When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating. Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind – until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time. Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

E L James

Fifty Shades of Grey

The first book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy series, 2011

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to the following people for their help and support:

To my husband Niall – thank you for tolerating my obsession, being a domestic god and doing the first edit.

To my boss Lisa – thank you for putting up with me over the last year or so while I indulged in this madness.

To CCL – I’ll never tell but thank you.

To the original bunker babes – thank you for your friendship and constant support.

To SR – thank you for all the helpful advice from the start and for going first.

To Sue – thanks for sorting me out.

To Amanda and all at TWCS – thank you for taking a punt.

1

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair – it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable.

Kate is my roommate, and she has chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu. Therefore, she cannot attend the interview she’d arranged to do, with some mega-industrialist tycoon I’ve never heard of, for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. I have final exams to cram for, one essay to finish, and I’m supposed to be working this afternoon, but no – today I have to drive a hundred and sixty-five miles to downtown Seattle in order to meet the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. As an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our university, his time is extraordinarily precious – much more precious than mine – but he has granted Kate an interview. A real coup, she tells me. Damn her extracurricular activities.

Kate is huddled on the couch in the living room.

“Ana, I’m sorry. It took me nine months to get this interview. It will take another six to reschedule, and we’ll both have graduated by then. As the editor, I can’t blow this off. Please,” Kate begs me in her rasping, sore throat voice. How does she do it? Even ill she looks gamine and gorgeous, strawberry blonde hair in place and green eyes bright, although now red-rimmed and runny. I ignore my pang of unwelcome sympathy.

“Of course I’ll go, Kate. You should get back to bed. Would you like some Nyquil or Tylenol?”

“Nyquil, please. Here are the questions and my mini-disc recorder. Just press record here. Make notes, I’ll transcribe it all.”

“I know nothing about him,” I murmur, trying and failing to suppress my rising panic.

“The questions will see you through. Go. It’s a long drive. I don’t want you to be late.”

“Okay, I’m going. Get back to bed. I made you some soup to heat up later.” I stare at her fondly. Only for you, Kate, would I do this.

“I will. Good luck. And thanks, Ana – as usual, you’re my lifesaver.”

Gathering my satchel, I smile wryly at her, then head out the door to the car. I cannot believe I have let Kate talk me into this. But then Kate can talk anyone into anything. She’ll make an exceptional journalist. She’s articulate, strong, persuasive, argumentative, beautiful – and she’s my dearest, dearest friend.

The roads are clear as I set off from Vancouver, WA toward Portland and the I-5. It’s early, and I don’t have to be in Seattle until two this afternoon. Fortunately, Kate’s lent me her sporty Mercedes CLK. I’m not sure Wanda, my old VW Beetle, would make the journey in time. Oh, the Merc is a fun drive, and the miles slip away as I floor the pedal to the metal.

My destination is the headquarters of Mr. Grey’s global enterprise. It’s a huge twenty-story office building, all curved glass and steel, an architect’s utilitarian fantasy, with Grey House written discreetly in steel over the glass front doors. It’s a quarter to two when I arrive, greatly relieved that I’m not late as I walk into the enormous – and frankly intimidating – glass, steel, and white sandstone lobby.

Behind the solid sandstone desk, a very attractive, groomed, blonde young woman smiles pleasantly at me. She’s wearing the sharpest charcoal suit jacket and white shirt I have ever seen. She looks immaculate.

“I’m here to see Mr. Grey. Anastasia Steele for Katherine Kavanagh.”

“Excuse me one moment, Miss Steele.” She arches her eyebrow slightly as I stand self-consciously before her. I am beginning to wish I’d borrowed one of Kate’s formal blazers rather than wear my navy blue jacket. I have made an effort and worn my one and only skirt, my sensible brown knee-length boots and a blue sweater. For me, this is smart. I tuck one of the escaped tendrils of my hair behind my ear as I pretend she doesn’t intimidate me.

“Miss Kavanagh is expected. Please sign in here, Miss Steele. You’ll want the last elevator on the right, press for the twentieth floor.” She smiles kindly at me, amused no doubt, as I sign in.

She hands me a security pass that has VISITOR very firmly stamped on the front. I can’t help my smirk. Surely it’s obvious that I’m just visiting. I don’t fit in here at all. Nothing changes, I inwardly sigh. Thanking her, I walk over to the bank of elevators past the two security men who are both far more smartly dressed than I am in their well-cut black suits.

The elevator whisks me with terminal velocity to the twentieth floor. The doors slide open, and I’m in another large lobby – again all glass, steel, and white sandstone. I’m confronted by another desk of sandstone and another young blonde woman dressed impeccably in black and white who rises to greet me.

“Miss Steele, could you wait here, please?” She points to a seated area of white leather chairs.

Behind the leather chairs is a spacious glass-walled meeting room with an equally spacious dark wood table and at least twenty matching chairs around it. Beyond that, there is a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of the Seattle skyline that looks out through the city toward the Sound. It’s a stunning vista, and I’m momentarily paralyzed by the view. Wow.

I sit down, fish the questions from my satchel, and go through them, inwardly cursing Kate for not providing me with a brief biography. I know nothing about this man I’m about to interview. He could be ninety or he could be thirty. The uncertainty is galling, and my nerves resurface, making me fidget. I’ve never been comfortable with one-on-one interviews, preferring the anonymity of a group discussion where I can sit inconspicuously at the back of the room. To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library. Not sitting twitching nervously in a colossal glass and stone edifice.

I roll my eyes at myself. Get a grip, Steele. Judging from the building, which is too clinical and modern, I guess Grey is in his forties: fit, tanned, and fair-haired to match the rest of the personnel.

Another elegant, flawlessly dressed blonde comes out of a large door to the right. What is it with all the immaculate blondes? It’s like Stepford here. Taking a deep breath, I stand up.

“Miss Steele?” the latest blonde asks.

“Yes,” I croak, and clear my throat. “Yes.” There, that sounded more confident.

“Mr. Grey will see you in a moment. May I take your jacket?”

“Oh please.” I struggle out of the jacket.

“Have you been offered any refreshment?”

“Um – no.” Oh dear, is Blonde Number One in trouble?

Blonde Number Two frowns and eyes the young woman at the desk.

“Would you like tea, coffee, water?” she asks, turning her attention back to me.

“A glass of water. Thank you,” I murmur.

“Olivia, please fetch Miss Steele a glass of water.” Her voice is stern. Olivia scoots up immediately and scurries to a door on the other side of the foyer.

“My apologies, Miss Steele, Olivia is our new intern. Please be seated. Mr. Grey will be another five minutes.”

Olivia returns with a glass of iced water.

“Here you go, Miss Steele.”

“Thank you.”

Blonde Number Two marches over to the large desk, her heels clicking and echoing on the sandstone floor. She sits down, and they both continue their work.

Perhaps Mr. Grey insists on all his employees being blonde. I’m wondering idly if that’s legal, when the office door opens and a tall, elegantly dressed, attractive African-American man with short dreads exits. I have definitely worn the wrong clothes.

He turns and says through the door. “Golf, this week, Grey.”

I don’t hear the reply. He turns, sees me, and smiles, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners. Olivia has jumped up and called the elevator. She seems to excel at jumping from her seat. She’s more nervous than me!

“Good afternoon, ladies,” he says as he departs through the sliding door.

“Mr. Grey will see you now, Miss Steele. Do go through,” Blonde Number Two says. I stand rather shakily trying to suppress my nerves. Gathering up my satchel, I abandon my glass of water and make my way to the partially open door.

“You don’t need to knock – just go in.” She smiles kindly.

I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet, and falling head first into the office.

Double crap – me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Mr. Grey’s office, and gentle hands are around me helping me to stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel myself to glance up. Holy cow – he’s so young.

“Miss Kavanagh.” He extends a long-fingered hand to me once I’m upright. “I’m Christian Grey. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?”

So young – and attractive, very attractive. He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark-copper-colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly. It takes a moment for me to find my voice.

“Um. Actually-” I mutter. If this guy is over thirty then I’m a monkey’s uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in his and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate.

“Miss Kavanagh is indisposed, so she sent me. I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Grey.”

“And you are?” His voice is warm, possibly amused, but it’s difficult to tell from his impassive expression. He looks mildly interested, but above all, polite.

