“Why, why do you defy me?” he mumbles between his heated kisses.
My blood sings in my veins. Will he always have this effect on me? And I on him?
“Because I can.” I’m breathless. I feel rather than see his smile against my neck, and he presses his forehead to mine.
“Lord, I want to take you now, but I’m out of condoms. I can never get enough of you. You’re a maddening, maddening woman.”
“And you make me mad,” I whisper. “In every way.”
He shakes his head. “Come. Let’s go out for breakfast. And I know a place you can get your hair cut.”
“Okay,” I acquiesce and just like that, our fight is over.
“I’ll get this.” I pick up the tab for breakfast before he does.
He scowls at me.
“You have to be quick around here, Grey.”
“You’re right, I do,” he says sourly, though I think he’s teasing.
“Don’t look so cross. I’m twenty-four thousand dollars richer than I was this morning. I can afford”-I glance at the check-“twenty-two dollars and sixty-seven cents for breakfast.”
“Thank you,” he says grudgingly. Oh, the sulky schoolboy is back.
“Where to now?”
“You really want your hair cut?”
“Yes, look at it.”
“You look lovely to me. You always do.”
I blush and stare down at my fingers knotted in my lap. “And there’s your father’s function this evening.”
“Remember, it’s black tie.”
Oh Jeez. “Where is it?”
“At my parents’ house. They have a marquee. You know, the works.”
“What’s the charity?”
Christian rubs his hands down his thighs, looking uncomfortable.
“It’s a drug rehab program for parents with young kids called Coping Together.”
“Sounds like a good cause,” I say softly.
“Come, let’s go.” He stands, effectively halting that topic of conversation and holds out his hand. As I take it, he tightens his fingers around mine.
It’s strange. He’s so demonstrative in some ways and yet so closed in others. He leads me out of the restaurant, and we walk down the street. It is a lovely, mild morning. The sun is shining, and the air smells of coffee and freshly baked bread.
“Where are we going?”
Oh, okay. I don’t really like surprises.
We walk for two blocks, and the stores become decidedly more exclusive. I haven’t yet had an opportunity to explore, but this really is just around the corner from where I live. Kate will be pleased. There are plenty of small boutiques to feed her fashion passion. Actually, I need to buy some floaty skirts for work.
Christian stops outside a large, slick-looking beauty salon and opens the door for me. It’s called Esclava. The interior is all white and leather. At the stark white reception desk sits a young blond woman in a crisp white uniform. She glances up as we enter.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” she says brightly, color rising in her cheeks as she bats her eyelashes at him. It’s the Grey effect, but she knows him! How?
And he knows her. What is this?
“Is this the usual, sir?” she asks politely. She’s wearing very pink lipstick.
“No,” he says quickly, with a nervous glance at me.
The usual? What does that mean?
Holy fuck! It’s Rule no 6, the damned beauty salon. All the waxing nonsense… shit!
This is where he brought all his subs? Maybe Leila, too? What the hell am I supposed to make of this?
“Miss Steele will tell you what she wants.”
I glare at him. He’s introducing the Rules by stealth. I’ve agreed to the personal trainer-and now this?
“Why here?” I hiss at him.
“I own this place, and three more like it.”
“You own it?” I gasp in surprise. Well, that’s unexpected.
“Yes. It’s a sideline. Anyway-whatever you want, you can have it here, on the house. All sorts of massage; Swedish, shiatsu, hot stones, reflexology, seaweed baths, facials, all that stuff that women like-everything. It’s done here.” He waves his long-fingered hand dismissively.
He laughs. “Yes waxing, too. Everywhere,” he whispers conspiratorially, enjoying my discomfort.
I blush and glance at Greta, who is looking at me expectantly.
“I’d like a haircut, please.”
“Certainly, Miss Steele.”
Greta is all pink lipstick and bustling Germanic efficiency as she checks her computer screen.
“Franco is free in five minutes.”
“Franco’s fine,” says Christian reassuringly to me. I am trying to wrap my head around this. Christian Grey CEO owns a chain of beauty salons.
I peek up at him, and suddenly he blanches-something, or someone, has caught his eye. I turn to see where he’s looking, and right at the back of the salon a sleek platinum blonde has appeared, closing a door behind her and speaking to one of the hair stylists.
Platinum Blonde is tall, tanned, lovely, and in her late thirties or forties-it’s difficult to tell. She’s wearing the same uniform as Greta, but in black. She looks stunning. Her hair shines like a halo, cut in sharp bob. As she turns, she catches sight of Christian and smiles at him, a dazzling smile of warm recognition.
“Excuse me,” Christian mumbles hurriedly.
