E L James
Fifty Shades Freed
The third book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy series, 2012
Thanks to: Niall, my rock;
To Kathleen for just being a great sounding board, friend, confidante and a technical wiz;
To Bee for endless moral support;
To Taylor (also a technical wiz), Susi, Pam and Nora for showing a girl a good time.
And for their advice and tact I’d really like to thank:
Dr. Raina Sluder for help with all matters medical;
Anne Forlines for the financial advice;
Elizabeth de Vos for her kind counsel regarding the American adoption system.
Thanks to Maddie Blandino for her exquisite, inspirational art.
And to Pam and Gillian for Saturday morning coffee and hauling me back to real life.
Also thanks to my editing team Andrea, Shay and the ever lovely and only occasionally frothing Janine, who tolerates my frothing with patience, fortitude and a great sense of humour.
And lastly to Amanda and all at The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House-Thank you.
Mommy! Mommy! Mommy is asleep on the floor. She has been asleep for a long time. I brush her hair because she likes that. She doesn’t wake up. I shake her. Mommy! My tummy hurts. It is hungry. He isn’t here. I am thirsty. In the kitchen I pull a chair to the sink, and I have a drink. The water splashes over my blue sweater. 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. Mommy is still asleep. I have two toy cars. They race by the floor where Mommy is sleeping. I think Mommy is sick. I search for something to eat. In the freezer 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 freezer is something. It smells funny. I lick it and my tongue is stuck to it. 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. He’s here. 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! I want my Mommy. The words are gone. I can’t say the words. Mommy can’t hear me. I have no words.
“Christian! Christian!” Her voice is urgent, pulling him from the depths of his nightmare, the depths of his despair. “I’m here. I’m here.”
He wakes and she’s leaning over him, grasping his shoulders, shaking him, her face etched with anguish, blue eyes wide and brimming with tears.
“Ana,” His voice is a breathless whisper, the taste of fear tarnishing his mouth. “You’re here.”
“Of course I’m here.”
“I had a dream…”
“I know. I’m here, I’m here.”
“Ana.” He breathes her name, and it’s a talisman against the black choking panic coursing through his body.
“Hush, I’m here.” She curls around him, her limbs cocooning him, her warmth leeching into his body, forcing back the shadows, forcing back the fear. She is sunshine, she is light… she is his.
“Please let’s not fight.” His voice is hoarse as he wraps his arms around her.
“The vows. No obeying. I can do that. We’ll find a way.” The words rush out of his mouth in a tumble of emotion and confusion and anxiety.
“Yes. We will. We’ll always find a way,” she whispers and her lips are on his, silencing him, bringing him back to the now.
I stare up through gaps in the sea grass parasol at the bluest of skies, summer blue, Mediterranean blue with a contented sigh. Christian is beside me, stretched out on a sun lounger. My husband-my hot, beautiful husband, shirtless, and in cut-off jeans-is reading a book predicting the collapse of the Western banking system. By all accounts, it’s a page-turner. I haven’t seen him sit this still, ever. He looks more like a student than the hotshot CEO of one the top privately owned companies in the United States.
On the final leg of our honeymoon, we laze in the afternoon sun on the beach of the aptly named Beach Plaza Monte Carlo in Monaco, although we’re not actually staying in this hotel. I open my eyes and gaze out at the Fair Lady anchored in the harbor. We are staying, of course, on board a luxury motor yacht. Built in 1928, she floats majestically on the water, queen of the all the yachts in the harbor. She looks like a child’s wind-up toy. Christian loves her-I suspect he’s tempted to buy her. Honestly, boys and their toys.
Sitting back, I listen to the Christian Grey mix on my new iPod and doze in the late afternoon sun, idly remembering his proposal. Oh his dreamy proposal in the boathouse… I can almost smell the scent of the meadow flowers…
“Can we marry tomorrow?” Christian murmurs softly in my ear. I am sprawled on his chest in the flowery bower in the boathouse, sated from our passionate lovemaking.
“Is that a yes?” I hear his hopeful surprise.
I sense his grin. “Miss Steele, are you incoherent?”
I grin. “Hmm.”
He laughs and hugs me tightly, kissing the top of my head. “Vegas, tomorrow, it is then.”
Sleepily I raise my head. “I don’t think my parents would be very happy with that.”
He thrums his fingertips up and down my naked back, caressing me gently.
“What do you want, Anastasia? Vegas? A big wedding with all the trimmings? Tell me.”
“Not big… Just friends and family.” I gaze up at him moved by the quiet entreaty in his glowing gray eyes. What does he want?
“Okay.” He nods. “Where?”
“Could we do it here?” he asks tentatively.
“Your folks’ place? Would they mind?”
He snorts. “My mother would be in seventh heaven.”
“Okay, here. I’m sure my mom and dad would prefer that.”
He strokes my hair. Could I be any happier?
“So, we’ve established where, now the when.”
“Surely you should ask your mother.”
“Hmm.” Christian’s smile dips. “She can have a month, that’s it. I want you too much to wait any longer.”
“Christian, you have me. You’ve had me for a while. But okay-a month it is.” I kiss his chest, a soft chaste kiss, and smile up at him.
“You’ll burn.” Christian whispers in my ear, startling me from my doze.
“Only for you.” I give him my sweetest smile. The late afternoon sun has shifted, and I am under its full glare. He smirks and in one swift move pulls my sun lounger into the shade of the parasol.
“Out of the Mediterranean sun, Mrs. Grey.”
“Thank you for your altruism, Mr. Grey.”
“My pleasure, Mrs. Grey, and I’m not being altruistic at all. If you burn, I won’t be able to touch you.” He raises an eyebrow, his eyes shining with mirth, and my heart expands. “But I suspect you know that and you’re laughing at me.”
“Would I?” I gasp, feigning innocence.
“Yes you would and you do. Often. It’s one of the many things I love about you.” He leans down and kisses me, playfully biting my lower lip.
“I was hoping you’d rub me down with more sunscreen.” I pout against his lips.
“Mrs. Grey, it’s a dirty job… but that’s an offer I can’t refuse. Sit up,” he orders, his voice husky. I do as I’m told, and with slow meticulous strokes from strong and supple fingers, he coats me in sunscreen.
“You really are very lovely. I’m a lucky man,” he murmurs as his fingers skim over my breasts, spreading the lotion.
“Yes, you are, Mr. Grey.” I gaze coyly up at him through my lashes.
“Modesty becomes you, Mrs. Grey. Turn over. I want to do your back.”
Smiling, I roll over, and he undoes the back strap of my hideously expensive bikini.
“How would you feel if I went topless, like the other women on the beach?” I ask.
“Displeased,” he says without hesitation. “I’m not very happy about you wearing so little right now.” He leans down and whispers in my ear. “Don’t push your luck.”
“Is that a challenge, Mr. Grey?”
“No. It’s a statement of fact, Mrs. Grey.”
I sigh and shake my head. Oh, Christian… my possessive, jealous, control freak Christian.
When he’s finished, he slaps my behind.
“You’ll do, wench.”
His ever-present, ever-active BlackBerry buzzes. I frown and he smirks.
“My eyes only, Mrs. Grey.” He raises his eyebrow in playful warning, slaps my backside once more, and sits back down on his lounger to take the call.
My inner goddess purrs. Maybe tonight we could do some kind of floor show for his eyes only. She smirks knowingly, arching a brow. I grin at the thought and drift back into my afternoon siesta.
“Mam’selle? Un Perrier pour moi, un Coca-Cola light pour ma femme, s’il vous plait. Et quelque chose a manger… laissez-moi voir la carte.”
Hmm… Christian speaking fluent French wakes me. My eyelashes flutter in the glare of the sun, and I find Christian watching me while a liveried young woman walks away, her tray held aloft, her high blond ponytail swinging provocatively.
“Thirsty?” he asks.
“Yes,” I mutter sleepily.
“I could watch you all day. Tired?”
I flush. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Me neither.” He grins, puts down his BlackBerry, and stands. His shorts fall a little and hang… in that way so his swim trunks are visible beneath. Christian takes his shorts off, stepping out of his flip-flops. I lose my train of thought.
“Come for a swim with me.” He holds out his hand while I look up at him, dazed. “Swim?” he says again, cocking his head to one side, an amused expression on his face. When I don’t respond, he shakes his head slowly.
“I think you need a wake-up call.” Suddenly he pounces and lifts me into his arms while I shriek, more from surprise than alarm.
“Christian! Put me down!” I squeal.
He chuckles. “Only in the sea, baby.”
Several sunbathers on the beach watch with that bemused disinterest so typical, I now realize, of the French as Christian carries me to the sea, laughing, and wades in.
I clasp my arms around his neck. “You wouldn’t.” I say breathlessly, trying to stifle my giggling.
He grins. “Oh, Ana, baby, have you learned nothing in the short time we’ve known each other?” He kisses me, and I seize my opportunity, running my fingers through his hair, grasping two handfuls and kissing him back while invading his mouth with my tongue. He inhales sharply and leans back, eyes smoky but wary.
“I know your game,” he whispers and slowly sinks into the cool, clear water, taking me with him as his lips find mine once more. The chill of the Mediterranean is soon forgotten as I wrap myself around my husband.
“I thought you wanted to swim,” I murmur against his mouth.
“You’re very distracting.” Christian grazes his teeth along my lower lip. “But I’m not sure I want the good people of Monte Carlo to see my wife in the throes of passion.”
I run my teeth along his jaw, his stubble tickly against my tongue, not caring a dime for the good people of Monte Carlo.
“Ana,” he groans. He wraps my ponytail around his wrist and tugs gently, tilting my head back, exposing my throat. He trails kisses from my ear down my neck.
“Shall I take you in the sea?” he breathes.
“Yes,” I whisper.
Christian pulls away and gazes down at me, his eyes warm, wanting, and amused. “Mrs. Grey, you’re insatiable and so brazen. What sort of monster have I created?”
“A monster fit for you. Would you have me any other way?”
“I’ll take you any way I can get you, you know that. But not right now. Not with an audience.” He jerks his head toward the shore.
Sure enough, several sunbathers on the beach have abandoned their indifference and now regard us with interest. Suddenly, Christian grabs me around my waist and launches me into the air, letting me fall into the water and sink beneath the waves to the soft sand below. I surface, coughing, spluttering and giggling.
“Christian!” I scold, glaring at him. I thought we were going to make love in the sea… and chalk up yet another first. He bites his lower lip to stifle his amusement. I splash him, and he splashes me right back.
“We have all night,” he says, grinning like a fool. “Laters, baby.” He dives beneath the sea and surfaces three feet away from me, then in a fluid, graceful crawl, swims away from the shore, away from me.
Gah! Playful, tantalizing Fifty! I shield my eyes from the sun as I watch him go. He’s such a tease… what can I do to get him back? While I swim back to the shore, I contemplate my options. At the sun loungers our drinks have arrived, and I take a quick sip of Coke. Christian is a faint speck in the distance.
Hmm… I lie down on my front and, fumbling with the straps, take my bikini top off and toss it casually onto Christian’s sun lounger. There… see how brazen I can be, Mr. Grey. Put this in your pipe and smoke it. I shut my eyes and let the sun warm my skin… warm my bones, and I drift away under its heat, my thoughts turning to my wedding day.
“You may kiss the bride,” Reverend Walsh announces.
I beam at my husband.
“Finally, you’re mine,” he whispers and pulls me into his arms and kisses me chastely on the lips.
I am married. I am Mrs. Christian Grey. I am giddy with joy.
“You look beautiful, Ana,” he murmurs and smiles, his eyes glowing with love… and something darker, something hot. “Don’t let anyone take that dress off but me, understand?” His smile heats a hundred degrees as his fingertips trail down my cheek, igniting my blood.
Holy crap… How does he do this, even here with all these people staring at us?
I nod mutely. Jeez, I hope no one can hear us. Luckily Reverend Walsh has discreetly stepped back. I glance at the throng gathered in their wedding finery… My mom, Ray, Bob, and the Greys are all applauding-even Kate, my maid of honor, who looks stunning in pale pink as she stands beside Christian’s best man, his brother Elliot. Who knew that even Elliot could scrub up so well? All wear huge, beaming smiles-except Grace, who weeps graciously into a dainty white handkerchief.
“Ready to party, Mrs. Grey?” Christian murmurs, giving me his shy smile. I melt. He looks divine in a simple black tux with silver waistcoat and tie. He’s so… dashing.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” I grin, a totally goofy smile on my face.
Later the wedding party is in full swing… Carrick and Grace have gone to town. They have the marquee set up again and beautifully decorated in pale pink, silver, and ivory with its sides open, facing the bay. We have been blessed with fine weather, and the late afternoon sun shines over the water. There’s a dance floor at one end of the marquee, a lavish buffet at the other.
Ray and my mother are dancing and laughing with each other. I feel bittersweet watching them together. I hope Christian and I last longer. I don’t know what I’d do if he left me. Marry in haste, repent at leisure. The saying haunts me.
Kate is beside me, looking so beautiful in her long silk gown. She glances at me and frowns. “Hey, this is supposed to be the happiest day of your life,” she scolds.
“It is,” I whisper.
“Oh, Ana, what’s wrong? Are you watching your mom and Ray?”
I nod sadly.
“You’re having doubts?” Kate asks, alarmed.
“No, not at all. It’s just… I love him so much.” I freeze, unable or unwilling to articulate my fears.
“Ana, it’s obvious he adores you. I know you had an unconventional start to your relationship, but I can see how happy you’ve both been over the past month.” She grasps my hands, squeezing them. “Besides, it’s too late now,” she adds with a grin.
I giggle. Trust Kate to point out the obvious. She pulls me into a Katherine Kavanagh Special Hug. “Ana, you’ll be fine. And if he hurts one hair on your head, he’ll have me to answer to.” Releasing me, she grins at whoever is behind me.
“Hi, baby.” Christian puts his arms around me, surprising me, and kisses my temple. “Kate,” he acknowledges. He’s still cool toward her even after six weeks.
“Hello again, Christian. I’m off to find your best man, who happens to be my best man, too.” With a smile to us both, she heads over to Elliot, who is drinking with her brother Ethan and our friend José.
“Time to go,” Christian murmurs.
“Already? This is the first party I’ve been to where I don’t mind being the center of attention.” I turn in his arms to face him.
“You deserve to be. You look stunning, Anastasia.”
“So do you.”
He smiles, his expression heating. “This beautiful dress becomes you.”
“This old thing?” I blush shyly and pull on the fine lace trim of the simple, fitted wedding dress designed for me by Kate’s mother. I love that the lace is just off the shoulder-demure, yet alluring, I hope.
He bends and kisses me. “Let’s go. I don’t want to share you with all these people anymore.”
“Can we leave our own wedding?”
“Baby, it’s our party, and we can do whatever we want. We’ve cut the cake. And right now, I’d like to whisk you away and have you all to myself.”
I giggle. “You have me for a lifetime, Mr. Grey.”
“I’m very glad to hear that, Mrs. Grey.”
“Oh, there you two are! Such lovebirds.”
I groan inwardly… Grace’s mother has found us.
“Christian, darling-one more dance with your grandma?”
Christian purses his lips. “Of course, Grandmother.”
“And you, beautiful Anastasia, go and make an old man happy-dance with Theo.”
“Theo, Mrs. Trevelyan?”
“Grandpa Trevelyan. And I think you can call me Grandma. Now, you two seriously need to get working on my great-grandkids. I won’t last too much longer.” She gives us both a simpering smile.
Christian blinks at her in horror. “Come, Grandmother,” he says, hurriedly taking her hand and leading her to the dance floor. He glances back at me, practically pouting, and rolls his eyes. “Laters, baby.”
As I walk toward Grandpa Trevelyan, José accosts me.
“I won’t ask you for another dance. I think I monopolized too much of your time on the dance floor as it is… I’m happy to see you happy, but I’m serious, Ana. I’ll be here… If you need me.”
“José, thank you. You’re a good friend.”
“I mean it.” His dark eyes shine with sincerity.
“I know you do. Thank you, José. Now if you’ll please excuse me-I have a date with an old man.”
He furrows his brow in confusion.
“Christian’s grandfather,” I clarify.
He grins. “Good luck with that, Annie. Good luck with everything.”
After my dance with Christian’s ever-charming grandfather, I stand by the French doors, watching the sun sink slowly over Seattle, casting bright orange and aquamarine shadows across the bay.
“Let’s go,” Christian urges.
“I have to change.” I grasp his hand, meaning to pull him through the French windows and upstairs with me. He frowns, not understanding, and tugs gently on my hand, halting me.
“I thought you wanted to be the one to take this dress off,” I explain. His eyes light up.
“Correct.” He gives me a lascivious grin. “But I’m not undressing you here. We wouldn’t leave until… I don’t know…” He waves his long-fingered hand, leaving his sentence unfinished but his meaning quite clear.
I flush and let go of his hand.
“And don’t take your hair down either,” he murmurs darkly.
“No buts, Anastasia. You look beautiful. And I want to be the one to undress you.”
Oh. I frown.
“Pack your going-away clothes,” he orders. “You’ll need them. Taylor has your main suitcase.”
“Okay.” What has he got planned? He hasn’t told me where we’re going. In fact, I don’t think anyone knows where we’re going. Neither Mia nor Kate has managed to inveigle the information out of him. I turn to where my mother and Kate are hovering nearby.
“I’m not changing.”
“What?” my mother says.
“Christian doesn’t want me to.” I shrug as if this should explain everything. Her brow furrows briefly.
“You didn’t promise to obey,” she reminds me tactfully. Kate tries to disguise her snort as a cough. I narrow my eyes at her. Neither she nor my mother have any idea of the fight Christian and I had about that. I don’t want to rehash that argument. Jeez, can my Fifty Shades sulk… and have nightmares. The memory is sobering.
“I know, Mom, but he likes this dress, and I want to please him.”
Her expression softens. Kate rolls her eyes and tactfully moves away to leave us alone.
“You look so lovely, darling.” Carla gently tugs at a loose tendril of my hair and strokes my chin. “I am so proud of you, honey. You’re going to make Christian a very happy man.” She pulls me into a hug.
“I can’t believe how grown-up you look right now. Beginning a new life… Just remember that men are from a different planet, and you’ll be fine.”
I giggle. Christian is from a different universe, if only she knew.
Ray joins us, smiling sweetly at both Mom and me.
“You made a beautiful baby girl, Carla,” he says, his eyes glowing with pride. He looks so dapper in his black tux and pale pink waistcoat. Tears prick the back of my eyes. Oh no… so far I have managed not to cry.
“And you watched her and helped her grow up, Ray,” Carla’s voice is wistful.
“And I loved every single minute. You make one hell of a bride, Annie.” Ray tucks the same loose strand of hair behind my ear.
“Oh, Dad…” I stifle a sob, and he hugs me in his brief, awkward way.
“You’ll make one hell of a wife, too,” he whispers, his voice hoarse.
When he releases me, Christian is back at my side.
Ray shakes his hand warmly. “Look after my girl, Christian.”
“I fully intend to, Ray. Carla.” He nods at my stepdad and kisses my mom.
The rest of the wedding guests have formed a long human arch for us to travel through, leading round to the front of the house.
“Ready?” Christian says.
Taking my hand, he leads me under their outstretched arms while our guests shout good luck and congratulations and shower us with rice. Waiting with smiles and hugs at the end of the arch are Grace and Carrick. In turn they hug and kiss us both. Grace is emotional again as we bid them hasty good-byes.
Taylor is waiting to whisk us away in the Audi SUV. As Christian holds the car door open for me, I turn and toss my bouquet of white and pink roses into the crowd of young women that has gathered. Mia triumphantly holds it aloft, grinning from ear to ear.
As I slide into the SUV laughing at Mia’s audacious catch, Christian bends to gather the hem of my dress. Once I’m safely in, he bids the waiting crowd a farewell.
Taylor holds the car door open for him. “Congratulations, sir.”
“Thank you, Taylor,” Christian replies as he seats himself beside me.
As Taylor pulls away, our wedding guests shower the vehicle with rice. Christian grasps my hand and kisses my knuckles.
“So far so good, Mrs. Grey?”
“So far so wonderful, Mr. Grey. Where are we going?”
“Sea-Tac,” he says simply and smiles a sphinxlike smile.
Hmm… what is he planning?
Taylor does not head for the departure terminal as I expect but through a security gate and directly on to the tarmac. What? And then I see her-Christian’s jet… Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. in large blue lettering across her fuselage.
“Don’t tell me you’re misusing company property again!”
“Oh, I hope so, Anastasia.” Christian grins.
Taylor halts at the foot of the steps leading up to the plane and leaps out of the Audi to open Christian’s door. They have a brief discussion, then Christian opens my door-and rather than stepping back to give me room to climb out, he leans in and lifts me.
Whoa! “What are you doing?” I squeak.
“Carrying you over the threshold,” he says.
“Oh.” Isn’t that supposed to be at home?
He carries me effortlessly up the steps, and Taylor follows with my small suitcase. He leaves it on the threshold of the plane before returning to the Audi. Inside the cabin, I recognize Stephan, Christian’s pilot, in his uniform.
“Welcome aboard, sir, Mrs. Grey.” He grins.
Christian puts me down and shakes Stephan’s hand. Beside Stephan stands a dark-haired woman in her what? Early thirties? She’s also in uniform.
“Congratulations to you both,” Stephan continues.
“Thank you, Stephan. Anastasia, you know Stephan. He’s our captain today, and this is First Officer Beighley.”
She blushes as Christian introduces her and blinks rapidly. I want to roll my eyes. Another female completely captivated by my too-handsome-for-his-own-good husband.
“Delighted to meet you,” gushes Beighley. I smile kindly at her. After all-he is mine.
“All preparations complete?” Christian asks them both as I glance around the cabin. The interior is all pale maple wood and pale cream leather. It’s lovely. Another young woman in uniform stands at the other end of the cabin-a very pretty brunette.
“We have the all clear. Weather is good from here to Boston.”
“Not before Boston. There’s a weather front over Shannon that might give us a rough ride.”
“I see. Well, I hope to sleep through it all,” says Christian matter-of-factly.
“We’ll get underway, sir,” Stephan says. “We’ll leave you in the capable care of Natalia, your flight attendant.” Christian glances in her direction and frowns, but turns to Stephan with a smile.
“Excellent,” he says. Taking my hand, he leads me to one of the sumptuous leather seats. There must be about twelve of them in total.
“Sit,” he says as he removes his jacket and undoes his fine sliver brocade vest. We sit in two single seats facing each other with a small, highly polished table between us.
“Welcome aboard, sir, ma’am, and congratulations.” Natalia is at our side, offering us both a glass of pink champagne.
“Thank you,” Christian says, and she smiles politely at us and retreats to the galley.
“Here’s to a happy married life, Anastasia.” Christian raises his glass to mine, and we chink. The champagne is delicious.
“Bollinger?” I ask.
“The first time I drank this it was out of teacups.” I grin.
“I remember that day well. Your graduation.”
“Where are we going?” I’m unable to contain my curiosity any longer.
“Shannon,” Christian says, his eyes alight with excitement. He looks like a small boy.
“In Ireland?” We’re going to Ireland!
“To refuel,” he adds, teasing.
“Then?” I prompt.
His grin broadens and he shakes his head.
“London,” he says, gazing intently at me, trying to gauge my reaction.
I gasp. Holy cow. I thought maybe we’d be going to New York or Aspen or maybe the Caribbean. I can hardly believe it. My lifetime ambition has been to visit England. I’m lit up from within, incandescent with happiness.
“Then the South of France.”
“I know you’ve always dreamed of going to Europe,” he says softly. “I want to make your dreams come true, Anastasia.”
“You are my dreams come true, Christian.”
“Back at you, Mrs. Grey,” he whispers.
I grin and do as I’m told.
As the plane taxis out on to the runway, we sip our champagne, grinning inanely at each other. I can’t believe it. At twenty-two years old, I’m finally leaving the United States and going to Europe-to London of all places.
Once we’re airborne, Natalia serves us yet more champagne and prepares our wedding feast. And what a feast it is-smoked salmon, followed by roast partridge with a green bean salad and dauphinoise potatoes, all cooked and served by the ever-efficient Natalia.
“Dessert, Mr. Grey?” she asks.
He shakes his head and runs his finger across his bottom lip as he looks questioningly at me, his expression dark and unreadable.
“No, thank you,” I murmur, unable to break eye contact with him. His lips curl up in a small, secret smile and Natalia retreats.
“Good,” he murmurs. “I’d rather planned on having you for dessert.”
“Come,” he says, rising from the table and offering me his hand. He leads me to the back of the cabin.
“There’s a bathroom here.” He points to a small door then leads me on down a short corridor and through a door at the end.
Jeez… a bedroom. The cabin is cream and maple wood and the small double bed is covered in gold and taupe cushions. It looks very comfortable.
Christian turns and pulls me into his arms, gazing down at me.
“I thought we’d spend our wedding night at thirty-five-thousand feet. It’s something I’ve never done before.”
Holy cow… another first. I gape at him, my heart pounding… the mile high club. I’ve heard about this.
“But first I have to get you out of this fabulous dress.” His eyes glow with love and something darker, something I love… something that calls to my inner goddess. He takes my breath away.
“Turn around.” His voice is low, authoritative, and sexy as hell. How can he infuse so much promise into those two words? Willingly I comply and his hands move to my hair. Gently he pulls out each hairpin one at a time, his expert fingers making short work of the task. My hair falls in swathes over my shoulders, one lock at a time, covering my back and down to my breasts. I try to stand still and not squirm, but I’m aching for his touch. After our long, tiring but exciting day, I want him-all of him.
“You have such beautiful hair, Ana.” His mouth is close to my ear and I feel his breath, though his lips don’t touch me. When my hair is free of pins, he runs his fingers through it, gently massaging my scalp… oh my… I close my eyes and savor the sensation. His fingers travel on down, and he tugs, tilting my head back to expose my throat.
“You’re mine,” he breathes and his teeth tug my ear lobe.
“Hush now,” he admonishes. He sweeps my hair over my shoulder and trails a finger across the top of my back from shoulder to shoulder following the lace edge of my dress. I shiver in anticipation. He plants a tender kiss on my back above the first button on my dress.
“So beautiful,” he says as he deftly undoes the first button. “You have made me the happiest man alive today.” With infinite slowness, he unfastens each one, all the way down my back. “I love you so much.” Trailing kisses from the nape of my neck to the edge of my shoulder. Between each kiss he murmurs, “I. Want. You. So. Much. I. Want. To. Be. Inside. You. You. Are. Mine.”
Each word is intoxicating. I close my eyes and tilt my head, giving him easier access to my neck, and I fall further under the spell that is Christian Grey, my husband.
“Mine,” he whispers once more. He peels my dress down my arms so that it pools at my feet in a cloud of ivory silk and lace.
“Turn around,” he whispers, his voice suddenly hoarse. I do so and he gasps.
I’m dressed in a tight, blush-pink satin corset with garter straps, matching lacy briefs, and white silk stockings. Christian’s eyes travel greedily down my body, but he says nothing. He just gazes at me, his eyes wide with want.
“You like?” I whisper aware of the shy blush creeping across my cheeks.
“More than like, baby. You look sensational. Here.” He holds out his hand and taking it, I step out of my dress.
“Keep still,” he murmurs and without taking his darkening eyes off mine, he runs his middle finger over my breasts, following the line of my corset. My breath shallows, and he repeats the journey over my breasts once more, his tantalizing finger sending tingles down my spine. He stops and twirls his index finger in the air, indicating that he wants me to turn around.
For him, right now, I’d do anything.
“Stop,” he says. I’m facing the bed, away from him. His arm encircles my waist, pulling me against him, and he nuzzles my neck. Gently he cups my breasts, toying with them, while his thumbs circle over my nipples so that they strain against the fabric of my corset.
“Mine,” he whispers.
“Yours,” I breathe.
Leaving my breasts bereft he runs his hands down my stomach, over my belly, and down to my thighs, his thumbs skimming my sex. I stifle a moan. His fingers skate down each garter, and with his usual dexterity, he simultaneously unhooks each one from my stockings. His hands travel around to my behind.
“Mine,” he breathes as his hands spread across my backside, the tips of his fingers brushing my sex.
“Hush.” His hands travel down the backs of my thighs, and once more he unclips my garters.
Leaning down, he pulls back the cover on the bed. “Sit down.”
I do as I’m told in his thrall, and he kneels at my feet and gently tugs off each of my white bridal Jimmy Choos. He grasps the top of my left stocking and slowly peels it off, running his thumbs down my leg… Oh my. He repeats the process with my other stocking.
“This is like unwrapping my Christmas presents.” He smiles up at me through his long dark lashes.
“A present you’ve had already…”
He frowns in admonishment. “Oh no, baby. This time it’s really mine.”
“Christian, I’ve been yours since I said yes.” I scoot forward, cupping his beloved face in my hands. “I’m yours. I will always be yours, husband of mine. Now, I think you’re wearing too many clothes.” I bend to kiss him, and suddenly he leans up, kisses my lips, and grasps my head with his hands, his fingers threading into my hair.
“Ana,” he breathes. “My Ana.” His lips claim mine once more, his tongue invasively persuasive.
“Clothes,” I whisper, our breath mingling as I push back his vest and he struggles out of it, releasing me for a moment. He pauses, gazing at me, eyes wide, eyes wanting.
“Let me, please.” My voice is soft and cajoling. I want to undress my husband, my Fifty.
He sits back on his heels, and leaning forward I grasp his tie-his sliver-gray tie, my favorite tie-and slowly undo it and pull it free. He raises his chin to let me tackle the top button of his white shirt; then once it’s undone, I move on to his cuffs. He’s wearing platinum cufflinks-engraved with an entwined A and C-my wedding present to him. When I’ve removed them, he takes the cufflinks from me and fists them in his hand. Then he kisses his fist and shoves them into his pants pocket.
“Mr. Grey, so romantic.”
“For you Mrs. Grey-hearts and flowers. Always.”
I take his hand, and glancing up through my lashes, I kiss his plain platinum wedding ring. He groans and closes his eyes.
“Ana,” he whispers and my name is a prayer.
Reaching up to his second shirt button and mirroring him from earlier, I plant a soft kiss on his chest as I undo each of them and whisper between each kiss,
“You. Make. Me. So. Happy. I. Love. You.”
He groans, and in one swift move, he clasps me around the waist and lifts me on to the bed, following me down on to it. His lips find mine, his hands curling around my head, holding me, stilling me as our tongues glory in each other. Abruptly Christian kneels up, leaving me breathless and wanting more.
“You are so beautiful… wife.” He runs his hands down my legs then grasps my left foot. “You have such lovely legs. I want to kiss every inch of them. Starting here.” He presses his lips against my big toe and then grazes the pad with his teeth. Everything south of my waistline convulses. His tongue glides up my instep and his teeth skim my heel and up to my ankle. He trails kisses up the inside of my calf; soft wet kisses. I wriggle beneath him.
“Still, Mrs. Grey,” he warns, and suddenly he flips me on to my stomach and continues his leisurely journey with his mouth up the back of my legs, to my thighs, my behind, and then he stops. I groan.
“I want you naked,” he murmurs and slowly unhooks my corset, one hook at a time. When it’s flat on the bed beneath me, he runs his tongue up the length of my spine.
“What do you want, Mrs. Grey.” His words are soft and close to my ear. He’s almost lying on top of me… I can feel him hard against my behind.
“And I you, my love, my life…,” he whispers, and before I know it, he’s flipped me on to my back. He stands swiftly and in one efficient move dispenses with his pants and boxer briefs so that he’s gloriously naked and looming large and ready over me. The small cabin is eclipsed by his dazzling beauty and his want and need of me. He leans down and peels off my panties then gazes down at me.
“Mine,” he mouths.
“Please,” I beg and he grins… a salacious, wicked, tempting, all-Fifty grin.
He crawls back onto the bed and trails kisses up my right leg this time… until he reaches the apex of my thighs. He pushes my legs wider apart.
“Ah… wife of mine,” he murmurs and then his mouth is on me. I close my eyes and surrender to his oh-so-adroit tongue. My hands fist in his hair as my hips swing and sway, slave to his rhythm, then buck off the small bed. He grabs my hips to still me… but doesn’t stop the delicious torture. I’m close, so close.
“Christian.” I moan.
“Not yet,” he breathes and he moves up my body, his tongue dipping into my navel.
“No!” Damn! I sense his smile against my belly as his journey continues north.
“So impatient, Mrs. Grey. We have until we touch down on the Emerald Isle.” Reverentially he kisses my breasts and tugs my left nipple between his lips. Gazing up at me, his eyes are dark like a tropical storm as he teases me.
Oh my… I’d forgotten. Europe.
“Husband, I want you. Please.”
He looms up over me, his body covering mine, resting his weight on his elbows. He runs his nose down mine, and I run my hands down his strong, supple back to his fine, fine backside.
“Mrs. Grey… wife. We aim to please.” His lips brush. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“Eyes open. I want to see you.”
“Christian… ah…,” I cry, as he slowly sinks into me.
“Ana, oh Ana,” he breathes and he starts to move.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Christian shouts, waking me from my very pleasant dream. He’s standing all wet and beautiful at the end of my sun lounger and glaring down at me.
What have I done? Oh no… I’m lying on my back… Crap, crap, crap and he’s mad. Shit. He’s really mad.
I am suddenly very awake, my erotic dream forgotten.
“I was on my front. I must have turned over in my sleep.” I whisper weakly in my defense.
His eyes blaze with fury. He reaches down, scoops up my bikini top from his sun lounger and tosses it at me.
“Put this on!” he hisses.
“Christian, no one is looking.”
“Trust me. They’re looking. I’m sure Taylor and the security crew are enjoying the show!” he snarls.
Holy shit! Why do I keep forgetting about them? I grasp my breasts in panic, hiding them. Ever since Charlie Tango’s sabotaged demise, we are constantly shadowed by damned security.
“Yes,” Christian snarls. “And some sleazy fucking paparazzi could get a shot of you, too. Do you want to be all over the cover of Star magazine? Naked this time?”
Shit! The paparazzi! Fuck! As I hurriedly scramble into my top, all thumbs, the color drains from my face. I shudder. The unpleasant memory of being besieged by the paparazzi outside SIP after our engagement was leaked comes unwelcome to mind-all part of the Christian Grey package.
“L’addition!” Christian snaps at the passing waitress. “We’re going,” he says to me.
Oh shit, he’s not to be argued with.
He pulls on his shorts, even though his trunks are dripping wet, then his gray T-shirt. The waitress is back in a moment with his credit card and the check.
Reluctantly, I wriggle into my turquoise sundress and step into my flip-flops. Once the waitress has left, Christian snatches up his book and BlackBerry and masks his fury behind mirrored aviator glasses. He’s bristling with tension and anger. My heart sinks. Every other woman on the beach is topless-it’s not that big of a crime. In fact I look odd with my top on. I sigh inwardly, my spirits sinking. I thought Christian would see the funny side… sort of… maybe if I’d stayed on my front, but his sense of humor has evaporated.
“Please don’t be mad at me,” I whisper, taking his book and BlackBerry from him and placing them in my backpack.
“Too late for that,” he says quietly-too quietly. “Come.” Taking my hand, he signals up to Taylor and his two sidekicks, the French security officers Philippe and Gaston. Weirdly, they are identical twins. They have been patiently watching us and everyone else on the beach from the verandah. Why do I keep forgetting about them? How? Taylor is stony-faced behind his dark glasses. Shit, he’s mad at me, too. I’m still not used to seeing him so casually dressed in shorts and a black polo shirt.
Christian leads me into the hotel, through the lobby, and out onto the street. He remains silent, brooding and bad-tempered, and it’s all my fault. Taylor and his team shadow us.
“Where are we going?” I ask tentatively, gazing up at him.
“Back to the boat.” He doesn’t look at me.
I have no idea of the time. I think it must be about five or six in the afternoon. When we reach the marina, Christian leads me onto the dock where the motorboat and Jet Ski belonging to the Fair Lady are moored. As Christian unties the Jet Ski, I hand my backpack to Taylor. I glance nervously up at him, but like Christian, his expression gives nothing away. I flush, thinking about what he’s seen on the beach.
“Here you go, Mrs. Grey.” Taylor passes me a life vest from the motorboat, and I dutifully put it on. Why am I the only one who has to wear a life jacket? Christian and Taylor exchange some kind of look. Jeez, is he angry with Taylor, too? Christian then checks the straps on my life jacket, cinching the middle one tightly.
“You’ll do,” he mutters sullenly, still not turning to look at me. Shit.
He climbs gracefully on to the Jet Ski and holds out his hand for me to join him. Grasping it tightly, I manage to throw my leg over the seat behind him without falling into the water while Taylor and the twins clamber into the motorboat. Christian kicks the Jet Ski away from the dock, and it floats gently into the marina.
“Hold on,” he orders, and I put my arms around him. This is my favorite part of traveling by Jet Ski. I hug him closely, my nose nuzzling into his back, marveling that there was a time when he would not have tolerated me touching him this way. He smells good… of Christian and the sea. Forgive me, Christian, please?
He stiffens. “Steady,” he says, his tone softer. I kiss his back and rest my cheek against him, looking back toward the dock where a few holidaymakers have gathered to watch the show.
Christian turns the key and the motor roars to life. With one twist of the accelerator, the Jet Ski bucks forward and speeds across the cool dark water, through the marina and out to the center of the harbor toward the Fair Lady. I hold him tighter. I love this-it’s so exciting. Every muscle in Christian’s lean frame is evident as I cling to him.
Taylor pulls alongside in the motorboat. Christian glances at him then accelerates again, and we shoot forward, whipping over the top of the water like an expertly tossed pebble. Taylor shakes his head in resigned exasperation and heads straight to the yacht, while Christian shoots past the Fair Lady and heads out toward the open water.
The sea spray is splashing us, the warm wind buffeting my face and flaying my ponytail crazily around me. This is so much fun. Maybe the thrill of this ride will dispel Christian’s bad mood. I can’t see his face, but I know he’s enjoying himself-carefree, acting his age for a change.
He steers in a huge semicircle and I study the shoreline-the boats in the marina, the mosaic of yellow, white and sand-colored offices and apartments, and the craggy mountains behind. It looks so disorganized-not the regimented blocks that I am used to-but so picturesque. Christian glances over his shoulder at me, and there’s the ghost of a smile playing on his lips.
“Again?” he shouts over the noise of the engine.
I nod enthusiastically. His answering grin is dazzling, and he opens the throttle and speeds around the Fair Lady and on out to sea once more… and I think I’m forgiven.
“You’ve caught the sun,” Christian says mildly as he undoes my life vest. I anxiously try to assess his mood. We are on deck aboard the yacht, and one of the stewards is standing quietly nearby, waiting for my life vest. Christian passes it to him.
“Will that be all, sir?” the young man asks. I love his French accent. Christian glances at me, takes off his shades, and slips them into the collar of his T-shirt, letting them hang.
“Would you like a drink?” he asks me.
“Do I need one?”
He cocks his head to one side. “Why would you say that?” His voice is soft.
“You know why.”
He frowns as if weighing something in his mind.
Oh, what is he thinking?
“Two gin and tonics, please. And some nuts and olives,” he says to the steward, who nods and quickly vanishes.
“You think I’m going to punish you?” Christian’s voice is silky.
“Do you want to?”
“I’ll think of something. Maybe when you’ve had your drink.” And it’s a sensual threat. I swallow, and my inner goddess squints from her sun lounger where she’s trying to catch rays with a silver reflector fanned out at her neck.
Christian’s frowns once more.
“You want to be?”
How does he know? “Depends,” I mutter, flushing.
“On what?” He hides his smile.
“If you want to hurt me or not.”
His mouth presses into a hard line, humor forgotten. He leans forward and kisses my forehead.
“Anastasia, you’re my wife, not my sub. I don’t ever want to hurt you. You should know that by now. Just… just don’t take your clothes off in public. I don’t want you naked all over the tabloids. You don’t want that, and I’m sure your mom and Ray don’t want that either.”
Oh! Ray. Holy shit, he’d have a coronary. What was I thinking? I mentally castigate myself.
The steward appears with our drinks and snacks and places them on the teak table.
“Sit,” Christian commands. I do as he says and settle into a director’s chair. Christian takes a seat beside me and passes me a gin and tonic.
“Cheers, Mrs. Grey.”
“Cheers, Mr. Grey.” I take a welcome sip. It’s thirst-quenching, cold, and delicious. When I gaze at him, he’s watching me carefully, his mood unreadable. It’s very frustrating… I don’t know if he’s still mad at me. I deploy my patented distraction technique.
“Who owns this boat?” I ask.
“A British knight. Sir Somebody-or-Other. His great-grandfather started a grocery store. His daughter’s married to one of the Crown Princes of Europe.”
Christian looks suddenly wary. “Yes.”
“Like you,” I murmur.
“And like you,” Christian whispers and pops an olive into his mouth. I blink rapidly… a vision of him in his tux and silver waistcoat comes to mind… his eyes burning with sincerity as he gazes down at me during our wedding ceremony.
“All that is mine is now yours,” he says, his voice ringing out clearly reciting his vows from memory.
All mine? Holy cow. “It’s odd. Going from nothing to”-I wave my hand to indicate our opulent surroundings-“to everything.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”
Taylor appears on deck. “Sir, you have a call.” Christian frowns but takes the proffered BlackBerry.
“Grey,” he snaps and rises from his seat to stand at the bow of the yacht.
I gaze out at the sea, tuning out his conversation with Ros-I think-his number two. I am rich… stinking rich. I have done nothing to earn this money… just married a rich man. I shudder as my mind drifts back to our conversation about prenups. It was the Sunday after his birthday, and we were seated at the kitchen table enjoying a leisurely breakfast… all of us. Elliot, Kate, Grace, and I were debating the merits of bacon versus sausage, while Carrick and Christian read the Sunday paper…
“Look at this,” squeals Mia as she sets her netbook on the kitchen table in front of us. “There’s a gossipy item on the Seattle Nooz website about you being engaged, Christian.”
“Already?” Grace says in surprise. Then her mouth purses as some obviously unpleasant thought crosses her mind. Christian frowns.
Mia reads the column out loud. “Word has reached us here at The Nooz that Seattle’s most eligible bachelor, the Christian Grey, has finally been snapped up and wedding bells are in the air. But who is the lucky, lucky lady? The Nooz is on the hunt. Bet she’s reading one helluva prenup.”
Mia giggles then stops abruptly as Christian glares at her. Silence descends, and the atmosphere in the Grey kitchen plunges to below zero.
Oh no! A prenup? The thought has never crossed my mind. I swallow, feeling all the blood drain from my face. Please ground, swallow me up now! Christian shifts uncomfortably in his chair as I glance apprehensively at him.
“No,” he mouths at me.
“Christian,” Carrick says gently.
“I’m not discussing this again,” he snaps at Carrick who glances at me nervously and opens his mouth to say something.
“No prenup!” Christian almost shouts at him and broodingly goes back to reading his paper, ignoring everyone else at the table. They look alternately at me then him… then anywhere but at the two of us.
“Christian,” I murmur. “I’ll sign anything you and Mr. Grey want.” Jeez, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s made me sign something. Christian looks up and glares at me.
“No!” he snaps. I blanch once more.
“It’s to protect you.”
“Christian, Ana-I think you should discuss this in private,” Grace admonishes us. She glares at Carrick and Mia. Oh dear, looks like they’re in trouble, too.
“Ana, this is not about you,” Carrick murmurs reassuringly. “And please call me Carrick.”
Christian narrows cold eyes at his father and my heart sinks. Hell… He’s really mad.
Everyone erupts into animated conversation, and Mia and Kate leap up to clear the table.
“I definitely prefer sausage,” exclaims Elliot.
I stare down at my knotted fingers. Crap. I hope Mr. and Mrs. Grey don’t think I’m some kind of gold digger. Christian reaches over and grasps both my hands gently in one of his.
How does he know what I’m thinking?
“Ignore my dad,” Christian says so only I can hear him. “He’s really pissed about Elena. That stuff was all aimed at me. I wish my mom had kept her mouth shut.”
I know Christian is still smarting from his “talk” with Carrick about Elena last night.
“He has a point, Christian. You’re very wealthy, and I’m bringing nothing to our marriage but my student loans.”
Christian gazes at me, his eyes bleak. “Anastasia, if you leave me, you might as well take everything. You left me once before. I know how that feels.”
Holy Fuck! “That was different,” I whisper, moved by his intensity. “But… you might want to leave me.” The thought makes me sick.
He snorts and shakes his head with mock disgust.
“Christian, you know I might do something exceptionally stupid-and you…” I glance down at my knotted hands, pain lancing through me, and I’m unable to finish my sentence. Losing Christian… fuck.
“Stop. Stop now. This subject is closed, Ana. We’re not discussing it any more. No prenup. Not now-not ever.” He gives me a pointed give-it-up-now look, which silences me. Then he turns to Grace. “Mom,” he says. “Can we have the wedding here?”
And he’s not mentioned it again. In fact at every opportunity he’s tried to reassure me about his wealth… that’s it mine, too. I shudder as I recall the crazy shopping fest Christian demanded I go on with Caroline Acton-the personal shopper from Niemans-in preparation for this honeymoon. My bikini alone cost five hundred and forty dollars. I mean, it’s nice, but really-that’s a ridiculous amount of money for four triangular scraps of material.
“You will get used to it,” Christian interrupts my reverie as he resumes his place at the table.
“Used to it?”
“The money,” he says, rolling his eyes.
Oh, Fifty, maybe with time. I push the small dish of salted almonds and cashews toward him.
“Your nuts, sir,” I say with as straight a face as I can manage, trying to bring some humor to our conversation after my dark thoughts and my bikini top faux pas.
He smirks. “I’m nuts about you.” He takes an almond, his eyes sparkling with wicked humor as he enjoys my little joke. He licks his lips. “Drink up. We’re going to bed.”
“Drink,” he mouths at me, his eyes darkening.
Oh my, the look he gives me could be solely responsible for global warming. I pick up my gin and drain the glass, not taking my eyes off him. His mouth drops open, and I glimpse the tip of his tongue between his teeth. He smiles lewdly at me. In one fluid move, he stands and bends over me, resting his hands on the arms of my chair.
“I’m going to make an example of you. Come. Don’t pee,” he whispers in my ear.
I gasp. Don’t pee? How rude. My subconscious looks up from her book-The Complete works of Charles Dickens, Vol. 1-with alarm.
“It’s not what you think.” Christian smirks, holding his hand out to me. “Trust me.” He looks so sexy and genial. How can I resist?
“Okay.” I place my hand in his, because quite simply, I’d trust him with my life. What has he got planned? My heart starts pounding in anticipation.
He leads me across the deck and through the doors into the plush, beautifully appointed main salon, along a narrow corridor, through the dining room, and down the stairs to the main master cabin.