“Anastasia Steele. I’m studying English Literature with Kate, um… Katherine… um… Miss Kavanagh at Washington State.”

“I see,” he says simply. I think I see the ghost of a smile in his expression, but I’m not sure.

“Would you like to sit?” He waves me toward a white leather-buttoned L-shaped couch.

His office is way too big for just one man. In front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, there’s a huge modern dark-wood desk that six people could comfortably eat around. It matches the coffee table by the couch. Everything else is white – ceiling, floors, and walls, except on the wall by the door where a mosaic of small paintings hang, thirty-six of them arranged in a square. They are exquisite – a series of mundane, forgotten objects painted in such precise detail they look like photographs. Displayed together, they are breathtaking.

“A local artist. Trouton,” says Grey when he catches my gaze.

“They’re lovely. Raising the ordinary to extraordinary,” I murmur, distracted both by him and the paintings. He cocks his head to one side and regards me intently.

“I couldn’t agree more, Miss Steele,” he replies, his voice soft and for some inexplicable reason I find myself blushing.

Apart from the paintings, the rest of the office is cold, clean, and clinical. I wonder if it reflects the personality of the Adonis who sinks gracefully into one of the white leather chairs opposite me. I shake my head, disturbed at the direction of my thoughts, and retrieve Kate’s questions from my satchel. Next, I set up the mini-disc recorder and am all fingers and thumbs, dropping it twice on the coffee table in front of me. Mr. Grey says nothing, waiting patiently – I hope – as I become increasingly embarrassed and flustered. When I pluck up the courage to look at him, he’s watching me, one hand relaxed in his lap and the other cupping his chin and trailing his long index finger across his lips. I think he’s trying to suppress a smile.

“Sorry,” I stutter. “I’m not used to this.”

“Take all the time you need, Miss Steele,” he says.

“Do you mind if I record your answers?”

“After you’ve taken so much trouble to set up the recorder – you ask me now?”

I flush. He’s teasing me? I hope. I blink at him, unsure what to say, and I think he takes pity on me because he relents. “No, I don’t mind.”

“Did Kate, I mean, Miss Kavanagh, explain what the interview was for?”

“Yes. To appear in the graduation issue of the student newspaper as I shall be conferring the degrees at this year’s graduation ceremony.”

Oh! This is news to me, and I’m temporarily preoccupied by the thought that someone not much older than me – okay, maybe six years or so, and okay, mega-successful, but still – is going to present me with my degree. I frown, dragging my wayward attention back to the task at hand.

“Good,” I swallow nervously. “I have some questions, Mr. Grey.” I smooth a stray lock of hair behind my ear.

“I thought you might,” he says, deadpan. He’s laughing at me. My cheeks heat at the realization, and I sit up and square my shoulders in an attempt to look taller and more intimidating. Pressing the start button on the recorder, I try to look professional.

“You’re very young to have amassed such an empire. To what do you owe your success?” I glance up at him. His smile is rueful, but he looks vaguely disappointed.

“Business is all about people, Miss Steele, and I’m very good at judging people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn’t, what inspires them, and how to incentivize them. I employ an exceptional team, and I reward them well.” He pauses and fixes me with his gray stare. “My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail. I work hard, very hard to do that. I make decisions based on logic and facts. I have a natural gut instinct that can spot and nurture a good solid idea and good people. The bottom line is it’s always down to good people.”

“Maybe you’re just lucky.” This isn’t on Kate’s list – but he’s so arrogant. His eyes flare momentarily in surprise.

“I don’t subscribe to luck or chance, Miss Steele. The harder I work the more luck I seem to have. It really is all about having the right people on your team and directing their energies accordingly. I think it was Harvey Firestone who said ‘the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.’”

“You sound like a control freak.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.

“Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele,” he says without a trace of humor in his smile. I look at him, and he holds my gaze steadily, impassive. My heartbeat quickens, and my face flushes again.

Why does he have such an unnerving effect on me? His overwhelming good looks maybe? The way his eyes blaze at me? The way he strokes his index finger against his lower lip? I wish he’d stop doing that.

“Besides, immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things,” he continues, his voice soft.

“Do you feel that you have immense power?” Control Freak.

“I employ over forty thousand people, Miss Steele. That gives me a certain sense of responsibility – power, if you will. If I were to decide I was no longer interested in the telecommunications business and sell up, twenty thousand people would struggle to make their mortgage payments after a month or so.”

My mouth drops open. I am staggered by his lack of humility.

“Don’t you have a board to answer to?” I ask, disgusted.

“I own my company. I don’t have to answer to a board.” He raises an eyebrow at me. I flush. Of course, I would know this if I had done some research. But holy crap, he’s so arrogant. I change tack.

“And do you have any interests outside your work?”

“I have varied interests, Miss Steele.” A ghost of a smile touches his lips. “Very varied.” And for some reason, I’m confounded and heated by his steady gaze. His eyes are alight with some wicked thought.

“But if you work so hard, what do you do to chill out?”

“Chill out?” He smiles, revealing perfect white teeth. I stop breathing. He really is beautiful. No one should be this good-looking.

“Well, to ‘chill out’ as you put it – I sail, I fly, I indulge in various physical pursuits.” He shifts in his chair. “I’m a very wealthy man, Miss Steele, and I have expensive and absorbing hobbies.”

I glance quickly at Kate’s questions, wanting to get off this subject.

“You invest in manufacturing. Why, specifically?” I ask. Why does he make me so uncomfortable?

“I like to build things. I like to know how things work: what makes things tick, how to construct and deconstruct. And I have a love of ships. What can I say?”

“That sounds like your heart talking rather than logic and facts.”

His mouth quirks up, and he stares appraisingly at me.

“Possibly. Though there are people who’d say I don’t have a heart.”

“Why would they say that?”

“Because they know me well.” His lip curls in a wry smile.

“Would your friends say you’re easy to get to know?” And I regret the question as soon as I say it. It’s not on Kate’s list.

“I’m a very private person, Miss Steele. I go a long way to protect my privacy. I don’t often give interviews,” he trails off.

“Why did you agree to do this one?”

“Because I’m a benefactor of the university, and for all intents and purposes, I couldn’t get Miss Kavanagh off my back. She badgered and badgered my PR people, and I admire that kind of tenacity.”

I know how tenacious Kate can be. That’s why I’m sitting here squirming uncomfortably under his penetrating gaze, when I should be studying for my exams.

“You also invest in farming technologies. Why are you interested in this area?”

“We can’t eat money, Miss Steele, and there are too many people on this planet who don’t have enough to eat.”

“That sounds very philanthropic. Is it something you feel passionately about? Feeding the world’s poor?”

He shrugs, very noncommittal.

“It’s shrewd business,” he murmurs, though I think he’s being disingenuous. It doesn’t make sense – feeding the world’s poor? I can’t see the financial benefits of this, only the virtue of the ideal. I glance at the next question, confused by his attitude.

“Do you have a philosophy? If so, what is it?”

“I don’t have a philosophy as such. Maybe a guiding principle – Carnegie’s: ‘A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.’ I’m very singular, driven. I like control – of myself and those around me.”

“So you want to possess things?” You are a control freak.

“I want to deserve to possess them, but yes, bottom line, I do.”

“You sound like the ultimate consumer.”

“I am.” He smiles, but the smile doesn’t touch his eyes. Again this is at odds with someone who wants to feed the world, so I can’t help thinking that we’re talking about something else, but I’m absolutely mystified as to what it is. I swallow hard. The temperature in the room is rising or maybe it’s just me. I just want this interview to be over. Surely Kate has enough material now? I glance at the next question.

“You were adopted. How far do you think that’s shaped the way you are?” Oh, this is personal. I stare at him, hoping he’s not offended. His brow furrows.

“I have no way of knowing.”

My interest is piqued.

“How old were you when you were adopted?”

“That’s a matter of public record, Miss Steele.” His tone is stern. I flush, again. Crap. Yes of course – if I’d known I was doing this interview, I would have done some research. I move on quickly.

“You’ve had to sacrifice a family life for your work.”

“That’s not a question.” He’s terse.

“Sorry.” I squirm, and he’s made me feel like an errant child. I try again. “Have you had to sacrifice a family life for your work?”