He strides quickly through the salon, past the hair stylists all in white, past the apprentices at the sinks, and over to her, too far away for me to hear their conversation. Platinum Blonde greets him with obvious affection, kissing both his cheeks, her hands resting on his upper arms, and they talk animatedly together.
Greta the receptionist is trying to get my attention.
“Hang on a moment, please.” I watch Christian, fascinated.
Platinum Blonde turns and looks at me, and gives me the same dazzling smile, as if she knows me. I smile politely back.
Christian looks upset about something. He’s reasoning with her, and she’s acquiescing, holding her hands up and smiling at him. He’s smiling at her-clearly they know each other well. Perhaps they’ve worked together for a long time? Maybe she runs the place; after all, she has a certain look of authority.
Then it hits me like a wrecking ball, and I know, deep down in my gut on a visceral level, I know who it is. It’s her. Stunning, older, beautiful.
It’s Mrs. Robinson.
“Greta, who is Mr. Grey talking to?” My scalp is trying to leave the building. It’s prickling with apprehension, and my subconscious is screaming at me to follow it. But I sound nonchalant enough.
“Oh, that’s Mrs. Lincoln. She owns the place with Mr. Grey.” Greta seems more than happy to share.
“Mrs. Lincoln?” I thought Mrs. Robinson was divorced. Perhaps she’s remarried to some poor sap.
“Yes. She’s not usually here, but one of our technicians is sick today so she’s filling in.”
“Do you know Mrs. Lincoln’s first name?”
Greta looks up at me, frowning, and purses her bright pink lips, questioning my curiosity. Shit, perhaps this is a step too far.
“Elena,” she says, almost reluctantly.
I’m swamped by a strange sense of relief that my spidey sense has not let me down.
Spidey sense? My subconscious snorts, Paedo sense.
They are still deep in discussion. Christian is talking rapidly to Elena, and she looks worried, nodding, grimacing, and shaking her head. Reaching out, she rubs his arm soothingly while biting her lip. Another nod, and she glances at me and offers me a small reassuring smile.
I can only stare at her stony-faced. I think I’m in shock. How could he bring me here?
She murmurs something to Christian, and he looks my way briefly then turns back to her and replies. She nods, and I think she’s wishing him luck, but my lip-reading skills aren’t highly developed.
Fifty strides back to me, anxiety etched on his face. Damn right. Mrs. Robinson returns to the back room, closing the door behind her.
Christian frowns. “Are you okay?” he asks, but his voice is strained, cautious.
“Not really. You didn’t want to introduce me?” My voice sounds cold, hard.
His mouth drops open, he looks as if I’ve pulled the rug from under his feet.
“But I thought-”
“For a bright man, sometimes…” Words fail me. “I’d like to go, please.”
“You know why.” I roll my eyes.
He gazes down at me, his eyes burning.
“I’m sorry, Ana. I didn’t know she’d be here. She’s never here. She’s opened a new branch at the Bravern Center, and that’s where she’s normally based. Someone was sick today.”
I turn on my heel and head for the door.
“We won’t need Franco, Greta,” Christian snaps as we head out of the door. I have to suppress the impulse to run. I want to run fast and far away. I have an overwhelming urge to cry. I just need to get away from all this fuckedupness.
Christian walks wordlessly beside me as I try to mull all this over in my head. Wrapping my arms protectively around myself, I keep my head down, avoiding the trees on Second Avenue. Wisely, he makes no move to touch me. My mind is boiling with unanswered questions. Will Mr. Evasive fess up?
“You used to take your subs there?” I snap.
“Some of them, yes,” he says quietly, his tone clipped.
“The place looks very new.”
“It’s been refurbished recently.”
“I see. So Mrs. Robinson met all your subs.”
“Did they know about her?”
“No. None of them did. Only you.”
“But I’m not your sub.”
“No, you most definitely are not.”
I stop and face him. His eyes are wide, fearful. His lips are pressed into a hard, uncompromising line.
“Can you see how fucked-up this is?” I glare up at him, my voice low.
“Yes. I’m sorry.” And he has the grace to look contrite.
“I want to get my hair cut, preferably somewhere where you haven’t fucked either the staff or the clientele.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“You’re not running. Are you?” he asks.
“No, I just want a damn haircut. Somewhere I can close my eyes, have someone wash my hair, and forget about all this baggage that accompanies you.”
He runs his hand through his hair. “I can have Franco come to the apartment, or your place,” he says quietly.
“She’s very attractive.”
He blinks. “Yes, she is.”
“Is she still married?”
“No. She divorced about five years ago.”
“Why aren’t you with her?”
“Because that’s over between us. I’ve told you this.” His brow creases suddenly. Holding his finger up, he fishes his Blackberry out of his jacket pocket. It must be vibrating because I don’t hear it ring.