The cabin has been cleaned since this morning and the bed made. It’s a lovely room. With two portholes on both the starboard and port sides, it’s elegantly decorated in dark walnut furniture with cream walls and soft furnishings in gold and red.
Christian releases my hand, pulls his T-shirt over his head, and tosses it onto a chair. He steps out of his flip-flops and removes his shorts and trunks in one graceful move. Oh my. Will I ever tire of looking at him naked? He is utterly gorgeous and all mine. His skin glows-he’s caught the sun, too, and his hair is longer, flopping over his forehead. I am one lucky, lucky girl.
He grasps my chin, pulling slightly so that I stop biting my lip and runs his thumb along my lower lip.
“That’s better.” He turns and strides over to the impressive armoire that houses his clothes. He produces two pairs of metal handcuffs and an airline eye mask from the bottom drawer.
Handcuffs! We’ve never used handcuffs. I glance quickly and nervously at the bed. Where the hell is he going to attach those? He turns and gazes steadily at me, his eyes dark and luminous.
“These can be quite painful. They can bite into the skin if you pull too hard.” He holds up one pair. “But I really want to use them on you now.”
Holy fuck. My mouth goes dry.
“Here.” He stalks gracefully forward and hands me a set. “Do you want to try them first?”
They feel solid, the metal cold. Vaguely, I hope I never have to wear a pair of these for real.
Christian is watching me intently.
“Where are the keys?” My voice wavering.
He holds out his palm, revealing a small metallic key. “This does both sets. In fact, all sets.”
How many sets does he have? I don’t remember seeing any in the museum chest.
He strokes my cheek with his index finger, trailing it down to my mouth. He leans in as if to kiss me.
“Do you want to play?” he says, his voice low, and everything in my body heads south as desire unfurls deep in my belly.
“Yes,” I breathe.
He smiles. “Good.” He plants a featherlight kiss on my forehead. “We’re going to need a safe word.”
“Stop won’t be enough because you will probably say that, but you won’t mean it.” He runs his nose down mine-the only contact between us.
My heart starts pounding. Shit… How can he do this with just words?
“This is not going to hurt. It will be intense. Very intense, because I am not going to let you move. Okay?”
Oh my. This sounds so hot. My breathing is too loud. Fuck, I am panting already. My inner goddess has her sequins on and is warming up to dance the rumba. Thank heavens I’m married to this man, otherwise this would be embarrassing. My eyes flick down to his arousal.
“Okay.” My voice is barely audible.
“Choose a word, Ana.”
“A safe word,” he says softly.
“Popsicle.” I say, panting.
“Popsicle?” he says, amused.
He grins as he leans back to gaze down at me. “Interesting choice. Lift up your arms.”
I do, and Christian grasps the hem of my sundress, lifts it over my head, and tosses it on the floor. He holds out his hand, and I give him back the handcuffs. He places both sets on the bedside table along with the blindfold and yanks the quilt off the bed, letting it fall to the floor.
I turn, and he undoes my bikini top so that it falls to the floor.
“Tomorrow, I will staple this to you,” he mutters and tugs on my hair tie, freeing my hair. He gathers it into one hand and yanks gently so I step back against him. Against his chest. Against his erection. I gasp as he pulls my head to one side and kisses my neck.
“You were very disobedient,” he murmurs in my ear, sending delicious shivers through me.
“Yes,” I whisper.
“Hmm. What are we going to do about that?”
“Learn to live with it,” I breathe. His soft languid kisses are driving me wild. He grins against my neck.
“Ah, Mrs. Grey. You are ever the optimist.”
He straightens. Taking my hair, he carefully parts it into three strands, braids it slowly, and then fastens my hair tie to the end. He tugs my braid gently and leans down to my ear. “I am going to teach you a lesson,” he murmurs.
Moving suddenly, he grabs me by the waist, sits down on the bed, and yanks me across his knee so that I feel his erection pressed against my belly. He smacks my backside once, hard. I yelp, then I’m on my back on the bed, and he’s gazing down at me, his eyes molten gray. I’m going to combust.
“Do you know how beautiful you are?” He trails his fingertips up my thigh so that I tingle… everywhere. Without taking his eyes off me, he gets up from the bed and gathers both sets of handcuffs. He grasps my left leg and snaps one cuff around my ankle.
Lifting my right leg, he repeats the process so I have a pair of handcuffs attached to each ankle. I still have no idea where he’s going to attach them.
“Sit up,” he orders and I comply immediately.
“Now hug your knees.”
I blink at him then draw my legs up so they are bent in front of me and wrap my arms around them. He reaches down, lifts my chin, and plants a soft wet kiss on my lips before slipping the blindfold over my eyes. I can see nothing, all I can hear is my rapid breathing and the sound of the water lapping against the sides of the yacht as she bobs gently on the sea.
Oh my. I am so aroused… already.
“What’s the safe word, Anastasia?”
“Good.” Taking my left hand, he snaps a cuff around my wrist then repeats the process with my right. My left hand is tied to my left ankle, my right hand to the right leg. I cannot straighten my legs. Holy fuck.
“Now,” Christian breathes, “I’m going to fuck you till you scream.”
What? And all the air leaves my body.
He grasps both of my heels and tips me back so that I fall backward on to the bed. I have no choice but to keep my legs bent. The cuffs tighten as I pull against them. He’s right… they cut into me almost to the point of pain… This feels weird-being trussed up and helpless-on a boat. He pulls my ankles apart, and I groan.
He kisses my inner thigh, and I want to squirm beneath him, but I can’t. I have no purchase to move my hips. My feet are suspended. I cannot move. Holy shit.
“You’re going to have to absorb all the pleasure, Anastasia. No moving,” he murmurs as he crawls up my body, kissing me along the edge of my bikini bottoms. He pulls the strings on each side, and the scraps of material fall away. I am now naked and at his mercy. He kisses my belly, nipping my navel with his teeth.
“Ah,” I sigh. This is going to be tough… I had no idea. He traces soft kisses and little bites up to my breasts.
“Shhh…,” he soothes. “You are so beautiful, Ana.”
I groan, frustrated. Normally I’d be grinding my hips, responding to his touch with a rhythm of my own, but I cannot move. I moan, pulling on my restraints. The metal bites into my skin.
“Argh!” I cry. But I really don’t care.
“You drive me crazy,” he whispers. “So I am going to drive you crazy.” He’s resting on me now, his weight on his elbows, and he turns his attention to my breasts. Biting, sucking, rolling my nipples between his fingers and thumbs, driving me wild. He doesn’t stop. It’s maddening. Oh. Please. His erection pushes against me.
“Christian,” I beg and feel his triumphant smile against my skin.
“Shall I make you come this way?” He murmurs against my nipple, causing it to harden some more. “You know I can.” He suckles me hard and I cry out, pleasure lancing from my chest directly to my groin. I pull helplessly on the cuffs, swamped by the sensation.
“Yes,” I whimper.
“Oh, baby, that would be too easy.”
“Shh.” His teeth scrape my chin as he trails his lips to my mouth, and I gasp. He kisses me. His skilled tongue invades my mouth, tasting, exploring, dominating, but my tongue meets his challenge, writhing against his. He tastes of cool gin and Christian Grey, and he smells of the sea. He grasps my chin, holding my head in place.
“Still, baby. I want you still,” he whispers against my mouth.
“I want to see you.”
“Oh no, Ana. You’ll feel more this way.” And agonizingly slowly he flexes his hips and pushes partway into me. I would normally tilt my pelvis up to meet him but I can’t move. He withdraws.
“Ah! Christian, please!”
“Again?” he teases, his voice hoarse.
He pushes fractionally into me again then withdraws while kissing me, his fingers tugging at my nipple. It’s pleasure overload.
“Do you want me, Anastasia?”
“Yes,” I beg.
“Tell me,” he murmurs, his breathing harsh, and he teases me once more-in… and out.
“I want you,” I whimper. “Please.”
I hear his soft sigh against my ear.
“And have me you will, Anastasia.”
He rears up and slams into me. I scream, tilting my head back, pulling on the restraints as he hits my sweet spot, and I am all sensation, everywhere-a sweet, sweet agony, and I cannot move. He stills then circles his hips, and the motion radiates deep inside me.
“Why do you defy me, Ana?”
He circles deep inside me again, ignoring my plea, easing out slowly and then slamming into me again.
“Tell me. Why?” he hisses, and I’m vaguely aware that it’s through gritted teeth.
I cry out in an incoherent wail… this is too much.
“Ana, I need to know.”
He slams into me again, thrusting so deep, and I’m building… the feeling is so intense-it swamps me, spiraling out from deep within my belly, to each limb, to each biting metal restraint.
“I don’t know!” I cry out. “Because I can! Because I love you! Please, Christian.”
He groans loudly and thrusts deep, again and again, over and over, and I am lost, trying to absorb the pleasure. It’s mind-blowing… body blowing… I long to straighten my legs, to control my imminent orgasm, but I can’t… I’m helpless. I’m his, just his, to do with as he wills… Tears spring to my eyes. This is too intense. I can’t stop him. I don’t want to stop him… I want… I want… oh no, oh no… this is too…
“That’s it,” Christian growls. “Feel it, baby!”
I detonate around him, again and again, round and round, screaming loudly as my orgasm rips me apart, scorching through me like a wildfire, consuming everything. I am wrung ragged, tears streaming down my face-my body left pulsing and shaking.
And I’m aware that Christian kneels, still inside me, pulling me upright onto his lap. He clutches my head with one hand and my back with another, and he comes violently inside me while my insides continue to tremble with aftershocks. It’s draining, it’s exhausting, it’s hell… it’s heaven. It’s hedonism gone wild.
Christian tears off the blindfold and kisses me. He kisses my eyes, my nose, my cheeks. He kisses away the tears, clutching my face in between his hands.
“I love you, Mrs. Grey,” he breathes. “Even though you make me so mad-I feel so alive with you.” I don’t have the energy to open either my eyes or my mouth to respond. Very gently, he lays me back on the bed and eases out of me.
I mouth some wordless protest. He climbs off the bed and undoes the handcuffs. When I’m free, he gently rubs my wrists and ankles, then lies down beside me again, pulling me into his arms. I stretch out my legs. Oh my, that feels good. I feel good. That was, without doubt, the most intense climax I have ever endured. Hmm… a Christian Grey Fifty Shades punishment fuck.
I really must misbehave more often.
A pressing need from my bladder wakes me. When I open my eyes, I’m disorientated. It’s dark outside. Where am I? London? Paris? Oh-the boat. I feel her pitch and roll, and hear the quiet hum of the engines. We’re on the move. How odd. Christian is beside me, working on his laptop, casually dressed in a white linen shirt and chino trousers, his feet bare. His hair is still wet, and I can smell his body wash fresh from the shower and his Christian smell… Hmm.
“Hi,” he murmurs, gazing down at me, his eyes warm.
“Hi.” I smile, feeling suddenly shy. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Just an hour or so.”
“I figured since we ate out last night and went to the ballet and the Casino that we’d dine on board tonight. A quiet night à deux.”
I grin at him. “Where are we going?”
“Okay.” I stretch, feeling stiff. No amount of training with Claude could have prepared me for this afternoon.
I rise gingerly, needing the bathroom. Grabbing my silk robe, I hastily put it on. Why am I so shy? I feel Christian’s eyes on me. When I glance at him, he returns to his laptop, his brow furrowed.
As I absentmindedly wash my hands at the vanity unit, recalling last night at the Casino, my robe falls open. I stare at myself in the mirror, shocked.
Holy fuck! What has he done to me?
I gaze in horror at the red marks all over my breasts. Hickeys! I have hickeys! I am married to one of the most respected businessmen in the United States, and he’s given me goddamn hickeys. How did I not feel him doing this to me? I flush. The fact is I know exactly why-Mr. Orgasmic was using his fine-motor sexing skills on me.
My subconscious peers over her half-moon specs and tuts disapprovingly, while my inner goddess slumbers on her chaise longue, out for the count. I gape at my reflection. My wrists have a red welt around them from the handcuffs. No doubt they’ll bruise. I examine my ankles-more welts. Holy hell, I look like I’ve been in some sort of accident. I gaze at myself, trying to absorb how I look. My body is so different these days. It’s changed subtly since I’ve known him… I’ve become leaner and fitter, and my hair is glossy and well cut. My nails are manicured, my feet pedicured, my eyebrows threaded and beautifully shaped. For the first time in my life, I’m well groomed-except for these hideous love bites.
I don’t want to think about grooming at the moment. I’m too mad. How dare he mark me like this, like some teenager. In the short time we’ve been together, he’s never given me hickeys. I look like hell. I know why he’s done this. Damn control freak. Right! My subconscious folds her arms beneath her small bosom-he’s gone too far this time. I stalk out of the en suite bathroom and into the walk-in closet, carefully avoiding even a glance in his direction. Slipping out of my robe, I pull on my sweatpants and a camisole. I undo the braid, pick up a hairbrush from the small vanity unit, and brush out my tangles.
“Anastasia,” Christian calls and I hear his anxiety. “Are you okay?”
I ignore him. Am I okay? No, I am not okay. After what he’s done to me, I doubt I’ll be able to wear a swimsuit, let alone one of my ridiculously expensive bikinis, for the rest of our honeymoon. The thought is suddenly so infuriating. How dare he? I’ll give him are you okay. I seethe as fury spikes through me. I can behave like an adolescent, too! Stepping back into the bedroom, I hurl the hairbrush at him, turn, and leave-though not before I see his shocked expression and his lightning reaction as he raises his arm to protect his head so that the brush bounces ineffectively off his forearm and onto the bed.
I storm out of our cabin, bolt upstairs and out on deck, fleeing toward the bow. I need some space to calm down. It’s dark and the air is balmy. The warm breeze carries the smell of the Mediterranean and the scent of jasmine and bougainvillea from the shore. The Fair Lady glides effortlessly through the calm cobalt sea as I rest my elbows on the wooden railing, gazing at the distant shore where tiny lights wink and twinkle. I take a deep, healing breath and slowly begin to calm. I’m aware of him behind me before I hear him.
“You’re mad at me,” he whispers.
“No shit, Sherlock!”
“Scale of one to ten, I think I’m at fifty. Apt, huh?”
“That mad.” He sounds surprised and impressed at once.
“Yes. Pushed to violence mad,” I say through gritted teeth.
He stays silent as I turn and scowl at him, watching me with wide and wary eyes. I know from his expression and because he’s made no move to touch me that he’s out of his depth.
“Christian, you have to stop unilaterally trying to bring me to heel. You made your point on the beach. Very effectively, as I recall.”
He shrugs minutely. “Well, you won’t take your top off again,” he murmurs petulantly.
And this justifies what he’s done to me? I glare at him. “I don’t like you leaving marks on me. Well, not this many, anyway. It’s a hard limit!” I hiss at him.
“I don’t like you taking your clothes off in public. That’s a hard limit for me,” he growls.
“I think we’ve established that,” I hiss through my teeth. “Look at me!” I pull down my camisole to reveal the top of my breasts. Christian gazes at me, his eyes not leaving my face his expression wary and uncertain. He’s not used to seeing me this mad. Can’t he see what he’s done? Can’t he see how ridiculous he is? I want to shout at him, but I refrain-I don’t want to push him too far. Heaven knows what he’d do. Eventually, he sighs and holds his palms up in a resigned, conciliatory gesture.
“Okay,” he says his voice placating. “I get it.”
He runs his hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad at me.” Finally, he looks contrite-using my own words back at me.
“You are such an adolescent sometimes,” I scold him, mulishly, but the fight has gone out of my voice, and he knows it. He steps closer and tentatively raises his hand to tuck my hair behind my ear.
“I know,” he acknowledges softly. “I have a lot to learn.”
Dr. Flynn’s words come back to me… Emotionally, Christian is an adolescent, Ana. He bypassed that phase in his life totally. He’s channeled all his energies into succeeding in the business world, and he has beyond all expectations. His emotional world has to play catch-up.
My heart thaws a little.
“We both do.” I sigh and cautiously raise my hand, placing it over his heart. He doesn’t flinch like he used to, but he stiffens. He rests his hand over mine and smiles his shy smile.
“I’ve just learned that you’ve a good arm and a good aim, Mrs. Grey. I would never have figured that, but then I constantly underestimate you. You always surprise me.”
I arch my eyebrow at him. “Target practice with Ray. I can throw and shoot straight, Mr. Grey, and you’d do well to remember that.”
“I will endeavor to do that, Mrs. Grey, or ensure that all potential projectile objects are nailed down and that you don’t have access to a gun.” He smirks.
I smirk back, narrowing my eyes. “I’m resourceful.”
“That you are,” he whispers and releases my hand to circle his arms around me. Pulling me into an embrace, he buries his nose in my hair. I wrap my arms around him, holding him close, and feel the tension leave his body as he nuzzles me.
“Am I forgiven?”
I feel his smile. “Yes,” he answers.
We stand holding each other, my pique forgotten. He does smell good, adolescent or not. How can I resist him?
“Hungry?” he says after a while. I have my eyes closed and my head against his chest.
“Yes. Famished. All the… er… activity has given me an appetite. But I’m not dressed for dinner.” I’m sure my sweatpants and camisole would be frowned upon in the dining room.
“You look good to me, Anastasia. Besides, it’s our boat for the week. We can dress how we like. Think of it as dress down Tuesday on the Cote D’Azur. Anyway, I thought we’d eat on deck.”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
He kisses me-an earnest forgive-me kiss-then we wander hand in hand toward the bow where our gazpacho soup awaits.
The steward serves our crème brulée and discreetly retires.
“Why do you always braid my hair?” I ask Christian out of curiosity. We’re sitting adjacent to each other at the table, my lower leg curled around his. He pauses as he’s about to pick up his dessertspoon and frowns.
“I don’t want your hair catching in anything,” he says quietly and for a moment, he’s lost in thought. “Habit, I think,” he muses. Suddenly he frowns and his eyes widen, his pupils dilating with alarm.
Holy shit! What’s he remembered? It’s something painful, some early childhood memory, I guess. I don’t want to remind him of that. Leaning over, I put my index finger over his lips.
“No, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know. I was just curious.” I give him a warm, reassuring smile. His look is wary, but after a moment he visibly relaxes, his relief evident. I lean over to kiss the corner of his mouth.
“I love you,” I murmur, and he smiles his heart-achingly shy smile, and I melt. “I will always love you, Christian.”
“And I you,” he says softly.
“In spite of my disobedience?” I raise my eyebrow.
“Because of your disobedience, Anastasia.” He grins.
I crack my spoon through the burnt sugar crust of my dessert and shake my head. Will I ever understand this man? Hmm-this crème brulée is delicious.
Once the steward has cleared our dessert plates, Christian reaches for the bottle of rosé and refills my glass. I check that we’re alone and ask, “What’s with the no going to the bathroom thing?”
“You really want to know?” He half smiles, his eyes alight with a salacious gleam.
“Do I?” I gaze at him through my lashes as I take a sip of my wine.
“The fuller your bladder, the more intense your orgasm, Ana.”
I blush. “Oh. I see.” Holy cow, that explains a lot.
He grins, looking far too knowing. Will I always be on the back foot with Mr. Sexpertise?
“Yes. Well…” I desperately hunt around for a change of subject. He takes pity on me.
“What do you want to do for the rest of the evening?” He cocks his head to one side and gives me his lopsided grin.
Whatever you want, Christian. Put your theory to the test again? I shrug.
“I know what I want to do,” he murmurs. Grabbing his glass of wine, he rises and holds his hand out to me. “Come.”
I take his hand and he leads me into the main salon.
His iPod is in the speaker dock on the dresser. He switches it on and selects a song.
“Dance with me.” He pulls me into his arms.
“If you insist.”
“I insist, Mrs. Grey.”
A slinky, cheesy melody starts. Is this a Latin rhythm? Christian grins down at me and starts to move, sweeping me off my feet and taking me with him round the salon.
A man with a voice like warm melted caramel croons. It’s a song I know but can’t place. Christian dips me low, and I yelp in surprise and giggle. He smiles, his eyes filled with humor. Then he scoops me up and spins me under his arm.
“You dance so well,” I say. “It’s like I can dance.”
He gives me a sphinxlike smile but says nothing, and I wonder if it’s because he’s thinking of her… Mrs. Robinson, the woman who taught him how to dance-and how to fuck. She hasn’t crossed my mind for a while. Christian has not mentioned her since his birthday, and as far as I’m aware, their business relationship is over. Reluctantly though, I have to admit-she was some teacher.
He dips me low again and plants a swift kiss on my lips.
“I’d miss your love,” I murmur, echoing the lyrics.
“I’d more than miss your love,” he says and spins me once more. Then he sings the words softly in my ear making me swoon.
The track ends and Christian gazes down at me, his eyes dark and luminous, all humor gone, and I’m suddenly breathless.
“Come to bed with me?” he whispers and it’s a heartfelt plea that tugs at my heart.
Christian, you had me at I do-two and half weeks ago. But I know this is his way of apologizing and making sure all is well between us after our spat.
When I wake, the sun is shining through the portholes and the water reflects shimmering patterns onto the cabin ceiling. Christian is nowhere to be seen. I stretch out and smile. Hmm… I’ll take a punishment fuck followed by makeup sex any day. I marvel what it is to go to bed with two different men-angry Christian and sweet let-me-make-it-up-to-you-in-any-way-I-can Christian. It’s tricky to decide which of them I like the best.
I rise and head for the bathroom. Opening the door, I find Christian inside shaving, naked except for a towel wrapped around his waist. He turns and beams, not fazed that I am interrupting him. I have discovered that Christian will never lock the door if he is the only person in the room-the reason why is sobering, and not one I want to dwell on.
“Good morning, Mrs. Grey,” he says, radiating his good mood.
“Good morning yourself.” I grin back as I watch him shave. I love watching him shave. He pulls up his chin and shaves beneath it, taking long deliberate strokes, and I find myself unconsciously mirroring his actions. Pulling my upper lip down just as he does, to shave his philtrum. He turns and smirks at me, one half of his face still covered in shaving soap.
“Enjoying the show?” he asks.
Oh, Christian, I could watch you for hours. “One of my all-time favorites,” I murmur, and he leans down and kisses me quickly, smearing shaving soap on my face.
“Shall I do this to you again?” he whispers wickedly and holds up the razor.
I purse my lips at him. “No,” I mutter, pretending to sulk. “I’ll wax next time.” I remember Christian’s joy in London when he’d discovered that during his one meeting there, I’d shaved off my pubic hair out of curiosity. Of course I hadn’t done it to Mr. Exacting’s high standards…
“What the hell have you done?” Christian exclaims. He cannot keep his horrified amusement to himself. He sits up in bed in our suite at Browns Hotel near Piccadilly, switches on the bedside light and gazes down at me, his mouth a startled O. It must be midnight. I blush the color of the sheets in the playroom and try to pull down my satin nightdress so he can’t see. He grabs my hand to stop me.
“I can see that. Why?” He’s grinning from ear to ear.
I cover my face with my hands. Why am I so embarrassed?
“Hey,” he says softly and pulls my hand away. “Don’t hide.” He’s biting his lip so that he won’t laugh. “Tell me. Why?” His eyes dance with merriment. Why does he find this so funny?
“Stop laughing at me.”
“I’m not laughing at you. I’m sorry. I’m… delighted,” he says.
“Tell me. Why?”
I take a deep breath. “This morning, after you left for your meeting, I took a shower and was remembering all your rules.”
He blinks. The humor in his expression has vanished, and he regards me cautiously.
“And I was ticking them off one by one and how I felt about them, and I remembered the beauty salon, and I thought… this is what you’d like. I wasn’t brave enough to get a wax.” My voice disappears into a whisper.
He stares at me, his eyes glowing-this time not with mirth at my folly, but with love.
“Oh, Ana,” he breathes. He leans down and kisses me tenderly. “You beguile me,” he whispers against my lips and kisses me once more, clasping my face in both his hands.
After a breathless moment, he pulls back and leans up on one elbow. The humor is back.
“I think I should do a thorough inspection of your handiwork, Mrs. Grey.”
“What? No.” He has to be kidding! I cover myself, protecting my recently deforested area.
“Oh, no you don’t, Anastasia.” He grasps my hands and pries them away, moving nimbly so he’s between my legs and pinning my hands to my sides. He gives me a scorching look that could light dry tinder, but before I combust, he bends and skims his lips down my naked belly directly to my sex. I squirm beneath him, reluctantly resigned to my fate.
“Well, what have we here?” Christian plants a kiss where, until this morning, I had pubic hair-then scrapes his bristly chin across me.
“Ah!” I exclaim. Wow… that’s sensitive.
Christian’s eyes dart to mine, full of salacious longing. “I think you missed a bit,” he mutters and tugs gently, right underneath.
“Oh… Damn,” I mutter, hoping this will put an end to his frankly intrusive scrutiny.
“I have an idea.” He leaps naked out of bed and heads to the bathroom.
What on earth is he doing? He returns moments later, carrying a glass of water, a mug, my razor, his shaving brush, soap, and a towel. He puts the water, brush, soap, and razor on the bedside table and gazes down at me, holding the towel.
Oh no! My subconscious slams down her Complete Works of Charles Dickens, leaps up from her armchair, and puts her hands on her hips.
“No. No. No,” I squeak.
“Mrs. Grey, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Lift your hips.” His eyes glow summer storm gray.
“Christian! You are not shaving me.”
He tilts his head to one side. “Why ever not?”
I flush… isn’t it obvious? “Because… It’s just too…”
“Intimate?” he whispers. “Ana, I crave intimacy with you-you know that. Besides, after some of the things we’ve done, don’t get all squeamish on me now. And, I know this part of your body better than you do.”
I gape at him. Of all the arrogant… true, he does-but still. “It’s just wrong!” My voice is prissy and whiney.
“This isn’t wrong-this is hot.”
Hot? Really? “This turns you on?” I can’t keep the astonishment out of my voice.
He snorts. “Can’t you tell?” He glances down at his arousal. “I want to shave you,” he whispers
Oh, what the hell. I lie back, throwing my arm over my face so I don’t have to watch.
“If it makes you happy, Christian, go ahead. You are so kinky,” I mutter, as I lift my hips, and he slips the towel beneath me. He kisses my inner thigh.
“Oh, baby, how right you are.”
I hear the slosh of water as he dips the shaving brush in the glass of water, then the soft swirl of the brush in the mug. He grasps my left ankle and parts my legs, and the bed dips as he sits between my legs. “I’d really like to tie you up right now,” he murmurs.
“I promise to keep still.”
I gasp as he runs the lathered brush over my pubic bone. It’s warm. The water in the glass must be hot. I squirm a little. It tickles… but in a good way.
“Don’t move,” Christian admonishes and applies the brush again. “Or I will tie you down,” he adds darkly, and a delicious shiver runs down my spine.
“Have you done this before?” I ask tentatively when he reaches for the razor.
“Oh. Good.” I grin.
“Another first, Mrs. Grey.”
“Hmm. I like firsts.”
“Me, too. Here goes.” And with a gentleness that surprises me, he runs the razor over my sensitive flesh. “Keep still,” he says distractedly, and I know he’s concentrating hard.
It only takes a matter of minutes before he grabs the towel and wipes all the excess lather off me.
“There-that’s more like it,” he muses, and I finally lift my arm to look at him as he sits back to admire his handiwork.
“Happy?” I ask, my voice hoarse.
“Very.” He grins wickedly and slowly eases a finger inside me.
“But that was fun,” he says his eyes gently mocking.
“For you maybe.” I try to pout-but he’s right… it was… arousing.
“I seem to recall the aftermath was very satisfying.” Christian returns to finishing his shave. I glance quickly down at my fingers. Yes, it was. I had no idea that the absence of pubic hair could make such a difference.
“Hey, I’m just teasing. Isn’t that what husbands who are hopelessly in love with their wives do?” Christian tips my chin up and gazes at me, his eyes suddenly filled with apprehension as he endeavors to read my expression.
Hmm… payback time.
“Sit,” I mutter.
He stares, not understanding. I push him gently toward the lone white stool in the bathroom. Perplexed, he sits down, and I take the razor from him.
“Ana,” he warns as he realizes my intention. I lean down and kiss him.
“Head back,” I whisper.
“Tit for tat, Mr. Grey.”
He stares at me with wary, amused disbelief. “You know what you’re doing?” he asks, his voice low. I shake my head slowly, deliberately, trying to look as serious as possible. He closes his eyes and shakes his head then tilts his head back in surrender.
Holy shit, he’s going to let me shave him. My inner goddess flexes and stretches her arms outward, her fingers interlocked, palms out, limbering up. Tentatively I slide my hand into the damp hair at his forehead, gripping tightly to hold him still. He clenches his eyes closed and parts his lips as he inhales. Very gently, I stroke his razor up from his neck to his chin, revealing a path of skin beneath the lather. Christian exhales.
“Did you think I was going to hurt you?”
“I never know what you’re going to do, Ana, but no-not intentionally.”
I run the razor up his neck again, clearing a wider path in the lather.
“I would never intentionally hurt you, Christian.”
He opens his eyes and circles his arms around me as I gently drag the razor down his cheek from the bottom of his sideburn.
“I know,” he says, angling his face so I can shave the rest of his cheek. Two more strokes and I’ve finished.
“All done, and not a drop of blood spilled.” I grin proudly.
He runs his hand up my leg so that my nightdress rides up my thigh and pulls me on to his lap so that I’m astride him. I steady myself with my hands on his upper arms. He’s really very muscular.
“Can I take you somewhere today?”
“No sunbathing?” I arch a caustic brow at him.
He licks his lips nervously. “No. No sunbathing today. I thought you might prefer something else.”
“Well, since you’ve covered me in hickeys and effectively put the kibosh on that, sure, why not?”
Wisely he chooses to ignore my tone. “It’s a drive, but it’s worth a visit from what I’ve read. My dad recommended we visit. It’s a hilltop village called Saint Paul de Vence. There are some galleries there. I thought we could pick out some paintings or sculptures for the new house, if we find anything we like.”
Holy crap. I lean back and gaze at him. Art… he wants to buy art. How can I buy art?
“What?” he asks.
“I know nothing about art, Christian.”
He shrugs and smiles at me indulgently. “We’ll only buy what we like. This isn’t about investment.”
“What?” he says again.
I shake my head.
“Look, I know we only got the architect’s drawings the other day-but there’s no harm in looking, and the town is an ancient, medieval place.”
Oh, the architect. He had to remind me of her… Gia Matteo, a friend of Elliot’s who worked on Christian’s place in Aspen. During our meetings, she’d been all over Christian like a rash.
“What now?” Christian exclaims. I shake my head. “Tell me,” he urges.
How can I tell him that I don’t like Gia? My dislike is irrational. I don’t want to come across as the jealous wife.
“You’re not still mad about what I did yesterday?” He sighs and nuzzles his face between my breasts.
“No. I’m hungry,” I mutter, knowing full well that this will distract him from this line of questioning.
“Why didn’t you say?” He eases me off his lap and stands.
Saint Paul de Vence is a medieval, fortified, hilltop village, one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. I stroll arm in arm with Christian through the narrow cobblestone streets with my hand in the back pocket of his shorts. Taylor and either Gaston or Philippe-I can’t tell the difference between them-trail behind us. We pass a tree-covered square where three old men, one wearing a traditional beret in spite of the heat, are playing boules. It’s quite crowded with tourists, but I feel comfortable tucked under Christian’s arm. There is so much to see-little alleys and passageways leading to courtyards with intricate stone fountains, ancient and modern sculptures, and fascinating little boutiques and shops.
In the first gallery, Christian gazes distractedly at the erotic photographs in front of us, sucking gently on the arm of his aviator specs. They are the work of Florence D’elle-naked women in various poses.
“Not quite what I had in mind,” I mumble disapprovingly. They make me think of the box of photographs I found in his closet, our closet. I wonder if he ever did destroy them.
“Me neither,” Christian says, grinning down at me. He takes my hand, and we stroll to the next artist. Idly, I wonder if I should let him take photos of me. My inner goddess nods frantically with approval.
The next display is by a female painter who specializes in figurative art-fruit and vegetables super close up and in rich, glorious color.
“I like those.” I point to three paintings of peppers. “They remind me of you chopping vegetables in my apartment.” I giggle. Christian’s mouth twists as he tries and fails to hide his amusement.
“I thought I managed that quite competently,” he mutters. “I was just a bit slow, and anyway”-he pulls me into an embrace-“you were distracting me. Where would you put them?”
Christian is nuzzling my ear. “The paintings-where would you put them?” He bites my earlobe and I feel it in my groin.
“Kitchen,” I murmur.
“Hmm. Nice idea, Mrs. Grey.”
I squint at the price. Five thousand euros each. Holy shit!
“They’re really expensive!” I gasp.
“So?” He nuzzles me again. “Get used to it, Ana.” He releases me and saunters over to the desk where a young woman dressed entirely in white is gaping at him. I want to roll my eyes, but turn my attention back to the paintings. Five thousand euros… jeez.
We have finished lunch and are relaxing over coffee at the Hotel Le Saint Paul. The view of the surrounding countryside is stunning. Vineyards and fields of sunflowers form a patchwork across the plain, interspersed here and there with neat little French farmhouses. It’s such a clear, beautiful day we can see all the way to the sea, glinting faintly on the horizon. Christian interrupts my reverie.
“You asked me why I braid your hair,” he murmurs. His tone alarms me. He looks… guilty.
“Yes.” Oh, shit.
“The crack whore used to let me play with her hair, I think. I don’t know if it’s a memory or a dream.”
Whoa! His birth mom.
He gazes at me, his expression unreadable. My heart leaps into my mouth. What do I say when he says things like this?
“I like you playing with my hair.” My voice is hesitant.
He regards me with uncertainty. “Do you?”
“Yes.” It’s the truth. I grasp his hand. “I think you loved your birth mother, Christian.” His eyes widen and he stares at me impassively, saying nothing.
Holy shit. Have I gone too far? Say something, Fifty-please. But he remains resolutely mute, gazing at me with fathomless gray eyes while the silence stretches between us. He looks lost.
He glances down at my hand on his and he frowns.
“Say something,” I whisper, because I cannot bear the silence any longer.
He shakes his head, exhaling deeply.
“Let’s go.” He releases my hand and stands. His expression guarded. Have I overstepped the mark? I have no idea. My heart sinks and I don’t know whether to say anything else or just let it go. I decide on the latter and follow him dutifully out of the restaurant.
In the lovely narrow street, he takes my hand.
“Where do you want to go?”
He speaks! And he’s not mad at me-thank heavens. I exhale, relieved, and shrug. “I am just glad you’re still speaking to me.”
“You know I don’t like talking about all that shit. It’s done. Finished,” he says quietly.
No, Christian, it isn’t. The thought saddens me, and for the first time I wonder if it will ever be finished. He’ll always be Fifty Shades… my Fifty Shades. Do I want him to change? No, not really-only insofar as I want him to feel loved. Peeking up at him, I take a moment to admire his captivating beauty… and he’s mine. And it’s not just the allure of his fine, fine face and his body that has me spellbound. It’s what’s behind the perfection that draws me, that calls to me… his fragile, damaged soul.
He gives me that look, down his nose, half amused, half wary, wholly sexy then tucks me under his arm, and we make our way through the tourists toward the spot where Philippe/Gaston has parked the roomy Mercedes. I slip my hand back into the back pocket of Christian’s shorts, grateful that he isn’t mad. But, honestly, what four-year-old child doesn’t love his mom, no matter how bad a mom she is? I sigh heavily and hug him closer. I know behind us the security team lurks, and I wonder idly if they’ve eaten.
Christian stops outside a small boutique selling fine jewelry and gazes in the window, then down at me. He grasps my free hand and runs his thumb across the faded red line of the handcuff mark, inspecting it.
“It’s not sore.” I reassure him. He twists so that my other hand is freed from his pocket. He clasps that hand, too, turning it gently over to examine my wrist. The platinum Omega watch he gave me at breakfast on our first morning in London obscures the red line. The inscription still makes me swoon.
You are my More
My Love, My Life
In spite of everything, all his Fiftyness, my husband can be so romantic. I gaze down at the faint marks on my wrist. Then again, he can be savage sometimes. Releasing my left hand, he tilts my chin up with his fingers and scrutinizes my expression, his eyes troubled.
“They don’t hurt,” I repeat. He pulls my hand to his lips and plants a soft apologetic kiss on the inside of my wrist.
“Come,” he says and leads me into the shop.
“Here,” Christian holds open the platinum bracelet he’s just purchased. It’s exquisite, so delicately crafted, the filigree in the shape of small abstract flowers with small diamonds at their heart. He fastens it around my wrist. It’s wide and cuff-like and hides the red marks. It also cost around thirty thousand euros, I think, though I couldn’t really follow the conversation in French with the sales assistant. I have never worn anything so expensive.
“There, that’s better,” he murmurs.
“Better?” I whisper, gazing into luminous gray eyes, conscious that the stick-thin sales assistant is staring at us with a jealous and disapproving look.
“You know why,” Christian says uncertainly.
“I don’t need this.” I shake my wrist and the cuff moves. It catches the afternoon light streaming through the boutique window and small sparkling rainbows dance off the diamonds all over the walls of the store.
“I do,” he says with utter sincerity.
Why? Why does he need this? Does he feel guilty? About what? The marks? His birth mother? Not confiding in me? Oh, Fifty.
“No, Christian, you don’t. You’ve given me so much already. A magical honeymoon, London, Paris, the Cote D’Azur… and you. I’m a very lucky girl,” I whisper and his eyes soften.
“No, Anastasia, I’m a very lucky man.”
“Thank you.” Stretching up on tiptoes, I put my arms around his neck and kiss him… not for giving me the bracelet but for being mine.
Back in the car he’s introspective, gazing out at the fields of bright sunflowers, their heads following and basking in the afternoon sun. One of the twins-I think it’s Gaston-is driving and Taylor is beside him up front. Christian is brooding about something. I clasp his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. He glances at me before releasing my hand and caressing my knee. I’m wearing a short, full, blue and white skirt, and a blue, fitted, sleeveless shirt. Christian hesitates, and I don’t know if his hand is going to travel up my thigh or down my leg. I tense with anticipation at the gentle touch of his fingers and my breath catches. What’s he going to do? He chooses down, suddenly grasps my ankle and pulls my foot on to his lap. I swivel my backside so I am facing him in the back of the car.
“I want the other one, too.”
I glance nervously toward Taylor and Gaston, whose eyes are resolutely on the road ahead, and place my other foot on his lap. His eyes cool, he reaches over and presses a button located in his door. In front of us, a lightly tinted privacy screen slides out of a panel, and ten seconds later we are effectively on our own. Wow… no wonder the back of this car has so much legroom.
“I want to look at your ankles,” Christian offers his quiet explanation. His gaze is anxious. The cuff marks? Jeez… I thought we’d dealt with this. If there are marks, they are hidden by the sandal straps. I don’t recall seeing any this morning. Gently, he strokes his thumb up my right instep, making me wriggle. A smile plays on his lips and deftly he undoes one strap, and his smile fades as he’s confronted with the darker red marks.
“Doesn’t hurt,” I murmur. He glances at me and his expression is sad, his mouth a thin line. He nods once as if he’s taking me at my word while I shake my sandal loose so it falls to the floor, but I know I’ve lost him. He’s distracted and brooding again, mechanically caressing my foot while he turns away to gaze out the car window once more.
“Hey. What did you expect?” I ask softly. He glances at me and shrugs.
“I didn’t expect to feel like I do looking at these marks,” he says.
Oh! Reticent one minute and forthcoming the next? How… Fifty! How can I keep up with him?
“How do you feel?”
Bleak eyes gaze at me. “Uncomfortable,” he murmurs.
Oh, no. I unbuckle my seatbelt and scoot closer to him, leaving my feet in his lap. I want to crawl into his lap and hold him, and I would, if it were just Taylor in the front. But knowing Gaston is there cramps my style despite the glass. If only it were darker. I clutch his hands.
“It’s the hickeys I don’t like,” I whisper. “Everything else… what you did”-I lower my voice even further-“with the handcuffs, I enjoyed that. Well, more than enjoyed. It was mind-blowing. You can do that to me again anytime.”
He shifts in his seat. “Mind-blowing?” My inner goddess looks up startled from her Jackie Collins.
“Yes.” I grin. I flex my toes into his hardening crotch and see rather than hear his sharp intake of breath, his lips parting.
“You should really be wearing your seat belt, Mrs. Grey.” His voice is low, and I curl my toes around him once more. He inhales and his eyes darken, and he clasps my ankle in warning. Does he want me stop? Continue? He pauses, scowls then fishes his ever-present BlackBerry out of his pocket to take an incoming call while glancing at his watch. His frown deepens.
“Barney,” he snaps.
Crap. Work interrupting us again. I try to remove my feet, but he tightens his fingers around my ankle.
“In the server room?” he says in disbelief. “Did it activate the fire suppression system?”
Fire! I take my feet off his lap and this time he lets me. I sit back in my seat, buckle my seat belt, and fiddle nervously with the fifteen-thousand-euro bracelet. Christian presses the button in his door armrest again and the privacy glass slides down.
“Anyone injured? Damage? I see… When?” Christian glances at his watch again then runs his hand through his hair. “No. Not the fire department or the police. Not yet anyway.”
Holy crap! A fire? At Christian’s office? I gape at him, my mind racing. Taylor shifts so he can hear Christian’s conversation.
“Has he? Good… Okay. I want a detailed damage report. And a complete rundown of everyone who had access over the last five days, including the cleaning staff… Get hold of Andrea and get her to call me… Yeah, sounds like the argon is just as effective, worth its weight in gold.”
Damage report? Argon? It rings a distant bell from chemistry class-an element, I think.
“I realize it’s early… E-mail me in two hours… No, I need to know. Thank you for calling me.” Christian hangs up, then immediately punches a number into the BlackBerry.
“Welch… Good… When?” Christian glances at his watch yet again. “An hour then… yes… Twenty-four-seven at the off-site data store… good.” He hangs up.
“Philippe, I need to be onboard within the hour.”
Shit, it’s Philippe, not Gaston. The car surges forward.
Christian glances at me, his expression unreadable.
“Anyone hurt?” I ask quietly.
Christian shakes his head. “Very little damage.” He reaches over and clasps my hand, squeezing it reassuringly. “Don’t worry about this. My team is on it.” And there he is, the CEO, in command, in control and not flustered at all.
“Where was the fire?”
His responses are clipped, so I know he doesn’t want to talk about it.
“Why so little damage?”
“The server room is fitted with a state-of-the-art fire suppression system.”
Of course it is.
“Ana, please… don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried,” I lie.
“We don’t know for sure that it was arson,” he says, cutting to the heart of my anxiety. My hand clutches my throat in fear. Charlie Tango and now this?
I’m restless. Christian has been holed up in the onboard study for over an hour. I have tried reading, watching TV, sunbathing-fully dressed sunbathing-but I can’t relax, and I can’t rid myself of this edgy feeling. After changing into shorts and a T-shirt, I remove the ludicrously expensive bangle and go to find Taylor.
“Mrs. Grey,” he says, startled from his Anthony Burgess novel. He’s sitting in the small salon outside Christian’s study.
“I’d like to go shopping.”
“Yes ma’am.” He stands.
“I’d like to take the Jet Ski.”
His mouth drops open. “Erm.” He frowns, lost for words.
“I don’t want to bother Christian with this.”
He represses a sigh. “Mrs. Grey… um… I don’t think Mr. Grey would be very comfortable with that, and I’d like to keep my job.”
Oh, for heaven’s sake! I want to roll my eyes at him, but I narrow them instead, sighing heavily and expressing, I think, the right amount of frustrated indignation that I am not mistress of my own destiny. Then again, I don’t want Christian mad at Taylor-or me, for that matter. Striding confidently past him, I knock on the study door and enter.
Christian is on his BlackBerry, leaning against the mahogany desk. He glances up. “Andrea, hold please,” he mutters down the phone, his expression serious. His gaze is politely expectant. Shit. Why do I feel like I’ve entered the principal’s office? This man had me in handcuffs yesterday. I refuse to be intimidated by him, he’s my husband damn it. I square my shoulders and give him a broad smile.
“I’m going shopping. I’ll take security with me.”
“Sure, take one of the twins and Taylor, too,” he says, and I know that whatever’s happening is serious because he doesn’t question me further. I stand staring at him, wondering if I can help.
“Anything else?” he asks. He wants me gone. Crap.
“Can I get you anything?” I ask. He smiles his sweet shy smile.
“No, baby, I’m good,” he says. “The crew will look after me.”
“Okay.” I want to kiss him. Hell, I can-he’s my husband. Strolling purposefully forward, I plant a kiss on his lips, surprising him.
“Andrea, I’ll call you back,” he mutters. He puts the BlackBerry down on the desk behind him, pulls me into his embrace, and kisses me passionately. I am breathless when he releases me. His eyes are dark and needy.
“You’re distracting me. I need to sort this, so I can get back to my honeymoon.” He runs an index finger down my face and caresses my chin, tilting my face up.
“Okay. I’m sorry.”
“Please don’t apologize, Mrs. Grey. I love your distractions.” He kisses the corner of my mouth.
“Go spend some money.” He releases me.
“Will do.” I smirk at him as I exit his study. My subconscious shakes her head and purses her lips. You didn’t tell him you were going on the Jet Ski, she chastises me in her singsong voice. I ignore her… Harpy.
Taylor is patiently waiting.
“That’s all cleared with high command… can we go?” I smile, trying to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. Taylor doesn’t hide his admiring smile.
“Mrs. Grey, after you.”
Taylor patiently talks me through the controls on the Jet Ski and how to ride it. He has a calm, gentle authority about him; he’s a good teacher. We are in the motor launch, bobbing and weaving on the calm waters of the harbor beside the Fair Lady. Gaston looks on, his expression hidden by his shades, and one of the Fair Lady’s crew is at the controls of the motor launch. Jeez-three people with me, just because I want to go shopping. It’s ridiculous.
Zipping up my life jacket, I give Taylor a beaming grin. He holds out his hand to assist me as I climb onto the Jet Ski.
“Fasten the strap of the ignition key around your wrist, Mrs. Grey. If you fall off, the engine will cut out automatically,” he explains.
I nod enthusiastically.
“Press the ignition when you’ve drifted about four feet away from the boat. We’ll follow you.”
He pushes the Jet Ski away from the launch, and it floats gently into the main harbor. When he gives me the okay sign, I press the ignition button and the engine roars into life.
“Okay, Mrs. Grey, easy does it!” Taylor shouts. I squeeze the accelerator. The Jet Ski lurches forward then stalls. Crap! How does Christian make it look so easy? I try again, and once again, I stall. Double crap!