“I have a family. I have a brother and a sister and two loving parents. I’m not interested in extending my family beyond that.”

“Are you gay, Mr. Grey?”

He inhales sharply, and I cringe, mortified. Crap. Why didn’t I employ some kind of filter before I read this straight out? How can I tell him I’m just reading the questions? Damn Kate and her curiosity!

“No Anastasia, I’m not.” He raises his eyebrows, a cool gleam in his eyes. He does not look pleased.

“I apologize. It’s um… written here.” It’s the first time he’s said my name. My heartbeat has accelerated, and my cheeks are heating up again. Nervously, I tuck my loosened hair behind my ear.

He cocks his head to one side.

“These aren’t your own questions?”

The blood drains from my head. Oh no.

“Err… no. Kate – Miss Kavanagh – she compiled the questions.”

“Are you colleagues on the student paper?” Oh crap. I have nothing to do with the student paper. It’s her extracurricular activity, not mine. My face is aflame.

“No. She’s my roommate.”

He rubs his chin in quiet deliberation, his gray eyes appraising me.

“Did you volunteer to do this interview?” he asks, his voice deadly quiet.

Hang on, who’s supposed to be interviewing whom? His eyes burn into me, and I’m compelled to answer with the truth.

“I was drafted. She’s not well.” My voice is weak and apologetic.

“That explains a great deal.”

There’s a knock at the door, and Blonde Number Two enters.

“Mr. Grey, forgive me for interrupting, but your next meeting is in two minutes.”

“We’re not finished here, Andrea. Please cancel my next meeting.”

Andrea hesitates, gaping at him. She appears lost. He turns his head slowly to face her and raises his eyebrows. She flushes bright pink. Oh good. It’s not just me.

“Very well, Mr. Grey,” she mutters, then exits. He frowns, and turns his attention back to me.

“Where were we, Miss Steele?”

Oh, we’re back to ‘Miss Steele’ now.

“Please don’t let me keep you from anything.”

“I want to know about you. I think that’s only fair.” His gray eyes are alight with curiosity. Double crap. Where’s he going with this? He places his elbows on the arms of the chair and steeples his fingers in front of his mouth. His mouth is very… distracting. I swallow.

“There’s not much to know,” I say, flushing again.

“What are your plans after you graduate?”

I shrug, thrown by his interest. Come to Seattle with Kate, find a place, find a job. I haven’t really thought beyond my finals.

“I haven’t made any plans, Mr. Grey. I just need to get through my final exams.” Which I should be studying for now, rather than sitting in your palatial, swanky, sterile office, feeling uncomfortable under your penetrating gaze.

“We run an excellent internship program here,” he says quietly. I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Is he offering me a job?

“Oh. I’ll bear that in mind,” I murmur, completely confounded. “Though I’m not sure I’d fit in here.” Oh no. I’m musing out loud again.

“Why do you say that?” He cocks his head to one side, intrigued, a hint of a smile playing on his lips.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” I’m uncoordinated, scruffy, and I’m not blonde.

“Not to me,” he murmurs. His gaze is intense, all humor gone, and strange muscles deep in my belly clench suddenly. I tear my eyes away from his scrutiny and stare blindly down at my knotted fingers. What’s going on? I have to go – now. I lean forward to retrieve the recorder.

“Would you like me to show you around?” he asks.

“I’m sure you’re far too busy, Mr. Grey, and I do have a long drive.”

“You’re driving back to WSU in Vancouver?” He sounds surprised, anxious even. He glances out of the window. It’s begun to rain. “Well, you’d better drive carefully.” His tone is stern, authoritative. Why should he care? “Did you get everything you need?” he adds.

“Yes sir,” I reply, packing the recorder into my satchel. His eyes narrow, speculatively.

“Thank you for the interview, Mr. Grey.”

“The pleasure’s been all mine,” he says, polite as ever.

As I rise, he stands and holds out his hand.

“Until we meet again, Miss Steele.” And it sounds like a challenge, or a threat, I’m not sure which. I frown. When will we ever meet again? I shake his hand once more, astounded that that odd current between us is still there. It must be my nerves.

“Mr. Grey.” I nod at him. Moving with lithe athletic grace to the door, he opens it wide.

“Just ensuring you make it through the door, Miss Steele.” He gives me a small smile. Obviously, he’s referring to my earlier less-than-elegant entry into his office. I flush.

“That’s very considerate, Mr. Grey,” I snap, and his smile widens. I’m glad you find me entertaining, I glower inwardly, walking into the foyer. I’m surprised when he follows me out. Andrea and Olivia both look up, equally surprised.

“Did you have a coat?” Grey asks.

“Yes.” Olivia leaps up and retrieves my jacket, which Grey takes from her before she can hand it to me. He holds it up and, feeling ridiculously self-conscious, I shrug it on. Grey places his hands for a moment on my shoulders. I gasp at the contact. If he notices my reaction, he gives nothing away. His long index finger presses the button summoning the elevator, and we stand waiting – awkwardly on my part, coolly self-possessed on his. The doors open, and I hurry in desperate to escape. I really need to get out of here. When I turn to look at him, he’s leaning against the doorway beside the elevator with one hand on the wall. He really is very, very good-looking. It’s distracting. His burning gray eyes gaze at me.

“Anastasia,” he says as a farewell.

“Christian,” I reply. And mercifully, the doors close.

2

My heart is pounding. The elevator arrives on the first floor, and I scramble out as soon as the doors slide open, stumbling once, but fortunately not sprawling on to the immaculate sandstone floor. I race for the wide glass doors, and I’m free in the bracing, cleansing, damp air of Seattle. Raising my face, I welcome the cool refreshing rain. I close my eyes and take a deep, purifying breath, trying to recover what’s left of my equilibrium.

No man has ever affected me the way Christian Grey has, and I cannot fathom why. Is it his looks? His civility? Wealth? Power? I don’t understand my irrational reaction. I breathe an enormous sigh of relief. What in heaven’s name was that all about? Leaning against one of the steel pillars of the building, I valiantly attempt to calm down and gather my thoughts. I shake my head. Holy crap – what was that? My heart steadies to its regular rhythm, and I can breathe normally again. I head for the car.

As I leave the city limits behind, I begin to feel foolish and embarrassed as I replay the interview in my mind. Surely, I’m overreacting to something that’s imaginary. Okay, so he’s very attractive, confident, commanding, at ease with himself – but on the flip side, he’s arrogant, and for all his impeccable manners, he’s autocratic and cold. Well, on the surface. An involuntary shiver runs down my spine. He may be arrogant, but then he has a right to be – he’s accomplished so much at such a young age. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but why should he? Again, I’m irritated that Kate didn’t give me a brief biography.

While cruising along the I-5, my mind continues to wander. I’m truly perplexed as to what makes someone so driven to succeed. Some of his answers were so cryptic – as if he had a hidden agenda. And Kate’s questions – ugh! The adoption and asking him if he was gay! I shudder. I can’t believe I said that. Ground, swallow me up now! Every time I think of that question in the future, I will cringe with embarrassment. Damn Katherine Kavanagh!

I check the speedometer. I’m driving more cautiously than I would on any other occasion. And I know it’s the memory of two penetrating gray eyes gazing at me, and a stern voice telling me to drive carefully. Shaking my head, I realize that Grey’s more like a man double his age.

Forget it, Ana, I scold myself. I decide that all in all, it’s been a very interesting experience, but I shouldn’t dwell on it. Put it behind you. I never have to see him again. I’m immediately cheered by the thought. I switch on the MP3 player and turn the volume up loud, sit back, and listen to thumping indie rock music as I press down on the accelerator. As I hit the 1-5, I realize I can drive as fast as I want.

We live in a small community of duplex apartments in Vancouver, Washington, close to the Vancouver campus of WSU. I’m lucky – Kate’s parents bought the place for her, and I pay peanuts for rent. It’s been home for four years now. As I pull up outside, I know Kate is going to want a blow-by-blow account, and she is tenacious. Well, at least she has the mini-disc. Hopefully I won’t have to elaborate much beyond what was said during the interview.

