Fifty Shades Freed Extended Version

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It’s been an interesting morning. We left Boeing Field at 11:30 PST; Stephan is flying with his first officer, Jill Beighley, and we’re due to arrive in Georgia at 19:30 EST.

Bill has managed to arrange a meeting with the Savannah Brownfield Redevelopment Authority tomorrow, and I might be meeting them for a drink this evening. So if Anastasia is otherwise occupied, or doesn’t want to see me, the journey won’t be a complete waste of time.

Yeah, yeah. Tell yourself that, Grey.

Taylor has joined me for a light lunch and is now sorting through some paperwork, and I have a whole lot of reading to do.

The only part of the equation I’ve yet to solve is arranging to see Ana. I’ll see how that goes once I arrive in Savannah; I’m hoping some inspiration will come to me on the flight.

I run my hand through my hair, and for the first time in a long while I lie back and doze as the G550 cruises at thirty thousand feet, bound for Savannah/Hilton Head International. The drone of the engines is soothing, and I’m tired. So tired.

That would be the nightmares, Grey.

I don’t know why they are worse at the moment. I close my eyes.

“This is how you will be with me. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She runs a scarlet fingernail across my chest.

I flinch and pull against the restraints as the darkness surfaces, burning my skin in the wake of her touch. But I don’t make a sound.

I don’t dare.

“If you behave, I’ll let you come. In my mouth.”

Fuck.

“But not yet. We’ve got a long way to go before then.”

Her fingernail blazes down my skin, from the top of my sternum to my navel.

I want to scream.

She grabs my face, squeezing open my mouth, and kisses me.

Her tongue demanding and wet.

She brandishes the leather flogger.

And I know this will be tough to endure.

But I have my eye on the prize. Her fucking mouth.

As the first lash falls and blisters across my skin, I welcome the pain and the endorphin rush.

“Mr. Grey, we’ll be landing in twenty minutes,” Taylor informs me, startling me awake. “Are you okay, sir?”

“Yeah. Sure. Thanks.”

“Would you like some water?”

“Please.” I take a deep breath to bring my heart rate down, and Taylor passes me a glass of cold Evian. I take a welcome sip, glad that it’s just Taylor on board. It’s not often I dream about my heady days with Mrs. Lincoln.

Out of the window the sky is blue, the sparse clouds pinking with the early-evening sun. The light up here is brilliant. Golden. Tranquil. The sinking sun reflecting off the cumulus clouds. For a moment I wish I were in my sailplane. I bet the thermals are fantastic up here.

Yes!

That’s what I should do: take Ana soaring. That would be more, wouldn’t it?

“Taylor.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’d like to take Anastasia soaring in Georgia-at dawn tomorrow, if we can find somewhere to do that. But later would be fine, too.” If it’s later I’ll have to move my meeting.

“I’ll get on it.”

“Never mind the cost.”

“Okay, sir.”

“Thanks.”

Now I just have to tell Ana.

THERE ARE TWO CARS waiting for us when the G550 comes to a halt on the tarmac near the Signature Flight Support terminal at the airport. Taylor and I step out of the plane and into the suffocating heat.

Hell, it’s sticky, even at this time.

The rep hands the keys for both cars to Taylor. I raise a brow at him. “Ford Mustang?”

“It’s all I could find in Savannah at short notice.” Taylor looks sheepish.

“At least it’s a red convertible. Though in this heat I hope it has AC.”

“It should have everything, sir.”

“Good. Thanks.” I take the keys from him and, grabbing my messenger bag, leave him to unload the rest of the luggage from the plane into his Suburban.

I shake hands with Stephan and Beighley and thank them for a smooth flight. In the Mustang, I cruise out of the airport and onward to downtown Savannah, listening to Bruce on my iPod through the car sound system.

ANDREA HAS BOOKED ME into a suite at the Bohemian Hotel, which looks out over the Savannah River. It’s dusk and the view from the balcony is impressive: the river is luminous, reflecting the graduated colors of the sky and the lights on the suspension bridge and the docks. The sky is incandescent, the colors shaded from deep purple to a rosy pink.

It’s almost as striking as twilight over the Sound.

But I don’t have time to stand here and admire the view. I set up my laptop, crank the air-conditioning to full blast, and call Ros for an update.

“Why the sudden interest in Georgia, Christian?”

“It’s personal.”

She huffs down the phone. “Since when have you let your personal life interfere with business?”

Since I met Anastasia Steele.

“I don’t like Detroit,” I snap.

“Okay.” She backs off.

“I might meet the Savannah Brownfield liaison for a drink later,” I add, attempting to placate her.

“Whatever, Christian. There are a few other things we need to talk about. The aid has arrived in Rotterdam. Do you still want to go ahead?”

“Yes. Let’s get it done. I made a commitment at the End Global Hunger launch. This needs to happen before I can face that committee again.”

“Okay. Any further thoughts on the publishing acquisition?”

“I’m still undecided.”

“I think SIP has some potential.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Let me think about it for a while longer.”

“I’m seeing Marco to discuss the Lucas Woods situation.”

“Okay, let me know how that goes. Call me later.”

“Will do. Bye for now.”

I’m avoiding the inevitable. I know this. But I decide it would be better to tackle Miss Steele-via e-mail or phone, I’ve yet to decide which-on a full stomach, so I order dinner. While I’m waiting there’s a text from Andrea letting me know my drinks appointment is off. I’m fine with that. I’ll see them tomorrow morning, provided I’m not soaring with Ana.

Before room service arrives, Taylor calls.

“Mr. Grey.”

“Taylor. Are you checked in?”

“Yes, sir. Your luggage will be on its way up in a moment.”

“Great.”

“The Brunswick Soaring Association has a glider free. I’ve asked Andrea to fax through your flying credentials to them. Once the paperwork’s signed, we’re good to go.”

“Great.”

“They’ll do anytime from six a.m.”

“Even better. Have them ready from then. Send me the address.”

“Will do.”

There’s a knock on the door-my luggage and room service have arrived simultaneously. The food smells delicious: fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. Well, I’m in the South.

While I eat I contemplate my strategy with Ana. I could pay a visit to her mom’s tomorrow at breakfast. Bring bagels. Then take her soaring. That’s probably the best plan. She hasn’t been in touch all day, so I guess she’s mad. I reread her last message once I’ve finished dinner.

What the hell has she got against Elena? She knows nothing about our relationship. What we had happened a long time ago and now we’re just friends. What right does Ana have to be mad?

And if it wasn’t for Elena, God knows what would have happened to me.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s Taylor.

“Good evening, sir. Happy with your room?”

“Yes, it’s fine.”

“I have the paperwork for the Brunswick Soaring Association here.”

I scan the hire agreement. It looks fine. I sign it and give it back to him. “I’ll drive myself tomorrow. I’ll see you there?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be there from six.”

“I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

“Shall I unpack for you, sir?”

“Please. Thanks.”

He nods and takes my suitcase into the bedroom.

I’m restless, and I need to get what I’m going to say to Ana clear in my mind. I glance at my watch; it’s twenty past nine. I’ve left this really late. Perhaps I should have a quick drink first. I leave Taylor to unpack and decide to check out the hotel bar before I speak to Ros again and write to Ana.

The rooftop bar is crowded, but I find a seat at the end of the counter and order a beer. It’s a hip, contemporary place, with moody lighting and a relaxed vibe. I scan the bar, avoiding eye contact with the two women sitting next to me…and a movement captures my attention: a frustrated flip of glossy mahogany hair that catches and refracts the light.

It’s Ana. Fuck.

She’s facing away from me, seated opposite a woman who could only be her mother. The resemblance is striking.

What are the fucking odds?

In all the gin joints…Jesus.

I watch them, transfixed. They’re drinking cocktails-Cosmopolitans, by the look of them. Her mother is stunning: like Ana, but older; she looks late thirties, with long, dark hair, and eyes that are Ana’s shade of blue. She has a bohemian vibe about her…not someone I’d automatically associate with the golf club set. Perhaps she’s dressed that way because she’s out with her young, beautiful daughter.

This is priceless.

Seize the day, Grey.

I fish my phone out of my jeans pocket. It’s time to e-mail Ana. This should be interesting. I’ll test her mood…and I get to watch.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Dinner Companions

Date: June 1 2011 21:40 EST

To: Anastasia Steele

Yes, I had dinner with Mrs. Robinson. She is just an old friend, Anastasia.

Looking forward to seeing you again. I miss you.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

Her mother looks earnest; maybe she’s concerned for her daughter, or maybe she’s trying to extract information from her.

Good luck, Mrs. Adams.

And for a moment I wonder if they’re discussing me. Her mother stands; it looks like she’s visiting the restroom. Ana checks her purse and pulls out her BlackBerry.

Here we go…

She begins to read, her shoulders hunched over, her fingers flexing and drumming on the table. She starts tapping furiously at the keys. I can’t see her face, which is frustrating, but I don’t think she’s impressed with what she’s just read. A moment later she abandons the phone on the table in what appears to be disgust.

That’s not good.

Her mother returns and signals one of the waiters for another round of drinks. I wonder how many they’ve had.

I check my phone, and sure enough, there’s a response.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: OLD Dinner Companions

Date: June 1 2011 21:42 EST

To: Christian Grey

She’s not just an old friend.

Has she found another adolescent boy to sink her teeth into?

Did you get too old for her?

Is that the reason your relationship finished?

What the hell? My temper simmers as I read.

Isaac is in his late twenties.

Like me.

How dare she?

Is it the drink talking?

Time to declare yourself, Grey.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Careful…

Date: June 1 2011 21:45 EST

To: Anastasia Steele

This is not something I wish to discuss via e-mail.

How many Cosmopolitans are you going to drink?

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

She studies her phone, sits up suddenly, and looks around the room.

Showtime, Grey.

I deposit ten bucks on the counter and saunter over to them.

Our eyes meet. She blanches-shocked, I think-and I don’t know how she’ll greet me, or how I’ll contain my temper if she says anything else about Elena.

She tucks her hair behind her ears with restless fingers. A sure sign that she’s nervous. “Hi,” she says, her voice strained and high-pitched.

“Hi.” I lean down and kiss her cheek. She smells amazing, even if she does tense as my lips brush her skin. She looks lovely; she’s caught some sun, and she’s not wearing a bra. Her breasts are straining against the silky material of her top, but hidden by her long hair.

For my eyes only, I hope.

And even though she’s mad, I’m glad to see her. I’ve missed her.

“Christian, this is my mother, Carla.” Ana gestures to her mom.

“Mrs. Adams, I am delighted to meet you.”

Her mom’s eyes are all over me.

Shit! She’s checking me out. Best ignore it, Grey.

After a longer-than-necessary pause, she reaches out to shake my hand. “Christian.”

“What are you doing here?” Ana asks, her tone accusatory.

“I came to see you, of course. I’m staying in this hotel.”

“You’re staying here?” she squeaks.

Yes. I can’t quite believe it, either. “Well, yesterday you said you wished I was here.” I’m trying to gauge her reaction. So far there’s been: nervous fidgeting, tensing, an accusatory tone, and a strained voice. This is not going well. “We aim to please, Miss Steele,” I add, deadpan, hoping to put her in a good mood.

“Won’t you join us for a drink, Christian?” Mrs. Adams says graciously, and catches the eye of the waiter.

I need something stronger than beer. “I’ll have a gin and tonic,” I tell the waiter. “Hendrick’s, if you have it, or Bombay Sapphire. Cucumber with the Hendrick’s, lime with the Bombay.”

“And two more Cosmos, please,” Ana adds, with an anxious look at me.

She’s right to be anxious. I think she’s had enough to drink already.

“Please pull up a chair, Christian.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Adams.”

I do as she asks, and sit down beside Ana.

“So you just happen to be staying in the hotel where we’re drinking?” Ana’s tone is tense.

“Or you just happen to be drinking in the hotel where I’m staying. I just finished dinner, came in here, and saw you. I was distracted, thinking about your most recent e-mail”-I give her a pointed look-“and I glance up and there you are. Quite a coincidence, eh?”

Ana looks flustered. “My mother and I were shopping this morning and on the beach this afternoon. We decided on a few cocktails this evening,” she says hurriedly, as if she has to justify drinking in a bar with her mother.

“Did you buy that top?” I ask. She really does look stunning. Her camisole is emerald green; I’ve made the right choices-gem colors-for the clothes Caroline Acton has selected for her. “The color suits you. And you’ve caught some sun. You look lovely.” Her cheeks color and her lips lift at my compliment. “Well, I was going to pay you a visit tomorrow. But here you are.” I take her hand, because I want to touch her, and I give it a gentle squeeze. Slowly I caress her knuckles with my thumb, and her breathing alters.

Yes, Ana. Feel it.

Don’t be mad at me.

Her eyes meet mine, and I’m rewarded with her coy smile.

“I thought I’d surprise you. But as ever, Anastasia, you surprise me by being here. I don’t want to interrupt the time you have with your mother. I’ll have a quick drink and then retire. I have work to do.” I resist kissing her knuckles. I don’t know what she’s said to her mother about us, if anything.

“Christian, it’s lovely to meet you finally. Ana has spoken very fondly of you,” Mrs. Adams says, with a charming smile.

“Really?” I glance at Ana, who’s blushing.

Fondly, eh?

This is good news.

The waiter places my gin and tonic in front of me.

“Hendrick’s, sir.”

“Thank you.”

He serves Ana and her mother fresh Cosmopolitans.

“How long are you in Georgia, Christian?” her mom asks.

“Until Friday, Mrs. Adams.”

“Will you have dinner with us tomorrow evening? And please, call me Carla.”

“I’d be delighted to, Carla.”

“Excellent,” she says. “If you two will excuse me, I need to visit the restroom.”

Hasn’t she just been to the restroom?

I stand as she leaves, then sit down again to face the wrath of Miss Steele. I take her hand once more. “So, you’re mad at me for having dinner with an old friend.” I kiss each knuckle.

“Yes.” She’s curt.

Is she jealous?

“Our sexual relationship was over long ago, Anastasia. I don’t want anyone but you. Haven’t you worked that out yet?”

“I think of her as a child molester, Christian.”

My scalp tingles in shock. “That’s very judgmental. It wasn’t like that.” I release her hand in frustration.

“Oh, how was it, then?” she snaps, sticking out her stubborn little chin.

Is this the drink talking?

She continues, “She took advantage of a vulnerable fifteen-year-old boy. If you had been a fifteen-year-old girl and Mrs. Robinson was a Mr. Robinson, tempting you into a BDSM lifestyle, that would have been okay? If it was Mia, say?”

Oh, now she’s being ridiculous. “Ana, it wasn’t like that.”

Her eyes flash. She’s really angry. Why? This has nothing to do with her. But I don’t want a full-blown argument here in the bar. I moderate my voice. “Okay, it didn’t feel like that to me. She was a force for good. What I needed.” Good God, I’d probably be dead by now if it wasn’t for Elena. I’m struggling to control my temper.

Her brow furrows. “I don’t understand.”

Shut her down, Grey.

“Anastasia, your mother will be back shortly. I’m not comfortable talking about this now. Later, maybe. If you don’t want me here, I have a plane on standby at Hilton Head. I can go.”

Her expression changes to panic. “No-don’t go. Please. I’m thrilled you’re here,” she adds quickly.

Thrilled? You could have fooled me.

“I’m just trying to make you understand,” she says. “I’m angry that as soon as I left, you had dinner with her. Think about how you are when I get anywhere near José. José is a good friend. I have never had a sexual relationship with him. Whereas you and her-”

“You’re jealous?”

How can I make her realize that Elena and I are friends? She has nothing to be jealous about.

Clearly, Miss Steele is possessive.

And it takes me a moment to realize that I like that.

“Yes, and angry about what she did to you,” she continues.

“Anastasia, she helped me. That’s all I’ll say about that. And as for your jealousy, put yourself in my shoes. I haven’t had to justify my actions to anyone in the last seven years. Not one person. I do as I wish, Anastasia. I like my autonomy. I didn’t go and see Mrs. Robinson to upset you. I went because every now and then we have dinner. She’s a friend and a business partner.”

Her eyes widen.

Oh. Didn’t I mention that?

Why would I mention that? It’s nothing to do with her.

“Yes, we’re business partners. The sex is over between us. It has been for years.”

“Why did your relationship end?”

“Her husband found out. Can we talk about this some other time-somewhere more private?”

“I don’t think you’ll ever convince me that she’s not some kind of pedophile.”

Fucking hell, Ana! Enough is enough!

“I don’t think of her that way. I never have. Now that’s enough!” I growl.

“Did you love her?”

What?

“How are you two getting on?” Carla is back. Ana forces a smile that makes my stomach churn.

“Fine, Mom.”

Did I love Elena?

I take a sip of my drink. I fucking worshipped her…but did I love her? What a ridiculous question. I know nothing about romantic love. That’s the hearts-and-flowers shit she wants. The nineteenth-century novels she’s read have filled her head with nonsense.

I’ve had enough.

“Well, ladies, I shall leave you to your evening. Please, put these drinks on my tab, room number 612. I’ll call you in the morning, Anastasia. Until tomorrow, Carla.”

“Oh, it’s so nice to hear someone use your full name.”

“Beautiful name for a beautiful girl.” I shake Carla’s hand, sincere about the compliment but not the smile on my face.

Ana is quiet, imploring me with a look that I ignore. I kiss her cheek. “Laters, baby,” I murmur in her ear, then turn and walk through the bar and back down to my room.

That girl provokes me like no one has before.

And she’s pissed at me; maybe she has PMS. She said her period was due this week.

I burst into my room, slam the door, and head straight for the balcony. It’s warm outside, and I take a deep breath, inhaling the pungent salty scent of the river. Night has fallen, and the river is inky black, like the sky…like my mood. I didn’t even get to discuss gliding tomorrow. I rest my hands on the balcony rail. The lights on the shore and the bridge improve the view…but not my temperament.

Why am I defending a relationship that began when Ana was still in fourth grade? It’s none of her business. Yes, it was unconventional. But that’s all.

I run both hands through my hair. This trip isn’t working out how I expected, at all. Perhaps it was a mistake to come down here. And to think it was Elena who encouraged me to make the trip.

My phone buzzes, and I hope it’s Ana. It’s Ros.

“Yes,” I snap.

“Jeez, Christian. Am I interrupting something?”

“No. Sorry. What’s up?” Calm down, Grey.

“I thought I’d update you on my conversation with Marco. But if now is a bad time, I’ll call back in the morning.”

“No, it’s fine.”

There’s a knock on the door. “Hang on, Ros.” I open it, expecting Taylor or someone from housekeeping to do turndown-but it’s Ana, standing in the corridor, looking bashful and beautiful.

She’s here.

Opening the door wider, I motion her in.

“All the redundancy packages concluded?” I ask Ros, without taking my eyes off Ana.

“Yes.”

Ana walks into the room, watching me warily, her lips parted and moist, her eyes darkening. What’s this? A change of heart? I know that look. It’s desire. She wants me. And I want her, too, especially after our spat in the bar.

Why else would she be here?

“And the cost?” I question Ros.

“Nearly two million.”

I whistle through my teeth. “That was one expensive mistake.”

“GEH gets to exploit the fiber-optic division.” She’s right. This was one of our goals.

“And Lucas?” I ask.

“He reacted badly.”

I open the minibar and gesture to Ana to help herself. Leaving her there, I stroll into the bedroom.

“What did he do?”

“He threw a fit.”

In the bathroom I turn on the faucet to run water into the huge sunken marble bath and add some scented bath oil. There’s room for six people in here.

“The majority of that money is for him,” I remind Ros as I check the water temperature. “And he has the buyout price for the company. He can always start again.”

I turn to leave, but as an afterthought I decide to light the various candles that are artfully arranged on the stone bench. Lit candles count as “more,” don’t they?

“Well, he’s threatening lawyers, though I don’t understand why. We’re bulletproof on this. Is that water I hear?” Ros asks.

“Yeah, I’m running a bath.”

“Oh? Do you want me to go?”

“No. Anything else?”

“Yes, Fred wants to talk to you.”

“Really?”

“He’s gone over Barney’s new design.”

As I wander back into the living room, I acknowledge Barney’s design solution for the tablet and ask her to have Andrea send me the revised schematics. Ana has retrieved a bottle of orange juice.

“Is this your new management style: not being here?” Ros asks. I laugh out loud, but mainly at Ana’s choice of beverage. Wise woman. And I tell Ros that I won’t be back in the office until Friday.

“Are you seriously going to change your mind about Detroit?”

“There’s a plot of land here that I’m interested in.”

“Is Bill aware of this?” Ros is snippy.

“Yeah, get Bill to call.”

“Will do. Did you get a drink with the Savannah people this evening?”

I tell her that I’ll be seeing them tomorrow. I’m more conciliatory and mindful of my tone, as this is a hot button for Ros. “I want to see what Georgia will offer if we move in.” I take a glass off the shelf, hand it to Ana, and point to the ice bucket.

“If their incentives are attractive enough,” I continue, “I think we should consider it, though I’m not sure about the damned heat here.”

Ana pours her drink.

“It’s late to be changing your mind on this, Christian. But it might give us some leverage with Detroit,” Ros muses.

“I agree, Detroit has its advantages, too, and it’s cooler.”

But there are too many ghosts there for me.

“Get Bill to call. Tomorrow.” It’s late now and I have a visitor. “Not too early,” I warn. Ros says good night and I hang up.

Ana eyes me with reserve as I drink her in. Her lush hair falls over small shoulders, framing her lovely, pensive face. “You didn’t answer my question,” she murmurs.

“No. I didn’t.”

“No, you didn’t answer my question, or no, you didn’t love her?”

She’s not going to let this go. I lean against the wall and fold my arms so I don’t pull her into them. “What are you doing here, Anastasia?”

“I’ve just told you.”

Put her out of her misery, Grey.

“No. I didn’t love her.”

Her shoulders relax and her face softens. It’s what she wanted to hear.

“You’re quite the green-eyed goddess, Anastasia. Who would have thought?”

But are you my green-eyed goddess?

“Are you making fun of me, Mr. Grey?”

“I wouldn’t dare,” I retort.

“Oh, I think you would, and I think you do-often.” She smirks and sinks perfect teeth into her lip.

She’s doing that on purpose.

“Please stop biting your lip. You’re in my room, I haven’t set eyes on you for nearly three days, and I’ve flown a long way to see you.” I need to know that we’re okay, the only way I know how. I want to fuck her, hard.

My phone buzzes, but I switch it off without checking the caller. Whoever it is can wait.

I step toward her. “I want you, Anastasia. Now. And you want me. That’s why you’re here.”

“I really did want to know,” she says.

“Well, now that you do, are you coming or going?” I ask, standing in front of her.

“Coming,” she says, her eyes on mine.

“Oh, I hope so.” I stare down at her, marveling as her irises darken.

She wants me.

“You were so mad at me,” I whisper.

It’s still novel, dealing with her anger, taking her feelings into account.

“Yes.”

“I don’t remember anyone but my family ever being mad at me. I like it.” Gently I touch her face with the tips of my fingers and run them down to her chin. She closes her eyes and angles her cheek to my touch. Leaning down, I run my nose along her naked shoulder, up to her ear, inhaling her sweet scent as desire floods my body. My fingers move to her nape and into her hair.

“We should talk,” she whispers.

“Later.”

“There’s so much I want to say.”

“Me, too.” I kiss the spot beneath her ear and tug her hair, pulling back her head to expose her throat. My teeth and lips graze her chin and down her neck as my body hums with need. “I want you,” I whisper, as I kiss the spot where her pulse beats beneath her skin. She moans and holds my arms. I tense for a moment, but the darkness stays dormant.

“Are you bleeding?” I ask between kisses.

She stills. “Yes,” she says.

“Do you have cramps?”

“No.” Her voice is quiet yet vehement with embarrassment.

I stop kissing her and look down into her eyes. Why is she embarrassed? It’s her body. “Did you take your pill?”

“Yes,” she answers.

Good. “Let’s go have a bath.”

In the over-the-top bathroom I release Ana’s hand. The atmosphere is hot and humid, steam gently rising above the foam. In this heat I’m overdressed, my linen shirt and jeans sticking to my skin.

Ana watches me, her skin dewy from the humidity.

“Do you have a hair tie?” I ask. Her hair will start clinging to her face. She pulls out a hair elastic from her jeans pocket.

“Put your hair up,” I tell her, and watch as she follows my command with quick, efficient grace.

Good girl. No more arguing.

A few strands escape from her ponytail, but she looks lovely. I turn off the faucet and, taking her hand, guide her into the other part of the bathroom, where a large gilded mirror hangs over two sinks set in marble. My eyes on hers in the mirror, I stand behind her and ask her to take off her sandals. Hastily she removes them and lets them drop to the floor.

“Lift up your arms,” I whisper. Grasping the hem of her pretty top, I peel it off and over her head, freeing her breasts. Reaching around, I undo the top button and the zipper of her jeans.

“I’m going to have you in the bathroom, Anastasia.” Her eyes stray to my mouth and she licks her lips. Under the soft light her pupils gleam with excitement. Bending down, I drop tender kisses on her neck, hook my thumbs into the waistband of her jeans, and slowly peel them down over her fine ass, catching her panties in my hands on the way down. Kneeling behind her, I ease them down her legs, to her feet. “Step out of your jeans,” I order. Grabbing the edge of the sink, she obliges; now she’s naked and I’m face-to-face with her ass. I pop her jeans, panties, and top onto a white stool beneath the sink and contemplate all the things I could do to that ass. I notice a blue string between her legs; her tampon is still in place, so I settle for kissing and nipping her behind gently before standing up. Our eyes connect in the mirror once more and I splay my hand out over her smooth, flat belly.

“Look at you. You are so beautiful. See how you feel.” Her breathing quickens as I take both her hands in mine and spread her fingers on her belly beneath my outstretched hands.

“Feel how soft your skin is,” I whisper. Gently I guide her hands across her torso in a wide sweeping circle, then travel them up to her breasts.

“Feel how full your breasts are.” I hold her hands beneath her breasts so she’s cupping them. Gently I tease her nipples with my thumbs. She moans and bows her back, pressing her breasts into our conjoined hands. Trapping her nipples between her thumbs and mine, I tug gently again and again, and take pleasure watching them harden and lengthen in response.

Like a certain part of my anatomy.

She closes her eyes and wriggles against me, brushing her behind over my erection. She moans, her head against my shoulder.

“That’s right, baby,” I murmur against her neck, enjoying her body coming alive beneath her touch. I guide her hands down her front to her hips, then in toward her pubic hair. I push my leg between hers and with my foot widen her stance as I guide her hands over her vulva, one hand at a time, over and over, pressing her fingers over her clitoris again and again.

She groans and I watch her writhe against me in the mirror.

Lord, she’s a goddess.

“Look at you glow, Anastasia.” I kiss and nip her neck and her shoulder, then I let go, leaving her hanging, and she opens her eyes as I step back.

“Carry on,” I tell her, wondering what she’ll do.

