“I thought you were born here in Seattle,” I murmur. My mind races. What does this have to do with Jack? Christian raises the arm covering his face, reaches behind him, and grabs one of the pillows. Placing it under his head, he settles back and gazes at me with a wary expression. After a moment he shakes his head.
“No. Elliot and I were both adopted in Detroit. We moved here shortly after my adoption. Grace wanted to be on the west coast, away from the urban sprawl, and she got a job at Northwest Hospital. I have very little memory of that time.
Mia was adopted here.”
“So Jack is from Detroit?”
Oh . . . “How do you know?”
“I ran a background check when you went to work for him.”
Of course he did. “Do you have a manila file on him, too?” I smirk.
Christian’s mouth twists as he hides his amusement. “I think it’s pale blue.”
His fingers continue to run through my hair. It’s soothing.
“What does it say in his file?”
Christian blinks. Reaching down he strokes my cheek. “You really want to know?”
“Is it that bad?”
He shrugs. “I’ve known worse,” he whispers.
No! Is he referring to himself? And the image I have of Christian as a small, dirty, fearful, lost boy comes to mind. I curl around him, holding him tighter, pulling the sheet over him, and I lay my cheek against his chest.
“What?” he asks, puzzled by my reaction.
“Nothing,” I murmur.
“No, no. This works both ways, Ana. What is it?”
I glance up assessing his apprehensive expression. Resting my cheek upon his chest once more, I decide to tell him. “Sometimes I picture you as a child . . .
before you came to live with the Greys.”
Christian stiffens. “I wasn’t talking about me. I don’t want your pity, Anastasia. That part of my life is done. Gone.”
“It’s not pity,” I whisper, appalled. “It’s sympathy and sorrow—sorrow that anyone could do that to a child.” I take a deep steadying breath as my stomach twists and tears prick my eyes anew. “That part of your life is not done, Christian—how can you say that? You live every day with your past. You told me yourself—Fifty Shades, remember?” My voice is barely audible.
Christian snorts and runs his free hand through his hair, though he remains silent and tense beneath me.
“I know it’s why you feel the need to control me. Keep me safe.”
“And yet you choose to defy me,” he murmurs baffled, his hand stilling in my hair.
I frown. Holy cow! Do I do that deliberately? My subconscious removes her half-moon glasses and chews the end, pursing her lips and nodding. I ignore her.
This is confusing—I’m his wife, not his submissive, not some company he’s acquired. I’m not the crack whore who was his mother . . . Fuck. The thought is sickening. Dr. Flynn’s words come back to me:
“Just keep doing what you’re doing. Christian is head over heels . . . It’s a delight to see.”
That’s it. I’m just doing what I’ve always done. Isn’t that what Christian found attractive in the first place?
Oh, this man is so confusing.
“Dr. Flynn said I should give you the benefit of the doubt. I think I do—I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s my way of bringing you into the here and now—away from your past,” I whisper. “I don’t know. I just can’t seem to get a handle on how far you’ll overreact.”
He’s silent for a moment. “Fucking Flynn,” he mutters to himself.
“He said I should continue to behave the way I’ve always behaved with you.”
“Did he now?” Christian says dryly.
Okay. Here goes nothing. “Christian, I know you loved your mom, and you couldn’t save her. It wasn’t your job to do that. But I’m not her.”
He freezes again. “Don’t,” he whispers.
“No, listen. Please.” I raise my head to stare into gray eyes that are paralyzed with fear. He’s holding his breath. Oh, Christian . . . My heart constricts. “I’m not her. I’m much stronger than she was. I have you, and you’re so much stronger now, and I know you love me. I love you, too,” I whisper.
His brow creases as if my words were not what he expected. “Do you still love me?” he asks.
“Of course I do. Christian, I will always love you. No matter what you do to me.” Is this the reassurance he wants?
He exhales and closes his eyes, placing his arm over his face again, but hugging me closer, too.
“Don’t hide from me.” Reaching up, I grasp his hand and pull his arm away from his face. “You’ve spent your life hiding. Please don’t, not from me.”
