From: Christian Grey
Subject: Exasperating Women
Date: May 24 2011 18:59
To: Anastasia Steele You’re welcome.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
I call Ray, who is just about to watch the Sounders play some soccer team from Salt Lake City, so our conversation is mercifully brief. He’s driving down on Thursday for gradua- tion. He wants to take me out afterward for a meal. My heart swells talking to Ray, and a huge lump knots in my throat. He has been my constant through all mom’s romantic ups and downs. We have a special bond that I treasure. Even though he’s my stepdad, he’s always treated me as his own, and I can’t wait to see him. It’s been too long. His quiet fortitude is what I need now, what I miss. Maybe I can channel my inner Ray for my meet- ing tomorrow.
Kate and I concentrate on packing, sharing a bottle of cheap red wine as we do. When I finally go to bed, having almost finished packing my room, I feel calmer. The physical activity of boxing everything up has been a welcome distraction, and I’m tired. I want a good night’s sleep. I snuggle into my bed and am soon asleep.
Paul is back from Princeton before he sets off for New York to start an internship with a financing company. He follows me round the store all day asking me for a date. It’s an- noying.
“Paul, for the hundredth time, I have a date this evening.”
“No, you don’t, you’re just saying that to avoid me. You’re always avoiding me.”
Yes… you’d think you’d take the hint.
“Paul, I never thought it was a good idea to date the boss’s brother.” “You’re finishing here on Friday. You’re not working tomorrow.”
“And I’ll be in Seattle as of Saturday and you’ll be in New York soon. We couldn’t get much further apart if we tried. Besides, I do have a date this evening.”
“With José?” “No.”
“Paul… oh.” My sigh is exasperated. He’s not going to let this go. “Christian Grey.” I cannot help the annoyance in my voice. But it does the trick. Paul’s mouth falls open, and he gapes at me, struck dumb. Humph – even his name renders people speechless.
“You have a date with Christian Grey,” he says finally, once he’s over the shock. Dis- belief is evident in his voice.
“I see.” Paul looks positively crestfallen, stunned even, and a very small part resents that he should find this a surprise. My inner goddess does too. She makes a very vulgar and unattractive gesture at him with her fingers.
After that, he ignores me, and at five I am out of the door, pronto.
Kate has lent me two dresses and two pairs of shoes for tonight and for graduation tomorrow. I wish I could feel more enthused about clothes and make an extra effort, but clothes are just not my thing. What is your thing, Anastasia? Christian’s softly spoken question haunts me. Shaking my head and endeavoring to quell my nerves, I decide on the plum-colored sheath dress for this evening. It’s demure and vaguely business-like – after all, I am negotiating a contract.
I shower, shave my legs and underarms, wash my hair, and then spend a good half-hour drying it so that it falls in soft waves to my breasts and down my back. I slip a comb in to keep one side off my face and apply mascara and some lip-gloss. I rarely wear make-up – it intimidates me. None of my literary heroines had to deal with make-up – maybe I’d know more about it if they had. I slip on the plum-colored stilettos that match the dress, and I’m ready by six-thirty.
“Well?” I ask Kate.
“Boy, you scrub up well, Ana.” She nods with approval. “You look hot.” “Hot! I’m aiming for demure and business-like.”
“That too, but most of all, hot. The dress really suits you and your coloring. The way it clings.” She smirks.
“Kate!” I scold.
“Just keeping it real, Ana. The whole package – looks good. Keep the dress. You’ll have him eating out of your hand.”
My mouth presses in a hard line. Oh, you so have that the wrong way round.
“Wish me luck.”
“You need luck for a date?” Her brow furrows, puzzled. “Yes, Kate.”
“Well then – good luck.” She hugs me, and I am out the front door.
I have to drive in my bare feet – Wanda, my sea-blue Beetle, wasn’t built to be driven by stiletto-wearers. I pull up outside the Heathman at six-fifty-eight precisely and hand my car keys to the valet for parking. He looks askance at my Beetle, but I ignore him. Taking a deep breath and mentally girding my loins, I head into the hotel.
Christian is leaning casually against the bar, drinking a glass of white wine. He’s dressed in his customary white linen shirt, black jeans, black tie, and black jacket. His hair is as tousled as ever. I sigh. Of course he looks gorgeous. I stand for a few seconds in the entrance of the bar, gazing at him, admiring the view. He is beyond beautiful. He glances, nervously I think, toward the entrance and stills when he sees me. Blinking a couple of times, he then smiles a slow, lazy, sexy smile that renders me speechless and all molten inside. Making a supreme effort not to bite my lip, I move forward aware that I, Anastasia Steele of Clumsyville, am in high stilettos. He walks gracefully over to meet me.
“You look stunning,” he murmurs as he leans down to briefly kiss my cheek. “A dress, Miss Steele. I approve.” Taking my arm, he leads me to a secluded booth and signals for the waiter.
“What would you like to drink?”
My lips quirk up in a quick, sly smile as I sit and slide into the booth – well, at least he’s asking me.
“I’ll have what you’re having, please.” See! I can play nice and behave myself.
Amused, he orders another glass of Sancerre and slides in opposite me.
“They have an excellent wine cellar here,” he says, cocking his head to one side. Putting his elbows on the table, he steeples his fingers in front of his beautiful mouth,
his gray eyes alive with some unreadable emotion. And there it is… that familiar pull and charge from him, it connects somewhere deep inside me. I shift uncomfortably under his scrutiny, my heart palpitating. I must keep my cool.
“Are you nervous?” he asks softly. “Yes.”
He leans forward.
“Me too,” he whispers conspiratorially. My eyes shoot up to meet his. Him. Nervous. Never. I blink at him, and he smiles his adorable lopsided smile at me. The waiter arrives with my wine, a small dish of mixed nuts, and another of olives.
“So, how are we going to do this?” I ask. “Run through my points one by one?”
“Impatient as ever, Miss Steele.”
“Well, I could ask you what you thought of the weather today?”
He smiles, and his long fingers reach down to collect an olive. He pops it in his mouth, and my eyes linger on his mouth, that mouth, that’s been on me… all parts of me. I flush.
“I thought the weather was particularly unexceptional today,” he smirks. “Are you smirking at me, Mr. Grey?”
“I am, Miss Steele.”
“You know this contract is legally unenforceable.” “I am fully aware of that, Miss Steele.”
“Were you going to tell me that at any point?” He frowns at me.
“You’d think I’d coerce you into something you don’t want to do, and then pretend that I have a legal hold over you?”
“You don’t think very highly of me at all, do you?” “You haven’t answered my question.”
“Anastasia, it doesn’t matter if it’s legal or not. It represents an arrangement that I would like to make with you – what I would like from you and what you can expect from me. If you don’t like it, then don’t sign. If you do sign, and then decide you don’t like it, there are enough get-out clauses so you can walk away. Even if it were legally binding, do you think I’d drag you through the courts if you did decide to run?”