She falters for a moment, then rubs herself with one hand, but not nearly as enthusiastically.

Oh, this will never do.

Quickly I strip off my sticky shirt, jeans, and underwear, freeing my erection.

“You’d rather I do this?” I ask, her eyes blazing at mine in the mirror.

“Oh yes, please,” she says, a desperate, needy edge to her voice. I wrap my arms around her, my front against her back, my cock resting in the cleft of her fine, fine ass. I take her hands in mine once more, guiding them over her clitoris, one at a time, again and again, pressing, stroking, and arousing her. She whimpers as I suck and nip at her nape. Her legs begin to tremble. Abruptly I spin her around so she’s facing me. I grasp her wrists in one of my hands, holding them behind her back, while I tug on her ponytail with the other, bringing her lips up to mine. I kiss her, consuming her mouth, reveling in the taste of her: orange juice and sweet, sweet Ana. Her breathing is harsh, like mine.

“When did you start your period, Anastasia?”

I want to fuck you without a condom.

“Yesterday,” she breathes.

“Good.” I step back and spin her around. “Hold on to the sink,” I command. Grasping her hips, I lift her and pull her backward so she’s bent over. My hand glides down her ass to the blue string, and I tug out the tampon, which I toss in the toilet. She gasps, shocked, I think, but I grab my cock and slide into her quickly.

My breath whistles between my teeth.

Fuck. She feels good. So good. Skin against skin.

I edge back, then sink into her once more, slowly, feeling every precious, slick inch of her. She groans and pushes against me.

Oh yes, Ana.

She tightens her grip on the marble as I pick up speed, and I grasp her hips, building…building, then hammering into her. Claiming her. Possessing her.

Don’t be jealous, Ana. I want only you.

You.

You.

My fingers find her clitoris and I tease her, caress her, and stimulate her so that her legs begin to tremble once more. “That’s right, baby,” I murmur, my voice hoarse as I pound into her with a punishing I-own-you rhythm.

Don’t argue with me. Don’t fight with me.

Her legs stiffen as I grind into her and her body starts to quiver. Suddenly she cries out as her orgasm seizes her, taking me with her.

“Oh, Ana,” I breathe as I let go, the world blurring, and I come inside her.

Fuck.

“Oh, baby, will I ever get enough of you?” I whisper as I sink onto her.

Slowly I descend to the floor, bringing her with me and wrapping my arms around her. She sits, her head against my shoulder, still panting.

Sweet Lord.

Was it ever like this?

I kiss her hair and she calms, her eyes closed, her breathing slowly returning to normal as I hold her. We’re both sweaty and hot in a humid bathroom, but I don’t want to be anywhere else.

She shifts. “I’m bleeding,” she says.

“Doesn’t bother me.” I don’t want to let her go.

“I noticed.” Her tone is dry.

“Does it bother you?” It shouldn’t. It’s natural. I’ve known only one woman who was squeamish about period sex, but I wouldn’t take any of that crap from her.

“No, not at all.” Ana peers up at me with clear blue eyes.

“Good. Let’s have a bath.” I free her and her brows knit for a moment while she stares at my chest. Her rosy face loses some of its color, and clouded eyes meet mine.

“What is it?” I ask, alarmed by her expression.

“Your scars. They’re not from chicken pox.”

“No, they’re not.” My tone is arctic.

I do not want to talk about this.

Standing, I hold my hand out to her and pull her to her feet. Her eyes are wide with horror.

It’ll be pity next.

“Don’t look at me like that,” I warn, and release her hand.

I don’t want your fucking pity, Ana. Don’t go there.

She studies her hand, suitably chastened, I hope.

“Did she do that?” Her voice is almost inaudible.

I scowl at her, saying nothing, as I try to contain my sudden rage. My silence compels her to look at me.

“She?” I snarl. “Mrs. Robinson?”

Ana pales at my tone.

“She’s not an animal, Anastasia. Of course she didn’t. I don’t understand why you feel you have to demonize her.”

She bows her head to avoid eye contact, walks briskly past me, and steps into the bath, sinking into the foam so I can no longer see her body. Looking up at me, her face contrite and open, she says, “I just wonder what you would be like if you hadn’t met her. If she hadn’t introduced you to your, um, lifestyle.”

Damn it. We’re back to Elena.

I stalk toward the tub, slip into the water, and sit on the underwater shelf out of her reach. She watches me, waiting for an answer. The silence between us swells until all I can hear is the blood pumping through my ears.

Fuck.

She doesn’t take her eyes off mine.

Stand down, Ana!

Nope. It’s not going to happen.

I shake my head. Impossible woman.

“I would probably have gone the way of my birth mother, had it not been for Mrs. Robinson.”

She tucks a damp tendril behind her ear, staying quiet.

What can I say about Elena? I think about our relationship: Elena and me. Those heady years. The secrecy. The furtive couplings. The pain. The pleasure. The release…The order and calm she brought to my world. “She loved me in a way I found…acceptable,” I muse, almost to myself.

“Acceptable?” Ana says in disbelief.

“Yes.”

Ana’s expression is expectant.

She wants more.

Shit.

“She distracted me from the destructive path I found myself following.” My voice is low. “It’s very hard to grow up in a perfect family when you’re not perfect.”

She inhales sharply.

Hell. I hate talking about this.

“Does she still love you?”

No! “I don’t think so, not like that. I keep telling you, it was a long time ago. It’s in the past. I couldn’t change it even if I wanted to, which I don’t. She saved me from myself. I’ve never discussed this with anyone.

“Except Dr. Flynn, of course. And the only reason I’m talking about this now, to you, is because I want you to trust me.”

“I do trust you,” she says, “but I do want to know you better, and whenever I try to talk to you, you distract me. There’s so much I want to know.”

“Oh, for pity’s sake, Anastasia. What do you want to know? What do I have to do?”

She stares at her hands under the surface of the water. “I’m just trying to understand; you’re such an enigma. Unlike anyone I’ve met before. I’m glad you’re telling me what I want to know.”

Abruptly filled with resolve, she moves through the water to sit beside me, leaning against me so my skin sticks to hers.

“Please don’t be angry with me,” she says.

“I am not angry with you, Anastasia. I’m just not used to this kind of talking-this probing. I only have this with Dr. Flynn and with-”

Damn.

“With her? Mrs. Robinson? You talk to her,” she says, her voice breathy and quiet.

“Yes, I do.”

“What about?”

I turn to face her so suddenly that water sloshes out of the bath and onto the floor. “Persistent, aren’t you? Life, the universe-business. Anastasia, Mrs. R and I go way back. We can discuss anything.”

“Me?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“Why do you talk about me?” she asks, and now she sounds sullen.

“I’ve never met anyone like you, Anastasia.”

“What does that mean? Anyone who didn’t just automatically sign your paperwork, no questions asked?”

I shake my head. No. “I need advice.”

“And you take advice from Mrs. Pedo?” she snaps.

“Anastasia-enough,” I almost shout. “Or I’ll put you across my knee. I have no sexual or romantic interest in her whatsoever. She’s a dear, valued friend and a business partner. That’s all. We have a past, a shared history, which was monumentally beneficial for me, though it fucked up her marriage-but that side of our relationship is over.”

She squares her shoulders. “And your parents never found out?”

“No,” I growl. “I’ve told you this.”

She regards me warily, and I think she knows she’s pushed me to my limit.

“Are you done?” I ask.

“For now.”

Thank God for that. She wasn’t lying when she told me there was much she wanted to say. But we’re not talking about what I want to talk about. I need to know where I stand. If our arrangement has a chance.

Seize the day, Grey.

“Right-my turn. You haven’t responded to my e-mail.”

She tucks her hair behind her ear, then shakes her head. “I was going to respond. But now you’re here.”

“You’d rather I wasn’t?” I hold my breath.

“No, I’m pleased,” she says.

“Good. I’m pleased I’m here, too-in spite of your interrogation. So, while it’s acceptable to grill me, you think you can claim some kind of diplomatic immunity just because I’ve flown all this way to see you? I’m not buying it, Miss Steele. I want to know how you feel.”

Her brows knit together. “I told you. I am pleased you’re here. Thank you for coming all this way.” She sounds sincere.

“It’s my pleasure.” I lean down and kiss her, and she opens like a flower, offering and wanting more. I pull back. “No. I think I want some answers first before we do any more.”

She sighs, her wary look returning. “What do you want to know?”

“Well, how you feel about our would-be arrangement, for starters.”

She makes a moue with her mouth, as if her response will be unpalatable.

Oh dear.

“I don’t think I can do it for an extended period of time. A whole weekend being someone I’m not.” She looks down, away from me.

That’s not a “no.” What’s more, I think she’s right.

Grasping her chin, I tilt her head up so I can see her eyes.

“No, I don’t think you could, either.”

“Are you laughing at me?”

“Yes, but in a good way.” I kiss her again. “You’re not a great submissive.”

Her mouth drops open. Is she feigning offense? And then she laughs, a sweet, infectious laugh, and I know she’s not offended.

“Maybe I don’t have a good teacher.”

Good point well made, Miss Steele.

I laugh, too. “Maybe. Perhaps I should be stricter with you.” I search her face. “Was it that bad when I spanked you the first time?”

“No, not really,” she says, her cheeks flushing a little.

“It’s more the idea of it?” I ask, pressing her further.

“I suppose. Feeling pleasure when one isn’t supposed to.”

“I remember feeling the same. Takes a while to get your head around it.”

We are finally having the discussion. “You can always use the safe word, Anastasia. Don’t forget that. And, as long as you follow the rules, which fulfill a deep need in me for control and to keep you safe, then perhaps we can find a way forward.”

“Why do you need to control me?”

“Because it satisfies a need in me that wasn’t met in my formative years.”

“So it’s a form of therapy?”

“I’ve not thought of it like that, but yes, I suppose it is.”

She nods. “But, here’s the thing-one moment you say ‘don’t defy me,’ the next you say you like to be challenged. That’s a very fine line to tread successfully.”

“I can see that. But you seem to be doing fine so far.”

“But at what personal cost? I’m tied up in knots here.”

“I like you tied up in knots.”

“That’s not what I meant!” She dashes her hand through the water, soaking me.

“Did you just splash me?”

“Yes,” she says.

“Oh, Miss Steele.” I wrap my arm around her waist and tug her onto my lap, slopping water onto the floor once again. “I think we’ve done enough talking for now.”

I hold her head between my hands and kiss her, my tongue teasing her lips apart, then delving into her mouth, dominating her. She runs her fingers through my hair, returning my kiss, twisting her tongue around mine. Angling her head with one hand, I shift her with the other so she’s astride me.

I pull back to take a breath. Her eyes are dark and carnal, her lust plain to see. I pull her wrists behind her back and grasp them in one hand. “I’m going to have you now,” I declare, and I lift her so that my erection is poised beneath her. “Ready?”

“Yes,” she breathes, and slowly I lower her onto me, watching her expression as I fill her. She moans and closes her eyes, thrusting her breasts forward into my face.

Oh, sweet Jesus.

I flex my hips, lifting her, burying myself even deeper inside her, and lean forward so our foreheads are touching.

She feels so good.

“Please, let my hands go,” she whispers.

I open my eyes and see her mouth open as she drags air into her lungs.

“Don’t touch me,” I plead, and release her hands and grasp her hips. She grabs the edge of the bath and slowly starts to take me. Up. Then down. Oh so slowly. She opens her eyes to find mine on her face. Watching her. Riding me. Leaning down, she kisses me, her tongue invading my mouth. I close my eyes, reveling in the sensation.

Oh yes, Ana.

Her fingers are in my hair, tugging and pulling as she kisses me, her wet tongue entwining with mine as she moves. I hold her hips and start lifting her higher and faster, vaguely aware that water is cascading out of the bath.

But I don’t care. I want her. Like this.

This beautiful woman who moans into my mouth.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Over and over.

Giving herself to me. Taking me.

“Ah.” The pleasure catches in her throat.

“That’s right, baby,” I whisper, as she quickens around me, then cries out as she explodes into her orgasm.

I wrap my arms around her, embracing her, holding her tightly as I lose myself and come inside her. “Ana, baby!” I cry, and I know I never want to let her go.

She kisses my ear.

“That was-” she breathes.

“Yeah.” Holding her arms, I urge her back so I can study her. She looks sleepy and sated, and I imagine I must look the same. “Thank you,” I whisper.

She looks confused.

“For not touching me,” I clarify.

Her face softens and she raises her hand. I tense. But she shakes her head and traces my lips with her finger.

“You said it’s a hard limit. I understand.” And she leans forward and kisses me. The unfamiliar feeling surfaces, swelling in my chest, unnamed and dangerous.

“Let’s get you to bed. Unless you have to go home?” I’m alarmed at where my emotions are going.

“No. I don’t have to go.”

“Good. Stay.”

I stand her up and climb out of the bath to fetch us both towels, and dismiss my unsettling feelings.

I wrap her in a towel, drape one around my waist, and drop another on the floor in a vain attempt to clean up the water sloshed on the floor. Ana wanders over to the sinks as I drain the bath.

Well. That was an interesting evening.

And she was right. It was good to talk, though I’m not sure we’ve resolved anything.

She’s brushing her teeth with my toothbrush when I walk through the bathroom to the bedroom. It makes me smile. I pick up my phone and see that the missed call was from Taylor.

I text him.

Everything okay?

I’ll be leaving to go gliding at 6 a.m.

He responds immediately.

That’s why I was calling.

Weather looks good.

I’ll see you there.

Good night, sir.

I’m taking Miss Steele soaring! My delight bubbles up into a broad grin that widens when she comes out of the bathroom wrapped in the towel.

“I need my purse,” she says, looking a little shy.

“I think you left it in the living room.”

She scampers off to fetch it, and I brush my teeth, knowing that the toothbrush has just been in her mouth.

In the bedroom I discard the towel, pull back the sheets, and lie down, waiting for Ana. She’s disappeared into the bathroom again and closed the door.

Moments later she returns. She drops her towel and lies down beside me, naked except for a shy smile. We lie in bed facing each other, hugging our pillows. “Do you want to sleep?” I ask. I know we have to get up early, and it’s nearly eleven.

“No. I’m not tired,” she says, her eyes shining.

“What do you want to do?” More sex?

“Talk.”

More talking. Oh Lord. I smile, resigned. “About what?”

“Stuff.”

“What stuff?”

“You.”

“What about me?”

“What’s your favorite film?”

I like her quick-fire questions. “Today, it’s The Piano.”

She beams back at me. “Of course. Silly me. Such a sad, exciting score, which no doubt you can play. So many accomplishments, Mr. Grey.”

“And the greatest one is you, Miss Steele.”

Her grin broadens. “So I am number seventeen.”

“Seventeen?”

“Number of women you’ve, um…had sex with.”

Oh, shit. “Not exactly.”

Her smile vanishes. “You said fifteen.”

“I was referring to the number of women in my playroom. I thought that’s what you meant. You didn’t ask me how many women I’d had sex with.”

“Oh.” Her eyes widen. “Vanilla?” she asks.

“No. You are my one vanilla conquest.” And for some strange reason, I feel insanely pleased with myself. “I can’t give you a number. I didn’t put notches in the bedpost or anything.”

“What are we talking-tens, hundreds…thousands?”

“Tens. We’re in the tens, for pity’s sake.” I feign outrage.

“All submissives?”

“Yes.”

“Stop grinning at me,” she says haughtily, trying and failing to stifle hers.

“I can’t. You’re funny.” And I feel a little light-headed as we beam at each other.

“Funny peculiar or funny ha-ha?”

“A bit of both, I think.”

“That’s damned cheeky, coming from you,” she says.

I kiss her nose to prepare her. “This will shock you, Anastasia. Ready?”

Her eyes are wide and eager, full of delight.

Tell her.

“All submissives in training, when I was training. There are places in and around Seattle that one can go and practice. Learn to do what I do.”

“Oh,” she exclaims.

“Yep, I’ve paid for sex, Anastasia.”

“That’s nothing to be proud of,” she scolds me. “And you’re right, I am deeply shocked. And cross that I can’t shock you.”

“You wore my underwear.”

“Did that shock you?”

“Yes. You didn’t wear your panties to meet my parents.”

Her delight is restored. “Did that shock you?”

“Yes.”

“It seems I can only shock you in the underwear department.”

“You told me you were a virgin. That’s the biggest shock I’ve ever had.”

“Yes, your face was a picture, a Kodak moment.” She giggles, and her face lights up.

“You let me work you over with a riding crop.” I’m grinning like the fucking Cheshire cat. When have I ever stretched out naked beside a woman and just talked?

“Did that shock you?”

“Yep.”

“Well, I may let you do it again.”

“Oh, I do hope so, Miss Steele. This weekend?”

“Okay,” she says.

“Okay?”

“Yes. I’ll go to the Red Room of Pain again.”

“You say my name.”

“That shocks you?”

“The fact that I like it shocks me.”

“Christian,” she whispers, and the sound of my name from her lips spreads warmth through my body.

Ana.

“I want to do something tomorrow.”

“What?”

“A surprise. For you.”

She yawns.

Enough. She’s tired.

“Am I boring you, Miss Steele?”

“Never,” she confesses. I lean across and give her a quick kiss.

“Sleep,” I order, and switch off the bedside light.

And a few moments later I hear her even breathing; she’s fast asleep. I pull a sheet over her, roll onto my back, and stare up at the whirring ceiling fan.

Well, talking isn’t so bad.

Today worked out after all.

Thank you, Elena…

And with a sated smile, I close my eyes.

THURSDAY, JUNE 2, 2011

* * *

“No. Don’t leave me.” The whispered words penetrate my slumber, and I stir and wake.

What was that?

I look around the room. Where the hell am I?

Oh yes, Savannah.

“No. Please. Don’t leave me.”

What? It’s Ana. “I’m not going anywhere,” I mutter, bemused. Turning, I prop myself up on my elbow. She’s huddled beside me and she looks like she’s asleep.

“I won’t leave you,” she mumbles.

My scalp prickles. “I’m very glad to hear that.”

She sighs.

“Ana?” I whisper. But she doesn’t react. Her eyes are closed. She’s fast asleep. She must be dreaming…what is she dreaming about?

“Christian,” she says.

“Yes,” I respond automatically.

But she says nothing; she’s definitely asleep, but I’ve never heard her talk in her sleep before.

I watch her, fascinated. Her face is illuminated by ambient light from the living area. Her brow crinkles for a moment, as if an unpleasant thought is plaguing her, then it’s smooth once more. With her lips parted as she breathes, her face soft in sleep, she’s beautiful.

And she doesn’t want me to go, and she won’t leave me. The candor of her subconscious admission sweeps through me like a summer breeze, leaving warmth and hope in its wake.

She’s not going to leave me.

Well, you have your answer, Grey.

I smile down at her. She seems to have settled and stopped talking. I check the time on the radio alarm: 4:57.

It’s time to get up anyway, and I’m elated. I’m going soaring. With Ana. I love soaring. I place a quick kiss on her temple, rise, and head into the main room of the suite, where I order breakfast and check the local weather report.

Another hot day with high humidity. No rain.

I shower quickly, dry myself, then gather Ana’s clothes from the bathroom and lay them out on a chair near the bed. As I pick up her panties I remember how my devious plan to confiscate her underwear backfired.

Oh, Miss Steele.

And after our first night together…

“Oh, by the way, I’m wearing your underwear.” And she yanks the waistband up, so I can see the words “Polo” and “Ralph” peeking over her jeans.

I shake my head, and from the armoire I take a pair of my boxer briefs and deposit them on the chair. I like it when she wears my clothes.

She mumbles again, and I think she said “cage,” but I’m not sure.

What the hell is that about?

She doesn’t stir, but remains blissfully asleep while I dress. As I pull on my T-shirt there’s a knock on the door. Breakfast has arrived: pastries, a coffee for me, and Twinings English Breakfast tea for Ana. Fortunately the hotel stocks her favorite blend.

It’s time to wake Miss Steele.

“Strawberry,” she mutters, as I sit down beside her on the bed.

What’s with the fruit?

“Anastasia,” I summon her gently.

“I want more.”

I know you do, and so do I. “Come on, baby.” I continue to coax her awake.

She gripes. “No. I want to touch you.”

Shit. “Wake up.” I lean down and gently tug her earlobe with my teeth.

“No.” She screws her eyes tight.

“Wake up, baby.”

“Oh no,” she protests.

“Time to get up, baby. I’m going to switch on the side light.” I reach across and switch it on, bathing her in a pool of dim light. She squints.

“No,” she whines. Her reluctance to wake is amusing and different. In my previous relationships a sleepy submissive could expect to be disciplined.

I nuzzle her ear and whisper, “I want to chase the dawn with you.” I kiss her cheek, kiss each eyelid in turn, kiss the tip of her nose, and kiss her lips.

Her eyes flicker open.

“Good morning, beautiful.”

And they close again. She grumbles, and I grin down at her. “You are not a morning person.”

She opens one unfocused eye, studying me. “I thought you wanted sex,” she says, her relief obvious.

I suppress my laugh. “Anastasia, I always want sex with you. It’s heartwarming to know that you feel the same.”

“Of course I do, just not when it’s so late.” She hugs her pillow.

“It’s not late, it’s early. Come on-up you go. We’re going out. I’ll take a rain check on the sex.”

“I was having such a nice dream.” She sighs, peering up at me.

“Dream about what?”

“You.” Her face warms.

“What was I doing this time?”

“Trying to feed me strawberries,” she says with a small voice.

That accounts for her babbling. “Dr. Flynn could have a field day with that. Up-get dressed. Don’t bother to shower, we can do that later.”

She protests but sits up, ignoring the sheet that slips down to her waist and exposes her body. My cock stirs. With her hair mussed, cascading over her shoulders and curling around her naked breasts, she looks gorgeous. Ignoring my arousal, I stand up to give her some room.

“What time is it?” she asks, her voice sleepy.

“Five thirty in the morning.”

“Feels like three a.m.”

“We don’t have much time. I let you sleep as long as possible. Come.” I want to drag her out of bed and dress her myself. I can’t wait to get her airborne.

“Can’t I have a shower?”

“If you have a shower, I’ll want one with you, and you and I know what will happen then-the day will just go. Come.”

She gives me a patient look. “What are we doing?”

“It’s a surprise. I told you.”

She shakes her head and beams, very much amused. “Okay.” She climbs out of bed, oblivious to her nudity, and notices her clothes on the chair. I’m delighted that she’s not her usual shy self; maybe it’s because she’s sleepy. She slides on my underwear and gives me a broad smile.

“I’ll give you some room now that you’re up.” Leaving her to dress, I wander back into the main room, sit down at the small dining table, and help myself to some coffee.

She joins me a few minutes later.

“Eat,” I order, motioning for her to take a seat. She stares at me, transfixed, her eyes glazed. “Anastasia,” I say, interrupting her daydream. Her eyelashes flutter as she comes back from wherever she’s been.

“I’ll have some tea. Can I take a croissant for later?” she asks hopefully.

She’s not going to eat.

“Don’t rain on my parade, Anastasia.”

“I’ll eat later, when my stomach’s woken up. About seven thirty, okay?”

“Okay.” I can’t force her.

She looks defiant and stubborn. “I want to roll my eyes at you,” she says.

Oh, Ana, bring it on.

“By all means, do, and you will make my day.”

She looks up at the fire sprinkler on the ceiling. “Well, a spanking would wake me up, I suppose,” she says, as if she’s weighing the option.

She’s considering it? It doesn’t work that way, Anastasia!

“On the other hand, I don’t want you to be all hot and bothered; the climate here is warm enough.” She gives me a saccharine smile.

“You are, as ever, challenging, Miss Steele.” My voice is droll. “Drink your tea.”

She sits down and takes a couple of sips.

“Drink up. We should go.” I’m keen to get on the road-it’s quite a drive.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

Stop with the grinning, Grey.

She pouts with frustration. Miss Steele, as ever, is curious. But all she’s wearing is her camisole and jeans; she’ll be cold once we’re airborne. “Finish your tea,” I order, and leave the table. In the bedroom I rifle through the armoire and pull out a sweatshirt. This should do. I call the valet and tell him to bring the car out front.

“I’m ready,” she says as I return to the main room.

“You’ll need this.” I toss the sweatshirt to her as she gives me a bewildered look.

“Trust me.” I plant a swift kiss on her lips. Taking her hand, I open the door to the suite and we head for the elevators. There’s a hotel employee standing there-Brian, according to his name tag-also waiting for the elevator.

“Good morning,” he says, giving us both a cheerful salute as the doors open. I glance at Ana and smirk as we enter.

No shenanigans in elevators this morning.

She hides her smile and peers at the floor, her cheeks coloring. She knows exactly what’s going through my mind. Brian wishes us a good day as we exit.

Outside, the valet is waiting with the Mustang. Ana arches a brow, impressed by the GT500. Yeah, it’s a fun drive, even if it’s only a Mustang. “You know, sometimes it’s great being me,” I tease her, and with a polite bow I open her door.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.” I get behind the wheel and ease the car into drive. At the stoplight I quickly program the address of the airfield into the GPS. It directs us out of Savannah toward I-95. I switch on my iPod via the steering wheel, and the car is filled with a sublime melody.

“What’s this?” Ana asks.

“It’s from La Traviata. An opera by Verdi.”

“La Traviata? I’ve heard of that. I can’t think where. What does it mean?”

I give her a knowing look. “Well, literally, ‘the woman led astray.’ It’s based on Alexandre Dumas’s book La Dame aux Camélias.”

“Ah. I’ve read it.”

“I thought you might have.”

“The doomed courtesan,” she recounts, her voice tinged with melancholy. “Hmm, it’s a depressing story,” she says.

“Too depressing?” We can’t have that, Miss Steele, especially when I’m in such a good mood. “Do you want to choose some music? This is on my iPod.”

I tap the navigation screen and bring up the playlist.

“You choose,” I offer, wondering if she’ll like anything I have in iTunes. She studies the list and scrolls through it, concentrating hard. She taps on a song, and Verdi’s dulcet strings are replaced by a pounding beat and Britney Spears.

“ ‘Toxic,’ eh?” I observe, with wry humor.

Is she trying to tell me something?

Is she referring to me?

“I don’t know what you mean,” she says innocently.

Does she think I should wear a warning?

Miss Steele wants to play games.

So be it.

I turn the music down a tad. It’s a little early for this remix, and for the reminder.

“Sir, this submissive respectfully requests Master’s iPod.”

I glance away from the spreadsheet I’m reading and study her as she kneels beside me, her eyes cast down.

She’s been exceptional this weekend. How can I refuse?

“Sure, Leila, take it. I think it’s in the dock.”

“Thank you, Master,” she says, and stands with her usual grace, without looking at me.

Good girl.

And wearing only red high heels, she teeters over to the iPod dock and collects her reward.

“I didn’t put that song on my iPod,” I tell her breezily, and floor the gas, throwing us both into the back of our seats, but I hear Ana’s small, exasperated huff above the roar of the engine.

