No! My scream bounces off the bedroom walls and wakes me from my nightmare. I’m smothered in sweat, with the stench of stale beer, cigarettes, and poverty in my nostrils and a lingering dread of drunken violence. Sitting up, I put my head in my hands as I try to calm my escalated heart rate and erratic breathing. It’s been the same for the last four nights. Glancing at the clock, I see it’s 3:00 a.m.
I have two major meetings tomorrow…today…and I need a clear head and some sleep. Damn it, what I’d give for a good night’s sleep. And I have a round of fucking golf with Bastille. I should cancel the golf; the thought of playing and losing darkens my already bleak mood.
Clambering out of bed, I wander down the corridor and into the kitchen. There, I fill a glass with water and catch sight of myself, dressed only in pajama pants, reflected in the glass wall at the other side of the room. I turn away in disgust.
You turned her down.
She wanted you.
And you turned her down.
It was for her own good.
This has needled me for days now. Her beautiful face appears in my mind without warning, taunting me. If my shrink was back from his vacation in England I could call him. His psychobabble shit would stop me feeling this lousy.
Grey, she was just a pretty girl.
Perhaps I need a distraction; a new sub, maybe. It’s been too long since Susannah. I contemplate calling Elena in the morning. She always finds suitable candidates for me. But the truth is, I don’t want anyone new.
I want Ana.
Her disappointment, her wounded indignation, and her contempt remain with me. She walked away without a backward glance. Perhaps I raised her hopes by asking her out for coffee, only to disappoint her.
Maybe I should find some way to apologize, then I can forget about this whole sorry episode and get the girl out of my head. Leaving the glass in the sink for my housekeeper to wash, I trudge back to bed.
THE RADIO ALARM JOLTS to life at 5:45 as I’m staring at the ceiling. I haven’t slept and I’m exhausted.
Fuck! This is ridiculous.
The program on the radio is a welcome distraction until the second news item. It’s about the sale of a rare manuscript: an unfinished novel by Jane Austen called The Watsons that’s being auctioned in London.
“Books,” she said.
Christ. Even the news reminds me of little Miss Bookworm.
She’s an incurable romantic who loves the English classics. But then so do I, but for different reasons. I don’t have any Jane Austen first editions, or Brontës, for that matter…but I do have two Thomas Hardys.
Of course! This is it! This is what I can do.
Moments later I’m in my library with Jude the Obscure and a boxed set of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in its three volumes laid out on the billiard table in front of me. Both are bleak books, with tragic themes. Hardy had a dark, twisted soul.
I shake off the thought and examine the books. Even though Jude is in better condition, it’s no contest. In Jude there is no redemption, so I’ll send her Tess, with a suitable quote. I know it’s not the most romantic book, considering the evils that befall the heroine, but she has a brief taste of romantic love in the bucolic idyll that is the English countryside. And Tess does exact revenge on the man who wronged her.
But that’s not the point. Ana mentioned Hardy as a favorite and I’m sure she’s never seen, let alone owned, a first edition.
“You sound like the ultimate consumer.” Her judgmental retort from the interview comes back to haunt me. Yes. I like to possess things, things that will rise in value, like first editions.
Feeling calmer and more composed, and a little pleased with myself, I head back into my closet and change into my running gear.
IN THE BACK OF the car I leaf through book one of the Tess first edition, looking for a quote, and at the same time wonder when Ana’s last exam will take place. I read the book years ago and have a hazy recollection of the plot. Fiction was my sanctuary when I was a teenager. My mother always marveled that I read; Elliot not so much. I craved the escape that fiction provided. He didn’t need an escape.
“Mr. Grey,” Taylor interrupts. “We’re here, sir.” He climbs out of the car and opens my door. “I’ll be outside at two o’clock to take you to your golf game.”
I nod and head into Grey House, the books tucked under my arm. The young receptionist greets me with a flirtatious wave.
Every day…Like a cheesy tune on repeat.
Ignoring her, I make my way to the elevator that will take me straight to my floor.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” Barry on security greets me as he presses the button to summon the elevator.
“How’s your son, Barry?”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
I step into the elevator and it shoots up to the twentieth floor. Andrea is on hand to greet me.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey. Ros wants to see you to discuss the Darfur project. Barney would like a few minutes-”
I hold my hand up to silence her. “Forget those for now. Get me Welch on the line and find out when Flynn is back from vacation. Once I’ve spoken to Welch we can pick up the day’s schedule.”