“Welch,” he snaps, then listens. We are standing on Second Avenue, and I gaze in the direction of the larch sapling in front of me, its leaves the newest green.
People bustle past us, lost in their Saturday morning chores. No doubt contemplating their own personal dramas. I wonder if they include stalker ex-submissives, stunning ex-Dommes, and a man who has no concept of privacy under United States law.
“Killed in a car crash? When?” Christian interrupts my reverie.
Oh no. Who? I listen more closely.
“That’s twice that bastard’s not been forthcoming. He must know. Does he have no feelings for her whatsoever?” Christian shakes his head in disgust. “This is beginning to make sense… no… explains why, but not where.” Christian glances around us as if searching for something, and I find myself mirroring his actions. Nothing catches my eye. There are just the shoppers, the traffic, and the trees.
“She’s here,” Christian continues. “She’s watching us… Yes… No. Two or four, twenty-four seven… I haven’t broached that yet.” Christian looks at me directly.
Broached what? I frown, at him and he regards me warily.
“What…,” he whispers and pales, his eyes widening. “I see. When?… That recently? But how?… No background checks?… I see. E-mail the name, address, and photos if you have them… twenty-four seven, from this afternoon. Liaise with Taylor.” Christian hangs up.
“Well?” I ask, exasperated. Is he going to tell me?
“That was Welch.”
“My security advisor.”
“Okay. So what’s happened?”
“Leila left her husband about three months ago and ran off with a guy who was killed in a car accident four weeks ago.”
“The asshole shrink should have found that out,” he says angrily. “Grief, that’s what this is. Come.” He holds out his hand, and I automatically place mine in his before I snatch it away again.
“Wait a minute. We were in the middle of a discussion, about us. About her, your Mrs. Robinson.”
Christian’s face hardens. “She’s not my Mrs. Robinson. We can talk about it at my place.”
“I don’t want to go to your place. I want to get my hair cut!” I shout. If I can just focus on this one thing…
He grabs his Blackberry from his pocket again and dials a number. “Greta, Christian Grey. I want Franco at my place in an hour. Ask Mrs. Lincoln… Good.” He puts his phone away. “He’s coming at one.”
“Christian…!” I splutter, exasperated.
“Anastasia, Leila is obviously suffering a psychotic break. I don’t know if it’s you or me she’s after, or what lengths she’s prepared to go to. We’ll go to your place, pick up your things, and you can stay with me until we’ve tracked her down.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“So I can keep you safe.”
He glares at me. “You are coming back to my apartment if I have to drag you there by your hair.”
I gape at him… this is beyond belief. Fifty Shades in Glorious Technicolor.
“I think you’re overreacting.”
“I don’t. We can continue our discussion back at my place. Come.”
I fold my arms and glare at him. This has gone too far.
“No,” I state stubbornly. I have to make a stand.
“You can walk or I can carry you. I don’t mind either way, Anastasia.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” I scowl at him. Surely he wouldn’t make a scene on Second Avenue?
He half smiles at me, but the smile doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Oh, baby, we both know that if you throw down the gauntlet I’ll be only too happy to pick it up.”
We glare at each other-and abruptly he sweeps down, clasps me round my thighs, and lifts me. Before I know it, I am over his shoulder.
“Put me down!” I scream. Oh, it feels good to scream.
He starts striding along Second Avenue, ignoring me. Clasping his arm firmly around my thighs, he swats my behind with his free hand.
“Christian!” I shout. People are staring. Could this be any more humiliating? “I’ll walk! I’ll walk.”
He puts me down, and before he’s even stood upright, I stomp off in the direction of my apartment, seething, ignoring him. Of course, he’s by my side in moments, but I continue to ignore him. What am I going to do? I am so angry, but I’m not even sure what I am angry about-there’s so much.
As I stalk back home, I make a mental list:
1. Shoulder carrying-unacceptable for anyone over the age of six.
2. Taking me to the salon that he owns with his ex-lover-how stupid can he be?
3. The same place he took his submissives-same stupidity at work here.
4. Not even realizing that this was a bad idea-and he’s supposed to be a bright guy.
5. Having crazy ex-girlfriends. Can I blame him for that? I am so furious; yes, I can.
6. Knowing my bank account number-that’s just too stalkery by half.
7. Buying SIP-he’s got more money than sense.
8. Insisting I stay with him-the threat from Leila must be worse than he feared… he didn’t mention that yesterday.
Oh no, realization dawns. Something’s changed. What could that be? I halt, and Christian halts with me. “What’s happened?” I demand.
He knits his brow. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve told you.”
“No, you haven’t. There’s something else. You didn’t insist that I go to your place yesterday. So what’s happened?”
He shifts uncomfortably.
“Christian! Tell me!” I snap.