He looks at me with incredulity and frowns. “Hiding?”
He shifts suddenly, rolling over onto his side and moving me so that I am lying beside him on the bed. He reaches up, smoothes my hair off my face and tucks it behind my ear.
“You asked me earlier today if I hated you. I didn’t understand why, and now—” He stops, staring down at me as if I’m a complete conundrum.
“You still think I hate you?” Now my voice is incredulous.
“No.” He shakes his head. “Not now.” He looks relieved. “But I need to know . . . why did you safe word, Ana?”
I blanch. What can I tell him? That he frightened me. That I didn’t know if he’d stop. That I begged him—and he didn’t stop. That I didn’t want things to es-calate . . . like—like that one time in here. I shudder as I recall him whipping me with his belt.
I swallow. “Because . . . because you were so angry and distant and . . . cold.
I didn’t know how far you’d go.”
His expression is unreadable.
“Were you going to let me come?” My voice is barely a whisper, and I feel a blush steal over my cheeks, but I hold his gaze.
“No,” he says eventually.
Holy crap. “That’s . . . harsh.”
His knuckle gently grazes my cheek. “But effective,” he murmurs. He gazes down at me as if he’s trying to see into my soul, his eyes darkening. After an eternity, he murmurs, “I’m glad you did.”
“Really?” I don’t understand.
His lips twist in a sad smile. “Yes. I don’t want to hurt you. I got carried away.” He reaches down and kisses me. “Lost in the moment.” He kisses me again. “Happens a lot with you.”
Oh? And for some bizarre reason the thought pleases me . . . I grin. Why does that make me happy? He grins, too.
“I don’t know why you’re grinning, Mrs. Grey.”
He wraps himself around me and places his head on my chest. We are a tangle of naked and denim-clad limbs, and satin red sheets. I stroke his back with one hand and run the fingers of my other hand through his hair. He sighs and relaxes in my arms.
“It means I can trust you . . . to stop me. I never want to hurt you,” he murmurs. “I need—” He halts.
“You need what?”
“I need control, Ana. Like I need you. It’s the only way I can function. I can’t let go of it. I can’t. I’ve tried . . . And yet, with you . . .” He shakes his head in exasperation.
I swallow. This is the heart of our dilemma—his need for control and his need for me. I refuse to believe these are mutually exclusive.
“I need you, too,” I whisper, hugging him tighter. “I’ll try, Christian. I’ll try to be more considerate.”
“I want you to need me,” he murmurs.
“I do!” My voice is impassioned. I need him so much. I love him so much.
“I want to look after you.”
“You do. All the time. I missed you so much while you were away.”
“You did?” He sounds so surprised.
“Yes, of course. I hate you going away.”
I sense his smile. “You could have come with me.”
“Christian, please. Let’s not rehash that argument. I want to work.”
He sighs as I work my fingers gently through his hair.
“I love you, Ana.”
“I love you, too, Christian. I will always love you.”
We both lie still in the calm, quiet after our storm. Listening to the steady beat of his heart, I drift exhausted into sleep.
I wake with a start, disorientated. Where am I? The playroom. The lights are still on, softly illuminating the bloodred walls. Christian moans again, and I realize this is what woke me.
“No,” he groans. He’s sprawled out beside me, his head back, his eyes screwed shut, his face contorted in anguish.
Holy shit. He’s having a nightmare.
“No!” he cries out again.
“Christian, wake up.” I struggle to sit up, kicking off the sheet. Kneeling beside him, I grab his shoulders and shake him as tears spring to my eyes.
“Christian, please. Wake up!”
His eyes spring open, gray and wild, his pupils enlarged with fear. He stares vacantly up at me.
“Christian, you’re having a nightmare. You’re home. You’re safe.”
He blinks, looks around frantically, and frowns as he takes in our surroundings. Then his eyes are back on mine. “Ana,” he breathes, and with no preamble whatsoever he grabs my face with both hands, pulls me down onto his chest, and kisses me. Hard. His tongue invades my mouth, and he tastes of desperation and need. Barely giving me a chance to breathe, he rolls over, his lips locked to mine so that he’s pressing me into the hard mattress of the four-poster. One of his hands clasps my jaw, the other spreads out on top of my head, keeping me still as his knee parts my legs and he nestles, still clothed in his jeans, between my thighs.