“Just steady on the gas, Mrs. Grey,” Taylor calls.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I mutter under my breath. I try once more, very gently squeezing the lever, and the Jet Ski lurches forward-but this time it keeps going. Yes! It goes some more. Ha ha! It still keeps going! I want to shout and squeal in excitement, but I resist. I cruise gently away from the yacht into the main harbor. Behind me, I hear the throaty roar of the motor launch. When I squeeze the gas further, the Jet Ski leaps forward, skating across the water. With the warm breeze in my hair and a fine sea spray on either side of me, I feel free. This rocks! No wonder Christian never lets me drive.
Rather than head for the shore and curtail the fun, I veer around to do a circuit of the stately Fair Lady. Wow-this is so much fun. I ignore Taylor and the crew behind me and speed around the yacht for a second time. As I complete the circuit, I spot Christian on deck. I think he’s gaping at me, though it’s difficult to tell. Bravely, I lift one hand from the handlebars and wave enthusiastically at him. He looks like he’s made of stone, but finally he raises his hand in the semblance of a stiff wave. I can’t work out his expression, and something tells me I don’t want to, so I head to the marina, speeding across the blue water of the Mediterranean that shimmers in the late afternoon sun.
At the dock, I wait and let Taylor pull up ahead of me. His expression is bleak, and my heart sinks, though Gaston looks vaguely amused. I wonder briefly if something has happened to chill Gallic-American relations, but deep down I suspect the problem is probably me. Gaston leaps out of the motorboat and ties it to the moorings while Taylor directs me to come alongside. Very gently I ease the Jet Ski into position beside the boat and line up beside him. His expression softens a little.
“Just switch off the ignition, Mrs. Grey,” he says calmly, reaching for the handlebars and holding out a hand to help me into the motorboat. I nimbly climb aboard, impressed that I don’t fall in.
“Mrs. Grey,” Taylor blinks nervously, his cheeks pink once more. “Mr. Grey is not entirely comfortable with you riding on the Jet Ski.” He’s practically squirming with embarrassment, and I realize he’s had an irate call from Christian. Oh, my poor, pathologically overprotective husband, what am I going to do with you?
I smile serenely at Taylor. “I see. Well, Taylor, Mr. Grey is not here, and if he’s not entirely comfortable, I’m sure he’ll give me the courtesy of telling me himself when I’m back on board.”
Taylor winces. “Very good, Mrs. Grey,” he says quietly, handing me my purse.
As I climb out of the boat, I catch a glimpse of his reluctant smile, and it makes me want to smile, too. I cannot believe how fond I am of Taylor, but I really don’t appreciate being scolded by him-he’s not my father or my husband.
Crap, Christian’s mad-and he has enough to worry about at the moment. What was I thinking? As I stand on the dock waiting for Taylor to climb up, I feel my BlackBerry vibrate in my purse and fish it out. Sadé’s “Your Love is King” is my ring tone for Christian-only for Christian.
“Hi,” I murmur.
“Hi,” he says.
“I’ll come back on the boat. Don’t be mad.”
I hear his small gasp of surprise. “Um…”
“It was fun, though,” I whisper.
He sighs. “Well, far be it for me to curtail your fun, Mrs. Grey. Just be careful. Please.”
Oh my! Permission to have fun! “I will. Anything you want from town?”
“Just you, back in one piece.”
“I’ll do my best to comply, Mr. Grey.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Mrs. Grey.”
“We aim to please,” I respond with a giggle.
I hear his smile in his voice. “I have another call-laters, baby.”
He hangs up. Jet Ski crisis averted, I think. The car is waiting, and Taylor holds the door open for me. I wink at him as I climb in, and he shakes his head in amusement.
In the car, I fire up the e-mail on my BlackBerry.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Thank You
Date: August 17, 2011 16:55
To: Christian Grey
For not being too grouchy.
Your loving wife
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Trying to Stay Calm
Date: August 17, 2011 16:59
To: Anastasia Grey
Come back in one piece.
This is not a request.
CEO & Overprotective Husband, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
His response makes me smile. My control freak.
Why did I want to come shopping? I hate shopping. But deep down I know why, and I walk determinedly past Chanel, Gucci, Dior, and the other designer boutiques and eventually find the antidote to what ails me in a small, overstocked, touristy store. It’s a little silver ankle bracelet with small hearts and little bells. It tinkles sweetly and it costs five euros. As soon as I’ve bought it, I put it on. This is me-this is what I like. Immediately I feel more comfortable. I don’t want to lose touch with the girl who likes this, ever. Deep down I know that I’m not only overwhelmed by Christian himself but also by his wealth. Will I ever get used to it?
Taylor and Gaston follow me dutifully through the late afternoon crowds, and I soon forget they are there. I want to buy something for Christian, something to take his mind off what’s happening in Seattle. But what do I buy for the man who has everything? I pause in a small modern square surrounded by stores and gaze at each one in turn. When I spy an electronics store, our visit to the gallery earlier today and our visit to the Louvre come back to me. We were looking at the Venus de Milo at the time… Christian’s words echo in my head, “We can all appreciate the female form. We love to look whether in marble or oils or satin or film.”
It gives me an idea, a daring idea. I just need help choosing the right one, and there’s only one person who can help me. I wrestle my BlackBerry out of my purse and call José.
“Who…?” he mumbles sleepily.
“José, it’s Ana.”
“Ana, hi! Where are you? You okay?” He sounds more alert now, concerned.
“I’m in Cannes in the South of France, and I’m fine.”
“South of France, huh? You in some fancy hotel?”
“Um… no. We’re staying on a boat.”
“A big boat.” I clarify, sighing.
“I see.” His tone chills… Shit, I should not have called him. I don’t need this right now.
“José, I need your advice.”
“My advice?” He sounds stunned. “Sure,” he says, and this time he’s much more friendly. I tell him my plan.
Two hours later, Taylor helps me out of the motor launch onto the steps up to the deck. Gaston is helping the deckhand with the Jet Ski. Christian is nowhere to be seen, and I scurry down to our cabin to wrap his present, feeling a childish sense of delight.
“You were gone some time.” Christian startles me just as I am applying the last piece of tape. I turn to find him standing in the doorway to the cabin, watching me intently. Holy shit! Am I still in trouble over the Jet Ski? Or is it the fire at his office?
“Everything in control at your office?” I ask tentatively.
“More or less,” he says, an annoyed frown flitting across his face.
“I did a little shopping,” I murmur, hoping to lighten his mood, and praying his annoyance is not directed at me. He smiles warmly, and I know we’re okay.
“What did you buy?”
“This,” I put my foot up on the bed and show him my ankle chain.
“Very nice,” he says. He steps over to me and fondles the tiny bells so that they jingle sweetly around my ankle. He frowns again and runs his fingers lightly along the mark, sending tingles up my leg.
“And this.” I hold out the box, hoping to distract him.
“For me?” he asks in surprise. I nod shyly. He takes the box and shakes it gently. He grins his boyish, dazzling smile and sits down beside me on the bed. Leaning over, he grasps my chin and kisses me.
“Thank you,” he says with shy delight.
“You haven’t opened it yet.”
“I’ll love it, whatever it is.” He gazes down at me, his eyes glowing. “I don’t get many presents.”
“It’s hard to buy you things. You have everything.”
“I have you.”
“You do.” I grin at him. Oh, you so do, Christian.
He makes short work of the wrapping paper. “A Nikon?” He glances up at me, puzzled.
“I know you have your compact digital camera but this is for… um… portraits and the like. It comes with two lenses.”
He blinks at me, still not understanding.
“Today in the gallery you liked the Florence D’elle photographs. And I remember what you said in the Louvre. And of course, there were those other photographs.” I swallow, trying my best not to recall the images I found in his closet.
He stops breathing, his eyes widening as realization dawns, and I continue hurriedly before I lose my nerve.
“I thought you might, um… like to take pictures of… me.”
“Pictures. Of you?” He gapes at me, ignoring the box on his lap.
I nod, desperately trying to gauge his reaction. Finally he gazes back down at the box, his fingers tracing over the illustration of the camera on the front with fascinated reverence.
What is he thinking? Oh, this is not the reaction I was expecting, and my subconscious glares at me like I’m a domesticated farm animal. Christian never reacts the way I expect. He looks back up, his eyes filled with what, pain?
“Why do you think I want this?” he asks, bemused.
No, no, no! You said you’d love it…
“Don’t you?” I ask, refusing to acknowledge my subconscious who is questioning why anyone would want erotic photographs of me. Christian swallows and runs a hand through his hair, and he looks so lost, so confused. He takes a deep breath.
“For me, photos like those have usually been an insurance policy, Ana. I know I’ve objectified women for so long,” he says and pauses awkwardly.
“And you think taking pictures of me is… um, objectifying me?” All the air leaves my body, and the blood drains from my face.
He scrunches up his eyes. “I am so confused,” he whispers. When he opens his eyes again, they are wide and wary, full of some raw emotion.
Shit. Is it me? My questions earlier about his birth mom? The fire at his office?
“Why do you say that?” I whisper, panic rising in my throat. I thought he was happy. I thought we were happy. I thought I made him happy. I don’t want to confuse him. Do I? My mind starts racing. He hasn’t seen Flynn in nearly three weeks. Is that it? Is that the reason he’s unraveling? Shit, should I call Flynn? And in a possibly unique moment of extraordinary depth and clarity, it comes to me-the fire, Charlie Tango, the Jet Ski… He’s scared, he’s scared for me, and seeing these marks on my skin must bring that home. He’s been fussing about them all day, confusing himself because he’s not used to feeling uncomfortable about inflicting pain. The thought chills me.
He shrugs and once more his eyes move down to my wrist where the bangle he bought me this afternoon used to be. Bingo!
“Christian, these don’t matter.” I hold up my wrist, revealing the fading welt. “You gave me a safe word. Shit-yesterday was fun. I enjoyed it. Stop brooding about it-I like rough sex, I’ve told you that before.” I blush scarlet as I try to quash my rising panic.
He gazes at me intently, and I have no idea what he’s thinking. Maybe he’s measuring my words. I stumble on.
“Is this about the fire? Do you think it’s connected somehow to Charlie Tango? Is this why you’re worried? Talk to me, Christian-please.”
He stares at me, saying nothing and the silence expands between us again as it did this afternoon. Holy fucking crap! He’s not going to talk to me, I know.
“Don’t overthink this Christian,” I scold quietly, and the words echo, disturbing a memory from the recent past-his words to me about his stupid contract. I reach over, take the box from his lap, and open it. He watches me passively as if I’m a fascinating alien creature. Knowing that the camera is prepped by the overly helpful salesman in the store, and ready to go, I fish it out of the box and remove the lens cap. I point the camera at him so his beautiful anxious face fills the frame. I press the button and keep it pressed, and ten pictures of Christian’s alarmed expression are captured digitally for posterity.
“I’ll objectify you then,” I murmur, pressing the shutter again. On the final still his lips twitch almost imperceptibly. I press again, and this time he smiles… a small smile, but a smile nevertheless. I hold down the button once more and see him physically relax in front of me and pout-a full-on, posed, ridiculous, “Blue Steel” pout, and it makes me giggle. Oh, thank heavens. Mr. Mercurial is back-and I’ve never been so pleased to see him.
“I thought it was my present,” he mutters sulkily, but I think he’s teasing.
“Well, it was supposed to be fun, but apparently it’s a symbol of women’s oppression.” I snap away, taking more pictures of him, and watch the amusement grow on his face in super close-up. Then his eyes darken, and his expression changes to predatory.
“You want to be oppressed?” he murmurs silkily.
“Not oppressed. No,” I murmur back, snapping again.
“I could oppress you big time, Mrs. Grey,” he threatens, his voice husky.
“I know you can, Mr. Grey. And you do, frequently.”
His face falls. Shit. I lower the camera and stare at him.
“What’s wrong, Christian?” My voice oozes frustration. Tell me!
He says nothing. Gah! He’s so infuriating. I lift the camera to my eye again.
“Tell me,” I insist.
“Nothing,” he says and abruptly disappears from the viewfinder. In one swift, smooth move, he sweeps the camera box onto the cabin floor, grabs me and pushes me down onto the bed. He sits astride me.
“Hey!” I exclaim and take more photographs of him, smiling down at me with dark intent. He grabs the camera by the lens, and the photographer becomes the subject as he points the Nikon at me and presses the shutter down.
“So, you want me to take pictures of you, Mrs. Grey?” he says, amused. All I can see of his face is his unruly hair and a broad grin on his sculptured mouth. “Well, for a start, I think you should be laughing,” he says, and he tickles me ruthlessly under my ribs, making me squeal and giggle and squirm beneath him until I grasp his wrist in a vain attempt to make him stop. His grin widens, and he renews his efforts while snapping pictures.
“No! Stop!” I scream.
“Are you kidding?” he growls and puts the camera down beside us so that he can torture me with both hands.
“Christian!” I splutter and gasp my laughing protest. He has never ever tickled me before. Fuck-stop! I thrash my head from side to side, trying to wiggle out from under him, giggling and pushing both of his hands away, but he’s unrelenting-grinning down at me, enjoying my torment.
“Christian, stop!” I plead and he stops suddenly. Grabbing both of my hands, he holds them down on either side of my head while looming over me. I am panting and breathless with laughter. His breathing mirrors mine, and he gazes down at me with… what? My lungs stop functioning. Wonder? Love? Reverence? Holy cow. That look!
“You. Are. So. Beautiful,” he breathes.
I stare up at his dear, dear face bathed in the intensity of his gaze, and it’s as if he’s seeing me for the first time. Leaning down, he closes his eyes and kisses me, enraptured. His response is a wake-up call to my libido… seeing him like this, undone, by me. Oh my. He releases my hands and curls his fingers around my head and into my hair, holding me gently in place, and my body rises and fills with my arousal, responding to his kiss. And suddenly the nature of his kiss alters, no longer sweet, reverential and admiring, but carnal, deep and devouring-his tongue invading my mouth, taking not giving, his kiss possessing a desperate needy edge. As desire courses through my blood, awakening every muscle and sinew in its wake, I feel a frisson of alarm.
Oh, Fifty, what’s wrong?
He inhales sharply and groans. “Oh, what you do to me,” he murmurs, lost and raw. He moves suddenly, lying down on top of me, pressing me into the mattress-one hand cupping my chin, the other skimming over my body, my breast, my waist, my hip, and around my behind. He kisses me again, pushing his leg between mine, raising my knee, and grinding against me, his erection straining against our clothes and my sex. I gasp and moan against his lips, losing myself to his fervent passion. I dismiss the distant alarm bells in the back of my mind, knowing that he wants me, that he needs me, and that when it comes to communicating with me, this is his favorite form of self-expression. I kiss him with renewed abandon, running my fingers through his hair, fisting my hands, holding tight. He tastes so good and smells of Christian, my Christian.
Abruptly, he stops, stands up, and pulls me off the bed so that I am standing in front of him, dazed. He undoes the button on my shorts and kneels quickly, yanking them and my panties down, and before I can breathe again, I am back on the bed beneath him and he’s unbuttoning his fly. Holy cow, he’s not taking off his clothes or my T-shirt. He holds my head and with no preamble whatsoever he thrusts himself inside me, making me cry out-more in surprise than anything else-but I can still hear the hiss of his breath forced through his clenched teeth.
“Yessss,” he hisses close to my ear. He stills, then swivels his hips once, pushing deeper, making me groan.
“I need you,” he growls, his voice low and husky. He runs his teeth along my jaw, nipping and sucking, and then he’s kissing me again, hard. I wrap my legs and arms around him, cradling and holding him hard against me, determined to wipe out whatever’s worrying him, and he starts to move… move like he’s trying to climb inside me. Over and over, frantic, primal, desperate, and before I lose myself in the insane rhythm and pace he’s setting, I briefly wonder once more what’s driving him, worrying him. But my body takes over, obliterating the thought, climbing and building so I am awash with sensation, meeting him thrust for thrust. Listening to his harsh breathing, labored and fierce at my ear. Knowing that he’s lost in me… I groan loudly, panting. It’s so erotic-his need for me. I am reaching… reaching… and he’s driving me higher, overwhelming me, taking me, and I want this. I want this so much… for him and for me.
“Come with me,” he gasps, and he rears up over me so I have to break my hold around him.
“Open your eyes,” he orders. “I need to see you.” His voice is urgent, implacable. My eyes flicker open momentarily, and the sight of him above me-his face taut with ardor, his eyes raw and glowing. His passion and his love is my undoing, and on cue I come, throwing my head back as my body pulses around him.
“Oh, Ana,” he cries and he joins my climax, driving into me, then stilling and collapsing onto me. He rolls over so that I’m sprawled on top of him, and he’s still inside me. As I surface from my orgasm and my body steadies and calms, I want to make some quip about being objectified and oppressed, but hold my tongue, uncertain of his mood. I glance up from Christian’s chest to examine his face. His eyes are closed and his arms are wrapped around me, clinging tight. I kiss his chest through the thin fabric of his linen shirt.
“Tell me, Christian, what’s wrong?” I ask softly and wait anxiously to see if even now, sated by sex, he’ll tell me. I feel his arms tighten around me further, but it’s his only response. He’s not going to talk. Inspiration hits me.
“I give you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health, to stand by your side in good times and in bad, to share your joy as well as your sorrow,” I murmur.
He freezes. His only movement is to open wide his fathomless eyes and gaze at me as I continue my wedding vows.
“I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals and dreams, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, to share my hopes and dreams with you, and bring you solace in times of need.” I pause, willing him to talk to me. He watches me, his lips parted, but says nothing.
“And to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.” I sigh.
“Oh, Ana,” he whispers and moves again, breaking our precious contact so that we’re lying side by side. He strokes my face with the back of his knuckles.
“I solemnly vow that I will safeguard and hold dear and deep in my heart our union and you,” he whispers, his voice hoarse. “I promise to love you faithfully, forsaking all others, through the good times and the bad, in sickness or in health, regardless of where life takes us. I will protect you, trust you, and respect you. I will share your joys and sorrows and comfort you in times of need. I promise to cherish you and uphold your hopes and dreams and keep you safe at my side. All that is mine is now yours. I give you my hand, my heart, and my love from this moment on for as long as we both shall live.”
Tears spring to my eyes. His face softens as he gazes at me.
“Don’t cry,” he murmurs, his thumb catching and dispatching a stray tear.
“Why won’t you talk to me? Please, Christian.”
He closes his eyes as if in pain.
“I vowed I would bring you solace in times of need. Please don’t make me break my vows.”
He sighs and opens his eyes, his expression bleak. “It’s arson,” he says simply, and he looks suddenly so young and vulnerable.
“And my biggest worry is that they are after me. And if they are after me-” He stops, unable to continue.
“… They might get me,” I whisper. He blanches, and I know that I have finally uncovered the root of his anxiety. I caress his face.
“Thank you,” I murmur.
He frowns. “What for?”
“For telling me.”
He shakes his head and a ghost of a smile touches his lips. “You can be very persuasive, Mrs. Grey.”
“And you can brood and internalize all your feelings and worry yourself to death. You’ll probably die of a heart attack before you’re forty, and I want you around far longer than that.”
“Mrs. Grey, you’ll be the death of me. The sight of you on the Jet Ski-I nearly had a coronary.” He flops back on the bed and puts his hand over his eyes, and I feel him shudder.
“Christian, it’s a Jet Ski. Even kids ride Jet Skis. Can you imagine what you’ll be like when we visit your place in Aspen and I go skiing for the first time?”
He gasps and turns to face me, and I want to laugh at the horror on his face.
“Our place,” he says eventually.
I ignore him. “I’m a grown-up, Christian, and much tougher than I look. When are you going to learn this?”
He shrugs and his mouth thins. I decide to change the subject.
“So, the fire. Do the police know about the arson?”
“Yes.” His expression is serious.
“Security is going to get tighter,” he says matter-of-factly.
“I understand.” I glance down his body. He’s still wearing his shorts and his shirt, and I still have my T-shirt on. Jeez-talk about wham, bam, thank you ma’am. The thought makes me giggle.
“What?” Christian asks, bemused.
“Yes. You. Still dressed.”
“Oh.” He glances down at himself, then back at me, and his face erupts into an enormous smile.
“Well, you know how hard it is for me to keep my hands off you, Mrs. Grey-especially when you’re giggling like a schoolgirl.”
Oh yes-the tickling. Gah! The tickling. I move quickly so that I’m straddling him, but immediately understanding my evil intent, he grabs both of my wrists.
“No,” he says and he means it.
I pout at him but decide that he’s not ready for this.
“Please don’t,” he whispers. “I couldn’t bear it. I was never tickled as a child.” He pauses and I relax my hands so he doesn’t have to restrain me.
“I used to watch Carrick with Elliot and Mia, tickling them, and it looked like such fun, but I… I…”
I place my index finger on his lips.
“Hush, I know,” I murmur and plant a soft kiss on his lips where my finger has just been, then curl up on his chest. The familiar painful ache swells inside me, and the profound sadness that I hold in my heart for Christian as a little boy seizes me once more. I know I would do anything for this man because I love him so.
He puts his arms around me and presses his nose into my hair, inhaling deeply as he gently strokes my back. I don’t know how long we lie there, but eventually I break the comfortable silence between us.
“What is the longest you’ve gone without seeing Dr. Flynn?”
“Two weeks. Why? Do you have an incorrigible urge to tickle me?”
“No.” I chuckle. “I think he helps you.”
Christian snorts. “He should; I pay him enough.” He pulls my hair gently, turning my face to look up at him. I lift my head and meet his gaze.
“Are you concerned for my well-being, Mrs. Grey?” he asks softly.
“Every good wife is concerned for her beloved husband’s well-being, Mr. Grey,” I admonish him teasingly.
“Beloved?” he whispers, and it’s a poignant question hanging between us.
“Very much beloved.” I scoot up to kiss him, and he smiles his shy smile.
“Do you want to go ashore to eat, Mrs. Grey?”
“I want to eat wherever you’re happiest.”
“Good.” He grins. “Aboard it is where I can keep you safe. Thank you for my present.” He reaches over and grabs the camera, and holding it at arm’s length, he snaps the two of us in our post tickling, postcoital, post confessional embrace.
“The pleasure is all mine,” I smile and his eyes light up.
We wander through the opulent, gilt splendor of the eighteenth century Palace of Versailles. Once a humble hunting lodge, it was transformed by the Roi Soleil into a magnificent, lavish seat of power, but even before the eighteenth century ended it saw the last of those absolute monarchs.
The most stunning room by far is the Hall of Mirrors. The early afternoon light floods through windows to the west, lighting up the mirrors that line the east wall and illuminating the gold leaf décor and the enormous crystal chandeliers. It’s breathtaking.
“Interesting to see what becomes of a despotic megalomaniac who isolates himself in such splendor,” I murmur to Christian as he stands at my side. He gazes down and cocks his head to one side, regarding me with humor.
“Your point, Mrs. Grey?”
“Oh, merely an observation, Mr. Grey.” I wave my hand airily at the surroundings. Smirking, he follows me to the center of the room where I stand and gawk at the view-the spectacular gardens reflected in the looking glass and the spectacular Christian Grey, my husband, reflected back at me, his gaze bright and bold.
“I would build this for you,” he whispers. “Just to see the way the light burnishes your hair, right here, right now.” He tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. “You look like an angel.” He kisses me just below my earlobe, takes my hand in his, and murmurs, “We despots do that for the women we love.”
I flush at his compliment, smiling shyly, and follow him through the vast room.
“What are you thinking about?” Christian asks softly, taking a sip of his after-dinner coffee.
“Ostentatious, wasn’t it?” He grins. I glance around the more understated grandeur of the Fair Lady’s dining room and purse my lips.
“This is hardly ostentatious,” Christian says, a tad defensively.
“I know. It’s lovely. The best honeymoon a girl could want.”
“Really?” he says, genuinely surprised. And he smiles his shy smile.
“Of course it is.”
“We’ve only got two more days. Is there anything you’d like to see or do?”
“Just be with you,” I murmur. He rises from the table, comes around, and kisses me on the forehead.
“Well, can you do without me for about an hour? I need to check my e-mails, find out what’s happening at home.”
“Sure,” I say brightly, trying to hide my disappointment that I’ll be without him for an hour. Is it freaky that I want to be with him all the time? My subconscious presses her lips into a narrow, unattractive line and nods vigorously.
“Thank you for the camera,” he murmurs and heads for the study.
Back in our cabin I decide to catch up on my correspondence and open my laptop. There are e-mails from my mom and from Kate, giving me the latest gossip from home and asking how the honeymoon is going. Well, great, until someone decided to burn down GEH Inc… As I finish my response to my mom, an e-mail from Kate hits my inbox.
From: Katherine L. Kavanagh
Date: August 17, 2011 11:45 PST
To: Anastasia Grey
Ana, just heard about the fire at Christian’s office.
Do you think it’s arson?
Kate is online! I jump on to my newfound toy-Skype messaging-and see that she’s available. I quickly type a message.
Oh no-I’m sure Christian doesn’t want this broadcast all over Seattle. I try my patented distract-tenacious-Kavanagh technique.
Trust Kate to be on the trail of this story. I roll my eyes and shut Skype down before Christian sees the chat. He wouldn’t appreciate the ex-Dom comment, and I’m not sure he’s entirely ex…
I sigh loudly. Kate knows everything, since our tipsy evening three weeks before the wedding when I finally succumbed to the Kavanagh inquisition. It was a relief to finally talk to someone.
I glance at my watch. It’s been about an hour since dinner, and I am missing my husband. I head back on deck to see if he’s finished his work.
I am in the Hall of Mirrors and Christian is standing beside me, smiling down at me with love and affection. You look like an angel. I beam back at him, but when I glance into the looking glass, I’m standing on my own and the room is gray and drab. No! My head whips back to his face, to find his smile is sad and wistful. He tucks my hair behind my ear. Then he turns wordlessly and walks away slowly, the sound of his footsteps echoing off the mirrors as he paces the enormous room to the ornate double doors at the end… a man on his own, a man with no reflection… and I wake, gasping for air, as panic seizes me.
“Hey,” he whispers from beside me in the darkness, his voice filled with concern.
Oh, he’s here. He’s safe. Relief courses through me.
“Oh, Christian,” I mumble, trying to bring my pounding heartbeat under control. He wraps me in his arms, and it’s only then that I realize I have tears streaming down my face.
“Ana, what is it?” He strokes my cheek, wiping away my tears, and I can hear his anguish.
“Nothing. A silly nightmare.”
He kisses my forehead and my tearstained cheeks, comforting me. “Just a bad dream, baby,” he murmurs. “I’ve got you. I’ll keep you safe.”
Drinking in his scent, I curl around him, trying to ignore the loss and devastation I felt in my dream, and in that moment, I know that my deepest, darkest fear would be losing him.
I stir, instinctively reaching for Christian only to feel his absence. Shit! I wake instantly and look anxiously around the cabin. Christian is watching me from the small, upholstered armchair by the bed. Stooping down, he places something on the floor, then moves and stretches out on the bed beside me. He’s dressed in his cut-offs and a gray T-shirt.
“Hey, don’t panic. Everything’s fine,” he says, his voice gentle and soothing-like he’s talking to a cornered wild animal. Tenderly, he smooths the hair back from my face and I calm immediately. I see him trying and failing to hide his own concern.
“You’ve been so jumpy these last couple of days,” he murmurs, his eyes wide and serious.
“I’m okay, Christian.” I give him my brightest smile because I don’t want him to know how worried I am about the arson incident. The painful recollection of how I felt when Charlie Tango was sabotaged and Christian went missing-the hollow emptiness, the indescribable pain-keeps resurfacing; the memory nagging me and gnawing at my heart. Keeping the smile fixed on my face, I try to repress it.
“Were you watching me sleep?”
“Yes,” he says gazing at me steadily, studying me. “You were talking.”
“Oh?” Shit! What was I saying?
“You’re worried,” he adds, his eyes filled with concern. Is there nothing I can keep from this man? He leans forward and kisses me between my brows.
“When you frown, a little V forms just here. It’s soft to kiss. Don’t worry baby, I’ll look after you.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about, it’s you,” I grumble. “Who’s looking after you?”
He smiles indulgently at my tone. “I’m big enough and ugly enough to look after myself. Come. Get up. There’s one thing I’d like to do before we head home.” He grins at me, a big boyish yes-I’m-really-only-twenty-eight grin, and swats my behind. I yelp, startled, and realize that today we’re going back to Seattle and my melancholy blossoms. I don’t want to leave. I’ve relished being with him 24-7, and I’m not ready to share him with his company and his family. We’ve had a blissful honeymoon. With a few ups and downs, I admit, but that’s normal for a newly married couple, surely?
But Christian cannot contain his boyish excitement, and despite my dark thoughts, it’s infectious. When he rises gracefully off the bed, I follow, intrigued. What has he got in mind?
Christian straps the key to my wrist.
“You want me to drive?”
“Yes.” Christian grins. “That’s not too tight?”
“It’s fine. Is that why you’re wearing a life jacket?” I arch my eyebrow.
I can’t help my giggle. “Such confidence in my driving capabilities, Mr. Grey.”
“As ever, Mrs. Grey.”
“Well, don’t lecture me.”
Christian holds his hands up in a defensive gesture, but he’s smiling. “Would I dare?”
“Yes you would, and yes you do, and we can’t pull over and argue on the sidewalk here.”
“Fair point well made, Mrs. Grey. Are we going to stand on this platform all day debating your driving skills or are we going to have some fun?”
“Fair point well made, Mr. Grey.” I grasp the handlebars of the Jet Ski and clamber on. Christian climbs on behind me and kicks us away from the yacht. Taylor and two of the deckhands look on in amusement. Sliding forward, Christian wraps his arms around me and snuggles his thighs against mine. Yes, this is what I like about this form of transport. I insert in the ignition key and push the start button, and the engine roars into life.
“Ready?” I shout to Christian over the noise.
“As I’ll ever be,” he says, his mouth close to my ear.
Gently, I pull on the lever and the Jet Ski moves away from the Fair Lady, far too sedately for my liking. Christian tightens his embrace. I pull on the gas some more, and we shoot forward and I’m delighted when we don’t stall.
“Whoa!” Christian calls from behind, but the exhilaration in his voice is palpable. I speed past the Fair Lady toward the open sea. We’re anchored outside the Port de Plaisance de Saint-Claude-du-Var, and Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is nestled in the distance, built into the Mediterranean, or so it seems. I’ve heard the odd plane landing since we arrived last night. I decide we need to take a closer look.
We shoot toward it, skipping rapidly over the waves. I love this, and I’m thrilled Christian’s letting me drive. All the worry I’ve felt over the past two days melts away as we skim toward the airport.
“Next time we do this we’ll have two Jet Skis,” Christian shouts. I grin because the thought of racing him is thrilling.
As we zoom over the cool blue sea toward what looks like the end of the runway, the thundering roar of a jet overhead suddenly startles me as it comes in to land. It’s so loud I panic, swerving and hitting the throttle at the same time, mistaking it for a brake.
“Ana!” Christian shouts, but it’s too late. I’m catapulted off the side of the Jet Ski, arms and legs flailing, taking Christian with me in a spectacular splash.
Screaming, I plunge into the crystal blue sea and swallow a nasty mouthful of the Mediterranean. The water is cold this far from the shore, but I surface within a split second, courtesy of my life jacket. Coughing and spluttering, I wipe the seawater from my eyes and look around for Christian. He’s already swimming toward me. The Jet Ski floats inoffensively a few feet away from us, its engine silent.
“You okay?” His eyes are full of panic, as he reaches me.
“Yes,” I croak, but I cannot contain my elation. See, Christian? That’s the worst that can happen on a Jet Ski! He pulls me into his embrace, then grabs my head between his hands, examining my face closely.
“See, that wasn’t so bad!” I grin as we tread water.
Eventually he smirks at me, obviously relieved. “No, I guess it wasn’t. Except I’m wet,” he grumbles, but his tone is playful.
“I’m wet, too.”
“I like you wet.” He leers.
“Christian!” I scold, trying for faux righteous indignation. He grins, looking gorgeous, then leans in and kisses me hard. When he pulls away, I’m breathless. His eyes are darker, hooded and heated, and I’m warm in spite of the cold water.
“Come. Let’s head back. Now we have to shower. I’ll drive.”
We laze in the British Airways first class lounge at Heathrow in London, waiting for our connecting flight to Seattle. Christian is engrossed in the Financial Times. I pull out his camera, wanting to take some photographs of him. He looks so sexy in his trademark white linen shirt and jeans, and his aviator specs tucked into the V of his open shirt. The flash disturbs him. He blinks up at me and smiles his shy smile.
“How are you, Mrs. Grey?” he asks.
“Sad to be going home,” I murmur. “I like having you to myself.”
He clasps my hand and lifting it to his lips, grazes my knuckles with a sweet kiss. “Me too.”
“But?” I ask, hearing that small word unsaid at the end of his simple statement.
He frowns. “But?” he repeats disingenuously. I tilt my head to one side, gazing at him with the tell me expression I have been perfecting over the last couple of days. He sighs, putting his newspaper down. “I want this arsonist caught and out of our lives.”
“Oh.” That seems fair enough, but I’m surprised by his bluntness.
“I’ll have Welch’s balls on a platter if he lets anything like that happen again.” A shiver runs down my spine at his menacing tone. He gazes at me impassively, and I don’t know if he’s daring me to be flippant or what. I do the only thing I can think of to ease the sudden tension between us and raise the camera and snap another photograph.
“Hey, sleepyhead, we’re home,” Christian murmurs.
“Hmm,” I mumble, reluctant to leave my tantalizing dream of Christian and me on a picnic blanket at Kew Gardens. I am so tired. Travelling is exhausting, even in first class. We’ve been up for more than eighteen hours straight, I think-in my fatigue I’ve lost track. I hear my door open, and Christian is leaning over me. He unbuckles my seat belt and lifts me into his arms, waking me.
“Hey, I can walk,” I protest sleepily.
He snorts. “I need to carry you over the threshold.”
I put my arms around his neck. “Up all thirty floors?” I give him a challenging smile.
“Mrs. Grey, I am very pleased to announce that you’ve put on some weight.”
He grins. “So if you don’t mind, we’ll use the elevator.” He narrows his eyes at me, though I know he’s teasing.
Taylor opens the doors to the Escala lobby and smiles. “Welcome home Mr. Grey, Mrs. Grey.”
“Thanks, Taylor,” says Christian.
I give Taylor the briefest of smiles and watch him head back to the Audi where Sawyer waits at the wheel.
“What do you mean I’ve put on weight?” I glare at Christian. His grin broadens, and he clasps me closer to his chest as he carries me across the lobby.
“Not much,” he assures me but his face darkens suddenly.
“What is it?” I try to keep the alarm in my voice under control.
“You’ve put on some of the weight you lost when you left me,” he says quietly as he summons the elevator. A bleak expression crosses his face.
His sudden, surprising anguish tugs at my heart. “Hey.” I curl my fingers around his face and into his hair, pulling him toward me. “If I hadn’t gone, would you be standing here, like this, now?”
His eyes melt, the color of a storm cloud, and he smiles his shy smile, my favorite smile. “No,” he says and steps into the elevator still holding me. He leans down and kisses me gently. “No, Mrs. Grey, I wouldn’t. But I would know I could keep you safe, because you wouldn’t defy me.”
He sounds vaguely regretful… Shit.
“I like defying you.” I test the waters.
“I know. And it’s made me so… happy.” He smiles down at me through his bemusement.
Oh, thank heavens. “Even though I’m fat?” I whisper.
He laughs. “Even though you’re fat.” He kisses me again, more heated this time, and I fist my fingers in his hair, holding him against me, our tongues twisting in a slow sensual dance with each other. When the elevator pings to a halt at the penthouse, we are both breathless.
“Very happy,” he murmurs. His smile is darker now, his eyes hooded and full of salacious promise. He shakes his head as if to recover himself and carries me into the foyer.
“Welcome home, Mrs. Grey.” He kisses me again, more chastely this time, and gives me the patented-Christian-Grey-full-gigawatt smile, his eyes dancing with joy.
“Welcome home, Mr. Grey.” I beam, my heart answering his call, brimming with my own joy.
I think Christian’s going to put me down, but he doesn’t. He carries me through the foyer, across the corridor, into the great room, and deposits me on the kitchen island where I sit with my legs dangling. He retrieves two champagne flutes from the kitchen cupboard and a bottle of chilled champagne from the fridge-our favorite Bollinger. He deftly opens the bottle, not spilling a drop, pours the pale pink champagne into each glass, and hands one to me. Taking up the other, he gently parts my legs and moves forward to stand between them.
“Here’s to us, Mrs. Grey.”
“To us, Mr. Grey,” I whisper conscious of my shy smile. We clink glasses and take a sip.
“I know you’re tired,” he whispers, rubbing his nose against mine. “But I’d really like to go to bed… and not to sleep.” He kisses the corner of my mouth. “It’s our first night back here, and you’re really mine.” His voice drifts off as he plants soft kisses down my throat. It’s early evening in Seattle, and I am dog-tired, but desire blooms deep in my belly and my inner goddess purrs.
Christian is slumbering peacefully beside me as I stare at the pink and golden streaks of the new dawn through the vast windows. His arm is draped loosely over my breasts, and I try to match his breathing in an effort to get back to sleep, but it’s hopeless. I’m wide-awake, my body clock on Greenwich mean time, my mind racing.
So much has happened in the last three weeks-who am I kidding, the last three months-that I feel that my feet haven’t touched the ground. And now here I am, Mrs. Anastasia Grey, married to the most delicious, sexy, philanthropic, absurdly wealthy mogul a woman could meet. How did this all happen so fast?
I shift onto my side to gaze at him, appraising his beauty. I know he watches me sleep, but I rarely get the opportunity to repay the compliment. He looks so young and carefree in his sleep, his long lashes fanned against his cheek, a light smattering of stubble covering his jaw, and his sculptured lips slightly parted, relaxed as he breathes deeply. I want to kiss him, to push my tongue between his lips, run my fingers over his soft yet prickly stubble. I really have to fight the urge not to touch him, not to disturb him. Hmm… I could just tease his earlobe with my teeth and suck. My subconscious glares up at me over her half-moon spectacles, distracted from volume two of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens, and mentally chastises me. Leave the poor man alone, Ana.
I am back to work on Monday. We have today to reacclimatize, then we’re back into our routine. It will be odd not seeing Christian for a whole day after spending almost every minute together for the last three weeks. I lie back and stare at the ceiling. One would think that spending so much time together would be suffocating, but that’s just not the case. I’ve loved each and every minute, even our fighting. Every minute… except the news of the fire at Grey House.
My blood chills. Who could want to harm Christian? My mind gnaws at this mystery again. Someone in his business? An ex? A disgruntled employee? I have no idea, and Christian remains tight-lipped about it all, drip feeding me the minimum information he can get away with in a bid to protect me. I sigh. My shining white-and-dark knight always trying to protect me. How am I going to make him open up more?
He stirs and I still, not wanting to wake him, but it has the opposite effect. Damn! Two bright eyes gaze at me.
“Nothing. Go back to sleep.” I try my reassuring smile. He stretches, rubs his face, and then grins at me.
“Jet lag?” he asks.
“Is that what this is? I can’t sleep.”
“I have the universal panacea right here, just for you, baby.” He grins like a schoolboy, making me roll my eyes and giggle at the same time. And just like that my dark thoughts are swept aside and my teeth find his earlobe.
Christian and I cruise north on the I-5 toward the 520 bridge in the Audi R8. We are going to have lunch at his parents’, a welcome-home Sunday lunch. All the family will be there, plus Kate and Ethan. It will be strange to be in so much company when we’ve been on our own all this time. I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to Christian most of the morning. He was holed up in his study while I unpacked. He said I didn’t have to, that Mrs. Jones would do it. But that’s something else I need to get used to-having domestic help. I run my fingers absentmindedly over the leather upholstery of the door to distract my wandering thoughts. I feel out of sorts. Is it the jet lag? The arson?
“Would you let me drive this?” I ask, surprised that I say the words out loud.
“Of course,” Christian replies, smiling. “What’s mine is yours. If you dent it, though, I will take you into the Red Room of Pain.” He glances swiftly at me with a malicious grin.
Shit! I gape at him. Is this a joke?
“You’re kidding. You’d punish me for denting your car? You love your car more than you love me?” I tease.
“It’s close,” he says and reaches across to squeeze my knee. “But she doesn’t keep me warm at night.”
“I’m sure it could be arranged. You could sleep in her,” I snap.
Christian laughs. “We haven’t been home one day and you’re kicking me out already?” He seems delighted. I gaze at him and he gives me a face-splitting grin, and although I want to be mad at him, it’s impossible when he’s in this kind of mood. Now that I think about it, he’s been in a better frame of mind ever since he left his study this morning. And it dawns on me that I’m being petulant because we have to go back to reality, and I don’t know if he’s going to revert to the more closed pre-honeymoon Christian, or if I’ll get to keep the new improved version.
“Why are you so pleased?” I ask.
He flashes yet another grin at me. “Because this conversation is so… normal.”
“Normal!” I snort. “Not after three weeks of marriage! Surely.”
His smile slips.
“I’m kidding, Christian,” I mutter quickly, not wanting to kill his mood. It strikes me how unsure he is of himself sometimes. I suspect that he’s always been like this, but has just hidden his uncertainty beneath an intimidating exterior. He’s very easy to tease, probably because he’s not used to it. It’s a revelation, and I marvel again that we still have so much to learn about each other.
“Don’t worry, I’ll stick to the Saab,” I mutter and turn to stare out of the window, trying to shake off my bad mood.
“Hey. What’s wrong?”
“You’re so frustrating sometimes, Ana. Tell me.”
I turn and smirk at him. “Back at you, Grey.”
He frowns. “I’m trying,” he says softly.
“I know. Me too.” I smile and my mood brightens a little.
Carrick looks ridiculous in his chef’s hat and Licensed to Grill apron as he stands at the barbecue. Every time I look at him, it makes me smile. In fact, my spirits have lifted considerably. We are all sitting around the table on the terrace of the Grey family home, enjoying the late summer sun. Grace and Mia are setting various salads out on the table, while Elliot and Christian trade friendly insults and discuss plans for the new house, and Ethan and Kate grill me about our honeymoon. Christian keeps hold of my hand, his fingers toying with my wedding and engagement rings.
“So if you can get the plans finalized with Gia, I have a window September through to mid-November and can get the whole crew on it,” Elliot says as he stretches and drops an arm around Kate’s shoulder, making her smile.
“Gia is due to come over to discuss the plans tomorrow evening,” replies Christian. “I hope we can finalize everything then.” He turns and looks expectantly at me.
Oh… this is news.
“Sure.” I smile at him, mostly for the benefit of his family, but my spirits take a nosedive again. Why does he make these decisions without telling me? Or is it the thought of Gia-all lush hips, full breasts, expensive designer clothes, and perfume-smiling too provocatively at my husband? My subconscious glares at me. He’s given you no reason to be jealous. Shit, I am up and down today. What’s wrong with me?
“Ana,” Kate exclaims, snapping me out of my reverie. “You still in the South of France?”
“Yes,” I reply with a smile.
“You look so well,” she says, though she frowns as she says it.
“You both do.” Grace beams while Elliot refills our glasses.
“To the happy couple.” Carrick grins and raises his glass, and everyone around the table echoes the sentiment.
“And congratulations to Ethan for getting into the psych program at Seattle,” chips in Mia proudly. She gives him an adoring smile, and Ethan smirks at her. I wonder idly if she’s made any headway with him. It’s difficult to tell.
I listen to the banter around the table. Christian is running through our extensive itinerary over the last three weeks, embellishing here and there. He sounds relaxed and in control, the worry of the arsonist forgotten. I, on the other hand, don’t seem to be able to shake my mood. I pick at my food. Christian said I was fat yesterday. He was joking! My subconscious glares at me again. Elliot accidentally knocks his glass onto the terrace, startling everyone, and there’s a sudden flurry of activity to get it cleaned up.
“I am going to take you to the boathouse and finally spank you in there if you don’t snap out of this mood,” Christian whispers to me.
I gasp with shock, turn, and gape at him. What? Is he teasing me?
“You wouldn’t dare!” I growl at him and from deep inside I feel a familiar, welcome excitement. He cocks an eyebrow at me. Of course he would. I glance quickly at Kate across the table. She’s watching us with interest. I turn back to Christian, narrowing my eyes at him.
“You’d have to catch me first-and I’m wearing flats,” I hiss.
“I’d have fun trying,” he whispers with a licentious grin, and I think he’s joking.I blush. Confusingly, I feel better.
As we finish our dessert of strawberries and cream, the heavens open and unexpectedly soak us. We all leap up to clear the plates and glasses from the table, depositing them in the kitchen.
“Good thing the weather held off till we finished,” Grace says pleased, as we drift into the back room den. Christian sits down at the shiny black upright piano, presses the quiet pedal, and starts to play a familiar tune that I can’t immediately place.
Grace asks me for my impressions of Saint Paul de Vence. She and Carrick went years ago during their honeymoon, and it occurs to me that this is a good omen, seeing how happy they are together now. Kate and Elliot are cuddling on one of the large overstuffed couches, while Ethan, Mia, and Carrick are deep in a conversation about psychology, I think.
Suddenly, as one, all the Greys stop talking and gape at Christian.
Christian is singing softly to himself at the piano. Silence descends on us all as we strain to hear his soft, lyrical voice. I’ve heard him sing before, haven’t they? He stops, suddenly conscious of the deathly hush that’s fallen over the room. Kate glances questioningly at me and I shrug. Christian turns on the stool and frowns, embarrassed to realize he’s become the center of attention.
“Go on,” Grace urges softly. “I’ve never heard you sing, Christian. Ever.” She stares at him in wonder. He sits on the piano stool, looking absently at her, and after a beat, he shrugs. His eyes flicker nervously to me, then over to the French windows. The rest of the room suddenly erupts in self-conscious chatter, and I’m left watching my dear husband.
Grace distracts me, grasping my hands then suddenly folding me in her arms.
“Oh, darling girl! Thank you, thank you,” she whispers, so only I can hear. It brings a lump to my throat.
“Um…” I hug her back, not really sure why I am being thanked. Grace smiles, her eyes shining, and kisses my cheek. Oh my… What have I done?
“I am going to make some tea,” she says, her voice hoarse with unshed tears.
I amble over to Christian who is now standing, staring out through the French windows.
“Hi,” I murmur.
“Hi.” He puts his arm around my waist, pulling me to him, and I slip my hand into the back pocket of his jeans. We gaze out at the rain.
“You certainly know how to silence a room.”
“I do it all the time,” he says and he grins at me.
“At work, yes, but not here.”
“True, not here.”
“No one’s ever heard you sing? Ever?”
“It appears not,” he says dryly. “Shall we go?”