“She managed to obtain a concealed weapons permit yesterday.”
Oh shit. I gaze at him, blinking, and feel the blood draining from my face as I absorb this news. I may faint. Suppose she wants to kill him? No.
“That means she can just buy a gun,” I whisper.
“Ana,” he says, his voice full of concern. He places his hands on my shoulders, pulling me close to him. “I don’t think she’ll do anything stupid, but-I just don’t want to take that risk with you.”
“Not me… what about you?” I whisper.
He frowns down at me, and I wrap my arms around him and hug him hard, my face against his chest. He doesn’t seem to mind.
“Let’s get back,” he murmurs, and he reaches down and kisses my hair, and that’s it. All my fury is gone, but not forgotten. Dissipated under the threat of some harm coming to Christian. The thought is unbearable.
Solemnly I pack a small case and place my Mac, the Blackberry, my iPad, and Charlie Tango in my backpack.
“Charlie Tango’s coming, too?” Christian asks.
I nod and he gives me a small, indulgent smile.
“Ethan is back Tuesday,” I mutter.
“Kate’s brother. He’s staying here until he finds a place in Seattle.”
Christian gazes at me blankly, but I notice the frostiness creep into his eyes.
“Well, it’s good that you’ll be staying with me. Give him more room,” he says quietly.
“I don’t know that he’s got keys. I’ll need to be back then.”
Christian gazes at me impassively but says nothing.
He grabs my case, and we head out the door. As we walk around to the back of the building to the parking lot, I’m aware that I am looking over my shoulder. I don’t know if my paranoia has taken over or if someone really is watching me. Christian opens the passenger door of the Audi and looks at me expectantly.
“Are you getting in?” he asks.
“I thought I was driving.”
“No. I’ll drive.”
“Something wrong with my driving? Don’t tell me you know what I scored on my driving test… I wouldn’t be surprised with your stalking tendencies.” Maybe he knows that I just scraped through the written test.
“Get in the car, Anastasia,” he snaps angrily.
“Okay.” I hastily climb in. Honestly, chill, will you?
Perhaps he has the same uneasy feeling, too. Some dark sentinel watching us-well, a pale brunette with brown eyes who has an uncanny resemblance to yours truly and quite possibly a concealed firearm.
Christian sets off into the traffic.
“Were all your submissives brunettes?”
He frowns and glances at me quickly. “Yes,” he mutters. He sounds uncertain, and I imagine him thinking, where’s she going with this?
“I just wondered.”
“I told you. I prefer brunettes.”
“Mrs. Robinson isn’t a brunette.”
“That’s probably why,” he mutters. “She put me off blondes forever.”
“You’re kidding,” I gasp.
“Yes. I’m kidding,” he replies, exasperated.
I stare impassively out the window, spying brunettes everywhere, none of them Leila, though.
So, he only likes brunettes. I wonder why? Did Mrs. Extraordinarily-Glamorous-In-Spite-Of-Being-Old Robinson really put him off blondes? I shake my head-Christian Mindfuck Grey.
“Tell me about her.”
“What do you want to know?” Christian’s brow furrows, and his tone of voice tries to warn me off.
“Tell me about your business arrangement.”
He visibly relaxes, happy to talk about work. “I am a silent partner. I’m not particularly interested in the beauty business, but she’s built it into a successful venture. I just invested and helped get her started.”
“I owed it to her.”
“When I dropped out of Harvard, she lent me a hundred grand to start my business.”
Holy fuck… she’s rich, too.
“You dropped out?”
“It wasn’t my thing. I did two years. Unfortunately, my parents were not so understanding.”
I frown. Mr. Grey and Dr. Grace Trevelyan disapproving, I can’t picture it.
“You don’t seem to have done too badly dropping out. What was your major?”
“Politics and Economics.”
“So she’s rich?” I murmur.
“She was a bored trophy wife, Anastasia. Her husband was wealthy-big in timber.” He smirks. “He wouldn’t let her work. You know, he was controlling. Some men are like that.” He gives me a quick sideways grin.
“Really? A controlling man, surely a mythical creature?” I don’t think I can squeeze any more sarcasm into my response.
Christian’s grin gets bigger.
“She lent you her husband’s money?”
He nods and a small mischievous smile appears on his lips.
“He got his own back,” Christian says darkly as he pulls into the underground garage at Escala.
Christian shakes his head as if recalling a particularly sour memory and parks beside the Audi Quattro SUV. “Come-Franco will be here shortly.”
In the elevator Christian peers down at me. “Still mad at me?” he asks matter-of-factly.
He nods. “Okay,” he says, and stares straight ahead.
Taylor is waiting for us when we arrive in the foyer. How does he always know? He takes my case.