As Britney continues at her sultry best, Ana drums her fingers on her thigh, radiating disquiet as she stares out the car window. The Mustang eats up the miles on the freeway; there’s no traffic, and dawn’s first light is chasing us down I-95.

Ana sighs as Damien Rice begins.

Put her out of her misery, Grey.

And I don’t know if it’s my good mood, our talk last night, or the fact that I’m about to go soaring-but I want to tell her who put the song on the iPod. “It was Leila.”

“Leila?”

“An ex, who put the song on my iPod.”

“One of the fifteen?” She turns her full attention to me, hungry for information.

“Yes.”

“What happened to her?”

“We finished.”

“Why?”

“She wanted more.”

“And you didn’t?”

I glance at her and shake my head. “I’ve never wanted more, until I met you.” She rewards me with her bashful smile.

Yes, Ana. It’s not just you who wants more.

“What happened to the other fourteen?” she asks.

“You want a list? Divorced, beheaded, died?”

“You’re not Henry the Eighth,” she scolds me.

“Okay. In no particular order, I’ve only had long-term relationships with four women, apart from Elena.”

“Elena?”

“Mrs. Robinson to you.”

She pauses for a moment, and I know she’s scrutinizing me. I keep my eyes on the road.

“What happened to the four?” she asks.

“So inquisitive, so eager for information, Miss Steele,” I tease.

“Oh, Mr. When Is Your Period Due?”

“Anastasia, a man needs to know these things.”

“Does he?”

“I do.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to get pregnant.”

“Neither do I. Well, not for a few years yet,” she says a little wistfully.

Of course, that would be with someone else…the thought is disquieting…She’s mine.

“So the other four, what happened?” she persists.

“One met someone else. The other three wanted-more. I wasn’t in the market for more then.” Why did I open this can of worms?

“And the others?”

“Just didn’t work out.”

She nods and stares out the window as Aaron Neville sings “Tell It Like It Is.”

“Where are we headed?” she asks again.

We’re close now. “An airfield.”

“We’re not going back to Seattle, are we?” She sounds panicked.

“No, Anastasia.” I chuckle at her reaction. “We’re going to indulge in my second favorite pastime.”

“Second?”

“Yep. I told you my favorite this morning.” Her expression tells me she’s completely perplexed. “Indulging in you, Miss Steele. That’s got to be top of my list. Any way I can get you.”

She looks down at her lap, her lips twitching. “Well, that’s quite high up on my list of diverting, kinky priorities, too,” she says.

“I’m pleased to hear it.”

“So, airfield?”

I beam at her. “Soaring. We’re going to chase the dawn, Anastasia.” I take a left into the airfield and drive up to the Brunswick Soaring Association hangar, where I stop the car.

“You up for this?” I ask.

“You’re flying?”

“Yes.”

Her face glows with excitement. “Yes, please!” I love how fearless and enthusiastic she is with any new experience. Leaning over, I kiss her quickly. “Another first, Miss Steele.”

Outside it’s cool but not cold, and the sky is lighter now, pearl and bright at the horizon. I walk around the car and open Ana’s door. With her hand in mine we make our way to the front of the hangar.

Taylor is waiting there with a young bearded man in shorts and sandals.

“Mr. Grey, this is your tow pilot, Mr. Mark Benson,” says Taylor. I release Ana so I can shake hands with Benson, who has a wild glint in his eye.

“You’ve got a great morning for it, Mr. Grey,” Benson says. “The wind is at ten knots from the northeast, which means the convergence along the shore should keep you up for a wee while.”

Benson is British, with a firm handshake.

“Sounds great,” I answer, and watch Ana as she shares a private joke with Taylor. “Anastasia. Come.”

“See you later,” she says to Taylor.

Ignoring her familiarity with my staff, I introduce her to Benson.

“Mr. Benson, this is my girlfriend, Anastasia Steele.”

“Pleased to meet you,” she says, and Benson gives her a bright smile as they shake hands.

“Likewise,” he says. “If you’d like to follow me.”

“Lead the way.” I take Ana’s hand as we fall into step beside Benson.

“I have a Blaník L23 set up and ready. She’s old school. But she handles well.”

“Great. I learned to fly in a Blaník. An L13,” I tell Benson.

“Can’t go wrong with a Blaník. I’m a big fan.” He gives me a thumbs-up. “Though I prefer the L23 for the aerobatics.”

I nod in agreement.

“You’re hooked up to my Piper Pawnee,” he continues. “I’ll take her up to three thousand feet, then set you guys free. That should give you some flying time.”

“I hope so. The cloud cover looks promising.”

“It’s a bit early in the day for much lift. But you never know. Dave, my mate, will spot the wing. He’s in the jakes.”

“Okay.” I think “jakes” means restroom. “You’ve been flying long?”

“Since my days in the RAF. But I’ve been flying these tail-draggers for five years now. We’re on CTAF 122.3, so you know.”

“Got it.”

The L23 looks to be in fine shape, and I make a note of her FAA registration: November. Papa. Three. Alpha.

“First we need to strap on your parachute.” Benson reaches into the cockpit and pulls out a parachute for Ana.

“I’ll do that,” I offer, taking the bundle from Benson before he has a chance to put it or his hands on Ana.

“I’ll fetch some ballast,” Benson says with a cheery smile, and he heads toward the plane.

“You like strapping me into things,” Ana says with a raised brow.

“Miss Steele, you have no idea. Here, step into the straps.” I hold open the leg fastenings for her. Leaning over, she puts her hand on my shoulder. I stiffen instinctively, expecting the darkness to wake and choke me, but it doesn’t. It’s weird. I don’t know how I’m going to react where her touch is concerned. She lets go once the loops are around her thighs, and I hoist the shoulder straps up over her arms and fasten the parachute.

Boy, she looks good in a harness.

Briefly, I wonder how she’d look spread-eagled and hanging from the karabiners in the playroom, her mouth and her sex at my disposal. But alas, she’s set suspension as a hard limit. “There, you’ll do,” I mutter, trying to banish the image from my mind. “Do you have your hair tie from yesterday?”

“You want me to put my hair up?” she asks.

“Yes.”

She does as she’s told. For a change.

“In you go.” I steady her with my hand and she starts to climb into the back.

“No, front. The pilot sits in the back.”

“But you won’t be able to see.”

“I’ll see plenty.” I’ll see her enjoying herself, I hope.

She climbs in and I bend over into the cockpit to fasten her into her seat, locking the harness and tightening the straps. “Hmm, twice in one morning. I am a lucky man,” I whisper, and kiss her. She beams up at me, her anticipation palpable.

“This won’t take long-twenty, thirty minutes at most. Thermals aren’t great this time of the morning, but it’s so breathtaking up there at this hour. I hope you’re not nervous.”

“Excited,” she says, still grinning.

“Good.” I stroke her cheek with my index finger, then put on my own parachute and climb into the pilot seat.

Benson comes back carrying ballast for Ana, and he checks her straps.

“Yep, that’s secure. First time?” he asks her.

“Yes.”

“You’ll love it.”

“Thanks, Mr. Benson,” Ana says.

“Call me Mark,” he replies, fucking twinkling at her. I narrow my eyes at him. “Okay?” he asks me.

“Yep. Let’s go,” I say, impatient to be airborne and to get him away from my girl. Benson nods, shuts the canopy, and ambles over to the Piper. Off to the right I notice Dave, Benson’s mate, has appeared, propping up the wingtip. Quickly I test the equipment: pedals (I hear the rudder move behind me); control stick-side to side (a quick glance at the wings and I can see the ailerons moving); and control stick-front to back (I hear the elevator respond).

Right. We’re ready.

Benson climbs into the Piper and almost immediately the single propeller starts up, loud and throaty in the morning quiet. A few moments later his plane is rolling forward, taking up the slack of the towrope, and we’re off. I balance the ailerons and the rudder as the Piper picks up speed, then I ease back on the control stick, and we sail into the air before Benson does.

“Here we go, baby,” I shout to Ana as we gain height.

“Brunswick Traffic, Delta Victor, heading two-seven-zero.” It’s Benson on the radio. I ignore him as we climb higher and higher. The L23 handles well, and I watch Ana; her head whips from side to side as she tries to take in the view. I wish I could see her smile.

We head west, the newborn sun behind us, and I note when we cross I-95. I love the serenity up here, away from everything and everyone, just me and the glider looking for lift…and to think I’ve never shared this experience with anyone before. The light is beautiful, lambent, all I had hoped it would be…for Ana and for me.

When I check the altimeter we’re nearing three thousand feet and coasting at 105 knots. Benson’s voice crackles over the radio, informing me that we’re at three thousand feet and we can release.

“Affirmative. Release,” I radio back, and pull the release knob. The Piper disappears and I roll us into a slow dip, until we’re heading southwest and riding the wind. Ana laughs out loud. Encouraged by her reaction, I continue to spiral, hoping we might find some convergence lift near the coastline or thermals beneath pale pink clouds-the shallow cumulus might mean lift, even this early.

Suddenly filled with a heady combination of mischief and joy, I shout at Ana, “Hold on tight!” And I take us into a full roll. She squeals, her hands shooting up and bracing against the canopy. When I right us once more she’s laughing. It is the most gratifying response a man could want, and it makes me laugh, too.

“I’m glad I didn’t have breakfast!” she shouts.

“Yes, in hindsight it’s good you didn’t, because I’m going to do that again.”

This time she holds on to the harness and stares directly down at the ground as she’s suspended over it. She giggles, the noise mixing with the whistle of the wind.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I shout.

“Yes.”

I know we haven’t got long, as there’s not much lift out here-but I don’t care. Ana is enjoying herself…and so am I.

“See the joystick in front of you? Grab hold.”

She tries to turn her head, but she’s buckled in too tight.

“Go on, Anastasia. Grab it,” I urge her.

My joystick moves in my hands, and I know she’s holding hers.

“Hold tight. Keep it steady. See the middle dial in front? Keep the needle dead center.”

We continue to fly in a straight line, the yaw string staying perpendicular to the canopy.

“Good girl.”

My Ana. Never backs down from a challenge. And for some bizarre reason I feel immensely proud of her.

“I am amazed you let me take control,” she shouts.

“You’d be amazed what I’d let you do, Miss Steele. Back to me now.”

In command of the joystick once more, I turn us in the direction of the airfield as we begin to lose altitude. I think I can land us there. I call over the radio to inform Benson and whoever might be listening that we’re going to land, and then I execute another circle to bring us closer to the ground.

“Hang on, baby. This can get bumpy.”

I dip again and bring the L23 into line with the runway as we descend toward the grass. We land with a bump, and I manage to keep both wings up until we reach a teeth-jarring stop near the end of the runway. I unclip the canopy, open it, release my harness, and clamber out.

I stretch my limbs, undo my parachute, and smile down at the rosy-cheeked Miss Steele. “How was that?” I ask, reaching down to unbuckle her from the seat and the parachute.

“That was extraordinary. Thank you,” she says, her eyes sparkling with joy.

“Was it more?” I pray she can’t hear the hope in my voice.

“Much more.” She beams, and I feel ten feet tall.

“Come.” I hold out my hand and help her out of the cockpit. As she jumps down I fold her into my arms, pulling her against me. Filled with adrenaline, my body responds immediately to her softness. In a nanosecond my hands are in her hair, and I’m tipping her head back so I can kiss her. My hand skims down to the base of her spine, pressing her against my growing erection, and my mouth takes hers in a long, lingering, possessive kiss.

I want her.

Here.

Now.

On the grass.

She responds in kind, her fingers twisting in my hair, tugging, begging for more, as she opens up for me like a morning glory.

I break away for air and rationality.

Not in a field!

Benson and Taylor are nearby.

Her eyes are luminous, pleading for more.

Don’t look at me like that, Ana.

“Breakfast,” I whisper, before I do something I’ll regret. Turning, I clasp her hand and walk back toward the car.

“What about the glider?” she asks as she tries to keep up with me.

“Someone will take care of that.” It’s what I pay Taylor to do. “We’ll eat now. Come.”

She bounces along beside me, brimming with happiness; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her so buoyant. Her mood is infectious and I don’t remember if I’ve ever felt this upbeat, either. I can’t help my big, fat grin as I hold open the car door for her.

With Kings of Leon belting from the sound system I ease the Mustang out of the airfield toward I-95.

As we cruise along the freeway, Ana’s BlackBerry starts beeping.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Alarm for my pill,” she mutters.

“Good, well done. I hate condoms.”

From the sideways look I give her, I think she’s rolling her eyes, but I’m not sure.

“I like that you introduced me to Mark as your girlfriend,” she says, changing the subject.

“Isn’t that what you are?”

“Am I? I thought you wanted a submissive.”

“So did I, Anastasia, and I do. But I’ve told you, I want more, too.”

“I’m very happy that you want more,” she says.

“We aim to please, Miss Steele,” I tease as I pull into the International House of Pancakes-my father’s guilty pleasure.

“IHOP?” she says in disbelief.

The Mustang rumbles to a stop. “I hope you’re hungry.”

“I would never have pictured you here.”

“My dad used to bring us to one of these whenever my mom went away to a medical conference.” We shuffle into a booth, facing each other. “It was our secret.” I pick up a menu, watching Ana as she tucks her hair behind her ears and examines what IHOP has to offer for breakfast. She licks her lips in anticipation. And I’m forced to suppress my physical reaction. “I know what I want,” I whisper, and wonder how she would feel visiting the restroom with me. Her eyes meet mine, and her pupils expand.

“I want what you want,” she murmurs. As ever, Miss Steele does not back away from a challenge.

“Here?” Are you sure, Ana? Her eyes dart around the quiet restaurant, then come to rest on me, darkening and full of carnal promise. “Don’t bite your lip,” I warn. Much as I’d like to, I’m not going to fuck her in the restroom at IHOP. She deserves better than that, and frankly, so do I. “Not here, not now. If I can’t have you here, don’t tempt me.”

We’re interrupted.

“Hi, my name’s Leandra. What can I get for you…er…folks…er…today, this mornin’?”

Oh, God. I ignore the redheaded server.

“Anastasia?” I prompt her.

“I told you, I want what you want.”

Hell. She might as well be addressing my groin.

“Shall I give you folks another minute to decide?” the waitress asks.

“No. We know what we want.” I cannot tear my gaze from Ana’s. “We’ll have two portions of the original buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and bacon on the side, two glasses of orange juice, one black coffee with skim milk, and one English Breakfast tea, if you have it.”

Ana smiles.

“Thank you, sir. Will that be all?” the waitress exclaims, all breathy and embarrassed. Tearing my attention away from Ana, I dismiss the waitress with a look and she scurries away.

“You know, it’s really not fair,” Ana says, her voice quiet as her finger traces a figure eight on the table.

“What’s not fair?”

“How you disarm people. Women. Me.”

“Do I disarm you?” I’m stunned.

“All the time.”

“It’s just looks, Anastasia.”

“No, Christian, it’s much more than that.”

She has this the wrong way around, and once again I tell her how disarming I find her.

Her brow furrows. “Is that why you’ve changed your mind?”

“Changed my mind?”

“Yes-about…er…us?”

Have I changed my mind? I think I’ve just relaxed my boundaries a little, that’s all. “I don’t think I’ve changed my mind per se. We just need to redefine our parameters, redraw our battle lines, if you will. We can make this work, I’m sure. I want you submissive in my playroom. I will punish you if you digress from the rules. Other than that…well, I think it’s all up for discussion. Those are my requirements, Miss Steele. What say you to that?”

“So I get to sleep with you? In your bed?”

“Is that what you want?”

“Yes.”

“I agree, then. Besides, I sleep very well when you’re in my bed. I had no idea.”

“I was frightened you’d leave me if I didn’t agree to all of it,” she says, her face a little pale.

“I’m not going anywhere, Anastasia. Besides-” How can she think that? I need to reassure her. “We’re following your advice, your definition: compromise. You e-mailed it to me. And so far, it’s working for me.”

“I love that you want more.”

“I know.” My tone is warm.

“How do you know?”

“Trust me. I just do.” You told me in your sleep.

The waitress returns with our breakfast and I watch Ana devour it. “More” seems to be working for her.

“This is delicious,” she says.

“I like that you’re hungry.”

“Must have been all the exercise last night and the thrill this morning.”

“It was a thrill, wasn’t it?”

“It was mighty fine, Mr. Grey,” she says as she pops the final piece of pancake into her mouth. “Can I treat you?” she adds.

“Treat me how?”

“Pay for this meal.”

I snort. “I don’t think so.”

“Please. I want to.”

“Are you trying to completely emasculate me?” I raise an eyebrow in warning.

“This is probably the only place that I’ll be able to afford to pay.”

“Anastasia, I appreciate the thought. I do. But no.”

She purses her lips with irritation when I ask the redhead for the check. “Don’t scowl,” I warn, and check the time: it’s 8:30. I have a meeting at 11:15 with the Savannah Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, so unfortunately we have to get back to the city. I contemplate canceling the meeting, because I’d like to spend the day with Ana, but no, that’s too much. I’m running after this girl when I should be concentrating on my business.

Priorities, Grey.

With her hand in mine, we head to the car looking like any other couple. She’s swamped in my sweatshirt, looking casual, relaxed, beautiful-and yes, she’s with me. Three guys strolling into IHOP check her out; she’s oblivious even when I put my arm around her to stake my claim. She really has no idea how lovely she is. I open her car door and she gives me a sunny smile.

I could get used to this.

I program her mother’s address into the GPS and we set off north on I-95, listening to the Foo Fighters. Ana’s feet tap to the beat. This is the sort of music she likes-all-American rock. The traffic on the freeway is heavier now, with commuters heading into the city. But I don’t care: I like being here with her, spending time. Holding her hand, touching her knee, watching her smile. She tells me about previous visits to Savannah; she’s not keen on the heat, either, but her eyes light up when she talks about her mother. It’ll be interesting to see her interacting with her mother and stepfather this evening.

I pull up outside her mother’s home with some regret. I wish we could play hooky all day; the last twelve hours have been…nice.

More than nice, Grey. Sublime.

“Do you want to come in?” she asks.

“I need to work, Anastasia, but I’ll be back this evening. What time?”

She suggests seven, then looks from her hands to me, her eyes bright and joyful. “Thank you…for the more.”

“My pleasure, Anastasia.” I lean over and kiss her, inhaling her sweet, sweet scent.

“I’ll see you later.”

“Try to stop me,” I whisper.

She climbs out of the car, still in my sweatshirt, and waves good-bye. I head back to the hotel, feeling a little emptier now that she’s not with me.

IN MY ROOM, I call Taylor.

“Mr. Grey.”

“Yeah…thanks for organizing this morning.”

“You’re most welcome, sir.” He sounds surprised.

“I’ll be ready to leave at ten forty-five for the meeting.”

“I’ll have the Suburban waiting outside.”

“Thanks.”

I change out of my jeans and into my suit but leave my favorite tie beside my laptop as I order up coffee from room service.

I work through my e-mails, drink coffee, and consider calling Ros; however, it’s too early for her. I read through all the paperwork that Bill has sent: Savannah does make a good case for siting the plant here. I check my inbox, and there’s a new message from Ana.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Soaring as Opposed to Sore-ing

Date: June 2 2011 10:20 EST

To: Christian Grey

Sometimes, you really know how to show a girl a good time.

Thank you

Ana x

The title makes me laugh and the kiss makes me feel ten feet tall. I type up my response.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Soaring vs Sore-ing

Date: June 2 2011 10:24 EST

To: Anastasia Steele

I’ll take either of those over your snoring. I had a good time, too.

But I always do when I’m with you.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

Her answer is almost immediate.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: SNORING

Date: June 2 2011 10:26 EST

To: Christian Grey

I DO NOT SNORE. And if I do, it’s very ungallant of you to point it out.

You are no gentleman, Mr. Grey! And you are in the Deep South, too!

Ana

I chuckle.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Somniloquy

Date: June 2 2011 10:28 EST

To: Anastasia Steele

I have never claimed to be a gentleman, Anastasia, and I think I have demonstrated that point to you on numerous occasions. I am not intimidated by your SHOUTY capitals. But I will confess to a small white lie: no-you don’t snore, but you do talk. And it’s fascinating.

What happened to my kiss?

Christian Grey

Cad & CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

This will drive her crazy.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Spill the Beans

Date: June 2 2011 10:32 EST

To: Christian Grey

You are a cad and a scoundrel-definitely no gentleman.

So, what did I say? No kisses for you until you talk!

Oh, this could run and run…

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Sleeping Talking Beauty

Date: June 2 2011 10:35 EST

To: Anastasia Steele

It would be most ungallant of me to say, and I have already been chastised for that.

But if you behave yourself, I may tell you this evening. I do have to go into a meeting now.

Laters, baby.

Christian Grey

CEO, Cad & Scoundrel, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

With a broad grin I slip on my tie, grab my jacket, and head downstairs to find Taylor.

JUST OVER AN HOUR later, I’m winding up my meeting with the Savannah Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. Georgia has a great deal to offer, and the team has promised GEH some serious tax incentives. There’s a knock at the door and Taylor enters the small conference room. His face looks grim, but what’s more worrying is that he never, ever interrupts my meetings. My scalp prickles.

Ana? Is she okay?

“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen,” he says to all of us.

“Yes, Taylor,” I ask, and he approaches and speaks discreetly in my ear.

“We have a situation at home concerning Miss Leila Williams.”

Leila? What the hell? And part of me is relieved that it’s not Ana.

“Would you excuse me, please?” I ask the two men and two women from the SBRA.

In the hallway, Taylor’s tone is grave as he apologizes once more for interrupting my meeting.

“Don’t worry. Tell me what’s happened.”

“Miss Williams is in an ambulance on the way to the ER at Seattle Free Hope.”

“Ambulance?”

“Yes, sir. She broke into the apartment and made a suicide attempt in front of Mrs. Jones.”

Fuck. “Suicide?” Leila? In my apartment?

“She slashed her wrist. Gail went with her in the ambulance. She’s informed me that the EMTs arrived in time and Miss Williams is not in any immediate danger.”

“Why Escala? Why in front of Gail?” I’m shocked.

Taylor shakes his head. “I don’t know, sir. Neither does Gail. She can’t get any sense out of Miss Williams. Apparently, she only wants to talk to you.”

“Fuck.”

“Exactly, sir,” Taylor says without judgment. I scrape my hands through my hair, trying to grasp the magnitude of what Leila has done. What the hell am I supposed to do? Why did she come to me? Was she expecting to see me? Where’s her husband? What’s happened to him?

“How’s Gail?”

“A little shaken.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“I thought you should know, sir.”

“Yes. Sure. Thanks,” I mumble, distracted. I can’t believe it; Leila seemed happy when she last e-mailed, what, six or seven months ago. But there are no answers for me here in Georgia-I have to go back and talk to her. Find out why. “Tell Stephan to ready the jet. I need to go home.”

“Will do.”

“Let’s leave as soon as we can.”

“I’ll be in the car.”

“Thank you.”

Taylor heads toward the exit, raising the phone to his ear.

I’m reeling.

Leila. What the hell?

She’s been out of my life for a couple of years. We’ve shared the occasional e-mail. She got married. She seemed happy. What’s happened?

I head back into the boardroom and make my apologies before stepping outside into the stifling heat, where Taylor is waiting in the Suburban.

“The plane will be ready in forty-five minutes. We can head back to the hotel, pack, and go,” he informs me.

“Good,” I respond, grateful for the car’s air-conditioning. “I should call Gail.”

“I’ve tried, but her phone goes to voice mail. I think she’s still at the hospital.”

“Okay, I’ll call her later.” This is not what Gail needs on a Thursday morning. “How did Leila get into the apartment?”

“I don’t know, sir.” Taylor makes eye contact with me in the rearview mirror, his face apologetic and grim at once. “I’ll make it a priority to find out.”

OUR BAGS ARE PACKED and we’re on our way to Savannah/Hilton Head International when I call Ana, but frustratingly, she doesn’t answer. I brood, staring out the window as we cruise toward the airport. I don’t have to wait long for her to return my call.

“Anastasia.”

“Hi,” she says, her voice breathy, and it’s such a pleasure to hear her.

“I have to return to Seattle. Something’s come up. I am on my way to the airport now. Please apologize to your mother-I can’t make dinner.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?”

“I have a situation that I have to deal with. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll send Taylor to meet you at Sea-Tac if I can’t come myself.”

“Okay.” She sighs. “I hope you sort out your situation. Have a safe flight.”

I wish I didn’t have to go.

“You, too, baby,” I whisper, and hang up before I change my mind and stay.

I CALL ROS AS we taxi toward the runway.

“Christian, how’s Savannah?”

“I’m on the plane coming home. I have a problem I have to deal with.”

“Something at GEH?” Ros asks, alarmed.

“No. It’s personal.”

“Anything I can do?”

“No. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“How did your meeting go?”

“Positive. But I had to cut it short. Let’s see what they put in writing. I might prefer Detroit just because it’s cooler.”

“The heat’s that bad?”

“Suffocating. I’ve got to go. I’ll call for an update later.”

“Safe travels, Christian.”

ON THE FLIGHT I throw myself into work to distract me from the problem waiting at home. By the time we’ve touched down I’ve read three reports and written fifteen e-mails. Our car is waiting, and Taylor drives through the pouring rain straight to Seattle Free Hope. I have to see Leila and find out what the hell is going on. As we near the hospital my anger surfaces.

Why would she do this to me?

The rain is lashing down as I climb out of the car; the day is as bleak as my mood. I take a deep breath to control my fury and head through the front doors. At the reception desk I ask for Leila Reed.

“Are you family?” The nurse on duty glowers at me, her mouth pinched and sour.

“No.” I sigh. This is going to be difficult.

“Well, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

“She tried to open a vein in my apartment. I think I’m entitled to know where the hell she is,” I hiss through my teeth.

“Don’t take that tone with me!” she snaps. I glare at her. I’m not going to get anywhere with this woman.

“Where is your ER department?”

“Sir, there’s nothing we can do if you’re not family.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll find it myself,” I growl, and storm over to the double doors. I know I could call my mother, who would expedite this for me, but then I’d have to explain what’s happened.

The ER is bustling with doctors and nurses, and triage is full of patients. I accost a young nurse and give her my brightest smile. “Hello, I’m looking for Leila Reed-she was admitted earlier today. Can you tell me where she might be?”

“And you are?” she asks, a flush creeping over her face.

“I’m her brother,” I lie smoothly, ignoring her reaction.

“This way, Mr. Reed.” She bustles over to the nurses’ station and checks her computer. “She’s on the second floor; Behavioral Health ward. Take the elevators at the end of the corridor.”

“Thanks.” I reward her with a wink and she pushes a stray lock behind her ear, giving me a flirtatious smile that reminds me of a certain girl I left in Georgia.

As I step out of the elevator on the second floor I know something is wrong. On the other side of what look like locked doors, two security guards and a nurse are combing the corridor, checking each room. My scalp prickles, but I walk over to the reception area, pretending not to notice the commotion.

“Can I help you?” asks a young man with a ring through his nose.