I gaze up at him, trying to gauge his mood. His eyes are soft and warm and slightly bemused. I decide to change the subject.
“You going to spank me?” I whisper, and suddenly there are butterflies in my stomach. Perhaps this is what I need… this is what I have been missing.
He gazes down at me, his eyes darkening.
“I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m more than happy to play.”
I glance nervously around the large room, but we are out of earshot.
“Only if you misbehave, Mrs. Grey.” He bends and murmurs in my ear.
How can he put so much sensual promise into six words?
“I’ll see what I can do.” I grin.
Once we’ve said our good-byes, we walk over to the car.
“Here.” Christian throws me the keys to the R8. “Don’t bend it”-he adds in all seriousness-“or I will be fucking pissed.”
My mouth goes dry. He’s letting me drive his car? My inner goddess whips on her leather driving gloves and flat shoes. Oh yes! she cries.
“Are you sure?” I mouth, stunned.
“Yes, before I change my mind.”
I don’t think I have ever grinned so hard. He rolls his eyes and opens the driver’s door so that I can climb in. I start the engine before he’s even reached the passenger side, and he jumps in quickly.
“Eager, Mrs. Grey?” he asks with a wry smile.
Slowly, I ease the car backward and turn it in the driveway. I manage not to stall it, surprising myself. Boy, is the clutch sensitive. Carefully navigating the driveway, I glance in my rearview mirror and see Sawyer and Ryan climb into the Audi SUV. I had no idea our security had followed us here. I pause before I set out onto the main road.
“You’re sure about this?”
“Yes,” Christian says tightly, telling me he’s not sure about this at all. Oh, my poor, poor Fifty. I want to laugh at both him and myself because I’m nervous and excited. A small part of me wants to lose Sawyer and Ryan just for the kicks. I check for traffic then inch the R8 out onto the road. Christian curls up with tension and I can’t resist. The road is clear. I put my foot down on the gas and we shoot forward.
“Whoa! Ana!” Christian shouts. “Slow down-you’ll kill us both.”
I immediately ease off the gas. Wow, can this car move!
“Sorry,” I mutter, trying to sound contrite and failing miserably. Christian smirks at me, to hide his relief, I think.
“Well, that counts as misbehaving,” he says casually and I slow right down.
I glance in the rearview mirror. No sign of the Audi, just a solitary dark car with tinted windows behind us. I imagine Sawyer and Ryan flustered, frantic to catch up, and for some reason this gives me a thrill. But not wanting to give my dear husband a coronary, I decide to behave and drive steadily with growing confidence toward the 520 bridge.
Suddenly, Christian swears and struggles to pull his BlackBerry from the pocket of his jeans.
“What?” he snaps angrily at whoever it is on the other end of the line. “No.” he says and glances behind us. “Yes. She is.”
I briefly check the rearview mirror, but I don’t see anything odd, just a few cars behind us. The SUV is about four cars back, and we’re all cruising at an even pace.
“I see.” Christian sighs long and hard and rubs his forehead with his fingers, tension radiates off him. Something’s wrong.
“Yes… I don’t know.” He glances at me and lowers the phone from his ear. “We’re fine. Keep going,” he says calmly, smiling at me, but the smile doesn’t touch his eyes. Shit! Adrenaline spikes through my system. He picks the phone up again.
“Okay on the 520. As soon as we hit it… Yes… I will.”
He slots the phone into the speaker cradle, putting it on hands-free.
“What’s wrong, Christian?”
“Just look where you’re going, baby,” he says softly.
I’m heading for the on-ramp of the 520 in the direction of Seattle. When I glance at Christian, he’s staring straight ahead.
“I don’t want you to panic,” he says calmly. “But as soon as we’re on the 520 proper, I want you to step on the gas. We’re being followed.”
Followed! Holy shit. My heart lurches into my mouth, pounding, my scalp prickles and my throat constricts with panic. Followed by whom? My eyes dart to the rearview mirror and, sure enough, the dark car I saw earlier is still behind us. Fuck! Is that it? I squint through the tinted windshield to see who’s driving, but I see nothing.
“Keep your eyes on the road, baby,” Christian says gently, not in the truculent tone he normally uses where my driving is concerned.
Get a grip! I mentally slap myself to subdue the dread that’s threatening to swamp me. Suppose whoever’s following us is armed? Armed and after Christian! Shit! I’m hit by a wave of nausea.
“How do we know we’re being followed?” My voice is a breathy, squeaky, whisper.
“The Dodge behind us has false license plates.”
How does he know that?
I signal as we approach the 520 from the on-ramp. It’s late afternoon, and although the rain has stopped, the roadway is wet. Fortunately, the traffic is reasonably light.
Ray’s voice echoes in my head from one of his many self-defense lectures. “It’s the panic that’s gonna kill you or get you seriously hurt, Annie.” I take a deep breath, trying to bring my breathing under control. Whoever is following us is after Christian. As I take another deep steadying breath, my mind begins to clear and my stomach settles. I have to keep Christian safe. I wanted to drive this car, and I wanted to drive it fast. Well, here’s my chance. I grip the steering wheel and take a final glance in my rearview mirror. The Dodge is closing on us.
I slow right down, ignoring Christian’s sudden panicked glance at me, and time my entrance on to the 520 so that the Dodge has to slow and stop to wait for a gap in the traffic. I drop a gear and floor it. The R8 shoots forward, slamming us both into the backs of our seats. The speedometer whips up to seventy-five miles per hour.
“Steady, baby,” Christian says calmly, though I’m sure he’s anything but calm.
I weave between the two lines of traffic like a black counter in a game of checkers, effectively jumping the cars and trucks. We’re so close to the lake on this bridge, it’s as if we’re driving on the water. I studiously ignore the angry, disapproving looks from other drivers. Christian clutches his hands together in his lap, keeping as still as possible, and in spite of my fevered thoughts, I wonder vaguely if he’s doing it so he doesn’t distract me.
“Good girl,” he breathes in encouragement. He glances behind him. “I can’t see the Dodge.”
“We’re right behind the unsub, Mr. Grey.” Sawyer’s voice comes through the hands-free. “He’s trying to catch up with you, sir. We’re going to try and come alongside, put ourselves between your car and the Dodge.”
Unsub? What does that mean?
“Good. Mrs. Grey is doing well. At this rate, provided the traffic remains light-and from what I can see it is-we’ll be off the bridge in a few minutes.”
We flash past the bridge control tower, and I know we’re half way across Lake Washington. When I check my speed, I’m still doing seventy-five.
“You’re doing really well, Ana,” Christian murmurs again as he gazes out the back of the R8. For a fleeting moment, his tone reminds me of our first encounter in his playroom when he patiently encouraged me through our first scene. The thought is distracting, and I dismiss it immediately.
“Where am I headed?” I ask, moderately calmer. I have the feel of the car now. It’s a joy to drive, so quiet and easy to handle it’s hard to believe how fast we are going. Driving at this speed in this car is easy.
“Mrs. Grey, head for I-5 and then south. We want to see if the Dodge follows you all the way,” Sawyer says over the hands-free. The traffic lights on the bridge are green-thank heavens-and I race onward.
I glance nervously at Christian, and he smiles reassuringly. Then his face falls.
“Shit!” he swears softly.
There is a line of traffic ahead as we come off the bridge, and I have to slow. Glancing anxiously in the mirror once more, I think I spot the Dodge.
“Ten or so cars back?”
“Yeah, I see it,” Christian says, peering through the narrow rear window. “I wonder who the fuck it is?”
“Me too. Do we know if it’s a man driving?” I blurt out toward the cradled BlackBerry.
“No, Mrs. Grey. Could be a man or woman. The tint is too dark.”
“A woman?” Christian says.
I shrug. “Your Mrs. Robinson?” I suggest, not taking my eyes off the road.
Christian stiffens and lifts the BlackBerry out of its cradle. “She’s not my Mrs. Robinson,” he growls. “I haven’t spoken to her since my birthday. And Elena wouldn’t do this. It’s not her style.”
“She’s in Connecticut with her parents. I told you.”
“Are you sure?”
He pauses. “No. But if she’d absconded, I’m sure her folks would have let Flynn know. Let’s discuss this when we’re home. Concentrate on what you’re doing.”
“But it might just be some random car.”
“I’m not taking any risks. Not where you’re concerned,” he snaps. He replaces the BlackBerry in its cradle so we’re back in contact with our security team.
Oh shit. I don’t want to rattle Christian right now… later maybe. I hold my tongue. Fortunately, the traffic is thinning a little. I am able to speed over the Mountlake intersection toward the I-5, weaving through the cars again.
“What if we get stopped by the cops?” I ask.
“That would be a good thing.”
“Not for my license.”
“Don’t worry about that,” he says. Unexpectedly, I hear humor in his voice.
I put my foot down again, and hit seventy-five. Boy, this car can move. I love it-she’s so easy. I touch eighty-five. I don’t think I have ever driven this fast. I was lucky if my Beetle ever hit fifty miles an hour.
“He’s cleared the traffic and picked up speed.” Sawyer’s disembodied voice is calm and informative. “He’s doing ninety.”
Shit! Faster! I press down on the gas and the car purrs to ninety-five miles per hour as we approach the I-5 intersection.
“Keep it up, Ana,” Christian murmurs.
I slow momentarily as we glide onto the I-5. The interstate is fairly quiet, and I’m able to cross straight over to the fast lane in a split second. As I put my foot down, the glorious R8 zooms forward, and we tear down the left lane, lesser mortals pulling over to let us pass. If I wasn’t so frightened, I might really enjoy this.
“He’s hit one hundred miles per hour, sir.”
“Stay with him, Luke,” Christian barks at Sawyer.
A truck lurches into the fast lane-Shit!-and I have to slam on the brakes.
“Fucking idiot!” Christian curses the driver as we lurch forward in our seats. I am grateful for our seatbelts.
“Go around him, baby,” Christian says through clenched teeth. I check my mirrors and cut right across three lanes. We speed past the slower vehicles and then cut back to the fast lane.
“Nice move, Mrs. Grey,” Christian murmurs appreciatively. “Where are the cops when you need them?”
“I don’t want a ticket, Christian,” I mutter, concentrating on the highway ahead. “Have you had a speeding ticket driving this?”
“No,” he says, but glancing quickly at him, I can see his smirk.
“Have you been stopped?”
“Charm, Mrs. Grey. It all comes down to charm. Now concentrate. Where’s the Dodge, Sawyer?”
“He’s just hit one hundred and ten, sir.” Sawyer says.
Holy fuck! My heart leaps once more into my mouth. Can I drive any faster? I push my foot down once more and streak past the traffic.
“Flash the headlights,” Christian orders when a Ford Mustang won’t move.
“But that would make me an asshole.”
“So be an asshole!” he snaps.
Jeez. Okay! “Um, where are the headlights?”
“The indicator. Pull it toward you.”
I do it, and the Mustang moves aside though not before the driver waves his finger at me in a none-too-complimentary manner. I zoom past him.
“He’s the asshole,” Christian says under his breath, then barks at me, “get off on Stewart.”
“We’re taking the Stewart Street exit,” Christian says to Sawyer.
“Head straight to Escala, sir.”
I slow, check my mirrors, signal, then move with surprising ease across four lanes of the highway and down the off-ramp. Merging onto Stewart Street, we head south. The street is quiet, with few vehicles. Where is everyone?
“We’ve been damned lucky with the traffic. But that means the Dodge has, too. Don’t slow down, Ana. Get us home.”
“I can’t remember the way,” I mutter, panicked by the fact the Dodge is still on our tail.
“Head south on Stewart. Keep going until I tell you when.” Christian sounds anxious again. I zoom past three blocks but the lights change to yellow on Yale Avenue.
“Run them, Ana,” Christian shouts. I jump so hard I floor the gas pedal, throwing us both back in our seats, speeding through the now red light.
“He’s taking Stewart,” Sawyer says.
“Stay with him, Luke.”
“That’s his name.”
A quick glance and I can see Christian glaring at me as if I’m crazy. “Eyes on the road!” he snaps.
I ignore his tone. “Luke Sawyer.”
“Yes!” He sounds exasperated.
“Ah.” How did I not know this? The man has been following me to work for the last six weeks, and I didn’t even know his first name.
“That’s me, ma’am,” Sawyer says, startling me, though he’s speaking in the calm, monotone voice he always uses. “The unsub is heading down Stewart, sir. He’s really picking up speed.”
“Go, Ana. Less of the fucking chitchat,” Christian growls.
“We’re stopped at the first light on Stewart.” Sawyer informs us.
“Ana-quick-in here,” Christian shouts, pointing to a parking lot on the south side of Boren Avenue. I turn, the tires screeching in protest as I swerve into the crowded lot.
“Drive around. Quick,” Christian orders. I drive as fast as I can to the back, out of sight of the street. “In there.” Christian points to a space. Shit! He wants me to park it. Crap!
“Just fucking do it,” he says. So I do… perfectly. Probably the only time I have ever parked perfectly.
“We’re hidden in the parking lot between Stewart and Boren,” Christian says into the BlackBerry.
“Okay, sir.” Sawyer sounds irritated. “Stay where you are; we’ll follow the unsub.”
Christian turns to me, his eyes searching my face. “You okay?”
“Sure,” I whisper.
Christian smirks. “Whoever’s driving that Dodge can’t hear us, you know.”
And I laugh.
“We’re passing Stewart and Boren now, sir. I see the lot. He’s gone straight past you, sir.”
Both of us sag simultaneously with relief.
“Well done, Mrs. Grey. Good driving.” Christian gently strokes my face with his fingertips, and I jump at the contact, inhaling deeply. I had no idea I was holding my breath.
“Does this mean you’ll stop complaining about my driving?” I ask. He laughs-a loud cathartic laugh.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.”
“Thank you for letting me drive your car. Under such exciting circumstances, too.” I try desperately to keep my voice light.
“Maybe I should drive now.”
“To be honest, I don’t think I can climb out right now to let you sit here. My legs feel like Jell-O.” Suddenly I’m shuddering and shaking.
“It’s the adrenaline, baby,” he says. “You did amazingly well, as usual. You blow me away, Ana. You never let me down.” He touches my cheek tenderly with the back of his hand, his face full of love, fear, regret-so many emotions at once-and his words are my undoing. Overwhelmed, a strangled sob escapes from my constricted throat, and I start to cry.
“No, baby, no. Please don’t cry.” He reaches over and, despite the limited space we have, pulls me over the handbrake console to cradle me in his lap. Smoothing my hair off my face, he kisses my eyes, then my cheeks, and I curl my arms around him and sob quietly into his neck. He buries his nose in my hair and wraps me in his arms, holding me tight and we sit, neither of us saying anything, just holding each other.
Sawyer’s voice startles us. “The unsub has slowed outside Escala. He’s casing the joint.”
“Follow him,” Christian snaps.
I wipe my nose on the back of my hand and take a deep steadying breath.
“Use my shirt.” Christian kisses my temple.
“Sorry,” I mutter, embarrassed by my crying.
“What for? Don’t be.”
I wipe my nose again. He tips my chin up and plants a gentle kiss on my lips. “Your lips are so soft when you cry, my beautiful, brave girl,” he whispers.
“Kiss me again.”
Christian stills, one hand on my back, the other on my behind.
“Kiss me,” I breathe, and I watch his lips part as he inhales sharply. Leaning across me, he takes the BlackBerry out of its cradle, and tosses it onto the driver’s seat beside my sandaled feet. Then his mouth is on me as he moves his right hand into my hair, holding me in place, and lifts his left to cradle my face. His tongue invades my mouth, and I welcome it. Adrenaline turns to lust streaking through my body. I clasp his face, running my fingers over his sideburns, relishing the taste of him. He groans at my fevered response, low and deep in his throat, and my belly tightens swift and hard with carnal desire. His hand moves down my body, brushing my breast, my waist, and down to my backside. I shift fractionally.
“Ah!” he says and breaks away from me, breathless.
“What?” I mutter against his lips.
“Ana, we’re in a car lot in Seattle.”
“Well, right now I want to fuck you, and you’re shifting around on me… it’s uncomfortable.”
My craving spirals out of control at his words, tightening all my muscles below my waist once more.
“Fuck me then.” I kiss the corner of his mouth. I want him. Now. That car chase was exciting. Too exciting. Terrifying… and the fear has jump-started my libido. He leans back to gaze at me, his eyes dark and hooded.
“Here?” His voice is husky.
My mouth goes dry. How can he turn me on with one word? “Yes. I want you. Now.”
He tilts his head to one side and stares at me for a few moments. “Mrs. Grey, how very brazen,” he whispers, after what feels like an eternity. His hand tightens around my hair at my nape, holding me firmly in place, and his mouth is on mine again, more forcefully this time. His other hand skims down my body, down over my behind and lower still to my mid-thigh. My fingers curl into his overlong hair.
“I’m so glad you’re wearing a skirt,” he murmurs as he slips his hand beneath my blue and white patterned skirt to caress my thigh. I squirm once more on his lap and the air hisses between his teeth.
“Keep still,” he growls. He cups my sex with his hand, and I still immediately. His thumb brushes over my clitoris, and my breath catches in my throat as pleasure jolts like electricity deep, deep, deep inside me.
“Still,” he whispers. He kisses me once more as his thumb circles gently around me through the sheer fine lace of my designer underwear. Slowly he eases two fingers passed my panties and inside me. I groan and flex my hips toward his hand.
“Please,” I whisper.
“Oh, Mrs. Grey. You’re so ready,” he says, sliding his fingers in and out, tortuously slowly. “Do car chases turn you on?”
“You turn me on.”
He smiles a wolfish grin and withdraws his fingers suddenly, leaving me wanting. He scoops his arm under my knees and, taking me by surprise, he lifts me and swings me around to face the windshield.
“Place your legs either side of mine,” he orders, putting his legs together in the middle of the footwell. I do as I’m told, placing my feet on the floor on either side of his. He runs his hands down my thighs, then back, pulling up my skirt.
“Hands on my knees, baby. Lean forward. Lift that glorious ass in the air. Mind your head.”
Shit! We really are going to do this, in a public parking lot. I quickly scan the area in front of us and see no one, but feel a thrill coursing through me. I’m in a public lot! This is so hot! Christian shifts beneath me, and I hear the telltale sound of his zipper. Putting one arm around my waist and with his other hand tugging my lacy panties sideways, he impales me in one swift move.
“Ah!” I cry out, grinding down on him, and his breath hisses through his teeth. His arm snakes around me up to my neck and he grasps me under my chin. His hand spreads across my neck, pulling me back and tilting my head to one side so he can kiss my throat. His other hand grips my hip and together we start to move.
I push up with my feet, and he tilts himself into me-in and out. The sensation is… I groan loudly. It’s so deep this way. My left hand curls around the hand brake, my right hand braced against my door. His teeth graze my earlobe and he tugs-it’s almost painful. He bucks again and again into me. I rise and fall, and as we establish a rhythm, he moves his hand around beneath my skirt to the apex of my thighs, and his fingers gently tease my clitoris through the sheer finery of my panties.
“Be. Quick,” he breathes into my ear through gritted teeth, his hand still curled around my neck beneath my chin. “We need to do this quick, Ana.” And he increases the pressure of his fingers against my sex.
“Ah!” I feel the familiar build of pleasure, bunching deep and thick inside me.
“Come on, baby,” he rasps at my ear. “I want to hear you.”
I moan again, and I am all sensation, my eyes tightly closed. His voice at my ear, his breath on my neck, pleasure radiating out from where his fingers tease my body and where he slams deep inside me, and I am lost. My body takes control, craving release.
“Yes,” Christian hisses in my ear and I open my eyes briefly, staring wildly at the cloth roof of the R8, and I scrunch them closed again as I come around him.
“Oh, Ana,” he murmurs in wonder, and he wraps his arms around me and rams into me one last time and stills as he climaxes deep inside.
He runs his nose along my jaw and softly kisses my throat, my cheek, my temple as a lie on him, my head lolling against his neck.
“Tension relieved, Mrs. Grey?” Christian closes his teeth around my earlobe again and tugs. My body is drained, totally exhausted, and I mewl. I feel his smile against me.
“Certainly helped with mine,” he adds, shifting me off him. “Lost your voice?”
“Yes,” I murmur.
“Well aren’t you the wanton creature? I had no idea you were such an exhibitionist.”
I sit up immediately, alarmed. He tenses. “No one’s watching are they?” I glance anxiously around the car lot.
“Do you think I’d let anyone watch my wife come?” He strokes his hand down my back reassuringly, but the tone of his voice sends shivers down my spine. I turn to gaze at him and grin impishly.
“Car sex!” I exclaim.
He grins and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. “Let’s head back. I’ll drive.”
He opens the door to let me climb off his lap and out into the parking lot. When I glance down he’s quickly doing up his fly. He follows me out and then holds the door open for me to climb back in. Strolling quickly around to the driver’s side, he climbs in beside me, retrieves the BlackBerry, and makes a call.
“Where’s Sawyer?” he snaps. “And the Dodge? How come Sawyer’s not with you?”
He listens intently to Ryan, I assume.
“Her?” he gasps. “Stick with her.” Christian hangs up and gazes at me.
Her! The driver of the car? Who could that be-Elena? Leila?
“The driver of the Dodge is female?”
“So it would appear,” he says quietly. His mouth presses into a thin angry line. “Let’s get you home,” he mutters. He starts up the R8 with a roar and reverses smoothly out of the space.
“Where’s the, er… unsub? What does that mean by the way? Sounds very BDSM.”
Christian smiles briefly as he eases the car out of the lot and back onto Stewart Street.
“It stands for Unknown Subject. Ryan is ex-FBI.”
“Don’t ask.” Christian shakes his head. It’s obvious he’s deep in contemplation.
“Well, where is this female unsub?”
“On the I-5, heading south.” He glances at me, his eyes grim.
Jeez-from passionate to calm to anxious in the space of a few moments. I reach over and caress his thigh, running my fingers leisurely up the inside seam of his jeans, hoping to improve his mood. He takes his hand off the steering wheel and stops the slow ascent of my hand.
“No,” he says. “We’ve made it this far. You don’t want me to have an accident three blocks from home.” He raises my hand to his lips and plants a cool kiss on my index finger to take the sting out of his rebuke. Cool, calm, authoritative… My Fifty. And for the first time in a while he makes me feel like a wayward child. I withdraw my hand and sit quietly for a moment.
“Apparently so.” He sighs, turns into the underground garage at Escala, and punches the access code into the security keypad. The gate swings open and he drives on, smoothly parking the R8 in its designated space.
“I really like this car,” I murmur.
“Me too. And I like how you handled it-and how you managed not to break it.”
“You can buy me one for my birthday,” I smirk at him.
Christian’s mouth drops open as I climb out of the car.
“A white one, I think,” I add, leaning down and smirking at him.
He smiles. “Anastasia Grey, you never cease to amaze me.”
I shut the door and walk to the end of the car to wait for him. Gracefully he climbs out, watching me with that look… that look that calls to something deep inside me. I know this look well. Once he’s in front of me, he leans down and whispers, “You like the car. I like the car. I’ve fucked you in it… perhaps I should fuck you on it.”
I gasp. And a sleek silver BMW pulls into the garage. Christian glances at it anxiously, then with annoyance and smirks down at me.
“But it looks like we have company. Come.” He grabs my hand and heads for the garage elevator. He pushes the call button and as we wait, the driver of the BMW joins us. He’s young, casually dressed, with long, layered, dark hair. He looks like he works in the media.
“Hi,” he says, smiling warmly at us.
Christian puts his arm around me and nods politely.
“I’ve just moved in. Apartment sixteen.”
“Hello.” I return his smile. He has kind, soft brown eyes.
The elevator arrives and we all walk in. Christian glances down at me, his expression unreadable.
“You’re Christian Grey,” the young man says.
Christian gives him a tight smile.
“Noah Logan.” He holds out his hand. Reluctantly, Christian takes it. “Which floor?” Noah asks.
“I have to input a code.”
“Oh.” Noah smiles broadly. “Of course.” He presses the button for the eighth floor and the doors close. “Mrs. Grey, I presume.”
“Yes.” I give him a polite smile and we shake hands. Noah flushes a little as he gazes at me a fraction too long. I mirror his flush and Christian’s arm tightens around me.
“When did you move in?” I ask.
“Last weekend. I love the place.”
There’s an awkward pause before the elevator stops at Noah’s floor.
“Great to meet you both,” he says sounding relieved and steps out. The doors close silently behind him. Christian taps in the entry code and the elevator ascends again.
“He seemed nice,” I murmur. “I’ve never met any of the neighbors before.”
Christian scowls. “I prefer it that way.”
“That’s because you’re a hermit. I thought he was pleasant enough.”
“Hermit. Stuck in your ivory tower,” I state matter-of-factly. Christian’s lips twitch with amusement.
“Our ivory tower. And I think you have another name to add to the list of your admirers, Mrs. Grey.”
I roll my eyes. “Christian, you think everyone is an admirer.”
“Did you just roll your eyes at me?”
My pulse quickens. “I sure did,” I whisper, my breath catching in my throat.
He cocks his head to one side, wearing his smoldering, arrogant, amused expression. “What shall we do about that?”
He blinks to hide his surprise. “Rough?”
“You want more?”
I nod slowly. The doors to the elevator open and we’re home.
“How rough?” he breathes, his eyes darkening.
I gaze at him, saying nothing. He closes his eyes for a moment, and then grabs my hand and hauls me into the foyer.
When we burst through the double doors, Sawyer is standing in the hallway, looking expectantly at the two of us.
“Sawyer, I’d like to be debriefed in an hour,” Christian says.
“Yes, sir.” Turning, Sawyer heads back into Taylor’s office.
We have an hour!
Christian glances down at me. “Rough?”
“Well, Mrs. Grey, you’re in luck. I’m taking requests today.”
“Do you have anything in mind?” Christian murmurs, pinning me with his bold gaze. I shrug, suddenly breathless and agitated. I don’t know if it’s the chase, the adrenaline, my earlier bad mood-I don’t understand, but I want this, and I want it badly. A puzzled expression flits across Christian’s face. “Kinky fuckery?” he asks, his words a soft caress.
I nod, feeling my face flame. Why am I embarrassed by this? I have done all manner of kinky fuckery with this man. He’s my husband, damn it! Am I embarrassed because I want this and I’m ashamed to admit it? My subconscious glares at me. Stop overthinking.
“Carte blanche?” He whispers the question, eyeing me speculatively as if he’s trying to read my mind.
Carte blanche? Holy fuck-what will that entail? “Yes,” I murmur nervously, as excitement blooms deep inside me. He smiles a slow sexy smile.
“Come,” he says and tugs me toward the stairs. His intention is clear. Playroom! My inner goddess wakes from her post-R8-sex slumber, wide-eyed and raring to go.
At the top of the stairs, he releases my hand and unlocks the playroom door. The key is on the Yes Seattle keychain that I gave him not so long ago.
“After you, Mrs. Grey,” he says and swings the door open.
The playroom smells reassuringly familiar, of leather and wood and fresh polish. I blush, knowing that Mrs. Jones must have been in here cleaning while we were away on our honeymoon. As we enter, Christian switches on the lights and the dark red walls are illuminated with soft, diffused light. I stand gazing at him, anticipation running thick and heavy through my veins. What will he do? He locks the door and turns. Inclining his head to one side, he regards me thoughtfully and then shakes his head, amused.
“What do you want, Anastasia?” he asks gently.
“You.” My response is breathy.
He smirks. “You’ve got me. You’ve had me since you fell into my office.”
“Surprise me then, Mr. Grey.”
His mouth twists with repressed humor and carnal promise. “As you wish, Mrs. Grey.” He folds his arms and raises one long index finger to his lips while he appraises me. “I think we’ll start by ridding you of your clothes.” He steps forward. Grasping the front of my short denim jacket, he opens it and pushes it over my shoulders so it falls to the floor. He clasps the hem of my black camisole.
“Lift your arms.”
I obey, and he peels it off over my head. Leaning down, he plants a soft kiss on my lips, his eyes glowing with an alluring mix of lust and love. The camisole joins my jacket on the floor.
“Here,” I whisper gazing nervously at him as I remove the hair tie from around my wrist and hold it up for him. He stills, and his eyes widen briefly but give nothing away. Finally, he takes the small band.
“Turn around,” he orders.
Relieved, I smile to myself and oblige immediately. Looks like we’ve overcome that little hurdle. He gathers my hair and braids it quickly and efficiently before fastening it with the tie. He tugs the braid, pulling my head back.
“Good thinking, Mrs. Grey,” he whispers in my ear, then nips my earlobe. “Now turn around and take your skirt off. Let it fall to the floor.” He releases me and steps back as I turn to face him. Not taking my eyes off his, I unbutton the waistband of my skirt and ease the zipper down. The full skirt fans out and falls to the floor, pooling at my feet.
“Step out from your skirt,” he orders. As I step toward him, he kneels swiftly down in front of me and grasps my right ankle. Deftly, he unbuckles my sandals one at a time while I lean forward, balancing myself with a hand on the wall under the pegs that used to hold all his whips, crops and paddles. The flogger and the riding crop are the only implements that remain. I eye them with curiosity. Will he use those?
Having removed my shoes so I’m just in my lacy bra and panties, Christian sits back on his heels, gazing up at me. “You’re a fine sight, Mrs. Grey.” Suddenly he kneels up, grabs my hips and pulls me forward, burying his nose in the apex of my thighs. “And you smell of you and me and sex,” he says inhaling sharply. “It’s intoxicating.” He kisses me through my lace panties, while I gasp at his words-my insides liquefying. He’s just so… naughty. Gathering up my clothes and sandals, he stands in one swift, graceful move, like an athlete.
“Go and stand beside the table,” he says calmly, pointing with his chin. Turning, he strides over to the museum chest of wonder.
He glances back and smirks at me. “Face the wall,” he commands. “That way you won’t know what I’m planning. We aim to please, Mrs. Grey, and you wanted a surprise.”
I turn away from him listening acutely-my ears suddenly sensitive to the slightest sound. He’s good at this-building my expectations, stoking my desire… making me wait. I hear him put my shoes down and, I think, my clothes on the chest, followed by the telltale clatter of his shoes as they drop to the floor, one at a time. Hmm… love barefoot Christian. A moment later, I hear him pull open a drawer.
Toys! Oh, I love, love, love this anticipation. The drawer closes and my breathing spikes. How can the sound of a drawer render me a quivering mess? It makes no sense. The subtle hiss of the sound system coming to life tells me it’s going to be a musical interlude. A lone piano starts, muted and soft, and mournful chords fill the room. It’s not a tune I know. The piano is joined by an electric guitar. What is this? A man’s voice speaks and I can just make out the words, something about not being frightened of dying.
Christian pads leisurely toward me, his bare feet slapping on the wooden floor. I sense him behind me as a woman starts to sing… wail… sing?
“Rough, you say, Mrs. Grey?” he breathes in my left ear.
“You must tell me to stop if it’s too much. If you say stop, I will stop immediately. Do you understand?”
“I need your promise.”
I inhale sharply. Shit, what is he going to do? “I promise,” I murmur breathless, recalling his words from earlier: I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m more than happy to play.
“Good girl.” Leaning down, he plants a kiss on my naked shoulder then hooks a finger beneath my bra strap and traces a line across my back beneath the strap. I want to moan. How does he make the slightest touch so erotic?
“Take it off,” he whispers at my ear, and hurriedly I oblige and let my bra fall to the floor.
His hands skim down my back, and he hooks both of his thumbs into my panties and slides them down my legs.
“Step,” he orders. Once more I do as I’m told, stepping out of my panties. He plants a kiss on my backside and stands.
“I am going to blindfold you so that everything will be more intense.” He slips an airline eye mask over my eyes, and my world is plunged into the darkness. The woman singing moans incoherently… a haunting, heartfelt melody.
“Bend down and lie flat on the table.” His words are softly spoken. “Now.”
Without hesitation, I bend over the side of the table and rest my torso on the highly polished wood, my face flush against the hard surface. It’s cool against my skin and it smells vaguely of beeswax with a citrus tang.
“Stretch your arms up and hold on to the edge.”
Okay… Reaching forward, I clutch the far edge of the table. It’s quite wide, so my arms are fully extended.
“If you let go, I will spank you. Do you understand?”
“Do you want me to spank you, Anastasia?”
Everything south of my waist tightens deliciously. I realize I’ve wanted this since he threatened me during lunch, and neither the car chase nor our subsequent intimate encounter has sated this need.
“Yes.” My voice is a hoarse whisper.
Oh… do I have to have a reason? Jeez. I shrug.
“Tell me,” he coaxes.
And from out of nowhere he smacks me hard.
“Ah!” I cry out.
He gently rubs my behind where he’s hit me. Then he leans over me, his hips digging into my backside, plants a kiss between my shoulder blades and trails kisses across my back. He’s taken his shirt off, so his chest hair tickles my back, and his erection presses against me through the rough fabric of his jeans.
“Open your legs,” he orders.
I move my legs apart.
I groan and spread my legs wider.
“Good girl,” he breathes. He traces his finger down my back, along the crack between my buttocks, and over my anus, which shrinks at his touch.
“We’re going to have with some fun with this,” he whispers.
His finger continues down over my perineum and slowly slides into me.
“I see you’re very wet, Anastasia. From earlier or from now?”
I groan and he eases his finger in and out of me, over and over. I push back on his hand, relishing the intrusion.
“Oh, Ana, I think it’s both. I think you love being here, like this. Mine.”
I do-oh, I do. He withdraws his finger and smacks me hard once more.
“Tell me,” he whispers, his voice hoarse and urgent.
“Yes, I do,” I whimper.
He smacks me hard once more so I cry out, then sticks two fingers inside me. He withdraws them immediately, spreading the moisture up over and around my anus.
“What are you going to do?” I ask, breathless. Oh my… is he going to fuck my ass?
“It’s not what you think,” he murmurs reassuringly. “I told you, one step at time with this, baby.” I hear the quiet spurt of some liquid, presumably from a tube, then his fingers are massaging me there again. Lubricating me… there! I squirm as my fear collides with my excitement of the unknown. He smacks me once more, lower, so he hits my sex. I groan. It feels… so good.
“Keep still,” he says. “And don’t let go.”
“This is lube.” He spreads some more on me. I try not to wriggle beneath him, but my heart is pounding, my pulse haywire, as desire and anxiety pump through me.
“I have wanted to do this to you for some time now, Ana.”
I groan. And I feel something cool, metallically cool, run down my spine.
“I have a small present for you here,” Christian whispers.
An image from our show-and-tell springs to mind. Holy cow. A butt plug. Christian runs it down the parting between my buttocks.
“I am going to push this inside you, very slowly.”
I gasp, anticipation and anxiety charging through me.
“Will it hurt?”
“No, baby. It’s small. Once it’s inside you, I’m going to fuck you real hard.”
I practically convulse. Bending over me, he kisses me once more between my shoulder blades.
“Ready?” he whispers.
Ready? Am I ready for this?
“Yes,” I mutter quietly, my mouth dry. He runs another finger down past my ass and perineum and slips it inside me. Fuck, it’s his thumb. He cups my sex and his fingers gently caress my clitoris. I moan… it feels… good. And gently, while his fingers and thumb work their magic, he pushes the cold plug slowly into me.
“Ah!” I groan loudly at the unfamiliar sensation, my muscles protesting at the intrusion. He circles his thumb inside me and pushes the plug harder, and it slips in easily, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m so turned on or if he’s distracted me with his expert fingers, but my body seems to accept it. It’s heavy… and strange… there!
And I can feel it… where his thumb swirls inside me… and the plug presses against… oh, ah… He slowly twists the plug, eliciting a long drawn-out moan from me.
“Christian,” I mumble, his name a garbled mantra, as I adjust to the sensation.
“Good girl,” he murmurs. He runs his free hand down my side until it reaches my hip. Slowly he withdraws his thumb, and I hear the telltale sound of his zipper opening. Grasping my other hip, he pulls me back and parts my legs further, his foot pushing against mine. “Don’t let go of the table, Ana,” he warns.
“No,” I gasp.
“Something rough? Tell me if I’m too rough. Understand?”
“Yes,” I whisper, and he slams into me and pulls me onto him at the same time, jolting the plug forward, deeper…
“Fuck!” I cry out.
He stills, his breathing harsher and my panting matches his. I try to assimilate all the sensations: the delicious fullness, the tantalizing feeling that I am doing something forbidden, the erotic pleasure that spirals outward from deep within me. He pulls gently on the plug.
Oh jeez… I moan, and I hear his sharp intake of breath-a gasp of pure, unadulterated pleasure. It heats my blood. Have I ever felt so wanton… so-
“Again?” he whispers.
“Stay flat,” he orders. He eases out of me and rams into me again.
Oh… I wanted this. “Yes,” I hiss.
And he picks up the pace, his breathing more labored, matching my own as he thrashes into me.
“Oh, Ana,” he gasps. He moves one of his hands from my hips and twists the plug again, tugging it slowly, pulling it out and pushing it back in. The feeling is indescribable, and I think I’m going to pass out on the table. He never misses a beat as he takes me, again and again, moving strong and hard inside me, my insides tightening and quivering.
“Oh fuck,” I moan. This is going to rip me apart.
“Yes, baby,” he hisses.
“Please,” I beg him and I don’t know what for-to stop, to never stop, to twist the plug again. My insides are tightening around him and the plug.
“That’s right,” he breathes, and he slaps me hard on my right buttock, and I come-again and again, falling, falling, spinning, pulsing around and around-and Christian gently pulls the plug out.
“Fuck!” I scream and Christian grabs my hips and climaxes loudly, holding me still.
The woman is still singing. Christian always puts songs on repeat in here. Strange. I am curled in his arms on his lap our legs tangled together, with my head resting against his chest. We’re on the floor of the playroom by the table.
“Welcome back,” he says, peeling the blindfold off me. I blink as my eyes adjust to the muted light. Tipping my chin back, he plants a soft kiss on my lips, his eyes focused on and anxiously searching mine. I reach up to caress his face. He smiles.
“Well, did I fulfill the brief?” he asks, amused.
I frown. “Brief?”
“You wanted rough,” he says gently.
I grin, because I just can’t help it. “Yes. I think you did…”
He raises his eyebrows and grins back at me. “I’m very glad to hear it Mrs. Grey. You look thoroughly well fucked and beautiful at this moment.” He caresses my face, his long fingers stroking my cheek.
“I feel it,” I purr.
He reaches down and kisses me tenderly, his lips soft and warm and giving against mine. “You never disappoint.” He leans back to gaze down at me. “How do you feel?” His voice is soft with concern.
“Good,” I murmur, feeling a flush creep across my face. “Thoroughly well fucked.” I smile shyly.
“Why, Mrs. Grey, you have a dirty, dirty mouth.” Christian feigns an offended expression, but I can hear his amusement.
“That’s because I’m married to a dirty, dirty boy, Mr. Grey.”
He grins a ridiculously stupid grin and it’s infectious. “I’m glad you’re married to him.” He gently takes hold of my braid, lifts it to his lips, and kisses the end with reverence, his eyes glowing with love. Oh my… did I ever have a chance of resisting this man?
I reach for his left hand and plant a kiss on his wedding ring, a plain platinum band matching my own. “Mine,” I whisper.
“Yours,” he responds. He curls his arms around me and presses his nose into my hair. “Shall I run you a bath?”
“Hmm. Only if you join me in it.”
“Okay,” he says. He sets me onto my feet and stands up beside me. He’s still wearing his jeans.
“Will you wear your… er… other jeans?”
He frowns down at me. “Other jeans?”
“The ones you used to wear in here.”
“Those jeans?” he murmurs blinking with perplexed surprise.
“You look very hot in them.”
“Yeah… I mean, really hot.”
He smiles, shyly. “Well for you, Mrs. Grey, maybe I will.” He bends to kiss me then grabs the small bowl on the table that contains the butt plug, the tube of lubricant, the blindfold, and my panties.
“Who cleans these toys?” I ask as I follow him over to the chest.
He frowns at me, as if not understanding the question. “Me. Mrs. Jones.”
He nods, amused and embarrassed, I think. He switches off the music. “Well-um…”
“Your subs used to do it?” I finish his sentence. He gives me an apologetic shrug.
“Here.” He hands me his shirt and I put it on, wrapping it around myself. His scent still clings to the linen, and my chagrin about butt plug washing is forgotten. He leaves the items on the chest. Taking my hand, he unlocks the playroom door then leads me out and downstairs. I follow him meekly.
The anxiety, the bad mood, the thrill, fear, and excitement of the car chase have all gone. I’m relaxed-finally sated and calm. As we enter our bathroom, I yawn loudly and stretch… at ease with myself for a change.
“What is it?” Christian asks as he turns on the faucet.
I shake my head.
“Tell me,” he asks softly. He spills jasmine bath oil into the running water, filling the room with its sweet, sensual scent.
I flush. “I just feel better.”
He smiles. “Yes, you’ve been in a strange mood today, Mrs. Grey.” Standing, he pulls me into his arms. “I know you’re worrying about these recent events. I’m sorry you’re caught up in them. I don’t know if it’s a vendetta, an ex-employee, or a business rival. If anything were to happen to you because of me-” His voice drops to a pained whisper. I curl my arms around him.
“What if something happens to you, Christian?” I voice my fear.
He gazes down at me. “We’ll figure this out. Now let’s get you out of this shirt and into this bath.”
“Shouldn’t you talk to Sawyer?”
“He can wait.” His mouth hardens, and I feel a sudden pang of pity for Sawyer. What’s he done to upset Christian?
Christian helps me out of his shirt then frowns as I turn to him. My breasts still bear faded bruises from the love bites he gave me during our honeymoon, but I decide not to tease him about them.
“I wonder if Ryan has caught up with the Dodge?”
“We’ll see, after this bath. Get in.” He holds his hand out for me. I climb into the hot, fragrant water and sit tentatively.
“Ow.” My ass is tender, and the hot water makes me wince.
“Easy, baby,” Christian warns, but as he says it, the uncomfortable sensation melts away.
Christian strips and climbs in behind me, pulling me against his chest. I nestle between his legs, and we lie idle and content in the hot water. I run my fingers down his legs, and gathering my braid in one hand, he twirls it gently between his fingers.
“We need to go over the plans for the new house. Later this evening?”
“Sure.” That woman is coming back again. My subconscious gazes up from volume 3 of The Complete Works of Charles Dickens and glowers. I’m with my subconscious. I sigh. Unfortunately, Gia Matteo’s designs are breathtaking.
“I must get my things ready for work,” I whisper.
He stills. “You know you don’t have to go back to work,” he murmurs.
Oh no… not this again. “Christian, we’ve been through this. Please don’t resurrect that argument.”
He tugs my braid so my face tilts up and back. “Just saying…” He plants a soft kiss on my lips.
I pull on sweat pants and a camisole and decide to fetch my clothes from the playroom. As I make my way across the hallway, I hear Christian’s raised voice from his study. I freeze.
“Where the fuck were you?”
Oh shit. He’s shouting at Sawyer. Cringing, I dash upstairs to the playroom. I really don’t want to hear what he has to say to him-I still find shouty Christian intimidating. Poor Sawyer. At least I get to shout back.
I gather up my clothes and Christian’s shoes, then notice the small porcelain bowl with the butt plug still on top of the museum chest. Well… I suppose I should clean it. I add it to the pile and make my way back downstairs. I glance nervously through the great room, but all is quiet. Thank heavens.
Taylor will be back tomorrow evening, and Christian is generally calmer when he’s around. Taylor is spending some quality time today and tomorrow with his daughter. I wonder idly if I’ll ever get to meet her.
Mrs. Jones comes out of the utility room. We startle each other.
“Mrs. Grey-I didn’t see you there.” Oh, I’m Mrs. Grey now!“Hello, Mrs. Jones.”
“Welcome home and congratulations.” She smiles.
“Please call me Ana.”
“Mrs. Grey, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.”
Oh! Why must everything change just because I have a ring on my finger?
“Would you like to run through the menus for the week?” she asks, looking at me expectantly.
“Um…” This is not a question I have ever anticipated being asked.
She smiles. “When I first worked for Mr. Grey, every Sunday evening I would run through the menus for the upcoming week with him and list anything he might need from the grocery store.”
“Shall I take those for you?”
She holds out her hands for my clothes.
“Oh… um. Actually I haven’t finished with these.” And they are hiding the bowl with the butt plug in! I turn crimson. It’s a wonder I can look Mrs. Jones in the eye. She knows what we do-she cleans the room. Jeez, it’s just weird having no privacy.
“When you’re ready, Mrs. Grey. I’d be more than happy to run through things with you.”
“Thank you.” We are interrupted by an ashen-faced Sawyer who stalks out of Christian’s study and briskly crosses the great room. He gives us both a brief nod, not looking either of us in the eye, and slinks into Taylor’s study. I’m grateful for his intervention as I don’t wish to discuss menus or butt plugs with Mrs. Jones right now. Offering her a brief smile, I scurry back to the bedroom. Will I ever get used to having domestic staff at my beck and call? I shake my head… one day, maybe.
I dump Christian’s shoes on the floor and my clothes on the bed, and take the bowl with the butt plug into the bathroom. I eye it suspiciously. It looks innocuous enough, and surprisingly clean. I don’t want to dwell on that, and I wash it quickly with soap and water. Will that be enough? I’ll have to ask Mr. Sexpert if it should be sterilized or something. I shudder at the thought.
I like that Christian has turned the library over to me. It now houses an attractive white wooden desk I can work at. I take out my laptop and check my notes on the five manuscripts I read on honeymoon.
Yep, I have everything I need. Part of me dreads going back to work, but I can never tell Christian that. He’d seize on the opportunity to make me quit. I remember Roach’s apoplectic reaction when I told him I was getting married and to whom, and how, shortly afterward, my position was confirmed. I realize now it was because I was marrying the boss. The thought is unwelcome. I am no longer acting commissioning editor-I am Anastasia Steele, Commissioning Editor.
I haven’t yet plucked up the courage to tell Christian that I am not going to change my name at work. I think my reasons are solid. I need some distance from him, but I know there will be a fight when he finally realizes that. Perhaps I should discuss this with him tonight.
Sitting back in my chair, I start my final chore of the day. I glance at the digital clock on my laptop, which tells me it’s seven in the evening. Christian still hasn’t emerged from his study, so I have time. Taking the memory card out of the Nikon camera, I load it into the laptop to transfer the photographs. As the pictures upload, I reflect on the day. Is Ryan back? Or is he still on his way to Portland? Has he caught up with the mystery woman? Has Christian heard from him? I want some answers. I don’t care that he’s busy; I want to know what’s going on, and I suddenly feel a tad resentful that he’s keeping me in the dark. I rise, intending to go and confront him in his study, but as I do the photos from the last few days of our honeymoon pop up onscreen.