“Has Welch been in touch?” Christian asks.
“Excellent. How’s your daughter?”
“She’s fine, thank you, sir.”
“Good. We have a hairdresser arriving at one-Franco De Luca.”
“Miss Steele,” Taylor nods at me.
“Hi, Taylor. You have a daughter?”
“How old is she?”
Christian gazes at me impatiently.
“She lives with her mother,” Taylor clarifies.
“Oh, I see.”
Taylor smiles at me. This is unexpected. Taylor’s a father? I follow Christian into the great room, intrigued by this information.
I glance around. I haven’t been here since I walked out.
“Are you hungry?”
I shake my head. Christian gazes at me for a beat and decides not to argue.
“I have to make a few calls. Make yourself at home.”
Christian disappears into his study, leaving me standing in the huge art gallery he calls home and wondering what to do with myself.
Clothes! Picking up my backpack, I wander upstairs to my bedroom and check out the walk-in closet. It’s still full of clothes-all brand new with price tags still attached. Three long evening dresses, three cocktail dresses, and three more for everyday wear. All this must have cost a fortune.
I check the tag on one of the evening dresses: $2,998. Holy fuck. I sink to the floor.
This isn’t me. I put my head in my hands and try to process the last few hours. It’s exhausting. Why, oh why have I fallen for someone who is plain crazy-beautiful, sexy as fuck, richer than Croesus, and crazy with a capital K?
I fish my Blackberry out of my backpack and call my mom.
“Ana, honey! It’s been so long. How are you, darling?”
“Oh, you know…”
“What’s wrong? Still not worked it out with Christian?”
“Mom, it’s complicated. I think he’s nuts. That’s the problem.”
“Tell me about it. Men, there’s just no reading them sometimes. Bob’s wondering if our move to Georgia was a good one.”
“Yeah, he’s talking about going back to Vegas.”
Oh, someone else has problems. I’m not the only one.
Christian appears in the doorway. “There you are. I thought you’d run off.” His relief is obvious.
I hold my hand up to indicate that I’m on the phone. “Sorry, Mom, I have to go. I’ll call again soon.”
“Okay, honey-take care of yourself. Love you!”
“Love you, too, Mom.”
I hang up and gaze at Fifty. He frowns, looking strangely awkward.
“Why are you hiding in here?” he asks.
“I’m not hiding. I’m despairing.”
“Of all this, Christian.” I wave my hand in the general direction of the clothes.
“Can I come in?”
“It’s your closet.”
He frowns again and sits down, cross-legged, facing me.
“They’re just clothes. If you don’t like them I’ll send them back.”
“You’re a lot to take on, you know?”
He blinks at me and scratches his chin… his stubbly chin. My fingers itch to touch him.
“I know. I’m trying,” he murmurs.
“You’re very trying.”
“As are you, Miss Steele.”
“Why are you doing this?”
His eyes widen and his wary look returns. “You know why.”
“No, I don’t.”
He runs a hand through his hair. “You are one frustrating female.”
“You could have a nice brunette submissive. One who’d say, ‘how high?’ every time you said jump, provided of course she had permission to speak. So why me, Christian? I just don’t get it.”
He gazes at me for a moment, and I have no idea what he’s thinking.
“You make me look at the world differently, Anastasia. You don’t want me for my money. You give me… hope,” he says softly.
What? Mr. Cryptic is back. “Hope of what?”
He shrugs. “More.” His voice is low and quiet. “And you’re right. I am used to women doing exactly what I say, when I say, doing exactly what I want. It gets old quickly. There’s something about you, Anastasia, that calls to me on some deep level I don’t understand. It’s a siren’s call. I can’t resist you, and I don’t want to lose you.” He reaches forward and takes my hand. “Don’t run, please-have a little faith in me and a little patience. Please.”
He looks so vulnerable… Jeez, it’s disturbing. Leaning up on my knees, I bend forward and kiss him gently on his lips.
“Okay. Faith and patience, I can live with that.”
“Good. Because Franco’s here.”
Franco is small, dark, and gay. I love him.
“Such beautiful hair!” he gushes with an outrageous, probably fake Italian accent. I bet he’s from Baltimore or somewhere, but his enthusiasm is infectious. Christian leads us both into his bathroom, exits hurriedly, and reenters carrying a chair from his room.
“I’ll leave you two to it,” he mutters.
“Grazie, Mr. Grey.” Franco turns to me. “Bene, Anastasia, what shall we do with you?”
Christian is sitting on his couch, plowing through what look like spreadsheets. Soft, mellow classical music drifts through the great room. A woman sings passionately, pouring her soul into the song. It’s breathtaking. Christian glances up and smiles, distracting me from the music.
“See! I tell you he like it,” Franco enthuses.