“Ana! You’re back.” Kate sits in our living area, surrounded by books. She’s clearly been studying for finals – though she’s still in her pink flannel pajamas decorated with cute little rabbits, the ones she reserves for the aftermath of breaking up with boyfriends, for assorted illnesses, and for general moody depression. She bounds up to me and hugs me hard.

“I was beginning to worry. I expected you back sooner.”

“Oh, I thought I made good time considering the interview ran over.” I wave the mini-disc recorder at her.

“Ana, thank you so much for doing this. I owe you, I know. How was it? What was he like?” Oh no – here we go, the Katherine Kavanagh Inquisition.

I struggle to answer her question. What can I say?

“I’m glad it’s over, and I don’t have to see him again. He was rather intimidating, you know.” I shrug. “He’s very focused, intense even – and young. Really young.”

Kate gazes innocently at me. I frown at her.

“Don’t you look so innocent. Why didn’t you give me a biography? He made me feel like such an idiot for skimping on basic research.” Kate clamps a hand to her mouth.

“Jeez, Ana, I’m sorry – I didn’t think.”

I huff.

“Mostly he was courteous, formal, slightly stuffy – like he’s old before his time. He doesn’t talk like a man of twenty-something. How old is he anyway?”

“Twenty-seven. Jeez, Ana, I’m sorry. I should have briefed you, but I was in such a panic. Let me have the mini-disc, and I’ll start transcribing the interview.”

“You look better. Did you eat your soup?” I ask, keen to change the subject.

“Yes, and it was delicious as usual. I’m feeling much better.” She smiles at me in gratitude. I check my watch.

“I have to run. I can still make my shift at Clayton’s.”

“Ana, you’ll be exhausted.”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll see you later.”

I’ve worked at Clayton’s since I started at WSU. It’s the largest independent hardware store in the Portland area, and over the four years I’ve worked here, I’ve come to know a little bit about most everything we sell – although ironically, I’m crap at any DIY. I leave all that to my dad. I’m much more of a curl-up-with-a-book-in-a-comfy-chair-by-the-fire kind of girl. I’m glad I can make my shift as it gives me something to focus on that isn’t Christian Grey. We’re busy – it’s the start of the summer season, and folks are redecorating their homes. Mrs. Clayton is pleased to see me.

“Ana! I thought you weren’t going to make it today.”

“My appointment didn’t take as long as I thought. I can do a couple of hours.”

“I’m real pleased to see you.”

She sends me to the storeroom to start restocking shelves, and I’m soon absorbed in the task.

When I arrive home later, Katherine is wearing headphones and working on her laptop. Her nose is still pink, but she has her teeth into a story, so she’s concentrating and typing furiously. I’m thoroughly drained – exhausted by the long drive, the grueling interview, and by being rushed off my feet at Clayton’s. I slump on to the couch, thinking about the essay I have to finish and all the studying I haven’t done today because I was holed up with… him.

“You’ve got some good stuff here, Ana. Well done. I can’t believe you didn’t take him up on his offer to show you around. He obviously wanted to spend more time with you.” She gives me a fleeting quizzical look.

I flush, and my heart rate inexplicably increases. That wasn’t the reason, surely? He just wanted to show me around so I could see that he was lord of all he surveyed. I realize I’m biting my lip, and I hope Kate doesn’t notice. But she seems absorbed in her transcription.

“I hear what you mean about formal. Did you take any notes?” she asks.

“Um… no, I didn’t.”

“That’s fine. I can still make a fine article with this. Shame we don’t have some original stills. Good-looking son of a bitch, isn’t he?”

I flush.

“I suppose so.” I try hard to sound disinterested, and I think I succeed.

“Oh come on, Ana – even you can’t be immune to his looks.” She arches a perfect eyebrow at me.

Crap! I distract her with flattery, always a good ploy.

“You probably would have got a lot more out of him.”

“I doubt that, Ana. Come on – he practically offered you a job. Given that I foisted this on you at the last minute, you did very well.” She glances up at me speculatively. I make a hasty retreat into the kitchen.

“So what did you really think of him?” Damn, she’s inquisitive. Why can’t she just let this go? Think of something – quick.

“He’s very driven, controlling, arrogant – scary really, but very charismatic. I can understand the fascination,” I add truthfully, as I peer round the door at her hoping this will shut her up once and for all.

“You, fascinated by a man? That’s a first,” she snorts.

I start gathering the makings of a sandwich so she can’t see my face.

“Why did you want to know if he was gay? Incidentally, that was the most embarrassing question. I was mortified, and he was pissed to be asked, too.” I scowl at the memory.

“Whenever he’s in the society pages, he never has a date.”

“It was embarrassing. The whole thing was embarrassing. I’m glad I’ll never have to lay eyes on him again.”

“Oh, Ana, it can’t have been that bad. I think he sounds quite taken with you.”

Taken with me? Now Kate’s being ridiculous.

“Would you like a sandwich?”

“Please.”

We talk no more of Christian Grey that evening, much to my relief. Once we’ve eaten, I’m able to sit at the dining table with Kate and, while she works on her article, I work on my essay on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Damn, but that woman was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong century. By the time I finish, it’s midnight, and Kate has long since gone to bed. I make my way to my room, exhausted, but pleased that I’ve accomplished so much for a Monday.

I curl up in my white iron bed, wrapping my mother’s quilt around me, close my eyes, and I’m instantly asleep. That night I dream of dark places, bleak white cold floors, and gray eyes.

For the rest of the week, I throw myself into my studies and my job at Clayton’s. Kate is busy, too, compiling her last edition of the student magazine before she has to relinquish it to the new editor while also cramming for her finals. By Wednesday, she’s much better, and I no longer have to endure the sight of her pink-flannel-with-too-many-rabbits PJs. I call my mom in Georgia to check on her, but also so she can wish me luck for my final exams. She proceeds to tell me about her latest venture into candle making – my mother is all about new business ventures. Fundamentally she’s bored and wants something to occupy her time, but she has the attention span of a goldfish. It’ll be something new next week. She worries me. I hope she hasn’t mortgaged the house to finance this latest scheme. And I hope that Bob – her relatively new but much older husband – is keeping an eye on her now that I’m no longer there. He does seem a lot more grounded than Husband Number Three.

“How are things with you, Ana?”

For a moment, I hesitate, and I have Mom’s full attention.

“I’m fine.”

“Ana? Have you met someone?” Wow… how does she do that? The excitement in her voice is palpable.

“No, Mom, it’s nothing. You’ll be the first to know if I do.”

“Ana, you really need to get out more, honey. You worry me.”

“Mom, I’m fine. How’s Bob?” As ever, distraction is the best policy.

Later that evening, I call Ray, my stepdad, Mom’s Husband Number Two, the man I consider my father, and the man whose name I bear. It’s a brief conversation. In fact, it’s not so much a conversation as a one-sided series of grunts in response to my gentle coaxing. Ray is not a talker. But he’s still alive, he’s still watching soccer on TV, and going bowling and fly-fishing or making furniture when he’s not. Ray is a skilled carpenter and the reason I know the difference between a hawk and a handsaw. All seems well with him.

Friday night, Kate and I are debating what to do with our evening – we want some time out from our studies, from our work, and from student newspapers – when the doorbell rings. Standing on our doorstep is my good friend José, clutching a bottle of champagne.

“José! Great to see you!” I give him a quick hug. “Come in.”

José is the first person I met when I arrived at WSU, looking as lost and lonely as I did. We recognized a kindred spirit in each of us that day, and we’ve been friends ever since. Not only do we share a sense of humor, but we discovered that both Ray and José Senior were in the same army unit together. As a result, our fathers have become firm friends, too.

José is studying engineering and is the first in his family to make it to college. He’s pretty damn bright, but his real passion is photography. José has a great eye for a good picture.

“I have news.” He grins, his dark eyes twinkling.

“Don’t tell me – you’ve managed not to get kicked out for another week,” I tease, and he scowls playfully at me.

“The Portland Place Gallery is going to exhibit my photos next month.”

“That’s amazing – congratulations!” Delighted for him, I hug him again. Kate beams at him, too.

“Way to go, José! I should put this in the paper. Nothing like last minute editorial changes on a Friday evening.” She grins.

“Let’s celebrate. I want you to come to the opening.” José looks intently at me. I flush. “Both of you, of course,” he adds, glancing nervously at Kate.