“I’m looking for Leila Reed. I’m her brother.”

He pales. “Oh. Mr. Reed. Can you come with me?”

I follow him to a waiting room and sit down on the plastic chair that he points to; I note it’s bolted to the floor. “The doctor will be with you shortly.”

“Why can’t I see her?” I ask.

“The doctor will explain,” he says, his expression guarded, and he exits before I can ask any further questions.

Shit. Perhaps I’m too late.

The thought nauseates me. I get up and pace the small room, contemplating a call to Gail, but I don’t have to wait long. A young man with short dreads and dark, intelligent eyes enters. Is he her doctor?

“Mr. Reed?” he asks.

“Where’s Leila?”

He assesses me for a moment, then sighs and steels himself. “I’m afraid I don’t know,” he says. “She’s managed to give us the slip.”

“What?”

“She’s gone. How she got out I don’t know.”

“Got out?” I exclaim in disbelief, and sink onto one of the chairs. He sits down opposite me.

“Yes. She’s disappeared. We’re doing a search for her now.”

“She’s still here?”

“We don’t know.”

“And who are you?” I ask.

“I’m Dr. Azikiwe, the on-call psychiatrist.”

He looks too young to be a psychiatrist. “What can you tell me about Leila?” I ask.

“Well, she was admitted after a failed suicide attempt. She tried to slash one of her wrists at an ex-boyfriend’s house. His housekeeper brought her here.”

I feel the blood draining from my face. “And?” I ask. I need more information.

“That’s about as much as we know. She said it was an error of judgment, that she was fine, but we wanted to keep her here under observation and ask her further questions.”

“Did you talk to her?”

“I did.”

“Why did she do this?”

“She said it was a cry for help. Nothing more. And, having made such a spectacle of herself, she was embarrassed and wanted to go home. She said she didn’t want to kill herself. I believed her. I suspect it was just suicidal ideation on her part.”

“How could you let her escape?” I run my hand through my hair, trying to contain my frustration.

“I don’t know how she’s gotten away. There’ll be an internal investigation. If she contacts you, I suggest you urge her to come back. She needs help. Can I ask you some questions?”

“Sure,” I agree, distracted.

“Is there any history of mental illness in your family?” I frown, then remember that he’s talking about Leila’s family.

“I don’t know. My family is very private about such matters.”

He looks concerned. “Do you know anything about this ex-boyfriend?”

“No,” I state, a little too quickly. “Have you contacted her husband?”

The doctor’s eyes widen. “She’s married?”

“Yes.”

“That’s not what she told us.”

“Oh. Well, I’ll call him. I won’t waste any more of your time.”

“But I have more questions for you-”

“I’d rather spend my time looking for her. She’s obviously in a bad way.” I rise.

“But, this husband-”

“I’ll get in touch with him.” This is getting me nowhere.

“But we should do that-” Dr. Azikiwe stands.

“I can’t help you. I need to find her.” I head to the door.

“Mr. Reed-”

“Good-bye,” I mutter, hurrying out of the waiting room and not bothering with the elevator. I take the fire escape stairs two at a time. I loathe hospitals. A memory from my childhood surfaces: I’m small and scared and mute, and the smell of disinfectant and blood clouds my nostrils.

I shudder.

As I step out of the hospital I stand for a moment and let the torrential rain wash that memory away. It’s been a stressful afternoon, but at least the rain is a refreshing relief from the heat in Savannah. Taylor swings around to pick me up in the SUV.

“Home,” I direct him, as I get back in the car. Once I’ve buckled my seatbelt I call Welch from my cell.

“Mr. Grey,” he growls.

“Welch, I have a problem. I need you to locate Leila Reed, née Williams.”

GAIL IS PALE AND quiet as she studies me with concern. “You’re not going to finish, sir?” she asks.

I shake my head.

“Was the food okay?”

“Yes, of course.” I give her a small smile. “After today’s events, I’m not hungry. How are you bearing up?”

“I’m good, Mr. Grey. It was a total shock. I just want to keep busy.”

“I hear you. Thanks for making dinner. If you remember anything, let me know.”

“Of course. But like I said, she only wanted to speak to you.”

Why? What is she expecting me to do?

“Thanks for not involving the police.”

“The police are not what that girl needs. She needs help.”

“She does. I wish I knew where she was.”

“You’ll find her,” she says with quiet confidence, surprising me.

“Do you need anything?” I ask.

“No, Mr. Grey. I’m fine.” She takes the plate with my half-eaten meal to the sink.

The news from Welch about Leila is frustrating. The trail has gone cold. She’s not at the hospital, and they’re still mystified as to how she escaped. A small part of me admires that; she was always resourceful. But what could have made her so unhappy? I rest my head in my hands. What a day-from the sublime to the ridiculous. Soaring with Ana, and now this mess to deal with. Taylor is at a loss as to how Leila got into the apartment, and Gail has no idea, either. Apparently, Leila marched into the kitchen demanding to know where I was. And when Gail said I wasn’t there, she cried out “He’s gone,” then slashed her wrist with a box cutter. Fortunately, the cut wasn’t deep.

I glance at Gail cleaning up in the kitchen. My blood runs cold. Leila could have hurt her. Perhaps Leila’s objective was to hurt me. But why? I scrunch my eyes, trying to remember if anything in our last correspondence might give me a clue as to why she’s gone off the rails. I draw a blank, exasperated, and with a sigh I head into my study.

As I sit down my phone buzzes with a text.

Ana?

It’s Elliot.

Hey Hotshot. Wanna shoot some pool?

Shooting pool with Elliot means him coming here and drinking all my beer. Frankly, I’m not in the mood.

Working. Next week?

Sure. Before I hit the beach.

I’ll thrash you.

Laters.

I toss my phone onto the desk and pore over Leila’s file, looking for anything that might give me a clue as to where she is. I find her parents’ address and phone number, but nothing for her husband. Where is he? Why isn’t she with him?

I don’t want to call her parents and alarm them. I call Welch and give him their number; he can find out if she’s been in touch with them.

When I switch on my iMac there’s an e-mail from Ana.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Safe Arrival?

Date: June 2 2011 22:32 EST

To: Christian Grey

Dear Sir,

Please let me know that you have arrived safely. I am starting to worry. Thinking of you.

Your Ana x

Before I know it, my finger is on the little kiss she’s sent me.

Ana.

Sappy, Grey. Sappy. Get a grip.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Sorry

Date: June 2 2011 19:36

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Miss Steele,

I have arrived safely, and please accept my apologies for not letting you know. I don’t want to cause you any worry. It’s heartwarming to know that you care for me. I am thinking of you, too, and as ever looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I press send and wish that she was here with me. She brightens up my home, my life…me. I shake my head at my fanciful thoughts and look through the rest of my e-mails.

A ping tells me there’s a new one from Ana.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: The Situation

Date: June 2 2011 22:40 EST

To: Christian Grey

Dear Mr. Grey,

I think it is very evident that I care for you deeply. How could you doubt that?

I hope your “situation” is under control.

Your Ana x

P.S.: Are you going to tell me what I said in my sleep?

She cares for me deeply? That’s nice. All at once that foreign feeling, absent all day, stirs and expands in my chest. Beneath it is a well of pain I don’t want to acknowledge or deal with. It tugs at a lost memory of a young woman brushing out her long, dark hair…

Fuck.

Don’t go there, Grey.

I respond to Ana’s e-mail-and as a distraction decide to tease her.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Pleading the Fifth

Date: June 2 2011 19:45

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Miss Steele,

I like very much that you care for me. The “situation” here is not yet resolved.

With regard to your P.S., the answer is no.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Pleading Insanity

Date: June 2 2011 22:48 EST

To: Christian Grey

I hope it was amusing. But you should know I cannot accept any responsibility for what comes out of my mouth when I am unconscious. In fact-you probably misheard me.

A man of your advanced years is surely a little deaf.

For the first time since I got back to Seattle, I laugh. What a welcome distraction she is.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Pleading Guilty

Date: June 2 2011 19:52

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Miss Steele,

Sorry, could you speak up? I can’t hear you.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

Her response is swift.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Pleading Insanity Again

Date: June 2 2011 22:54 EST

To: Christian Grey

You are driving me crazy.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: I Hope So…

Date: June 2 2011 19:59

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Miss Steele,

I intend to do exactly that on Friday evening. Looking forward to it.

😉

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I’ll have to think of something extra-special for my little freak.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Grrrrrr

Date: June 2 2011 23:02 EST

To: Christian Grey

I am officially pissed at you.

Good night.

Miss A. R. Steele

Whoa. Would I tolerate this from anyone else?

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Wild Cat

Date: June 2 2011 20:05

To: Anastasia Steele

Are you growling at me, Miss Steele?

I possess a cat of my own for growlers.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

She doesn’t respond. Five minutes go by and nothing. Six…Seven.

Damn. She means it. How can I tell her that while she slept she said she wouldn’t leave me? She’ll think I’m crazy.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: What You Said in Your Sleep

Date: June 2 2011 20:20

To: Anastasia Steele

Anastasia,

I’d rather hear you say the words that you uttered in your sleep when you’re conscious, that’s why I won’t tell you. Go to sleep. You’ll need to be rested, with what I have in mind for you tomorrow.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

She doesn’t respond; I hope for once she’s doing what she’s told and she’s asleep. Briefly I think of what we could do tomorrow, but it’s too arousing, so I push the thought aside and concentrate on my e-mails.

But I have to confess I feel a little lighter after some e-mail banter with Miss Steele. She’s good for my dark, dark soul.

FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2011

* * *

I can’t sleep. It’s after two and I’ve been staring at the ceiling for an hour. Tonight it’s not my sleeping nightmares that are keeping me awake. It’s a waking one.

Leila Williams.

The smoke detector on my ceiling is winking at me, its flashing green light mocking me.

Hell!

I close my eyes and let my thoughts run free.

Why was Leila suicidal? What possessed her? Her desperate unhappiness resonates with a younger, miserable me. I’m trying to quash my memories, but the anger and desolation of my solitary teen years resurfaces and it won’t go away. It reminds me of my pain and of how I lashed out at everyone during my youth. Suicide crossed my mind often, but I always held back. I resisted for Grace. I knew she’d be devastated. I knew she would blame herself if I took my life, and she’d done so much for me-how could I hurt her like that? And after I met Elena…everything changed.

Rising from the bed, I push these disquieting thoughts to the back of my mind. I need the piano.

I need Ana.

If she’d signed the contract and everything had gone according to plan, she would be with me, upstairs, asleep. I could wake her, and lose myself in her…or, under our new arrangement, she would be beside me, and I could fuck her and then watch her sleep.

What would she make of Leila?

As I sit down on the piano bench I know that Ana will never meet Leila, which is a good thing. I know how she feels about Elena. Lord knows how she’d feel about an ex…a wayward ex.

This is what I can’t reconcile: Leila was happy, mischievous, and bright when I knew her. She was an excellent submissive; I thought she’d settled down and was happily married. Her e-mails never indicated that anything was awry. What went wrong?

I start to play…and my troubled thoughts recede until it’s just the music and me.

Leila is servicing my cock with her mouth.

Her skilled mouth.

Her hands are tied behind her back.

Her hair braided.

She’s on her knees.

Eyes cast down. Modest. Alluring.

Not seeing me.

And suddenly she’s Ana.

Ana on her knees before me. Naked. Beautiful.

My cock in her mouth.

But Ana’s eyes are on mine.

Her blazing blue eyes see everything.

See me. My soul.

She sees the darkness and the monster beneath.

Her eyes widen in horror and suddenly she disappears.

Shit! I wake with a start, and a painful erection that wanes as soon as I recall Ana’s wounded look in my dream.

What the hell?

I rarely have erotic dreams. Why now? I check my alarm; I’ve beaten it by a few minutes. The morning sunlight is creeping between the buildings as I rise. Already I’m restless, no doubt as a result of my disturbing dream, so I decide to go for a run to burn off some energy. There are no new e-mails, no messages, no updates on Leila. The apartment is quiet as I leave. There’s no sign of Gail yet. I hope she’s recovered from yesterday’s ordeal.

I open the glass doors in the lobby, step outside into a balmy, sunny morning, and carefully scan the street. As I start my run I check down the alleys and in the doorways I pass, and behind the parked cars, to see if Leila is there.

Where are you, Leila Williams?

I turn the volume up on the Foo Fighters and my feet pound the sidewalk.

OLIVIA IS EXCEPTIONALLY IRRITATING today. She’s spilled my coffee, dropped an important call, and keeps mooning at me with her big brown eyes.

“Get Ros back on the line,” I bark at her. “Better still, get her up here.” I shut my office door and go back to my desk; I must try not to take my temper out on my staff.

Welch has no news, except that Leila’s parents think their daughter is still in Portland with her husband. There’s a knock on my door.

“Come in.” I hope to God it’s not Olivia. Ros pokes her head around.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Yes. Sure. Come in. Where are we with Woods?”

ROS EXITS JUST BEFORE ten. All is on track: Woods has decided to accept the deal, and the aid for Darfur will soon be on the road to Munich in preparation for the airlift. There’s no news yet from Savannah about their offer.

I check my inbox and find a welcome e-mail from Ana.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Homeward Bound

Date: June 3 2011 12:53 EST

To: Christian Grey

Dear Mr. Grey,

I am once again ensconced in first class, for which I thank you. I am counting the minutes until I see you this evening and perhaps torturing the truth out of you about my nocturnal admissions.

Your Ana x

Torturing me? Oh, Miss Steele, I think it will be the other way around. As I have a great deal to do, I keep my reply short.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Homeward Bound

Date: June 3 2011 09:58

To: Anastasia Steele

Anastasia, I look forward to seeing you.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

But Ana is not satisfied.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Homeward Bound

Date: June 3 2011 13:01 EST

To: Christian Grey

Dearest Mr. Grey,

I hope everything is okay re “the situation.” The tone of your e-mail is worrying.

Ana x

At least I still earned a kiss. Surely she should be airborne by now?

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Homeward Bound

Date: June 3 2011 10:04

To: Anastasia Steele

Anastasia,

The situation could be better. Have you taken off yet? If so, you should not be e-mailing. You are putting yourself at risk, in direct contravention of the rule regarding your personal safety. I meant what I said about punishments.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I’m about to call Welch for an update, but there’s a ping-Ana again.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Overreaction

Date: June 3 2011 13:06 EST

To: Christian Grey

Dear Mr. Grumpy,

The aircraft doors are still open. We are delayed but only by ten minutes. My welfare and that of the passengers around me is vouchsafed. You may stow your twitchy palm for now.

Miss Steele

A reluctant smile tugs at my lips. Mr. Grumpy, eh? And no kiss. Oh dear.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Apologies-Twitchy Palm Stowed

Date: June 3 2011 10:08

To: Anastasia Steele

I miss you and your smart mouth, Miss Steele.

I want you safely home.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Apology Accepted

Date: June 3 2011 13:10 EST

To: Christian Grey

They are shutting the doors. You won’t hear another peep from me, especially given your deafness.

Laters.

Ana x

My kiss is back. Well, that’s a relief. Grudgingly, I drag myself away from the computer screen and pick up my phone to call Welch.

AT ONE O’CLOCK I decline Andrea’s offer of lunch at my desk. I need to get out. The walls of my office are closing in on me, and I think it’s because there’s been no news about Leila.

I’m worried about her. Hell, she came to see me. She decided to use my home as her stage. How could I not take this personally? Why didn’t she e-mail me or phone? If she was in trouble, I could have helped. I would have helped-I’ve done it before.

I need some fresh air. I march past Olivia and Andrea, who both look busy, though I catch Andrea’s puzzled look as I step into the elevator.

Outside, it’s a bright, bustling afternoon. I take a deep breath and detect the soothing tang of salt water from the Sound. Perhaps I should take the rest of the day off? But I can’t. I have a meeting with the mayor this afternoon. It’s irritating-I’m seeing him tomorrow at the Chamber of Commerce gala.

The gala!

Suddenly I have an idea, and with a renewed sense of purpose I head toward a small store I know.

AFTER MY MEETING AT the mayor’s office, I walk the ten or so blocks back to Escala; Taylor has gone to collect Ana from the airport. Gail is in the kitchen when I enter the living room.

“Good evening, Mr. Grey.”

“Hi, Gail. How was your day?”

“Good, thank you, sir.”

“Feeling better?”

“Yes, sir. The clothes arrived for Miss Steele-I unpacked them and hung them in the closet in her room.”

“Great. No sign of Leila?” Dumb question: Gail would have called me.

“No, sir. This also arrived.” She holds up a small red store bag.

“Good.” I take the bag from her, ignoring the delighted twinkle in her eye.

“How many for supper this evening?”

“Two, thanks. And Gail-”

“Sir?”

“Can you put the satin sheets on the playroom bed?”

I really hope to get Ana in there at some point over the weekend. “Yes, Mr. Grey,” she says, her tone a little surprised. She turns back to whatever she’s conjuring in the kitchen, leaving me a little baffled by her behavior.

Maybe Gail doesn’t approve, but it’s what I want from Ana.

In my study I take the Cartier box from its bag. It’s a present for Ana, which I’ll give to her tomorrow in time for the gala: a pair of earrings. Simple. Elegant. Beautiful. Just like her. I smile; even in her chucks and jeans she has a certain gamine charm.

I hope she accepts my gift. As my submissive, she’d have no choice, but under our alternative arrangement, I don’t know what her reaction will be. Whatever the outcome, it will be interesting. She always surprises me. As I put the box in my desk drawer a ping on my computer distracts me. Barney’s latest tablet designs are in my inbox, and I’m eager to see them.

Five minutes later, Welch calls.

“Mr. Grey,” he wheezes.

“Yes. What news?”

“I spoke with Russell Reed, Mrs. Reed’s husband.”

“And?” Immediately I’m agitated. I storm out of my study and across the living room to the windows.

“He says his wife is away visiting her parents,” Welch reports.

“What?”

“Precisely.” Welch sounds as pissed as I am.

Seeing Seattle at my feet, knowing Mrs. Reed aka Leila Williams is out there somewhere, increases my irritation. I rake my fingers through my hair.

“Maybe that’s what she told him.”

“Maybe,” he says. “But we’ve found nothing so far.”

“No trace?” I can’t believe she could just disappear.

“Nothing. But if she so much as uses an ATM, cashes a check, or logs in to her social media, we’ll find her.”

“Okay.”

“We’d like to scour the CCTV footage from around the hospital. It’s going to cost money and take a little longer. Is that acceptable?”

“Yes.” A tingle prickles my scalp-not from the call. For some unknown reason I sense I’m being watched. Turning, I see Ana standing on the threshold of the room, scrutinizing me, her brow furrowed and her lips pensive, and she’s wearing a short, short skirt. She’s all eyes and legs…especially legs. I imagine them wrapped around my waist.

Desire, raw and real, fires my blood as I stare.

“We’ll get right on it,” Welch says.

I finish up with him, my eyes fixed on Ana’s, and I prowl toward her, stripping off my jacket and tie and tossing them onto the sofa.

Ana.

I wrap my arms around her, tugging at her ponytail, lifting her eager lips to mine. She tastes of heaven and home and fall and Ana. Her scent invades my nostrils as I take everything her warm, sweet mouth has to offer. My body hardens with expectation and hunger as our tongues entwine. I want to lose myself in her, to forget about the shitty end to my week, forget about everything but her.

My lips feverish against hers, I tug the hair tie from her ponytail as her fingers knot in mine. I’m suddenly overwhelmed by my need, desperate for her. And I pull away, staring down into a face that’s dazed with passion.

I feel the same way. What is she doing to me?

“What’s wrong?” she whispers.

And the answer is clear, ringing in my head.

I’ve missed you.

“I’m so glad you’re back. Shower with me. Now.”

“Yes,” she responds, her voice hoarse. I take her hand and we head to my bathroom. I turn on the shower, then face her. She’s gorgeous, her eyes bright and gleaming with anticipation, as she watches me. My gaze rakes down her body to her naked legs. I’ve never seen her in such a short skirt, with so much of her flesh on display, and I’m not sure I approve. She’s for my eyes only.

“I like your skirt. It’s very short.” Too short. “You have great legs.” Stepping out of my shoes, I take off my socks, and without breaking eye contact, she, too, slips off her shoes.

Fuck the shower. I want her now.

Stepping toward her, I clasp her head, and we step back so she’s against the tiled wall, her lips parting as she inhales. Holding her face and lacing my fingers into her hair, I kiss her: her cheek, her throat, her mouth. She’s nectar and I can’t get enough. Her breath catches in her throat and she grasps my arms, but at her touch there’s no protest from the darkness within. There’s just Ana, in all her beauty and innocence, kissing me back with a fervor that matches mine.

My blood is thick with desire, my erection painful. “I want you now. Here…fast, hard,” I murmur, as my hand runs up her naked thigh beneath her skirt. “Are you still bleeding?”

“No.”

“Good.” I push her skirt up over her hips, hook both thumbs into her cotton panties and drop to the floor, kneeling, slipping the panties down her legs.

She gasps when I grab her hips and kiss the sweet junction beneath her pubic hair. Moving my hands to the backs of her thighs, I part her legs, exposing her clitoris to my tongue. When I start my sensual assault her fingers dive into my hair. My tongue torments her, and she moans and tips her head back against the wall.

She smells exquisite. She tastes better.

As she purrs she tilts her pelvis toward my invading, insistent tongue, and her legs begin to tremble.

Enough. I want to come inside her.

It will be my skin against her skin again, like in Savannah. Releasing her, I stand and grasp her face, capturing her surprised and disappointed mouth with mine, kissing her hard. I unzip my fly and lift her, clutching her under her thighs. “Wrap your legs around me, baby.” My voice is rough and urgent. As soon as she does, I thrust forward, sliding into her.

She’s mine. She’s heaven.

Clinging to me, she whimpers as I plunge into her-slowly at first, then building as my body takes control, driving me forward, driving me into her, faster and faster, harder and harder, my face at her throat. She moans and I feel her quicken around me, and I’m lost, in her, in us, as she climaxes, crying out her release. The feel of her pulsing around me tips me over the edge and I come deep and hard inside her, growling out a garbled version of her name.

I kiss her throat, not wanting to withdraw, waiting for her to calm. We’re in a cloud of steam from the shower, and my shirt and pants are sticking to my body, but I don’t care. Ana’s breathing slows, and she feels weightier in my arms as she relaxes. Her expression is wanton and dazed as I pull out of her, so I hold her fast while she finds her feet. Her lips rise in a winsome smile. “You seem pleased to see me,” she says.

“Yes, Miss Steele, I think my pleasure is pretty self-evident. Come-let me get you in the shower.”

I undress quickly, and when I’m naked I begin undoing the buttons on Ana’s blouse. Her eyes move from my fingers to my face.

“How was your journey?” I ask.

“Fine, thank you,” she says, her voice a little throaty. “Thanks once again for first class. It really is a much nicer way to travel.” She takes a quick breath, as if she’s steeling herself. “I have some news,” she says.

“Oh?” What now? I remove her blouse and deposit it on top of my clothes.

“I have a job.” She sounds reticent.

Why? Did she think I’d be angry? Of course she’s found a job. Pride swells in my chest. “Congratulations, Miss Steele. Now will you tell me where?” I ask with a smile.

“You don’t know?”

“Why would I know?”

“With your stalking capabilities, I thought you might have-” She stops to study my face.

“Anastasia, I wouldn’t dream of interfering in your career. Unless you ask me to, of course.”

“So you have no idea which company?”

“No. I know there are four publishing companies in Seattle-so I am assuming it’s one of them.”

“SIP,” she announces.

“Oh, the small one, good. Well done.” It’s the company that Ros identified as ripe for takeover. This will be easy.

I kiss Ana’s forehead. “Clever girl. When do you start?”

“Monday.”

“That soon, eh? I’d better take advantage of you while I still can. Turn around.”

She obeys immediately. I remove her bra and skirt, then cup her behind and kiss her shoulder. Leaning against her, I nuzzle her hair. Her scent lingers in my nostrils, soothing, familiar, and uniquely Ana. The feel of her body against mine is both calming and enticing. She really is the whole package.

“You intoxicate me, Miss Steele, and you calm me. Such a heady combination.” Grateful that she’s here, I kiss her hair, then take her hand and pull her into the hot shower.

“Ow,” she squeaks and closes her eyes, flinching under the steamy cascade.

“It’s only a little hot water.” I grin down at her. Opening one eye, she lifts her chin and slowly surrenders to the heat.

“Turn around,” I order. “I want to wash you.” She complies, and I squeeze some shower gel on my hand, work up a lather, and begin to massage her shoulders.

“I have something else to tell you,” she says, her shoulders tensing.

“Oh yes?” I keep my voice mild. Why is she tense? My hands glide over her chest to her beautiful breasts.

“My friend José’s photography show is opening Thursday in Portland.”

“Yes, what about it?” The photographer again?

“I said I would go. Do you want to come with me?” The words come in a rush, as if she’s anxious to get them out.

An invitation? I’m stunned. I only get invitations from my family, from work, and from Elena.

“What time?”

“The opening is at seven thirty.”

This will count as more, surely. I kiss her ear and whisper, “Okay.” Her shoulders soften as she leans back against me. She seems relieved and I’m not sure whether to be amused or annoyed. Am I really that unapproachable?

“Were you nervous about asking me?”

“Yes. How can you tell?”

“Anastasia, your whole body’s just relaxed.” I mask my irritation.

“Well, you just seem to be, um…on the jealous side.”

Yes. I’m jealous. The thought of Ana with anyone else is…unsettling. Very unsettling. “Yes, I am. And you’d do well to remember that. But thank you for asking. We’ll take Charlie Tango.”

She flashes me a quick grin as my hands slide down her body, the body she’s given to me and no one else.

“Can I wash you?” she asks, diverting me.

“I don’t think so.” I kiss her neck as I rinse her back.

“Will you ever let me touch you?” Her voice is a gentle entreaty, but it doesn’t stop the darkness that’s swirling suddenly from nowhere and tightening around my throat.

No.

I will it away, cupping and concentrating on Ana’s ass, her fucking glorious behind. My body responds on a primal level-at war with the darkness. I need her. I need her to chase my fear away.

“Put your hands on the wall, Anastasia. I’m going to take you again,” I whisper, and with a startled glance at me, she splays her hands on the tiles. I grab her hips, pulling her back from the wall. “Hold fast, Anastasia,” I warn, as the water streams over her back.

She bends her head and braces herself as my hands sweep through her pubic hair. She squirms, her behind brushing my arousal.

Fuck! And like that, my residual fear melts away.

“Do you want this?” I ask as my fingers tease her. In answer she wiggles her butt against my erection, making me smile. “Tell me,” I demand, my voice strained.

“Yes.” Her agreement slices through the pouring water, keeping the darkness at bay.

Oh, baby.

She’s still wet from earlier-from me, from her-I don’t know. In the moment I give a silent word of thanks to Dr. Greene: no more condoms. I ease into Ana and slowly, deliberately make her mine again.