Picture after picture of me. Asleep, so many of me asleep, my hair over my face or fanned out across the pillow, lips parted… shit-sucking my thumb. I haven’t sucked my thumb for years! So many photos. I had no idea he’d taken these. There are a few candid long shots, including one of me leaning over the rail of the yacht, staring moodily into the distance. How did I not notice him taking this? I smile at the photos of me curled up beneath him and laughing-my hair flying as I struggle, fighting his tickling, tormenting fingers. And there’s the one of him and me on the bed in the master cabin that he took at arm’s length. I am cuddled on his chest and he gazes at the camera, young, wide-eyed… in love. His other hand cups my head, and I am smiling like a love-struck fool, but I cannot take my eyes off Christian. Oh, my beautiful man, his ruffled just-fucked hair, his gray eyes glowing, his lips parted and smiling. My beautiful man who cannot bear to be tickled, who could not bear to be touched just a short while ago, yet now he tolerates my touch. I must ask him if he likes it, or whether he lets me touch him for my pleasure rather than his.
I frown, gazing down at his image, suddenly overwhelmed by my feelings for him. Someone out there wants to harm him-first Charlie Tango, then the fire at GEH, and that damned car chase. I gasp, putting my hand to my mouth as an involuntary sob escapes. Abandoning my computer, I leap up to find him-not to confront him now-just to check that he’s safe.
Not bothering to knock, I barge into his study. Christian is sitting at his desk and talking on the phone. He looks up in surprised annoyance, but the irritation on his face disappears when he sees it’s me.
“So you can’t enhance it further?” he says, continuing his phone conversation, though he doesn’t take his eyes off me. Without hesitation, I walk around his desk, and he turns in his chair to face me, frowning. I can tell he’s thinking what does she want? When I crawl onto his lap, his eyebrows shoot up in surprise. I put my arms around his neck and cuddle into him. Gingerly, he puts his arm around me.
“Um… yes, Barney. Could you hold one moment?” He cups the phone against his shoulder.
“Ana, what’s wrong?”
I shake my head. Tipping my chin up, he gazes into my eyes. I pull my head free from his hold, tuck it beneath his chin, and curl up smaller on his lap. Bemused, he wraps his free arm more tightly around me and kisses the top of my head.
“Okay, Barney, what were you saying?” He continues, wedging the phone between his ear and his shoulder, and taps a key on his laptop. A grainy black and white CCTV image appears on the screen. A man with dark hair wearing pale coveralls comes on the screen. Christian presses another key, and the man walks toward the camera, but with his head bowed. When the man is closer to the camera, Christian freezes the frame. He’s standing in a bright white room with what looks like a long line of tall black cabinets to his left. This must be GEH’s server room.
“Okay Barney, one more time.”
The screen springs to life. A box appears around the head of the man in the CCTV footage and suddenly we zoom in. I sit up, fascinated.
“Is Barney doing this?” I ask quietly.
“Yes,” Christian answers. “Can you sharpen the picture at all?” he says to Barney.
The picture blurs, then refocuses moderately sharper of the man consciously gazing down and avoiding the CCTV camera. As I stare at him, a chill of recognition sweeps up my spine. There is something familiar in the line of his jaw. He has scruffy short black hair that looks odd and unkempt… and in the newly sharpened picture, I see an earring, a small hoop.
Holy crap! I know who it is.
“Christian,” I whisper. “That’s Jack Hyde.”
“You think?” Christian asks, surprised.
“It’s the line of his jaw.” I point at the screen. “And the earrings and the shape of his shoulders. He’s the right build, too. He must be wearing a wig-or he’s cut and dyed his hair.”
“Barney, are you getting this?” Christian puts the phone down on his desk and switches to hands-free. “You seem to have studied your ex-boss in some detail, Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs, sounding none too pleased. I scowl at him, but I’m saved by Barney.
“Yes, sir. I heard Mrs. Grey. I’m running face recognition software on all the digitized CCTV footage right now. See where else this asshole-I’m sorry ma’am-this man has been within the organization.”
I glance anxiously at Christian, who ignores Barney’s expletive. He’s studying the CCTV picture closely.
“Why would he do this?” I ask Christian.
He shrugs. “Revenge, perhaps. I don’t know. You can’t fathom why some people behave the way they do. I’m just angry that you ever worked so closely with him.” Christian’s mouth presses into a hard, thin line and he encircles my waist with his arm.
“We have the contents of his hard drive, too, sir,” Barney adds.
“Yes, I remember. Do you have an address for Mr. Hyde?” Christian says sharply.
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Sure will. I’m also going to scan the city CCTV and see if I can track his movements.”
“Check what vehicle he owns.”
“Barney can do all this?” I whisper.
Christian nods and gives me a smug smile.
“What was on his hard drive?” I whisper.
Christian’s face hardens and he shakes his head. “Nothing much,” he says, tight-lipped, his smile forgotten.
“Was it about you, or me?”
“Me.” He sighs.
“What sort of things? About your lifestyle?”
Christian shakes his head and puts his index finger against my lips to silence me. I scowl at him. But he narrows his eyes, and it’s a clear warning that I should hold my tongue.
“It’s a 2006 Camaro. I’ll send the license details to Welch, too,” Barney says excitedly from the phone.
“Good. Let me know where else that fucker has been in my building. And check this image against the one from his SIP personnel file.” Christian gazes at me skeptically. “I want to be sure we have a match.”
“Already done, sir, and Mrs. Grey is correct. This is Jack Hyde.”
I grin. See? I can be useful. Christian rubs his hand down my back.
“Well done, Mrs. Grey.” He smiles and his earlier rancor forgotten. To Barney he says, “Let me know when you’ve tracked all his movements at HQ. Also check out any other GEH property he may have had access to, and let the security teams know so they can make another sweep of all those buildings.”
“Thanks, Barney.” Christian hangs up.
“Well, Mrs. Grey, it seems that you are not only decorative, but useful, too.” Christian’s eyes light up with wicked amusement. I know he’s teasing.
“Decorative?” I scoff, teasing him back.
“Very,” he says quietly, pressing a soft, sweet kiss on my lips.
“You’re much more decorative than I am, Mr. Grey.”
He grins and kisses me more forcefully, winding my braid around his wrist and wrapping his arms around me. When we come up for air, my heart is racing.
“Hungry?” he asks.
“Well-food actually, Mrs. Grey.”
“I’ll make you something.” I giggle.
“I love that sound.”
“Of me offering you food?”
“You giggling.” He kisses my hair then I stand.
“So what would you like to eat, Sir?” I ask sweetly.
He narrows his eyes. “Are you being cute, Mrs. Grey?”
“Always, Mr. Grey… Sir.”
He smiles a sphinxlike smile. “I can still put you over my knee,” he murmurs seductively.
“I know.” I grin. Placing my hands on the arms of his office chair, I lean down and kiss him. “That’s one of the things I love about you. But stow your twitching palm-you’re hungry.”
He smiles his shy smile and my heart clenches. “Oh, Mrs. Grey, what am I going to do with you?”
“You’re going to answer my question. What would you like to eat?”
“Something light. Surprise me,” he says, mirroring my words from the playroom earlier.
“I’ll see what I can do.” I sashay out of his study and into the kitchen. My heart sinks when I see Mrs. Jones is there.
“Hello, Mrs. Jones.”
“Mrs. Grey. Are you ready for something to eat?”
She is stirring something in a pot on the stove that smells delicious.
“I was going to make subs for Mr. Grey and me.”
She pauses for a heartbeat. “Sure,” she says. “Mr. Grey likes French bread-there is some in the freezer cut to sub length. I’d be happy to make it for you, ma’am.”
“I know. But I’d like to do this.”
“I understand. I’ll give you some room.”
“What are you cooking?”
“This is a bolognaise sauce. It can be eaten anytime. I’ll freeze it.” She smiles warmly and turns the heat right down.
“Um-so what does Christian like in a, um… sub?” I frown, struck by what I’ve just said. Does Mrs. Jones understand the inference?
“Mrs. Grey, you could put just about anything in a sandwich, and as long as it’s on French bread, he’ll eat it.” We grin at each other.
“Okay, thank you.” I skip to the freezer and find the French bread cut to size in Ziplock bags. I place two of them on a plate, pop them into the microwave, and set it to defrost.
Mrs. Jones has disappeared. I frown as I return to the fridge to search for ingredients. I suppose it will be up to me to set the parameters by which Mrs. Jones and I will work together. I like the idea of cooking for Christian on the weekends. Mrs. Jones is more than welcome to do it during the week-the last thing I’ll want to do when I come home from work is cook. Hmm… a bit like Christian’s routine with his submissives. I shake my head. I mustn’t overthink this. I find some ham in the fridge, and in the crisper a perfectly ripe avocado.
As I am adding a touch of salt and lemon to the mashed avocado, Christian emerges from his study with the plans for the new house in his hands. He puts them on the breakfast bar, saunters toward me, and wraps his arms around me, kissing my neck.
“Barefoot and in the kitchen,” he murmurs.
“Shouldn’t that be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?” I smirk.
He stills, his whole body tensing against me. “Not yet,” he declares, apprehension clear in his voice.
“No! Not yet!”
He relaxes. “On that we can agree, Mrs. Grey.”
“You do want kids though, don’t you?”
“Sure, yes. Eventually. But I’m not ready to share you yet.” He kisses my neck again.
“What are you making? Looks good.” He kisses me behind my ear, and I know it’s to distract me. A delicious tingle travels down my spine.
“Subs.” I smirk, recovering my sense of humor.
He smiles against my neck and nips my earlobe. “My favorite.”
I poke him with my elbow.
“Mrs. Grey, you wound me.” He clutches his side as if in pain.
“Wimp,” I mutter disapprovingly.
“Wimp?” he utters in disbelief. He slaps my behind, making me yelp. “Hurry up with my food, wench. And later I’ll show you how wimpy I can be.” He slaps me playfully once more and goes to the fridge.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” he asks.
Christian spreads Gia’s plans out over the breakfast bar. She really has some spectacular ideas.
“I love her proposal to make the entire downstairs back wall glass, but…”
“But?” Christian prompts.
I sigh. “I don’t want to take all the character out of the house.”
“Yes. What Gia is proposing is quite radical, but… well… I fell in love with the house as it is… warts and all.”
Christian’s brow furrows as if this is anathema to him.
“I kind of like it the way it is,” I whisper. Is this going to make him mad?
He regards me steadily. “I want this house to be the way you want. Whatever you want. It’s yours.”
“I want you to like it, too. To be happy in it, too.”
“I’ll be happy wherever you are. It’s that simple, Ana.” His gaze holds mine. He is utterly, utterly sincere. I blink at him as my heart expands. Holy cow, he really does love me.
“Well”-I swallow, fighting the small knot of emotion that catches in my throat-“I like the glass wall. Maybe we could ask her to incorporate it into the house a little more sympathetically.”
Christian grins. “Sure. Whatever you want. What about the plans for upstairs and the basement?”
“I’m cool with those.”
Okay… I steel myself to ask the million-dollar question. “Do you want to put in a playroom?” I feel the oh-so-familiar flush creep up my face as I ask. Christian’s eyebrows shoot up.
“Do you?” he replies, surprised and amused at once.
I shrug. “Um… if you want.”
He regards me for a moment. “Let’s leave our options open for the moment. After all, this will be a family home.”
I’m surprised by the stab of disappointment I feel. I guess he’s right… although when are we going to have a family? It could be years.
“Besides, we can improvise.” He smirks.
“I like improvising,” I whisper.
He grins. “There’s something I want to discuss.” Christian points to the master bedroom, and we start a detailed discussion on bathrooms and separate walk-in closets.
When we finish, it’s nine thirty in the evening.
“Are you going back to work?” I ask as Christian rolls up the plans.
“Not if you don’t want me to.” He smiles. “What would you like to do?”
“We could watch TV.” I don’t want to read, and I don’t want to go to bed… yet.
“Okay,” Christian agrees willingly, and I follow him into the TV room.
We have sat here three, maybe four times total, and Christian usually reads a book. He’s not interested in television at all. I curl up beside him on the couch, tucking my legs beneath me and resting my head against his shoulder. He switches on the flat-screen television with the remote and flicks mindlessly through the channels.
“Any specific drivel you want to see?”
“You don’t like TV much, do you?” I mutter sardonically.
He shakes his head. “Waste of time. But I’ll watch something with you.”
“I thought we could make out.”
He whips his face to mine. “Make out?” He gazes at me as if I’ve grown two heads. He stops the endless flicking, leaving the TV on an over lit Spanish soap opera.
“Yes.” Why is he so horrified?
“We could go to bed and make out.”
“We do that all the time. When was the last time you made out in front of the TV?” I ask, shy and teasing at the same time.
He shrugs and shakes his head. Pressing the remote again, he flicks through another few channels before settling on an old episode of The X-Files.
“I’ve never done that,” he says quietly.
“Not even with Mrs. Robinson?”
He snorts. “Baby, I did a lot of things with Mrs. Robinson. Making out was not one of them.” He smirks at me and then narrows his eyes with amused curiosity. “Have you?”
I flush. “Of course.” Well kind of…
“What! Who with?”
Oh no. I do not want to have this discussion.
“Tell me,” he persists.
I gaze down at my knotted fingers. He gently covers my hands with one of his. When I glance up at him, he’s smiling at me.
“I want to know. So I can beat whoever it was to a pulp.”
I giggle. “Well, the first time…”
“The first time! There’s more than one fucker?” He growls.
I giggle again. “Why so surprised, Mr. Grey?”
He frowns briefly, runs a hand through his hair, and looks at me as if seeing me in a completely different light. He shrugs. “I just am. I mean-given your lack of experience.”
I flush. “I’ve certainly made up for that since I met you.”
“You have.” He grins. “Tell me. I want to know.”
I gaze into patient gray eyes, trying to gauge his mood. Is this going to make him mad, or does he genuinely want to know? I don’t want him sulking… he’s impossible when he’s sulking.
“You really want me to tell you?”
He nods slowly once, and his lips twitch with an amused, arrogant smile.
“I was briefly in Vegas with Mom and Husband Number Three. I was in tenth grade. His name was Bradley, and he was my lab partner in physics.”
“How old were you?”
“And what’s he doing now?”
“I don’t know.”
“What base did he get to?”
“Christian!” I scold-and suddenly he grabs my knees, then my ankles, and tips me up so I fall back on to the couch. He slides smoothly on top of me, trapping me beneath him, one leg between mine. It’s so sudden that I cry out in surprise. He grabs my hands and raises them above my head.
“So, this Bradley-did he get to first base?” he murmurs, running his nose down the length of mine. He plants soft kisses at the corner of my mouth.
“Yes,” I murmur against his lips. He releases one of his hands so that he can clasp my chin and hold me still while his tongue invades my mouth, and I surrender to his ardent kissing.
“Like this?” Christian breathes when he comes up for air.
“No… nothing like that,” I manage as all the blood in my body heads south.
Releasing my chin, he runs his hand down over my body and back up to my breast.
“Did he do this? Touch you like this?” His thumb skims over my nipple, through my camisole, softly, repeatedly, and it hardens under his expert touch.
“No.” I writhe beneath him.
“Did he get to second base?” he murmurs in my ear. His hand moves down across my ribs, past my waist to my hip. He takes my earlobe between his teeth and gently tugs.
“No,” I breathe.
Mulder blurts from the television something about the FBI’s most unwanted.
Christian pauses, leans up, and presses mute on the remote. He gazes down at me.
“What about Joe Schmo number two? Did he make it past second base?”
His eyes are smoldering hot… angry? Turned on? It’s difficult to say which. He shifts to my side and slides his hand beneath my sweatpants.
“No,” I whisper, trapped in his carnal gaze. Christian smiles wickedly.
“Good.” His hand cups my sex. “No underwear, Mrs. Grey. I approve.” He kisses me again as his fingers weave more magic, his thumb skimming over my clitoris, tantalizing me, as he pushes his index finger inside me with exquisite slowness.
“We’re supposed to be making out.” I groan.
Christian stills. “I thought we were?”
“No. No sex.”
“No sex, huh?” He withdraws his hand from my sweatpants. “Here.” He traces my lips with his index finger, and I taste my slick saltiness. He pushes his finger into my mouth, mirroring what he was doing a moment earlier. Then shifts so he’s between my legs, and his erection pushes against me. He thrusts, once, twice, and again. I gasp as the material of my sweatpants rubs in just the right way. He pushes once more, grinding into me.
“This what you want?” he murmurs and moves his hips rhythmically, rocking against me.
“Yes.” I moan.
His hand moves back to concentrate on my nipple once more and his teeth scrape along my jaw. “Do you know how hot you are, Ana?” His voice is hoarse as he rocks harder against me. I open my mouth to articulate a response and fail miserably, groaning loudly. He captures my mouth once more, tugging at my bottom lip with his teeth before plunging his tongue into my mouth again. He releases my other wrist and my hands travel greedily up his shoulders and into his hair as he kisses me. When I pull on his hair, he groans and raises his eyes to mine.
“Do you like me touching you?” I whisper.
His brow furrows briefly as if he doesn’t understand the question. He stops grinding against me. “Of course I do. I love you touching me, Ana. I’m like a starving man at a banquet when it comes to your touch.” His voice hums with passionate sincerity.
He kneels between my legs and drags me up to haul off my top. I’m naked beneath. Grabbing the hem of his shirt, he yanks it over his head and tosses it on the floor, then pulls me onto his kneeling lap, his arms clasped just above my behind.
“Touch me,” he breathes.
Oh my… Tentatively I reach up and brush the tips of my fingers through the smattering of chest hair over his sternum, over his burn scars. He inhales sharply and his pupils dilate, but it’s not with fear. It’s a sensual response to my touch. He watches me intently as my fingers float delicately over his skin, first to one nipple and then the other. They pucker beneath my caress. Leaning forward, I plant soft kisses on his chest, and my hands move to his shoulders, feeling the hard, sculptured lines of sinew and muscle. Jeez… he’s in good shape.
“I want you,” he murmurs and it’s a green light to my libido. My fingers move into his hair, pulling his head back so I can claim his mouth, fire licking hot and high in my belly. He groans and pushes me back onto the couch. He sits up and rips off my sweatpants, undoing his fly at the same time.
“Home run,” he whispers, and swiftly he fills me.
“Ah…” I groan and he stills, grabbing my face between his hands.
“I love you, Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs and very slowly, very gently, he makes love to me until I come apart at the seams, calling his name and wrapping myself around him, never wanting to let him go.
I lay sprawled on his chest. We’re on the floor of the TV room.
“You know, we completely bypassed third base.” My fingers trace the line of his pectoral muscles.
He laughs. “Next time, Mrs. Grey.” He kisses the top of my head.
I look up to stare at the television screen where the end credits for The X-Files play. Christian reaches for the remote and switches the sound back on.
“You liked that show?” I ask.
“When I was a kid.”
Oh… Christian as a kid… kickboxing and X Files and no touching.
“You?” he asks.
“Before my time.”
“You’re so young.” Christian smiles fondly. “I like making out with you, Mrs. Grey.”
“Likewise, Mr. Grey.” I kiss his chest, and we lie silently watching as The X-Files finish and the commercials come on.
“It’s been a heavenly three weeks. Car chases and fires and psycho ex-bosses notwithstanding. Like being in our own private bubble,” I mutter dreamily.
“Hmm,” Christian hums deep in his throat. “I’m not sure I’m ready to share you with the rest of the world yet.”
“Back to reality tomorrow,” I murmur, trying to keep the melancholy from my voice.
Christian sighs and runs his other hand through his hair. “Security will be tight-” I put my finger over his lips. I don’t want to hear this lecture again.
“I know. I’ll be good. I promise.” Which reminds me… I shift, propping myself up on my elbows to see him better. “Why were you shouting at Sawyer?”
He stiffens immediately. Oh shit.
“Because we were followed.”
“That wasn’t Sawyer’s fault.”
He gazes at me levelly. “They should never have let you get so far in front. They know that.”
I blush guiltily and resume my position, resting on his chest. It was my fault. I wanted to get away from them.
“Enough!” Christian is suddenly curt. “This is not up for discussion, Anastasia. It’s a fact, and they won’t let it happen again.”
Anastasia! I am Anastasia when I am in trouble just like at home with my mother.
“Okay,” I mutter, placating him. I don’t want to fight. “Did Ryan catch up with the woman in the Dodge?”
“No. And I’m not convinced it was a woman.”
“Oh?” I look up again.
“Sawyer saw someone with their hair tied back, but it was a brief look. He assumed it was a woman. Now, given that you’ve identified that fucker, maybe it was him. He wore his hair like that.” The disgust in Christian’s voice is palpable.
I don’t know what to make of this news. Christian runs his hand down my naked back, distracting me.
“If anything happened to you…,” he murmurs, his eyes wide and serious.
“I know,” I whisper. “I feel the same about you.” I shiver at the thought.
“Come. You’re getting cold,” he says, sitting up. “Let’s go to bed. We can cover third base there.” He smiles a lascivious smile, as mercurial as ever, passionate, angry, anxious, sexy-my Fifty Shades. I take his hand and he pulls me to my feet, and without a stitch on, I follow him through the great room to the bedroom.
The following morning, Christian squeezes my hand as we pull up outside SIP. He looks very much the powerful executive in his dark navy suit and matching tie, and I smile. He’s not been this smart since the ballet in Monaco.
“You know you don’t have to do this?” Christian murmurs. I am tempted to roll my eyes at him.
“I know,” I whisper, not wanting Sawyer and Ryan to overhear me from the front of the Audi. He frowns and I smile.
“But I want to,” I continue. “You know this.” I lean up and kiss him. His frown doesn’t disappear. “What’s wrong?”He glances uncertainly at Ryan as Sawyer climbs out of the car. “I’ll miss having you to myself.”
I reach up to caress his face. “Me, too.” I kiss him. “It was a wonderful honeymoon. Thank you.”
“Go to work, Mrs. Grey.”
“You, too, Mr. Grey.”
Sawyer opens the door. I squeeze Christian’s hand once more before I climb out onto the sidewalk. As I head into the building, I give him a little wave. Sawyer holds open the door and follows me in.
“Hi, Ana.” Claire smiles from behind the reception desk.
“Claire, hello.” I smile back.
“You look wonderful. Good honeymoon?”
“The best, thank you. How’s it been here?”
“Old man Roach is the same, but security has been stepped up and our server room is being overhauled. But Hannah will tell you.”
Sure she will. I give Claire a friendly smile and head to my office.
Hannah is my assistant. She is tall, slim, and ruthlessly efficient to the point that sometimes I find her a little intimidating. But she’s sweet to me, in spite of the fact that she’s a couple of years older. She has my latte waiting-the only coffee I let her get for me.
“Hi, Hannah,” I say warmly.
“Ana, how was your honeymoon?”
“Fantastic. Here-for you.” I pop the small bottle of perfume I bought for her onto her desk, and she claps her hands with glee.
“Oh, thank you!” she says enthusiastically. “Your urgent correspondence is on your desk, and Roach would like to see you at ten. That’s all I have to report for now.”
“Good. Thank you. And thanks for the coffee.” Wandering into my office, I rest my briefcase on my desk and gaze at the piled up letters. Jeez, I have a lot to do.
Just before ten there’s a timid tap on my door.
Elizabeth looks around the door. “Hi, Ana. I just wanted to say welcome back.”
“Hey. I have to say, reading through all this correspondence, I wish I was back in the South of France.”
Elizabeth laughs, but her laughter is off, forced, and I cock my head to one side and gaze at her like Christian does to me.
“Glad you’re back safely,” she says. “I’ll see you in a few minutes at the meeting with Roach.”
“Okay,” I murmur, and she shuts the door behind her. I frown at the closed door. What was that about? I shrug it off. My e-mail pings-it’s a message from Christian.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Errant Wives
Date: August 22, 2011 09:56
To: Anastasia Steele
I sent the e-mail below and it bounced.
And it’s because you haven’t changed your name.
Something you want to tell me?
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Christian Grey
FW Subject: Bubble
Date: August 22, 2011 09:32
To: Anastasia Grey
Love covering all the bases with you.
Have a great first day back.
Miss our bubble already.
Back in the Real World CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Shit. I hit reply immediately.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Don’t Burst the Bubble
Date: August 22, 2011 09:58
To: Christian Grey
I am all for a baseball metaphor with you, Mr. Grey.
I want to keep my name here.
I’ll explain this evening.
I am going in to a meeting now.
Miss our bubble, too…
PS: Thought I had to use my BlackBerry?
Commissioning Editor, SIP
This is going to be such a fight. I can feel it. Sighing, I gather up my papers for the meeting.
The meeting lasts for two hours. All the commissioning editors are there, plus Roach and Elizabeth. We discuss personnel, strategy, marketing, security, and year-end. As the meeting progresses, I grow more and more uncomfortable. There’s a subtle change in how my colleagues are treating me-a distance and deference that wasn’t there before I left for my honeymoon. And from Courtney, who heads up the non-fiction division, there’s downright hostility. Maybe I’m just being paranoid but it goes some way to explaining Elizabeth’s odd greeting this morning.
My mind drifts back to the yacht, then to the playroom, then to the R8 speeding away from the mystery Dodge on I-5. Perhaps Christian’s right… perhaps I can’t do this anymore. The thought is depressing-this is all I’ve ever wanted to do. If I can’t do this, what will I do? As I walk back to my office, I try to dismiss these dark thoughts.
When I sit down at my desk, I quickly check my e-mails. Nothing from Christian. I check my BlackBerry… Still nothing. Good. At least there’s been no adverse reaction to my e-mail. Perhaps we’ll discuss this tonight as per my request. I find that hard to believe, but ignoring my uneasy feeling, I open the marketing plan I was given at the meeting.
As is our ritual on a Monday, Hannah comes into my office with a plate for my packed lunch courtesy of Mrs. Jones, and we sit and eat our lunches together, discussing what we want to achieve during the week. She brings me up to date with the office gossip, too, which-considering I’ve been away for three weeks-is pretty thin on the ground. As we’re chatting, there’s a knock on the door.
Roach opens the door, and standing beside him is Christian. I’m momentarily struck dumb. Christian shoots me a blazing look and stalks in, before smiling politely at Hannah.
“Hello, you must be Hannah. I’m Christian Grey,” he says. Hannah scrambles to her feet and holds out her hand.
“Mr. Grey. H-how nice to meet you,” she stutters as they shake hands. “Can I fetch you a coffee?”
“Please,” he says warmly. With a quick puzzled glance at me, she scuttles out of the office past Roach, who stands as dumbstruck as me on the threshold of my office.
“If you’ll excuse me, Roach, I’d like a word with Ms. Steele.” Christian hisses the S sibilantly… sarcastically.
This is why he’s here… Oh shit.
“Of course, Mr. Grey. Ana,” Roach mutters, shutting the door to my office as he departs. I recover my power of speech.
“Mr. Grey, how nice to see you.” I smile, far too sweetly.
“Ms. Steele, may I sit down?”
“It’s your company.” I wave at the chair Hannah vacated.
“Yes, it is.” He smiles wolfishly at me, the smile not reaching his eyes. His tone is clipped. He’s bristling with tension-I can feel it all around me. Fuck. My heart sinks.
“Your office is very small,” he says as he sits down facing my desk.
“It suits me.”
He regards me neutrally, but I know he’s mad. I take a deep breath. This is not going to be fun.
“So what can I do for you, Christian?”
“I’m just looking over my assets.”
“Your assets? All of them?”
“All of them. Some of them need rebranding.”
“Rebranding? In what way?”
“I think you know.” His voice is menacingly quiet.
“Please-don’t tell me you have interrupted your day after three weeks away to come over here and fight with me about my name.” I am not a freaking asset!
He shifts and crosses his legs. “Not exactly fight. No.”
“Christian, I’m working.”
“Looked like you were gossiping with your assistant to me.”
My cheeks heat. “We were going through our schedules,” I snap. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
There’s a knock on the door. “Come in!” I shout, too loudly.
Hannah opens the door and brings in a small tray. Milk jug, sugar bowl, coffee in a French press-she’s gone all out. She places the tray on my desk.
“Thank you, Hannah,” I mutter, embarrassed that I have just shouted so loudly.
“Do you need anything else, Mr. Grey?” she asks all breathless. I want to roll my eyes at her.
“No, thank you. That’s all.” He smiles his dazzling, panty-dropping smile at her. She flushes and exits simpering. Christian turns his attention back to me.
“Now, Ms. Steele, where were we?”
“You were rudely interrupting my work day to fight with me about my name.”
Christian blinks once-surprised, I think, by the vehemence in my voice. Deftly, he picks at an invisible piece of lint on his knee with long skilled fingers. It’s distracting. He’s doing it on purpose. I narrow my eyes at him.
“I like to make the odd impromptu visit. It keeps management on their toes, wives in their place. You know.” He shrugs, his mouth set in an arrogant line.
Wives in their place! “I had no idea you could spare the time,” I snap.
His eyes frost. “Why don’t you want to change your name here?” he asks, his voice deathly quiet.
“Christian, do we have to discuss this now?”
“I’m here. I don’t see why not.”
“I have a ton of work to do, having been away for the last three weeks.”
He gazes at me, his eyes cool and assessing-distant even. I marvel that he can appear so cold after last night, after the last three weeks. Shit. He must be so mad-really mad. When will he learn not to overreact?
“Are you ashamed of me?” he asks, his voice deceptively soft.
“No! Christian, of course not.” I scowl at him. “This is about me-not you.” Jeez, he’s exasperating sometimes. Silly overbearing megalomaniac.
“How is this not about me?” He cocks his head to one side, genuinely perplexed, some of his detachment slipping as he stares at me with wide eyes, and I realize that he’s hurt. Holy fuck. I’ve hurt his feelings. Oh no… he’s the last person I want to hurt. I have to make him see my logic. I have to explain my reasoning for my decision.
“Christian, when I took this job, I’d only just met you,” I say patiently, struggling to find the right words. “I didn’t know you were going to buy the company-”
What can I say about that event in our brief history? His deranged reasons for doing so-his control freakery, his stalker tendencies gone mad, given completely free rein because he is so wealthy. I know he wants to keep me safe, but it’s his ownership of SIP that is the fundamental problem here. If he’d never interfered, I could continue as normal and not have to face the disgruntled and whispered recriminations of my colleagues. I put my head in my hands just to break eye contact with him.
“Why is it so important to you?” I ask, desperately trying to hold on to my fraying temper. I look up at his impassive stare, his eyes luminous, giving nothing away, his earlier hurt now hidden. But even as I ask the question, deep down I know the answer before he says it.
“I want everyone to know that you’re mine.”
“I am yours-look.” I hold up my left hand, showing my wedding and engagement rings.
“It’s not enough.”
“Not enough that I married you?” My voice is barely a whisper.
He blinks, registering the horror on my face. Where can I go from here? What else can I do?
“That’s not what I mean,” he snaps and runs a hand through his overlong hair so that it flops onto his forehead.
“What do you mean?”
He swallows. “I want your world to begin and end with me,” he says, his expression raw. His comment completely derails me. It’s like he’s punched me hard in the stomach, winding and wounding me. And the vision comes to mind of a small, frightened, copper-haired gray-eyed boy in dirty, mismatched, ill-fitting clothes.
“It does,” I say without guile, because it’s the truth. “I’m just trying to establish a career, and I don’t want to trade on your name. I have to do something, Christian. I can’t stay imprisoned at Escala or the new house with nothing to do. I’ll go crazy. I’ll suffocate. I’ve always worked, and I enjoy this. This is my dream job; it’s all I’ve ever wanted. But doing this doesn’t mean I love you less. You are the world to me.” My throat swells and tears prick the back of my eyes. I must not cry, not here. I repeat it over and over in my head. I must not cry. I must not cry.
He stares at me, saying nothing. Then a frown crosses his face as if he’s considering what I’ve said.
“I suffocate you?” His voice is bleak, and it’s an echo of a question he’s asked me before.
“No… yes… no.” This is such an exasperating conversation-not one that I want to have now, here. I close my eyes and rub my forehead, trying to fathom how we got to this.
“Look, we were talking about my name. I want to keep my name here because I want to put some distance between you and me… but only here, that’s all. You know everyone thinks I got the job because of you, when the reality is-” I stop, when his eyes widen. Oh no… it is because of him?
“Do you want to know why you got the job, Anastasia?”
Anastasia? Shit. “What? What do you mean?”
He shifts in his chair as if steeling himself. Do I want to know?
“The management here gave you Hyde’s job to babysit. They didn’t want the expense of hiring a senior executive when the company was mid-sale. They had no idea what the new owner would do with it once it passed into his ownership, and wisely, they didn’t want an expensive redundancy. So they gave you Hyde’s job to caretake until the new owner” -he pauses, and his lips twitch in an ironic smile-“namely me, took over.”
Holy crap! “What are you saying?” So it was because of him. Fuck! I’m horrified.
He smiles and shakes his head at my alarm. “Relax. You’ve more than risen to the challenge. You’ve done very well.” There’s the tiniest hint of pride in his voice, and it’s almost my undoing.
“Oh,” I murmur incoherently, reeling from this news. I sit right back in my chair, open-mouthed, staring at him. He shifts again.
“I don’t want to suffocate you, Ana. I don’t want to put you in a gilded cage. Well…” He pauses, his face darkening. “Well, the rational part of me doesn’t.” He strokes his chin thoughtfully as his mind concocts some plan.
Oh, where is he going with this? Christian looks up suddenly, as if he’s had a eureka moment. “So one of the reasons I’m here-apart from dealing with my errant wife,” he says, narrowing his eyes, “is to discuss what I am going to do with this company.”
Errant wife! I am not errant, and I’m not an asset! I scowl at Christian again and the threat of tears subsides.
“So what are your plans?” I incline my head to one side, mirroring him, and I can’t help my sarcastic tone. His lips twitch with the hint of a smile. Jeez-change of mood, again! How can I ever keep up with Mr. Mercurial?
“I’m renaming the company-to Grey Publishing.”
“And in a year’s time, it will be yours.”
My mouth drops open once more-wider this time.
“This is my wedding present to you.”
I shut my mouth then open it, trying to articulate something-but there’s nothing there. My mind is blank.
“So, do I need to change the name to Steele Publishing?”
He’s serious. Holy fuck.
“Christian,” I whisper when my brain finally reconnects with my mouth. “You gave me a watch… I can’t run a business.”
He tilts his head to one side again and gives me a censorious frown. “I ran my own business from the age of twenty-one.”
“But you’re… you. Control freak and whiz-kid extraordinaire. Jeez Christian, you majored in economics at Harvard before you dropped out. At least you have some idea. I sold paint and cable ties for three years on a part-time basis, for heaven’s sake. I’ve seen so little of the world, and I know next to nothing!” My voice rises, growing louder and higher, as I complete my tirade.
“You’re also the most well-read person I know,” he counters earnestly. “You love a good book. You couldn’t leave your job while we were on our honeymoon. You read how many manuscripts? Four?”
“Five,” I whisper.
“And you wrote full reports on all of them. You’re a very bright woman, Anastasia. I’m sure you’ll manage.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Crazy for you,” he whispers.
And I snort because it’s the only expression my body can make. He narrows his eyes.
“You’ll be a laughing stock. Buying a company for the little woman, who has only had a full time job for a few months of her adult life.”
“Do you think I give a fuck what people think? Besides, you won’t be on your own.”
I gape at him. He really has lost his marbles this time. “Christian, I…” I put my head in my hands-my emotions have been through a wringer. Is he crazy? And from somewhere dark and deep inside I have the sudden, inappropriate need to laugh. When I look up at him again, his eyes widen.
“Something amusing you, Ms. Steele?”
His eyes widen further, shocked but also amused. “Laughing at your husband? That will never do. And you’re biting your lip.” His eyes darken… in that way. Oh no-I know that look. Sultry, seductive, salacious… No, no, no! Not here.
“Don’t even think about it,” I warn, alarm clear in my voice.
“Think about what, Anastasia?”
“I know that look. We’re at work.”
He leans forward, his eyes glued to mine, molten gray and hungry. Holy shit! I swallow instinctively. “We’re in a small, reasonably sound-proofed office with a lockable door.”
“Gross moral turpitude.” I enunciate each word carefully.
“Not with your husband.”
“With my boss’s boss’s boss,” I hiss.
“You’re my wife.”
“Christian, no. I mean it. You can fuck me seven shades of Sunday this evening. But not now. Not here!”
He blinks and narrows his eyes once more. Then unexpectedly he laughs.
“Seven shades of Sunday?” He arches an eyebrow, intrigued. “I may hold you to that, Ms. Steele.”
“Oh, stop with the Ms. Steele!” I snap and thump the desk, startling us both. “For heaven’s sake, Christian. If it means so much to you, I’ll change my name!”
His mouth pops open as he inhales sharply. And then he grins, a radiant, all-teeth-showing, joyous grin. Wow…
“Good.” He claps his hands, and all of a sudden he stands.
“Mission accomplished. Now, I have work to do. If you’ll excuse me, Mrs. Grey.”
Gah-this man is so maddening! “But-”
“But what, Mrs. Grey?”
I sag. “Just go.”
“I intend to. I’ll see you this evening. I’m looking forward to seven shades of Sunday.”
“Oh, and I have a stack of business-related social engagements coming up, and I’d like you to accompany me.”
I gape at him. Will you just go?
“I’ll have Andrea call Hannah to put the dates in your calendar. There are some people you need to meet. You should get Hannah to handle your schedule from now on.”
“Okay,” I mumble, completely bemused, bewildered and shell-shocked.
He leans over my desk. What now? I am caught in his hypnotic gaze.
“Love doing business with you, Mrs. Grey.” He leans in closer as I sit paralyzed, and he plants a soft tender kiss on my lips. “Laters, baby,” he murmurs. He stands abruptly, winks at me, and leaves.
I lay my head on my desk, feeling like I’ve been run over by a freight train-the freight train that is my beloved husband. He has to be the most frustrating, annoying, contrary man on the planet. I sit up and frantically rub my eyes. What have I just agreed to? Okay, Ana Grey running SIP-I mean, Grey Publishing. The man is insane. There’s a knock on the door, and Hannah pokes her head around.
“You okay?” she asks.
I just stare at her. She frowns.
“I know you don’t like me doing this-but can I make you some tea?”
“Twinings English Breakfast, weak and black?”
“Coming right up, Ana.”
I stare blankly at my computer screen, still in shock. How can I make him understand? E-mail!
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: NOT AN ASSET!
Date: August 22, 2011 14:23
To: Christian Grey
Next time you come and see me, make an appointment, so I can at least have some prior warning of your adolescent overbearing megalomania.
Anastasia Grey ‹____________________please note name.
Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Seven Shades of Sunday
Date: August 22, 2011 14:34
To: Anastasia Steele
My Dear Mrs. Grey (emphasis on My)
What can I say in my defense? I was in the neighborhood.
And no, you are not an asset, you are my beloved wife.
As ever, you make my day.
CEO & Overbearing Megalomaniac, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
He’s trying to be funny, but I am in no mood to laugh. I take a deep breath and go back to my correspondence.
Christian is quiet when I climb into the car that evening.
“Hi,” I murmur.
“Hi,” he responds, warily-as he should.
“Disrupt anyone else’s work today?” I ask too sweetly.
A ghost of a smile crosses his face. “Only Flynn’s.”
“Next time you go to see him, I’ll give you a list of topics I want covered,” I hiss at him.
“You seem out of sorts, Mrs. Grey.”
I glare steadily at the backs of Ryan and Sawyer’s heads in front of me. Christian shifts beside me.
“Hey,” he says softly and reaches for my hand. All afternoon, when I should have been concentrating on work, I was trying to figure out what to say to him. But I became angrier and angrier with each passing hour. I’ve had enough of his cavalier, petulant, and frankly childish behavior. I snatch my hand out of his-in a cavalier, petulant, and childish manner.
“You’re mad at me?” he whispers.
“Yes,” I hiss. Folding my arms protectively across my body, I gaze out my window. He shifts beside me once more, but I will myself not to look at him. I don’t understand why I’m so mad at him-but I am. Really fucking mad.
As soon as we pull up outside Escala, I break protocol and leap out of the car with my briefcase. I stomp into the building, not checking to see who is following. Ryan scuttles into the foyer behind me and dashes to the elevator to press the call button.
“What?” I snap when I’m alongside him. His cheeks redden.
“Apologies, ma’am,” he mutters.
Christian comes and stands beside me to wait for the elevator, and Ryan retreats.
“So it’s not just me you’re mad at?” Christian murmurs dryly. I glare up at him and see a trace of a smile on his face.
“Are you laughing at me?” I narrow my eyes.
“I wouldn’t dare,” he says, holding his hands up like I’m threatening him at gunpoint. He’s in his navy suit, looking crisp and clean with floppy sex-hair and a guileless expression.
“You need a haircut,” I mutter. Turning away from him, I step into the elevator.
“Do I?” he says while brushing his hair off his forehead. He follows me in.
“Yes.” I tap the code for our apartment into the keypad.
“So you’re talking to me now?”
“What exactly are you mad about? I need an indication,” he asks cautiously.
I turn and gape at him.
“Do you really have no idea? Surely, for someone so bright, you must have an inkling? I can’t believe you’re that obtuse.”
He takes an alarmed step back. “You really are mad. I thought we had sorted all this in your office,” he murmurs, perplexed.
“Christian, I just capitulated to your petulant demands. That’s all.”
The elevator doors open and I storm out. Taylor is standing in the hallway. He takes a step back and quickly shuts his mouth as I steam past him.
“Hi, Taylor,” I mutter.
“Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs.
Dropping my briefcase in the hallway, I head into the great room. Mrs. Jones is at the stove.
“Good evening, Mrs. Grey.”
“Hi, Mrs. Jones,” I mutter once more. I head straight to the fridge and pull out a bottle of white wine. Christian follows me into the kitchen and watches me like a hawk as I take a glass down from the cupboard. He removes his jacket and casually places it on the countertop.
“Do you want a drink?” I ask super sweetly.
“No thanks,” he says, not taking his eyes off me, and I know that he’s helpless. He does not know what to do with me. It’s comical on one level and tragic on another. Well, screw him! I am having trouble locating my compassionate self since our meeting this afternoon. Slowly, he removes his tie then opens the top button of his shirt. I pour myself a large glass of sauvignon blanc, and Christian runs a hand through his hair. When I turn around, Mrs. Jones has disappeared. Shit! She’s my human shield. I take a slug of wine. Hmm. It tastes good.
“Stop this,” Christian whispers. He takes the two steps between us so he’s standing in front of me. Gently he tucks my hair behind my ear and caresses my earlobe with his fingertips, sending a shiver through me. Is this what I’ve missed all day? His touch? I shake my head, causing him to release my ear and gaze up at him.
“Talk to me,” he murmurs.
“What’s the point? You don’t listen to me.”
“Yes I do. You’re one of the few people I do listen to.”
I take another swig of wine.
“Is this about your name?”
“Yes and no. It’s how you dealt with the fact that I disagreed with you.” I glare up at him, expecting him to be angered.
His brow furrows. “Ana, you know I have… issues. It’s hard for me to let go where you’re concerned. You know that.”
“But I’m not a child, and I’m not an asset.”
“I know.” He sighs.
“Then stop treating me as though I am,” I whisper, imploring him.
He brushes the back of his fingers down my cheek and runs the tip of his thumb across my bottom lip.
“Don’t be mad. You’re so precious to me. Like a priceless asset, like a child,” he whispers, a somber reverent expression on his face. His words distract me. Like a child. Precious like a child… a child would be precious to him!
“I’m neither of those things, Christian. I’m your wife. If you were hurt that I wasn’t going to take your name, you should have said.”
“Hurt?” He frowns deeply, and I know that he’s exploring the possibility in his mind. He straightens suddenly, still frowning, and glances quickly at his wristwatch. “The architect will be here in just under an hour. We should eat.”
Oh no. I groan inwardly. He hasn’t answered me, and now I have to deal with Gia Matteo. My shitty day just got shittier. I scowl at Christian.
“This discussion isn’t finished,” I mutter.
“What else is there to discuss?”
“You could sell the company.”
Christian snorts. “Sell it?”
“You think I’d find a buyer in today’s market?”
“How much did it cost you?”
“It was relatively cheap.” His tone is guarded.
“So if it folds?”
He smirks. “We’ll survive. But I won’t let it fold, Anastasia. Not while you’re there.”
“And if I leave?”
“And do what?”
“I don’t know. Something else.”
“You’ve already said this is your dream job. And forgive me if I’m wrong, but I promised before God, Reverend Walsh, and a congregation of our nearest and dearest to cherish you, uphold your hopes and dreams, and keep you safe at my side.”
“Quoting your wedding vows to me is not playing fair.”
“I’ve never promised to play fair where you’re concerned. Besides,” he adds, “you’ve wielded your vows at me like a weapon before.”
I scowl at him. This is true.
“Anastasia, if you’re still angry with me, take it out on me in bed later.” His voice is suddenly low and full of sensual longing, his eyes heated.
What? Bed? How?
He smiles indulgently down at my expression. Is he expecting me to tie him up? Holy crap! My inner goddess removes her iPod earbuds and starts listening with rapt attention.
“Seven shades of Sunday,” he whispers. “Looking forward to it.”
“Gail!” he shouts abruptly, and four seconds later, Mrs. Jones appears. Where was she? Taylor’s office? Listening? Oh jeez.
“We’d like to eat now, please.”
“Very good, sir.”
Christian doesn’t take his eyes off me. He watches me vigilantly as if I’m some exotic creature about to bolt. I take a sip of my wine.
“I think I’ll join you in a glass,” he says, sighing, and runs a hand through his hair again.
“You’re not going to finish?”
“No.” I gaze down at my barely touched plate of fettuccini to avoid Christian’s darkening expression. Before he can say anything, I stand and clear our plates from the dining table.
“Gia will be with us shortly,” I mutter. Christian’s mouth twists in an unhappy scowl, but he says nothing.
“I’ll take those, Mrs. Grey,” says Mrs. Jones as I walk into the kitchen.
“You didn’t like it?” she asks, concerned.
“It was fine. I’m just not hungry.”
Giving me a small sympathetic smile, she turns to clear my plate and put everything in the dishwasher.
“I’m going to make a couple of calls,” Christian announces, giving me an assessing look before he disappears into his study.
I let out a sigh of relief and head to our bedroom. Dinner was awkward. I’m still mad at Christian, and he doesn’t seem to think he’s done anything wrong. Has he? My subconscious cocks an eyebrow at me and gazes benignly over her half-moon glasses. Yes, he has. He’s made it even more awkward for me at work. He didn’t wait to discuss this issue with me when we were in the relative privacy of our own home. How would he feel if I came barging into his office, laying down the law? And to cap it all, he wants to give me SIP! How the hell could I run a company? I know next to nothing about business.
