but I hold up my hand. He obediently shuts his mouth.
“You’ve just revealed some, quite frankly, shocking information about yourself, and now you’ve asked me to marry you.”
He moves his head from side to side as if considering the facts. He’s amused. Thank heavens.
“Yes, I think that’s a fair and accurate summary of the situation,” he says dryly.
I shake my head at him. “Whatever happened to delayed gratification?”
“I got over it, and I’m now a firm advocate of instant gratification. Carpe diem,Ana,” he whispers.
“Look Christian, I’ve known you for about three minutes, and there’s so much more I need to know. I’ve had too much to drink, I’m hungry, I’m tired, and I want to go to bed. I need to consider your proposal just as I considered that contract you gave me. And”-I press my lips together to show my displeasure but also to lighten the mood between us-“that wasn’t the most romantic proposal.”
He tilts his head to one side and his lips quirk up in a smile. “Fair point well made, as ever, Miss Steele,” he breathes, his voice laced with relief. “So that’s not a no?”
I sigh. “No, Mr. Grey, it’s not a no, but it’s not a yes either. You’re only doing this because you’re scared, and you don’t trust me.”
“No, I’m doing this because I’ve finally met someone I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
Oh. My heart skips a beat and inside I melt. How is it that in the middle of the most fucked-up situations he can say the most romantic things? My mouth pops open in shock.
“I never thought that would happen to me,” he continues, his expression radiating pure undiluted sincerity.
I gape at him, searching for the right words.
“Can I think about it… please? And think about everything else that’s happened today? What you’ve just told me? You asked for patience and faith. Well, back at you, Grey. I need those now.”
His eyes search mine and after a beat, he leans forward and tucks my hair behind my ear.
“I can live with that.” He kisses me quickly on the lips. “Not very romantic, eh?” He raises his eyebrows, and I give him an admonishing shake of my head. “Hearts and flowers?” he asks softly.
I nod and he gives me a slight smile.
“You didn’t eat.” His eyes frost and his jaw hardens.
“No, I didn’t eat.” I sit back on my heels and regard him passively. “Being thrown out of my apartment after witnessing my boyfriend interacting intimately with his ex-submissive considerably suppressed my appetite.” I glare at him and fist my hands on my hips.
Christian shakes his head and rises gracefully to his feet. Oh, finally we can get off the floor. He holds his hand out to me.
“Let me fix you something to eat,” he says.
“Can’t I just go to bed?” I mutter wearily as I place my hand in his.
He pulls me up. I am stiff. He gazes down at me, his expression soft.
“No, you need to eat. Come.” Bossy Christian is back, and it’s a relief.
He leads me to the kitchen area and ushers me toward a bar stool as he heads to the fridge. I glance at my watch. Jeez, nearly eleven thirty and I have to get up for work in the morning.
“Christian, I’m really not hungry.”
He studiously ignores me as he ferrets through the enormous fridge. “Cheese?” he asks.
“Not at this hour.”
“In the fridge? No,” I snap.
He turns and grins at me. “You don’t like pretzels?”
“Not at eleven thirty. Christian, I’m going to bed. You can rummage around in your refrigerator for the rest of the night if you want. I’m tired, and I’ve had far too interesting a day. A day I’d like to forget.” I slide off the stool and he scowls at me, but right now I don’t care. I want to go to bed-I’m exhausted.
“Macaroni and cheese?” He holds up a white bowl lidded with foil. He looks so hopeful and endearing.
“You like macaroni and cheese?” I ask.
He nods enthusiastically, and my heart melts. He looks so young all of a sudden. Who would have thought? Christian Grey likes nursery food.
“You want some?” he asks, sounding hopeful. I can’t resist him and I’m hungry.
I nod and give him a weak smile. His answering grin is breathtaking. He takes the foil off the bowl and pops it into the microwave. I perch back on the stool and watch the beauty that is Mr. Christian Grey-the man who wants to marry me-move gracefully and with ease around his kitchen.
“So you know how to use the microwave then?” I tease softly.
“If it’s in a packet, I can usually do something with it. It’s real food I have a problem with.”
I cannot believe this is the same man who was on his knees in front of me not half an hour before. He’s his usual mercurial self. He sets out plates, cutlery, and placemats on the breakfast bar.