José and I are good friends, but I know deep down inside, he’d like to be more. He’s cute and funny, but he’s just not for me. He’s more like the brother I never had. Katherine often teases me that I’m missing the need-a-boyfriend gene, but the truth is – I just haven’t met anyone who… well, whom I’m attracted to, even though part of me longs for those trembling knees, heart-in-my-mouth, butterflies-in-my-belly, sleepless nights.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Perhaps I’ve spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high. But in reality, nobody’s ever made me feel like that.

Until very recently, the unwelcome, still-small voice of my subconscious whispers. NO! I banish the thought immediately. I am not going there, not after that painful interview. Are you gay, Mr. Grey? I wince at the memory. I know I’ve dreamt about him most nights since then, but that’s just to purge the awful experience from my system, surely?

I watch José open the bottle of champagne. He’s tall, and in his jeans and t-shirt he’s all shoulders and muscles, tanned skin, dark hair and burning dark eyes. Yes, José’s pretty hot, but I think he’s finally getting the message: we’re just friends. The cork makes its loud pop, and José looks up and smiles.

Saturday at the store is a nightmare. We are besieged by do-it-yourselfers wanting to spruce up their homes. Mr. and Mrs. Clayton, John and Patrick – the two other part-timers – and I are all rushed off our feet. But there’s a lull around lunchtime, and Mrs. Clayton asks me to check on some orders while I’m sitting behind the counter at the till discreetly eating my bagel. I’m engrossed in the task, checking catalogue numbers against the items we need and the items we’ve ordered, eyes flicking from the order book to the computer screen and back as I check the entries match. Then, for some reason, I glance up… and find myself locked in the bold gray gaze of Christian Grey who’s standing at the counter, staring at me intently.

Heart failure.

“Miss Steele. What a pleasant surprise.” His gaze is unwavering and intense.

Holy crap. What the hell is he doing here looking all tousled hair and outdoorsy in his cream chunky-knit sweater, jeans, and walking boots? I think my mouth has popped open, and I can’t locate my brain or my voice.

“Mr. Grey,” I whisper, because that’s all I can manage. There’s a ghost of a smile on his lips and his eyes are alight with humor, as if he’s enjoying some private joke.

“I was in the area,” he says by way of explanation. “I need to stock up on a few things. It’s a pleasure to see you again, Miss Steele.” His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.

I shake my head to gather my wits. My heart is pounding a frantic tattoo, and for some reason I’m blushing furiously under his steady scrutiny. I am utterly thrown by the sight of him standing before me. My memories of him did not do him justice. He’s not merely good-looking – he’s the epitome of male beauty, breathtaking, and he’s here. Here in Clayton’s Hardware Store. Go figure. Finally my cognitive functions are restored and reconnected with the rest of my body.

“Ana. My name’s Ana,” I mutter. “What can I help you with, Mr. Grey?”

He smiles, and again it’s like he’s privy to some big secret. It is so disconcerting. Taking a deep breath, I put on my professional I’ve-worked-in-this-shop-for-years façade. I can do this.

“There are a few items I need. To start with, I’d like some cable ties,” he murmurs, his gray eyes cool but amused.

Cable ties?

“We stock various lengths. Shall I show you?” I mutter, my voice soft and wavering. Get a grip, Steele. A slight frown mars Grey’s rather lovely brow.

“Please. Lead the way, Miss Steele,” he says. I try for nonchalance as I come out from behind the counter, but really I’m concentrating hard on not falling over my own feet – my legs are suddenly the consistency of Jell-O. I’m so glad I decided to wear my best jeans this morning.

“They’re in with the electrical goods, aisle eight.” My voice is a little too bright. I glance up at him and regret it almost immediately. Damn, he’s handsome. I blush.

“After you,” he murmurs, gesturing with his long-fingered, beautifully manicured hand.

With my heart almost strangling me – because it’s in my throat trying to escape from my mouth – I head down one of the aisles to the electrical section. Why is he in Portland? Why is he here at Clayton’s? And from a very tiny, underused part of my brain – probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata where my subconscious dwells – comes the thought: He’s here to see you. No way! I dismiss it immediately. Why would this beautiful, powerful, urbane man want to see me? The idea is preposterous, and I kick it out of my head.

“Are you in Portland on business?” I ask, and my voice is too high, like I’ve got my finger trapped in a door or something. Damn! Try to be cool, Ana!

“I was visiting the WSU farming division. It’s based at Vancouver. I’m currently funding some research there in crop rotation and soil science,” he says matter-of-factly. See? Not here to find you at all, my subconscious sneers at me, loud, proud, and pouty. I flush at my foolish wayward thoughts.

“All part of your feed-the-world plan?” I tease.

“Something like that,” he acknowledges, and his lips quirk up in a half smile.

He gazes at the selection of cable ties we stock at Clayton’s. What on Earth is he going to do with those? I cannot picture him as a do-it-yourselfer at all. His fingers trail across the various packages displayed, and for some inexplicable reason, I have to look away. He bends and selects a packet.

“These will do,” he says with his oh-so-secret smile, and I blush.

“Is there anything else?”

“I’d like some masking tape.”

Masking tape?

“Are you redecorating?” The words are out before I can stop them. Surely he hires laborers or has staff to help him decorate?

“No, not redecorating,” he says quickly then smirks, and I have the uncanny feeling that he’s laughing at me.

Am I that funny? Funny looking?

“This way,” I murmur, embarrassed. “Masking tape is in the decorating aisle.”

I glance behind me as he follows.

“Have you worked here long?” His voice is low, and he’s gazing at me, gray eyes concentrating hard. I blush even more brightly. Why the hell does he have this effect on me? I feel like I’m fourteen years old – gauche, as always, and out of place. Eyes front, Steele!

“Four years,” I mutter as we reach our goal. To distract myself, I reach down and select the two widths of masking tape that we stock.

“I’ll take that one,” Grey says softly pointing to the wider tape, which I pass to him. Our fingers brush very briefly, and the current is there again, zapping through me like I’ve touched an exposed wire. I gasp involuntarily as I feel it, all the way down to somewhere dark and unexplored, deep in my belly. Desperately, I scrabble around for my equilibrium.

“Anything else?” My voice is husky and breathy. His eyes widen slightly.

“Some rope, I think.” His voice mirrors mine, husky.

“This way.” I duck my head down to hide my recurring blush and head for the aisle.

“What sort were you after? We have synthetic and natural filament rope… twine… cable cord… ” I halt at his expression, his eyes darkening. Holy cow.

“I’ll take five yards of the natural filament rope, please.”

Quickly, with trembling fingers, I measure out five yards against the fixed ruler, aware that his hot gray gaze is on me. I dare not look at him. Jeez, could I feel any more self-conscious? Taking my Stanley knife from the back pocket of my jeans, I cut it then coil it neatly before tying it in a slipknot. By some miracle, I manage not to remove a finger with my knife.

“Were you a Girl Scout?” he asks, sculptured, sensual lips curled in amusement. Don’t look at his mouth!

“Organized, group activities aren’t really my thing, Mr. Grey.”

He arches a brow.

“What is your thing, Anastasia?” he asks, his voice soft and his secret smile is back. I gaze at him unable to express myself. I’m on shifting tectonic plates. Try and be cool, Ana, my tortured subconscious begs on bended knee.

“Books,” I whisper, but inside, my subconscious is screaming: You! You are my thing! I slap it down instantly, mortified that my psyche is having ideas above its station.

“What kind of books?” He cocks his head to one side. Why is he so interested?

“Oh, you know. The usual. The classics. British literature, mainly.”

He rubs his chin with his long index finger and thumb as he contemplates my answer. Or perhaps he’s just very bored and trying to hide it.

“Anything else you need?” I have to get off this subject – those fingers on that face are so beguiling.

“I don’t know. What else would you recommend?”

What would I recommend? I don’t even know what you’re doing.

“For a do-it-yourselfer?”

He nods, gray eyes alive with wicked humor. I flush, and my eyes stray of their own accord to his snug jeans.

“Coveralls,” I reply, and I know I’m no longer screening what’s coming out of my mouth.

He raises an eyebrow, amused, yet again.