“Ana,” he gasps as if he can’t believe I’m there with him. He gazes down at me for a split second, allowing me a moment to breathe. Then his lips are on mine again, plundering my mouth, taking all I have to give. He groans loudly, flexing his hips into me. His erection sheathed in denim pushes into my soft flesh. Oh . . .
I moan, and all the pent-up sexual tension of earlier erupts, resurfacing with a vengeance, flushing my system with desire and need. Driven by his demons, he urgently kisses my face, my eyes, my cheeks, along my jaw.
“I’m here,” I whisper, trying to calm him, our heated, panting breath mingling. I wrap my arms around his shoulders, as I grind my pelvis against his in welcome.
“Oh, Ana,” he pants, his voice rough and low. “I need you.”
“Me, too,” I whisper urgently, my body desperate for his touch. I want him. I want him now. I want to heal him. I want to heal me . . . I need this. His hand reaches down and tugs on the button of his fly, fumbling momentarily, then freeing his erection.
Holy shit. I was asleep less than a minute ago.
He shifts, staring down at me for a split second, suspended above me.
“Yes. Please,” I breathe, my voice hoarse and needy.
And in one swift move he buries himself inside me.
“Ah!” I cry out, not from any pain, but from surprise at his alacrity.
He groans, and his lips find mine again as he pushes into me, over and over, his tongue possessing me, too. He moves frantically, compelled by his fear, his lust, his desire, his—love? I don’t know, but I meet him thrust for thrust, welcom-ing him.
“Ana,” he growls almost inarticulately, and he comes powerfully, pouring himself into me, his face strained, his body rigid, before he collapses with his full weight onto me, panting, and he leaves me hanging . . . again.
Holy shit. This is not my night. My inner goddess is preparing to disembowel herself. I hold him, drawing in a lungful of air and practically writhing with need beneath him. He eases out of me and holds me for minutes . . . many minutes. Finally he shakes his head and leans up on his elbows, taking some of his weight. He gazes down at me as if seeing me for the first time.
“Oh, Ana. Sweet Jesus.” He bends and kisses me tenderly.
“You okay?” I breathe, caressing his lovely face. He nods, but he looks shaken and most definitely stirred. My own lost boy. He frowns and stares intently into my eyes as if finally registering where he is.
“You?” he asks, concern in his voice.
“Um . . .” I wriggle beneath him, and after a moment he smiles, a slow carnal smile.
“Mrs. Grey, you have needs,” he murmurs. He kisses me swiftly, then scoots off the bed.
Kneeling on the floor at the end of the bed, he reaches up, grabs me just above the knees and pulls me toward him so my behind is on the edge of the bed.
“Sit up,” he murmurs. I struggle into a sitting position, my hair falling like a veil around me, down to my breasts. His gray gaze holds mine as he gently pushes my legs apart as far as they’ll go. I lean back on my hands—knowing full well what he’s going to do. But . . . he’s just . . . um . . .
“You are so fucking beautiful, Ana,” he breathes, and I watch his copper-haired head dip and plant a trail of kisses up my right thigh, heading north. My whole body clenches in anticipation. He glances up at me, his eyes darkening through long lashes.
“Watch,” he rasps then his mouth is on me.
Oh my. I cry out as the world is concentrated at the apex of my thighs, and it’s so erotic— Fuck—watching him. Watching his tongue against what feels like the most sensitive part of my body. And he shows no mercy, teasing and taunting, worshipping me. My body tenses and my arms start to tremble from the strain of staying upright.
“No . . . ah,” I murmur. Gently, he eases one long finger inside me, and I can bear it no more, collapsing back onto the bed, relishing this mouth and fingers on and in me. Slowly and gently, he massages that sweet, sweet spot deep inside me.