I take a long draft of my wine. My subconscious taps me hard on the shoulder. You must keep your wits about you. Don’t drink too much.
“Relationships like this are built on honesty and trust,” he continues. “If you don’t trust me – trust me to know how I’m affecting you, how far I can go with you, how far I can take you – if you can’t be honest with me, then we really can’t do this.”
Oh my, we’ve cut to the chase quickly. How far he can take me. Holy shit. What does that mean?
“So it’s quite simple, Anastasia. Do you trust me or not?” His eyes are burning, fer- vent.
“Did you have similar discussions with um… the fifteen?” “No.”
“Because they were all established submissives. They knew what they wanted out of a relationship with me and generally what I expected. With them, it was just a question of fine-tuning the soft limits, details like that.”
“Is there a store you go to? Submissives R Us?” He laughs.
“Not exactly.” “Then how?”
“Is that what you want to discuss? Or shall we get down to the nitty-gritty? Your is- sues, as you say.”
I swallow. Do I trust him? Is that what this all comes down to – trust? Surely that should be a two-way thing. I remember his snit when I phoned José.
“Are you hungry?” he asks, distracting me from my thoughts.
Oh no… food.
“Have you eaten today?”
I stare at him. Honesty… Holy crap, he’s not going to like my answer. “No.” My voice is small.
He narrows his eyes.
“You have to eat, Anastasia. We can eat down here or in my suite. What would you prefer?”
“I think we should stay in public, on neutral ground.” He smiles sardonically.
“Do you think that would stop me?” he says softly, a sensual warning. My eyes widen, and I swallow again.
“I hope so.”
“Come, I have a private dining room booked. No public.” He smiles at me enigmati- cally and climbs out of the booth, holding his hand out to me.
“Bring your wine,” he murmurs.
Placing my hand in his, I slide out and stand up beside him. He releases me, and his hand reaches for my elbow. He leads me back through the bar and up the grand stairs to a mezzanine floor. A young man in full Heathman livery approaches us.
“Mr. Grey, this way sir.”
We follow him through a plush seating area to an intimate dining room. Just one secluded table. The room is small but sumptuous. Beneath a shimmering chandelier, the table is all starched linen, crystal glasses, silver cutlery, and white rose bouquet. An old-world, sophisticated charm pervades the wood-paneled room. The waiter pulls out my chair, and I sit. He places my napkin in my lap. Christian sits opposite me. I peek up at him.
“Don’t bite your lip,” he whispers.
I frown. Damn it. I don’t even know that I’m doing it. “I’ve ordered already. I hope you don’t mind.”
Frankly, I’m relieved, I’m not sure I can make any further decisions. “No, that’s fine,” I acquiesce.
“It’s good to know that you can be amenable. Now, where were we?”
“The nitty-gritty.” I take another large sip of wine. It really is delicious. Christian Grey does wine well. I remember the last sip of wine he gave me, in my bed. I blush at the intrusive thought.
“Yes, your issues.” He fishes into his inside jacket pocket and pulls out a piece of paper.
“Clause 2. Agreed. This is for the benefit of us both. I shall redraft.”
I blink at him. Holy shit… we are going to go through each of these points one at a time. I just don’t feel so brave face to face. He looks so earnest. I steel myself with an- other sip of my wine. Christian continues.
“My sexual health. Well, all of my previous partners have had blood tests, and I have regular tests every six months for all the health risks you mention. All my recent tests are
clear. I have never taken drugs. In fact, I’m vehemently anti-drugs. I have a strict no- tolerance policy with regards to drugs for all my employees, and I insist on random drug testing.”
Wow… control freakery gone mad. I blink at him shocked.
“I have never had any blood transfusions. Does that answer your question?” I nod, impassive.
“Your next point I mentioned earlier. You can walk away any time, Anastasia. I won’t stop you. If you go, however – that’s it. Just so you know.”
“Okay,” I answer softly. If I go, that’s it. The thought is surprisingly painful.
The waiter arrives with our first course. How can I possibly eat? Holy Moses – he’s ordered oysters on a bed of ice.
“I hope you like oysters,” Christian’s voice is soft. “I’ve never had one.” Ever.
“Really? Well.” He reaches for one. “All you do is tip and swallow. I think you can manage that.” He gazes at me, and I know what he’s referring to. I blush scarlet. He grins at me, squirts some lemon juice onto his oyster, and then tips it into his mouth.
“Hmm, delicious. Tastes of the sea,” he grins at me. “Go on,” he encourages. “So, I don’t chew it?”
“No, Anastasia, you don’t.” His eyes are alight with humor. He looks so young like this.
I bite my lip, and his expression changes instantly. He looks sternly at me. I reach across and pick up my first ever oyster. Okay… here goes nothing. I squirt some lemon juice on it and tip it up. It slips down my throat, all seawater, salt, the sharp tang of citrus, and fleshiness… ooh. I lick my lips, and he’s watching me intently, his eyes hooded.
“I’ll have another,” I say dryly. “Good girl,” he says proudly.
“Did you choose these deliberately? Aren’t they known for their aphrodisiac quali- ties?”
“No, they are the first item on the menu. I don’t need an aphrodisiac near you. I think you know that, and I think you react the same way near me,” he says simply. “So where were we?” He glances at my email as I reach for another oyster.
He reacts the same way. I affect him… wow.
“Obey me in all things. Yes, I want you to do that. I need you to do that. Think of it as role-play Anastasia.”
“But I’m worried you’ll hurt me.” “Hurt you how?”
“Physically.” And emotionally.
“Do you really think I would do that? Go beyond any limit you can’t take?” “You’ve said you’ve hurt someone before.”
“Yes, I have. It was a long time ago.” “How did you hurt them?”
“I suspended them from my playroom ceiling. In fact, that’s one of your questions. Suspension – that’s what the karabiners are for in the playroom. Rope play. One of the ropes was tied too tightly.”
I hold my hand up begging him to stop.
“I don’t need to know any more. So you won’t suspend me then?” “Not if you really don’t want to. You can make that a hard limit.” “Okay.”
“So obeying, do you think you can manage that?”
He stares at me, his gray eyes intense. The seconds tick by. “I could try,” I whisper.
“Good.” He smiles. “Now term. One month instead of three is no time at all, espe- cially if you want a weekend away from me each month. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from you for that length of time. I can barely manage it now,” he pauses.
He can’t stay away from me? What?
“How about, one day over one weekend per month you get to yourself – but I get a midweek night that week?”
“And please, let’s try it for three months. If it’s not for you then, you can walk away anytime.”
“Three months?” I’m feeling railroaded. I take another large sip of wine and treat my- self to another oyster. I could learn to like these.