“It’s very late,” I mutter.
“Don’t go to work tomorrow.”
“I have to go to work tomorrow. My boss is leaving for New York.”
Christian frowns. “Do you want to go there this weekend?”
“I checked the weather forecast, and it looks like rain,” I say, shaking my head.
“Oh, so what do you want to do?”
The microwave’s ping announces that our supper is warmed through.
“I just want to get through one day at a time at the moment. All this excitement is… tiring.” I raise an eyebrow at him, which he judiciously ignores.
Christian places the white bowl in between our place settings and takes his seat beside me. He looks deep in thought, distracted. I dish the macaroni onto our plates. It smells divine, and my mouth waters in anticipation. I am famished.
“Sorry about Leila,” he murmurs.
“Why are you sorry?” Mmm, the macaroni tastes as good as it smells. My stomach grumbles gratefully.
“It must have been a terrible shock for you, finding her in your apartment. Taylor swept it earlier himself. He’s very upset.”
“I don’t blame Taylor.”
“Neither do I. He’s been out looking for you.”
“I didn’t know where you were. You left your purse, your phone. I couldn’t even track you. Where did you go?” he asks. His voice is soft, but there’s an ominous undercurrent to his words.
“Ethan and I just went to a bar across the street. So I could watch what was happening.”
“I see.” The atmosphere between us has changed subtly. It’s no longer light.
Okay, well… two can play that game. Let’s just bring this back to you, Fifty. Trying to sound nonchalant, wanting to assuage my burning curiosity but dreading the answer, I ask, “So what did you do with Leila in the apartment?”
I glance up at him, and he freezes with his forkful of macaroni suspended in midair. Oh no, that’s not good.
“You really want to know?”
A knot tightens in my gut and my appetite vanishes. “Yes,” I whisper. Do you? Do you really? My subconscious has thrown her empty bottle of gin on the floor and is sitting up in her armchair, glaring at me in horror.
Christian’s mouth flattens into a line, and he hesitates. “We talked, and I gave her a bath.” His voice is hoarse, and he continues quickly when I make no response. “And I dressed her in some of your clothes. I hope you don’t mind. But she was filthy.”
Holy fuck. He bathed her?
What an inappropriate thing to do. I’m reeling, staring down at my uneaten macaroni. The sight of it now makes me nauseous.
Try to rationalize this, my subconscious coaches. That cool, intellectual part of my brain knows that he just did that because she was dirty, but it’s too hard. My fragile jealous self can’t bear it.
Suddenly I want to cry-not succumb to ladylike tears that trickle decorously down my cheeks, but howling at the moon crying. I take a deep breath to suppress the urge, but my throat is arid and uncomfortable from my unshed tears and sobs.
“It was all I could do, Ana,” he says softly.
“You still have feelings for her?”
“No!” he says, appalled, and closes his eyes, his expression one of anguish. I turn away, staring once more at my nauseating food. I can’t bear to look at him.
“To see her like that-so different, so broken. I care about her, one human being to another.” He shrugs as if to shake off an unpleasant memory. Jeez, is he expecting my sympathy?
“Ana, look at me.”
I can’t. I know that if I do, I will burst into tears. This is just too much to absorb. I’m like an overflowing tank of gasoline-full, beyond capacity. There is no room for any more. I simply cannot cope with any more crap. I will combust and explode, and it will be ugly if I try. Jeez!
Christian caring for his ex-sub in such an intimate fashion-the image flashes through my brain. Bathing her, for fuck’s sake-naked. A harsh, painful shudder wracks my body.
“Don’t. It doesn’t mean anything. It was like caring for a child, a broken, shattered child,” he mutters.
What the hell would he know about caring for a child? This was a woman he had a very full-on, deviant sexual relationship with.
Oh, this hurts. I take a deep, steadying breath. Or perhaps he’s referring to himself. He’s the broken child. That makes more sense… or maybe it makes no sense at all. Oh, this is so fucked-up, and suddenly I’m bone crushingly tired. I need sleep.
I stand, take my plate to the sink, and scrape the contents into the trash.