And that’s it—I’m gone. I explode around him, crying out an incoherent rendition of his name as my intense orgasm arches my back off the bed. I think I see stars it’s such a visceral primal feeling . . . Vaguely I’m aware that he’s nuzzling my belly, giving me soft, sweet kisses. Reaching down, I caress his hair.
“I’m not finished with you yet,” he murmurs. And before I’ve fully come back to Seattle, Planet Earth, he’s reaching for me, grasping my hips and pulling me off the bed to where’s he’s kneeling, and into his waiting lap and onto his waiting erection.
I gasp as he fills me. Holy cow . . .
“Oh, baby,” he breathes as he wraps his arms around me and stills, cradling my head and kissing my face. He flexes his hips, and pleasure spikes hot and hard from deep within me. He reaches for my behind and lifts me, rocking his groin upward.
“Ah,” I moan, and his lips are on mine again as he slowly, oh so slowly, lifts and rocks . . . lifts and rocks. I throw my arms around his neck, surrendering to his gentle rhythm and to wherever he’ll take me. I flex my thighs, riding him . . . he feels so good. Leaning backward, I tilt my head back, my mouth open wide in a silent expression of my pleasure, reveling in his sweet lovemaking.
“Ana,” he breathes, and he leans down, kissing my throat. Holding me tight, slowly easing in and out, pushing me . . . higher and higher . . . so exquisitely timed—a fluid carnal force. Blissful pleasure radiates outward from deep, deep inside me as he holds me so intimately.
“I love you, Ana,” he whispers close to my ear, his voice low and harsh, and he lifts me again—up, down, up, down. I curl my hands back around his neck into his hair.
“I love you, too, Christian.” Opening my eyes, I find he’s gazing at me, and all I see is his love, shining bright and bold in the soft glow of the playroom light, his nightmare seemingly forgotten. And as I feel my body build toward my release, I realize this is what I wanted—this connection, this demonstration of our love.
“Come for me, baby,” he whispers, his voice low. I screw my eyes shut as my body tightens at the low sound of his voice, and I come loudly, spiraling into an intense climax. He stills, his forehead against mine, as he softly whispers my name, wraps his arms around me, and finds his own release.
He lifts me gently and lays me on the bed. I lie in his arms, wrung out and finally sated. He nuzzles my neck.
“Better now?” he whispers.
“Shall we go to bed, or do you want to sleep here?”
“Mrs. Grey, talk to me.” He sounds amused.
“Is that the best you can do?”
“Come. Let me put you to bed. I don’t like sleeping here.”
Reluctantly, I shift and turn to face him. “Wait,” I whisper. He blinks at me, looking all wide-eyed and innocent, and at the same time thoroughly fucked and pleased with himself.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
He nods, smiling smugly like an adolescent boy. “I am now.”
“Oh, Christian,” I scold and gently stroke his lovely face. “I was talking about your nightmare.”
His expression freezes momentarily, then he closes his eyes and tightens his arms around me, burying his face in my neck.
“Don’t,” he whispers, his voice hoarse and raw. My heart lurches and twists once more in my chest, and I clutch him tightly, running my hands down his back and through his hair.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, alarmed by his reaction. Holy fuck—how can I keep up with these mood swings? What the hell was his nightmare about? I don’t want to cause him any more pain by making him relive the details. “It’s okay,” I murmur softly, desperate to bring him back to the playful boy of a moment ago. “It’s okay,” I repeat over and over soothingly.
“Let’s go to bed,” he says quietly after a while, and he pulls away from me, leaving me empty and aching as he rises from the bed. I scramble after him, keeping the satin sheet wrapped around me, and bend to pick up my clothes.
“Leave those,” he says, and before I know it, he scoops me up in his arms. “I don’t want you to trip over this sheet and break your neck.” I put my arms around him marveling that he’s recovered his composure, and nuzzle him as he carries me downstairs to our bedroom.
My eyes spring open. Something is wrong. Christian is not in bed, though it’s still dark. Glancing at the radio alarm, I see it’s three twenty in the morning. Where’s Christian? Then I hear the piano.