“The ownership thing, that’s just terminology and goes back to the principle of obey- ing. It’s to get you into the right frame of mind, to understand where I’m coming from. And I want you to know that as soon as you cross my threshold as my submissive, I will do what I like to you. You have to accept that and willingly. That’s why you have to trust me. I will fuck you, any time, any way, I want – anywhere I want. I will discipline you, because you will screw up. I will train you to please me. But I know you’ve not done this before. Initially, we’ll take it slowly, and I will help you. We’ll build up to various scenarios. I want you to trust me, but I know I have to earn your trust, and I will. The “or otherwise”
again it’s to help you get into the mindset, it means anything goes.”
He’s so passionate, mesmerizing. This is obviously his obsession, the way he is… I can’t take my eyes off him. He really, really wants this. He stops talking and gazes at me. “Still with me?” he whispers, his voice rich, warm and seductive. He takes a sip of his
wine, his penetrating stare holding mine.
The waiter comes to the door, and Christian subtly nods permitting the waiter to clear our table.
“Would you like some more wine?” “I have to drive.”
“Some water then?” I nod.
“Still or sparkling?” “Sparkling, please.” The waiter leaves.
“You’re very quiet,” Christian whispers.
“You’re very verbose.” He smiles.
“Discipline. There’s a very fine line between pleasure and pain Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how plea- surable pain can be. You don’t believe me now, but this is what I mean about trust. There will be pain, but nothing that you can’t handle. Again, it comes down to trust. Do you trust me, Ana?”
“Yes, I do.” I respond spontaneously, not thinking… because it’s true – I do trust him. “Well then,” he looks relieved. “The rest of this stuff is just details.”
“Okay, let’s talk through those.”
My head is swimming with all his words. I should have brought Kate’s mini disc player so I can listen back to this. There is so much information, so much to process. The waiter re-emerges with our entrees: black cod, asparagus, and crushed potatoes with a hol- landaise sauce. I have never felt less like food.
“I hope you like fish,” Christian says mildly.
I make a stab at my food and take a long drink of my sparkling water. I vehemently wish it was wine.
“The rules. Let’s talk about them. The food is a deal breaker?” “Yes.”
“Can I modify to say that you will eat at least three meals a day?”
“No.” I am so not backing down on this. No one is going to dictate to me what I eat.
How I fuck, yes, but eat… no, no way.
He purses his lips.
“I need to know that you’re not hungry.” I frown. Why?
“You’ll have to trust me.”
He gazes at me for a moment, and he relaxes.
“Touché, Miss Steele,” he says quietly. “I concede the food and the sleep.” “Why can’t I look at you?”
“That’s a Dom/sub thing. You’ll get used to it.”
“Why can’t I touch you?” “Because you can’t.”
His mouth sets in a mulish line. “Is it because of Mrs. Robinson?” He looks quizzically at me.
“Why would you think that?” And immediately he understands. “You think she trau- matized me?”
“No Anastasia. She’s not the reason. Besides, Mrs. Robinson wouldn’t take any of that shit from me.”
Oh… but I have to. I pout.
“So nothing to do with her.”
“No. And I don’t want you touching yourself, either.”
What? Ah yes, the no masturbation clause. “Out of curiosity… why?”
“Because I want all your pleasure,” his voice is husky, but determined.
Oh… I have no answer for that. On one level it’s up there with, ‘I want to bite that lip’, on another, it’s so selfish. I frown and take a bite of cod, trying to assess mentally what concessions I’ve gained. The food, the sleep, I can look him in the eye. He’s going to take it slow, and we haven’t discussed soft limits. But I’m not sure I can face that over food.
“I’ve given you a great deal to think about haven’t I?” “Yes.”
“Do you want to go through the soft limits now too?” “Not over dinner.”
He smiles. “Squeamish?” “Something like that.”
“You’ve not eaten very much.” “I’ve had enough.”
“Three oysters, four bites of cod, and one asparagus stalk, no potatoes, no nuts, no olives, and you’ve not eaten all day. You said I could trust you.”
Jeez. He’s kept an inventory.
“Christian, please, it’s not every day I sit through conversations like this.” “I need you fit and healthy Anastasia.”
“And right now, I want to peel you out of that dress.”
I swallow. Peel me out of Kate’s dress. I feel the pull deep in my belly. Muscles that I’m now more acquainted with clench at his words. But I can’t have this. His most potent weapon, used against me again. He’s so good at sex – even I’ve figured this out.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I murmur quietly. “We haven’t had dessert.” “You want dessert?” he snorts.
“You could be dessert,” he murmurs suggestively. “I’m not sure I’m sweet enough.”
“Anastasia, you’re deliciously sweet. I know.”
“Christian. You use sex as a weapon. It really isn’t fair,” I whisper, staring down at my hands, and then looking directly at him. He raises his eyebrows, surprised, and I see he’s considering my words. He strokes his chin thoughtfully.
“You’re right. I do. In life you use what you know, Anastasia. Doesn’t change how much I want you. Here. Now.”
How can he seduce me solely with his voice? I’m panting already – my heated blood rushing through my veins, my nerves tingling.
“I’d like to try something,” he breathes.
I frown. He’s just given me a shit load of ideas to process and now this.
“If you were my sub, you wouldn’t have to think about this. It would be easy.” His voice is soft, seductive. “All those decisions – all the wearying thought processes behind them. The – is this the right thing to do? Should this happen here? Can it happen now? You wouldn’t have to worry about any of that detail. That’s what I’d do as your Dom. And right now, I know you want me, Anastasia.”
My frown deepens. How can he tell? “I can tell because… ”
Holy shit he’s answering my unspoken question. Is he psychic as well?
“… Your body gives you away. You’re pressing your thighs together, you’re flushed, and your breathing has changed.”
O, this is too much.
“How do you know about my thighs?” My voice is low, disbelieving. They’re under the table for heaven’s sake.
“I felt the tablecloth move, and it’s a calculated guess based on years of experience.
I’m right aren’t I?”
I flush and stare down at my hands. That’s what I’m hindered by in this game of se- duction. He’s the only one who knows and understands the rules. I’m just too naïve and inexperienced. My only sphere of reference is Kate, and she doesn’t take any shit from men. My other references are all fictional: Elizabeth Bennett would be outraged, Jane Eyre too frightened, and Tess would succumb, just as I have.
“I haven’t finished my cod.” “You’d prefer cold cod to me?”
My head jerks up to glare at him, and his gray eyes burn molten silver, with compel- ling need.
“I thought you liked me clearing my plate.”
“Right now, Miss Steele, I couldn’t give a fuck about your food.” “Christian. You just don’t fight fair.”
“I know. I never have.”
My inner goddess frowns at me. You can do this, she coaxes – play this sex god at his own game. Can I? Okay. What to do? My inexperience is an albatross around my neck. Picking up a spear of asparagus, I gaze at him and bite my lip. Then very slowly put the tip of my cold asparagus in my mouth and suck it.
Christian’s eyes widen infinitesimally, but I notice. “Anastasia. What are you doing?”
I bite off the tip. “Eating my asparagus.”
Christian shifts in his seat.
“I think you’re toying with me, Miss Steele.” I feign innocence.