I whirl around and face him. “Just stop, Christian! Just stop with the ‘Ana, please’!” I shout at him, and my tears start to trickle down my face. “I’ve had enough of all this shit today. I am going to bed. I am tired and emotional. Now let me be.”
I turn on my heel and practically run to the bedroom, taking with me the memory of his wide-eyed, shocked stare. Nice to know I can shock him, too. I strip out of my clothes in double-quick time, and after rifling through his chest of drawers, drag on one of his T-shirts and head for the bathroom.
I gaze at myself in the mirror, hardly recognizing the gaunt, pink-eyed, blotchy-cheeked harridan staring back at me, and it’s too much. I sink to the floor and surrender to the overwhelming emotion I can no longer contain, sobbing huge chest-wrenching sobs, finally letting my tears flow unrestrained.
“Hey,” Christian’s says gently as he pulls me into his arms, “please don’t cry, Ana, please,” he begs. He’s on the bathroom floor, and I am in his lap. I put my arms around him and weep into his neck. Cooing softly into my hair, he gently strokes my back, my head.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he whispers, and that makes me cry harder and hug him tighter.
We sit like this forever. Eventually, when I’m all cried out, Christian staggers to his feet, holding me, and carries me into his room where he lays me down in the bed. In a few moments, he’s beside me and the lights are off. He pulls me into his arms, hugging me tightly, and I finally drift off into a dark and troubled sleep.
I awake with a jolt. My head is fuzzy and I’m too warm. Christian is wrapped around me like a vine. He grumbles in his sleep as I slip out of his arms, but he doesn’t wake. Sitting up I glance at the alarm clock. It’s three in the morning. I need an Advil and a drink. I swing my legs out of bed and make my way to the kitchen in the great room.
In the fridge, I find a carton of orange juice and pour myself a glass. Hmm… it’s delicious, and my fuzzy head eases immediately. I hunt through the cupboards looking for some painkillers and eventually come across a plastic box full of meds. I sink two Advil and pour myself another orange juice.
Wandering to the great wall of glass, I look out on a sleeping Seattle. The lights twinkle and wink beneath Christian’s castle in the sky, or should I say fortress? I press my forehead against the cool window-it’s a relief. I have so much to think about after all the revelations of yesterday. I place my back against the glass and slide down onto the floor. The great room is cavernous in the dark, the only light coming from the three lamps above the kitchen island.
Could I live here, married to Christian? After all that he’s done here? All the history this place holds for him?
Marriage. It’s almost unbelievable and completely unexpected. But then everything about Christian is unexpected. My lips quirk up with irony. Christian Grey, expect the unexpected-Fifty Shades of Fucked-Up.
My smile fades. I look like his mother. This wounds me, deeply, and the air leaves my lungs in a rush. We all look like his mom.
How the hell do I move on from the disclosure of that little secret? No wonder he didn’t want to tell me. But surely he can’t remember much of his mother. I wonder once more, if I should talk to Dr. Flynn. Would Christian let me? Perhaps he could fill in the gaps.
I shake my head. I feel world weary, but I’m enjoying the calm serenity of the great room and its beautiful works of art-cold and austere, but in their own way, still beautiful in the shadows and surely worth a fortune. Could I live here? For better, for worse? In sickness and in health? I close my eyes, lean my head back against the glass, and take a deep, cleansing breath.
The peaceful tranquility is shattered by a visceral, primeval cry that makes every single hair on my body stand to attention. Christian! Holy fuck-what’s happened? I am on my feet, running back to the bedroom before the echoes of that horrible sound have died away, my heart thumping with fear.
I flip one of the light switches, and Christian’s bedside light comes to life. He’s tossing and turning, writhing in agony. No! He cries out again, and the eerie, devastating sound lances through me anew.
“Christian!” I lean over him, grab his shoulders, and shake him awake. He opens his eyes, and they are wild and vacant, scanning quickly round the empty room before coming back to rest on me.
“You left, you left, you must have left,” he mumbles-his wide-eyed stare becoming accusatory-and he looks so lost, it wrenches at my heart. Poor Fifty.
“I’m here.” I sit down on the bed beside him. “I’m here,” I murmur softly in an effort to reassure him. I reach out to place my palm on the side of his face, trying to soothe him.