Quickly slipping out of bed, I grab my robe and run down the hallway to the great room. The tune he’s playing is so sad—a mournful lament that I’ve heard him play before. I pause in the doorway and watch him in a pool of light while the achingly sorrowful music fills the room. He finishes then starts the piece again.
Why such a plaintive tune? I wrap my arms around myself and listen spellbound as he plays. But my heart aches. Christian, why so sad? Is it because of me? Did I do this? When he finishes, only to start a third time, I can bear it no longer. He doesn’t look up as I near the piano, but shifts to one side so I can sit beside him on the piano bench. He continues to play, and I put my head on his shoulder. He kisses my hair but doesn’t stop playing until he’s finished the piece. I peek up at him and he’s staring down at me, warily.
“Did I wake you?” he asks.
“Only because you were gone. What’s that piece called?”
“It’s Chopin. It’s one of his preludes in E minor.” Christian pauses. “It’s called Suffocation . . .”
Reaching over I take his hand. “You’re really shaken by all this, aren’t you?”
He snorts. “A deranged asshole gets into my apartment to kidnap my wife.
She won’t do as she’s told. She drives me crazy. She safe words on me.” He closes his eyes briefly, and when he opens them again, they are stark and raw.
“Yeah, I’m pretty shaken up.”
I squeeze his hand. “I’m sorry.”
He presses his forehead against mine. “I dreamed you were dead,” he whispers.
“Lying on the floor—so cold—and you wouldn’t wake up.”
“Hey—it was just a bad dream.” Reaching up, I clasp his head in my hands.
His eyes burn into mine and the anguish in them is sobering. “I’m here and I’m cold without you in the bed. Come back to bed, please.” I take his hand and stand, waiting to see if he’ll follow me. Finally he stands, too. He’s wearing his pajama bottoms, and they hang in that way he has, and I want to run my fingers along the inside of his waistband, but I resist and lead him back to the bedroom.
When I wake he’s curled around me, sleeping peacefully. I relax and enjoy his en-veloping heat, his skin on my skin. I lie very still, not wanting to disturb him.
Boy, what an evening. I feel like I’ve been run over by a train—the freight train that is my husband. Hard to believe that the man lying beside me, looking so serene and young in his sleep, was so tortured last night . . . and so tortured me last night. I gaze up at the ceiling, and it occurs to me that I always think of Christian as strong and dominating—yet the reality is he’s so fragile, my lost boy. And the irony is that he looks upon me as fragile—and I don’t think I am. Compared to him I’m strong.
But am I strong enough for both of us? Strong enough to do what I’m told and give him some peace of mind? I sigh. He’s not asking that much of me. I flit through our conversation of last night. Did we decide anything other than to both try harder? The bottom line is that I love this man, and I need to chart a course for both of us. One that lets me keep my integrity and independence but still be more for him. I am his more, and he is mine. I resolve to make a special effort this weekend not to give him cause for concern.Christian stirs and lifts his head off my chest, looking sleepily at me.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey.” I smile.
“Good morning, Mrs. Grey. Did you sleep well?” He stretches out beside me.
“Once my husband stopped making that terrible racket on the piano, yes, I did.”
He smiles his shy smile, and I melt. “Terrible racket? I’ll be sure to e-mail Miss Kathie and let her know.”
“My piano teacher.”
“That’s a lovely sound,” he says. “Shall we have a better day today?”
“Okay,” I agree. “What do you want to do?”
“After I have made love to my wife, and she’s cooked me breakfast, I’d like to take her to Aspen.”
I gape at him. “Aspen?”
“The very same. Unless they’ve moved it. After all, you did pay twenty-four thousand dollars for the experience.”
I grin at him. “That was your money.”
“It was your money when I made the bid.” I roll my eyes.
“Oh, Mrs. Grey, you and your eye rolling,” he whispers as he runs his hand up my thigh.
“Won’t it take hours to get to Colorado?” I ask to distract him.
“Not by jet,” he says silkily as his hand reaches my behind.
Of course, my husband has a jet. How could I forget? His hand continues to skim up my body, lifting my nightdress as it goes, and soon I’ve forgotten everything.