“I’m just finishing my food, Mr. Grey.”
The waiter chooses this moment to knock and, unbidden, enter. He glances briefly at Christian, who frowns at him but then nods, so the waiter clears our plates. The waiter’s arrival has broken the spell. And I grasp this precious moment of clarity. I have to go. Our meeting will only end one way if I stay, and I need some boundaries after such an intense
conversation. As much as my body craves his touch, my mind is rebelling. I need some distance to think about all he’s said. I still haven’t made a decision, and his sexual allure and prowess doesn’t make it any easier.
“Would you like some dessert?” Christian asks, ever the gentleman, but his eyes still blaze.
“No, thank you. I think I should go.” I stare down at my hands. “Go?” He can’t hide his surprise.
The waiter leaves hastily.
“Yes.” It’s the right decision. If I stay here, in this room with him, he will fuck me. I stand, purposefully. “We both have the graduation ceremony tomorrow.”
Christian stands automatically, revealing years of ingrained civility. “I don’t want you to go.”
“Please… I have to.” “Why?”
“Because you’ve given me so much to consider… and I need some distance.” “I could make you stay,” he threatens.
“Yes, you could easily, but I don’t want you to.”
He runs his hand through his hair, regarding me carefully.
“You know, when you fell into my office to interview me, you were all yes sir, no sir. I thought you were a natural born submissive. But quite frankly, Anastasia, I’m not sure you have a submissive bone in your delectable body.” He moves slowly toward me as his speaks, his voice tense.
“You may be right,” I breathe.
“I want the chance to explore the possibility that you do,” he murmurs, staring down at me. He reaches up and caresses my face, his thumb tracing my lower lip. “I don’t know any other way, Anastasia. This is who I am.”
He leans down to kiss me, but pauses before his lips touch mine, his eyes searching mine, wanting, asking permission. I raise my lips to his, and he kisses me and because I don’t know if I’ll ever kiss him again, I let go – my hands moving of their own accord and twisting into his hair, pulling him to me, my mouth opening, my tongue stroking his. His hand grasps the nape of my neck as he deepens the kiss, responding to my ardor. His other hand slides down my back and flattens at the base of my spine as he pushes me against his body.
“I can’t persuade you to stay?” he breathes between kisses. “No.”
“Spend the night with me.” “And not touch you? No.” He groans.
“You impossible girl.” He pulls back, gazing down at me. “Why do I think you’re telling me goodbye?”
“Because I’m leaving now.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”
“Christian, I have to think about this. I don’t know if I can have the kind of relation- ship you want.”
He closes his eyes and presses his forehead against mine, giving us both the opportu- nity to slow our breathing. After a moment, he kisses my forehead, inhales deeply, his nose in my hair, and then he releases me, stepping back.
“As you wish, Miss Steele,” he says, his face impassive. “I’ll escort you to the lobby.” He holds out his hand. Leaning down, I grab my purse and place my hand in his. Holy crap, this could be it. I follow him meekly down the grand stairs and into the lobby, my scalp prickling, my blood pumping. This could be the last goodbye if I decide to say no. My heart contracts painfully in my chest. What a turnaround. What a difference a moment of clarity can make to a girl.
“Do you have your valet ticket?”
I fish into my clutch purse and hand him the ticket, which he gives to the doorman. I peek up at him as we stand waiting.
“Thank you for dinner,” I murmur.
“It’s a pleasure as always, Miss Steele,” he says politely, though he looks deep in thought, completely distracted.
As I peer up at him, I commit his beautiful profile to memory. The idea that I might not see him again haunts me, unwelcome and too painful to contemplate. He turns suddenly, staring down at me, his expression intense.
“You’re moving this weekend to Seattle. If you make the right decision, can I see you on Sunday?” He sounds hesitant.
“We’ll see. Maybe,” I breathe. Momentarily, he looks relieved, and then he frowns. “It’s cooler now, don’t you have a jacket?”
He shakes his head in irritation and takes off his jacket. “Here. I don’t want you catching cold.”
I blink up at him as he holds it open, and as I hold my arms out behind me, I’m re- minded of the time in his office when he slipped my coat onto my shoulders – the first time I met him – and the effect he had on me then. Nothing’s changed, in fact, it’s more intense. His jacket is warm, far too big, and it smells of him. Oh my… delicious.
My car pulls up outside. Christian’s mouth drops open.
“That’s what you drive?” He’s appalled. Taking my hand, he leads me outside. The valet jumps out and hands me my keys, and Christian coolly palms him some money.
“Is this roadworthy?” He’s glaring at me now. “Yes.”
“Will it make it to Seattle?” “Yes. She will.”
“Yes,” I snap, exasperated. “Okay she’s old. But she’s mine, and she’s roadworthy.
My stepdad bought it for me.”
“Oh, Anastasia, I think we can do better than this.”
“What do you mean?” Realization dawns. “You are not buying me a car.” He glowers at me, his jaw tense.
“We’ll see,” he says tightly.
He grimaces as he opens the driver’s door and helps me in. I take my shoes off and roll down the window. He’s gazing at me, his expression unfathomable, eyes dark.
“Drive safely,” he says quietly.
“Goodbye, Christian.” My voice is hoarse from unbidden, unshed tears – jeez I’m not going to cry. I give him a small smile.
As I drive away, my chest constricts, my tears start to fall, and I choke back a sob. Soon tears are streaming down my face, and I really don’t understand why I’m crying. I was holding my own. He explained everything. He was clear. He wants me, but the truth is, I need more. I need him to want me like I want and need him, and deep down I know that’s not possible. I am just overwhelmed.
I don’t even know how to categorize him. If I do this thing… will he be my boyfriend? Will I be able to introduce him to my friends? Go out to bars, the cinema, bowling even, with him? The truth is, I don’t think I will. He won’t let me touch him and he won’t let me sleep with him. I know I’ve not had these things in my past, but I want them in my future. And that’s not the future he envisages.
What if I do say yes, and in three months’ time he says no, he’s had enough of trying to mold me into something I’m not. How will I feel? I’ll have emotionally invested three months, doing things that I’m not sure I want to do. And if he then says no, agreement over, how could I cope with that level of rejection? Perhaps it’s best to back away now with what self-esteem I have reasonably intact.
But the thought of not seeing him again is agonizing. How has he gotten under my skin so quickly? It can’t just be the sex… can it? I dash the tears from my eyes. I don’t want to examine my feelings for him. I’m frightened what I’ll uncover if I do. What am I going to do?
I park up outside our duplex. No lights on. Kate must be out. I’m relieved. I don’t want her to catch me crying again. As I undress, I wake up the mean machine and sitting in my inbox is a message from Christian.