“You were gone,” he whispers rapidly. His eyes are still wild and frightened, but he seems to be calming.
“I went to get a drink. I was thirsty.”
He closes his eyes and rubs his face. When he opens them again, he looks so desolate.
“You’re here. Oh, thank God.” He reaches for me, and grabbing me tightly, he pulls me down on the bed beside him.
“I just went for a drink,” I murmur.
Oh, the intensity of his fear… I can feel it. His T-shirt is drenched in sweat, and his heartbeat is pounding as he hugs me close. He’s gazing at me as if reassuring himself that I am really here. I gently stroke his hair and then his cheek.
“Christian, please. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere,” I say soothingly.
“Oh, Ana,” he breathes. He grasps my chin to hold me in place, and then his mouth is on mine. Desire sweeps through him, and unbidden my body responds-it’s so tied and attuned to him. His lips are at my ear, my throat, then back at my mouth, his teeth gently pulling at my lower lip, his hand traveling up my body from my hip to my breast, dragging my T-shirt up. Caressing me, feeling his way through the dips and shallows of my skin, he elicits the same familiar reaction, his touch sending shivers through me. I moan as his hand cups my breast and his fingers tighten over my nipple.
“I want you,” he murmurs.
“I’m here for you. Only you, Christian.”
He groans and kisses me once more, passionately, with a fervor and desperation I’ve not felt from him before. Grabbing the hem of his T-shirt, I tug and he helps me pull it off over his head. Kneeling between my legs, he hastily pulls me upright and drags my T-shirt off.
His eyes are serious, wanting, full of dark secrets-exposed. He folds his hands around my face and kisses me, and we sink down into the bed once more, his thigh between both of mine so that he’s half-lying on top of me. His erection is rigid against my hip through his boxer briefs. He wants me, but his words from earlier choose this moment to come back and haunt me, what he said about his mother. And it’s like a bucket of cold water on my libido. Fuck. I can’t do this. Not now.
“Christian… Stop. I can’t do this,” I whisper urgently against his mouth, my hands pushing on his upper arms.
“What? What’s wrong?” he murmurs and starts kissing my neck, running the tip of his tongue lightly down my throat. Oh…
“No, please. I can’t do this, not now. I need some time, please.”
“Oh, Ana, don’t overthink this,” he whispers as he nips my earlobe.
“Ah!” I gasp, feeling it in my groin, and my body bows, betraying me. This is so confusing.
“I am just the same, Ana. I love you and I need you. Touch me. Please.” He rubs his nose against mine, and his quiet heartfelt plea moves me and I melt.
Touch him. Touch him while we make love. Oh my.
He rears up over me, gazing down, and in the half-light from the dimmed bedside light, I can tell that he’s waiting, waiting for my decision, and he’s caught in my spell.
I reach up and tentatively place my hand on the soft patch of hair over his sternum. He gasps and scrunches his eyes closed as if in pain, but I don’t take my hand away this time. I move it up to his shoulders, feeling the tremor run through him. He groans, and I pull him down to me and place both my hands on his back, where I’ve never touched him before, on his shoulder blades, holding him to me. His strangled moan arouses me like nothing else.
He buries his head in my neck, kissing and sucking and biting me, before trailing his nose up my chin and kissing me, his tongue possessing my mouth, his hands moving over my body once more. His lips move down… down… down to my breasts, worshipping as they go, and my hands stay on his shoulders and his back, enjoying the flex and ripple of his finely honed muscles, his skin still damp from his nightmare. His lips close over my nipple, pulling and tugging, so that it rises to greet his glorious skilled mouth.
I groan and run my fingernails across his back. And he gasps, a strangled moan.
“Oh, fuck, Ana,” he chokes, and it’s half cry, half groan. It tears at my heart, but also deep inside me, tightening all the muscles below my waist. Oh, what I can do to him! My inner goddess is writhing with want and I’m panting now, matching his tortured breaths with my own.
His hand travels south, over my belly, down to my sex-and his fingers are on me, then in me. I groan as he moves his fingers around inside me, in that way, and I push my pelvis up to welcome his touch.