I gaze out at the Seattle skyline bathed in the pearly pink light of dusk. And as usual, he wants to solve our differences in the bedroom… um… foyer… playroom… TV room… kitchen countertop… Stop! It always comes back to sex with him. Sex is his coping mechanism.
I wander into the bathroom and scowl at my reflection in the mirror. Coming back to the real world is hard. We managed to skate over all our differences while we were in our bubble because we were so wrapped up in each other. But now? Briefly I am dragged back to my wedding, remembering my concerns that day-marry in haste… No, I mustn’t think like this. I knew he was Fifty Shades when I married him. I just have to hang in there and try to talk this through with him.
I squint at myself in the mirror. I look pale, and now I have that woman to deal with.
I’m wearing my gray pencil skirt and a sleeveless blouse. Right! My inner goddess gets out her harlot-red nail polish. I undo two buttons, exposing a little cleavage. I wash my face then carefully redo my makeup, applying more mascara than usual and putting extra gloss on my lips. Bending down, I then brush my hair vigorously from root to tip. When I stand, my hair is a chestnut haze around me that tumbles to my breasts. I tuck it artfully behind my ears and go in search of my pumps, rather than my flats.
When I reemerge into the great room, Christian has the house plans spread out on the dining table. He has music playing through the sound system. It stops me in my tracks.
“Mrs. Grey,” he says warmly then looks quizzically at me.
“What’s this?” I ask. The music is stunning.
“Fauré’s Requiem. You look different,” he says, distracted.
“Oh. I’ve not heard it before.”
“It’s very calming, relaxing,” he says and raises an eyebrow. “Have you done something to your hair?”
“Brushed it,” I mutter. I’m transported by the haunting voices. Abandoning the plans on the table, he walks toward me, a slow saunter in time to the music.
“Dance with me?” he murmurs.
“To this? It’s a requiem.” I squeak, shocked.
“Yes.” He pulls me into his arms and holds me, burying his nose in my hair and swaying gently from side to side. He smells his heavenly self.
Oh… I’ve missed him. I wrap my arms around him and fight the urge to cry. Why are you so infuriating?
“I hate fighting with you,” he whispers.
“Well, stop being such an arse.”
He chuckles and the captivating sound reverberates through his chest. He tightens his hold on me. “Arse?”
“I prefer arse.”
“You should. It suits you.”
He laughs once more and kisses the top of my head.
“A requiem?” I murmur a little shocked that we are dancing to it.
He shrugs. “It’s just a lovely piece of music, Ana.”
Taylor coughs discreetly at the entranceway, and Christian releases me.
“Miss Matteo is here,” he says.
“Show her in,” Christian says. He reaches over and clasps my hand as Miss Gia Matteo enters the room.
Gia Matteo is a good-looking woman-a tall, good-looking woman. She wears her short, salon-blond, perfectly layered and coiffed hair like a sophisticated crown. She’s dressed in a pale gray pantsuit; the slacks and fitted jacket hug her lush curves. Her clothes look expensive. At the base of her throat, a solitary diamond glints, matching the single-carat studs in her ears. She is well groomed-one of those women who grew up with money and breeding, though her breeding seems to be lacking this evening; her pale blue blouse is undone too far. Like mine. I flush.
“Christian. Ana.” She beams, showing perfect white teeth, and holds out a manicured hand to shake first Christian’s, then my hand. It means I have to release Christian’s hand to reciprocate. She’s a fraction shorter than Christian, but then she’s in killer heels.
“Gia,” Christian says politely. I smile coolly.
“You both look so well after your honeymoon,” she says smoothly, her brown eyes gazing at Christian through long mascaraed lashes. Christian puts his arm around me, holding me close.
“We had a wonderful time, thank you.” He brushes his lips against my temple, taking me by surprise.
See… he’s mine. Annoying-infuriating, even-but mine. I grin. Right now I really love you, Christian Grey. I slip my hand around his waist then into his rear pocket of his pants and squeeze his behind. Gia gives us a thin smile.
“Have you managed to look over the plans?”
“We have,” I murmur. I gaze up at Christian, who grins down at me, one eyebrow raised in wry amusement. Amused at what? My reaction to Gia or me squeezing his butt?
“Please,” Christian says. “The plans are here.” He gestures toward the dining table. Taking my hand, he leads me to it, Gia following in our wake. I finally remember my manners.
“Would you like something to drink?” I ask. “A glass of wine?”
“That would be lovely,” Gia says. “Dry white if you have it.”
Shit! Sauvignon blanc-that’s a dry white, isn’t it? Reluctantly leaving my husband’s side, I head over to the kitchen. I hear the iPod hiss as Christian switches off the music.
“Would you like some more wine, Christian?” I call.
“Please, baby,” he croons, grinning at me. Wow, he can be so swoonworthy at times yet so aggravating at others.
Reaching up to open the cupboard, I’m aware his eyes are on me, and I’m gripped by the uncanny feeling that Christian and I are putting on a show, playing a game together-but this time we’re on the same side pitted against Ms. Matteo. Does he know that she’s attracted to him and is being too obvious about it? It gives me a small rush of pleasure when I realize maybe he’s trying to reassure me. Or maybe he’s just sending a message loud and clear to this woman that he’s taken.
Mine. Yeah, bitch-mine. My inner goddess is wearing her gladiatrix outfit, and she’s taking no prisoners. Smiling to myself I collect three glasses from the cupboard, take the opened bottle of sauvignon blanc from the fridge, and place them all on the breakfast bar. Gia is leaning over the table while Christian stands beside her and points at something on the plans.
“I think Ana has some opinions on the glass wall, but generally we’re both pleased with the ideas you’ve come up with.”
“Oh, I’m glad,” Gia gushes, obviously relieved, and as she says it, she briefly touches his arm in a small, flirty gesture. Christian stiffens immediately but subtly. She doesn’t even seem to notice.
Leave him the fuck alone, lady. He doesn’t like to be touched.
Stepping casually aside so he’s out of her reach, Christian turns to me. “Thirsty here,” he says.
“Coming right up.” He is playing the game. She makes him uncomfortable. Why didn’t I see that before? That’s why I don’t like her. He’s used to how women react to him. I’ve seen it often enough, and usually he thinks nothing of it. Touching is something else. Well, Mrs. Grey to the rescue.
I hastily pour the wine, gather all three glasses in my hands, and hurry back to my knight in distress. Offering a glass to Gia, I deliberately position myself between them. She smiles courteously as she accepts it. I hand the second to Christian, who takes it eagerly, his expression one of amused gratitude.
“Cheers,” Christian says to us both, but looking at me. Gia and I raise our glasses and answer in unison. I take a welcome sip of wine.
“Ana, you have some issues with the glass wall?” Gia asks.
“Yes. I love it-don’t get me wrong. But I was hoping that we could incorporate it more organically into the house. After all, I fell in love with the house as it was, and I don’t want to make any radical changes.”
“I just want the design to be sympathetic, you know… more in keeping with the original house.” I glance up at Christian, who is gazing at me thoughtfully.
“No major renovations?” he murmurs.
“No.” I shake my head to emphasize my point.
“You like it as it is?”
“Mostly, yes. I always knew it just needed some TLC.”
Christian’s eyes glow warmly.
Gia glances at the pair of us, and her cheeks pink. “Okay,” she says. “I think I get where you’re coming from, Ana. How about if we retain the glass wall, but have it open out onto a larger deck that’s in keeping with the Mediterranean style. We have the stone terrace there already. We can put in pillars in matching stone, widely spaced so you’ll still have the view. Add a glass roof, or tile it as per the rest of the house. It’ll also make a sheltered al fresco dining and seated area.”
Got to give the woman her due… she’s good.
“Or instead of the deck, we could incorporate a wood color of your choice into the glass doors-that might help to keep the Mediterranean spirit,” she continues.
“Like the bright blue shutters in the South of France,” I murmur to Christian, who is watching me intently. He takes a sip of wine and shrugs, very noncommittal. Hmm. He doesn’t like that idea but he doesn’t overrule me, shoot me down, or make me feel stupid. God, this man is a mass of contradictions. His words from yesterday come to mind: “I want this house to be the way you want. Whatever you want. It’s yours.” He wants me to be happy-happy in everything I do. Deep down I think I know this. It’s just-I stop myself. Don’t think about our argument now. My subconscious glares at me.
Gia is looking at Christian, waiting for him to make the decision. I watch as her pupils dilate and her glossed lips part. Her tongue darts quickly over her top lip before she takes a sip of her wine. When I turn to Christian, he’s still looking at me-not at her at all. Yes! My inner goddess fist pumps the air. I am going to have words with Ms. Matteo.
“Ana, what do you want to do?” Christian murmurs, very clearly deferring to me.
“I like the deck idea.”
I turn back to Gia. Hey, lady, look at me, not him. I’m the one making the decisions on this. “I think I’d like to see revised drawings showing the bigger deck and pillars that are in keeping with the house.”
Reluctantly, Gia drags her greedy eyes away from my husband and smiles down at me. Does she think I’m not going to notice?
“Sure,” she acquiesces pleasantly. “Any other issues?”
Other than you eye-fucking my husband? “Christian wants to remodel the master suite,” I murmur.
There’s a discreet cough from the entrance to the great room. We three turn as one to find Taylor standing there.
“Taylor?” Christian asks.
“I need to confer with you on an urgent matter, Mr. Grey.”
Christian clasps my shoulders from behind and addresses Gia.
“Mrs. Grey is in charge of this project. She has absolute carte blanche. Whatever she wants, it’s hers. I completely trust her instincts. She’s very shrewd.” His voice alters subtly. In it I hear pride and a veiled warning-a warning to Gia?
He trusts my instincts? Oh, this man’s exasperating. My instincts let him run roughshod over my feelings this afternoon. I shake my head in frustration but I’m grateful that he’s telling Miss Provocative-And-Unfortunately-Good-At-Her-Job just who’s in charge. I caress his hand as it rests on my shoulder.
“If you’ll excuse me.” Christian squeezes my shoulders before following Taylor. I wonder idly what’s going on.
“So… the master suite?” Gia asks nervously.
I gaze up at her, pausing for a moment to ensure that Christian and Taylor are out of earshot. Then calling on all my inner strength and the fact that I’ve been seriously piqued for the last five hours, I let her have it.
“You’re right to be nervous, Gia, because right now your work on this project hangs in the balance. But I’m sure we’ll be fine as long as you keep your hands off my husband.”
“Otherwise, you’re fired. Understand?” I enunciate each word clearly.
She blinks rapidly, utterly stunned. She cannot believe what I’ve said. I cannot believe what I’ve just said. But I hold my ground, gazing impassively into her widening brown eyes.
Don’t back down. Don’t back down! I’ve learned this maddening impassive expression from Christian who does impassive like no one else. I know that renovating the Greys’ main residence is a prestigious project for Gia’s architectural firm-a resplendent feather in her cap. She can’t lose this commission. And right now I don’t give a hoot that she’s Elliot’s friend.
“Ana-Mrs. Grey… I-I’m so sorry. I never-” She flushes, unsure what else she can say.
“Let me be clear. My husband is not interested in you.”
“Of course,” she murmurs, the blood draining from her face.
“As I said, I just wanted to be clear.”
“Mrs. Grey, I sincerely apologize if you think… I have-” She stops, still floundering for something to say.
“Good. As long as we understand each other, we’ll be fine. Now, I’ll let you know what we have in mind for the master suite, then I’d like a run down on all the materials you intend to use. As you know, Christian and I are determined that this house should be ecologically sustainable, and I’d like to reassure him as to where all the materials are coming from and what they are.”
“Of c-course,” she stutters, wide-eyed and frankly a little intimidated by me. This is a first. My inner goddess runs around the arena, waving to the frenzied crowd.
Gia pats her hair into place, and I realize this is a nervous gesture.
“The master suite?” she prompts anxiously, her voice a breathless whisper. Now that I have the upper hand, I feel myself relax for the first time since my meeting with Christian this afternoon. I can do this. My inner goddess is celebrating her inner bitch.
Christian joins us just as we’re finishing up.
“All done?” he asks. He puts his arm around my waist and turns to Gia.
“Yes, Mr. Grey,” Gia smiles brightly, though her smile looks brittle. “I’ll have the revised plans to you in a couple of days.”
“Excellent. You’re happy?” he asks me directly, his eyes warm and probing. I nod and blush for some reason that I don’t understand.
“I’d better be going,” Gia says again too brightly. She offers her hand to me first this time, then to Christian.
“Until next time, Gia,” I murmur.
“Yes, Mrs. Grey. Mr. Grey.”
Taylor appears at the entrance of the great room.
“Taylor will see you out.” My voice is loud enough for him to hear. Patting her hair once more, she turns on her high heels and leaves the great room, followed closely by Taylor.
“She was noticeably cooler,” Christian says, looking quizzically at me.
“Was she? I didn’t notice.” I shrug, trying to remain neutral. “What did Taylor want?” I ask partly because I’m curious and partly because I want to change the subject.
Frowning, Christian releases me and begins to roll up the plans on the table. “It was about Hyde.”
“What about Hyde?” I whisper.
“It’s nothing to worry about, Ana.” Abandoning the plans, Christian draws me into his arms. “It turns out he hasn’t been in his apartment for weeks, that’s all.” He kisses my hair, then releases me and finishes his task.
“So what did you decide on?” he asks, and I know it’s because he doesn’t want me to pursue the Hyde line of inquiry.
“Only what you and I discussed. I think she likes you,” I say quietly.
He snorts. “Did you say something to her?” he asks and I flush. How does he know? At a loss what to say, I stare down at my fingers.
“We were Christian and Ana when she arrived, and Mr. and Mrs. Grey when she left.” His tone is dry.
“I may have said something,” I mumble. When I peek up at him, he’s regarding me warmly, and for an unguarded moment he looks… pleased. He drops his gaze, shaking his head, and his expression changes.
“She’s only reacting to this face.” He sounds vaguely bitter, disgusted even.
Oh, Fifty, no!
“What?” He’s bemused by my perplexed expression. His eyes grow wide in alarm. “You’re not jealous, are you?” he asks, horrified.
I blush and swallow, then stare down at my knotted fingers. Am I?
“Ana, she’s a sexual predator. Not my type at all. How can you be jealous of her? Of anyone? Nothing about her interests me.” When I glance up, he’s gaping at me as if I’ve grown an additional limb. He runs a hand through his hair. “It’s only you, Ana,” he says quietly. “It will only ever be you.”
Oh my. Abandoning the plans once more, Christian moves toward me and clasps my chin between his thumb and forefinger.
“How can you think otherwise? Have I ever given you any indication that I could be remotely interested in anyone else?” His eyes blaze as he stares into mine.
“No,” I whisper. “I’m being silly. It’s just today… you…” All my conflicting emotions from earlier resurfaces. How can I tell him how confused I am? I’ve been confounded and frustrated by his behavior this afternoon in my office. One minute he wants me to stay at home, the next he’s gifting me a company. How am I supposed to keep up?
“What about me?”
“Oh, Christian”-my bottom lip trembles-“I’m trying to adapt to this new life that I had never imagined for myself. Everything is being handed to me on a plate-the job, you, my beautiful husband, who I never… I never knew I’d love this way, this hard, this fast, this… indelibly.” I take a deep steadying breath, as his mouth drops open.
“But you’re like a freight train, and I don’t want to get railroaded because the girl you fell in love with will be crushed. And what’ll be left? All that would be left is a vacuous social x-ray, flitting from charity function to charity function.” I pause once more, struggling to find the words to convey how I feel. “And now you want me to be a company CEO, which has never even been on my radar. I’m bouncing between all these ideas, struggling. You want me at home. You want me to run a company. It’s so confusing.” I stop, tears threatening, and I force back a sob.
“You’ve got to let me make my own decisions, take my own risks, and make my own mistakes, and let me learn from them. I need to walk before I can run, Christian, don’t you see. I want some independence. That’s what my name means to me.” There, that’s what I wanted to say this afternoon.
“You feel railroaded?” he whispers.
He closes his eyes and runs his hand through his hair in agitation. “I just want to give you the world, Ana, everything and anything you want. And save you from it, too. Keep you safe. But I also want everyone to know you’re mine. I panicked today when I got your e-mail. Why didn’t you tell me about your name?”
I flush. He has a point.
“I only thought about it while we were on our honeymoon, and well, I didn’t want to burst the bubble, and I forgot about it. I only remembered yesterday evening. And then Jack… you know, it was distracting. I’m sorry, I should have told you or discussed it with you, but I could never seem to find the right time.”
Christian’s intense gaze is unnerving. It’s as if he’s trying to will his way into my skull, but he says nothing.
“Why did you panic?” I ask.
“I just don’t want you to slip through my fingers.”
“For heaven’s sake, I’m not going anywhere. When are you going to get that through your incredibly thick skull? I. Love. You.” I wave my hand in the air like he does sometimes to emphasize my point. “More than… eyesight, space, or liberty.” 
His eyes widen. “A daughter’s love?” He gives me an ironic smile.
“No,” I laugh, despite myself. “It’s the only quote that came to mind.”
“Mad King Lear?”
“Dear, dear Mad King Lear.” I caress his face, and he leans into my touch, closing his eyes. “Would you change your name to Christian Steele so everyone would know that you belong to me?”
Christian’s eyes fly open, and he gazes at me as if I’ve just said the world is flat. He frowns. “Belong to you?” he murmurs, testing the words.
“Yours,” he says, repeating the words we spoke in the playroom only yesterday. “Yes, I would. If it meant that much to you.”
“Does it mean that much to you?”
“Yes.” He is unequivocal.
“Okay.” I will do this for him. Give him the reassurance he still needs.
“I thought you’d already agreed to this.”
“Yes I have, but now we’ve discussed it further, I’m happier with my decision.”
“Oh,” he mutters, surprised. Then he smiles his beautiful, boyish yes-I-am-really-kinda-young smile, and he takes my breath away. Grabbing me by my waist, he swings me around. I squeal and start to giggle, and I don’t know if he’s just happy or relieved or… what?
“Mrs. Grey, do you know what this means to me?”
“I do now.”
He leans down and kisses me, his fingers moving into my hair, holding me in place.
“It means seven shades of Sunday,” he murmurs against my lips, and he runs his nose along mine.
“You think?” I lean back to gaze at him.
“Certain promises were made. An offer extended, a deal brokered,” he whispers, his eyes sparkling with wicked delight.
“Um…” I am still reeling, trying to follow his mood.
“You reneging on me?” he asks uncertainly, and a speculative look crosses his face. “I have an idea,” he adds.
Oh, what kinky fuckery is this?
“A really important matter to attend to,” he continues, suddenly all serious once more. “Yes, Mrs. Grey. A matter of the gravest importance.”
Hang on-he’s laughing at me.
“What?” I breathe.
“I need you to cut my hair. Apparently it’s overlong, and my wife doesn’t like it.”
“I can’t cut your hair!”
“Yes you can.” Christian grins and shakes his head so his overlong hair covers his eyes.
“Well, if Mrs. Jones has a pudding bowl.” I giggle.
He laughs. “Okay, good point well made. I’ll get Franco to do it.”
No! Franco works for her? Maybe I could give him a trim. After all, I cut Ray’s hair for years, and he never complained.
“Come.” I grab his hand. His eyes widen. I lead him all the way to our bathroom where I release him and grab the white wooden chair that stands in the corner. I place it in front of the sink. When I look at Christian, he’s gazing at me with ill-disguised amusement, thumbs tucked in the front belt loops of his pants but his eyes are smoking hot.
“Sit.” I gesture to the empty chair, trying to maintain the upper hand.
“Are you going to wash my hair?”
I nod. He arches one brow in surprise, and for a moment I think he’s going to back down. “Okay.” Slowly he begins to undo each button of his white shirt, starting with the one beneath his throat. Nimble, deft fingers move to each button in turn until his shirt hangs open.
Oh my… My inner goddess pauses in her celebratory jaunt around the arena.
Christian holds out a cuff with an “undo this now” gesture, and his mouth twitches in that challenging, sexy way he has.
Oh, cufflinks. I take his proffered wrist and remove the first one, a platinum disc with his initials engraved in a simple italic script-and then remove its matching twin. As I finish I glance at him, and his amused expression is gone, replaced by something hotter… much hotter. I reach up and push his shirt off his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor.
“Ready?” I whisper.
“For whatever you want, Ana.”
My eyes stray from his eyes to his lips. Parted so that he can inhale more deeply. Sculptured, chiseled, whatever, it is a beautiful mouth and he knows exactly what to do with it. I find myself leaning up to kiss him.
“No,” he says and places both of his hands on my shoulders. “Don’t. If you do that, I’ll never get my hair cut.”
Oh!“I want this,” he continues. And his eyes are round and raw for some inexplicable reason. It’s disarming.
“Why?” I whisper.
He stares at me for a beat, and his eyes grow wider. “Because it’ll make me feel cherished.”
My heart practically lurches to a halt. Oh, Christian… my Fifty. And before I know it I’ve circled him in my arms, and I kiss his chest before nuzzling my cheek into his tickly chest hair.
“Ana. My Ana,” he whispers. He wraps his arms around me and we stand immobile, holding each other in our bathroom. Oh, how I love to be in his arms. Even if he is an overbearing, megalomaniac arse, he’s my overbearing megalomaniac arse in need of a lifetime dose of TLC. I lean back without releasing him.
“You really want me to do this?”
He nods and gives me his shy smile. I grin back at him and step out of his embrace.
“Then sit,” I repeat.
He dutifully does, sitting with his back to the sink. I take off my shoes and kick them over to where his shirt lies crumpled on the bathroom floor. From the shower I retrieve his Chanel shampoo. We bought it in France.
“Would sir like this?” I hold it up in both hands like I’m selling it on QVC. “Hand-delivered from the South of France. I like the smell of this… it smells of you,” I add in a whisper, slipping out of my television presenter mode.
“Please.” He grins.
I grab a small towel off the towel warmer. Mrs. Jones sure knows how to keep the towels super-soft.
“Lean forward,” I order and Christian complies. Draping the towel around his shoulders, I then turn on the taps and fill the sink with a mix of warm water.
“Lean back.” Oh, I like being in charge. Christian leans back, but he’s too tall. He shifts the seat forward then tilts back the entire chair until the top rests against the sink. Perfect distance. He tips back his head. Bold eyes gaze up at me, and I smile. Taking one of the drinking glasses we keep on the vanity, I dip it into the water and tip it over Christian’s head, soaking his hair. I repeat the process, leaning over him.
“You smell so good, Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs and closes his eyes.
As I methodically wet his hair, I freely gaze at him. Holy cow. Will I ever tire of this? Long dark lashes fan across his cheeks; his lips part a little, creating a small, dark diamond shape, and he inhales softly. Hmm… how I long to poke my tongue-
I splash water into his eyes. Shit! “Sorry!”
He grabs the corner of the towel and laughs as he wipes the water out of his eyes.
“Hey, I know I’m an arse, but don’t drown me.”
I lean down and kiss his forehead, giggling. “Don’t tempt me.”
He curls his hand behind my head and shifts so that he captures my lips with his. He kisses me briefly, making a low contented sound in his throat. The noise connects to the muscles deep in my belly. It’s a very seductive sound. He releases me and lies back obediently, gazing up at me with expectation. For a moment he looks vulnerable, like a child. It tugs at my heart.
I squirt some shampoo into my palm and massage it into his scalp, beginning at his temples and working over the top of his head and down the sides, circling my fingers rhythmically. He closes his eyes again and makes that low humming sound again.
“That feels good,” he says after a moment and relaxes beneath the firm touch of my fingers.
“Yes it does.” I kiss his forehead once more.
“I like it when you scratch my scalp with your fingernails.” His eyes are still closed, but his expression one of blissful contentment-no trace of his vulnerability remains. Jeez, how much his mood has changed, and I take comfort knowing it’s me that’s done this.
“Head up,” I command and he obeys. Hmm-a girl could get used to this. I rub the suds into the back of his hair, scraping my nails into his scalp.
He leans back, and I rinse off the lather, using the glass. This time I manage not to splash him.
“Once more?” I ask.
“Please.” His eyes flutter open and his serene gaze finds mine. I grin down at him.
“Coming right up, Mr. Grey.”
I turn to the sink that Christian normally uses and fill it with warm water.
“For rinsing,” I say when his look turns quizzical.
I repeat the process with the shampoo, listening to his even deep breaths. Once he’s all lathered up, I take another moment to appreciate the fine face of my husband. I cannot resist him. Tenderly, I caress his cheek, and he opens his eyes, watching me almost sleepily through his long lashes. Leaning forward I plant a soft, chaste kiss on his lips. He smiles, closes his eyes, and breathes out a sigh of utter contentment.
Jeez. Who would have thought after our argument this afternoon he could be this relaxed? Without sex? I lean right over him.
“Hmm,” he murmurs appreciatively as my breasts brush his face. Resisting the urge to shimmy, I pull the plug so the sudsy water drains away. His hands move to my hips and around to my behind.
“No fondling the help,” I murmur, feigning disapproval.
“Don’t forget I’m deaf,” he says, keeping his eyes closed, as he runs his hands down past my behind and starts to hitch up my skirt. I swat his arm. I’m enjoying playing hairdresser. He grins, big and boyish, like I’ve caught him doing something illicit that he’s secretly proud of.
I reach for the glass again, but this time use the water from the neighboring sink to carefully rinse all the shampoo from his hair. I continue to lean over him, and he keeps his hands on my backside, thrumming his fingers back and forward, up and down… back and forth… hmm. I wiggle. He growls low in his throat.
“There. All rinsed.”
“Good,” he declares. His fingers tighten on my behind, and all at once he sits up, his soaked hair dripping all over him. He pulls me down onto his lap, his hands moving from my behind up to the nape of my neck, then to my chin, holding me in place. I gasp with surprise and his lips are on mine, his tongue hot and hard in my mouth. My fingers curl around his wet hair, and drops of water run down my arms; and as he deepens the kiss, his hair bathes my face. His hand moves from my chin down to the top button of my blouse.
“Enough of this primping. I want to fuck you seven shades of Sunday, and we can do it in here or in the bedroom. You decide.”
Christian’s eyes blaze, hot and full of promise, his hair dripping water onto us both. My mouth goes dry.
“What’s it to be, Anastasia?” he asks as he holds in his lap.
“You’re wet,” I respond.
He bends his head suddenly, running his dripping hair all down the front of my blouse. I squeal and try to wriggle off him. He tightens his grip around me.
“Oh, no you don’t, baby,” he murmurs. When he raises his head he’s grinning salaciously at me, and I am Miss Wet Blouse 2011. My top is soaked and totally see-through. I’m wet… everywhere.
“Love the view,” he murmurs and leans down to run his nose around and around one wet nipple. I squirm.
“Answer me, Ana. Here or the bedroom?”
“Here,” I whisper frantically. To hell with the haircut-I’ll do it later. He smiles slowly, his lips curling into a sensuous smile full of licentious promise.
“Good choice, Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs against my lips. He releases my chin and his hand moves to my knee. It glides smoothly up my leg, lifting my skirt and skating over my skin, making me tingle. His lips trail soft kisses from the base of my ear along my jaw.
“Oh, what shall I do to you?” he whispers. His fingers halt at my stocking tops. “I like these,” he says. He runs a finger underneath the top and skims it around to my inner thigh. I gasp and squirm once more in his lap.
He groans, low in his throat. “If I’m going to fuck you seven shades of Sunday, I want you to keep still.”
“Make me,” I challenge, my voice soft and breathy.
Christian inhales sharply. He narrows his eyes and regards me with a hot, hooded expression.
“Oh, Mrs. Grey. You have only to ask.” His hand moves from my stocking tops up to my panties. “Let’s divest you of these.” He tugs gently and I shift to help him. His breath hisses through his teeth as I do.
“Keep still,” he grumbles.
“I’m helping,” I pout, and he seizes my lower lip gently between his teeth.
“Still,” he growls. He slides my panties down my legs and off. Tugging my skirt up so that it’s bunched around my hips, he moves both hands to my waist and lifts me. He still has my panties in his hand.
“Sit. Astride me,” he orders staring intently into my eyes. I shift, straddling him, and regard him provocatively. Bring it on, Fifty!
“Mrs. Grey,” he warns “Are you goading me?” He gazes at me, amused but aroused. It’s a seductive combination.
“Yes. What are you going to do about it?”
His eyes light up with salacious delight at my challenge, and I feel his arousal beneath me. “Clasp your hands together behind your back.”
Oh! I comply obediently and, he deftly binds my wrists together with my panties.
“My panties? Mr. Grey, you have no shame,” I admonish.
“Not where you’re concerned, Mrs. Grey, but you know that.” His look is intense and hot. Putting his hands around my waist, he shifts me so I am sitting a little further back on his lap. Water still drips down his neck and over his chest. I want to bend forward and lick the drips off, but it’s trickier now that I am restrained.
Christian caresses both of my thighs and skims his hands down to my knees. Gently he pushes them further apart and widens his own legs, holding me in that position. His fingers move to the buttons of my blouse.
“I don’t think we need this,” he says. He starts methodically undoing each button on my clinging wet blouse, his eyes never leaving mine. They get darker and darker as he finishes the task, taking his own sweet time about it. My pulse quickens and my breathing shallows. I can’t believe it-he’s hardly touched me, and I feel like this-hot, bothered… ready. I want to squirm. He leaves my damp blouse hanging open and using both hands, he caresses my face with his fingers, his thumb skimming across my bottom lip. Suddenly, he thrusts his thumb into my mouth.
“Suck,” he orders in a whisper, stressing the S. I close my mouth around him and do exactly that. Oh… I like this game. He tastes good. What else would I like to suck? The muscles in my belly clench at the thought. His lips part when I scrape my teeth and bite the soft pad of his thumb.
He groans and slowly extracts his wet thumb from my mouth and trails it down my chin, down my throat, over my sternum. He hooks it into the cup of my bra and yanks the cup down, freeing my breast.
Christian’s gaze never leaves mine. He’s watching each reaction that his touch elicits from me, and I’m watching him. It’s hot. Consuming. Possessive. I love it. He mirrors his actions with his other hand so both my breasts are free and, cupping them gently, he skims each thumb over a nipple, circling slowly, teasing and taunting each one so that they harden and distend beneath his skillful touch. I try, I really try not to move, but my nipples are hotwired to my groin, so I moan and throw my head back, closing my eyes and surrendering to the sweet, sweet torture.
“Shh.” Christian’s soothing voice is at odds with the teasing, even-tempo rhythm of his wicked fingers. “Still, baby, still.” Releasing one breast, he reaches up behind me and splays his hand around the nape of my neck. Leaning forward, he takes my now bereft nipple into his mouth and sucks hard, his wet hair tickling me. At the same time, his thumb stops skimming across my other elongated nipple. Instead, he takes it between his thumb and forefinger and tugs and twists it gently.
“Ah! Christian!” I groan and buck forward on his lap. But he doesn’t stop. He continues the slow, leisurely, agonizing tease. And my body is burning as the pleasure takes a darker turn.
“Christian, please,” I whimper.
“Hmm,” he hums low in his chest. “I want you to come like this.” My nipple gets a brief respite as his words caress my skin, and it’s like he’s calling to a deep, dark part of my psyche that only he knows. When he resumes with his teeth this time, the pleasure is almost intolerable. Moaning loudly, I writhe on his lap, trying to find some precious friction against his pants. I pull uselessly against my restraining panties, itching to touch him, but I’m lost-lost in this treacherous sensation.
“Please,” I whisper, pleading, and pleasure flies through my body, from my neck, right down to my legs, to my toes, tightening all in its wake.
“You have such beautiful breasts, Ana.” He groans. “One day I’ll fuck them.”
What the hell does that mean? Opening my eyes, I gape down at him as he suckles me, my skin singing under his touch. I no longer feel my sodden blouse, his wet hair… nothing except the burn. And it burns deliciously hot and low, deep inside me, and all thought evaporates as my body tightens and clenches… ready, reaching… pining for release. And he doesn’t stop-teasing, pulling, driving me wild. I want… I want…
“Let go,” he breathes-and I do, loudly, my orgasm convulsing through my body, and he stops his sweet torture and wraps his arms around me, clutching me to him as my body spirals down from my climax. When I open my eyes, he is gazing down at me where I rest against his chest.
“God, I love to watch you come, Ana.” His voice is full of wonder.
“That was…” Words fail me.
“I know.” He leans forward and kisses me, his hand still at the nape of my neck, holding me just so, angling my head so he can kiss me deeply-with love, with reverence.
I am lost in his kiss.
He pulls away to draw breath, his eyes the color of a tropical storm.
“Now I’m going to fuck you, hard,” he murmurs.
Holy cow. Grabbing me around the waist, he lifts me from his thighs down to the edge of his knees and reaches with his right hand for the button on the waistband of his navy pants. He runs the fingers of his left hand up and down my thigh, stopping at my stocking tops each time. He’s watching me intently. We’re face to face and I’m helpless, trussed up in my bra and by my panties, and this has to be one of the most intimate times we’ve had-me sitting on his lap, staring into his beautiful gray eyes. It makes me feel wanton, but also so connected to him-I am not embarrassed or shy. This is Christian, my husband, my lover, my overbearing megalomaniac, my Fifty-the love of my life. He reaches for his zipper, and my mouth goes dry as his erection springs free.
He smirks. “You like?” he whispers.
“Hmm,” I murmur appreciatively. He wraps his hand around himself and moves it up and down… Oh my. I gaze up at him through my lashes. Fuck, he’s so sexy.
“You’re biting your lip, Mrs. Grey.”
“That’s because I’m hungry.”
“Hungry?” His mouth opens in surprise, and his eyes widen a fraction.
“Hmm…” I agree and lick my lips.
He gives me his enigmatic smile and bites his lower lip as he continues to stroke himself. Why is the sight of my husband pleasuring himself such a turn-on?
“I see. You should have eaten your dinner.” His tone is mocking and censorious at once. “But maybe I can oblige.” He puts his hands on my waist. “Stand,” he says softly, and I know what he’s going to do. I get to my feet, my legs no longer shaking.
I do as I’m told and kneel down on the cool tiled floor of the bathroom. He slides forward on the seat of the chair.
“Kiss me,” he utters holding his erection. I glance up at him, and he runs his tongue over his top teeth. It’s arousing, very arousing, to see his desire, his naked desire for me and my mouth. Leaning forward, my eyes on his, I kiss the tip of his erection. I watch him inhale sharply and clench his teeth. Christian cups the side of my head, and I run my tongue over the tip, tasting the small bead of dew on the end. Hmm… he tastes good. His mouth drops open further as he gasps and I pounce, pulling him into my mouth and sucking hard.
“Ah-” The air hisses through his teeth, and he flexes his hips forward, thrusting into my mouth. But I don’t stop. Sheathing my teeth behind my lips, I push down and then pull up on him. He moves both hands so that he fully cups my head, burying his fingers in my hair and slowly eases himself in and out of my mouth, his breathing quickening, growing harsher. I twirl my tongue around his tip and push down again in perfect counterpoint to him.
“Jesus, Ana.” He sighs and screws his eyes tightly. He’s lost and it’s heady, his response to me. Me. My inner goddess could light up Escala, she’s so thrilled. And very slowly I draw my lips back, so it’s just my teeth.
“Ah!” Christian stops moving. Leaning forward he grabs me and pulls me up onto his lap.
“Enough!” he growls. Reaching behind me, he frees my hands with one tug on my panties. I flex my wrists and stare from under my lashes into scorching eyes that gaze back at me with love and longing and lust. And I realize it’s me that wants to fuck him seven shades of Sunday. I want him badly. I want to watch him come apart beneath me. I grab his erection and scoot over him. Placing my other hand on his shoulder, very gently and slowly, I ease myself onto him. He makes a guttural, feral noise deep in his throat and, reaching up, pulls off my blouse letting it fall to the floor. His hands move to my hips.
“Still,” he rasps, his hands digging into my flesh. “Please, let me savor this. Savor you.”
I stop. Oh my… he feels so good inside me. He caresses my face, his eyes wide and wild, his lips parted as he breathes. He flexes beneath me and I moan, closing my eyes.
“This is my favorite place,” he whispers. “Inside you. Inside my wife.”
Oh fuck. Christian. I cannot hold back. My fingers glide into his wet hair, my lips seek his, and I start to move. Up and down on my toes, savoring him, savoring me. He groans loudly, and his hands are in my hair and around my back, and his tongue invades my mouth greedily, taking all that I willingly give. After all our arguing today, my frustration with him, his with me-we still have this. We will always have this. I love him so much, it’s almost overwhelming. His hands move to my backside and he controls me, moving me up and down, again and again, at his pace-his hot, slick tempo.
“Ah,” I groan helplessly into his mouth as I’m carried away.
“Yes. Yes, Ana,” he hisses, and I rain kisses on his face, his chin, his jaw, his neck. “Baby,” he breathes, capturing my mouth once more.
“Oh, Christian, I love you. I will always love you.” I’m breathless, wanting him to know, wanting him to be sure of me after our battle of wills today.
He moans loudly and wraps his arms around me tightly as he climaxes with a mournful sob, and it’s enough-enough to push me over the brink once more. I clutch my arms around his head and let go, and I come around him, tears springing to my eyes because I love him so.
“Hey,” he whispers, tipping my chin back and gazing at me with quiet concern. “Why are you crying? Did I hurt you?”
“No,” I mutter reassuringly. He smoothes my hair off my face, wipes away a lone tear with this thumb and tenderly kisses my lips. He is still inside me. He shifts, and I wince as he pulls out of me.
“What’s wrong, Ana? Tell me.”
I sniff. “It’s just… it’s just sometimes I’m overwhelmed by how much I love you,” I whisper.
After a beat, he smiles his special shy smile-reserved for me, I think. “You have the same effect on me,” he whispers, and kisses me once more. I smile, and inside my joy unfurls and stretches lazily.
He smirks. “You know you do.”
“Sometimes I know. Not all the time.”
“Back at you, Mrs. Grey,” he whispers.
I grin and gently place feather-light kisses over his chest. I nuzzle his chest hair. Christian caresses my hair and runs a hand down my back. He unclasps my bra and pulls the strap down one arm. I shift, and he tugs the strap down the other arm and drops my bra on the floor.
“Hmm. Skin on skin,” he murmurs appreciatively and folds me in his arms again. He kisses my shoulder and runs his nose up to my ear. “You smell like heaven, Mrs. Grey.”
“So do you, Mr. Grey.” I nuzzle him again and inhale his Christian smell, which is now mixed with the heady scent of sex. I could stay wrapped in his arms like this, sated and happy, forever. It’s just what I need after a full day of back-to-work, arguing, and bitch slapping. This is where I want to be, and in spite of his control freakery, his megalomania, this is where I belong. Christian buries his nose in my hair and inhales deeply. I let out a contented sigh, and I feel his smile. And we sit, arms clasped around each other, saying nothing.
Eventually reality intrudes.
“It’s late,” Christian says, his fingers methodically stroking my back.
“Your hair still needs cutting.”
He chuckles. “That it does, Mrs. Grey. Do you have the energy to finish the job you started?”
“For you, Mr. Grey, anything.” I kiss his chest once more and reluctantly stand.
“Don’t go.” Grabbing my hips, he turns me around. He straightens then undoes my skirt, letting it drop to the floor. He holds his hand out to me. I take it and step out of my skirt. Now I am dressed solely in stockings and garter belt.
“You are a mighty fine sight, Mrs. Grey.” He sits back in the chair and crosses his arms, giving me a full and frank appraisal.
I hold out my hands and twirl for him.
“God, I’m a lucky son of a bitch,” he says admiringly.
“Yes, you are.”
He grins. “Put my shirt on and you can cut my hair. Like this, you’ll distract me, and we’ll never get to bed.”
I can’t help my answering smile. Knowing that he’s watching my every move, I sashay over to where we left my shoes and his shirt. Bending slowly, I reach down, pick up his shirt, smell it-hmm-then shrug it on.
Christian’s eyes are round. He’s redone his fly and is watching me intently.
“That’s quite a floor show, Mrs. Grey.”
“Do we have any scissors?” I ask innocently, batting my eyelashes.
“My study,” he croaks.
“I’ll go search.” Leaving him, I walk into our bedroom and grab my comb from the dressing table before heading to his study. As I enter the main corridor, I notice the door to Taylor’s office is open. Mrs. Jones is standing just beyond the door. I stop, rooted to the spot.
Taylor is running his fingers down her face and smiling sweetly at her. Then he leans down and kisses her.
Holy shit! Taylor and Mrs. Jones? I gape in astonishment-I mean, I thought… well, I kind of suspected. But obviously they are together! I flush, feeling like a voyeur, and manage to get my feet to move. I scamper across the great room and into Christian’s study. Switching on the light, I walk to his desk. Taylor and Mrs. Jones… Wow! I’m reeling. I always thought Mrs. Jones was older than Taylor. Oh, I have to get my head around this. I open the top drawer and am immediately distracted when I find a gun. Christian has a gun!
A revolver. Holy fuck! I had no idea Christian owned a gun. I take it out, slip the release and check the cylinder. It’s fully loaded, but light… too light. It must be carbon fiber. What does Christian want with a gun? Jeez, I hope he knows how to use it. Ray’s perpetual warnings about handguns run quickly through my mind. His army training was never lost. These will kill you, Ana. You need to know what you’re doing when you’re handling a firearm. I put the gun back and find the scissors. Retrieving them quickly, I bolt back to Christian, my head buzzing. Taylor and Mrs. Jones… the revolver…
At the entrance to the great room, I run into Taylor.
“Mrs. Grey, excuse me.” His face reddens as he quickly takes in my attire.
“Um, Taylor, hi… um. I’m cutting Christian’s hair!” I blurt out, embarrassed. Taylor is as mortified as I am. He opens his mouth to say something then closes it quickly and stands aside.
“After you, ma’am,” he says formally. I think I’m the color of my old Audi, the submissive special. Jeez. Could this be more embarrassing?
“Thank you,” I mutter and dash down the hallway. Crap! Will I ever get used to the fact that we’re not alone? I dash into the bathroom, breathless.
“What’s wrong?” Christian is standing in front of the mirror, holding my shoes. All of my scattered clothes are now neatly piled beside the sink.
“I just ran into Taylor.”
“Oh.” Christian frowns. “Dressed like that.”
Oh shit! “That’s not Taylor’s fault.”
Christian’s frown deepens. “No. But still.”
“I don’t know who was more embarrassed, me or him.” I try my distraction technique. “Did you know he and Gail are… well, together?”
Christian laughs. “Yes, of course I knew.”
“And you never told me?”
“I thought you knew, too.”
“Ana, they’re adults. They live under the same roof. Both unattached. Both attractive.”
I flush, feeling foolish for not having noticed.
“Well, if you put it like that… I just thought Gail was older than Taylor.”
“She is, but not by much.” He gazes at me, perplexed. “Some men like older women-” He stops abruptly and his eyes widen.
I scowl at him. “I know that,” I snap.
Christian looks contrite. He smiles fondly at me. Yes! My distraction technique successful! My subconscious rolls her eyes at me-but at what cost? Now the unmentionable Mrs. Robinson is looming over us.
“That reminds me,” he says, brightly.
“What?” I mutter petulantly. Grabbing the chair, I turn it to face the mirror above the sinks. “Sit,” I order. Christian regards me with indulgent amusement, but does as he’s told and sits back down in the chair. I start to comb through his now merely damp hair.
“I was thinking we could convert the rooms over the garages for them at the new place,” Christian continues. “Make it a home. Then maybe Taylor’s daughter could stay with him more often.” He watches me carefully in the mirror.
“Why doesn’t she stay here?”
“Taylor’s never asked me.”
“Perhaps you should offer. But we’d have to behave ourselves.”
Christian’s brow furrows. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Perhaps that’s why Taylor hasn’t asked. Have you met her?”
“Yes. She’s a sweet thing. Shy. Very pretty. I pay for her schooling.”
Oh! I stop combing and stare at him in the mirror.
“I had no idea.”
He shrugs. “Seemed the least I could do. Also, it means he won’t quit.”
“I’m sure he likes working for you.”
Christian stares at me blankly then shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“I think he’s very fond of you, Christian.” I resume combing and glance at him. His eyes don’t leave mine.
“Yes. I do.”
He snorts a dismissive yet content sound as if he’s secretly pleased that his staff may like him.
“Good. Will you talk to Gia about the rooms over the garage?”
“Yes, of course.” I don’t feel the same irritation I did before at the mention of her name. My subconscious nods sagely at me. Yes… we done good today. My inner goddess gloats. Now she’ll leave my husband alone and not make him uncomfortable.
I am ready to cut Christian’s hair. “You sure about this? Your last chance to bail.”
“Do your worst, Mrs. Grey. I don’t have to look at me, you do.”
I grin. “Christian, I could look at you all day.”
He shakes his head exasperated. “It’s just a pretty face, baby.”
“And behind it is a very pretty man.” I kiss his temple. “My man.”
He grins shyly.
Lifting the first lock, I comb it upward and snare it between my index and middle finger. I put the comb in my mouth, take the scissors and make the first snip, cutting an inch off the length. Christian closes his eyes and sits like a statue, sighing contentedly as I continue. Occasionally he opens his eyes, and I catch him watching me intently. He doesn’t touch me while I work, and I’m grateful. His touch is… distracting.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m done.
“Finished.” I’m pleased with the result. He looks as hot as ever, his hair still floppy and sexy… just a bit shorter.
Christian gazes at himself in the mirror, looking pleasantly surprised. He grins. “Great job, Mrs. Grey.” He turns his head from side to side and snakes his arm around me. Pulling me to him, he kisses and nuzzles my belly.
“Thank you,” he says.
“My pleasure.” I bend and kiss him briefly.
“It’s late. Bed.” He gives my behind a playful slap.
“Ah! I should clean up in here.” There is hair all over the floor.
Christian frowns, as if the thought would never have occurred to him. “Okay, I’ll get the broom,” he says wryly. “I don’t want you embarrassing the staff with your lack of appropriate attire.”
“Do you know where the broom is?” I ask innocently.
This stops Christian in his tracks. “Um… no.”
I laugh. “I’ll go.”
As I climb into bed and wait for Christian to join me, I reflect on how differently this day could have ended. I was so mad at him earlier, and he with me. How am I going to deal with this running-a-company nonsense? I have no desire to run my own company. I am not him. I need to head this off at the pass. Perhaps I should have a safe word for when he’s being overbearing and domineering, for when he’s being an arse. I giggle. Perhaps the safe word should be arse. I find the thought very appealing.
“What?” he says as he climbs into bed beside me wearing only his pajama pants.
“Nothing. Just an idea.”
“What idea?” He stretches out beside me.
Here goes nothing. “Christian, I don’t think I want to run a company.”