From: Christian Grey
Date: May 25 2011 22:01
To: Anastasia Steele
I don’t understand why you ran this evening. I sincerely hope I answered all your ques- tions to your satisfaction. I know I have given you a great deal to contemplate, and I fervently hope that you will give my proposal your serious consideration. I really want to make this work. We will take it slow.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
His email makes me weep more. I am not a merger. I am not an acquisition. Reading this, I might as well be. I don’t reply. I just don’t know what to say to him. I fumble into my PJs, and wrapping his jacket around me. I climb into bed. As I lie staring into the darkness, I think of all the times he warned me to stay away.
‘Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you.’ ‘I don’t do the girlfriend thing.’
‘I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of guy.’ ‘I don’t make love.’‘This is all I know.’
And as I weep into my pillow silently, it’s this last idea I cling to. This is all I know, too. Perhaps together we can chart a new course.
Christian is standing over me grasping a plaited, leather riding-crop. He’s wearing old, faded, ripped Levis and that’s all. He flicks the crop slowly into his palm as he gazes down at me. He’s smiling, triumphant. I cannot move. I am naked and shackled, spread-eagled on a large four-poster bed. Reaching forward, he trails the tip of the crop from my forehead down the length of my nose, so I can smell the leather, and over my parted, panting lips. He pushes the tip into my mouth so I can taste the smooth, rich leather.
“Suck,” he commands his voice soft. My mouth closes over the tip as I obey. “Enough,” he snaps.
I’m panting once more as he tugs the crop out of my mouth, trails it down and under my chin, on down my neck to the hollow at the base of my throat. He swirls it slowly there and then continues to drag the tip down my body, along my sternum, between my breasts, over my torso down to my navel. I’m panting, squirming, pulling against my restraints that are biting into my wrists and my ankles. He swirls the tip around my navel then continues to trail the leather tip south, through my pubic hair to my clitoris. He flicks the crop and it hits my sweet spot with a sharp slap, and I come, gloriously, shouting my release.
Abruptly, I wake, gasping for breath, covered in sweat and feeling the aftershocks of my orgasm. Holy hell. I’m completely disorientated. What the hell just happened? I’m in my bedroom alone. How? Why? I sit bolt upright, shocked… wow. It’s morning. I glance at my alarm clock – eight o’clock. I put my head in my hands. I didn’t know I
could dream sex. Was it something I ate? Perhaps the oysters and my Internet research manifesting itself in my first wet dream. It’s bewildering. I had no idea that I could orgasm in my sleep.
Kate is skipping around the kitchen when I stagger in.
“Ana, are you okay? You look odd. Is that Christian’s jacket you’re wearing?”
“I’m fine.” Damn, should have checked in the mirror. I avoid her piercing green eyes.
I’m still reeling from my morning’s event. “Yes, this is Christian’s jacket.” She frowns.
“Did you sleep?” “Not very well.”
I head for the kettle. I need tea. “How was dinner?”
So it begins.
“We had oysters. Followed by cod, so I’d say it was fishy.”
“Ugh… I hate oysters, and I don’t want to know about the food. How was Christian?
What did you talk about?”
“He was attentive,” I pause.
What can I say? His HIV status is clear, he’s heavily into role-play, wants me to obey his every command, he hurt someone he tied to his bedroom ceiling, and he wanted to fuck me in the private dining room. Would that be a good summary? I try desperately to remember something from my encounter with Christian that I can discuss with Kate.
“He doesn’t approve of Wanda.”
“Who does, Ana? That’s old news. Why are you being so coy? Give it up, girlfriend.” “Oh, Kate, we talked about lots things. You know – how fussy he is about food. Inci- dentally, he liked your dress.” The kettle has boiled, so I make myself some tea. “Do you
want tea? Would you like me to hear your speech for today?”
“Yes, please. I worked on it last night over at Lilah’s. I’ll go fetch it. And yes, I’d love some tea.” Kate races out of the kitchen.
Phew, Katherine Kavanagh sidetracked. I slice a bagel and pop it into the toaster. I flush remembering my very vivid dream. What on earth was that about?
Last night I found it hard to sleep. My head was buzzing with various options. I am so confused. Christian’s idea of a relationship is more like a job offer. It has set hours, a job description, and a rather harsh grievance procedure. It’s not how I envisaged my first romance – but, of course, Christian doesn’t do romance. If I tell him I want more, he may say no… and I could jeopardize what he has offered. And this is what concerns me most, because I don’t want to lose him. But I’m not sure I have the stomach to be his submissive
deep down, it’s the canes and whips that put me off. I’m a physical coward, and I will go a long way to avoid pain. I think of my dream… is that what it would be like? My inner goddess jumps up and down with cheerleading pom-poms shouting yes at me.
Kate comes back into the kitchen with her laptop. I concentrate on my bagel and listen patiently as she runs through her Valedictorian speech.
I am dressed and ready when Ray arrives. I open the front door, and he’s standing on the porch in his ill-fitting suit. A warm surge of gratitude and love for this uncomplicated man streaks through me, and I throw my arms around him in an uncharacteristic display of af- fection. He’s taken-aback, bemused.
“Hey, Annie, I’m pleased to see you too,” he mutters as he hugs me. Setting me back, his hands on my shoulders, he looks me up and down, his brow furrowed. “You okay, kid?”
“Of course, Dad, can’t a girl be pleased to see her old man?”
He smiles, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners, and follows me into the living area. “You look good,” he says.
“This is Kate’s dress.” I glance down at the grey chiffon halter neck dress. He frowns.
“Where is Kate?”
“She’s gone to campus. She’s giving a speech, so she has to be early.” “Should we head on over?”
“Dad, we have half an hour. Would you like some tea? And you can tell me how ev- eryone in Montesano is getting along. How was the drive down?”
Ray pulls his car into the campus parking lot, and we follow the stream of humanity dotted with ubiquitous black and red gowns, heading toward the sports auditorium.
“Good luck, Annie. You seem awfully nervous, do you have to do anything?” Holy crap… why has Ray picked today to be so observant?
“No, Dad. It’s a big day.” And I’m going to see him.
“Yeah, my baby girl has gotten a degree. I’m proud of you, Annie.” “Aw… thanks Ray.” Oh I love this man.
The sports auditorium is crowded. Ray has gone to sit with the other parents and well-wishers in the raked seating, while I make my way to my seat. I’m wearing my black gown and my cap, and I feel protected by them, anonymous. There is no one on the stage yet, but I can’t seem to steady my nerves. My heart is pounding, and my breathing is shal- low. He’s here, somewhere. I wonder if Kate is talking to him, interrogating him maybe. I make my way to my seat amongst fellow students whose surnames also begin with S. I am in the second row, affording me yet more anonymity. I glance behind me and spot Ray sat up high in the bleachers. I give him a wave. He self-consciously gives me a half-wave, half-salute back. I sit and wait.
The auditorium fills quickly, and the buzz of excited voices gets louder and louder. The row of seats in front fills. On either side of me, I am joined by two girls whom I don’t know from a different faculty. They’re obviously close friends and talk across me excitedly.