“You wouldn’t want to ruin your clothing,” I gesture vaguely in the direction of his jeans.

“I could always take them off.” He smirks.

“Um.” I feel the color in my cheeks rising again. I must be the color of the communist manifesto. Stop talking. Stop talking NOW.

“I’ll take some coveralls. Heaven forbid I should ruin any clothing,” he says dryly.

I try and dismiss the unwelcome image of him without jeans.

“Do you need anything else?” I squeak as I hand him the blue coveralls.

He ignores my inquiry.

“How’s the article coming along?”

He’s finally asked me a normal question, away from all the innuendo and the confusing double talk… a question I can answer. I grasp it tightly with two hands as if it was a life raft, and I go for honesty.

“I’m not writing it, Katherine is. Miss Kavanagh. My roommate, she’s the writer. She’s very happy with it. She’s the editor of the magazine, and she was devastated that she couldn’t do the interview in person.” I feel like I’ve come up for air – at last, a normal topic of conversation. “Her only concern is that she doesn’t have any original photographs of you.”

Grey raises an eyebrow.

“What sort of photographs does she want?”

Okay. I hadn’t factored in this response. I shake my head, because I just don’t know.

“Well, I’m around. Tomorrow, perhaps… ” he trails off.

“You’d be willing to attend a photo shoot?” My voice is squeaky again. Kate will be in seventh heaven if I can pull this off. And you might see him again tomorrow, that dark place at the base of my brain whispers seductively at me. I dismiss the thought – of all the silly, ridiculous…

“Kate will be delighted – if we can find a photographer.” I’m so pleased, I smile at him broadly. His lips part, like he’s taking a sharp intake of breath, and he blinks. For a fraction of a second, he looks lost somehow, and the Earth shifts slightly on its axis, the tectonic plates sliding into a new position.

Oh my. Christian Grey’s lost look.

“Let me know about tomorrow.” Reaching into his back pocket, he pulls out his wallet. “My card. It has my cell number on it. You’ll need to call before ten in the morning.”

“Okay.” I grin up at him. Kate is going to be thrilled.

“ANA!”

Paul has materialized at other the end of the aisle. He’s Mr. Clayton’s youngest brother. I’d heard he was home from Princeton, but I wasn’t expecting to see him today.

“Er, excuse me for a moment, Mr. Grey.” Grey frowns as I turn away from him.

Paul has always been a buddy, and in this strange moment that I’m having with the rich, powerful, awesomely off-the-scale attractive control freak Grey, it’s great to talk to someone who’s normal. Paul hugs me hard, taking me by surprise.

“Ana, hi, it’s so good to see you!” he gushes.

“Hello, Paul, how are you? You home for your brother’s birthday?”

“Yep. You’re looking well, Ana, really well.” He grins as he examines me at arm’s length. Then he releases me but keeps a possessive arm draped over my shoulder. I shuffle from foot to foot, embarrassed. It’s good to see Paul, but he’s always been over-familiar.

When I glance up at Christian Grey, he’s watching us like a hawk, his gray eyes hooded and speculative, his mouth a hard impassive line. He’s changed from the weirdly attentive customer to someone else – someone cold and distant.

“Paul, I’m with a customer. Someone you should meet,” I say, trying to defuse the antagonism I see in Grey’s eyes. I drag Paul over to meet him, and they weigh each other up. The atmosphere is suddenly arctic.

“Er, Paul, this is Christian Grey. Mr. Grey, this is Paul Clayton. His brother owns the place.” And for some irrational reason, I feel I have to explain a bit more.

“I’ve known Paul ever since I’ve worked here, though we don’t see each other that often. He’s back from Princeton where he’s studying business administration.” I’m babbling… Stop, now!

“Mr. Clayton.” Christian holds his hand out, his look unreadable.

“Mr. Grey,” Paul returns his handshake. “Wait up – not the Christian Grey? Of Grey Enterprises Holdings?” Paul goes from surly to awestruck in less than a nanosecond. Grey gives him a polite smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Wow – is there anything I can get you?”

“Anastasia has it covered, Mr. Clayton. She’s been very attentive.” His expression is impassive, but his words… it’s like he’s saying something else entirely. It’s baffling.

“Cool,” Paul responds. “Catch you later, Ana.”

“Sure, Paul.” I watch him disappear toward the stock room. “Anything else, Mr. Grey?”

“Just these items.” His tone is clipped and cool. Damn… have I offended him? Taking a deep breath, I turn and head for the till. What is his problem?

I ring up the rope, coveralls, masking tape, and cable ties at the till.

“That will be forty-three dollars, please.” I glance up at Grey, and I wish I hadn’t. He’s watching me closely, his gray eyes intense and smoky. It’s unnerving.

“Would you like a bag?” I ask as I take his credit card.

“Please, Anastasia.” His tongue caresses my name, and my heart once again is frantic. I can hardly breathe. Hurriedly, I place his purchases in a plastic carrier.

“You’ll call me if you want me to do the photo shoot?” He’s all business once more. I nod, rendered speechless yet again, and hand back his credit card.

“Good. Until tomorrow, perhaps.” He turns to leave, then pauses. “Oh – and Anastasia, I’m glad Miss Kavanagh couldn’t do the interview.” He smiles, then strides with renewed purpose out of the store, slinging the plastic bag over his shoulder, leaving me a quivering mass of raging female hormones. I spend several minutes staring at the closed door through which he’s just left before I return to planet Earth.

Okay – I like him. There, I’ve admitted it to myself. I cannot hide from my feelings anymore. I’ve never felt like this before. I find him attractive, very attractive. But it’s a lost cause, I know, and I sigh with bittersweet regret. It was just a coincidence, his coming here. But still, I can admire him from afar, surely? No harm can come of that. And if I find a photographer, I can do some serious admiring tomorrow. I bite my lip in anticipation and find myself grinning like a schoolgirl. I need to phone Kate and organize a photo shoot.

3

Kate is ecstatic.

“But what was he doing at Clayton’s?” Her curiosity oozes through the phone. I’m in the depths of the stock room, trying to keep my voice casual.

“He was in the area.”

“I think that is one huge coincidence, Ana. You don’t think he was there to see you?” she speculates. My heart lurches at the prospect, but it’s a short-lived joy. The dull, disappointing reality is that he was here on business.

“He was visiting the farming division of WSU. He’s funding some research,” I mutter.

“Oh yes. He’s given the department a $2.5 million grant.”

Wow.

“How do you know this?”

“Ana, I’m a journalist, and I’ve written a profile on the guy. It’s my job to know this.”

“Okay, Carla Bernstein, keep your hair on. So do you want these photos?”

“Of course I do. The question is, who’s going to do them and where.”

“We could ask him where. He says he’s staying in the area.”

“You can contact him?”

“I have his cell phone number.”

Kate gasps.

“The richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelor in Washington State just gave you his cell phone number?”

“Er… yes.”

“Ana! He likes you. No doubt about it.” Her tone is emphatic.

“Kate, he’s just trying to be nice.” But even as I say the words, I know they’re not true – Christian Grey doesn’t do nice. He does polite, maybe. And a small quiet voice whispers, perhaps Kate is right. My scalp prickles at the idea that maybe, just maybe, he might like me. After all, he did say he was glad Kate didn’t do the interview. I hug myself with quiet glee, rocking from side to side, entertaining the possibility that he might like me for one brief moment. Kate brings me back to the now.

“I don’t know who we’ll get to do the shoot. Levi, our regular photographer, can’t. He’s home in Idaho Falls for the weekend. He’ll be pissed that he blew an opportunity to photo one of America’s leading entrepreneurs.”

“Hmm… What about José?”

“Great idea! You ask him – he’ll do anything for you. Then call Grey and find out where he wants us.” Kate is irritatingly cavalier about José.

“I think you should call him.”

“Who, José?” Kate scoffs.

“No, Grey.”

“Ana, you’re the one with the relationship.”

“Relationship?” I squeak at her, my voice rising several octaves. “I barely know the guy.”

“At least you’ve met him,” she says bitterly. “And it looks like he wants to know you better. Ana, just call him,” she snaps and hangs up. She is so bossy sometimes. I frown at my cell, sticking my tongue out at it.

I’m just leaving a message for José when Paul enters the stock room looking for sandpaper.