I WRAP HER IN a bathrobe and kiss her soundly. “Dry your hair,” I order, handing her a hair dryer I never use. “Are you hungry?”

“Famished,” she admits, and I don’t know if she means it or if she’s said it merely to please me. But pleased I am.

“Great. Me, too. I’ll check where Mrs. Jones is with dinner. You have ten minutes. Don’t get dressed.” I kiss her once more and pad out to the kitchen.

Gail is washing something at the sink. She looks up as I peer over her shoulder.

“Clams, Mr. Grey,” she says.

Delicious. Pasta alle Vongole, one of my favorites.

“Ten minutes?” I ask.

“Twelve,” she says.

“Great.”

She gives me a look as I head into my study. I ignore it. She’s seen me in less than my bathrobe before-what the hell is her problem?

I check through some e-mails and my phone to see if there’s any news about Leila. Nothing-but since Ana’s arrival, I don’t feel as hopeless as I did earlier.

Ana enters the kitchen at the same time that I do, lured no doubt by the tantalizing smell of our dinner. When she sees Mrs. Jones she clutches the neck of her bathrobe.

“Just in time,” Gail says, serving our meal in two large bowls at the place settings on the counter.

“Sit.” I point to one of the barstools. Ana’s anxious eyes pass from me to Mrs. Jones.

She’s self-conscious.

Baby, I have staff. Get over it.

“Wine?” I offer, to distract her.

“Please,” she says, sounding reserved as she takes her seat.

I open a bottle of Sancerre and pour two small glasses.

“There’s cheese in the fridge if you’d like, sir,” Gail says. I nod, and she exits the room, much to Ana’s relief. I take my seat.

“Cheers.” I raise my glass.

“Cheers,” Ana replies, and the crystal glasses sing as we clink. She takes a bite of her food and makes an appreciative noise in the back of her throat. Perhaps she is famished.

“Are you going to tell me?” she asks.

“Tell you what?” Mrs. Jones has outdone herself; the pasta tastes delicious.

“What I said in my sleep.”

I shake my head. “Eat up. You know I like watching you eat.”

She pouts with mock exasperation. “You are so pervy,” she exclaims under her breath.

Oh, baby, you have no idea. And a thought springs to mind: maybe we should explore something new in the playroom tonight. Something fun.

“Tell me about this friend of yours,” I ask.

“My friend?”

“The photographer.” I keep my voice light, but she regards me with a fleeting frown.

“Well, we met the first day of college. He’s an engineering major, but his passion is photography.”

“And?”

“That’s it.” Her evasive answers are irritating.

“Nothing else?”

She tosses her hair over her shoulder. “We’ve become good friends. It turns out my dad and José’s dad served together in the military before I was born. They’ve gotten back in touch, and they’re now best buds.”

Oh. “Your dad and his dad?”

“Yeah.” She twirls more pasta around her fork.

“I see.”

“This tastes delicious.” She gives me a contented smile, and her robe gapes a little, revealing the swell of her breast. The sight stirs my cock.

“How are you feeling?” I ask.

“Fine,” she says.

“Up for more?”

“More?”

“More wine?” More sex? In the playroom?

“A small glass, please.”

I pour her a little more Sancerre. I don’t want either of us to drink too much if we’re going to play.

“How’s the, um…situation that brought you to Seattle?”

Leila. Shit. This I do not want to discuss. “Out of hand. But nothing for you to worry about, Anastasia. I have plans for you this evening.”

I want to see if we can play this so-called arrangement of ours both ways.

“Oh?”

“Yes. I want you ready and waiting in my playroom in fifteen minutes.” I stand up, watching her closely to gauge her reaction. She takes a quick sip of her wine, her pupils widening. “You can get ready in your room. Incidentally, the walk-in closet is now full of clothes for you. I don’t want any arguments about them.”

Her mouth sets in a surprised o. And I give her a stern look, daring her to argue with me. Remarkably, she says nothing, and I head off to my study to send a quick e-mail to Ros telling her I want to start the process to acquire SIP as soon as possible.

I scan a couple of work e-mails, but see nothing in my inbox about Mrs. Reed. I put thoughts of Leila out of my mind; she’s preoccupied me for the last twenty-four hours. Tonight I’m going to focus on Ana-and have some fun.

When I return to the kitchen Ana’s disappeared; I presume she’s getting ready upstairs.

In my closet I remove my robe and slip on my favorite jeans. As I do, images of Ana in my bathroom come to mind-her flawless back, then her hands pressed against the tiles while I fucked her.

Boy, the girl has stamina.

Let’s see how much.

With a sense of exhilaration I collect my iPod from the living room and bolt upstairs to the playroom.

When I find Ana kneeling as she should be at the entrance facing the room-eyes down, legs parted, and wearing only her panties-my first feeling is one of relief.

She’s still here; she’s game.

My second is pride: she has followed my instructions to the letter. My smile is hard to hide.

Miss Steele does not back down from a challenge.

Closing the door behind me, I note that her bathrobe has been hung up on the peg. I walk past her barefoot and deposit my iPod on the chest. I’ve decided that I’m going to deprive her of all her senses but touch, and see how she fares with that. The bed has been made up with satin sheets.

And the leather shackles are in place.

At the chest I take out a hair tie, a blindfold, a fur glove, earbuds, and the handy transmitter that Barney designed for my iPod. I lay out the items in a neat row, plugging the transmitter into the top of the iPod, letting Ana wait. Anticipation is half the buildup to a scene. Once I’m satisfied I go and stand over her. Ana’s head is bowed, the ambient light burnishing her hair. She looks modest and beautiful, the epitome of a submissive.

“You look lovely.” I cup her face and tilt her head up until blue eyes meet gray. “You are one beautiful woman, Anastasia. And you’re all mine,” I whisper. “Stand up.”

She’s a little stiff as she gets to her feet. “Look at me,” I order, and when I look into her eyes I know I could drown in her serious, rapt expression. I’ve got her full attention. “We don’t have a signed contract, Anastasia. But we’ve discussed limits. And I want to reiterate we have safe words, okay?”

She blinks a couple of times, but remains mute.

“What are they?” I demand.

She hesitates.

Oh, this will never do.

“What are the safe words, Anastasia?”

“Yellow.”

“And?”

“Red.”

“Remember those.”

She raises an eyebrow in obvious scorn, and is about to say something.

Oh no. Not in my playroom.

“Don’t start with your smart mouth in here, Miss Steele. Or I will fuck it with you on your knees. Do you understand?”

As pleasing as that thought is, her obedience is what I want right now.

She swallows her chagrin.

“Well?”

“Yes, Sir,” she says quickly.

“Good girl. My intention is not that you should use the safe word because you’re in pain. What I intend to do to you will be intense. Very intense, and you have to guide me. Do you understand?”

Her face remains impassive, giving nothing away.

“This is about touch, Anastasia. You will not be able to see me or hear me. But you’ll be able to feel me.” Ignoring her confounded look, I turn to the audio player above the chest and switch it to auxiliary mode.

I just have to choose a song; and in that moment I recall our conversation in the car after she’d slept in my bed at The Heathman. Let’s see if she likes some Tudor choral music.

“I am going to tie you to that bed, Anastasia. But I’m going to blindfold you first and”-I show her the iPod-“you will not be able to hear me. All you will hear is the music I’m going to play for you.”

I think it’s surprise I see registering on her face, but I’m not sure.

“Come.” I lead her to the foot of the bed. “Stand here.” Leaning down, I breathe in her sweet scent and whisper in her ear, “Wait here. Keep your eyes on the bed. Picture yourself lying here, bound and totally at my mercy.”

She sucks in her breath.

Yes, baby. Think about it. I resist the temptation to plant a soft kiss on her shoulder. I need to braid her hair first and fetch a flogger. From the top of the chest I grab the hair tie, and from the rack I select my favorite flogger, which I stuff into the back pocket of my jeans.

When I return to stand behind her, I gently take her hair and braid it. “While I like your pigtails, Anastasia, I am impatient to have you right now. So one will have to do.” I fasten and tug on the braid so she’s forced to step back against me. Winding the end around my wrist, I pull to the right, bending her head to expose her neck. I run my nose from her earlobe to her shoulder, sucking and biting gently.

Hmm…She smells so good.

She shivers and hums deep in her throat.

“Hush, now,” I caution, and taking the flogger from my pocket, I reach around her, my arms brushing hers, and show it to her.

I hear her catch her breath and see her fingers twitch.

“Touch it,” I whisper, knowing that’s what she wants. She raises her hand, pauses, then runs her fingers through the soft suede tails. It’s arousing. “I will use this. It will not hurt, but it will bring your blood to the surface of your skin and make you very sensitive. What are the safe words, Anastasia?”

“Um…‘yellow’ and ‘red,’ Sir,” she murmurs, transfixed by the flogger.

“Good girl. Remember, most of your fear is in your mind.” I drop the flogger on the bed and brush my fingers down her sides, past the soft swell of her hips, and slip them into her panties. “You won’t be needing these.” I drag them down her legs and kneel behind her. She grabs hold of the pillar to shuffle awkwardly out of her underwear.

“Stand still,” I command, and kiss her behind, gently nipping each cheek. “Now lie down. Faceup.” I spank her once, and she jumps, startled, and scurries onto the bed. She lies down facing me, her eyes on mine, glowing with excitement-and a little trepidation, I think.

“Hands above your head.”

She does as she’s told. I retrieve the earbuds, blindfold, iPod, and the remote from atop the chest of drawers. Sitting beside her on the bed, I show her the iPod with the transmitter. Her look darts from my face to the devices and back again.

“This sends what’s playing on the iPod to the system in the room. I can hear what you’re hearing, and I have a remote control unit for it.”

Once she’s seen everything, I insert the earbuds into her ears and place the iPod on the pillow. “Lift your head.” She obeys, and I slip the blindfold over her eyes. Rising, I take her left hand and cuff her wrist to the leather shackle at the top corner of the bed. I let my fingers linger down her outstretched arm and she wriggles in response. As I walk slowly around the bed, her head follows the sound of my footsteps; I repeat the process with her right hand, cuffing her wrist.

Ana’s breathing alters, becoming erratic and fast through parted lips. A flush creeps up her chest, and she squirms and lifts her hips in anticipation.

Good.

At the bottom of the bed I grab both her ankles. “Lift your head again,” I order. She does so immediately, and I drag her down the bed so that her arms are fully extended.

She lets out a quiet moan and lifts her hips once more.

I cuff each of her ankles to the corresponding corner of the bed so that she’s spread-eagled before me and I step back to admire the view.

Fuck.

Has she ever looked this hot?

She’s totally and willingly at my mercy. The knowledge is intoxicating, and I stand for a moment to marvel at her generosity and courage.

I drag myself away from the spellbinding sight and from the chest of drawers collect the rabbit-fur glove. Before I put it on I press play on the remote; there’s a brief hiss, and then the forty-part motet begins, the singer’s angelic voice ringing through the playroom and over the delectable Miss Steele.

She stills as she listens.

And I walk around the bed, drinking her in.

Reaching out, I caress her neck with the glove. She inhales sharply and pulls at her shackles, but she doesn’t cry out or tell me to stop. Slowly I run my gloved hand down her throat, over her sternum, then over her breasts, enjoying her restrained squirm. Circling her breasts, I gently tug on each of her nipples, and her moan of appreciation encourages me to head south. At a leisurely, deliberate pace I explore her body: her belly, her hips, the apex of her thighs, and down each leg. The music swells, more voices joining the choir in perfect counterpoint to my moving hand. I watch her mouth to determine how she’s feeling; now she gapes in pleasure, now she bites her lip. When I run my hand over her sex she clenches her behind, pushing herself into my hand.

Though I normally like her to keep still, the movement pleases me.

Miss Steele is enjoying this. She’s greedy.

When I brush her breasts again her nipples harden in the wake of the glove.

Yes.

Now that her skin is sensitized I remove the glove and pick up the flogger. With great care I trail the beaded ends over her skin, following the same pattern: over her chest, her breasts, her belly, through her pubic hair, and down her legs. As more choristers lend their voices to the motet I lift the handle of the flogger and flick the tresses across her belly. She cries out, I think in surprise, but she doesn’t safe-word. I give her a moment to absorb the sensation, then do it again-a little harder this time.

She pulls at her shackles and calls out once more, a garbled cry-but it’s not the safe word. I lash the flogger over her breasts, and she tilts her head back and lets out a soundless cry, her mouth slack as she writhes on the red satin.

Still no safe word. Ana is embracing her inner freak.

I feel giddy with delight as I rain the tails up and down her body, watching her skin warm under their bite. When the choristers pause, so do I.

Christ. She looks stunning.

I begin again as the music crescendoes, all the voices singing together; I flick the flogger over her, again and again, and she writhes beneath each blow.

When the last note rings through the room I stop, dropping the flogger on the floor. I’m breathless, panting with want and need.

Fuck.

She lays on the bed, helpless, her skin pretty in pink, and she’s panting, too.

Oh, baby.

I climb onto the bed between her legs and crawl over her, holding myself above her. When the music starts again, the lone voice singing a sweet seraphic note, I follow the same pattern as the glove and the flogger-but this time with my mouth, kissing and sucking and worshipping every inch of her body. I tease each of her nipples until they are glistening with my saliva and standing at attention. She writhes as much as the restraints allow and groans beneath me. My tongue trails down to her belly, around her navel, laving her. Tasting her. Venerating her. Moving down, through her pubic hair to her sweet, exposed clitoris that’s begging for the touch of my tongue. Around and around I swirl, drinking in her scent, drinking in her reaction, until I feel her tremble beneath me.

Oh no. Not yet, Ana. Not yet.

I stop and she huffs her voiceless disappointment.

I kneel up between her legs and pull open my fly, freeing my erection. Then, leaning over, I gently undo the left shackle around her ankle. She curls her leg around me in a long-limbed caress while I release her other ankle. Once she’s free I massage and knead the life back into her legs, from her calves up to her thighs. She wriggles beneath me, raising her hips in perfect rhythm to the Tallis motet, as my thumbs work their way up her inner thighs, which are dewy from her arousal.

I stifle a growl and grasp her hips, lifting her from the bed, and in one swift, rough move I bury myself inside her.

Fuck.

She’s slick and hot and wet and her body pulses around me, on the edge.

No. Too soon. Way too soon.

I stop, holding myself still over her and in her, while sweat beads on my brow.

“Please,” she calls out, and I tighten my hold on her as I quell the urge to move and lose myself in her. Closing my eyes so I can’t see her laid out beneath me in all her wonder, I concentrate on the music; and once I’m in control again, slowly I start to move. As the intensity of the choral piece builds I slowly increase my pace, matching the power and rhythm of the music, cherishing every tight inch inside her.

She fists her hands and tilts her head back and moans.

Yes.

“Please,” she pleads between gritted teeth.

I hear you, baby.

Laying her back down on the bed, I stretch out over her, supporting my weight on my elbows, and I follow the rhythm, thrusting into her and losing myself in her and the music.

Sweet, brave Ana.

Sweat glides down my back.

Come on, baby.

Please.

And finally she explodes around me, shouting out her release and pushing me into an intense, draining climax where I lose all sense of self. I collapse on top of her as my world shifts and realigns, leaving that unfamiliar emotion swirling in my chest, consuming me.

I shake my head, trying to chase away the ominous and confusing feeling. Reaching up, I grab the remote and switch off the music.

No more Tallis.

The music definitely contributed to what was almost a religious experience. I frown, attempting but failing to get a handle on my feelings. I slide out of Ana and stretch to release her from each cuff.

She sighs as she flexes her fingers, and gently I remove the blindfold and the earbuds.

Big blue eyes blink up at me.

“Hi,” I whisper.

“Hi, yourself,” she says, playful and bashful. Her response is delightful and, leaning down, I plant a tender kiss on her lips.

“Well done, you.” My voice is filled with pride.

She did it. She took it. She took it all.

“Turn over.”

Her eyes widen in alarm.

“I’m just going to rub your shoulders.”

“Oh, okay.”

She rolls over and flops down on the bed with her eyes closed. I sit astride her and massage her shoulders.

A pleasurable rumble resonates deep in her throat.

“What was that music?” she asks.

“It’s called Spem in Alium, a forty-part motet by Thomas Tallis.”

“It was…overwhelming.”

“I’ve always wanted to fuck to it.”

“Not another first, Mr. Grey?”

I grin. “Indeed, Miss Steele.”

“Well, it’s the first time I’ve fucked to it, too,” she says, her voice betraying her fatigue.

“You and I, we’re giving each other many firsts.”

“What did I say to you in my sleep, Chris-er, Sir?”

Not this again. Put her out of her misery, Grey.

“You said lots of things, Anastasia. You talked about cages and strawberries. That you wanted more, and that you missed me.”

“Is that all?” She sounds relieved.

Why would she be relieved?

I stretch out beside her so I can see her face.

“What did you think you’d said?”

She opens her eyes for a brief moment, and shuts them again quickly.

“That I thought you were ugly, conceited, and that you were hopeless in bed.” One blue eye peeks open and watches me warily.

Oh…she’s lying.

“Well, naturally I am all those things, and now you’ve got me really intrigued. What are you hiding from me, Miss Steele?”

“I’m not hiding anything.”

“Anastasia, you’re a hopeless liar.”

“I thought you were going to make me giggle after sex; this isn’t doing it for me.”

Her answer is unexpected, and I give her a reluctant smile. “I can’t tell jokes,” I confess.

“Mr. Grey! Something you can’t do?” She rewards me with a broad, infectious grin.

“No, hopeless joke teller,” I say, as if it’s a badge of honor.

She giggles. “I’m a hopeless joke teller, too.”

“That is such a lovely sound,” I whisper, and kiss her. But I still want to know why she’s relieved. “And you are hiding something, Anastasia. I may have to torture it out of you.”

“Ha!” The space between us is filled with her laughter. “I think you’ve done enough torturing.”

Her response wipes the smile off my face, and her expression softens immediately. “Maybe I’ll let you torture me like that again,” she says coyly.

Relief sweeps through me. “I’d like that very much, Miss Steele.”

“We aim to please, Mr. Grey.”

“You’re okay?” I ask, humbled and anxious at once.

“More than okay.” She gives me her timid smile.

“You’re amazing.” I kiss her forehead, then climb off the bed as that ominous feeling ripples through me once more. Shaking it off, I button my fly and hold out my hand to help her off the bed. When she’s standing I pull her into my arms and kiss her, savoring her taste.

“Bed,” I mutter, and lead her to the door. There I wrap her in the bathrobe she’s left hanging on the peg, and before she can protest I pick her up and carry her downstairs to my bedroom.

“I’m so tired,” she mumbles once she’s in my bed.

“Sleep now,” I whisper, and wrap her in my arms. I close my eyes, fighting the disquieting sensation that surges and fills my chest once more. It’s like homesickness and a homecoming rolled into one…and it’s terrifying.

SATURDAY, JUNE 4, 2011

* * *

The summer breeze teases my hair, its caress the nimble fingers of a lover.

My lover.

Ana.

I wake suddenly, confused. My bedroom is shrouded in darkness, and beside me Ana sleeps, her breathing gentle and even. I prop myself up on one elbow and run my hand through my hair, with the uncanny feeling that someone has just done exactly that. I glance around the room, peering into the shadowy corners, but Ana and I are alone.

Strange. I could swear someone was here. Someone touched me.

It was just a dream.

I shake off the disturbing thought and check the time. It’s after 4:30 in the morning. As I flop back down onto my pillow, Ana mumbles an incoherent word and turns over to face me, still fast asleep. She looks serene and beautiful.

I stare at the ceiling, the flashing light of the smoke alarm taunting me once more. We have no contract. Yet Ana’s here. Beside me. What does this mean? How am I supposed to deal with her? Will she abide by my rules? I need to know that she’s safe. I rub my face. This is uncharted territory for me; it’s out of my control, and it’s unsettling.

Leila pops into my mind.

Shit.

My mind races: Leila, work, Ana…and I know I won’t get back to sleep. Getting up, I pull on some PJ pants, close the bedroom door, and head into the living room to my piano.

Chopin is my solace; the somber notes match my mood and I play them over and over. A small movement at the edge of my vision catches my attention, and looking up, I see it’s Ana coming toward me, her footsteps hesitant. “You should be asleep,” I mutter, but continue playing.

“So should you,” she volleys back. Her face is firm with resolve, yet she looks small and vulnerable dressed only in my oversized bathrobe. I hide my smile.

“Are you scolding me, Miss Steele?”

“Yes, Mr. Grey, I am.”

“Well, I can’t sleep.”

I have too much weighing on my mind, and I’d rather she went back to bed and slept. She must be tired from yesterday. She disregards my mood and sits down beside me on the piano bench, leaning her head on my shoulder.

It’s such a tender and intimate gesture that for a moment I lose my place in the prelude, but I continue playing, feeling more at peace because she’s with me.

“What was that?” she asks when I finish.

“Chopin. A prelude. Opus twenty-eight, number four. In E minor, if you’re interested.”

“I’m always interested in what you do.”

Sweet Ana. I kiss her hair. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t,” she says, not moving her head. “Play the other one.”

“Other one?”

“The Bach piece that you played the first night I stayed.”

“Oh, the Marcello.”

I can’t remember when I last played for someone upon request. For me the piano is a solitary instrument, for my ears only. My family hasn’t heard me play for years. But since she’s asked, I’ll play for my sweet Ana. My fingers caress the keys and the haunting melody echoes through the living room.

“Why do you only play such sad music?” she asks.

Is it sad?

“So you were just six when you started to play?” She continues her questions, lifting her head and studying me. Her face is open and eager for information, as usual; and after last night, who am I to deny her anything?

“I threw myself into learning the piano to please my new mother.”

“To fit into the perfect family?” My words from our candid night in Savannah echo in her soft voice.

“Yes, so to speak.” I don’t want to talk about this and I’m surprised how much of my personal information she’s retained. “Why are you awake? Don’t you need to recover from yesterday’s exertions?”

“It’s eight in the morning for me. And I need to take my pill.”

“Well remembered,” I muse. “Only you would start a course of time-specific birth control pills in a different time zone. Perhaps you should wait half an hour, and then another half hour tomorrow morning. So eventually you can take them at a reasonable time.”

“Good plan,” she says. “So what shall we do for half an hour?”

Well, I could fuck you over this piano.

“I can think of a few things.” My voice is seductive.

“On the other hand, we could talk.” She smiles, provocative.

I’m not in the mood for talking. “I prefer what I have in mind.” I snake my arm around her waist, pull her into my lap, and nuzzle her hair.

“You’d always rather have sex than talk.” She laughs.

“True. Especially with you.” Her hands curl around my biceps, yet the darkness stays still and quiet. I trail kisses from the base of her ear to her throat. “Maybe on my piano,” I murmur, as my body responds to a mental image of her sprawled naked on the top, her hair spilling down over the side.

“I want to get something straight.” She speaks quietly in my ear.

“Always so eager for information, Miss Steele. What needs straightening out?” Her skin is soft and warm against my lips as I nudge her bathrobe off her shoulder with my nose.

“Us,” she says, and the simple word sounds like a prayer.

“Hmm. What about us?” I pause. Where is she going with this?

“The contract.”

I stop and stare down into her shrewd gaze. Why is she doing this now? My fingers glide down her cheek.

“Well, I think the contract is moot, don’t you?”

“Moot?” she says, and her lips soften with the hint of a smile.

“Moot.” I mirror her expression.

“But you were so keen.” Uncertainty clouds Ana’s eyes.

“Well, that was before. Anyway, the rules aren’t moot, they still stand.” I need to know you’re safe.

“Before? Before what?”

“Before-” Before all this. Before you turned my world upside down, before you sleeping with me. Before you laid your head on my shoulder at the piano. It’s all . . . “More,” I murmur, driving away the now-familiar unease in my gut.

“Oh,” she says, and I think she’s pleased.

“Besides, we’ve been in the playroom twice now, and you haven’t run screaming for the hills.”

“Do you expect me to?”

“Nothing you do is expected, Anastasia.”

The v between her brows is back. “So, let me be clear. You just want me to follow the rules element of the contract all the time, but not the rest of the contract?”

“Except in the playroom. I want you to follow the spirit of the contract in the playroom, and yes, I want you to follow the rules-all the time. Then I’ll know you’re safe. And I’ll be able to have you anytime I wish,” I add flippantly.

“And if I break one of the rules?” she asks.

“Then I’ll punish you.”

“But won’t you need my permission?”

“Yes, I will.”

“And if I say no?” she persists.

Why is she being so willful?

“If you say no, you’ll say no. I’ll have to find a way to persuade you.” She should know this. She didn’t let me spank her in the boathouse, and I wanted to. But I got to do it later that evening…with her approval.

She stands and walks toward the entrance of the living room, and for a moment I think she’s storming off, but she turns, her expression perplexed. “So the punishment aspect remains.”

“Yes, but only if you break the rules.” This is clear to me. Why not to her?

“I’ll need to reread them,” she says, suddenly all businesslike.

She wants to do this now?

“I’ll fetch them for you.”

In my study I fire up my computer and print out the rules, wondering why we are discussing this at five in the morning.

She’s at the sink, drinking a glass of water, when I return with the printout. I sit down on a stool and wait, watching her. Her back is stiff and tense; this does not bode well. When she turns around I slide the sheet of paper toward her across the kitchen island.

“Here you go.”

She scans the rules quickly. “So the obedience thing still stands?”

“Oh yes.”

She shakes her head, and an ironic smile tugs at the corner of her mouth as her eyes dart to the heavens.

Oh joy.

My spirits suddenly lift.

“Did you just roll your eyes at me, Anastasia?”

“Possibly. Depends what your reaction is.” She looks wary and amused at once.

“Same as always.” If she’ll let me…

She swallows and her eyes widen with anticipation. “So…”

“Yes?”

“You want to spank me now?”

“Yes. And I will.”

“Oh, really, Mr. Grey?” She folds her arms, her chin thrust upward in a challenge.

“Are you going to stop me?”

“You’re going to have to catch me first.” She wears a coquettish smile, which addresses my dick directly.

She wants to play.

I ease myself off the stool, watching her carefully. “Oh, really, Miss Steele?” The air almost crackles between us.

Which way will she run?

Her eyes are on mine, brimming with excitement. Her teeth tease her lower lip.

“And you’re biting your lip.” Is she doing it on purpose? I move slowly to my left.

“You wouldn’t,” she taunts. “After all, you roll your eyes.” With her eyes fixed on me, she, too, moves to her left.

“Yes, but you’ve just raised the bar on the excitement stakes with this game.”

“I’m quite fast, you know,” she teases.

“So am I.”

How does she make everything so thrilling?

“Are you going to come quietly?”

“Do I ever?” She grins, taking the bait.

“Miss Steele, what do you mean?” I stalk her around the kitchen island. “It’ll be worse for you if I have to come and get you.”

“That’s only if you catch me, Christian. And right now, I have no intention of letting you catch me.”

Is she serious?