“Ana,” he breathes. He suddenly releases me and sits up; he removes his boxer briefs and leans over to the bedside table to grab a foil packet. His eyes are a blazing gray as he passes me the condom. “You want to do this? You can still say no. You can always say no,” he murmurs.
“Don’t give me a chance to think, Christian. I want you, too.” I rip the packet open with my teeth as he kneels between my legs, and with trembling fingers I slide it on to him.
“Steady,” he says. “You are going to unman me, Ana.”
I marvel at what I can do to this man with my touch. He stretches out over me, and for now my doubts are pushed down and locked away in the dark, scary depths at the back of my mind. I’m intoxicated with this man, my man, my Fifty Shades. He shifts suddenly, completely taking me by surprise, so I am on top. Whoa.
“You-take me,” he murmurs, his eyes glowing with a feral intensity.
Oh my, and slowly, oh-so-slowly, I sink down on to him. He tilts his head back and closes his eyes as he groans. I grab his hands and start to move, reveling in the fullness of my possession, reveling in his reaction, watching him unravel beneath me. I feel like a goddess. I lean down and kiss his chin, running my teeth along his stubbled jaw. He tastes delicious. He clasps my hips and steadies my rhythm, slow and easy.
“Ana, touch me… please.”
Oh. I lean forward and steady myself with my hands on his chest. And he calls out, his cry almost a sob, and he thrusts deep inside me.
“Ahh,” I whimper and run my fingernails gently over his chest, through the hair there, and he groans loudly and twists abruptly so I am once more beneath him.
“Enough.” He moans. “No more, please.” And it’s a heartfelt plea.
Reaching up, I clasp his face in my hands, feeling the dampness on his cheeks, and pull him down to my lips so that I can kiss him. I curl my hands around his back.
He groans deep and low in his throat as he moves inside me, pushing me onward and upward, but I can’t find my release. My head is too cloudy, cloudy with issues. I am too wrapped up in him.
“Let go, Ana,” he urges me.
“Yes,” he snarls. He shifts slightly and gyrates his hips, again and again.
“Come on baby, I need this. Give it to me.”
And I explode, my body a slave to his, and wrap myself around him, clinging to him like a vine as he cries out my name, and climaxes with me, then collapses, his full weight pressing me into the mattress.
I cradle Christian in my arms, his head on my chest, as we lie in the afterglow of our lovemaking. I run my fingers through his hair as I listen to his breathing return to normal.
“Don’t ever leave me,” he whispers, and I roll my eyes in the full knowledge that he can’t see me.
“I know you’re rolling your eyes at me,” he murmurs, and I hear the trace of humor in his voice.
“You know me well,” I murmur.
“I’d like to know you better.”
“Back at you, Grey. What was your nightmare about?”
He swallows and tenses before he sighs, a long drawn-out sigh. “I must be about three, and the crack whore’s pimp is mad as hell again. He smokes and smokes, one cigarette after another, and he can’t find an ashtray.” He stops, and I freeze as a creeping chill grips my heart.
“It hurt,” he says, “It’s the pain I remember. That’s what gives me nightmares. That and the fact that she did nothing to stop him.”
Oh no. This is unbearable. I tighten my grip around him, my legs and arms holding him to me, and I try not to let my despair choke me. How could anyone treat a child like that? He raises his head and pins me with his intense gray gaze.
“You’re not like her. Don’t ever think that. Please.”
I blink back at him. It’s very reassuring to hear. He puts his head on my chest again, and I think he’s finished, but he surprises me by continuing.
“Sometimes in the dreams she’s just lying on the floor. And I think she’s asleep. But she doesn’t move. She never moves. And I’m hungry. Really hungry.”
“There’s a loud noise and he’s back, and he hits me so hard, cursing the crack whore. His first reaction was always to use his fists or his belt.”
“Is that why you don’t like to be touched?”
He closes his eyes and hugs me tighter. “That’s complicated,” he murmurs. He nuzzles me between my breasts, inhaling deeply, trying to distract me.
“Tell me,” I prompt.
He sighs. “She didn’t love me. I didn’t love me. The only touch I knew was… harsh. It stemmed from there. Flynn explains it better than I can.”
“Can I see Flynn?”
He raises his head to look at me. “Fifty Shades rubbing off on you?”