At eleven precisely, the Chancellor appears from behind the stage, followed by the three Vice Chancellors, and then the senior professors, all decked out in their black and red regalia. We stand and applaud our teaching staff. Some Professors nod and wave, others look bored. Professor Collins, my tutor and my favorite teacher, looks like he’s just fallen out of bed, as usual. Last on to the stage are Kate and Christian. Christian stands out in his bespoke gray suit, copper highlights glinting in his hair under the auditorium lights. He looks so serious and self-contained. As he sits, he undoes his single-breasted jacket, and I
glimpse his tie. Holy shit… that tie! I rub my wrists reflexively. I cannot take my eyes off him – his beauty as distracting as ever – and he’s wearing that tie, on purpose no doubt. I can feel my mouth press into a hard line. The audience sits down and the applause ceases. “Look at him!” One of the girls beside me breathes enthusiastically to her friend.
I stiffen. I’m sure they’re not talking about Professor Collins. “Must be Christian Grey.”
“Is he single?” I bristle.
“I don’t think so,” I murmur.
“Oh.” Both girls look at me in surprise. “I think he’s gay,” I mutter.
“What a shame,” one of the girls groans.
As the Chancellor gets to his feet and kicks off the proceedings with his speech, I watch Christian subtly scanning the hall. I sink into my seat, hunching my shoulders, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I fail miserably as a second later his gray eyes find mine. He stares at me, his face impassive, completely inscrutable. I squirm uncomfortably, hypnotized by his glare as I feel a slow flush spread across my face. Unbid- den, I recall my dream from this morning, and the muscles in my belly do the delectable clench thing. I inhale sharply. I can see the shadow of a smile cross his lips, but it’s fleet- ing. He briefly closes his eyes, and on opening them, resumes his indifferent expression. Following a swift glance up at the Chancellor, he stares ahead, focusing on the WSUV em- blem hung above the entrance. He doesn’t turn his eyes toward me again. The Chancellor drones on, and Christian still doesn’t look at me, he just stares fixedly ahead.
Why won’t he look at me? Perhaps he’s changed his mind? A wave of unease washes over me. Perhaps walking out on him last night was the end for him too. He’s bored of waiting for me to make up my mind. Oh no, I could have completely blown it. I remember his email last night. Maybe he’s mad that I haven’t replied.
Suddenly, the room erupts into applause as Miss Katherine Kavanagh has taken the stage. The Chancellor sits, and Kate tosses her lovely long hair behind her as she places her papers on the lectern. She takes her time, not intimidated by a thousand people gawp- ing at her. She smiles when she’s ready, looks up at the captivated throng, and launches eloquently into her speech. She’s so composed and funny, the girls beside me erupt on cue at her first joke. Oh, Katherine Kavanagh, you can deliver a good line. I feel so proud of her at that moment, my errant thoughts of Christian are pushed to one side. Even though I have heard her speech before, I listen carefully. She commands the room and takes her audience with her.
Her theme is What Next After College? Oh, what next indeed. Christian is watching Kate, his eyebrows slightly raised – in surprise, I think. Yes, it could have been Kate that went to interview him. And it could have been Kate that he was now making indecent proposals to. Beautiful Kate and beautiful Christian, together. I could be like the two girls beside me, admiring him from afar. I know Kate wouldn’t have given him the time of day. What did she call him the other day? Creepy. The thought of a confrontation between Kate
and Christian makes me uncomfortable. I have to say I don’t know which of them I would put my money on.
Kate concludes her speech with a flourish, and spontaneously everyone stands, ap- plauding and cheering, her first standing ovation. I beam at her and cheer, and she grins back at me. Good job, Kate. She sits, as does the audience, and the Chancellor rises and in- troduces Christian… holy shit, Christian’s going to give a speech. The Chancellor touches briefly on Christian’s achievements: CEO of his own extraordinarily successful company, a real self-made man.
“And also a major benefactor to our University, please welcome, Mr. Christian Grey.” The Chancellor pumps Christian’s hand, and there is a swell of polite applause. My heart’s in my throat. He approaches the lectern and surveys the hall. He looks so confident standing in front of us all, as Kate did before him. The two girls beside me lean in, enrap- tured. In fact, I think most of the female members of the audience inch closer and a few of
the men. He begins, his voice soft, measured, and mesmerizing.
“I’m profoundly grateful and touched by the great compliment accorded to me by the authorities of WSU today. It offers me a rare opportunity to talk about the impressive work of the environmental science department here at the University. Our aim is to develop via- ble and ecologically sustainable methods of farming for third world countries; our ultimate goal is to help eradicate hunger and poverty across the globe. Over a billion people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, live in abject poverty. Agricultural dysfunction is rife within these parts of the world and the result is ecological and social destruction. I have known what it’s like to be profoundly hungry. This is a very personal journey for me… ”
My jaw falls to the floor. What? Christian was hungry once. Holy crap. Well, that ex- plains a great deal. And I recall the interview; he really does want to feed the world. I des- perately rack my brains to remember what Kate had written in her article. Adopted at age four, I think. I can’t imagine that Grace starved him, so it must have been before then, as a little boy. I swallow, my heart constricting at the thought of a hungry, gray-eyed toddler. Oh no. What kind of life did he have before the Greys got hold of him and rescued him?
I’m seized by a sense of raw outrage, poor, fucked-up, kinky, philanthropic Christian – though I’m sure he wouldn’t see himself this way and would repel any thoughts of sympa- thy or pity. Abruptly, everyone bursts into applause and stands. I follow, though I haven’t heard half his speech. He’s doing all of these good works, running a huge company, and chasing me at the same time. It’s overwhelming. I remember the brief snippets of conver- sations he’s had about Darfur… it all falls into place. Food.
He smiles briefly at the warm applause – even Kate is clapping, then he resumes his seat. He doesn’t look my way, and I’m off-kilter trying to assimilate this new information about him.
One of the Vice Chancellors rises, and we begin the long, tedious process of collecting our degrees. There are over four hundred to be given out, and it takes just over an hour before I hear my name. I make my way up to the stage between the two giggling girls. Christian gazes down at me, his gaze warm but guarded.
“Congratulations, Miss Steele,” he says as he shakes my hand, squeezing it gently. I feel the charge of his flesh on mine. “Do you have a problem with your laptop?”
I frown as he hands me my degree. “No.”
“Then you are ignoring my emails?”
“I only saw the mergers and acquisitions one.” He looks quizzically at me.
“Later,” he says, and I have to move on because I’m holding up the line.
I go back to my seat. Emails? He must have sent another. What did it say?
The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It’s interminable. Finally, the Chan- cellor leads the faculty members off the stage to yet more rousing applause, preceded by Christian and Kate. Christian does not glance at me, even though I’m willing him to do it. My inner goddess is not pleased.
As I stand and wait for our row to disperse, Kate calls to me. She’s heading my way from behind the stage.
“Christian wants to talk to you,” she shouts. The two girls who are now standing be- side me turn and gape at me.
“He’s sent me out here,” she continues.