“You look lovely, Ana,” Christian says appreciatively.
“My work ‘ere is done,” Franco exclaims.
Christian rises and strolls toward us. “Thank you, Franco.”
Franco turns, grasps me in an overwhelming bear hug, and kisses both my cheeks. “Never let anyone else be cutting your hair, bellissima Anastasia!”
I laugh, slightly embarrassed by his familiarity. Christian shows him to the foyer door and returns moments later.
“I’m glad you kept it long,” he says as he walks toward me, his eyes bright. He takes a strand between his fingers.
“So soft,” he murmurs, gazing down at me. “Are you still mad at me?”
I nod and he smiles.
“What precisely are you mad at me about?”
I roll my eyes. “You want the list?”
“There’s a list?”
“A long one.”
“Can we discuss it in bed?”
“No.” I pout at him childishly.
“Over lunch, then. I’m hungry, and not just for food,” he gives me a salacious smile.
“I am not going to let you dazzle me with your sexpertise.”
He stifles a smile. “What is bothering you specifically, Miss Steele? Spit it out.”
“What’s bothering me? Well, there’s your gross invasion of my privacy, the fact that you took me to some place where your ex-mistress works and you used to take all your lovers to have their bits waxed, you manhandled me in the street like I was six years old-and to cap it all, you let your Mrs. Robinson touch you!” My voice has risen to a crescendo.
He raises his eyebrows, and his good humor vanishes.
“That’s quite a list. But just to clarify once more-she’s not my Mrs. Robinson.”
“She can touch you,” I repeat.
He purses his lips. “She knows where.”
“What does that mean?”
He runs both hands through his hair and closes his eyes briefly, as if he’s seeking divine guidance of some kind. He swallows.
“You and I don’t have any rules. I have never had a relationship without rules, and I never know where you’re going to touch me. It makes me nervous. Your touch completely-” He stops, searching for the words. “It just means more… so much more”
More? His answer’s completely unexpected, throwing me, and there’s that little word with the big meaning hanging between us again.
My touch means… more. Holy cow. How am I supposed to resist when he says this stuff? Gray eyes search mine, watching, apprehensive.
Tentatively I reach out and apprehension shifts to alarm. Christian steps back and I drop my hand.
“Hard limit,” he whispers urgently, a pained, panicked look on his face.
I can’t help but feel a crushing disappointment. “How would you feel if you couldn’t touch me?”
“Devastated and deprived,” he says immediately.
Oh, my Fifty Shades. Shaking my head, I offer him a small, reassuring smile and he relaxes.
“You’ll have to tell me exactly why this is a hard limit, one day, please.”
“One day,” he murmurs and seems to snap out of his vulnerability in a nanosecond.
How can he switch so quickly? He’s the most capricious person I know.
“So, the rest of your list. Invading your privacy.” His mouth twists as he contemplates this. “Because I know your bank account number?”
“Yes, that’s outrageous.”
“I do background checks on all my submissives. I’ll show you.” He turns and heads for his study.
I dutifully follow him, dazed. From a locked filing cabinet, he pulls a manila folder. Typed on the tab: Anastasia Rose Steele.
Holy fucking shit. I glare at him.
He shrugs apologetically. “You can keep it,” he says quietly.
“Well, gee, thanks,” I snap. I flick through the contents. He has a copy of my birth certificate, for heaven’s sake, my hard limits, the NDA, the contract-Jeez-my social security number, resume, employment records.
“So you knew I worked at Clayton’s?”
“It wasn’t a coincidence. You didn’t just drop by?”
I don’t know whether to be angry or flattered.
“This is fucked-up. You know that?”
“I don’t see it that way. What I do, I have to be careful.”
“But this is private.”
“I don’t misuse the information. Anyone can get hold of it if they have half a mind to, Anastasia. To have control-I need information. It’s how I’ve always operated.” He gazes at me, his expression guarded and unreadable.
“You do misuse the information. You deposited twenty-four thousand dollars that I didn’t want into my account.”
His mouth presses in a hard line. “I told you. That’s what Taylor managed to get for your car. Unbelievable, I know, but there you go.”
“But the Audi…”
“Anastasia, do you have any idea how much money I make?”
I flush, of course not. “Why should I? I don’t need to know the bottom line of your bank account, Christian.”
His eyes soften. “I know. That’s one of the things I love about you.”
I gaze at him, shocked. Love about me?
“Anastasia, I earn roughly one hundred thousand dollars an hour.”
My mouth drops open. That is an obscene amount of money.
“Twenty-four thousand dollars is nothing. The car, the Tess books, the clothes, they’re nothing.” His voice is soft.
I gaze at him. He really has no idea. Extraordinary.