“Anastasia, you may fall and hurt yourself. Which will put you in direct contravention of rule number seven, now six.”

“I have been in danger since I met you, Mr. Grey, rules or no rules.”

“Yes, you have.”

Perhaps this is not a game. Is she trying to tell me something? She hesitates, and I make a sudden lunge to grab her. She squeals and dashes around the island, to the relative safety of the opposite side of the dining table. With her lips parted, her expression both wary and daring at once, the bathrobe slips off one shoulder. She looks hot. Really fucking hot.

Slowly I prowl toward her, and she backs away.

“You certainly know how to distract a man, Anastasia.”

“We aim to please, Mr. Grey. Distract you from what?”

“Life. The universe.” Ex-subs who’ve gone missing. Work. Our arrangement. Everything.

“You did seem very preoccupied as you were playing.”

She’s not backing down. I stop and fold my arms, reassessing my strategy. “We can do this all day, baby, but I will get you, and it will just be worse for you when I do.”

“No, you won’t,” she says, with absolute certainty.

I frown. “Anyone would think you didn’t want me to catch you.”

“I don’t. That’s the point. I feel about punishment the way you feel about me touching you.”

And from nowhere the darkness crawls over me, shrouding my skin, leaving an icy trail of despair in its wake.

No. No. I can’t bear to be touched. Ever.

“That’s how you feel?” It’s like she’s touched me, her nails leaving white tracks over my chest.

She blinks several times, assessing my reaction, and when she speaks her voice is gentle. “No. It doesn’t affect me quite as much as that, but it gives you an idea.” Her expression is anxious.

Well, hell! This shines a whole different light on our relationship. “Oh,” I mutter, because I can’t think of anything else to say.

She takes a deep breath and approaches me, and when she’s standing in front of me she looks up, her eyes burning with apprehension.

“You hate it that much?” I whisper.

This is it. We are really incompatible.

No. I don’t want to believe that.

“Well…no,” she says, and relief washes through me. “No,” she continues. “I feel ambivalent about it. I don’t like it, but I don’t hate it.”

“But last night, in the playroom, you-”

“I do it for you, Christian, because you need it. I don’t. You didn’t hurt me last night. That was in a different context, and I can rationalize that internally, and I trust you. But when you want to punish me, I worry that you’ll hurt me.”

Fuck. Tell her.

It’s truth-or-dare time, Grey.

“I want to hurt you. But not beyond anything that you couldn’t take.” I’d never go too far.

“Why?”

“I just need it,” I whisper. “I can’t tell you.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Won’t.”

“So you know why?”

“Yes.”

“But you won’t tell me.”

“If I do, you will run screaming from this room, and you’ll never want to return. I can’t risk that, Anastasia.”

“You want me to stay.”

“More than you know. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

I can no longer stomach the distance between us. I grab her to stop her from running, and I pull her into my arms, my lips seeking hers. She answers my need, her mouth molding to mine, kissing me back with the same passion and hope and longing. The hovering darkness recedes and I find my solace.

“Don’t leave me,” I whisper against her lips. “You said you wouldn’t leave me, and you begged me not to leave you, in your sleep.”

“I don’t want to go,” she says, but her eyes are searching mine, looking for answers. And I’m exposed-my ugly, torn soul on display.

“Show me,” she says.

And I don’t know what she means.

“Show you?”

“Show me how much it can hurt.”

“What?” I lean back and stare at her in disbelief.

“Punish me. I want to know how bad it can get.”

Oh no. I release her and step out of her reach.

She gazes at me: open, honest, serious. She’s offering herself to me once more; mine for the taking, to do with as I wish. I’m stunned. She’d fulfill this need for me? I can’t believe it. “You would try?”

“Yes. I said I would.” Her expression is full of resolve.

“Ana, you’re so confusing.”

“I’m confused, too. I’m trying to work this out. And you and I will know, once and for all, if I can do this. If I can handle this, then maybe you-”

She stops, and I take a further step back. She wants to touch me.

No.

But if we do this, then I’ll know. She’ll know.

We’re here much sooner than I thought we’d be.

Can I do this?

And in that moment I know there’s nothing I want more…There’s nothing that will satisfy the monster within me more.

Before I can change my mind I grasp her arm and lead her upstairs to the playroom. At the door I stop. “I’ll show you how bad it can be, and you can make your own mind up. Are you ready for this?”

She nods, her face set with the stubborn determination that I’ve come to know so well.

So be it.

I open the door, quickly grab a belt from the rack before she changes her mind, and lead her to the bench in the corner of the room.

“Bend over the bench,” I order quietly.

She does as she’s told, saying nothing.

“We’re here because you said yes, Anastasia. And you ran from me. I am going to hit you six times, and you will count with me.”

Still she says nothing.

I fold the hem of her bathrobe over her back, revealing her beautiful naked behind. I run my palm over her buttocks and the top of her thighs, and a frisson runs through me.

This is it. What I want. What I’ve been working toward.

“I am doing this so that you remember not to run from me, and as exciting as it is, I never want you to run from me. And you rolled your eyes at me. You know how I feel about that.” I take a deep breath, savoring this moment, trying to steady my thundering heartbeat.

I need this. This is what I do. And we’re finally here.

She can do it.

She’s never let me down yet.

Holding her in place with one hand at the small of her back, I shake out the belt. I take another deep breath, focusing on the task in hand.

She won’t run. She’s asked me.

Then I wield it, striking her across both cheeks, hard.

She cries out, in shock.

But she’s not called out the number…or the safe word.

“Count, Anastasia!” I demand.

“One!” she shouts.

Okay…no safe word.

I hit her again.

“Two!” she screams.

That’s right, let it out, baby.

I hit her once more.

“Three!” She winces.

There are three stripes across her backside.

I make it four.

She shouts the number, loud and clear.

There’s no one to hear you, baby. Shout all you need.

I belt her again.

“Five,” she sobs, and I pause, waiting for her to safe-word.

She doesn’t.

And one for luck.

“Six,” Ana whispers, her voice forced and hoarse.

I drop the belt, savoring my sweet, euphoric release. I’m punch-drunk, breathless, and finally replete. Oh, this beautiful girl, my beautiful girl. I want to kiss every inch of her body. We’re here. Where I want to be. I reach for her, pulling her into my arms.

“Let go. No-” She struggles out of my grasp, scrambling away from me, pushing and shoving and finally turning on me like a seething wildcat. “Don’t touch me!” she hisses. Her face is blotchy and smeared with tears, her nose is running, and her hair is a dark, tangled mess, but she has never looked so magnificent…and at the same time so angry.

Her anger crashes over me like a tidal wave.

She’s mad. Really mad.

Okay, I hadn’t figured on anger.

Give her a moment. Wait for the endorphins to kick in.

She dashes away her tears with the back of her hand. “This is what you really like? Me, like this?” She wipes her nose with the sleeve of the bathrobe.

My euphoria vanishes. I’m stunned, completely helpless and paralyzed by her anger. The crying I know and understand, but this rage…somewhere deep inside it resonates with me and I don’t want to think about that.

Don’t go there, Grey.

Why didn’t she ask me to stop? She didn’t safe-word. She deserved to be punished. She ran from me. She rolled her eyes. This is what happens when you defy me, baby.

She scowls. Blue eyes wide and bright, filled with hurt and rage and sudden, chilling insight.

Shit. What have I done?

It’s sobering.

I’m unbalanced, teetering at the edge of a dangerous precipice, desperately searching for the words to make this right, but my mind is blank.

“Well, you are one fucked-up son of a bitch,” she snarls.

All the breath leaves my body, and it’s like she’s whipped me with a belt…Fuck!

She’s recognized me for what I am.

She’s seen the monster.

“Ana,” I whisper, pleading with her. I want her to stop. I want to hold her and make the pain go away. I want her to sob in my arms.

“Don’t you dare Ana me! You need to sort your shit out, Grey!” she snaps, and walks out of the playroom, quietly shutting the door behind her. Stunned, I stare at the closed door, her words ringing in my ears.

You are one fucked-up son of a bitch.

No one has ever walked out on me. What the hell? Mechanically, I run my hand through my hair, trying to rationalize her reaction, and mine. I just let her go. I’m not mad…I’m…what? I stoop to pick up the belt, walk to the wall, and hang it on its peg. That was, without doubt, one of the most satisfying moments of my life. A moment ago I felt lighter, the weight of uncertainty between us gone.

It’s done. We’re there.

Now that she knows what’s involved, we can move on.

I told her. People like me like inflicting pain.

But only on women who like it.

My sense of unease grows.

Her reaction-the image of her injured, haunted look is back, unwelcome, in my mind’s eye. It’s unsettling. I am used to making women cry-it’s what I do.

But Ana?

I sink to the floor and lean my head against the wall, my arms on my bent knees. Just let her cry. She’ll feel better for crying. Women do, in my experience. Give her a moment, then go and offer her aftercare. She didn’t safe-word. She asked me. She wanted to know, curious as ever. It’s just been a rude awakening, that’s all.

You are one fucked-up son of a bitch.

Closing my eyes, I smile without humor. Yes, Ana, yes I am, and now you know. Now we can move forward with our relationship…arrangement. Whatever this is.

My thoughts don’t comfort me and my sense of unease grows. Her wounded eyes glaring at me, outraged, accusatory, pitying…she can see me for what I am. A monster.

Flynn springs to mind: Don’t dwell on the negative, Christian.

I close my eyes once more and see Ana’s anguished face.

What a fool I am.

This was too soon.

Way, way too soon.

Fuck.

I’ll reassure her.

Yes-let her cry, then reassure her.

I was angry with her for running from me. Why did she do that?

Hell. She’s so different from any other woman I’ve known. Of course she wouldn’t react in the same way.

I need to face her, hold her. We’ll get through this. I wonder where she is.

Shit!

Panic seizes me. Suppose she’s gone? No, she wouldn’t do that. Not without saying good-bye. I stand and race out of the room and down the stairs. She’s not in the living room-she must be in bed. I dash to my bedroom.

The bed is empty.

Full-blown anxiety erupts in the pit of my belly. No, she can’t have gone! Upstairs-she must be in her room. I take the stairs three at a time and pause, breathless, outside her bedroom door. She’s in there, crying.

Oh, thank God.

I lean my head against the door, overwhelmed by my relief.

Don’t leave. The thought is awful.

Of course she just needs to cry.

Taking a steadying breath, I head to the bathroom beside the playroom to fetch some arnica cream, Advil, and a glass of water, and I return to her room.

Inside it’s still dark, though dawn is a pale streak on the horizon, and it takes me a moment to find my beautiful girl. She’s curled up in the middle of the bed, small and vulnerable, sobbing quietly. The sound of her grief rips through me, leaving me winded. My subs never affected me like this-even when they were bawling. I don’t get it. Why do I feel so lost? Putting down the arnica, water, and tablets, I lift the comforter, slide in beside her, and reach for her. She stiffens, her whole body screaming, Don’t touch me! The irony is not lost on me.

“Hush,” I whisper, in a vain attempt to halt her tears and calm her. She doesn’t respond. She remains frozen, unyielding.

“Don’t fight me, Ana, please.” She relaxes a fraction, allowing me to pull her into my arms, and I bury my nose in her wonderfully fragrant hair. She smells as sweet as ever, her scent a soothing balm to my nerves. And I plant a tender kiss on her neck.

“Don’t hate me,” I murmur, as I press my lips to her throat, tasting her. She says nothing, but slowly her crying dissipates into soft sniffling sobs. At last she’s quiet. I think she might have fallen asleep, but I cannot bring myself to check, in case I disturb her. At least she’s calmer now.

Dawn comes and goes, and the ambient light gets brighter, intruding into the room as morning moves on. And still we lie quietly. My mind drifts as I hold my girl in my arms, and I observe the changing quality of the light. I can’t remember an instance when I just lay down and let time creep by and my thoughts wander. It’s relaxing, imagining what we could do for the rest of the day. Maybe I should take her to see The Grace.

Yes. We could go sailing this afternoon.

If she’s still talking to you, Grey.

She moves, a slight twitch in her foot, and I know she’s awake.

“I brought you some Advil and some arnica cream.”

Finally she responds, slowly turning in my arms to face me. Pain-riven eyes focus on mine, her look intense, questioning. She takes her time to scrutinize me, as if seeing me for the first time. It’s unnerving because, as usual, I have no idea what she’s thinking, what she’s seeing. But she’s definitely calmer, and I welcome the small spark of relief this brings. Today might be a good day after all.

She caresses my cheek and runs her fingers along my jaw, tickling my stubble. I close my eyes, savoring her touch. It’s still so new, this sensation, being touched and enjoying her innocent fingers gently stroking my face, the darkness quiet. I don’t mind her touching my face…or her fingers in my hair.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

Her soft-spoken words are a surprise. She’s apologizing to me?

“What for?”

“What I said.”

Relief courses unchecked through my body. She’s forgiven me. Besides, what she said in anger was right-I am a fucked-up son of a bitch.

“You didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know.” And for the first time in so many years I find myself apologizing. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

Her shoulders lift a little and she gives me a slight smile. I’ve won a reprieve. We’re safe. We’re okay. I’m relieved.

“I asked for it,” she says.

You sure did, baby.

She swallows nervously. “I don’t think I can be everything you want me to be,” she concedes, her eyes wide with heartfelt sincerity.

The world stops.

Fuck.

We’re not safe at all.

Grey, make this right.

“You are everything I want you to be.”

She frowns. Her eyes are red-rimmed and she’s so pale, the palest I’ve ever seen her. It’s oddly stirring. “I don’t understand,” she says. “I’m not obedient, and you can be as sure as hell I’m not going to let you do that to me again. And that’s what you need-you said so.”

And there it is-her coup de grace. I pushed too far. Now she knows-and all the arguments I had with myself before I embarked on the pursuit of this girl flood back to me. She’s not into the lifestyle. How can I corrupt her this way? She’s too young, too innocent-too…Ana.

My dreams are just that…dreams. This isn’t going to work.

I close my eyes; I can’t bear to look at her. It’s true, she would be better off without me. Now that she’s seen the monster, she knows she can’t contend with him. I have to free her-let her go her own way. This won’t work between us.

Focus, Grey.

“You’re right. I should let you go. I’m no good for you.”

Her eyes widen. “I don’t want to go,” she whispers. Tears pool in her eyes, glistening on long dark lashes.

“I don’t want you to go, either,” I answer, because it’s the truth, and that feeling-that ominous, frightening feeling-is back, overwhelming me. The tears trickle down her cheeks once more. Gently I wipe away a falling tear with my thumb, and before I know it the words tumble out. “I’ve come alive since I met you.” I trace my thumb along her bottom lip. I want to kiss her, hard. Make her forget. Dazzle her. Arouse her-I know I can. But something holds me back-her wary, injured look. Why would she want to be kissed by a monster? She might push me away, and I don’t know if I could deal with any more rejection. Her words haunt me, pulling at some dark and repressed memory.

You are one fucked-up son of a bitch.

“Me, too,” she whispers. “I’ve fallen in love with you, Christian.”

I remember Carrick teaching me to dive. My toes gripping the pool edge as I fell arching into the water-and now I’m falling once more, into the abyss, in slow motion.

There’s no way she can feel that about me.

Not me. No!

And I’m choking for air, strangled by her words pressing their momentous weight on my chest. I plunge down and down, the darkness welcoming me. I can’t hear them. I can’t deal with them. She doesn’t know what she’s saying, who she’s dealing with-what she’s dealing with.

“No.” My voice is raw with pained disbelief. “You can’t love me, Ana. No. That’s wrong.”

I need to set her right on this. She cannot love a monster. She cannot love a fucked-up son of a bitch. She needs to go. She needs out-and in an instant, everything becomes crystal clear. This is my eureka moment; I can’t make her happy. I can’t be what she needs. I can’t let this go on. This has to finish. It should never have started.

“Wrong? Why’s it wrong?”

“Well, look at you. I can’t make you happy.” The anguish is plain in my voice as I sink deeper and deeper into the abyss, shrouded in despair.

No one can love me.

“But you do make me happy,” she says, not comprehending.

Anastasia Steele, look at yourself. I have to be honest with her. “Not at the moment. Not doing what I want to do.”

She blinks, her lashes fluttering over her large, wounded eyes, studying me intently as she searches for the truth. “We’ll never get past that, will we?”

I shake my head, because I can’t think of anything to say. It comes down to incompatibility, again. She closes her eyes, as if in pain, and when she opens them again, they are clearer, full of resolve. Her tears have stopped. And the blood starts pounding through my head as my heart hammers. I know what she’s going to say. I dread what she’s going to say.

“Well, I’d better go, then.” She winces as she sits up.

Now? She can’t go now.

“No, don’t go.” I’m free-falling, deeper and deeper. Her leaving feels like a monumental mistake. My mistake. But she can’t stay if she feels this way about me, she just can’t.

“There’s no point in me staying,” she says, and gingerly climbs out of the bed still wrapped in her bathrobe. She’s really leaving. I can’t believe it. I scramble out of bed to stop her, but her look pins me to the floor-her expression so bleak, so cold, so distant-not my Ana at all.

“I’m going to get dressed. I’d like some privacy,” she says. How flat and empty her voice sounds as she turns and leaves, closing the door behind her. I stare at the closed door.

This is the second time in one day that she’s walked out on me.

I sit up and cradle my head in my hands, trying to calm down, trying to rationalize my feelings.

She loves me?

How did this happen? How?

Grey, you fucking fool.

Wasn’t this always a risk, with someone like her? Someone good and innocent and courageous. A risk that she’d not see the real me until it was too late. That I would make her suffer like this?

Why is this so painful? I feel like I’ve punctured a lung. I follow her out of the room. She might want privacy, but if she’s leaving me I need clothes.

When I reach my bedroom, she’s showering, so I quickly change into jeans and a T-shirt, I’ve chosen black-suitable for my mood. Grabbing my phone, I wander through the apartment, tempted to sit at the piano and hammer out some woeful lament. But instead I stand in the middle of the room, feeling nothing.

Vacant.

Focus, Grey! This is the right decision. Let her go.

My phone buzzes. It’s Welch. Has he found Leila?

“Welch.”

“Mr. Grey, I have news.” His voice grates over the phone. This guy should stop smoking. He sounds like Deep Throat.

“You found her?” My spirits lift a little.

“No, sir.”

“What is it, then?” Why the hell have you called?

“Leila left her husband. He finally admitted it to me. He’s washed his hands of her.”

This is news.

“I see.”

“He has an idea where she might be, but he wants his palm greased. Wants to know who’s so interested in his wife. Though that’s not what he called her.”

I fight my surging anger. “How much does he want?”

“He said two thousand.”

“He said what?” I shout, losing it. Why didn’t he just admit earlier that Leila had walked out on him? “Well, he could have told us the fucking truth. What’s his number? I need to call him. Welch, this is a real fuckup.”

I glance up, and Ana is standing awkwardly at the entrance to the living room, dressed in jeans and an ugly sweatshirt. She’s all big eyes and tight, pinched face, her suitcase beside her.

“Find her,” I snap, hanging up. I’ll deal with Welch later.

Ana walks over to the sofa, and from her backpack removes the Mac, her phone, and the key to her car. Taking a deep breath, she marches to the kitchen and lays all three items on the counter.

What the hell? She’s returning her things?

She turns to face me, determination clear on her small ashen face. It’s her stubborn look, the one I know so well.

“I need the money that Taylor got for my Beetle.” Her voice is calm but monotone.

“Ana, I don’t want those things-they’re yours.” She can’t do this to me. “Please, take them.”

“No, Christian. I only accepted them under sufferance, and I don’t want them anymore.”

“Ana, be reasonable!”

“I don’t want anything that will remind me of you. I just need the money that Taylor got for my car.” Her voice is devoid of emotion.

She wants to forget me.

“Are you really trying to wound me?”

“No, I’m not. I’m trying to protect myself.”

Of course-she’s trying to protect herself from the monster.

“Please Ana, take that stuff.”

Her lips are so pale.

“Christian, I don’t want to fight-I just need that money.”

Money. It always comes down to the fucking money.

“Will you take a check?” I snarl.

“Yes. I think you’re good for it.”

She wants money, I’ll give her money. I storm into my study, barely holding on to my temper. Sitting at my desk I call Taylor.

“Good morning, Mr. Grey.”

I ignore his greeting. “How much did you get for Ana’s VW?”

“Twelve thousand dollars, sir.”

“That much?” In spite of my bleak mood, I’m surprised.

“It’s a classic,” he says by way of explanation.

“Thanks. Can you take Miss Steele home now?”

“Of course. I’ll be right down.”

I hang up and take out my checkbook from my desk drawer. As I do, I remember my conversation with Welch about Leila’s fucking asshole of a husband.

It’s always about fucking money!

In my anger I double the amount that Taylor got for the death trap and stuff the check into an envelope.

When I return she’s still standing by the kitchen island, lost, almost childlike. I hand her the envelope, my anger evaporating at the sight of her.

“Taylor got a good price…it’s a classic car,” I mumble in apology. “You can ask him. He’ll take you home.” I nod to where Taylor is waiting at the entrance of the living room.

“That’s fine, I can get myself home, thank you.”

No! Accept the ride, Ana. Why does she do this?

“Are you going to defy me at every turn?”

“Why change a habit of a lifetime?” She gives me a blank look.

That’s it in a nutshell-why our arrangement was doomed from the start. She’s just not cut out for this, and deep down, I always knew it. I close my eyes.

I am such a fool.

I try a softer approach, pleading with her.

“Please, Ana. Let Taylor take you home.”

“I’ll get the car, Miss Steele,” Taylor announces with quiet authority and leaves. Maybe she’ll listen to him. She glances around, but he’s already gone down to the basement to fetch the car.

She turns back to me, her eyes wider all of a sudden. And I hold my breath. I really can’t believe she’s going. This is the last time I’ll see her, and she looks so sad. It cuts deep that I’m the one responsible for that look. I take a hesitant step forward; I want to hold her one more time and beg her to stay.

She steps back, and it’s a move that signals all too clearly that she doesn’t want me. I’ve driven her away.

I freeze. “I don’t want you to go.”

“I can’t stay. I know what I want, and you can’t give it to me, and I can’t give you what you need.”

Oh, please, Ana-let me hold you one more time. Smell your sweet, sweet scent. Feel you in my arms. I step toward her again, but she holds up her hands, halting me.

“Don’t-please.” She recoils, panic etched on her face. “I can’t do this.” And she grabs her suitcase and backpack and heads for the foyer. I follow, meek and helpless in her wake, my eyes fixed on her small frame.

In the foyer I call the elevator. I can’t take my eyes off her…her delicate, elfin face, those lips, the way her dark lashes fan out and cast a shadow over her pale, pale cheeks. Words fail me as I try to memorize every detail. I have no dazzling lines, no quick wit, no arrogant commands. I have nothing-nothing but a yawning void inside my chest.

The elevator doors open and Ana heads straight in. She looks around at me-and for a moment her mask slips, and there it is: my pain reflected on her beautiful face.

No…. Ana. Don’t go.

“Good-bye, Christian.”

“Ana…good-bye.”

The doors close, and she’s gone.

I sink slowly to the floor and put my head in my hands. The void is now cavernous and aching, overwhelming me.

Grey, what the hell have you done?

WHEN I LOOK UP again, the paintings in my foyer, my Madonnas, bring a mirthless smile to my lips. The idealization of motherhood. All of them gazing at their infants, or staring inauspiciously down at me.

They’re right to look at me that way. She’s gone. She’s really gone. The best thing that ever happened to me. After she said she’d never leave. She promised me she’d never leave. I close my eyes, shutting out those lifeless, pitying stares, and tip my head back against the wall. Okay, she said it in her sleep-and like the fool I am, I believed her. I’ve always known deep down I was no good for her, and she was too good for me. This is how it should be.

Then why do I feel like shit? Why is this so painful?

The chime announcing the arrival of the elevator forces my eyes open again, and my heart leaps into my mouth. She’s back. I sit paralyzed, waiting, and the doors pull back-and Taylor steps out and momentarily freezes.

Hell. How long have I been sitting here?

“Miss Steele is home, Mr. Grey,” he says, as if he addresses me while I’m prostrate on the floor every day.

“How was she?” I ask, as dispassionately as I can, though I really want to know.

“Upset, sir,” he says, showing no emotion whatsoever.

I nod, dismissing him. But he doesn’t leave.

“Can I get you anything, sir?” he asks, much too kindly for my liking.

“No.” Go. Leave me alone.

“Sir,” he says, and he exits, leaving me slouched on the foyer floor.

Much as I’d like to sit here all day and wallow in my despair, I can’t. I want an update from Welch, and I need to call Leila’s poor excuse for a husband.

And I need a shower. Perhaps this agony will wash away in the shower.

As I stand I touch the wooden table that dominates the foyer, my fingers absentmindedly tracing its delicate marquetry. I’d have liked to fuck Miss Steele over this. I close my eyes, imagining her sprawled across this table, her head held back, chin up, mouth open in ecstasy, and her luscious hair pooling over the edge. Shit, it makes me hard just thinking about it.

Fuck.

The pain in my gut twists and tightens.

She’s gone, Grey. Get used to it.

And drawing on years of enforced control, I bring my body to heel.

THE SHOWER IS BLISTERING, the temperature just a notch below painful, the way I like it. I stand beneath the cascade, trying to forget her, hoping this heat will scorch her out of my head and wash her scent off my body.

If she’s going to leave, there’s no coming back.

Never.

I scrub my hair with grim determination.

Good riddance.

And I suck in a breath.

No. Not good riddance.

I raise my face to the streaming water. It’s not good riddance at all-I am going to miss her. I lean my forehead against the tiles. Just last night she was in here with me. I stare at my hands, my fingers caressing the line of grout in the tiles where only yesterday her hands were braced against the wall.

Fuck this.

Switching off the water, I step out of the shower cubicle. As I wrap a towel around my waist, it sinks in: each day will be darker and emptier, because she’s no longer in it.

No more facetious, witty e-mails.

No more of her smart mouth.

No more curiosity.

Her bright blue eyes will no longer regard me in thinly veiled amusement…or shock…or lust. I stare at the brooding morose jerk staring back at me in the bathroom mirror.

“What the hell have you done, asshole?” I sneer at him. He mouths the words back at me with vitriolic contempt. And the bastard blinks at me, big gray eyes raw with misery.

“She’s better off without you. You can’t be what she wants. You can’t give her what she needs. She wants hearts and flowers. She deserves better than you, you fucked-up prick.” Repulsed by the image glowering back at me, I turn away from the mirror.

To hell with shaving for today.

I dry off at my chest of drawers and grab some underwear and a clean T-shirt. As I turn I notice a small box on my pillow. The rug is pulled from under me again, revealing once more the abyss beneath, its jaws open, waiting for me, and my anger turns to fear.

It’s something from her. What would she give me? I drop my clothes and, taking a deep breath, sit on the bed and pick up the box.

It’s a glider. A model-making kit for a Blaník L23. A scribbled note falls from the top of the box and wafts onto the bed.