He props himself up on his elbow and gazes down at me. “Why do you say that?”
“Because it’s not something that has ever appealed to me.”
“You’re more than capable, Anastasia.”
“I like to read books, Christian. Running a company will take me away from that.”
“You could be the creative head.”
“You see,” he continues, “running a successful company is all about embracing the talent of the individuals you have at your disposal. If that’s where your talents and your interests lie, then you structure the company to enable that. Don’t dismiss it out of hand, Anastasia. You’re a very capable woman. I think you could do anything you wanted if you put your mind to it.”
Whoa! How can he possibly know that I’d be any good at this?
“I’m also worried it will take up too much of my time.”
“Time I could devote to you.” I deploy my secret weapon.
His gaze darkens. “I know what you’re doing,” he murmurs, amused.
“What?” I feign innocence.
“You’re trying to distract me from the issue at hand. You always do that. Just don’t dismiss the idea, Ana. Think about it. That’s all I ask.” He leans down and kisses me chastely, then skims his thumb down my cheek. This argument is going to run and run. I smile up at him-and something he said earlier today pops unbidden into my mind.
“Can I ask you something?” My voice is soft, tentative.
“Earlier today you said if I was angry with you, I should take it out on you in bed. What did you mean?”
He stills. “What did you think I meant?”
Holy shit! I should just say it. “That you wanted me to tie you up.”
His eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Um… no. That’s not what I meant at all.”
“Oh.” I’m surprised by my slight twinge of disappointment.
“You want to tie me up?” he asks, obviously reading my expression correctly. He sounds shocked. I blush.
“Ana, I-” he stops, and something dark crosses his face.
“Christian,” I whisper, alarmed. I move so that I am lying on my side, propped up on my elbow like him. I caress his face. His eyes are large and fearful. He shakes his head sadly.
Shit! “Christian, stop. It doesn’t matter. I thought that’s what you meant.”
He takes my hand and places it on his pounding heart. Fuck! What is it?
“Ana, I don’t know how I’d feel about you touching me if I were restrained.”
My scalp prickles. It’s like he’s confessing something deep and dark.
“This is still too new.” His voice is low and raw.
Fuck. It was just a question, and I realize that he’s come a long way, but he still has a long way to go. Oh, Fifty, Fifty, Fifty. Anxiety grips my heart. I lean over and he freezes, but I plant a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth.
“Christian, I got the wrong idea. Please don’t worry about it. Please don’t think about it.” I kiss him. He closes his eyes, groans and reciprocates, pushing me down into the mattress, his hands clasping my chin. And soon we’re lost… lost in each other again.
When I wake before the alarm the following morning, Christian is wrapped around me like ivy, his head on my chest, his arm around my waist, and his leg between mine. And he’s on my side of the bed. It’s always the same, if we argue the night before, this is how he ends up, coiled around me, making me hot and bothered.
Oh, Fifty. He is so needy on some level. Who would have thought? The familiar vision of Christian as a dirty, wretched little boy haunts me. Gently, I stroke his shorter hair and my melancholy recedes. He stirs, and his sleepy eyes meet mine. He blinks a couple of times as he wakes.
“Hi,” he murmurs and smiles.
“Hi.” I love waking to that smile.
He nuzzles my breasts and hums appreciatively deep in his throat. His hand travels down from my waist, skimming over the cool satin of my nightgown.
“What a tempting morsel you are,” he mutters. “But, tempting though you are,” he glances at the alarm, “I have to get up.” He stretches out, untangles himself from me, and rises.
I lie back, put my hands behind my head, and enjoy the show-Christian stripping for his shower. He is perfect. I wouldn’t change a hair on his head.
“Admiring the view, Mrs. Grey?” Christian arches a sardonic brow at me.
“It’s a mighty fine view, Mr. Grey.”
He grins and throws his pajama pants at me so they almost land on my face, but I catch them in time, giggling like a schoolgirl. With a wicked grin, he pulls the duvet off, puts one knee on the bed, grabs my ankles, and drags me toward him so that my nightdress rides up. I squeal, and he crawls up my body, trailing little kisses on my knee, my thigh… my… oh… Christian!
“Good morning, Mrs. Grey,” Mrs. Jones greets me. I flush, embarrassed remembering her tryst with Taylor the night before.
“Good morning,” I respond as she hands me a cup of tea. I sit on the bar stool beside my husband, who just looks radiant: freshly showered, his hair damp, wearing a crisp white shirt and that silver-gray tie. My favorite tie. I have fond memories of that tie.
“How are you, Mrs. Grey?” he asks, his eyes warm.
“I think you know, Mr. Grey.” I gaze up at him through my lashes.
He smirks. “Eat,” he orders. “You didn’t eat yesterday.”
Oh, bossy Fifty!
“That’s because you were being an arse.”
Mrs. Jones drops something that clatters into the sink, making me jump. Christian seems oblivious to the noise. Ignoring her, he stares at me impassively.
“Arse or not-eat.” His tone is serious. No arguing with him.
“Okay! Picking up spoon, eating granola,” I mutter like a petulant teenager. I reach for the Greek yoghurt and spoon some onto my cereal, followed by a handful of blueberries. I glance at Mrs. Jones and she catches my eye. I smile, and she responds with a warm smile of her own. She has provided me with my breakfast of choice introduced to me on our honeymoon.
“I may have to go to New York later in the week.” Christian’s announcement interrupts my reverie.
“It’ll mean an overnight. I want you to come with me.”
“Christian, I won’t get the time off.”
He gives me his oh-really-but-I’m-the-boss-stare.
I sigh. “I know you own the company, but I’ve been away for three weeks. Please. How can you expect me to run the business if I’m never there? I’ll be fine here. I’m assuming you’ll take Taylor with you, but Sawyer and Ryan will be here-” I stop, because Christian is grinning at me. “What?” I snap.
“Nothing. Just you,” he says.
I frown. Is he laughing at me? Then a nasty thought pops into my mind. “How are you getting to New York?”
“The company jet, why?”
“I just wanted to check if you were taking Charlie Tango.” My voice is quiet, and a shiver runs down my spine. I remember the last time he flew his helicopter. A wave of nausea hits me as I recall the anxious hours I spent waiting for news. That was possibly the lowest point in my life. I notice Mrs. Jones has stilled, too. I try to dismiss the idea.
“I wouldn’t fly to New York in Charlie Tango. She doesn’t have that kind of range. Besides, she won’t be back from the engineers for another two weeks.”
Thank heavens. My smile is partly from relief, but also the knowledge that the demise of Charlie Tango has occupied a great deal of Christian’s thoughts and time over the last few weeks.
“Well I’m glad she’s nearly fixed, but-” I stop. Can I tell him how nervous I’ll be when he flies next time?
“What?” he asks as he finishes his omelet.
“Ana?” he says, more sternly.
“I just… you know. Last time you flew in her… I thought, we thought, you’d-” I can’t finish the sentence, and Christian’s expression softens.
“Hey.” He caresses my face with the back of his knuckles. “That was sabotage.” A dark expression crosses his face, and for a moment I wonder if he knows who was responsible.
“I couldn’t bear to lose you,” I murmur.
“Five people have been fired because of that, Ana. It won’t happen again.”
He nods, his face serious.
“That reminds me. There’s a gun in your desk.”
He frowns at my non sequitur and probably at my accusatory tone, though I don’t mean it that way. “It’s Leila’s,” he says finally.
“It’s fully loaded.”
“How do you know?” His frown deepens.
“I checked it yesterday.”
He scowls at me. “I don’t want you messing with guns. I hope you put the safety back on.”
I blink at him, momentarily stupefied. “Christian, there’s no safety on that revolver. Don’t you know anything about guns?”
His eyes widen. “Um… no.”
Taylor coughs discreetly from the entrance. Christian nods at him.
“We have to go,” Christian says. He stands, distracted, and slips on his gray jacket. I follow him into the hallway.
He has Leila’s gun. I am stunned by this news and briefly wonder what’s happened to her. Is she still in-where is it? East somewhere. New Hampshire? I can’t remember.
“Good morning, Taylor,” Christian says.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey, Mrs. Grey.” He nods at us both, but he’s careful not to look me in the eye. I’m grateful, recalling my state of undress when we bumped into each other last night.
“I am just going to brush my teeth,” I mutter. Christian always brushes his teeth before breakfast. I don’t understand why.
“You should ask Taylor to teach you how to shoot,” I say as we travel down in the elevator. Christian gazes down at me, amused.
“Should I now?” he says dryly.
“Anastasia, I despise guns. My mom has patched up too many victims of gun crime, and my dad is vehemently antigun. I grew up with their ethos. I support at least two gun control initiatives here in Washington.”
“Oh. Does Taylor carry a gun?”
Christian’s mouth thins.
“You don’t approve?” I ask, as Christian ushers me out of the elevator on the ground floor.
“No,” he says, tight-lipped. “Let’s just say that Taylor and I hold very different views with regard to gun control.” I’m with Taylor on this.
Christian holds the foyer door open for me and I head out to the car. He has not let me drive alone to SIP since he found out that Charlie Tango was sabotaged. Sawyer smiles pleasantly, holding the door open for me as Christian and I climb into the car.
“Please.” I reach across and grasp Christian’s hand.
“Learn how to shoot.”
He rolls his eyes at me. “No. End of discussion, Anastasia.”
And I am a child again to be scolded. I open my mouth to say something cutting, but decide I don’t want to start my workday in a bad mood. I fold my arms instead and glimpse Taylor regarding me in the rearview mirror. He looks away, concentrating on the road in front, but shakes his head a little, in obvious frustration.
Hmm… Christian drives him crazy, too, sometimes. The thought makes me smile, and my mood is saved.
“Where is Leila?” I ask as Christian gazes out of his window.
“I told you. She’s in Connecticut with her folks.” He glances at me.
“Did you check? After all, she does have long hair. It could have been her driving the Dodge.”
“Yes, I checked. She’s enrolled in an art school in Hamden. She started this week.”
“You’ve spoken to her?” I whisper, all the blood draining from my face.
Christian whips his head around at the tone of my voice.
“No. Flynn has.” He searches my face for a clue to my thoughts.
“I see,” I murmur, relieved.
Christian sighs. “Ana. What is it?”
I shrug, not wanting to admit to my irrational jealousy.
Christian continues, “I’m keeping tabs on her, checking that she stays on her side of the continent. She’s better, Ana. Flynn has referred her to a shrink in New Haven, and all the reports are very positive. She’s always been interested in art, so…” He stops, his face still searching mine. And in that moment I suspect that he is paying for her art classes. Do I want to know? Should I ask him? I mean it’s not as if he can’t afford it, but why does he feel the obligation? I sigh. Christian’s baggage hardly compares to Bradley Kent from biology class and his half-assed attempts to kiss me. Christian reaches for my hand.
“Don’t sweat this, Anastasia,” he murmurs, and I return his reassuring squeeze. I know he’s doing what he thinks is right.
Midmorning I have a break in meetings. As I pick up the phone to call Kate, I notice an e-mail from Christian.
From: Christian Grey
Date: August 23, 2011 09:54
To: Anastasia Grey
I have received three compliments on my new haircut. Compliments from my staff are new. It must be the ridiculous smile I’m wearing whenever I think about last night. You are indeed a wonderful, talented, beautiful woman.
And all mine.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
I melt reading it.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Trying to concentrate here.
Date: August 23, 2011 10:48
To: Christian Grey
I am trying to work and don’t want to be distracted by delicious memories.
Is now the time to confess that I used to cut Ray’s hair regularly? I had no idea it would be such useful training.
And yes, I am yours and you, my dear overbearing husband who refuses to exercise his constitutional right under the second amendment to bear arms, are mine. But don’t worry because I shall protect you. Always.
Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Annie Oakley
Date: August 23, 2011 10:53
To: Anastasia Grey
I am delighted to see you have spoken to the IT dept and changed your name.:D
I shall sleep safe in my bed knowing that my gun-toting wife sleeps beside me.
CEO & Hoplophobe, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Hoplophobe? What the hell is that?
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Long words
Date: August 23, 2011 10:58
To: Christian Grey
Once more you dazzle me with your linguistic prowess.
In fact, your prowess in general, and I think you know what I’m referring to.
Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Date: August 23, 2011 11:01
To: Anastasia Grey
Are you flirting with me?
Shocked CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Would you rather…
Date: August 23, 2011 11:04
To: Christian Grey
I flirted with someone else?
Brave Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Date: August 23, 2011 11:09
To: Anastasia Grey
Possessive CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: August 23, 2011 11:14
To: Christian Grey
Are you growling at me? ’Cause that’s kinda hot.
Squirming (in a good way) Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Date: August 23, 2011 11:16
To: Anastasia Grey
Flirting and toying with me, Mrs. Grey?
I may pay you a visit this afternoon.
Priapic CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Oh No!
Date: August 23, 2011 11:20
To: Christian Grey
I’ll behave. I wouldn’t want my boss’s boss’s boss getting on top of me at work.;)
Now let me get on with my job. My boss’s boss’s boss may fire my ass.
Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Subject: &*%$ &* &*
Date: August 23, 2011 11:23
To: Anastasia Grey
Believe me when I say there are a great many things he’d like to do to your ass right now. Firing you is not one of them.
CEO & Ass man, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
His response makes me giggle.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Go Away!
Date: August 23, 2011 11:26
To: Christian Grey
Don’t you have an empire to run?
Stop bothering me.
My next appointment is here.
I thought you were a breast man…
Think about my ass, and I’ll think about yours…
Now Moist Commissioning Editor, SIP
I cannot help my despondent mood as Sawyer drives me to the office on Thursday. Christian’s threatened business trip to New York has happened, and though he’s only been gone a few hours, I miss him already. I fire up my computer, and there’s an email waiting for me. My mood lifts immediately.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Miss you already
Date: August 25, 2011 04:32
To: Anastasia Grey
You were adorable this morning.
Behave while I’m away.
I love you.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
This will be the first night we’ve slept apart since our wedding. I intend to have a few cocktails with Kate-that should help me sleep. Impulsively, I e-mail him back, although I know that he’s still flying.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Behave Yourself!
Date: August 25, 2011 09:03
To: Christian Grey
Let me know when you land-I’ll worry until you do.
And I shall behave. I mean how much trouble can I get into with Kate?
Commissioning Editor, SIP
I hit send and sip my latte, courtesy of Hannah. Who knew I’d grow to love coffee? Despite the fact that I’m going out this evening with Kate, I feel like a chunk of me is missing. At the moment, it’s thirty-five thousand feet somewhere above the Midwest en route to New York. I didn’t know I would feel this unsettled and anxious just because Christian’s away. Surely over time I won’t feel this loss and uncertainty, will I? I let out a heavy sigh and continue with my work.
Around lunchtime, I start manically checking my e-mail and my BlackBerry for a text. Where is he? Has he landed safely? Hannah asks if I want lunch, but I’m too apprehensive and wave her away. I know it’s irrational, but I need to be sure he’s arrived safely.
My office phone rings, startling me. “Ana St-Grey.”
“Hi.” Christian’s voice is warm with a trace of amusement. Relief floods through me.
“Hi.” I’m grinning from ear to ear. “How was your flight?”
“Long. What are you doing with Kate?”
Oh no. “We’re just going out for a quiet drink.”
Christian says nothing.
“Sawyer and the new woman-Prescott-are coming to watch over us,” I offer, trying to placate him.
“I thought Kate was coming to the apartment.”
“She is after a quick drink.” Please let me go out!
Christian sighs heavily. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he says quietly. Too quietly.
I mentally kick myself. “Christian, we’ll be fine. I have Ryan, Sawyer, and Prescott here. It’s only a quick drink.”
Christian remains resolutely silent, and I know he’s not happy. “I’ve only seen her a few times since you and I met. Please. She’s my best friend.”
“Ana, I don’t want to keep you from your friends. But I thought she was coming back to the apartment.”
“Okay,” I acquiesce. “We’ll stay in.”
“Only while this lunatic is out there. Please.”
“I’ve said okay,” I mutter in exasperation, rolling my eyes.
Christian snorts softly down the phone. “I always know when you’re rolling your eyes at me.”
I scowl at the receiver. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you. I’ll tell Kate.”
“Good,” he breathes, his relief evident. I feel guilty for worrying him.
“Where are you?”
“On the tarmac at JFK.”
“Oh, so you just landed.”
“Yes. You asked me to call the moment I landed.”
I smile. My subconscious glares at me. See? He does what he says he’s going to do.
“Well, Mr. Grey, I’m glad one of us is punctilious.”
He laughs. “Mrs. Grey, your gift for hyperbole knows no bounds. What am I going to do with you?”
“I am sure you’ll think of something imaginative. You usually do.”
“Are you flirting with me?”
I sense his grin. “I’d better go. Ana, do as you’re told, please. The security team knows what they’re doing.”
“Yes, Christian, I will.” I sound exasperated again. Jeez, I get the message.
“I’ll see you tomorrow evening. I’ll call you later.”
“To check up on me?”
“Oh, Christian!” I scold him.
“Au revoir, Mrs. Grey.”
“Au revoir, Christian. I love you.”
He inhales sharply. “And I you, Ana.”
Neither of us hangs up.
“Hang up, Christian,” I whisper.
“You’re a bossy little thing, aren’t you?”
“Your bossy little thing.”
“Mine,” he breathes. “Do as you’re told. Hang up.”
“Yes, Sir.” I hang up and grin stupidly at the phone.
A few moments later, an e-mail appears in my inbox.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Twitching Palms
Date: August 25, 2011 13:42 EDT
To: Anastasia Grey
You are as entertaining as ever on the phone.
I mean it. Do as you’re told.
I need to know you’re safe.
I love you.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Honestly, he’s the bossy one. But one phone call and all my anxiety has disappeared. He’s arrived safely and he’s fussing about me as usual. I hug myself momentarily. God, I love that man. Hannah knocks on my door, distracting me, and brings me back to the now.
Kate looks gorgeous. In her tight white jeans and red camisole, she’s ready to rock the town. She’s chatting animatedly with Claire in reception when I make my entrance.
“Ana!” she cries, scooping me up in a Kate hug. She holds me at arm’s length.
“Don’t you look the mogul’s wife? Who would have thought, little Ana Steele? You look so… sophisticated!” She grins. I roll my eyes at her. I’m wearing a pale cream shift dress with a navy belt and navy pumps.
“It’s good to see you, Kate.” I hug her back.
“So, where are we going?”
“Christian wants us to go back to the apartment.”
“Aw, really? Can’t we sneak a quick cocktail at the Zig Zag Cafe? I’ve booked us a table.”
I open my mouth to protest.
“Please?” she whines and pouts prettily. She must be picking this up from Mia. She never pouts normally. I’d really like a cocktail at the Zig Zag. We had such fun the last time we went there, and it’s close to Kate’s apartment.
I hold up my index finger. “One.”
She grins. “One” She links her arm in mine, and we stroll out to the car, which is parked at the curb with Sawyer at the wheel. We’re followed by Miss Samantha Prescott who’s new to the security team-a tall African-American with a no-nonsense attitude. I’ve yet to warm to her, maybe because she’s too cool and professional. The jury’s definitely out, but like the rest of the team, she’s been hand-picked by Taylor. She’s dressed like Sawyer in a dark somber pantsuit.
“Can you take us to the Zig Zag, please, Sawyer?”
Sawyer turns to look at me, and I know he wants to say something. He’s obviously been given his orders. He hesitates.
“The Zig Zag Café. We’ll only have one.”
I give Kate a sideways glance, and she’s glaring at Sawyer. Poor man.
“Mr. Grey requested you go back to the apartment,” Prescott pipes up.
“Mr. Grey isn’t here,” I snap. “The Zig Zag, please.”
“Ma’am,” Sawyer replies with a sideways glance at Prescott, who wisely holds her tongue.
Kate gapes at me as if she can’t believe her eyes and ears. I purse my lips and shrug. Okay, so I’m a little more assertive than I used to be. Kate nods as Sawyer pulls out into the early evening traffic.
“You know the additional security is driving Grace and Mia crazy,” Kate says casually.
I gawk at her, baffled.
“You didn’t know?” She seems incredulous.
“Security for all of the Greys has been tripled. Gazillioned, even.”
“He hasn’t told you?”
I flush. “No.” Damn it, Christian! “Do you know why?”
“What about Jack? I thought he was just after Christian.” I gasp. Jeez. Why hasn’t he told me?
“Since Monday,” Kate says.
Last Monday? Hmm… we identified Jack on Sunday. But why all the Greys?
“How do you know all this?”
“Christian hasn’t told you any of this, has he?”
I flush once more. “No.”
“Oh, Ana, how annoying.”
I sigh. As ever, Kate has hit the nail squarely on the head in her usual sledgehammer style. “Do you know why?” If Christian’s not going to tell me, then maybe Kate will.
“Elliot said it’s something to do with information stored on Jack Hyde’s computer when he was at SIP.”
Holy crap. “You’re kidding.” A surge of anger pulses through me. How does Kate know about this when I don’t?
I glance up to see Sawyer eyeing me from the rearview mirror. The red light turns to green and he surges forward, focusing on the road ahead. I hold my finger up to my lips and Kate nods. I bet Sawyer knows, too, and I don’t.
“How’s Elliot?” I ask to change the subject.
Kate grins stupidly, telling me all I need to know.
Sawyer pulls up at the end of the passageway that leads down to the Zig Zag Café, and Prescott opens my door. I scoot out and Kate slides out after me. We link arms and meander down the passage, followed by Prescott, who’s wearing a thunderous expression on her face. Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s just a drink. Sawyer drives off to park the car.
“So how does Elliot know Gia?” I ask, taking a sip of my second strawberry mojito. The bar is intimate and cozy, and I don’t want to leave. Kate and I have not stopped talking. I had forgotten how much I like hanging with her. It’s liberating to be out, relaxing, enjoying Kate’s company. I contemplate texting Christian then dismiss the idea. He’ll just be mad and make me go home like an errant child.
“Don’t talk to me about that bitch!” Kate splutters.
Kate’s reaction makes me laugh.
“What’s so funny, Steele?” she snaps, but not seriously.
“I feel the same way.”
“Yes. She was all over Christian.”
“She had a fling with Elliot.” Kate pouts.
She nods, her lips pressed together in the patented Katherine Kavanagh scowl.
“It was brief. Last year, I think. She’s a social climber. No wonder she has her sights set on Christian.”
“Christian is taken. I told her to leave him alone or I would fire her.”
Kate gapes at me once more, stunned. I nod proudly, and she lifts her glass to salute me, impressed and beaming.
“Mrs. Anastasia Grey! Way to go!” We clink.
“Does Elliot own a gun?”
“No. He’s very antigun.” Kate stirs her third drink.
“Christian, too. I think it was Grace and Carrick’s influence,” I mutter. I’m feeling a little tipsy.
“Carrick’s a good man.” Kate nods.
“He wanted a prenup,” I mutter sadly.
“Oh, Ana.” She reaches across and grasps my arm. “He was only looking out for his boy. As we both know, you have gold-digger tattooed on your forehead.” She smiles at me, and I poke my tongue out at her then giggle.
“Mature, Mrs. Grey,” she says grinning. She sounds like Christian. “You’ll do the same for your son one day.”
“My son?” I gape at her. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that my kids will be rich. Holy crap. They’ll want for nothing. I mean… nothing. This needs further thought-but not right now. I glance at Prescott and Sawyer seated nearby, watching us and the evening crowd from a side table while they each nurse a glass of sparkling mineral water.
“Do you think we should eat?” I ask.
“No. We should drink,” Kate says.
“Why are you in such a drinking mood?”
“Because I don’t see enough of you anymore. I didn’t know you’d up and marry the first guy who turned your head.” She pouts again. “Honestly, you married so quickly that I thought you were pregnant.”
I giggle. “Everyone thought I was pregnant,” I mutter. “Let’s not rehash that conversation again. Please! And I have to use the restroom.”
Prescott accompanies me. She says nothing. She doesn’t have to. Disapproval radiates off her like a lethal isotope.
“I haven’t been out on my own since I got married,” I mutter wordlessly at the closed toilet door. I make a face, knowing that she’s standing on the other side of the door, waiting while I pee. What precisely is Hyde going to do in a bar anyway? Christian is just overreacting as usual.
“Kate, it’s late. We should go.”
It’s ten fifteen, and I have downed my fourth strawberry mojito. I am definitely feeling the effects of the alcohol, warm and fuzzy. Christian will be fine. Eventually.
“Sure, Ana. It’s been so good to see you. You just seem so much more, I don’t know… confident. Marriage obviously agrees with you.”
My face warms. Coming from Miss Katherine Kavanagh, this is indeed a compliment.
“It does,” I whisper, and because I’ve probably had too much to drink, tears prick the back of my eyes. Could I be any happier? In spite of all his baggage, his nature, his Fiftyness, I have met and married the man of my dreams. I quickly change the subject to stem my sentimental thoughts, because I know I will cry otherwise.
“I have really enjoyed this evening.” I grasp Kate’s hand. “Thank you for dragging me out!” We hug. As she releases me, I nod at Sawyer and he hands Prescott the keys to the car.
“I’m sure Miss Goody-Two-Shoes Prescott has told Christian I’m not at home. He’ll be mad,” I mutter to Kate. And maybe he’ll think of some delicious way to punish me… hopefully.
“Why are you grinning like a loon, Ana? You like making Christian mad?”
“No. Not really. But it’s easily done. He’s very controlling sometimes.” Most of the time.
“I’ve noticed,” Kate says wryly.
We pull up outside Kate’s apartment. She hugs me hard.
“Don’t be a stranger,” she whispers and kisses my cheek. Then she’s out of the car. I wave, feeling strangely homesick. I have missed girl talk. It’s fun and relaxing, and reminds me that I’m still young. I must make more of an effort to see Kate, but the truth is, I love being in my bubble with Christian. Last night we attended a charity dinner together. There were so many men in suits and well-groomed elegant women talking about real estate prices and the failing economy and the plunging stock markets. I mean, it was dull, really dull. So it’s refreshing to let my hair down with someone my own age.
My stomach rumbles. Jeez, I still haven’t eaten. Shit-Christian! I scramble through my purse and fish out my BlackBerry. Holy crap-five missed calls! One text…
*WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?*
And one e-mail.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Angry. You’ve not seen angry
Date: August 26, 2011 00:42 EST
To: Anastasia Grey
Sawyer tells me that you are drinking cocktails in a bar when you said you wouldn’t.
Do you have any idea how mad I am at the moment?
I’ll see you tomorrow.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
My heart sinks. Oh shit! I really am in trouble. My subconscious glares at me, then shrugs, wearing her you-made-your-bed-you-lie-in-it face. What did I expect? I contemplate calling him, but it’s late and he’s probably asleep… or pacing. I decide a quick text may be enough.
*I’M STILL IN ONE PIECE. I HAD A NICE TIME. MISSING YOU-PLEASE DON’T BE MAD*
I gaze at my BlackBerry, willing him to respond, but it’s ominously silent. I sigh.
Prescott pulls up outside Escala and Sawyer gets out to hold the door open for me. As we stand waiting for the elevator, I take the opportunity to quiz him.
“What time did Christian call you?”
Sawyer flushes. “About nine thirty, ma’am.”
“Why didn’t you interrupt my conversation with Kate so I could speak with him?”
“Mr. Grey told me not to.”
I purse my lips. The elevator arrives, and we ride up in silence. I’m suddenly grateful that Christian has a whole night to recover from his snit-fit, and that he’s on the other side of the country. It gives me some time. On the other hand… I miss him.
The doors to the elevator open, and for a split second I stare at the foyer table.
What is wrong with this picture?
The vase of flowers lies smashed into fragments all over the floor of the foyer, water and flowers and chunks of china are strewn everywhere, and the table is overturned. My scalp prickles and Sawyer grabs my arm and pulls me back into the elevator.
“Stay there,” he hisses, drawing a gun. He steps into the foyer and disappears from my field of vision.
I cower in the back of the elevator.
“Luke!” I hear Ryan call from inside the great room. “Code blue!”
“You have the perp?” Sawyer calls back. “Jesus H. Christ!”
I flatten myself against the elevator wall. What the hell is going on? Adrenaline spikes through my body, and my heart leaps into my throat. I hear soft voices, and a moment later Sawyer reappears in the foyer, standing in the puddle of water. He holsters his gun.
“You can come in, Mrs. Grey,” he says gently.
“What’s happened, Luke?” My voice is barely a whisper.
“We’ve had a visitor.” He takes my elbow, and I’m grateful for the support-my legs have turned to jelly. I walk with him through the open double doors.
Ryan is standing at the entrance of the great room. A cut above his eye is bleeding, and there’s another on his mouth. He looks roughed up, his clothes disheveled. But what’s more shocking is Jack Hyde slumped at his feet.
My heart is pounding and blood thrums loudly in my eardrums; the alcohol flowing through my system, amplifying the sound.
“Is he-” I gasp, unable to finish the sentence and gazing wide-eyed and terrified at Ryan. I can’t even look at the prone figure on the floor.
“No, ma’am. Just knocked out cold.”
Relief floods through me. Oh, thank God.
“And you?” I ask, gazing at Ryan. I realize I don’t know his first name. He’s panting as if he’s run a marathon. He wipes the corner of his mouth, removing the trace of blood, and a faint bruise is forming on his cheek.
“He put up one hell of a fight, but I’m okay, Mrs. Grey.” He smiles reassuringly. If I knew him better, I’d say he looked a little smug.
“And Gail? Mrs. Jones?” Oh no… is she okay? Has she been harmed?
“I’m here, Ana.” Glancing behind me, she’s in a nightdress and robe, her hair loose, her face ashen and her eyes wide-like mine, I imagine.
“Ryan woke me. Insisted I come in here.” She points behind her into Taylor’s office. “I’m fine. Are you okay?”
I nod briskly and realize she’s probably just come out of the panic room built adjoining Taylor’s office. Who knew we’d need it so soon? Christian had insisted on its installation shortly after our engagement-and I had rolled my eyes. Now, seeing Gail standing in the doorway, I’m grateful for his foresight.
A creak from the door to the foyer distracts me. It’s hanging off its hinges. What the hell happened to that?
“Was he alone?” I ask Ryan.
“Yes, ma’am. You wouldn’t be standing here if he wasn’t, I can assure you.” Ryan sounds vaguely affronted.
“How did he get in?” I ask, ignoring his tone.
“Through the service elevator. He’s got quite a pair, ma’am.”
I stare down at Jack’s slumped figure. He’s wearing a uniform of sorts-coveralls, I think.
“About ten minutes ago. I caught him on the security monitor. He was wearing gloves… kinda strange in August. I recognized him and decided to give him access. That way I knew we’d have him. You weren’t here and Gail was safe, so I figured it was now or never.” Ryan looks very pleased with himself once more, and Sawyer scowls at him in disapproval.
Gloves? The thought distracts me, and I glance once more at Jack. Yes, he’s wearing brown leather gloves. Creepy.
“What now?” I try to dismiss the ramifications from my mind.
“We need to secure him,” Ryan replies.
“In case he wakes.” Ryan glances at Sawyer.
“What do you need?” asks Mrs. Jones, stepping forward. She’s recovered her composure.
“Something to restrain him-cord or rope,” Ryan replies.
Cable ties. I flush as memories of the previous night invade my mind. Reflexively, I rub my wrists and glance quickly down at them. No, no bruising. Good.
“I have something. Cable ties. Will they do?”
All eyes turn to me.
“Yes, ma’am. Perfect,” Sawyer says, serious and straight-faced. I want the floor to swallow me up, but I turn and head for our bedroom. Sometimes you just have to brazen things out. Perhaps it’s the combination of fear and alcohol making me audacious.
When I return, Mrs. Jones is surveying the mess in the foyer and Miss Prescott has joined the security team. I hand the ties to Sawyer, who slowly, and with unnecessary care, ties Hyde’s hands behind his back. Mrs. Jones disappears into the kitchen and returns with a first aid kit. She takes Ryan’s arm, leads him into the doorway of the great room, and starts tending to the cut above his eye. He flinches as she dabs it with an antiseptic wipe. Then I notice the Glock on the floor with a silencer attached. Holy shit! Jack was armed? Bile rises in my throat and I fight it down.
“Don’t touch, Mrs. Grey,” says Prescott when I bend to pick it up. Sawyer emerges from Taylor’s office wearing latex gloves.
“I’ll take care of that, Mrs. Grey,” he says.
“It’s his?” I ask.
“Yes ma’am,” says Ryan, wincing once more from Mrs. Jones’s ministrations. Holy crap. Ryan fought an armed man in my home. I shudder at the thought. Sawyer bends and gingerly picks up the Glock.
“Should you be doing that?” I ask.
“Mr. Grey would expect it ma’am.” Sawyer slides the gun into a zip-lock bag then squats to pat down Jack. He pauses and partially pulls a roll of duct tape from the man’s pocket. Sawyer blanches and pushes the tape back into Hyde’s pocket.
Duct tape? My mind idly registers as I watch the proceedings with fascination and an odd detachment. Then bile rises to my throat again as I realize the implications. Rapidly, I dismiss them from my head. Don’t go there, Ana!
“Should we call the police?” I mutter, trying to hide my fear. I want Hyde out of my home, sooner rather than later.
Ryan and Sawyer glance at each other.
“I think we should call the police,” I say rather more forcefully, wondering what’s going on between Ryan and Sawyer.
“I’ve just tried Taylor, and he’s not answering his cell. Maybe he’s asleep.” Sawyer checks his watch. “It’s one forty-five in the morning on the East Coast.”
“Have you called Christian?” I whisper.
“Were you calling Taylor for instructions?”
Sawyer looks momentarily embarrassed. “Yes, ma’am.”
Part of me bristles. This man-I glance down at Hyde again-has invaded my home, and he needs to be removed by the police. But looking at the four of them, into their anxious eyes, I decide I must be missing something so I decide to call Christian. My scalp prickles. I know he’s mad at me-really, really mad at me-and I falter at the thought of what he’ll say. And how he’ll stress because he’s not here and can’t be here until tomorrow evening. I know I’ve worried him enough this evening. Perhaps I shouldn’t call him. And then it occurs to me. Shit. What if I’d been here? I pale at the thought. Thank heavens I was out. Maybe I won’t be in so much trouble after all.
“Is he okay?” I ask, pointing at Jack.
“He’ll have an aching skull when he wakes,” Ryan says, gazing down at Jack with contempt. “But we need paramedics here to make sure.”
I reach into my purse and pull out my BlackBerry, and before I can give too much thought to the extent of Christian’s anger, I dial his number. It goes straight to voice mail. He must have switched it off because he’s so mad. I cannot think what to say. Turning away, I walk down the hallway a little, away from everyone.
“Hi. It’s me. Please don’t be mad. We’ve had an incident at the apartment. But it’s under control, so don’t worry. No one is hurt. Call me.” I hang up.
“Call the police.” I tell Sawyer. He nods, takes out his cell, and makes the call.
Officer Skinner is deep in conversation with Ryan at the dining room table. Officer Walker is with Sawyer in Taylor’s office. I don’t know where Prescott is, perhaps in Taylor’s office. Detective Clark is barking questions at me as we sit on the couch in the great room. He’s tall, dark and would be good looking if it wasn’t for his permanent scowl. I suspect he’s been woken and dragged from his warm bed because the home of one of Seattle’s most influential and wealthy businessmen has been breached.
“He used to be your boss?” Clark asks tersely.
I am tired-beyond tired-and I want to go to bed. I still haven’t heard from Christian. On the plus side, the paramedics have removed Hyde. Mrs. Jones hands Detective Clark and me each a cup of tea.
“Thanks.” Clark turns to me. “And where is Mr. Grey?”
“New York. On business. He’ll be back tomorrow evening, I mean this evening.” It’s after midnight.
“Hyde is known to us,” Detective Clark murmurs. “I’ll need you to come down to the station to make a statement. But that can wait. It’s late and there are a couple of reporters camped out on the sidewalk. Do you mind if I look around?”
“Of course not,” I offer, relieved his questioning is finished. I shudder at the thought of the photographers outside. Well, they won’t be a problem until tomorrow. I remind myself to call Mom and Ray just in case they hear anything and worry.
“Mrs. Grey, may I suggest you go to bed?” Mrs. Jones says, her voice warm and full of concern.
Looking into her warm, kind eyes, I suddenly feel an overwhelming need to cry. She reaches over and rubs my shoulder.
“We’re safe now,” she murmurs. “This will all look better in the morning once you’ve had some sleep. And Mr. Grey will be back tomorrow evening.”
I glance nervously up at her, keeping my tears at bay. Christian is going to be so mad.
“Can I get you anything before you go to bed?” she asks.
I realize how hungry I am. “I’d love something to eat.”
She smiles broadly. “Sandwich and some milk?”
I nod with gratitude, and she heads into the kitchen. Ryan is still with Officer Skinner. In the foyer Detective Clark is examining the mess outside the elevator. He looks thoughtful, despite his scowl. And suddenly I feel homesick-homesick for Christian. Holding my head in my hands, I wish fervently that he were here. He’d know what to do. What an evening. I want to crawl into his lap, have him hold me and tell me that he loves me, even though I don’t do as I’m told-but that won’t be possible until this evening. Inwardly I roll my eyes… Why didn’t he tell me about the increased security for everyone? What exactly is on Jack’s computer? He’s so frustrating but right now, I just don’t care. I want my husband. I miss him.
“Here you are, Ana dear.” Mrs. Jones interrupts my inner turmoil. When I glance up at her, she hands me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, her eyes twinkling. I haven’t had one of these for years. I smile shyly and dig in.
When I finally crawl into bed, I curl up on Christian’s side, dressed in his T-shirt. Both his pillow and his T-shirt smell of him, and as I drift off I silently wish him safe passage home… and a good mood.
I wake with a start. It’s light and my head is aching, throbbing at my temples. Oh no. I hope I don’t have a hangover. Cautiously, I open my eyes and notice the bedroom chair has moved, and Christian is sitting in it. He’s wearing his tux, and the end of his bowtie is peeping out of the breast pocket. I wonder if I’m dreaming. His left arm is draped over the chair, and in his hand he holds a cut glass tumbler of amber liquid. Brandy? Whiskey? I have no idea. One long leg is crossed at the ankle over his knee. He’s wearing black socks and dress shoes. His right elbow rests on the arm of the chair, his hand up to his chin, and he’s slowly running his index finger rhythmically back and forth over his lower lip. In the early morning light, his eyes burn with grave intensity but his general expression is completely unreadable.
My heart almost stops. He’s here. How did he get here? He must have left New York last night. How long has he been here watching me sleep?
“Hi,” I whisper.
He regards me coolly, and my heart stutters once more. Oh no. He moves his long fingers away from his mouth, tosses back the remainder of his drink, and places the glass on the bedside table. I half expect him to kiss me, but he doesn’t. He sits back, continuing to regard me, his expression impassive.
“Hello,” he says finally, his voice hushed. And I know he’s still mad. Really mad.
“It would appear so.”
Slowly I pull myself up into a sitting position, not taking my eyes off him. My mouth is dry. “How long have you been sitting there watching me sleep?”
“You’re still mad.” I can hardly speak the words.
He gazes at me, as if considering his response. “Mad,” he says as if testing the word, weighing up its nuances, its meaning. “No, Ana. I am way, way beyond mad.”
Holy crap. I try to swallow, but it’s hard with a dry mouth.
“Far beyond mad… that doesn’t sound good.”
He gazes at me, completely impassive, and doesn’t respond. A stark silence stretches between us. I reach over to my glass of water and take a welcome sip, trying to bring my erratic heart rate under control.
“Ryan caught Jack.” I try a different tack, and I place my glass beside his on the bedside table.
“I know,” he says icily.
Of course, he knows. “Are you going to be monosyllabic for long?”
His eyebrows move fractionally registering his surprise as if he hadn’t expected this question. “Yes,” he says finally.
Oh… okay. What to do? Defense-the best form of attack. “I’m sorry I stayed out.”
“No,” I mutter after a pause, because it’s true.
“Why say it then?”
“Because I don’t want you to be mad at me.”
He sighs heavily as if he’s been holding this tension for a thousand hours and runs his hand through his hair. He looks beautiful. Mad, but beautiful. I drink him in-Christian’s back-angry, but in one piece.
“I think Detective Clark wants to talk to you.”
“I’m sure he does.”
“Don’t be so cold.”
His eyebrows rise in surprise once more. “Anastasia, cold is not what I’m feeling at the moment. I’m burning. Burning with rage. I don’t know how to deal with these”-he waves his hand searching for the word-“feelings.” His tone is bitter.
Oh shit. His honesty disarms me. All I want to do is crawl into his lap. It’s all I’ve wanted to do since I came home last night. To hell with this. I move, taking him by surprise and climbing awkwardly into his lap, where I curl up. He doesn’t push me away, which is what I’d feared. After a beat, he folds his arms around me and buries his nose in my hair. He smells of whiskey. Jeez, how much did he drink? He smells of bodywash, too. He smells of Christian. I wrap my arms around his neck and nuzzle his throat, and he sighs once more, deeply this time.
“Oh, Mrs. Grey. What am I going to do with you?” He kisses the top of my head. I close my eyes, relishing the contact with him.
“How much have you had to drink?”
He stills. “Why?”
“You don’t normally drink hard liquor.”
“This is my second glass. I’ve had a trying night, Anastasia. Give a man a break.”
I smile. “If you insist, Mr. Grey,” I breathe into his neck. “You smell heavenly. I slept on your side of the bed because your pillow smells of you.”
He nuzzles my hair. “Did you now? I wondered why you were on this side. I’m still mad at you.”
His hand rhythmically strokes my back.
“And I’m mad at you,” I whisper.
He pauses. “And what, pray, have I done to deserve your ire?”
“I’ll tell you later when you’re no longer burning with rage.” I kiss his throat. He closes his eyes and leans into my kiss but makes no move to kiss me back. His arms tighten around me, squeezing me.
“When I think of what might have happened…” His voice is barely a whisper. Broken, raw.
“Oh, Ana.” It’s almost a sob.
“I’m okay. We’re all okay. A bit shaken. But Gail is fine. Ryan is fine. And Jack is gone.”
He shakes his head. “No thanks to you,” he mutters.
What? I lean back, and glare at him. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to argue about it right now, Ana.”
I blink. Well, maybe I do, but I decide against it. At least he’s talking to me. I nestle into him once more. His fingers move to my hair and start playing with it.
“I want to punish you,” he whispers. “Really beat the shit out of you,” he adds.
My heart leaps into my mouth. Fuck. “I know,” I whisper as my scalp prickles.
“Maybe I will.”
“I hope not.”
He hugs me tighter. “Ana, Ana, Ana. You’d try the patience of a saint.”
“I could accuse you of many things, Mr. Grey, but being a saint isn’t one of them.”
Finally I am blessed with his reluctant chuckle. “Fair point well made as ever, Mrs. Grey.” He kisses my forehead and shifts.
“Back to bed. You had a late night, too.” He moves quickly, picking me up and depositing me back on the bed.
“Lie down with me?”
“No. I have things to do.” He reaches down and collects the glass. “Go back to sleep. I’ll wake you in a couple of hours.”
“Are you still mad at me?”
“I’ll go back to sleep, then.”
“Good.” He pulls the duvet over me and kisses my forehead once more. “Sleep.”
And because I’m so groggy from the night before, relieved that he’s back, and emotionally fatigued by our early-morning encounter, I do exactly as I’m told. As I drift off, I’m curious though grateful, given the nasty taste in my mouth, to know why he hasn’t deployed his usual coping mechanism and leapt on me to have his wicked way.
“There’s some orange juice for you here,” Christian says, and my eyes flutter open again. I have had the most restful two hours of sleep I can remember, and I wake refreshed, my head no longer throbbing. The orange juice is a welcome sight-as is my husband. He’s in his sweats. And I’m momentarily zapped back to the Heathman Hotel and the first time I ever woke up with him. His gray tank top is damp with his sweat. Either he’s been working out in the basement gym or he’s been for a run, but he shouldn’t look this good after a workout.
“I’m going to take a shower,” he murmurs and disappears to the bathroom. I frown. He’s still distant. He’s either distracted by all that’s happened, or still mad, or… what? I sit up and reach for the orange juice, drinking it down too quickly. It’s delicious, ice cold, and it makes my mouth a much better place. I clamber out of bed, anxious to close the distance-real and metaphysical-between my husband and me. I glance quickly at the alarm. It’s eight o’clock. I strip off Christian’s T-shirt and follow him into the bathroom. He’s in the shower, washing his hair, and I don’t hesitate. I slip in behind him, and he stiffens the moment I wrap my arms around him-my front to his wet, muscular back. I ignore his reaction, holding him tightly, and press my cheek flat against him, closing my eyes. After a moment, he shifts so we are both under the cascade of hot water and carries on washing his hair. I let the water wash over me as I cradle the man I love. I think of all the times he’s fucked me and all the times he’s made love to me in here. I frown. He’s never been this quiet. Turning my head, I start to trail kisses across his back. His body stiffens again.
“Ana,” he warns.
My hands travel slowly down over his taut stomach to his belly. He places both his hands on mine and brings them to an abrupt halt. He shakes his head.
“Don’t,” he warns.
I release him, immediately. He’s saying no? My mind goes into free fall-has this ever happened before? My subconscious shakes her head, her lips pursed. She glares at me over her half-moon glasses, wearing her you’ve-really-fucked-up-this-time look. I feel like I’ve been slapped, hard. Rejected. And a lifetime of insecurity spawns the ugly thought he doesn’t want me anymore. I gasp as the pain sears through me. Christian turns, and I’m relieved to see he’s not completely oblivious to my charms. Grasping my chin, he tilts my head back, and I find myself gazing into his wary, beautiful eyes.
“I’m still fucking mad at you,” he says, his voice quiet and serious. Shit! Leaning down, he rests his forehead against mine, closing his eyes. I reach up and caress his face.
“Don’t be mad at me, please. I think you’re overreacting,” I whisper.
He straightens, blanching. My hand falls free to my side.
“Overreacting?” he snarls. “Some fucking lunatic gets into my apartment to kidnap my wife, and you think I’m overreacting!” The restrained menace in his voice is frightening, and his eyes blaze as he stares at me as if I’m the fucking lunatic.
“No… um, that’s not what I was referring to. I thought this was about me staying out.”
He closes his eyes once more as if in pain and shakes his head.
“Christian, I wasn’t here.” I try to appease and reassure him.
“I know,” he whispers opening his eyes. “And all because you can’t follow a simple, fucking request.” His tone is bitter and it’s my turn to blanch. “I don’t want to discuss this now, in the shower. I am still fucking mad at you, Anastasia. You’re making me question my judgment.” He turns and promptly leaves the shower, grabbing a towel on the way and stalking out of the bathroom, leaving me bereft and chilled under the hot water.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
Then the significance of what he’s just said dawns on me. Kidnap? Fuck. Jack wanted to kidnap me? I recall the duct tape and not wanting to think too deeply about why Jack had that. Does Christian have more information? Hurriedly I wash myself, then shampoo and rinse my hair. I want to know. I need to know. I am not going to let him keep me in the dark about this.