“If you were me, how would you feel about all this… largesse coming your way?” I ask.
He stares at me blankly, and there it is, his problem in a nutshell-empathy or the lack thereof. The silence stretches between us.
Finally, he shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says, and he looks genuinely bemused.
My heart swells. This is it, the crux of his Fifty Shades, surely. He can’t put himself in my shoes. Well, now I know.
“It doesn’t feel great. I mean, you’re very generous, but it makes me uncomfortable. I have told you this enough times.”
He sighs. “I want to give you the world, Anastasia.”
“I just want you, Christian. Not all the add-ons.”
“They’re part of the deal. Part of what I am.”
Oh, this is going nowhere.
“Shall we eat?” I ask. This tension between us is draining.
He frowns. “Sure.”
“Good. Otherwise there’s food in the fridge.”
“Mrs. Jones is off on the weekends? So you eat cold cuts most weekends?”
He sighs. “My submissives cook, Anastasia.”
“Oh, of course.” I flush. How could I be so stupid? I smile sweetly at him. “What would Sir like to eat?”
He smirks. “Whatever Madam can find,” he says darkly.
Inspecting the impressive contents of the fridge, I decide on Spanish omelet. There are even cold potatoes-perfect. It’s quick and easy. Christian is still in his study, no doubt invading some poor, unsuspecting fool’s privacy and compiling information. The thought is unpleasant and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. My mind is reeling. He really knows no bounds.
I need music if I’m going to cook, and I’m going to cook unsubmissively! I wander over to the iPod dock beside the fireplace and pick up Christian’s iPod. I bet there are more of Leila’s choices on here,-I dread the very idea.
Where is she? I wonder. What does she want?
I shudder. What a legacy. I can’t wrap my head around it.
I scroll through the extensive list. I want something upbeat. Hmm, Beyoncé-doesn’t sound like Christian’s taste. Crazy in Love. Oh yes! How apt. I hit the repeat button and put it on loud.
I sashay back to the kitchen and find a bowl, open the fridge, and take out the eggs. I crack them open and begin to whisk, dancing the whole time.
Raiding the fridge once more, I gather potatoes, ham, and-Yes!-peas from the freezer. All of these will do. Finding a pan, I place it on the stove, put in a little olive oil, and go back to whisking.
No empathy, I muse. Is this unique to Christian? Maybe all men are like this, baffled by women. I just don’t know. Perhaps it’s not such a revelation.
I wish Kate were home; she would know. She’s been in Barbados far too long. She should be back at the end of the week after her additional vacation with Elliot. I wonder if it’s still lust at first sight for them.
One of the things I love about you.
I stop whisking. He said it. Does that mean there are other things? I smile for the first time since seeing Mrs. Robinson-a genuine, heartfelt, face-splitting smile.
Christian slips his arms around me, making me jump.
“Interesting choice of music,” he purrs as he kisses me below my ear. “Your hair smells good.” He nuzzles my hair and inhales deeply.
Desire uncurls in my belly. No. I shrug out of his embrace.
“I’m still mad at you.”
He frowns. “How long are you going to keep this up?” he asks, dragging a hand through his hair.
I shrug. “At least until I’ve eaten.”
His lips twitch with amusement. Turning, he picks up the remote control from the counter and switches off the music.
“Did you put that on your iPod?” I ask.
He shakes his head, his expression somber, and I know it was her-Ghost Girl.
“Don’t you think she was trying to tell you something back then?”
“Well, with hindsight, probably,” he says quietly.
qed. No empathy. My subconscious folds her arms and smacks her lips in disgust.
“Why’s it still on there?”
“I quite like the song. But if it offends you I’ll remove it.”
“No, it’s fine. I like to cook to music.”
“What would you like to hear?”
He smirks at me and heads over to the iPod dock while I go back to my whisking.
Moments later the heavenly sweet, soulful voice of Nina Simone fills the room. It’s one of Ray’s favorites: “I Put a Spell on You.”
I flush, turning to gape at Christian. What is he trying to tell me? He put a spell on me a long time ago. Oh my… his look has changed, the levity gone, his eyes darker, intense.
I watch him, enthralled as slowly, like the predator he is, he stalks me in time to the slow sultry beat of the music. He’s barefoot, wearing just an untucked white shirt, jeans, and a smoldering look.
Nina sings, “you’re mine” as Christian reaches me, his intention clear.
“Christian, please,” I whisper, the whisk redundant in my hand.
“Don’t do this.”
He’s standing in front of me, gazing down at me.
“Are you sure?” he breathes and reaching over, he takes the whisk from my hand and places it back in the bowl with the eggs. My heart is in my mouth. I don’t want this-I do want this-badly.
He’s so frustrating. He’s so hot and desirable. I tear my gaze away from his spellbinding look.