Taylor drives us onto the tarmac at Sea-Tac and around to where the GEH jet is waiting. It’s a gray day in Seattle, but I refuse to let the weather dampen my soaring spirits. Christian is in a much better mood. He’s excited about something—lit up like Christmas and twitching like a small boy with a big secret. I wonder what scheme he’s dreamed up. He looks dreamy, all tousled hair, white T-shirt and black jeans. Not CEO-like at all today. He takes my hand as Taylor glides to a stop at the foot of the jet steps.
“I have a surprise for you,” he murmurs and kisses my knuckles.
I grin at him. “Good surprise?”
“I hope so.” He smiles warmly.
Hmm . . . what can it be?
Sawyer leaps out from the front and opens my door. Taylor opens Christian’s then retrieves our cases from the trunk. Stephan is waiting at the top of the stairs when we enter the aircraft. I glance into the cockpit and see First Officer Beighley flipping switches on the imposing instrument panel.
Christian and Stephan shake hands. “Good morning, sir.” Stephan smiles.
“Thanks for doing this at such short notice.” Christian grins back at him.
“Our guests here?”
Guests? I turn and gasp. Kate, Elliot, Mia, and Ethan are all smiling and sitting in the cream-colored leather seats. Wow! I spin around to Christian.
“Surprise!” he says.
“How? When? Who?” I mumble inarticulately, trying to contain my delight and elation.
“You said you didn’t see enough of your friends.” He shrugs and gives me a lopsided, apologetic smile.
“Oh, Christian, thank you.” I throw my arms around his neck and kiss him hard in front of everyone. He puts his hands on my hips, hooking his thumbs through the belt loops of my jeans, and deepens the kiss.
“Keep this up and I’ll drag you into the bedroom,” he murmurs.
“You wouldn’t dare,” I whisper against his lips.
“Oh, Anastasia.” He grins, shaking his head. He releases me and without further preamble, stoops down, grabs my thighs, and lifts me over his shoulder.
“Christian, put me down!” I smack his behind.
I briefly catch Stephan’s smile as he turns and heads into the cockpit. Taylor is standing at the doorway trying to stifle his grin. Ignoring my pleas and my fu-tile struggles, Christian strides through the narrow cabin past Mia and Ethan who are facing each other in the single seats, past Kate and Elliot, who is whooping like a demented gibbon.
“If you’ll excuse me,” he says to our four guests. “I need to have a word with my wife in private.”
“Christian!” I shout. “Put me down!”
“All in good time, baby.”
I have a brief view of Mia, Kate, and Elliot laughing. Damn it! This is not funny, it’s embarrassing. Ethan gawks at us, mouth open and utterly shocked, as we disappear into the cabin.
Christian closes the cabin door behind him and releases me, letting me slide down his body slowly, so that I feel every hard sinew and muscle. He gives me his boyish grin, thoroughly pleased with himself.
“That was quite a show, Mr. Grey,” I murmur, crossing my arms and regarding him with faux indignation.
“That was fun, Mrs. Grey.” And his grin widens. Oh boy. He looks so young.
“Are you going to follow through?” I arch a brow, unsure how I feel about this. I mean, the others will hear us, for heaven’s sake. Suddenly, I feel shy. Glancing anxiously at the bed, I feel a blush steal across my cheeks as I recall our wedding night. We talked so much yesterday, did so much yesterday. I feel as if we leaped some unknown hurdle—but that’s the problem. It’s unknown. My eyes find Christian’s intense but amused gaze, and I’m unable to keep a straight face.
His grin is too infectious.
“I think it might be rude to keep our guests waiting,” he says silkily as he steps toward me. When did he start to care what people think? I step back against the cabin wall and he imprisons me, the heat from his body holding me in place.
He leans down and runs his nose along mine.
“Good surprise?” he whispers, and there’s a hint of anxiety in his voice.
“Oh, Christian, fantastic surprise.” I run my hands up his chest, curl them around his neck, and kiss him.
“When did you organize this?” I ask when I pull away from him, stroking his hair.