This reminded me of a happy time.

Thank you.

Ana

It’s the perfect present from the perfect girl.

Pain lances through me.

Why is this so painful? Why?

Some long-lost, ugly memory stirs, trying to sink its teeth into the here and now. No. That is not a place I want my mind to return to. I get up, tossing the box onto the bed, and dress hurriedly. When I’m finished I grab the box and the note and head for my study. I will handle this better from my seat of power.

MY CONVERSATION WITH WELCH is brief. My conversation with Russell Reed-the miserable lying bastard who married Leila-is briefer. I didn’t know that they’d wed during one drunken weekend in Vegas. No wonder their marriage failed after just eighteen months. She left him twelve weeks ago. So where are you now, Leila Williams? What have you been doing?

I focus my mind on Leila, trying to think of some clue from our past that might tell me where she is. I need to know. I need to know she’s safe. And why she came here. Why me?

She wanted more, and I didn’t, but that was long ago. It was easy when she left-our arrangement was terminated by mutual consent. In fact, our whole arrangement had been exemplary: just how it should be. She was mischievous when she was with me, deliberately so, and not the broken creature that Gail described.

I recall how much she enjoyed our sessions in the playroom. Leila loved the kink. A memory surfaces-I’m tying her big toes together, turning her feet in so she can’t clench her backside and avoid the pain. Yeah, she loved all that shit, and so did I. She was a great submissive. But she never captured my attention like Anastasia Steele.

She never drove me to distraction like Ana.

I gaze at the glider kit on my desk and trace the edges of the box with my finger, knowing that Ana’s fingers have touched it.

My sweet Anastasia.

What a contrast you are to all the women I’ve known. The only woman I’ve ever chased, and the one woman who can’t give me what I want.

I don’t understand.

I’ve come alive since I’ve known her. These last few weeks have been the most exciting, the most unpredictable, the most fascinating in my life. I’ve been enticed from my monochrome world into one rich with color-and yet she can’t be what I need.

I put my head in my hands. She will never like what I do. I tried to convince myself that we could work up to the rougher shit, but that’s not going to happen, ever. She’s better off without me. What would she want with a fucked-up monster who can’t bear to be touched?

And yet she bought me this thoughtful gift. Who does that for me, apart from my family? I study the box once more and open it. All the plastic parts of the craft are stuck on one grid, swathed in cellophane. Memories of her squealing in the glider during the wingover come to mind-her hands up, braced against the Perspex canopy. I can’t help but smile.

Lord, that was so much fun-the equivalent of pulling her pigtails in the playground. Ana in pigtails…I shut down that thought immediately. I don’t want to go there, our first bath. And all I’m left with is the thought that I won’t see her again.

The abyss yawns open.

No. Not again.

I need to make this plane. It will be a distraction. Ripping open the cellophane, I scan the instructions. I need glue, modeling glue. I search through my desk drawers.

Shit. Nestled at the back of one drawer I find the red leather box containing the Cartier earrings. I never got the chance to give them to her-and now I never will.

I call Andrea and leave a message on her cell, asking her to cancel tonight. I can’t face the gala, not without my date.

I open the red leather box and examine the earrings. They are beautiful: simple yet elegant, just like the enchanting Miss Steele…who left me this morning because I punished her…because I pushed her too hard. I cradle my head once again. But she let me. She didn’t stop me. She let me because she loves me. The thought is horrifying, and I dismiss it immediately. She can’t. It’s simple: no one can feel like that about me. Not if they know me.

Move on, Grey. Focus.

Where’s the damned glue? I stash the earrings back in the drawer and continue my search. Nothing.

I buzz Taylor.

“Mr. Grey?”

“I need some modeling glue.”

He pauses for a moment. “For what sort of model, sir?”

“A model glider.”

“Balsa wood or plastic?”

“Plastic.”

“I have some. I’ll bring it down now, sir.”

I thank him, a little stunned that he has modeling glue. Moments later he knocks on the door.

“Come in.”

He paces into my study and places the small plastic container on my desk. He doesn’t leave and I have to ask.

“Why do you have this?”

“I build the odd plane.” His face reddens.

“Oh?” My curiosity is piqued.

“Flying was my first love, sir.”

I don’t understand.

“Color blind,” he explains flatly.

“So you became a Marine?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you for this.”

“No problem, Mr. Grey. Have you eaten?”

His question takes me by surprise.

“I’m not hungry, Taylor. Please, go, enjoy the afternoon with your daughter, and I’ll see you tomorrow. I won’t bother you again.”

He pauses for a moment, and my irritation builds. Go.

“I’m good.” Hell, my voice is choked.

“Sir.” He nods. “I’ll return tomorrow evening.”

I give him a quick dismissive nod, and he’s gone.

When was the last time Taylor offered me anything to eat? I must look more fucked up than I thought. Sulking, I grab the glue.

THE GLIDER IS IN the palm of my hand. I marvel at it with a sense of achievement, memories of that flight nudging my consciousness. Anastasia was impossible to wake-I smile as I recall-and once up she was difficult, disarming and beautiful, and funny.

Christ, that was fun: her girlish excitement during the flight, the squealing, and afterward, our kiss.

It was my first attempt at more. It’s extraordinary that over such a short time I have collected so many happy memories.

The pain surfaces once more-nagging, aching, reminding me of all that I’ve lost.

Focus on the glider, Grey.

Now I have to stick the transfers in place; they’re fiddly little suckers.

FINALLY THE LAST ONE is on and drying. My glider has its own FAA registration. November. Nine. Five. Two. Echo. Charlie.

Echo Charlie.

I look up and the light is fading. It’s late. My first thought is that I can show this to Ana.

No more Ana.

I clench my teeth and stretch my stiff shoulders. Standing slowly, I realize I haven’t eaten all day or had anything to drink, and my head is throbbing.

I feel like shit.

I check my phone in the hope that she’s called, but there’s only a text from Andrea.

CC Gala canx.

Hope all well.

A

While I’m reading Andrea’s message the phone buzzes. My heart rate immediately spikes, then falls when I recognize it’s Elena.

“Hello.” I don’t bother to disguise my disappointment.

“Christian, is that any way to say hi? What’s eating you?” she scolds, but her voice is full of humor.

I stare out the window. It’s dusk over Seattle. I wonder briefly what Ana is doing. I don’t want to tell Elena what’s happened; I don’t want to say the words out loud and make them a reality.

“Christian? What gives? Tell me.” Her tone shifts to brusque and annoyed.

“She left me,” I mutter, sounding morose.

“Oh.” Elena sounds surprised. “Want me to come over?”

“No.”

She takes a deep breath. “This life isn’t for everyone.”

“I know.”

“Hell, Christian, you sound like shit. Do you want to go out to dinner?”

“No.”

“I’m coming over.”

“No, Elena. I’m not good company. I’m tired and I want to be alone. I’ll call you during the week.”

“Christian…it’s for the best.”

“I know. Good-bye.”

I hang up. I don’t want to talk to her; she encouraged me to fly down to Savannah. Perhaps she knew this day would come. I scowl at the phone, toss it onto my desk, and go in search of something to drink and eat.

I EXAMINE THE CONTENTS of my fridge.

Nothing appeals.

In the cupboard I find a bag of pretzels. I open them and eat one after the other as I walk to the window. Outside, night has fallen; lights twinkle and wink through the pouring rain. The world moves on.

Move on, Grey.

Move on.

SUNDAY, JUNE 5, 2011

* * *

I gaze up at the bedroom ceiling. Sleep eludes me. I’m tormented by Ana’s fragrance, which still clings to my bedsheets. I pull her pillow over my face to breathe in her scent. It’s torture, it’s heaven, and for a moment I contemplate death by suffocation.

Get a grip, Grey.

I rerun the morning’s events in my head. Could they have unfolded any differently? As a rule I never do this, because it’s a waste of energy, but today I’m looking for clues as to where I went wrong. And no matter how I play it out, I know in my bones we would have reached this impasse, whether it was this morning, or in a week, or a month, or a year. Better that it happened now, before I inflicted any further pain on Anastasia.

I think of her huddled in her little white bed. I can’t picture her in the new apartment-I’ve not been there-but I imagine her in that room in Vancouver where I once slept with her. I shake my head; that was the best night’s sleep I’d had in years. The radio alarm reads 2:00 in the morning. I have lain here for two hours, my mind churning. I take a deep breath, inhaling her scent once more, and I close my eyes.

Mommy can’t see me. I stand in front of her. She can’t see me. She’s asleep with her eyes open. Or sick.

I hear a rattle. His keys. He’s back.

I run and hide and make myself small under the table in the kitchen. My cars are here with me.

Bang. The door slams shut, making me jump.

Through my fingers I see Mommy. She turns her head to see him. Then she’s asleep on the couch. He’s wearing his big boots with the shiny buckles and standing over Mommy shouting. He hits Mommy with a belt. Get Up! Get Up! You are one fucked-up bitch. You are one fucked-up bitch. Mommy makes a noise. A wailing noise.

Stop. Stop hitting Mommy. Stop hitting Mommy.

I run at him and hit him and I hit him and I hit him.

But he laughs and smacks me across the face.

No! Mommy shouts.

You are one fucked-up bitch.

Mommy makes herself small. Small like me. And then she’s quiet. You are one fucked-up bitch. You are one fucked-up bitch. You are one fucked-up bitch.

I am under the table. I have my fingers in my ears and I close my eyes. The sound stops. He turns and I can see his boots as he stomps into the kitchen. He carries the belt, slapping it against his leg. He is trying to find me. He stoops down and grins. He smells nasty. Of smoking and drinking and bad smells. There you are, you little shit.

A chilling wail wakes me. I’m drenched in sweat and my heart is pounding. I sit bolt upright in bed.

Fuck.

The eerie noise was from me.

I take a deep steadying breath, trying to rid my memory of the smell of body odor and cheap bourbon and stale Camel cigarettes.

You are one fucked-up son of a bitch.

Ana’s words ring in my head.

Like his.

Fuck.

I couldn’t help the crack whore.

I tried. Good God, I tried.

There you are, you little shit.

But I could help Ana.

I let her go.

I had to let her go.

She didn’t need all this shit.

I glance at the clock: it’s 3:30. I head into the kitchen and after drinking a large glass of water I make my way to the piano.

I WAKE AGAIN WITH a jolt and it’s light-early-morning sunshine fills the room. I was dreaming of Ana: Ana kissing me, her tongue in my mouth, my fingers in her hair; pressing her delectable body against me, her hands tethered above her head.

Where is she?

For one sweet moment I forget all that transpired yesterday-then it floods back.

She’s gone.

Fuck.

The evidence of my desire presses into the mattress-but the memory of her bright eyes, clouded with hurt and humiliation as she left, soon solves that problem.

Feeling like shit, I lie on my back and stare at the ceiling, arms behind my head. The day stretches out before me, and for the first time in years, I don’t know what to do with myself. I check the time again: 5:58.

Hell, I might as well go for a run.

PROKOFIEV’S “ARRIVAL OF THE Montagues and Capulets” blares in my ears as I pound the sidewalk through the early morning quiet of Fourth Avenue. I ache everywhere-my lungs are bursting, my head is throbbing, and the yawning, dull ache of loss eats away at my insides. I cannot run from this pain, though I’m trying. I stop to change the music and drag precious air into my lungs. I want something…violent. “Pump It,” by the Black Eyed Peas, yeah. I pick up the pace.

I find myself running down Vine Street, and I know it’s insane, but I hope to see her. As I near her street my heart races still harder and my anxiety escalates. I’m not desperate to see her-I just want to check that she’s okay. No, that’s not true. I want to see her. Finally on her street, I pace past her apartment building.

All is quiet-an Oldsmobile trundles up the road, two dog walkers are out-but there’s no sign of life from inside her apartment. Crossing the street, I pause on the sidewalk opposite, then duck into the doorway of an apartment building to catch my breath.

The curtains of one room are closed, the others open. Perhaps that’s her room. Maybe she’s still asleep-if she’s there at all. A nightmare scenario forms in my mind: she went out last night, got drunk, met someone…

No.

Bile rises in my throat. The thought of her body in someone else’s hands, some asshole basking in the warmth of her smile, making her giggle, making her laugh-making her come. It takes all my self-control not to go barging through the front door of her apartment to check that she’s there and on her own.

You brought this on yourself, Grey.

Forget her. She’s not for you.

I tug my Seahawks cap low over my face and sprint on down Western Avenue.

My jealousy is raw and angry; it fills the gaping hole. I hate it-it stirs something deep in my psyche that I really don’t want to examine. I run harder, away from that memory, away from the pain, away from Anastasia Steele.

IT’S DUSK OVER SEATTLE. I stand up and stretch. I’ve been at my desk in my study all day, and it’s been productive. Ros has worked hard, too. She’s prepared and sent me a first draft business plan and letter of intent for SIP.

At least I’ll be able to keep an eye on Ana.

The thought is painful and appealing in equal measure.

I’ve read and commented on two patent applications, a few contracts, and a new design spec, and while lost in the detail of those, I have not thought about her. The little glider is still on my desk, taunting me, reminding me of happier times, like she said. I picture her standing in the doorway of my study, wearing one of my T-shirts, all long legs and blue eyes, just before she seduced me.

Another first.

I miss her.

There-I admit it. I check my phone, hoping in vain, and there’s a text from Elliot.

Beer, hotshot?

I respond:

No. Busy.

Elliot’s response is immediate.

Fuck you, then.

Yeah. Fuck me.

Nothing from Ana: no missed call. No e-mail. The nagging pain in my gut intensifies. She’s not going to call. She wanted out. She wanted to get away from me, and I can’t blame her.

It’s for the best.

I head to the kitchen for a change of scenery.

Gail is back. The kitchen has been cleaned, and there’s a pot bubbling on the stove. Smells good…but I’m not hungry. She walks in while I’m eyeing what’s cooking.

“Good evening, sir.”

“Gail.”

She pauses-surprised by something. Surprised by me? Shit, I must look bad.

“Chicken Chasseur?” she asks, her voice uncertain.

“Sure,” I mutter.

“For two?” she asks.

I stare at her, and she looks embarrassed.

“For one.”

“Ten minutes?” she says, her voice wavering.

“Fine.” My voice is frigid.

I turn to leave.

“Mr. Grey?” She stops me.

“What, Gail?”

“It’s nothing. Sorry to disturb you.” She turns to the stove to stir the chicken, and I head off to have another shower.

Christ, even my staff have noticed that something’s rotten in the state of fucking Denmark.

MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2011

* * *

I dread going to bed. It’s after midnight, and I’m tired, but I sit at my piano, playing the Bach Marcello piece over and over again. Remembering her head resting on my shoulder, I can almost smell her sweet fragrance.

For fuck’s sake, she said she’d try!

I stop playing and clutch my head in both hands, my elbows hammering out two discordant chords as I lean on the keys. She said she’d try, but she fell at the first hurdle.

Then she ran.

Why did I hit her so hard?

Deep inside I know the answer-because she asked me to, and I was too impetuous and selfish to resist the temptation. Seduced by her challenge, I seized the opportunity to move us on to where I wanted us to be. And she didn’t safe-word, and I hurt her more than she could take-when I promised her I’d never do that.

What a fucking fool I am.

How could she trust me after that? It’s right that she’s gone.

Why the hell would she want to be with me, anyway?

I contemplate getting drunk. I have not been drunk since I was fifteen-well, once, when I was twenty-one. I loathe the loss of control: I know what alcohol can do to a man. I shudder and snap my mind shut to those memories, and decide to call it a night.

Lying in my bed, I pray for a dreamless sleep…but if I am to dream, I want to dream of her.

Mommy is pretty today. She sits down and lets me brush her hair. She looks at me in the mirror and she smiles her special smile. Her special smile for me. There is a loud noise. A crash. He’s back. No! Where the fuck are you, bitch? Got a friend in need here. A friend with dough. Mommy stands and takes my hand and pushes me into her closet. I sit on her shoes and try to be quiet and cover my ears and close my eyes tight. The clothes smell of Mommy. I like the smell. I like being here. Away from him. He is shouting. Where is the little fucking runt? He has my hair and he pulls me out of the closet. Don’t want you spoiling the party, you little shit. He slaps Mommy hard on her face. Make it good for my friend and you get your fix, bitch. Mommy looks at me and she has tears. Don’t cry, Mommy. Another man comes into the room. A big man with dirty hair. The big man smiles at Mommy. I am pulled into the other room. He pushes me onto the floor and I hurt my knees. Now, what am I going to do with you, you piece of shit? He smells nasty. He smells of beer and he is smoking a cigarette.

I wake. My heart is hammering like I’ve run forty blocks chased by the hounds of hell. I vault out of bed, pushing the nightmare back into the recesses of my consciousness, and hurry to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

I need to see Flynn. The nightmares are worse than ever. I didn’t have nightmares when I slept with Ana beside me.

Hell.

It never occurred to me to sleep with any of my subs. Well, I never felt the inclination. Was I worried that they might touch me in the night? I don’t know. It took an inebriated innocent to show me how restful it could be.

I’d watched my subs sleep before, but it was always as a prelude to waking them for some sexual relief.

I remember gazing at Ana for hours when she slept at The Heathman. The longer I watched her the more beautiful she became: her flawless skin luminous in the soft light, her dark hair fanning out on the white pillow, and her eyelashes fluttering while she slept. Her lips were parted, and I could see her teeth, and her tongue when she licked her lips. It was a most arousing experience-just watching her. And when I finally went to sleep beside her, listening to her even breathing, watching her breasts rise and fall with each breath, I slept well…so well.

I wander into my study and pick up the glider. The sight of it elicits a fond smile and comforts me. I feel both proud to have made it and ridiculous for what I am about to do. It was her last gift to me. Her first gift being…what?

Of course. Herself.

She sacrificed herself to my need. My greed. My lust. My ego…my fucking damaged ego.

Damn, will this pain ever just stop?

Feeling a little foolish, I take the glider with me to bed.

“WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE for breakfast, sir?”

“Just coffee, Gail.”

She hesitates. “Sir, you didn’t eat your dinner.”

“And?”

“Maybe you’re coming down with something.”

“Gail, just coffee. Please.” I shut her down-this is none of her business. Her lips thin, but she nods and turns to the Gaggia. I head in to the study to collect my papers for the office and look for a padded envelope.

I CALL ROS FROM the car.

“Great work on the SIP material, but the business plan needs some revision. Let’s offer.”

“Christian, this is fast.”

“I want to move quickly. I’ve e-mailed you my thoughts on the offering price. I’ll be in the office from seven thirty. Let’s meet.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay. I’ll call Andrea to schedule. I have the stats on Detroit v. Savannah.”

“Bottom line?”

“Detroit.”

“I see.”

Shit…not Savannah.

“Let’s talk later.” I hang up.

I sit, brooding in the back of the Audi, as Taylor speeds through the traffic. I wonder how Anastasia will be getting to work this morning. Perhaps she bought a car yesterday, though somehow I doubt it. I wonder if she feels as miserable as I do…I hope not. Maybe she’s realized that I was a ridiculous infatuation.

She can’t love me.

And certainly not now-not after all I’ve done to her. No one’s ever said they loved me, except Mom and Dad, of course, but even then it was out of their sense of duty. Flynn’s nagging words about unconditional parental love-even for kids who are adopted-ring in my head. But I’ve never been convinced; I’ve been nothing but a disappointment to them.

“Mr. Grey?”

“Sorry, what is it?” Taylor has caught me unawares. He’s holding the car door open, waiting for me with a look of concern.

“We’re here, sir.”

Shit…how long have we been here? “Thanks. I’ll let you know what time this evening.”

Focus, Grey.

ANDREA AND OLIVIA BOTH look up as I come out of the elevator. Olivia flutters her eyelashes and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. Christ-I’m done with this silly girl. I need HR to move her to another department.

“Coffee, please, Olivia-and get me a croissant.” She leaps up to follow my orders.

“Andrea-get me Welch, Barney, then Flynn, then Claude Bastille on the phone. I don’t want to be disturbed at all, not even by my mother…unless…unless Anastasia Steele calls. Okay?”

“Yes, sir. Do you want to go through your schedule now?”

“No. I need coffee and something to eat first.” I scowl at Olivia, who is moving at a snail’s pace toward the elevator.

“Yes, Mr. Grey,” Andrea calls after me as I open the door to my office.

From my briefcase I take the padded envelope that holds my most precious possession-the glider. I place it on my desk, and my mind drifts to Miss Steele.

She’ll be starting her new job this morning, meeting new people…new men. The thought is depressing. She’ll forget me.

No, she won’t forget me. Women always remember the first man they fucked, don’t they? I’ll always hold a place in her memory, for that alone. But I don’t want to be a memory: I want to stay in her mind. I need to stay in her mind. What can I do?

There’s a knock at the door and Andrea appears. “Coffee and croissants for you, Mr. Grey.”

“Come in.”

As she scurries over to my desk her eyes dart to the glider, but wisely she holds her tongue. She places breakfast on my desk.

Black coffee. Well done, Andrea. “Thanks.”

“I’ve left messages for Welch, Barney, and Bastille. Flynn is calling back in five.”

“Good. I want you to cancel any social engagements I have this week. No lunches, nothing in the evening. Get Barney on the phone and find me the number of a good florist.”

She scribbles furiously on her notepad.

“Sir, we use Arcadia’s Roses. Would you like me to send flowers for you?”

“No, give me the number. I’ll do it myself. That’s all.”

She nods and leaves promptly, as if she can’t get out of my office fast enough. A few moments later the phone buzzes. It’s Barney.

“Barney, I need you to make me a stand for a model glider.”

BETWEEN MEETINGS I CALL the florist and order two dozen white roses for Ana, to be delivered to her home this evening. That way she won’t be embarrassed or inconvenienced at work.

And she won’t be able to forget me.

“Would you like a message with the flowers, sir?” the florist asks.

A message for Ana?

What to say?

Come back. I’m sorry. I won’t hit you again.

The words pop unbidden into my head, making me frown.

“Um…something like, ‘Congratulations on your first day at work. I hope it went well.’  ” I spy the glider on my desk. “ ‘And thank you for the glider. That was very thoughtful. It has pride of place on my desk. Christian.’  ”

The florist reads it back to me.

Damn, it doesn’t express what I want to say to her at all.

“Will that be all, Mr. Grey?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir, and have a nice day.”

I look daggers at the phone. Nice day my ass.

“HEY, MAN, WHAT’S EATING you?” Claude gets up from the floor, where I’ve just knocked him flat on his lean, mean rear end. “You’re on fire this afternoon, Grey.” He rises slowly, with the grace of a big cat reassessing its prey. We are sparring alone in the basement gym at Grey House.

“I’m pissed off,” I hiss.

His expression is cool as we circle each other.

“Not a good idea to enter the ring if your thoughts are elsewhere,” Claude says, amused, but not taking his eyes off me.

“I’m finding it helps.”

“More on your left. Protect your right. Hand up, Grey.”

He swings and hits me on my shoulder, almost knocking me off balance.

“Concentrate, Grey. None of your boardroom bullshit in here. Or is it a girl? Some fine piece of ass finally cramping your cool.” He sneers, goading me. It works: I middle-kick to his side and drop-punch once, then twice, and he staggers back, dreadlocks flying.

“Mind your own fucking business, Bastille.”

“Whoa, we have found the source of the pain,” Claude crows in triumph. He swings suddenly, but I anticipate his action and block him, thrusting up with a punch and a swift kick. He jumps back this time, impressed.

“Whatever shit’s happening in your privileged little world, Grey, it’s working. Bring it on.”

Oh, he is going down. I lunge at him.

THE TRAFFIC IS LIGHT on the way home.

“Taylor, can we make a detour?”

“Where to, sir?”

“Can you drive past Miss Steele’s apartment?”

“Yes, sir.”

I’ve got used to this ache. It seems to be ever-present, like tinnitus. In meetings it’s muted and less obtrusive; it’s only when I’m alone with my thoughts that it flares up and rages inside me. How long does this last?

As we approach her apartment, my heartbeat spikes.

Perhaps I’ll see her.

The possibility is thrilling and unsettling. And I realize that I have thought of nothing but her since she left. Her absence is my constant companion.

“Drive slow,” I instruct Taylor as we near her building.

The lights are on.

She’s home!

I hope she’s alone, and missing me.

Has she received my flowers?

I want to check my phone to see if she’s sent me a message, but I can’t drag my gaze away from her apartment; I don’t want to miss seeing her. Is she well? Is she thinking about me? I wonder how her first day at work went.

“Again, sir?” Taylor asks, as we slowly cruise past, and the apartment disappears from view.

“No.” I exhale; I hadn’t realized I’d stopped breathing. As we head back to Escala I sift through my e-mails and texts, hoping for something from her…but there’s nothing. There’s a text from Elena.

You okay?

I ignore it.

IT’S QUIET IN MY apartment; I’d not really noticed before. Anastasia’s absence has accentuated the silence.

Taking a sip of cognac, I wander listlessly into my library. It’s ironic I never showed her this room, given her love of literature. I expect to find some solace in here because the room holds no memories of us. I survey all my books, neatly shelved and cataloged, and my eyes stray to the billiard table. Does she play billiards? I don’t suppose she does.

An image of her spread-eagled over the green baize springs to my mind. There may not be any memories in here, but my mind is more than capable, and more than willing, to create vivid erotic images of the lovely Miss Steele.

I can’t bear it.

I take another swig of cognac and head out of the room.

TUESDAY, JUNE 7, 2011

* * *

We’re fucking. Fucking hard. Against the bathroom door. She’s mine. I bury myself in her, again and again. Glorying in her: the feel of her, her smell, her taste. Fisting my hand in her hair, holding her in place. Holding her ass. Her legs wrapped around my waist. She cannot move; she’s pinioned by me. Wrapped around me like silk. Her hands pulling my hair. Oh yes. I’m home, she’s home. This is the place I want to be…inside her…

She. Is. Mine. Her muscles are tightening as she comes, clenching around me, her head back. Come for me! She cries out and I follow…oh yes, my sweet, sweet Anastasia. She smiles, sleepy, sated-and oh so sexy. She stands and gazes at me, that playful smile on her lips, then pushes me away and walks backward, saying nothing. I grab her and we’re in the playroom. I’m holding her down over the bench. I raise my arm to punish her, belt in hand…and she disappears. She’s by the door. Her face white, shocked and sad, and she’s silently drifting away…The door has disappeared, and she won’t stop. She holds out her hands in entreaty. Join me, she whispers, but she’s moving backward, getting fainter…disappearing before my eyes…vanishing…she’s gone. No! I shout. No! But I have no voice. I have nothing. I’m mute. Mute…again.

I wake, confused.

Shit-it’s a dream. Another vivid dream.

Different, though.

Hell! I’m a sticky mess. Briefly I feel that long-forgotten but familiar sense of fear and exhilaration-but Elena doesn’t own me now.

Jesus H. Christ, I’ve come for Team USA. This hasn’t happened to me since I was, what? Fifteen, sixteen?