“I want you, Anastasia,” he murmurs. “I love and I hate, and I love arguing with you. It’s very new. I need to know that we’re okay. It’s the only way I know how.”
“My feelings for you haven’t changed,” I whisper.
His proximity is overwhelming, exhilarating. The familiar pull is there, all my synapses goading me toward him, my inner goddess at her most libidinous. Staring at the patch of hair in the V of his shirt, I bite my lip, helpless, driven by desire-I want to taste him there.
He’s so close, but he doesn’t touch me. His heat is warming my skin.
“I’m not going to touch you until you say yes,” he says softly. “But right now, after a really shitty morning, I want to bury myself in you and just forget everything but us.”
Oh my… Us. A magical combination, a small potent pronoun that clinches the deal. I raise my head to stare at his beautiful yet serious face.
“I’m going to touch your face,” I breathe, and see his surprise reflected briefly in his eyes before his acceptance registers.
Lifting my hand, I caress his cheek, and run my fingertips across his stubble. He closes his eyes and exhales, leaning his face into my touch.
He leans down slowly, and my lips automatically lift to meet his. He hovers over me.
“Yes or no, Anastasia?” he whispers.
His mouth softly closes on mine, coaxing, coercing my lips apart as his arms fold around me, pulling me to him. His hand moves up my back, fingers tangling in the hair at the back of my head and tugging gently, while his other hand flattens on my behind, forcing me against him. I moan softly.
“Mr. Grey.” Taylor coughs, and Christian releases me immediately.
“Taylor,” he says, his voice frigid.
I whirl round to see an uncomfortable Taylor standing on the threshold of the great room. Christian and Taylor stare at each other, some unspoken communication passing between them.
“My study,” Christian snaps, and Taylor walks briskly across the room.
“Rain check,” Christian whispers to me before following Taylor out of the room.
I take a deep, steadying breath. Holy hell. Can I not resist him for one minute? I shake my head, disgusted at myself, grateful for Taylor’s interruption, embarrassing though it is.
I wonder what Taylor has had to interrupt in the past. What’s he seen? I don’t want to think about that. Lunch. I’ll make lunch. I busy myself slicing potatoes. What does Taylor want? My mind races-is this about Leila?
Ten minutes later, they emerge, just as the omelet is ready. Christian looks preoccupied as he glances at me.
“I’ll brief them in ten,” he says to Taylor.
“We’ll be ready,” Taylor answers and leaves the great room.
I produce two warmed plates and place them on the kitchen island.
“Please,” Christian says as he perches on one of the bar stools. Now he’s watching me carefully.
I scowl. He’s not telling me. I dish out lunch and sit down beside him, resigned to staying in the dark.
“This is good,” Christian murmurs appreciatively as he takes a bite. “Would you like a glass of wine?”
“No, thank you.” I need to keep a clear head around you, Grey.
It does taste good, even though I’m not that hungry. But I eat, knowing Christian will nag if I don’t. Eventually Christian disrupts our brooding silence and switches on the classical piece I heard earlier.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Canteloube, Songs of the Auvergne. This is called ‘Bailero.’ ”
“It’s lovely. What language is it?”
“It’s in old French-Occitan, in fact.”
“You speak French, do you understand it?” Memories of the flawless French he spoke at his parents’ dinner come to mind…
“Some words, yes.” Christian smiles, visibly relaxing. “My mother had a mantra: musical instrument, foreign language, martial art. Elliot speaks Spanish; Mia and I speak French. Elliot plays guitar, I play piano, and Mia the cello.”
“Wow. And the martial arts?”
“Elliot does Judo. Mia put her foot down at age twelve and refused.” He smirks at the memory.
“I wish my mother had been that organized.”
“Dr. Grace is formidable when it comes to the accomplishments of her children.”
“She must be very proud of you. I would be.”
A dark thought flashes across Christian’s face, and he looks momentarily uncomfortable. He regards me warily as if he’s in uncharted territory.
“Have you decided what you’ll wear this evening? Or do I need to come and pick something for you?” His tone is suddenly brusque.
Whoa! He sounds angry. Why? What have I said?
“Um… not yet. Did you choose all those clothes?”
“No, Anastasia, I didn’t. I gave a list and your size to a personal shopper at Neiman Marcus. They should fit. Just so that you know, I have ordered additional security for this evening and the next few days. With Leila unpredictable and unaccounted for somewhere on the streets of Seattle, I think it’s a wise precaution. I don’t want you going out unaccompanied. Okay?”
I blink at him. “Okay.” What happened to I-must-have-you-now Grey?
“Good. I’m going to brief them. I shouldn’t be long.”
“Yes.”Fifty Shades Freed Extended Version