“Your speech was great, Kate.”
“It was, wasn’t it?” she beams. “Are you coming? He can be very insistent.” She rolls her eyes, and I grin.
“You have no idea. I can’t leave Ray for long.” I glance up at Ray and hold my fingers up indicating five minutes. He nods, giving me an okay sign, and I follow Kate into the corridor behind the stage. Christian is talking to the Chancellor and two of the teaching staff. He looks up when he sees me.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I hear him murmur. He comes toward me and smiles briefly at Kate.
“Thank you,” he says, and before she can reply, he takes my elbow and steers me into what looks like a men’s locker room. He checks to see if it’s empty, and then he locks the door.
Holy shit, what does he have in mind? I blink up at him as he turns on me.
“Why haven’t you emailed me? Or texted me back?” He glares. I’m nonplussed.
“I haven’t looked at my computer today, or my phone.” Crap, has he been trying to call? I try my distraction technique that’s so effective on Kate. “That was a great speech.”
“Explains your food issues to me.”
He runs a hand through his hair, exasperated.
“Anastasia, I don’t want to go there at the moment.” He closes his eyes, looking pained. “I’ve been worried about you.”
“Because you went home in that deathtrap you call a car.”
“What? It’s not a deathtrap. It’s fine. José regularly services it for me.” “José, the photographer?” Christian’s eyes narrow, his face frosting. Oh Crap. “Yes, the Beetle used to belong to his mother.”
“Yes, and probably her mother and her mother before her. It’s not safe.”
“I’ve been driving it for over three years. I’m sorry you were worried. Why didn’t you call?” Jeez, he’s completely over-reacting.
He takes a deep breath.
“Anastasia, I need an answer from you. This waiting around is driving me crazy.” “Christian, I… look, I’ve left my stepdad on his own.”
“Tomorrow. I want an answer by tomorrow.” “Okay. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you then.” I blink at him.
He steps back, regarding me coolly, and his shoulders relax. “Are you staying for drinks?” he asks.
“I don’t know what Ray wants to do.” “Your stepfather? I’d like to meet him.” Oh no… why?
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
Christian unlocks the door, his mouth in a grim line. “Are you ashamed of me?”
“No!” It’s my turn to sound exasperated. “Introduce you to my dad as what? ‘This is the man who deflowered me and wants us to start a BDSM relationship’. You’re not wear- ing running shoes.”
Christian glares down at me, and then his lips twitch up in a smile. And in spite of the fact I’m mad at him, my face is unwillingly pulled into an answering grin.
“Just so you know, I can run quite fast. Just tell him I’m your friend, Anastasia.”
He opens the door, and I head out. My mind is whirling. The Chancellor, the three Vice Chancellors, four professors, and Kate stare at me as I walk hastily past them. Holy crap. Leaving Christian with the faculty I go in search of Ray.
Tell him I’m your friend. Friend with benefits, my subconscious scowls. I know, I know. I shake the unpleasant thought away. How will I introduce him to Ray? The hall is still at least half full, and Ray has not moved from his spot. He sees me, waves, and makes his way down.
“Hey, Annie. Congratulations.” He puts his arm around me. “Would you like to come and have a drink in the marquee?” “Sure. It’s your day. Lead the way.”
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Please say no…
“Annie, I’ve just sat for two and half hours listening to all kinds of jabbering. I need a drink.”
I put my arm through his, and we stroll out with the throng into the warmth of the early afternoon. We pass the line for the official photographer.
“Oh, that reminds me.” Ray drags a digital camera out of his pocket. “One for the album, Annie.” I roll my eyes at him as he snaps a picture of me.
“Can I take the cap and gown off now? I feel kind of dorky.”
You look kinda dorky… my subconscious is at her snarky best. So are you going to introduce Ray to the man you’re fucking? She is glaring at me over her wing-shaped spec- tacles. He’d be so proud. God, I hate her sometimes.
The marquee is immense, and crowded – students, parents, teachers, and friends, all chattering happily. Ray hands me a glass of champagne or cheap fizzy wine, I suspect. It’s not chilled, and it tastes sweet. My thoughts turn to Christian… he won’t like this.
“Ana!” I turn, and Ethan Kavanagh scoops me into his arms. He twirls me around, without spilling my wine, some feat.
“Congratulations!” He beams down at me, green eyes twinkling.
What a surprise. His dirty blonde hair tousled and sexy-looking. He’s as beautiful as Kate. The family resemblance is striking.
“Wow – Ethan! How lovely to see you. Dad, this is Ethan, Kate’s brother. Ethan, this is my dad, Ray Steele.” They shake hands, my dad coolly assessing Mr. Kavanagh.
“When did you get back from Europe?” I ask.
“I’ve been back for a week, but I wanted to surprise my little sister,” he says conspira- torially.
“That’s so sweet.” I grin up at him.
“She is Valedictorian, couldn’t miss that.” He looks immensely proud of his sister. “She gave a great speech.”
“That she did,” Ray agrees.
Ethan has his arm around my waist when I look up into the frosty gray eyes of Chris- tian Grey. Kate is beside him.
“Hello, Ray,” Kate kisses Ray on both cheeks, making him blush. “Have you met Ana’s boyfriend? Christian Grey.”
Holy shit… Kate! Fuck! All the blood drains from my face.
“Mr. Steele, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Christian says smoothly, warmly, completely unflustered by Kate’s introduction. He holds out his hand, which, all credit to Ray, Ray takes, not showing a hint of the drop-dead surprise he’s just had thrust upon him.
Thank you very much, Katherine Kavanagh, I fume. I think my subconscious has fainted.
“Mr. Grey,” Ray murmurs, his expression indecipherable except perhaps for the slight widening of his big brown eyes. They slide over my face with a when-were-you-going-to- give-me-this-news look. I bite my lip.
“And this is my brother, Ethan Kavanagh.” says Kate to Christian. Christian turns his arctic glare on Ethan, who still has one arm around me. “Mr. Kavanagh.”
They shake hands. Christian holds his hand out to me.
“Ana, baby,” he murmurs, and I nearly expire at the endearment.
I walk out of Ethan’s grasp, while Christian smiles icily at him, and I take my place at his side. Kate grins at me. She knows exactly what she’s doing, the vixen!
“Ethan, Mom and Dad wanted a word.” Kate drags Ethan away.
“So how long have you kids known each other?” Ray looks impassively from Christian to me.
The power of speech has deserted me. I want the ground to swallow me up. Christian puts his arm around me, his thumb skimming my naked back in a caress, before his hand clasps my shoulder.
“Couple of weeks or so now,” he says smoothly. “We met when Anastasia came to interview me for the student magazine.”
“Didn’t know you worked on the student magazine, Ana.” Ray’s voice is a quiet ad- monishment, revealing his irritation. Shit.
“Kate was ill,” I murmur. It’s all I can manage. “Fine speech you gave, Mr. Grey.”