I lie back in the darkness, disgusted with myself. I drag my T-shirt off and wipe myself down. There’s semen everywhere. I find myself smirking in the darkness, despite the dull ache of loss. The erotic dream was worth it. The rest of it…fucking hell. I turn over and go back to sleep.

He is gone. Mommy is sitting on the couch. She is quiet. She looks at the wall and blinks sometimes. I stand in front of her, but she doesn’t see me. I wave and she sees me, but she waves me away. No, Maggot, not now. He hurts Mommy. He hurts me. I hate him. He makes me so mad. It’s best when it’s just Mommy and me. She is mine then. My Mommy. My tummy hurts. It is hungry again. I am in the kitchen, looking for cookies. I pull the chair to the cupboard and climb up. I find a box of crackers. It is the only thing in the cupboard. I sit down on the chair and open the box. There are two left. I eat them. They taste good. I hear him. He’s back. I jump down and I run to my bedroom and climb into bed. I pretend to be asleep. He pokes me with his finger. Stay here, you little shit. I’m going to fuck your bitch of a mother. I don’t want to see your fuck-ugly face for the rest of the evening. Understand? He slaps my face when I don’t reply. Or you get the burn, you little prick. No. No. I don’t like that. I don’t like the burn. It hurts. Got it, retard? I know he wants me to cry. But it’s hard. I can’t make the noise. He hits me with his fist-

Startled awake again, I lie panting in the pale dawn light, waiting for my heart rate to slow, trying to lose the acrid taste of fear in my mouth.

She saved you from this shit, Grey.

You didn’t relive the pain of these memories when she was with you. Why did you let her leave?

I glance at the clock: 5:15. Time for a run.

HER BUILDING LOOKS GLOOMY; it’s still in shadow, untouched by the early-morning sun. Fitting. It reflects my mood. Her apartment is dark inside, yet the curtains to the room I watched before are drawn. It must be her room.

I hope to God that she’s sleeping alone up there. I envisage her curled up on her white iron bed, a small ball of Ana. Is she dreaming of me? Do I give her nightmares? Has she forgotten me?

I’ve never felt this miserable, not even as a teenager. Maybe before I was a Grey…my memory spirals back. No, no-not awake as well. This is too much. Pulling my hood up and leaning against the granite wall, I’m hidden in the doorway of the building opposite. The awful thought crosses my mind that I might be standing here in a week, a month…a year? Watching, waiting, just to catch a glimpse of the girl who used to be mine. It’s painful. I’ve become what she’s always accused me of being-her stalker.

I can’t go on like this. I have to see her. See that she’s okay. I need to erase the last image I have of her: hurt, humiliated, defeated…and leaving me.

I have to think of a way.

BACK AT ESCALA, GAIL watches me impassively.

“I didn’t ask for this.” I stare at the omelet she’s placed in front of me.

“I’ll throw it away, then, Mr. Grey,” she says, and reaches for the plate. She knows I hate waste, but she doesn’t quail at my hard stare.

“You did this on purpose, Mrs. Jones.” Interfering woman.

And she smiles, a small victorious smile. I scowl, but she’s unfazed, and with the memory of last night’s nightmare lingering, I devour my breakfast.

COULD I JUST CALL Ana and say hi? Would she take my call? My eyes wander to the glider on my desk. She asked for a clean break. I should honor that and leave her alone. But I want to hear her voice. For a moment I contemplate calling her and hanging up, just to hear her speak.

“Christian? Christian, are you okay?”

“Sorry, Ros, what was that?”

“You’re so distracted. I’ve never seen you like this.”

“I’m fine,” I snap.

Shit-concentrate, Grey. “What were you saying?”

Ros eyes me suspiciously. “I was saying that SIP is in more financial difficulty than we thought. Are you sure you want to go ahead?”

“Yes.” My voice is vehement. “I am.”

“Their team will be here this afternoon to sign the heads of agreement.”

“Good. Now, what’s the latest on our proposal for Eamon Kavanagh?”

I STAND BROODING, STARING down through the slatted wooden blinds at Taylor, who is parked outside Flynn’s office. It’s late afternoon and I’m still thinking about Ana.

“Christian, I’m more than happy to take your money and watch you stare out the window, but I don’t think the view is the reason you’re here,” Flynn says.

When I turn to face him he’s regarding me with an air of polite anticipation. I sigh and make my way to his couch.

“The nightmares are back. Like never before.”

Flynn lifts a brow. “The same ones?”

“Yes.”

“What’s changed?” He cocks his head to one side, waiting for my response. When I remain mute, he adds, “Christian, you look as miserable as sin. Something’s happened.”

I feel like I did with Elena; part of me doesn’t want to tell him, because then it’s real.

“I met a girl.”

“And?”

“She left me.”

He looks surprised. “Women have left you before. Why is this different?”

I stare at him blankly.

Why is it different? Because Ana was different.

My thoughts blur together in a colorful tangled tapestry: she wasn’t a submissive. We had no contract. She was sexually inexperienced. She was the first woman I wanted more from than just sex. Christ-all the firsts I experienced with her: the first girl I’d slept beside, the first virgin, the first to meet my family, the first to fly in Charlie Tango, the first I took soaring.

Yeah…Different.

Flynn interrupts my thoughts. “It’s a simple question, Christian.”

“I miss her.”

His face remains kind and concerned, but he gives nothing away.

“You’ve never missed any of the women you were involved with previously?”

“No.”

“So there was something different about her,” he prompts.

I shrug, but he persists.

“Did you have a contractual relationship with her? Was she a submissive?”

“I’d hoped she would be. But it wasn’t for her.”

Flynn frowns. “I don’t understand.”

“I broke one of my rules. I chased this girl, thinking that she’d be interested, and it turned out it wasn’t for her.”

“Tell me what happened.”

The floodgates open and I recount the past month’s events, from the moment Ana fell into my office to when she left last Saturday morning.

“I see. You’ve certainly packed a lot in since we last spoke.” He rubs his chin as he studies me. “There are many issues here, Christian. But right now the one I want to focus on is how you felt when she said she loved you.”

I inhale sharply, my gut tightening with fear.

“Horrified,” I whisper.

“Of course you did.” He shakes his head. “You’re not the monster you think you are. You’re more than worthy of affection, Christian. You know that. I’ve told you often enough. It’s only in your mind that you’re not.”

I give him a level gaze, ignoring his platitude.

“And how do you feel now?” he asks.

Lost. I feel lost.

“I miss her. I want to see her.” I’m in the confessional once more, owning up to my sins: the dark, dark need that I have for her, as if she were an addiction.

“So in spite of the fact that, as you perceive it, she couldn’t fulfill your needs, you miss her?”

“Yes. It’s not just my perception, John. She can’t be what I want her to be, and I can’t be what she wants me to be.”

“Are you sure?”

“She walked out.”

“She walked out because you belted her. If she doesn’t share your tastes, can you blame her?”

“No.”

“Have you thought about trying a relationship her way?”

What? I stare at him, shocked. He continues, “Did you find sexual relations with her satisfying?”

“Yes, of course,” I snap, irritated. He ignores my tone.

“Did you find beating her satisfying?”

“Very.”

“Would you like to do it again?”

Do that to her again? And watch her walk out-again?

“No.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because it’s not her scene. I hurt her. Really hurt her…and she can’t…she won’t…” I pause. “She doesn’t enjoy it. She was angry. Really fucking angry.” Her expression, her wounded eyes, will haunt me for a long time…and I never want to be the cause of that look again.

“Are you surprised?”

I shake my head. “She was mad,” I whisper. “I’d never seen her so angry.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“Helpless.”

“And that’s a familiar feeling,” he prompts.

“Familiar, how?” What does he mean?

“Don’t you recognize yourself at all? Your past?” His question knocks me off balance.

Fuck, we’ve been over and over this.

“No, I don’t. It’s different. The relationship I had with Mrs. Lincoln was completely different.”

“I wasn’t referring to Mrs. Lincoln.”

“What were you referring to?” My voice is pin-drop quiet, because suddenly I see where he’s going with this.

“You know.”

I gulp for air, swamped by the impotence and rage of a defenseless child. Yes. The rage. The deep infuriating rage…and fear. The darkness swirls angrily inside me.

“It’s not the same,” I hiss through gritted teeth, as I strain to hold my temper.

“No, it’s not,” Flynn concedes.

But the image of her rage comes unwelcome to my mind.

“This is what you really like? Me, like this?”

It dampens my anger.

“I know what you’re trying to do here, Doctor, but it’s an unfair comparison. She asked me to show her. She’s a consenting adult, for fuck’s sake. She could have safe-worded. She could have told me to stop. She didn’t.”

“I know. I know.” He holds his hand up. “I’m just callously illustrating a point, Christian. You’re an angry man, and you have every reason to be. I’m not going to rehash all that right now-you’re obviously suffering, and the whole point of these sessions is to move you to a place where you are more accepting and comfortable with yourself.” He pauses. “This girl…”

“Anastasia,” I mutter petulantly.

“Anastasia. She’s obviously had a profound effect on you. Her leaving has triggered your abandonment issues and your PTSD. She clearly means much more to you than you’re willing to admit to yourself.”

I take a sharp breath. Is that why this is so painful? Because she means more, so much more?

“You need to focus on where you want to be,” Flynn continues. “And it sounds to me like you want to be with this girl. You miss her. Do you want to be with her?”

Be with Ana?

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Then you have to focus on that goal. This goes back to what I’ve been banging on about for our last few sessions-the SFBT. If she’s in love with you, as she told you she is, she must be suffering, too. So I repeat my question: have you considered a more conventional relationship with this girl?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s never occurred to me that I could.”

“Well if she’s not prepared to be your submissive, you can’t play the role of dominant.”

I glare at him. It’s not a role-it’s who I am. And from nowhere, I recall an earlier e-mail to Anastasia. My words: What I think you fail to realize is that in Dom/sub relationships it is the sub who has all the power. That’s you. I’ll repeat this-you are the one with all the power. Not I. If she doesn’t want to do this…then neither can I.

Hope stirs in my chest.

Could I?

Could I have a vanilla relationship with Anastasia?

My scalp prickles.

Fuck. Possibly.

If I could, would she want me back?

“Christian, you have demonstrated that you are an extraordinarily capable person, in spite of your problems. You’re a rare individual. Once you focus on a goal, you drive ahead and achieve it-usually surpassing all your own expectations. Listening to you today, it’s clear you were focused on getting Anastasia to where you wanted her to be, but you didn’t take into account her inexperience or her feelings. It seems to me that you’ve been so focused on reaching your goal that you missed the journey that you were taking together.”

The last month flashes before me: her tripping into my office, her acute embarrassment at Clayton’s, her witty, snarky e-mails, her smart mouth…her giggle…her quiet fortitude and defiance, her courage-and it occurs to me that I have enjoyed every single minute. Every infuriating, distracting, humorous, sensual, carnal second of her-yes, I have. We’ve been on an extraordinary journey, both of us-well, I certainly have.

My thoughts take a darker turn.

She doesn’t know the depths of my depravity, the darkness in my soul, the monster beneath-maybe I should leave her alone.

I’m not worthy of her. She can’t love me.

But even as I think the words, I know that I don’t have the strength to stay away from her…if she’ll have me.

Flynn summons my attention. “Christian, think about it. Our time is up now. I want to see you in a few days and talk through some of the other issues you mentioned. I’ll have Janet call Andrea and arrange an appointment.” He stands, and I know it’s time to leave.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about,” I tell him.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t. Just a few days, Christian. We have so much more to talk about.” He shakes my hand and gives me a reassuring smile, and I leave with a small blossom of hope.

STANDING ON THE BALCONY, I survey Seattle at night. Up here I’m at one remove, away from it all. What did she call it?

My ivory tower.

Normally I find it peaceful-but lately my peace of mind has been shattered by a certain blue-eyed young woman.

“Have you thought about trying a relationship her way?” Flynn’s words taunt me, suggesting so many possibilities.

Could I win her back? The thought terrifies me.

I take a sip of my cognac. Why would she want me back? Could I ever be what she wants me to be? I won’t let go of my hope. I need to find a way.

I need her.

Something startles me-a movement, a shadow at the periphery of my vision. I frown. What the…? I turn toward the shadow, but find nothing. I’m seeing things now. I slug the cognac and head back into the living room.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 8, 2011

* * *

Mommy! Mommy! Mommy is asleep on the floor. She has been asleep for a long time. I shake her. She doesn’t wake up. I call her. She doesn’t wake up. He isn’t here and still Mommy doesn’t wake up.

I am thirsty. In the kitchen I pull a chair to the sink and I have a drink. The water splashes over my sweater. My sweater is dirty. Mommy is still asleep. Mommy, wake up! She lies still. She is cold. I fetch my blankie and I cover Mommy and I lie down on the sticky green rug beside her.

My tummy hurts. It is hungry, but Mommy is still asleep. I have two toy cars. One red. One yellow. My green car is gone. They race by the floor where Mommy is sleeping. I think Mommy is sick. I search for something to eat. In the icebox I find peas. They are cold. I eat them slowly. They make my tummy hurt. I sleep beside Mommy. The peas are gone. In the icebox is something. It smells funny. I lick it and my tongue sticks. I eat it slowly. It tastes nasty. I drink some water. I play with my cars and I sleep beside Mommy. Mommy is so cold and she won’t wake up. The door crashes open. I cover Mommy with my blankie. Fuck. What the fuck happened here? Oh, the crazy fucked-up bitch. Shit. Fuck. Get out of my way, you little shit. He kicks me and I hit my head on the floor. My head hurts. He calls somebody and he goes. He locks the door. I lay down beside Mommy. My head hurts. The lady policeman is here. No. No. No. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. I stay by Mommy. No. Stay away from me. The lady policeman has my blankie and she grabs me. I scream. Mommy. Mommy. The words are gone. I can’t say the words. Mommy can’t hear me. I have no words.

I wake breathing hard, taking huge gulps of air, checking my surroundings. Oh, thank God-I’m in my bed. Slowly the fear recedes. I’m twenty-seven, not four. This shit has to stop.

I used to have my nightmares under control. Maybe one every couple of weeks, but nothing like this-night after night.

Since she left.

I turn over and lie flat on my back, staring at the ceiling. When she slept beside me, I slept well. I need her in my life, in my bed. She was the day to my night. I’m going to get her back.

How?

“Have you thought about trying a relationship her way?”

She wants hearts and flowers. Can I give her that? I frown, trying to recall the romantic moments in my life…And there’s nothing…except with Ana. The “more.” The gliding, and IHOP, and taking her up in Charlie Tango.

Maybe I can do this. I drift back to sleep, the mantra in my head: She’s mine. She’s mine…and I smell her, feel her soft skin, taste her lips, and hear her moans. Exhausted, I fall into an erotic, Ana-filled dream.

I wake suddenly. My scalp tingles, and for a moment I think whatever’s disturbed me is external rather than internal. I sit up and rub my head and slowly scan the room.

In spite of the carnal dream, my body has behaved. Elena would be pleased. She texted yesterday, but Elena’s the last person I want to talk to-there’s only one thing I want to do right now. I get up and pull on my running gear.

I’m going to check on Ana.

HER STREET IS QUIET except for the rumble of a delivery truck and the out-of-tune whistling of a solitary dog walker. Her apartment is in darkness, the curtains to her room closed. I keep a silent vigil from my stalker’s hide, staring up at the windows and thinking. I need a plan-a plan to win her back.

As dawn’s light brightens her window, I turn my iPod up loud, and with Moby blaring in my ears I run back to Escala.

“I’LL HAVE A CROISSANT, Mrs. Jones.”

She stills in surprise and I raise a brow.

“Apricot preserves?” she asks, recovering.

“Please.”

“I’ll heat up a couple for you, Mr. Grey. Here’s your coffee.”

“Thank you, Gail.”

She smiles. Is it just because I’m having croissants? If it makes her that happy, I should have them more often.

IN THE BACK OF the Audi, I plot. I need to get up close and personal with Ana Steele, to begin my campaign to win her back. I call Andrea, knowing that at 7:15 she won’t be at her desk yet, and I leave a voice mail. “Andrea, as soon as you’re in, I want to run through my schedule for the next few days.” There-step one in my offensive is to make time in my schedule for Ana. What the hell am I supposed to be doing this week? Currently, I don’t have a clue. Normally I’m on this shit, but lately I’ve been all over the place. Now I have a mission to focus on. You can do this, Grey.

But deep down I wish I had the courage of my convictions. Anxiety unfurls in my gut. Can I convince Ana to take me back? Will she listen? I hope so. This has to work. I miss her.

“MR. GREY, I CANCELED all your social events this week, apart from the one for tomorrow-I don’t know what the occasion is. Your calendar says Portland, that’s it.”

Yes! The fucking photographer!

I beam at Andrea, and her eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Thanks, Andrea. That’s all for now. Send in Sam.”

“Sure, Mr. Grey. Would you like some more coffee?”

“Please.”

“With milk?”

“Yes. Latte. Thank you.”

She smiles politely and leaves.

This is it! My in! The photographer! Now…what to do?

MY MORNING HAS BEEN back-to-back meetings, and my staff have been watching me nervously, waiting for me to explode. Okay, that’s been my modus operandi for the last few days-but today I feel clearer, calmer, and present; able to deal with everything.

It’s now lunchtime; my workout with Claude has gone well. The only fly in the ointment is that there’s no more news about Leila. All we know is that she’s split up with her husband and she could be anywhere. If she surfaces, Welch will find her.

I’m famished. Olivia sets a plate down on my desk.

“Your sandwich, Mr. Grey.”

“Chicken and mayonnaise?”

“Um…”

I stare at her. She just doesn’t get it.

Olivia offers an inept apology.

“I said chicken with mayonnaise, Olivia. It’s not that hard.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey.”

“It’s fine. Just go.” She looks relieved but scrambles to leave the room.

I buzz Andrea.

“Sir?”

“Come in here.”

Andrea appears at the doorway, looking calm and efficient.

“Get rid of that girl.”

Andrea pulls herself up straight.

“Sir, Olivia is Senator Blandino’s daughter.”

“I don’t care if she’s the Queen of fucking England. Get her out of my office.”

“Yes, sir.” Andrea flushes.

“Get someone else to help you,” I offer in a gentler tone. I don’t want to alienate Andrea.

“Yes, Mr. Grey.”

“Thank you. That’s all.”

She smiles and I know she’s back on board. She’s a good PA; I don’t want her to quit because I’m being an asshole. She exits, leaving me to my chicken sandwich-no mayo-and my campaign plan.

Portland.

I know the form of e-mail address for employees at SIP. I think Anastasia will respond better in writing; she always has. How to begin?

Dear Ana

No.

Dear Anastasia

No.

Dear Miss Steele

Shit!

HALF AN HOUR LATER I’m still staring at a blank computer screen. What the hell do I say?

Come back…please?

Forgive me.

I miss you.

Let’s try it your way.

I put my head in my hands. Why is this so difficult?

Keep it simple, Grey. Just cut the crap.

I take a deep breath and tap out an e-mail. Yes…this will do. Andrea buzzes me.

“Ms. Bailey is here to see you, sir.”

“Tell her to wait.”

I hang up and take a moment, and with my heart pounding, I press send.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8 2011 14:05

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Anastasia

Forgive this intrusion at work. I hope that it’s going well. Did you get my flowers?

I note that tomorrow is the gallery opening for your friend’s show, and I’m sure you’ve not had time to purchase a car, and it’s a long drive. I would be more than happy to take you-should you wish.

Let me know.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I watch my inbox.

And watch.

And watch…my anxiety growing with every second that crawls by.

Getting up, I pace the office-but that takes me away from my computer. Back at my desk, I check my e-mail yet again.

Nothing.

To distract myself, I trace my finger along the wings of my glider.

For fuck’s sake, Grey, get a grip.

Come on, Anastasia, answer me. She’s always been so prompt. I check my watch…14:09.

Four minutes!

Still nothing.

Getting up, I pace around my office once more, peering at my watch every three seconds, or so it feels.

By 2:20 I’m in despair. She’s not going to reply. She really does hate me…who could blame her?

Then I hear the ping of an e-mail. My heart leaps into my throat.

Hell! It’s from Ros, telling me she’s gone back to her office.

And then it’s there, in my inbox, the magical line:

From: Anastasia Steele.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8 2011 14:25

To: Christian Grey

Hi Christian

Thank you for the flowers; they are lovely.

Yes, I would appreciate a lift.

Thank you.

Anastasia Steele

Assistant to Jack Hyde, Editor, SIP

Relief floods through me; I close my eyes, savoring the feeling.

YES!

I pore over her e-mail looking for clues, but as usual I have no idea what the thoughts are behind her words. The tone is friendly enough, but that’s it. Just friendly.

Carpe Diem, Grey.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8 2011 14:27

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Anastasia

What time shall I pick you up?

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I don’t have to wait quite so long.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8 2011 14:32

To: Christian Grey

José’s show starts at 7:30. What time would you suggest?

Anastasia Steele

Assistant to Jack Hyde, Editor, SIP

We can take Charlie Tango.

* * *

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8 2011 14:34

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Anastasia

Portland is some distance away. I shall pick you up at 5:45.

I look forward to seeing you.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

* * *

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8 2011 14:38

To: Christian Grey

See you then.

Anastasia Steele

Assistant to Jack Hyde, Editor, SIP

My campaign to win her back is under way. I feel elated; the small blossom of hope is now a Japanese flowering cherry.

I buzz Andrea.

“Miss Bailey went back to her office, Mr. Grey.”

“I know, she e-mailed me. I need Taylor here in an hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

I hang up. Anastasia is working for a guy named Jack Hyde. I want to know more about him. I call Ros.

“Christian.” She sounds pissed. Tough.

“Do we have access to the employee files from SIP?”

“Not yet. But I can get them.”

“Please. Today if you can. I want everything they have on Jack Hyde, and anyone who’s worked for him.”

“Can I ask why?”

“No.”

She’s silent for a moment.

“Christian, I don’t know what’s got into you recently.”

“Ros, just do it, okay?”

She sighs. “Okay. Now can we have our meeting about the Taiwan shipyard proposal?”

“Yes. I had an important call to make. It took longer than I thought.”

“I’ll be right up.”

WHEN ROS LEAVES I follow her out of the office.

“WSU next Friday,” I tell Andrea, who scribbles a reminder in her notebook.

“And I get to fly in the company chopper?” Ros bubbles with enthusiasm.

“Helicopter,” I correct her.

“Whatever, Christian.” She rolls her eyes as she enters the elevator, and it makes me smile.

Andrea watches Ros leave, then gives me an expectant look.

“Call Stephan-I’ll be flying Charlie Tango to Portland tomorrow evening, and I’ll need him to fly her back to Boeing Field,” I tell Andrea.

“Yes, Mr. Grey.”

I see no sign of Olivia. “Has she gone?”

“Olivia?” Andrea asks.

I nod.

“Yes.” She seems relieved.

“Where to?”

“Finance.”

“Good thinking. It’ll keep Senator Blandino off my back.”

Andrea looks pleased at the compliment.

“You’re getting someone else to help out here?” I ask.

“Yes, sir. I’m seeing three candidates tomorrow morning.”

“Good. Is Taylor here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Cancel the rest of my meetings today. I’m going out.”

“Out?” she squeaks in surprise.

“Yes.” I grin. “Out.”

“WHERE TO, SIR?” TAYLOR asks, as I stretch out in the back of the SUV.

“The Mac store.”

“On Northeast Forty-Fifth?”

“Yes.” I’m going to buy Ana an iPad. Leaning back in my seat, I close my eyes and contemplate which apps and songs I’m going to download and install for her. I could choose “Toxic.” I smirk at the thought. No, I don’t think that would be popular with her. She’d be mad as hell-and for the first time in a while the thought of her mad makes me smile. Mad like she was in Georgia, not like last Saturday. I shift in my seat; I don’t want to be reminded of that. I turn my thoughts back to potential song choices, feeling more buoyant than I have in days. My phone buzzes, and my heart rate spikes.

Dare I hope?

Hey. Asshole. Beer?

Hell. A text from my brother.

No. Busy.

You’re always busy.

Going to Barbados tomorrow.

To, you know, RELAX.

See you when I get back.

And we will have that beer!!!

Laters, Lelliot. Safe Travels.

IT’S BEEN A DIVERTING evening, filled with music-a nostalgic journey through my iTunes, making a playlist for Anastasia. I remember her dancing in my kitchen; I wish I knew what she’d been listening to. She looked totally ridiculous, and utterly adorable. That was after I fucked her for the first time.

No. After I made love to her the first time?

Neither term feels right.

I recall her impassioned plea the night I introduced her to my parents. “I want you to make love to me.” How shocked I was by her simple statement-and yet all she wanted was to touch me. I shudder at the thought. I have to make her understand that this is a hard limit for me-I cannot tolerate being touched.

I shake my head. You’re getting way ahead of yourself, Grey-you have to close this deal first. I check the inscription on the iPad.

Anastasia-this is for you.

I know what you want to hear.

This music on here says it for me.

Christian

Perhaps this will do it. She wants hearts and flowers; perhaps this will come close. But I shake my head, because I have no idea. There’s so much I want to say to her, if she’ll listen. And if she won’t, the songs will say it for me. I just hope she allows me the opportunity to give them to her.

But if she doesn’t like my proposition, if she doesn’t like the thought of being with me-what will I do? I might just be a convenient ride to Portland. The thought depresses me, as I head toward my bedroom for some much-needed sleep.

Do I dare to hope?

Damn it. Yes, I do.

THURSDAY, JUNE 9, 2011

* * *

The doctor holds up her hands. I’m not going to hurt you. I need to check your tummy. Here. She gives me a cold, round sucky thing and she lets me play with it. You put it on your tummy, and I won’t touch you and I can hear your tummy. The doctor is good…the doctor is Mommy.

My new mommy is pretty. She’s like an angel. A doctor angel. She strokes my hair. I like it when she strokes my hair. She lets me eat ice cream and cake. She doesn’t shout when she finds the bread and apples hidden in my shoes. Or under my bed. Or under my pillow. Darling, the food is in the kitchen. Just find me or Daddy when you’re hungry. Point with your finger. Can you do that? There is another boy. Lelliot. He is mean. So I punch him. But my new mommy doesn’t like the fighting. There is a piano. I like the noise. I stand at the piano and press the white and the black. The noise from the black is strange. Miss Kathie sits at the piano with me. She teaches the black and the white notes. She has long brown hair and she looks like someone I know. She smells of flowers and apple pie baking. She smells of good. She makes the piano sound pretty. She is kind to me. She smiles and I play. She smiles and I am happy. She smiles and she’s Ana. Beautiful Ana, sitting with me as I play a fugue, a prelude, an adagio, a sonata. She sighs, resting her head on my shoulder, and she smiles. I love listening to you play, Christian. I love you, Christian.

Ana. Stay with me. You’re mine. I love you, too.

I wake, with a start.

Today, I win her back.

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Fifty Shades Freed Extended Version
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