“We’re kind of busy out there, Ana,” he says without acrimony.

“Yeah, um, sorry,” I mutter, turning to leave.

“So, how come you know Christian Grey?” Paul’s voice is unconvincingly nonchalant.

“I had to interview him for our student newspaper. Kate wasn’t well.” I shrug, trying to sound casual and doing no better than him.

“Christian Grey in Clayton’s. Go figure,” Paul snorts, amazed. He shakes his head as if to clear it. “Anyway, want to grab a drink or something this evening?”

Whenever he’s home he asks me on a date, and I always say no. It’s a ritual. I’ve never considered it a good idea to date the boss’s brother, and besides, Paul is cute in a wholesome all-American boy-next-door kind of way, but he’s no literary hero, not by any stretch of the imagination. Is Grey? My subconscious asks me, her eyebrow figuratively raised. I slap her down.

“Don’t you have a family dinner or something for your brother?”

“That’s tomorrow.”

“Maybe some other time, Paul. I need to study tonight. I have my finals next week.”

“Ana, one of these days you’ll say yes,” he smiles as I escape out to the store floor.

“But I do places, Ana, not people,” José groans.

“José, please?” I beg. Clutching my cell, I pace the living area of our apartment, staring out of the window at the fading evening light.

“Give me that phone.” Kate grabs the handset from me, tossing her silken red-blonde hair over her shoulder.

“Listen here, José Rodriguez, if you want our newspaper to cover the opening of your show, you’ll do this shoot for us tomorrow, capiche?” Kate can be awesomely tough.

“Good. Ana will call back with the location and the call time. We’ll see you tomorrow.” She snaps my cell phone shut.

“Sorted. All we need to do now is decide where and when. Call him.” She holds the phone out to me. My stomach twists.

“Call Grey, now!”

I scowl at her and reach into my back pocket for his business card. I take a deep, steadying breath, and with shaking fingers, I dial the number.

He answers on the second ring. His tone is clipped, calm and cold.

“Grey.”

“Err… Mr. Grey? It’s Anastasia Steele.” I don’t recognize my own voice, I’m so nervous. There’s a brief pause. Inside I’m quaking.

“Miss Steele. How nice to hear from you.” His voice has changed. He’s surprised, I think, and he sounds so… warm – seductive even. My breath hitches, and I flush. I’m suddenly conscious that Katherine Kavanagh is staring at me, her mouth open, and I dart into the kitchen to avoid her unwanted scrutiny.

“Err – we’d like to go ahead with the photo shoot for the article.” Breathe, Ana, breathe. My lungs drag in a hasty breath. “Tomorrow, if that’s okay. Where would be convenient for you, sir?”

I can almost hear his sphinx-like smile through the phone.

“I’m staying at the Heathman in Portland. Shall we say, nine thirty tomorrow morning?”

“Okay, we’ll see you there.” I am all gushing and breathy – like a child, not a grown woman who can vote and drink legally in the State of Washington.

“I look forward to it, Miss Steele.” I visualize the wicked gleam in his gray eyes. How can he make seven little words hold so much tantalizing promise? I hang up. Kate is in the kitchen, and she’s staring at me with a look of complete and utter consternation on her face.

“Anastasia Rose Steele. You like him! I’ve never seen or heard you so, so… affected by anyone before. You’re actually blushing.”

“Oh Kate, you know I blush all the time. It’s an occupational hazard with me. Don’t be so ridiculous,” I snap. She blinks at me with surprise – I very rarely throw my toys out of the pram – and I briefly relent. “I just find him… intimidating, that’s all.”

“Heathman, that figures,” mutters Kate. “I’ll give the manager a call and negotiate a space for the shoot.”

“I’ll make supper. Then I need to study.” I cannot hide my irritation with her as I open one of cupboards to make supper.

I am restless that night, tossing and turning. Dreaming of smoky gray eyes, coveralls, long legs, long fingers, and dark, dark unexplored places. I wake twice in the night, my heart pounding. Oh, I’m going to look just great tomorrow with so little sleep, I scold myself. I punch my pillow and try to settle.

The Heathman is nestled in the downtown heart of Portland. Its impressive brown stone edifice was completed just in time for the crash of the late 1920s. José, Travis, and I are traveling in my Beetle, and Kate is in her CLK, since we can’t all fit in my car. Travis is José’s friend and gopher, here to help out with the lighting. Kate has managed to acquire the use of a room at the Heathman free of charge for the morning in exchange for a credit in the article. When she explains at reception that we’re here to photograph Christian Grey CEO, we are instantly upgraded to a suite. Just a regular-sized suite, however, as apparently Mr. Grey is already occupying the largest one in the building. An over-keen marketing executive shows us up to the suite – he’s terribly young and very nervous for some reason. I suspect Kate’s beauty and commanding manner disarm him, because he’s putty in her hands. The rooms are elegant, understated, and opulently furnished.

It’s nine. We have half an hour to set up. Kate is in full flow.

“José, I think we’ll shoot against that wall, do you agree?” She doesn’t wait for his reply. “Travis, clear the chairs. Ana, could you ask housekeeping to bring up some refreshments? And let Grey know where we are.”

Yes, Mistress. She is so domineering. I roll my eyes, but do as I’m told.

Half an hour later, Christian Grey walks into our suite.

Holy crap! He’s wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and grey flannel pants that hang from his hips. His unruly hair is still damp from a shower. My mouth goes dry looking at him… he’s so freaking hot. Grey is followed into the suite by a man in his mid-thirties, all buzz-cut and stubble in a sharp dark suit and tie who stands silently in the corner. His hazel eyes watch us impassively.

“Miss Steele, we meet again.” Grey extends his hand, and I shake it, blinking rapidly. Oh my… he really is, quite… wow. As I touch his hand, I’m aware of that delicious current running right through me, lighting me up, making me blush, and I’m sure my erratic breathing must be audible.

“Mr. Grey, this is Katherine Kavanagh,” I mutter, waving a hand toward Kate who comes forward, looking him squarely in the eye.

“The tenacious Miss Kavanagh. How do you do?” He gives her a small smile, looking genuinely amused. “I trust you’re feeling better? Anastasia said you were unwell last week.”

“I’m fine, thank you, Mr. Grey.” She shakes his hand firmly without batting an eyelid. I remind myself that Kate has been to the best private schools in Washington. Her family has money, and she’s grown up confident and sure of her place in the world. She doesn’t take any crap. I am in awe of her.

“Thank you for taking the time to do this.” She gives him a polite, professional smile.

“It’s a pleasure,” he answers, turning his gray gaze on me, and I flush, again. Damn it.

“This is José Rodriguez, our photographer,” I say, grinning at José who smiles with affection back at me. His eyes cool when he looks from me to Grey.

“Mr. Grey,” he nods.

“Mr. Rodriguez,” Grey’s expression changes too as he appraises José.

“Where would you like me?” Grey asks him. His tone sounds vaguely threatening. But Katherine is not about to let José run the show.

“Mr. Grey – if you could sit here, please? Be careful of the lighting cables. And then we’ll do a few standing, too.” She directs him to a chair set up against the wall.

Travis switches on the lights, momentarily blinding Grey, and mutters an apology. Then Travis and I stand back and watch as José proceeds to snap away. He takes several photographs hand-held, asking Grey to turn this way, then that, to move his arm, then put it down again. Moving to the tripod, José takes several more, while Grey sits and poses, patiently and naturally, for about twenty minutes. My wish has come true: I can stand and admire Grey from not-so-afar. Twice our eyes lock, and I have to tear myself away from his cloudy gaze.

“Enough sitting.” Katherine wades in again. “Standing, Mr. Grey?” she asks.

He stands, and Travis scurries in to remove the chair. The shutter on José’s Nikon starts clicking again.

“I think we have enough,” José announces five minutes later.

“Great,” says Kate. “Thank you again, Mr. Grey.” She shakes his hand, as does José.

“I look forward to reading the article, Miss Kavanagh,” murmurs Grey, and turns to me, standing by the door. “Will you walk with me, Miss Steele?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say, completely thrown. I glance anxiously at Kate, who shrugs at me. I notice José scowling behind her.

“Good day to you all,” says Grey as he opens the door, standing aside to allow me out first.