“Thank you, sir. I understand that you’re a keen fisherman.”
Ray raises his eyebrows and smiles – a rare, genuine, bona fide Ray Steele smile – and off they go, talking fish. In fact, I soon feel surplus to requirements. He’s charming the pants off my dad… like he did you, my subconscious snaps at me. His power knows no bounds. I excuse myself to go and find Kate.
She’s talking to her parents, who are delightful as ever and greet me warmly. We ex- change brief pleasantries, mostly about their up and coming holiday to Barbados and about our move.
“Kate, how could you out me to Ray?” I hiss at the first opportunity we won’t be over- heard.
“Because I knew you never would, and I want to help with Christian’s commitment issues.” Kate smiles at me sweetly.
I scowl. It’s me that won’t commit to him, silly!
“He seems trés cool about it, Ana. Don’t sweat it. Look at him now – Christian cannot take his eyes off you.” I glance up, and both Ray and Christian are looking at me. “He’s been watching you like a hawk.”
“I’d better go rescue Ray or Christian. I don’t know which. You haven’t heard the last of this, Katherine Kavanagh!” I glare at her.
“Ana, I did you a favor,” she calls after me. “Hi.” I smile at both of them on my return.
They seem okay. Christian is enjoying some private joke, and my dad looks unbeliev- ably relaxed given he’s in a social situation. What have they been discussing apart from fish?
“Ana, where are the restrooms?”
“Back out front of the marquee and to the left.” “See you in a moment. You kids enjoy yourselves.”
Ray heads out. I glance nervously up at Christian. We pause briefly as a photographer takes a picture of both of us.
“Thank you, Mr. Grey.” The photographer scurries off. I blink from the flash. “So you’ve charmed my father as well?”
“As well?” Christian’s gray eyes burn, and he raises a questioning eyebrow. I flush.
He lifts his hand and traces my cheek with his fingers.
“Oh, I wish I knew what you were thinking, Anastasia,” he whispers darkly, cupping my chin and raising my head so that we gaze intently into each other’s eyes.
My breath hitches. How can he have this effect on me, even in this crowded tent? “Right now, I’m thinking, nice tie,” I breathe.
“It’s recently become my favorite.”
I blush scarlet.
“You look lovely, Anastasia, this halter-neck dress suits you, and I get to stroke your back, feel your beautiful skin.”
Suddenly, it’s like we’re on our own in the room. Just the two of us, my whole body has come alive, every nerve ending singing softly, that electricity pulling me to him, charg- ing between us.
“You know it’s going to be good, don’t you, baby?” he whispers. I close my eyes as my insides uncoil and melt.
“But I want more,” I whisper.
“More?” he looks down at me puzzled, his eyes darkening. I nod and swallow. Now he knows.
“More,” he says again softly. Testing the word – a small, simple word, but so full of promise. His thumb traces my lower lip. “You want hearts and flowers.”
I nod again. He blinks down at me, and I watch his internal struggle played out in his eyes.
“Anastasia.” His voice is soft. “It’s not something I know.” “Me neither.”
He smiles slightly.
“You don’t know much,” he murmurs. “You know all the wrong things.”
“Wrong? Not to me.” He shakes his head. He looks so sincere. “Try it,” he whispers. A challenge, daring me, and he cocks his head to one side and smiles his crooked, dazzling smile.
I gasp, and I’m Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he’s the serpent, and I cannot resist. “Okay,” I whisper.
“What?” I have his full, undivided attention. I swallow. “Okay. I’ll try.”
“You’re agreeing?” His disbelief is evident.
“Subject to the soft limits, yes. I’ll try.” My voice is so small. Christian closes his eyes and pulls me into an embrace.
“Jesus, Ana, you’re so unexpected. You take my breath away.”
He steps back, and suddenly Ray’s returned, and the volume in the marquee gradually rises and fills my ears. We are not alone. Holy shit, I’ve just agreed to be his sub. Christian smiles at Ray, and his eyes are dancing with joy.
“Annie, should we get some lunch?”
“Okay.” I blink up at Ray, trying to find my equilibrium. What have you done? My subconscious screams at me. My inner goddess is doing back flips in a routine worthy of a Russian Olympic gymnast.
“Would you like to join us, Christian?” Ray asks.
Christian! I stare up at him, imploring him to refuse. I need space to think… what the fuck have I done?
“Thank you, Mr. Steele, but I have plans. It’s been great to meet you, sir.” “Likewise,” Ray responds. “Look after my baby girl.”
“Oh, I fully intend to, Mr. Steele.”
They shake hands. I feel sick. Ray has no idea how Christian intends to look after me. Christian takes my hand and raises it to his lips and kisses my knuckles tenderly, his scorching eyes intent on mine.
“Later, Miss Steele,” he breathes, his voice full of promise. My belly curls at the thought… oh my. Hang on… later?
Ray takes my elbow and leads me toward the entrance to the tent.
“Seems a solid young man. Well-off too. You could do a lot worse, Annie. Though why I had to hear about him from Katherine,” he scolds.
I shrug apologetically.
“Well, any man who likes and knows his fly-fishing is okay with me.” Holy cow – Ray approves. If only he knew.
Ray drops me back at the house at dusk. “Call your mom,” he says.
“I will. Thanks for coming, Dad.”
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, Annie. You make me so proud.”
Oh no. I’m not going to get emotional. A huge lump forms in my throat, and I hug him, hard. He puts his arms around me, bemused, and I can’t help it – tears pool in my eyes.
“Hey, Annie, sweetheart,” Ray croons. “Big old day… eh? Want me to come in and make you some tea?”
I laugh, in spite of my tears. Tea is always the answer according to Ray. I remember my mother complaining about him, saying that when it came to tea and sympathy, he was always good at the tea, not so hot on the sympathy.
“No, Dad, I’m good. It’s been so great to see you. I’ll visit real soon once I’m settled in Seattle.”
“Good luck with the interviews. Let me know how they go.” “Sure thing, Dad.”
“Love you, Annie.” “Love you too, Dad.”
He smiles, his brown eyes warm, glowing, and he climbs back into his car. I wave him off as he drives into the dusk, and I wander listlessly back into the apartment.
First thing I do is check my cell phone. It needs recharging, so I have to hunt down the charger and plug it in before I can collect my messages. Four missed calls, one voice message, and two texts. Three missed calls from Christian… no messages. One missed call from José and a voice mail from him wishing me all the best for graduation.
I open the texts.
*Are you home safe*
They are both from Christian, why didn’t he call the house? I head into my bedroom and fire up the mean machine.
Date: May 25 2011 23:58
To: Anastasia Steele
I hope you made it home in that car of yours. Let me know if you’re okay.Christian Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Christian Grey Subject: Soft Limits Date: May 26 2011 17:22
To: Anastasia Steele
What can I say that I haven’t already? Happy to talk these through anytime. You looked beautiful today.Christian Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
I want to see him. I hit reply
Fifty Shades Freed Extended Version