Christian’s not in the bedroom when I come out. Jeez, he dresses quickly. I do the same, throwing on my favorite plum dress and black sandals, and I’m conscious that I’ve chosen this outfit because Christian likes it. I vigorously towel-dry my hair, then braid it and wind it into a bun. Fitting diamond studs into my ears, I dash to the bathroom to apply a little mascara and glance at myself in the mirror. I’m pale. Jeez, I’m always pale. I take a deep steadying breath. I need to face the consequences of my rash decision to actually enjoy myself with my friend. I sigh, knowing that Christian won’t see it that way.
Christian is nowhere to be seen in the great room. Mrs. Jones is busying herself in the kitchen.
“Good morning, Ana,” she says sweetly.
“Morning,” I smile broadly at her. I am Ana again!
“Anything to eat?”
“Please. I’d like an omelet this morning.”
“With mushrooms and spinach?”
“Mr. Grey’s in his study.”
“Has he had breakfast?” I glance at the two places set on the breakfast bar.
Christian is on the phone, dressed in a white shirt with no tie, looking like every part the relaxed CEO. How deceptive appearances can be. Perhaps he’s not going into the office after all. He glances up when I appear in the doorway but shakes his head at me, indicating that I am not welcome. Shit… I turn and wander dejectedly back to the breakfast bar. Taylor appears, snappily dressed in a somber suit, looking like he’s had eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
“Morning, Taylor,” I murmur, trying to gauge his mood and see if he’ll offer me any visual cues about what has been going on.
“Good morning, Mrs. Grey,” he replies, and I hear the sympathy in those four words. I smile compassionately back at him, knowing he had to endure an angry, frustrated Christian returning to Seattle way ahead of schedule.
“How was the flight?” I dare to ask.
“Long, Mrs. Grey.” His brevity speaks volumes. “May I ask how you are?” he adds, his tone softening.
He nods. “If you’ll excuse me.” He heads toward Christian’s study. Hmm. Taylor’s allowed in, but not me.
“Here you go.” Mrs. Jones places my breakfast in front of me. My appetite has vanished, but I eat anyway, not wishing to offend her.
By the time I’ve finished what I can of my breakfast, Christian has still not emerged from his study. Is he avoiding me?
“Thanks, Mrs. Jones,” I murmur, sliding off the bar stool and making my way to the bathroom to clean my teeth. As I brush them, I’m reminded of Christian’s sulk over the wedding vows. He holed up in his study then, too. Is that what this is? Him sulking? I shudder as I recall his subsequent nightmare. Will that happen again? We really need to talk. I need to know about Jack and about the increased security for the Greys-all the details that have been kept from me, but not from Kate. Obviously Elliot talks to her.
I glance at my watch. It’s eight fifty-I’m late for work. I finish brushing my teeth, apply a little lip gloss, grab my lightweight black jacket, and head back to the great room. I am relieved to see Christian there, eating his breakfast.
“You’re going?” he says when he sees me.
“To work? Yes, of course.” Bravely, I walk toward him and rest my hands on the edge of the breakfast bar. He gazes at me blankly.
“Christian, we’ve hardly been back a week. I have to go to work.”
“But-” He stops, and rakes his hand through his hair. Mrs. Jones walks quietly out of the room. Discreet, Gail, discreet.
“I know we have a great deal to talk about. Perhaps if you’ve calmed down, we can do it this evening.”
His mouth pops open with dismay. “Calmed down?” His voice is eerily soft.
I flush. “You know what I mean.”
“No, Anastasia, I don’t know what you mean.”
“I don’t want a fight. I was coming to ask you if I could take my car.”
“No. You can’t,” he snaps.
“Okay.” I acquiesce immediately.
He blinks. He was obviously expecting a fight. “Prescott will accompany you.” His tone is slightly less belligerent.
Dammit, not Prescott. I want to pout and protest but decide against it. Surely now Jack has been caught we can cut back on our security.
I remember my mom’s “words of wisdom” talk the day before my wedding. Ana, honey, you really have to choose your battles. It’ll be the same with your kids when you have them. Well, at least he’s letting me go to work.
“Okay,” I mutter. And because I don’t want to leave him like this with so much unresolved and so much tension between us, I step tentatively toward him. He stiffens, his eyes widening, and for a moment he looks so vulnerable it pulls at some deep, dark place in my heart. Oh, Christian, I’m so sorry. I kiss him chastely on the side of his mouth. He closes his eyes as if relishing my touch.
“Don’t hate me,” I whisper.
He grabs my hand. “I don’t hate you.”
“You haven’t kissed me,” I whisper.
He eyes me suspiciously. “I know,” he mutters.
I’m desperate to ask him why, but I’m not sure I want to know the answer. Abruptly he stands and grabs my face between his hands, and in a flash his lips are hard on mine. I gasp with surprise, inadvertently granting his tongue access. He takes full advantage, invading my mouth, claiming me, and just as I’m beginning to respond he releases me, his breathing quickening.
“Taylor will take you and Prescott to SIP,” he says, his eyes flaring with need. “Taylor!” he calls. I flush, trying to recover some composure.
“Sir.” Taylor is standing in the doorway.
“Tell Prescott Mrs. Grey is going to work. Can you drive them, please?”
“Certainly.” Turning on his heel, Taylor disappears.
“If you could try to stay out of trouble today, I would appreciate it,” Christian mutters.
“I’ll see what I can do.” I smile sweetly. A reluctant half smile tugs at Christian’s lips, but he doesn’t give in to it.
“I’ll see you later, then,” he says coolly.
“Laters,” I whisper.
Prescott and I take the service elevator down to the basement garage in order to avoid the media outside. Jack’s arrest and the fact he was apprehended in our apartment are now public knowledge. As I settle into the Audi, I wonder if there will be more paparazzi waiting at SIP like the day our engagement was announced.
We drive a while in silence until I remember to call first Ray and then my mom to reassure them that Christian and I are safe. Mercifully, both calls are short, and I hang up just as we arrive outside SIP. As I feared, there’s a small crowd of reporters and photographers lying in wait. They turn as one, looking expectantly at the Audi.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Mrs. Grey?” Taylor asks. Part of me just wants to go home, but that means spending the day with Mr. Burning Rage. I hope that with a little time, he will gain some perspective. Jack is in police custody, so Fifty should be happy, but he’s not. Part of me understands why; too much of this is out of his control including me, but I don’t have time to think about this now.
“Take me around to the delivery entrance, please, Taylor.”
It’s one o’clock and I’ve managed to immerse myself in work all morning. There’s a knock and Elizabeth pops her head around the door.
“Can I have a moment?” she asks brightly.
“Sure,” I mutter, surprised at her unscheduled visit.
She enters and sits down, tossing her long black hair over her shoulder. “I just wanted to check you’re okay. Roach asked me to pay you a visit,” she adds hurriedly as her face reddens. “I mean with all that went on last night.”
Jack Hyde’s arrest is all over the newspapers, but no one seems to have made the connection yet with the fire at GEH.
“I’m fine,” I answer, trying not to think too deeply about how I feel. Jack wanted to harm me. Well, that’s not news. He’s tried before. It’s Christian I’m more concerned about.
I glance quickly at my e-mail. There’s still nothing from him. I don’t know if I were to send him an e-mail, whether I’d just be provoking Mr. Burning Rage further.
“Good,” Elizabeth answers, and her smile actually touches her eyes for a change. “If there’s anything I can do-anything you need-let me know.”
Elizabeth stands. “I know how busy you are, Ana. I’ll let you get back to it.”
That has to have been the briefest most pointless meeting in the Western Hemisphere today. Why did Roach send her here? Perhaps he’s worried, given I’m his boss’s wife. I shake off the dark thoughts and reach for my BlackBerry in the hope that there might be a message from Christian. As I do, my work e-mail pings.
From: Christian Grey
Date: August 26, 2011 13:04
To: Anastasia Grey
Detective Clark will be visiting your office today at 3 pm to take your statement.
I have insisted that he should come to you, as I don’t want you going to the police station.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
I gaze at his e-mail for a full five minutes, trying to think of a light and witty response to lift his mood. I draw a complete blank, and opt for brevity instead.
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: August 26, 2011 13:12
To: Christian Grey
Commissioning Editor, SIP
I stare at the screen for another five minutes, anxious for his response but there’s nothing. Christian is not in the mood to play today.
I sit back. Can I blame him? My poor Fifty was probably frantic, back in the early hours of this morning. Then a thought occurs to me. He was in his tux when I woke this morning. What time did he decide to come back from New York? He normally leaves functions between ten and eleven. Last night at that hour, I was still at large with Kate.
Did Christian come home because I was out or because of the Jack incident? If he left because I was out having a good time, he would have had no idea about Jack, about the police, nothing-until he landed in Seattle. It’s suddenly very important to me to find out. If Christian came back merely because I was out, then he was overreacting. My subconscious sucks her teeth, wearing her harpy face. Okay, I’m glad he’s back, so maybe it’s irrelevant. But still-Christian must have had one hell of a shock when he landed. No wonder he’s so confused today. His earlier words come back to me. “I am still fucking mad at you, Anastasia. You’re making me question my judgment.”
I have to know-did he come back because of Cocktailgate or because of the fucking lunatic?
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Your Flight
Date: August 26, 2011 13:24
To: Christian Grey
What time did you decide to come back to Seattle yesterday?
Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Your flight
Date: August 26, 2011 13:26
To: Anastasia Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Your Flight
Date: August 26, 2011 13:29
To: Christian Grey
Call it curiosity.
Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Your flight
Date: August 26, 2011 13:32
To: Anastasia Grey
Curiosity killed the cat.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: August 26, 2011 13:35
To: Christian Grey
What is that oblique reference to? Another threat?
You know where I am going with this, don’t you?
Did you decide to return because I went out for a drink with my friend after you asked me not to, or did you return because a madman was in your apartment?
Commissioning Editor, SIP
I stare at my screen. There’s no response. I glance at the clock on my computer. One forty-five and still no response.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Here’s the thing…
Date: August 26, 2011 13:56
To: Christian Grey
I will take your silence as an admission that you did indeed return to Seattle because I CHANGED MY MIND. I am an adult female and went for a drink with my friend. I did not understand the security ramifications of CHANGING MY MIND because YOU NEVER TELL ME ANYTHING. I found out from Kate that security has, in fact, been stepped up for all the Greys, not just us. I think you generally overreact where my safety is concerned, and I understand why, but you’re like the boy crying wolf.
I never have a clue about what is a real concern or merely something that is perceived as a concern by you. I had two of the security detail with me. I thought both Kate and I would be safe. Fact is, we were safer in that bar than at the apartment. Had I been FULLY INFORMED of the situation, I would have taken a different course of action.
I understand your concerns are something to do with material that was on Jack’s computer here-or so Kate believes. Do you know how annoying it is to find out my best friend knows more about what’s going on with you than I do? And I am your WIFE. So are you going to tell me? Or will you continue to treat me like a child, guaranteeing that I continue to behave like one?
You are not the only one who is fucking pissed. Okay?
Commissioning Editor, SIP
I hit send. There-stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Grey. I take a deep breath. I have worked myself up into quite a rage. Here was I feeling sorry and guilty for behaving badly. Well, no longer.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Here’s the thing…
Date: August 26, 2011 13:59
To: Anastasia Grey
As ever, Mrs. Grey, you are forthright and challenging in e-mail.
Perhaps we can discuss this when you get home to OUR apartment.
You should watch your language. I am still fucking pissed, too.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Watch my language! I scowl at my computer, realizing this is getting me nowhere. I don’t respond, but pick up a manuscript recently received from a promising new author and begin to read.
My meeting with Detective Clark is uneventful. He is less growly than the night before, maybe because he’s managed some sleep. Or maybe he just prefers working during the day.
“Thank you for your statement, Mrs. Grey.”
“You’re welcome, detective. Is Hyde in police custody yet?”
“Yes ma’am. He was released from hospital earlier this morning. With what he’s charged with, he should be with us for a while.” He smiles, his dark eyes crinkling in the corner.
“Good. This has been an anxious time for my husband and me.”
“I spoke at length with Mr. Grey this morning. He’s very relieved. Interesting man, your husband.”
You have no idea.
“Yes, I think so.” I offer him a polite smile, and he knows he’s being dismissed.
“If you think of anything, you can call me. Here’s my card.” He wrestles a card out of his wallet and hands it to me.
“Thank you, detective. I’ll do that.”
“Good day to you, Mrs. Grey.”
As he leaves, I wonder exactly what Hyde has been charged with. No doubt Christian won’t tell me. I purse my lips.
We ride in silence to Escala. Sawyer is driving this time, Prescott at his side, and my heart grows heavier and heavier as we head back. I know Christian and I are going to have an almighty fight, and I don’t know if I have the energy.
As I ride in the elevator from the garage with Prescott beside me, I try to marshal my thoughts. What do I want to say? I think I said it all in my e-mail. Perhaps he’ll give me some answers. I hope so. I can’t help my nerves. My heart is pounding, my mouth is dry, and my palms are sweaty. I don’t want to fight. But sometimes he’s so difficult, and I need to stand my ground.
The elevator doors slide open, revealing the foyer, and it’s once more neat and tidy. The table is upright and a new vase is in place with a gorgeous array of pale pink and white peonies. I quickly check the paintings as we wander through-the Madonnas all look to be intact. The broken foyer door is fixed and operational once more, and Prescott kindly opens it for me. She’s been so quiet today. I think I prefer her this way.
I drop my briefcase in the hall and head into the great room. I stop. Holy fuck.
“Good evening, Mrs. Grey,” Christian says softly. He’s standing by the piano, dressed in a tight black T-shirt, and jeans… those jeans-the ones he wore in the playroom. Oh my. They are over washed pale-blue denim, snug, ripped at the knee and hot. He saunters over to me, his feet bare, the top button of the jeans undone, his smoldering eyes never leaving mine.
“Good to have you home. I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Have you now?” I whisper. My mouth goes drier still, my heart pounding in my chest. Why’s he dressed like this? What does it mean? Is he still sulking?
“I have.” His voice is kitten soft, but he’s smirking as he strolls closer to me.
Holy crap he looks hot-his jeans hanging that way from his hips. Oh no, I’m not going to be distracted by Mr. Sex-on-Legs. I try to gauge his mood as he stalks toward me. Angry? Playful? Lustful? Gah! It’s impossible to tell.
“I like your jeans,” I murmur. He grins a disarming wolfish grin that doesn’t reach his eyes. Shit-he’s still mad. He’s wearing these to distract me. He halts in front of me, and I’m seared by his intensity. He gazes down, wide unreadable eyes burning into mine. I swallow.
“I understand you have issues, Mrs. Grey,” he says silkily, and he pulls something from the back pocket of his jeans. I can’t tear my gaze from his, but hear him unfold a piece of paper. He holds it up, and glancing briefly in its direction, I recognize my e-mail. My gaze returns to his, as his eyes blaze bright with anger.
“Yes, I have issues,” I whisper, feeling breathless. I need distance if we’re going to discuss this. But before I can step back, he leans down and runs his nose along mine. My eyes flutter to a close as I welcome his unexpected, gentle touch.
“So do I,” he whispers against my skin, and I open my eyes at his words. He straightens and gazes intently at me once more.
“I think I’m familiar with your issues, Christian.” My voice is wry, and he narrows his eyes, suppressing the amusement that sparks there momentarily. Are we going to fight? I take a precautionary step back. I must physically distance myself from him-from his smell, his look, his distracting body in those hot jeans. He frowns as I move away.
“Why did you fly back from New York?” I whisper. Let’s get this over and done with.
“You know why.” His tone carries a warning ring.
“Because I went out with Kate?”
“Because you went back on your word, and you defied me, putting yourself at unnecessary risk.”
“Went back on my word? Is that how you see it?” I gasp, ignoring the rest of his sentence.
Holy crap. Talk about overreaction! I start to roll my eyes but stop when he scowls at me. “Christian, I changed my mind,” I explain slowly, patiently as if he’s a child. “I’m a woman. We’re renowned for it. That’s what we do.”
He blinks at me as if he doesn’t comprehend this.
“If I had thought for one minute that you would cancel your business trip…” Words fail me. I realize I don’t know what to say. I am momentarily catapulted back to the argument over our vows. I never promised to obey you, Christian. But I hold my tongue, because deep down I’m glad he came back. In spite of his fury, I’m glad he’s here in one piece, angry and smoldering in front of me.
“You changed your mind?” He can’t hide his contemptuous disbelief.
“And you didn’t think to call me?” He glares at me, incredulous, before continuing. “What’s more, you left the security detail short here and put Ryan at risk.”
Oh. I hadn’t thought about that.
“I should have called, but I didn’t want to worry you. If I had, I’m sure you would have forbidden me to go and I’ve missed Kate. I wanted to see her. Besides, it kept me out of the way when Jack was here. Ryan shouldn’t have let him in.” This is so confusing. If Ryan hadn’t, Jack would still be at large.
Christian’s eyes gleam wildly, then shut, his face tightening as if in pain. Oh, no. He shakes his head, and before I know it he has folded me in his arms, pulling me hard against him.
“Oh Ana,” he whispers as he tightens his hold on me so that I can barely breathe. “If something were to happen to you-” His voice is barely a whisper.
“It didn’t,” I manage to say.
“But it could have. I’ve died a thousand deaths today thinking about what might have happened. I was so mad, Ana. Mad at you. Mad at myself. Mad at everyone. I can’t remember being this angry… except-” He stops again.
“Except?” I prompt.
“Once in your old apartment. When Leila was there.”
Oh. I don’t want to think about that.
“You were so cold this morning,” I murmur. My voice cracks on the last word as I remember the hideous feeling of rejection in the shower. His hands move to the nape of my neck, loosening their grip on me, and I take a deep breath. He pulls my head back.
“I don’t know how to deal with this anger. I don’t think I want to hurt you,” he says, his eyes wide and wary. “This morning, I wanted to punish you, badly and-” He stops, lost for words I think, or too afraid to say them.
“You were worried you’d hurt me?” I finish his sentence for him, not believing that he’d hurt me for a minute, but relieved, too. A small vicious part of me feared it was because he didn’t want me anymore.
“I didn’t trust myself,” he says quietly.
“Christian, I know you’d never hurt me. Not physically, anyway.” I clasp his head between my hands.
“Do you?” he asks, and there’s skepticism in his voice.
“Yes. I knew what you said was an empty, idle threat. I know you’re not going to beat the shit out of me.”
“I wanted to.”
“No you didn’t. You just thought you did.”
“I don’t know if that’s true,” he murmurs.
“Think about it,” I urge, wrapping my arms around him once more and nuzzling his chest through the black T-shirt. “About how you felt when I left. You’ve told me often enough what that did to you. How it altered your view of the world, of me. I know what you’ve given up for me. Think about how you felt about the cuff marks on our honeymoon.”
He stills, and I know he’s processing this information. I tighten my arms around him, my hands on his back, feeling his taut toned muscles beneath his T-shirt. Gradually, he relaxes as the tension slowly ebbs away.
Is this what’s been worrying him? That he’ll hurt me? Why do I have more faith in him than he has in himself? I don’t understand, surely we’ve moved on. He’s normally so strong, so in control, but without that, he’s lost. Oh, Fifty, Fifty, Fifty-I’m sorry. He kisses my hair, I turn my face up to his, and his lips find mine, searching, taking, giving, begging-for what, I don’t know. I just want to feel his mouth on mine, and I return his kiss passionately.
“You have such faith in me,” he whispers after he breaks away.
“I do.” He strokes my face with the back of his knuckles and the tip of his thumb, gazing intently into my eyes. His anger has gone. My Fifty is back from wherever he’s been. It’s good to see him. I glance shyly up and smirk.
“Besides,” I whisper, “you don’t have the paperwork.”
His mouth drops open in amused shock, and he clutches me to his chest again.
“You’re right. I don’t.” He laughs.
We stand in the middle of the great room, locked in our embrace, just holding each other.
“Come to bed,” he whispers, after heaven knows how long.
“Christian, we need to talk.”
“Later,” he urges softly.
“Christian, please. Talk to me.”
He sighs. “About what?”
“You know. You keep me in the dark.”
“I want to protect you.”
“I’m not a child.”
“I am fully aware of that, Mrs. Grey.” He runs his hands down my body and cups my backside. Flexing his hips, he presses his growing erection into me.
“Christian!” I scold. “Talk to me.”
He sighs once more with exasperation. “What do you want to know?” His voice is resigned as he releases me. I baulk-I didn’t mean you had to let me go. Taking my hand, he reaches down to pick up my e-mail from the floor.
“Lots of things,” I mutter, as I let him lead me to the couch.
“Sit,” he orders. Some things never change, I muse, doing as I’m told. Christian sits beside me, and leaning forward, puts his head in his hands.
Oh no. Is this too hard for him? Then he sits up, rakes both hands through his hair, and turns to me, at once expectant and reconciled to his fate.
“Ask me,” he says simply.
Oh. Well, that was easier than I thought. “Why the additional security for your family?”
“Hyde was a threat to them.”
“How do you know?”
“From his computer. It held personal details about me and the rest of my family. Especially Carrick.”
“Carrick? Why him?”
“I don’t know yet. Let’s go to bed.”
“Christian, tell me!”
“Tell you what?”
“You are so… exasperating.”
“So are you.” He glares at me.
“You didn’t ramp up the security when you first found out there was information about your family on the computer. So what happened? Why now?”
Christian narrows his eyes at me.
“I didn’t know he was going to attempt to burn down my building, or-” He stops. “We thought it was an unwelcome obsession, but you know”-he shrugs-“when you’re in the public eye, people are interested. It was random stuff: news reports on me from when I was at Harvard-my rowing, my career. Reports on Carrick-following his career, following my mom’s career-and to some extent, Elliot and Mia.
“You said or,” I prompt.
“You said, ‘attempt to burn down my building, or . . .’ like you were going to say something else.”
“Are you hungry?”
What? I frown at him, and my stomach rumbles.
“Did you eat today?” His voice is sterner and his eyes frost.
I’m betrayed by my flush.
“As I thought.” His voice is clipped. “You know how I feel about you not eating. Come,” he says. He stands and holds out his hand. “Let me feed you.” And he shifts again… this time his voice full of sensual promise.
“Feed me?” I whisper as everything south of my navel liquefies. Hell. This is such a typically mercurial diversion from what we’ve been discussing. Is that it? Is that all I’m getting out of him for now? Leading me over to the kitchen, Christian grabs a bar stool and hefts it around to the other side of the island.
“Sit,” he says.
“Where’s Mrs. Jones?” I ask, noticing her absence for the first time as I perch on the stool.
“I’ve given her and Taylor the night off.”
He gazes at me for a beat, and his arrogant amusement is back. “Because I can.”
“So you’re going to cook?” I give him an incredulous smirk.
“Oh, ye of little faith, Mrs. Grey. Close your eyes.”
Wow. I thought we were going to have a full-on fight, and here we are, playing in the kitchen.
“Close them,” he orders.
I roll them first, then oblige.
“Hmm. Not good enough,” he mutters. I open one eye and see him take a plum-colored silk scarf out of the back pocket of his jeans. It matches my dress. Holy cow. I look quizzically at him. When did he get that?
“Close,” he orders again. “No peeking.”
“You’re going to blindfold me?” I mutter, shocked. All of a sudden I’m breathless.
“Christian-” He places a finger upon my lips, silencing me.
I want to talk.
“We’ll talk later. I want you to eat now. You said you were hungry.” He lightly kisses my lips. The silk of the scarf is soft against my eyelids as he ties it securely at the back of my head.
“Can you see?” he asks.
“No,” I mutter, figuratively rolling my eyes. He chuckles softly.
“I can tell when you’re rolling your eyes,… and you know how that makes me feel.”
I purse my lips. “Can we just get this over and done with?” I snap.
“Such impatience, Mrs. Grey. So eager to talk.” His tone is playful.
“I must feed you first,” he says and brushes his lips over my temple, calming me instantly.
Okay… have it your way. I resign myself to my fate and listen to his movements around the kitchen. The fridge door opens, and Christian places various dishes on the countertop behind me. He pads over to the microwave, pops something in, and turns it on. My curiosity is piqued. I hear the toaster lever drop, the turn of the control, and the quiet tick of the timer. Hmm-toast?
“Yes. I am eager to talk,” I murmur, distracted. An assortment of exotic, spicy aromas fills the kitchen, and I shift in my chair.
“Be still, Anastasia,” he murmurs, and he’s close to me again. “I want you to behave…,” he whispers.
Oh my. My inner goddess freezes, not even blinking.
“And don’t bite your lip.” Gently he tugs my bottom lip free of my teeth, and I can’t help my smile.
Next, I hear the sharp pop of a cork being drawn from a bottle and the gentle glug of wine being poured into a glass. Then a moment of silence followed by a quiet click and the soft hiss of white noise from the surround-sound speakers as they come to life. A loud twang of a guitar begins a song I don’t know. Christian turns the volume down to background level. A man starts to sing, his voice deep, low, and sexy.
“A drink first, I think,” Christian whispers, diverting me from the song. “Head back.” I tip my head back. “Further,” he prompts.
I oblige, and his lips are on mine. Cool crisp wine flows into my mouth. I swallow reflexively. Oh my. Memories flood back of not so long ago-me trussed up on my bed in Vancouver before I graduated with a hot, angry Christian not appreciating my e-mail. Hmm… have times changed? Not much. Except now I recognize the wine, Christian’s favorite-a Sancerre.
“Hmm,” I murmur in appreciation.
“You like the wine?” he whispers, his breath warm on my cheek. I’m bathed in his proximity, his vitality, the heat radiating from his body, even though he doesn’t touch me.
“Yes,” I breathe.
“I always want more, with you.”
I almost hear his grin. It makes me grin, too. “Mrs. Grey, are you flirting with me?”
His wedding ring clinks against the glass as he takes another sip of wine. Now that is a sexy sound. This time he pulls my head right back, cradling me. He kisses me once more, and greedily I swallow the wine he gives me. He smiles as he kisses me again.
“I think we’ve already established that, Mr. Grey.”
The troubadour on the iPod is singing about wicked games. Hmm… How apt.
The microwave pings, and Christian releases me. I sit upright. The food smells spicy: garlic, mint, oregano, rosemary, and lamb, I think. The door to the microwave opens, and the appetizing smell grows stronger.
“Shit! Christ!” Christian curses, and a dish clatters onto the countertop.
Oh Fifty! “You okay?”
“Yes!” he snaps, his voice tight. A moment later, he’s standing beside me once more.
“I just burned myself. Here.” He eases his index finger into my mouth. “Maybe you could suck it better.”
“Oh.” Clasping his hand, I draw his finger slowly from my mouth. “There, there,” I soothe, and leaning forward I blow, cooling his finger, then kiss it gently twice. He stops breathing. I reinsert it into my mouth and suck gently. He inhales sharply, and the sound travels straight to my groin. He tastes as delicious as ever, and I realize that this is his game-the slow seduction of his wife. I thought he was mad, and now…? This man, my husband, is so confusing. But this is how I like him. Playful. Fun. Sexy as hell. He’s given me some answers, but I’m greedy. I want more, but I want to play, too. After the anxiety and tension of today, and the nightmare of last night with Jack, this is a welcome diversion.
“What are you thinking?” Christian murmurs, stopping my thoughts in their tracks as he pulls his finger out of my mouth.
“How mercurial you are.”
He stills beside me. “Fifty Shades, baby,” he says eventually and plants a tender kiss at the corner of my mouth.
“My Fifty Shades,” I whisper. Grabbing his T-shirt, I pull him back to me.
“Oh no you don’t, Mrs. Grey. No touching… not yet.” He takes my hand, pries it off his T-shirt, and kisses each finger in turn.
“Sit up,” he commands.
“I will spank you if you pout. Now open wide.”
Oh shit. I open my mouth, and he pops in a forkful of spicy hot lamb covered in a cool, minty, yogurt sauce. Mmm. I chew.
He makes an appreciative noise, and I know he’s eating and enjoying, too.
I nod. He gives me another forkful, and I chew it enthusiastically. He puts the fork down and he tears… bread, I think.
“Open,” he orders.
This time it’s pita bread and hummus. I realize Mrs. Jones-or maybe even Christian-has been shopping at the delicatessen I discovered about five weeks ago only two blocks from Escala. I chew gratefully. Christian in a playful mood increases my appetite.
“More?” he asks.
I nod. “More of everything. Please. I’m starving.”
I hear his delighted grin. Slowly and patiently he feeds me, occasionally kissing a morsel of food from the corner of my mouth or wiping it off with his fingers. Intermittently, he offers me a sip of wine in his unique way.
“Open wide, then bite,” he murmurs. I follow his command. Hmm-one of my favorites, stuffed vine leaves. Even cold they are delicious, though I prefer them heated up, but I don’t want to risk Christian burning himself again. He feeds it to me slowly, and when I’ve finished I lick his fingers clean.
“More?” he asks, his voice low and husky.
I shake my head. I’m full.
“Good,” he whispers against my ear, “because it’s time for my favorite course. You.” He scoops me up in his arms, surprising me so much I squeal.
“Can I take the blindfold off?”
I almost pout, then remember his threat and think better of it.
“Playroom,” he murmurs.
Oh-I don’t know if that’s a good idea.
“You up for the challenge?” he asks. And because he’s used the word challenge, I can’t say no.
“Bring it on,” I murmur, desire and something that I don’t want to name thrum through my body. He carries me through the door, then up the stairs to the second floor.
“I think you’ve lost weight,” he mutters disapprovingly. I have? Good. I remember his comment when we arrived back from our honeymoon, and how much it smarted. Jeez-was that just a week ago?
Outside the playroom, he slides me down his body and sets me on my feet, but keeps his arm wrapped around my waist. Briskly he unlocks the door.
It always smells the same: polished wood and citrus. It’s actually become a comforting smell. Releasing me, Christian turns me around until I’m facing away from him. He undoes the scarf, and I blink in the soft light. Gently, he pulls the hairpins from my updo, and my braid falls free. He grasps it and tugs gently so I have to step back against him.
“I have a plan,” he whispers in my ear, sending delicious shivers down my spine.
“I thought you might,” I answer. He kisses me beneath my ear.
“Oh, Mrs. Grey, I do.” His tone is soft, mesmerizing. He tugs my braid to the side and plants a trail of soft kisses down my throat.
“First we have to get you naked.” His voice hums low in his throat and resonates through my body. I want this-whatever he has planned. I want to connect the way we know how. He turns me around to face him. I glance down at his jeans, the top button still undone, and I can’t help myself. I brush my index finger around the waistband, avoiding his T-shirt, feeling the hairs of his happy trail tickle my knuckle. He inhales sharply, and I look up to meet his eyes. I stop at the unfastened button. His eyes darken to a deeper gray… oh my.
“You should keep these on,” I whisper.
“I fully intend to, Anastasia.”
And he moves, grabbing me with one hand to the back of my neck and the other around my backside. He pulls me against him, then his mouth is on mine, and he’s kissing me like his life depends on it.
He walks me backward, our tongues entwined, until I feel the wooden cross behind me. He leans into me, the contours of his body pressing into mine.
“Let’s get rid of this dress,” he says, peeling my dress up my thighs, my hips, my belly… deliciously slowly, the material skimming over my skin, skimming over my breasts.
“Lean forward,” he says.
I comply, and he pulls my dress over my head and discards it on the floor, leaving me in my sandals, panties, and bra. His eyes blaze as he grasps both my hands and raises them over my head. He blinks once and tilts his head to one side, and I know he’s asking for my permission. What is he going to do to me? I swallow, then nod, and a trace of an admiring, almost proud, smile touches his lips. He clips my wrists into the leather cuffs on the bar above and produces the scarf once more.
“Think you’ve seen enough,” he murmurs. He wraps it around my head, blindfolding me again, and I feel a frisson run through me as all my other senses heighten; the sound of his soft breathing, my own excited response, the blood pulsing in my ears, Christian’s scent mixed with the citrus and polish in the room-all are bought into sharper focus because I can’t see. His nose touches mine.
“I’m going to drive you wild,” he whispers. His hands grasp my hips, and he moves down, removing my panties as his hands glide down my legs. Drive me wild… wow.
“Lift your feet, one at a time.” I oblige and he removes first my panties, then each sandal in turn. Gently grasping my ankle, he tugs my leg gently to the right.
“Step,” he says. He cuffs my right ankle to the cross then proceeds to do the same with my left. I am helpless, spread-eagled on the cross. Standing, Christian steps toward me, and my body is bathed in his warmth once more though he doesn’t touch me. After a moment he grasps my chin, tilts my head up, and kisses me chastely.
“Some music and toys, I think. You look beautiful like this, Mrs. Grey. I may take a moment to admire the view.” His voice is soft. Everything clenches deep inside.
After a moment, maybe two, I hear him pad quietly to the museum chest and open one of the drawers. The butt drawer? I have no idea. He takes something out and places it on the top, followed by something else. The speakers spring to life, and after a moment the strains of a single piano playing a soft, lilting melody fill the room. It’s familiar-Bach, I think-but I don’t know what piece it is. Something about the music makes me apprehensive. Perhaps because the music is too cool, too detached. I frown, trying to grasp why it unsettles me, but Christian grasps my chin, startling me, and tugs gently so that I release my bottom lip. I smile, trying to reassure myself. Why do feel uneasy? Is it the music?
Christian runs his hand from my chin, along my throat, and down my chest to my breast. Using his thumb he pulls on the cup, freeing my breast from the restraint of my bra. He makes a low, appreciative humming noise in his throat and kisses my neck. His lips follow the path of his fingers to my breast, kissing and sucking all the way. His fingers move to my left breast, releasing it from my bra. I moan as he skates his thumb across my left nipple, and his lips close around my right, tugging and teasing gently until both nipples are long and hard.
He doesn’t stop. With exquisite care, he slowly increases the intensity on each. I pull fruitlessly against my restraints as sharp pleasure spikes from my nipples to my groin. I try to squirm but I can hardly move, and it makes the torture all the more intense.
“Christian,” I plead.
“I know,” he murmurs his voice hoarse. “This is what you make me feel.”
What? I groan, and he begins again, subjecting my nipples to his sweet agonizing touch over and over-taking me closer.
“Please,” I mewl.
He makes a low primal sound in his throat, then stands, leaving me bereft, breathless, and squirming against my restraints. He runs his hands down my sides, one pausing on my hip while the other travels down my belly.
“Let’s see how you’re doing,” he croons softly. Gently, he cups my sex, brushing his thumb across my clitoris and making me cry out. Slowly, he inserts one, then two fingers inside me. I groan and thrust my hips forward, eager to meet his fingers and the palm of his hand.
“Oh, Anastasia, you’re so ready,” he says.
He circles his fingers inside me, around and around, while his thumb strokes my clitoris, back and forth, once more. It’s the only point on my body where he’s touching me, and all the tension, all the anxiety of the day, is concentrated on this one part of my anatomy.
Holy shit… it’s intense… and strange… the music… I begin to build… Christian shifts, his hand still moving against and in me, and I hear a low buzzing noise.
“What?” I gasp.
“Hush,” he soothes, and his lips are on mine, effectively silencing me. I welcome the warmer, more intimate contact, kissing him voraciously. He breaks the contact and the buzzing noise gets nearer.
“This is a wand, baby. It vibrates.”
He holds it against my chest, and it feels like a large ball-like object vibrating against me. I shiver as it moves across my skin, down between my breasts, across to first one, then the other nipple, and I’m awash with sensation, tingling everywhere, synapses firing as dark, dark need pools at the base of my belly.
“Ah,” I groan while Christian’s fingers continue to move inside me. I’m close… all this stimulation… Tilting my head back, I moan loudly and Christian stills his fingers. All sensation stops.
“No! Christian,” I plead, trying to thrust my hips forward for some friction.
“Still, baby,” he says while my impending orgasm melts away. He leans forward once more and kisses me.
“Frustrating, isn’t it?” he murmurs.
Oh no! Suddenly I understand his game.
“Hush,” he says and kisses me. And he starts to move again-wand, fingers, thumb-a lethal combination of sensual torture. He shifts so his body brushes against mine. He’s still dressed, and the soft denim of his jeans brushes against my leg, his erection at my hip. So tantalizingly close. He brings me to the brink again, my body singing with need, and stops.
“No,” I mewl loudly.
He plants soft wet kisses on my shoulder as he withdraws his fingers from me, and moves the wand down. It oscillates over my stomach, my belly, onto my sex, against my clitoris. Fuck, it’s intense.
“Ah!” I cry out, pulling hard on the restraints.
My body is so sensitized I feel I am going to explode, and just as I am, Christian stops again.
“Christian!” I cry out.
“Frustrating, yes?” he murmurs against my throat. “Just like you. Promising one thing and then…” His voice trails off.
“Christian, please!” I beg.
He pushes the wand against me again and again, stopping just at the vital moment each time. Ah!
“Each time I stop, it feels more intense when I start again. Right?”
“Please,” I whimper. My nerve endings are screaming for release.
The buzzing stops and Christian kisses me. He runs his nose down mine. “You are the most frustrating woman I have ever met.”
No, No, No.
“Christian, I never promised to obey you. Please, please-”
He moves in front of me, grabs my behind and pushes his hips against me, making me gasp-his groin rubbing into mine, the buttons of his jeans pressing into me, barely containing his erection. With one hand he pulls off the blindfold and grasps my chin, and I blink up into his scorching eyes.
“You drive me crazy,” he whispers, flexing his hips against me once, twice, three times more, causing my body to spark-ready to burn. And again he denies me. I want him so badly. I need him so badly. I close my eyes and mutter a prayer. I can’t help but feel I’m being punished. I’m helpless and he’s ruthless. Tears spring to my eyes. I don’t know how far he’s going to take this.
“Please,” I whisper once more.
But he gazes down at me, implacable. He’s just going to continue. For how long? Can I play this game? No. No. No-I can’t do this. I know he’s not going to stop. He’s going to continue to torture me. His hand travels down my body once more. No… And the dam bursts-all the apprehension, the anxiety, and the fear from the last couple of days overwhelming me anew as tears spring to my eyes. I turn away from him. This is not love. It’s revenge.
“Red,” I whimper. “Red. Red.” The tears course down my face.
He stills. “No!” He gasps, stunned. “Jesus Christ, no.”
He moves quickly, unclipping my hands, clasping me around my waist and leaning down to unclip my ankles, while I put my head in my hands and weep.
“No, no, no. Ana, please. No.”
Picking me up, he moves to the bed, sitting down and cradling me in his lap while I sob inconsolably. I’m overwhelmed… my body wound up to breaking point, my mind a blank, and my emotions scattered to the wind. He reaches behind him, drags the satin sheet off the four-poster bed, and drapes it around me. The cool sheets feel alien and unwelcome against my sensitized skin. He wraps his arms around me, hugging me close, rocking me gently backward and forward.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Christian murmurs, his voice raw. He kisses my hair over and over again. “Ana, forgive me, please.”
Turning my face into his neck, I continue to cry, and it’s a cathartic release. So much has happened over the last few days-fires in computer rooms, car chases, careers planned out for me, slutty architects, armed lunatics in the apartment, arguments, his anger-and Christian has been away. I hate Christian going away… I use the corner of the sheet to wipe my nose and gradually become aware that the clinical tones of Bach are still echoing around the room.
“Please switch the music off.” I sniff.
“Yes, of course.” Christian shifts, not letting me go, and pulls the remote out of his back pocket. He presses a button and the piano music ceases, to be replaced by my shuddering breaths. “Better?” he asks.
I nod, my sobs easing. Christian wipes my tears away gently with his thumb.
“Not a fan of Bach’s Goldberg Variations?” he asks.
“Not that piece.”
He gazes down at me, trying and failing to hide the shame in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he says again.
“Why did you do that?” My voice is barely audible as I try to process my scrambled thoughts and feelings.
He shakes his head sadly and closes his eyes. “I got lost in the moment,” he says unconvincingly.
I frown at him, and he sighs. “Ana, orgasm denial is a standard tool in-You never-” He stops. I shift in his lap, and he winces.
Oh. I flush. “Sorry,” I mutter.
He rolls his eyes, then leans back suddenly, taking me with him, so that we’re both lying on the bed, me in his arms. My bra is uncomfortable, and I adjust it.
“Need a hand?” he asks quietly.
I shake my head. I don’t want him to touch my breasts. He shifts so he’s looking down at me, and tentatively raising his hand, he strokes his fingers gently down my face. Tears pool in my eyes again. How can he be so callous one minute and so tender the next?
“Please don’t cry,” he whispers.
I’m dazed and confused by this man. My anger has deserted me in my hour of need… I feel numb. I want to curl up in a ball and withdraw. I blink, trying to hold back my tears as I gaze into his harrowed eyes. I take a shuddering breath, my eyes not leaving his. What am I going to do with this controlling man? Learn to be controlled? I don’t think so…
“I never what?” I ask
“Do as you’re told. You changed your mind; you didn’t tell me where you were. Ana, I was in New York, powerless and livid. If I’d been in Seattle I’d have brought you home.”
“So you are punishing me?”
He swallows, then closes his eyes. He doesn’t have to answer, and I know that punishing me was his exact intention.
“You have to stop doing this,” I murmur.
His brow furrows.
“For a start, you only end up feeling shittier about yourself.”
He snorts. “That’s true,” he mutters. “I don’t like to see you like this.”
“And I don’t like feeling like this. You said on the Fair Lady that you hadn’t married a submissive.”
“I know. I know.” His voice is soft and raw.
“Well stop treating me like one. I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I won’t be so selfish again. I know you worry about me.”
He gazes at me, scrutinizing me closely, his eyes bleak and anxious. “Okay. Good,” he says eventually. He leans down, but pauses before his lips touch mine, silently asking if it’s allowed. I raise my face to his, and he kisses me tenderly.
“Your lips are always so soft when you’ve been crying,” he murmurs.
“I never promised to obey you, Christian,” I whisper.
“Deal with it, please. For both our sakes. And I will try and be more considerate of your… controlling tendencies.”
He looks lost and vulnerable, completely at sea.
“I’ll try,” he murmurs, his voice burning with sincerity.
I sigh, a long shuddering sigh. “Please do. Besides, if I had been here…”
“I know,” he says and blanches. Lying back, he puts his free arm over his face. I curl around him and lay my head on his chest. We both lie silent for a few moments. His hand moves to the end of my braid. He pulls the tie from it, freeing my hair, and gently, rhythmically combs his fingers through it. This is what this is really about-his fear… his irrational fear for my safety. An image of Jack Hyde slumped on the floor in my apartment with a Glock comes to mind… well, maybe not so irrational, which reminds me…
“What did you mean earlier, when you said or?” I ask.
“Something about Jack.”
He peers down at me. “You don’t give up, do you?”
I rest my chin on his sternum, enjoying the soothing caress of his fingers in my hair.
“Give up? Never. Tell me. I don’t like being kept in the dark. You seem to have some overblown idea that I need protecting. You don’t even know how to shoot-I do. Do you think I can’t handle whatever it is you won’t tell me, Christian? I’ve had your stalker ex-sub pull a gun on me, your pedophile ex-lover harass me-and don’t look at me like that,” I snap when he scowls at me. “Your mother feels the same way about her.”
“You talked to my mother about Elena?” Christian’s voice raises a few octaves.
“Yes, Grace and I talked about her.”
He gapes at me.
“She’s very upset about it. Blames herself.”
“I can’t believe you spoke to my mother. Shit!” He lies down and puts his arm over his face again.
“I didn’t go into any specifics.”
“I should hope not. Grace doesn’t need all the gory details. Christ, Ana. My dad, too?”
“No!” I shake my head vehemently. I don’t have that kind of relationship with Carrick. His comments about the prenup still sting. “Anyway, you’re trying to distract me-again. Jack. What about him?”
Christian lifts his arm briefly and gazes at me, his expression unreadable. Sighing, he puts his arm back over his face.
“Hyde is implicated in Charlie Tango’s sabotage. The investigators found a partial print-just partial, so they couldn’t make a match. But then you recognized Hyde in the server room. He has convictions as a minor in Detroit, and the prints matched his.”
My mind reels as I try to absorb this information. Jack brought down Charlie Tango? But Christian is on a roll. “This morning, a cargo van was found in the garage here. Hyde was the driver. Yesterday, he delivered some shit to that new guy who’s moved in. The guy we met in the elevator.”
“I don’t remember his name.”
“Me neither.” Christian says. “But that’s how Hyde managed to get into the building legitimately. He was working for a delivery company-”
“And? What’s so important about the van?”
Christian says nothing.
“Christian, tell me.”
“The cops found… things in the van.” He stops again and tightens his hold around me.
He’s quiet for several moments, and I open my mouth to prompt him again, but he speaks. “A mattress, enough horse tranquilizer to take down a dozen horses, and a note.” His voice has softened to barely a whisper while horror and revulsion roll off him.
“Note?” My voice mirrors his.
“Addressed to me.”
“What did it say?”
Christian shakes his head, indicating he doesn’t know or that he won’t divulge its contents.
“Hyde came here last night with the intention of kidnapping you.” Christian freezes, his face taut with tension. As he says those words, I recall the duct tape, and a shudder runs through me, though deep down this is not news to me.
“Shit,” I mutter.
“Quite,” Christian says tightly.
I try to remember Jack in the office. Was he always insane? How did he think he could get away with this? I mean he was pretty creepy, but this unhinged?
“I don’t understand why,” I murmur. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I know. The police are digging further, and so is Welch. But we think Detroit is the connection.”
“Detroit?” I gaze at him, confused.
“Yeah. There’s something there.”
“I still don’t understand.”
Christian lifts his face and gazes at me, his expression unreadable. “Ana, I was born in Detroit.”
“I thought you were born here in Seattle,” I murmur. My mind races. What does this have to do with Jack? Christian raises the arm covering his face, reaches behind him, and grabs one of the pillows. Placing it under his head, he settles back and gazes at me with a wary expression. After a moment he shakes his head.
“No. Elliot and I were both adopted in Detroit. We moved here shortly after my adoption. Grace wanted to be on the west coast, away from the urban sprawl, and she got a job at Northwest Hospital. I have very little memory of that time. Mia was adopted here.”
“So Jack is from Detroit?”
Oh… “How do you know?”
“I ran a background check when you went to work for him.”
Of course he did. “Do you have a manila file on him, too?” I smirk.
Christian’s mouth twists as he hides his amusement. “I think it’s pale blue.” His fingers continue to run through my hair. It’s soothing.
“What does it say in his file?”