“And then some. I like how it’s rubbing off at the moment.” I wriggle provocatively underneath him and he smiles.
“Yes, Miss Steele, I like that, too.” He leans up and kisses me. He gazes at me for a moment.
“You are so precious to me, Ana. I was serious about marrying you. We can get to know each other then. I can look after you. You can look after me. We can have kids if you want. I will lay my world at your feet, Anastasia. I want you, body and soul, forever. Please think about it.”
“I will think about it, Christian. I will,” I reassure him, reeling once more. Kids? Jeez. “I’d really like to talk to Dr. Flynn, though, if you don’t mind.”
“Anything for you, baby. Anything. When would you like to see him?”
“Sooner rather than later.”
“Okay. I’ll make the arrangements in the morning.” He glances at the clock. “It’s late. We should sleep.” He shifts to switch off his bedside light and pulls me against him.
I glance at the alarm clock. Crap, it’s three forty-five.
He curls his arms around me, his front to my back, and nuzzles my neck. “I love you, Ana Steele, and I want you by my side, always,” he murmurs as he kisses my neck. “Now go to sleep.”
I close my eyes.
Reluctantly, I open my heavy eyelids and bright light fills the room. I groan. I feel cloudy, disconnected from my leaden limbs, and Christian is wrapped around me like ivy. I’m too warm as per usual. Surely it’s just five in the morning. The alarm has not gone off yet. I stretch out to free myself from his heat, turning in his arms, and he mumbles something unintelligible in his sleep. I glance at the clock. Eight forty-five.
Shit, I’m going to be late. Fuck. I scramble out of bed and dash to the bathroom. I am showered and out within four minutes.
Christian sits up in bed watching me with ill-concealed amusement coupled with wariness as I continue to dry myself while gathering my clothes. Perhaps he’s waiting for me to react to yesterday’s revelations. Right now, I just don’t have time.
I check my clothes-black slacks, black shirt-all a bit Mrs. R, but I don’t have a second to change my mind. I hastily don black bra and panties, conscious that he’s watching my every move. It’s… unnerving. The panties and bra will do.
“You look good,” Christian purrs from the bed. “You can call in sick, you know.” He gives me his devastating, lopsided, one hundred and fifty percent panty-busting smile. Oh, he’s so tempting. My inner goddess pouts provocatively at me.
“No, Christian, I can’t. I am not a megalomaniac CEO with a beautiful smile who can come and go as he pleases.”
“I like to come as I please.” He smirks and cranks his glorious smile up another notch so it’s in full hd imax.
“Christian!” I scold. I throw my towel at him and he laughs.
“Beautiful smile, huh?”
“Yes. You know the effect you have on me.” I put on my watch.
“Do I?” he blinks innocently.
“Yes, you do. The same effect you have on all women. Gets really tiresome watching them all swoon.”
“Does it?” He cocks his eyebrow at me, more amused.
“Don’t play the innocent, Mr. Grey, it really doesn’t suit you,” I mutter distractedly as I scoop my hair into a ponytail and pull on my black high-heeled shoes. There, that will do.
When I bend to kiss him good-bye, he grabs me and pulls me down onto the bed, leaning over me and smiling from ear to ear. Oh my. He’s so beautiful-eyes bright with mischief, floppy just-fucked-again hair, that dazzling smile. Nowhe’s playful.
I’m tired, still reeling from all the disclosures of yesterday, while he’s bright as a button and sexy as fuck. Oh, exasperating Fifty.
“What can I do to tempt you to stay?” he says softly, and my heart skips a beat and begins to pound. He is temptation personified.
“You can’t,” I grumble, struggling to sit back up. “Let me go.”
He pouts and I give up. Grinning, I trace my fingers over his sculptured lips-my Fifty Shades. I love him so in all his monumental fuckedupness. I haven’t even begun to process yesterday’s events and how I feel about them.
I lean up to kiss him, thankful that I have brushed my teeth. He kisses me long and hard and then swiftly sets me on my feet, leaving me dazed, breathless, and slightly wobbly.
“Taylor will take you. Quicker than finding somewhere to park. He’s waiting outside the building,” Christian says kindly, and he seems relieved. Is he worried about my reaction this morning? Surely last night-er, this morning-proved that I am not going to run.