“Last night, when I couldn’t sleep. I e-mailed Elliot and Mia, and here they are.”
“It’s very thoughtful. Thank you. I’m sure we’ll have a great time.”
“I hope so. I thought it would be easier to avoid the press in Aspen than at home.”
The paparazzi! He’s right. If we’d stayed in Escala, we’d have been imprisoned. A shiver runs down my spine as I recollect the snapping cameras and dazzling flashes of the few photographers Taylor sped through this morning.
“Come. We’d better take our seats—Stephan will be taking off shortly.” He offers me his hand and together we walk back into the cabin.
Elliot cheers as we enter. “That sure was speedy in-flight service!” he calls mockingly.
Christian ignores him.
“Please be seated, ladies and gentlemen as we’ll shortly begin taxiing for takeoff.” Stephan’s voice echoes calmly and authoritatively around the cabin. The brunette woman— um . . . Natalie? —who was on the flight for our wedding night appears from the galley and gathers up the discarded coffee cups. Natalia . . . Her name’s Natalia.
“Good morning Mr. Grey, Mrs. Grey,” she says with a purr. Why does she make me uncomfortable? Maybe it’s that she’s a brunette. By his own admission, Christian doesn’t usually employ brunettes because he finds them attractive. He gives Natalia a polite smile as he slides in behind the table and sits down facing Elliot and Kate. I swiftly hug Kate and Mia and give Ethan and Elliot a wave before sitting down and buckling up beside Christian. He puts his hand on my knee and gives it an affectionate squeeze. He seems relaxed and happy even though we’re with company. Idly, I wonder why he can’t always be like this—not controlling at all.
“Hope you packed your hiking boots,” he says, his voice warm.
“We’re not going skiing?”
“That would be a challenge, in August,” he says, amused.
Oh, of course.
“Do you ski, Ana?” Elliot interrupts us.
Christian moves his hand from my knee to clasp my hand.
“I’m sure my little brother can teach you.” Elliot winks at me. “He’s pretty fast on the slopes, too.”
And I can’t help my blush. When I glance up at Christian, he’s gazing impassively at Elliot, but I think he’s trying to suppress his mirth. The plane surges forward and starts taxiing toward the runway.
Natalia runs through the plane’s safety procedures in a clear, ringing voice.
She’s dressed in a neat navy short-sleeved shirt and matching pencil skirt. Her makeup is immaculate—she really is quite pretty. My subconscious raises a plucked-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life eyebrow at me.
“You okay?” Kate asks me pointedly. “I mean, following the Hyde business?”
I nod. I don’t want to think or talk about Hyde, but Kate seems to have other plans.
“So why did he go postal?” she asks, cutting to the heart of the matter in her inimitable style. She tosses her hair behind her as she prepares to investigate the matter.
Eyeing her coolly, Christian shrugs. “I fired his ass,” he says bluntly.
“Oh? Why?” Kate tilts her head to one side, and I know she’s in full Nancy Drew mode.
“He made at pass at me,” I mutter. I try to kick Kate’s ankle beneath the table, and miss. Shit!
“When?” Kate glares at me.
“You never told me he made a pass at you!” she splutters.
I shrug, apologetically.
“It can’t just be a grudge about that, surely. I mean his reaction is way too ex-treme,” Kate continues, but now she directs her questions at Christian. “Is he mentally unstable? What about all the information he has on you Greys?” Her grilling Christian this way makes my hackles rise, but she’s already established I know nothing so she can’t ask me. The thought is annoying.
“We think there’s a connection with Detroit,” Christian says mildly. Too mildly. Oh no, Kate, please give it up for now.
“Hyde is from Detroit, too?”
The plane accelerates, and I tighten my grip on Christian’s hand. He glances at me reassuringly. He knows I hate takeoffs and landings. He squeezes my hand and his thumb strokes my knuckles, calming me.
“What do you know about him?” Elliot asks, oblivious to the fact we are hurtling down the runway in a small jet about to launch itself into the sky, and equally oblivious to Christian’s growing exasperation with Kate. Kate leans forward, listening attentively.