“And I need a double espresso. Get Olivia to make it for me.”
But looking around I notice that Olivia is absent. It’s a relief. The girl is always mooning over me and it’s fucking irritating.
“Would you like milk, sir?” Andrea asks.
Good girl. I give her a smile.
“Not today.” I do like to keep them guessing how I take my coffee.
“Very good, Mr. Grey.” She looks pleased with herself, which she should be. She’s the best PA I’ve had.
Three minutes later she has Welch on the line.
“The background check you did for me last week. Anastasia Steele. Studying at WSU.”
“Yes, sir. I remember.”
“I’d like you to find out when her last final exam takes place and let me know as a matter of priority.”
“Very good, sir. Anything else?”
“No, that will be all.” I hang up and stare at the books on my desk. I need to find a quote.
ROS, MY NUMBER TWO and my chief operating officer, is in full flow. “We’re getting clearance from the Sudanese authorities to put the shipments into Port Sudan. But our contacts on the ground are hesitant about the road journey to Darfur. They’re doing a risk assessment to see how viable it is.” Logistics must be tough; her normal sunny disposition is absent.
“We could always air-drop.”
“Christian, the expense of an airdrop-”
“I know. Let’s see what our NGO friends come back with.”
“Okay,” she says and sighs. “I’m also waiting for the all-clear from the State Department.”
I roll my eyes. Fucking red tape. “If we have to grease some palms-or get Senator Blandino to intervene-let me know.”
“So the next topic is where to site the new plant. You know the tax breaks in Detroit are huge. I sent you a summary.”
“I know. But God, does it have to be Detroit?”
“I don’t know what you have against the place. It meets our criteria.”
“Okay, get Bill to check out potential brownfield sites. And let’s do one more site search to see if any other municipality would offer more favorable terms.”
“Bill has already sent Ruth out there to meet with the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, who couldn’t be more accommodating, but I’ll ask Bill to do a final check.”
My phone buzzes.
“Yes,” I growl at Andrea-she knows I hate being interrupted in a meeting.
“I have Welch for you.”
My watch says 11:30. That was quick. “Put him through.”
I signal for Ros to stay.
“Welch. What news?”
“Miss Steele’s last exam is tomorrow, May twentieth.”
Damn. I don’t have long.
“Great. That’s all I need to know.” I hang up.
“Ros, bear with me one moment.”
I pick up the phone. Andrea answers immediately.
“Andrea, I need a blank notecard to write a message within the next hour,” I say, and hang up. “Right, Ros, where were we?”
AT 12:30 OLIVIA SHUFFLES into my office with lunch. She’s a tall, willowy girl with a pretty face. Sadly, it’s always misdirected at me with longing. She’s carrying a tray with what I hope is something edible. After a busy morning, I’m starving. She trembles as she puts it on my desk.
Tuna salad. Okay. She hasn’t fucked this up for once.
She also places three different white cards, all different sizes, with corresponding envelopes on my desk.
“Great,” I mutter. Now go. She scuttles out.
I take one bite of tuna to assuage my hunger, then reach for my pen. I’ve chosen a quote. A warning. I made the correct choice, walking away from her. Not all men are romantic heroes. I’ll take the word “men-folk” out. She’ll understand.
Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks…
I slip the card into the envelope provided and on it write Ana’s address, which is ingrained in my memory from Welch’s background check. I buzz Andrea.
“Yes, Mr. Grey.”
“Can you come in, please?”
She appears at my door a moment later. “Mr. Grey?”
“Take these, package them, and courier them to Anastasia Steele, the girl who interviewed me last week. Here’s her address.”
“Right away, Mr. Grey.”
“They have to arrive by tomorrow at the latest.”
“Yes, sir. Will that be all?”
“No. Find me a set of replacements.”
“For these books?”
“Yes. First editions. Get Olivia on it.”
“What books are these?”
“Tess of the d’Urbervilles.”
“Yes, sir.” She gives me a rare smile and leaves my office.
Why is she smiling?
She never smiles. Dismissing the thought, I wonder if that will be the last I see of the books, and I have to acknowledge that deep down I hope not.
Fifty Shades Freed Extended Version