“Okay. Thank you,” I mutter, disappointed that I am upright on my feet, confused by his hesitancy, and vaguely irritated that once again I won’t be driving my Saab. But he’s right, of course-it will be quicker with Taylor.
“Enjoy your lazy morning, Mr. Grey. I wish I could stay, but the man who owns the company I work for would not approve of his staff ditching just for hot sex.” I grab my purse.
“Personally, Miss Steele, I have no doubt that he would approve. In fact he might insist on it.”
“Why are you staying in bed? It’s not like you.”
He folds his hands behind his head and grins at me.
“Because I can, Miss Steele.”
I shake my head at him. “Laters, baby.” I blow him a kiss, and I am out of the door.
Taylor is waiting for me, and he seems to understand that I am late because he drives like a bat out of hell to get me to work by nine fifteen. I am grateful when he pulls up at the curb-grateful to be alive-his driving was scary. And grateful that I am not hideously late-only fifteen minutes.
“Thank you, Taylor,” I mutter, ashen-faced. I remember Christian telling me he drove tanks; maybe he drives for nascar, too.
“Ana.” He nods a farewell, and I dash into my office, realizing as I open the door to reception that Taylor seems to have overcome the Miss Steele formality. It makes me smile.
Claire grins at me as I rush through reception and make my way to my desk.
“Ana!” Jack calls me. “Get in here.”
“What time do you call this?” he snaps.
“I’m sorry. I overslept.” I flush crimson.
“Don’t let it happen again. Fix me some coffee, and then I need you to do some letters. Jump to it,” he shouts, making me flinch.
Why’s he so mad? What’s his problem? What have I done? I hurry to the kitchen to fix his coffee. Maybe I should have ditched. I could be… well, doing something hot with Christian, or having breakfast with him, or just talking-that would be novel.
Jack barely acknowledges my presence when I venture back into his office to deliver his coffee. He thrusts a sheet of paper at me-it’s handwritten in a barely legible scrawl.
“Type this up, have me sign, then copy and mail it to all our authors.”
He doesn’t look up as I leave. Boy, is he mad.
It is with some relief that I finally sit down at my desk. I take a sip of tea as I wait for my computer to boot up. I check my e-mails.
From: Christian Grey
Date:June 15, 2011 09:05
Please use your Blackberry.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Subject:All Right for Some
Date:June 15, 2011 09:27
My boss is mad.
I blame you for keeping me up late with your… shenanigans.
You should be ashamed of yourself.
Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP
Date:June 15, 2011 09:32
You don’t have to work, Anastasia.
You have no idea how appalled I am at my shenanigans.
But I like keeping you up late;)
Please use your Blackberry.
Oh, and marry me, please.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Subject:Living to make
Date:June 15, 2011 09:35
I know your natural inclination is toward nagging, but just stop.
I need to talk to your shrink.
Only then will I give you my answer.
I am not opposed to living in sin.
Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP
Date:June 15, 2011 09:40
Anastasia, if you are going to start discussing Dr. Flynn then USE YOUR BLACKBERRY.
This is not a request.
Now Pissed CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Oh shit. Nowhe’smad at me, too. Well, he can stew for all I care. I take my Blackberry out of my purse and eye it with skepticism. As I do, it starts ringing. Can’t he leave me alone?
“Yes,” I snap.
“José! How are you?” Oh, it’s good to hear his voice.
“I’m fine, Ana. Look, are you still seeing that Grey guy?”
“Er-yes… Why?” Where is he going with this?
“Well, he’s bought all your photos, and I thought I could deliver them up to Seattle. The exhibition closes Thursday, so I could bring them up Friday evening and drop them off, you know. And maybe we could catch a drink or something. Actually, I was hoping for a place to crash, too.”
“José, that’s cool. Yeah, I’m sure we could work something out. Let me talk to Christian and call you back, okay?”
“Cool, I’ll wait to hear from you. Bye, Ana.”
“Bye.” And he’s gone.
Holy cow. I haven’t seen or heard from José since his show. I didn’t even ask him how it went or if he sold any more pictures. Some friend I am.Fifty Shades Freed Extended Version