“This is off the record,” Christian says directly to her. Kate’s mouth sets in a subtle but thin line. I swallow. Oh shit.
“We know a little about him,” Christian continues. “His dad died in a brawl in a bar. His mother drank herself into oblivion. He was in and out of foster homes as a kid . . . in and out of trouble, too. Mainly boosting cars. Spent time in juvie. His mom got back on track through some outreach program, and Hyde turned himself around. Won a scholarship to Princeton.”
“Princeton?” Kate’s curiosity is piqued.
“Yep. He’s a bright boy.” Christian shrugs.
“Not that bright. He got caught,” Elliot mutters.
“But surely he can’t have pulled this stunt alone?” Kate asks.
Christian stiffens beside me. “We don’t know yet.” His voice is very quiet.
Holy crap. There could be someone working with him? I turn and gape in horror at Christian. He squeezes my hand once more but doesn’t look me in the eye. The plane lifts smoothly into the air, and I get that horrible sinking feeling in my stomach.
“How old is he?” I ask Christian, leaning close so only he can hear. Much as I’d like to know what’s going on, I don’t want to encourage Kate’s questions. I know they’re irritating Christian, and I’m sure she’s on his shit list since Cocktailgate.
“Curious, that’s all.”
Christian’s jaw tightens. “Don’t be curious about Hyde. I’m just glad the fucker’s locked up.” It’s almost a reprimand, but I choose to ignore his tone.
“Do you think he’s working with someone?” The thought that someone else might be involved makes me sick. It would mean this isn’t over.
“I don’t know,” Christian answers, and his jaw tightens once more.
“Maybe someone who has a grudge against you?” I suggest. Holy shit. I hope it’s not the bitch troll. “Like Elena?” I whisper. I realize I’ve muttered her name out loud, but only he can hear. I glance anxiously at Kate, but she’s deep in conversation with Elliot who looks pissed at her. Hmm.
“You do like to demonize her, don’t you?” Christian rolls his eyes and shakes his head in disgust. “She may hold a grudge, but she wouldn’t do this kind of thing.” He pins me with a steady gray gaze. “Let’s not discuss her. I know she’s not your favorite topic of conversation.”
“Have you confronted her?” I whisper, not sure if I really want to know.
“Ana, I haven’t spoken to her since my birthday party. Please, drop it. I don’t want to talk about her.” He raises my hand and brushes my knuckles with his lips.
His eyes burn into mine, and I know I shouldn’t pursue this line of questioning right now.
“Get a room,” Elliot teases. “Oh right—you already have, but you didn’t need it for long.” He smirks.
Christian glances up and pins Elliot with a cool glare. “Fuck off, Elliot,” he says without malice.
“Dude, just telling you how it is.” Elliot’s eyes light up with mirth.
“Like you’d know,” Christian murmurs sardonically, raising an eyebrow.
Elliot grins, enjoying the banter. “You married your first girlfriend.” Elliot gestures at me.
Oh shit. Where is this going? I flush.
“Can you blame me?” Christian kisses my hand again.
“No.” Elliot laughs and shakes his head.
I flush, and Kate slaps Elliot’s thigh.
“Stop being an ass,” she scolds him.
“Listen to your girlfriend,” Christian says to Elliot, grinning, and his earlier concern seems to have disappeared. My ears pop as we gain altitude, and the tension in the cabin dissipates as the plane levels out. Kate scowls at Elliot. Hmm . . .
is something up between them? I’m not sure.
Elliot is right. I snort at the irony. I am—was—Christian’s first girlfriend, and now I’m his wife. The fifteen and the evil Mrs. Robinson—they don’t count.
But then Elliot doesn’t know about them, and clearly Kate hasn’t told him. I smile at her, and she gives me a conspiratorial wink. My secrets are safe with Kate.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be cruising at an altitude of approximately thirty-two thousand feet, and our estimated flight time is one hour and fifty-six minutes,” Stephan announces. “You are now free to move around the cabin.”
Natalia appears abruptly from the galley.
“May I offer anyone coffee?” she asks.Fifty Shades Freed Extended Version