Holy hell… what’s this about? What does he want? I pause in the hotel corridor, fidgeting nervously as Grey emerges from the room followed by Mr. Buzz-Cut in his sharp suit.

“I’ll call you, Taylor,” he murmurs to Buzz-Cut. Taylor wanders back down the corridor, and Grey turns his burning gray gaze to me. Crap… have I done something wrong?

“I wondered if you would join me for coffee this morning.”

My heart slams into my mouth. A date? Christian Grey is asking me on a date. He’s asking if you want a coffee. Maybe he thinks you haven’t woken up yet, my subconscious whines at me in a sneering mood again. I clear my throat, trying to control my nerves.

“I have to drive everyone home,” I murmur apologetically, twisting my hands and fingers in front of me.

“TAYLOR,” he calls, making me jump. Taylor, who had been retreating down the corridor, turns and heads back toward us.

“Are they based at the university?” Grey asks, his voice soft and inquiring. I nod, too stunned to speak.

“Taylor can take them. He’s my driver. We have a large 4x4 here, so he’ll be able to take the equipment, too.”

“Mr. Grey?” Taylor asks when he reaches us, giving nothing away.

“Please, can you drive the photographer, his assistant, and Miss Kavanagh back home?”

“Certainly, sir,” Taylor replies.

“There. Now can you join me for coffee?” Grey smiles as if it’s a done deal.

I frown at him.

“Um – Mr. Grey, err – this really… look, Taylor doesn’t have to drive them home.” I flash a brief look at Taylor, who remains stoically impassive. “I’ll swap vehicles with Kate, if you give me a moment.”

Grey smiles a dazzling, unguarded, natural, all-teeth-showing, glorious smile. Oh my… and he opens the door of the suite so I can reenter. I scoot around him to enter the room, finding Katherine in deep discussion with José.

“Ana, I think he definitely likes you,” she says with no preamble whatsoever. José glares at me with disapproval. “But I don’t trust him,” she adds. I raise my hand up in the hope that she’ll stop talking. By some miracle, she does.

“Kate, if you take the Beetle, can I take your car?”

“Why?”

“Christian Grey has asked me to go for coffee with him.”

Her mouth pops open. Speechless Kate! I savor the moment. She grabs me by my arm and drags me into the bedroom that’s off the living area of the suite.

“Ana, there’s something about him.” Her tone is full of warning. “He’s gorgeous, I agree, but I think he’s dangerous. Especially to someone like you.”

“What do you mean, someone like me?” I demand, affronted.

“An innocent like you, Ana. You know what I mean,” she says a little irritated. I flush.

“Kate, it’s just coffee. I’m starting my exams this week, and I need to study, so I won’t be long.”

She purses her lips as if considering my request. Finally, she fishes her car keys out of her pocket and hands them to me. I hand her mine.

“I’ll see you later. Don’t be long, or I’ll send out search and rescue.”

“Thanks.” I hug her.

I emerge from the suite to find Christian Grey waiting, leaning up against the wall, looking like a male model in a pose for some glossy high-end magazine.

“Okay, let’s do coffee,” I murmur, flushing a beet red.

He grins.

“After you, Miss Steele.” He stands up straight, holding his hand out for me to go first. I make my way down the corridor, my knees shaky, my stomach full of butterflies, and my heart in my mouth thumping a dramatic uneven beat. I am going to have coffee with Christian Grey… and I hate coffee.

We walk together down the wide hotel corridor to the elevators. What should I say to him? My mind is suddenly paralyzed with apprehension. What are we going to talk about? What on Earth do I have in common with him? His soft, warm voice startles me from my reverie.

“How long have you known Katherine Kavanagh?”

Oh, an easy questions for starters.

“Since our freshman year. She’s a good friend.”

“Hmm,” he replies, noncommittal. What is he thinking?

At the elevators, he presses the call button, and the bell rings almost immediately. The doors slide open revealing a young couple in a passionate clinch inside. Surprised and embarrassed, they jump apart, staring guiltily in every direction but ours. Grey and I step into the elevator.

I am struggling to maintain a straight face, so I gaze down at the floor, feeling my cheeks turning pink. When I peek up at Grey through my lashes, he has a hint of a smile on his lips, but it’s very hard to tell. The young couple says nothing, and we travel down to the first floor in embarrassed silence. We don’t even have trashy piped music to distract us.

The doors open and, much to my surprise, Grey takes my hand, clasping it with his long cool fingers. I feel the current run through me, and my already rapid heartbeat accelerates. As he leads me out of the elevator, we can hear the suppressed giggles of the couple erupting behind us. Grey grins.

“What is it about elevators?” he mutters.

We cross the expansive, bustling lobby of the hotel toward the entrance but Grey avoids the revolving door, and I wonder if that’s because he’d have to let go of my hand.

Outside, it’s a mild May Sunday. The sun is shining and the traffic is light. Grey turns left and strolls to the corner, where we stop waiting for the lights of the pedestrian crossing to change. He’s still holding my hand. I’m in the street, and Christian Grey is holding my hand. No one has ever held my hand. I feel giddy, and I tingle all over. I attempt to smother the ridiculous grin that threatens to split my face in two. Try to be cool, Ana, my subconscious implores me. The green man appears, and we’re off again.

We walk four blocks before we reach the Portland Coffee House, where Grey releases me to hold the door open so I can step inside.

“Why don’t you choose a table while I get the drinks? What would you like?” he asks, polite as ever.

“I’ll have… um – English Breakfast tea, bag out.”

He raises his eyebrows.

“No coffee?”

“I’m not keen on coffee.”

He smiles.

“Okay, bag out tea. Sugar?”

For a moment, I’m stunned, thinking it’s an endearment, but fortunately my subconscious kicks in with pursed lips. No, stupid – do you take sugar?

“No thanks.” I stare down at my knotted fingers.

“Anything to eat?”

“No thank you.” I shake my head, and he heads to the counter.

I surreptitiously gaze at him from beneath my lashes as he stands in line waiting to be served. I could watch him all day… he’s tall, broad-shouldered, and slim, and the way those pants hang from his hips… Oh my. Once or twice he runs his long, graceful fingers through his now dry but still disorderly hair. Hmm… I’d like to do that. The thought comes unbidden into my mind, and my face flames. I bite my lip and stare down at my hands again, not liking where my wayward thoughts are headed.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Grey is back, startling me.

I go crimson. I was just thinking about running my fingers through your hair and wondering if it would feel soft to touch. I shake my head. He’s carrying a tray, which he sets down on the small, round, birch-veneer table. He hands me a cup and saucer, a small teapot, and a side plate bearing a lone teabag labeled ‘Twinings English Breakfast’ – my favorite. He has a coffee which bears a wonderful leaf-pattern imprinted in the milk. How do they do that? I wonder idly. He’s also bought himself a blueberry muffin. Putting the tray aside, he sits opposite me and crosses his long legs. He looks so comfortable, so at ease with his body, I envy him. Here’s me, all gawky and uncoordinated, barely able to get from A to B without falling flat on my face.

“Your thoughts?” he prompts me.

“This is my favorite tea.” My voice is quiet, breathy. I simply can’t believe I’m sitting opposite Christian Grey in a coffee shop in Portland. He frowns. He knows I’m hiding something. I pop the teabag into the teapot and almost immediately fish it out again with my teaspoon. As I place the used teabag back on the side plate, he cocks his head gazing quizzically at me.

“I like my tea black and weak,” I mutter as an explanation.

“I see. Is he your boyfriend?”

Whoa… What?

“Who?”

“The photographer. José Rodriguez.”

I laugh, nervous but curious. What gave him that impression?

“No. José’s a good friend of mine, that’s all. Why did you think he was my boyfriend?”

“The way you smiled at him, and he at you.” His gray gaze holds mine. He’s so unnerving. I want to look away but I’m caught – spellbound.

“He’s more like family,” I whisper.

Grey nods slightly, seemingly satisfied with my response, and glances down at his blueberry muffin. His long fingers deftly peel back the paper, and I watch, fascinated.

“Do you want some?” he asks, and that amused, secret smile is back.

“No thanks.” I frown and stare down at my hands again.

“And the boy I met yesterday, at the store. He’s not your boyfriend?”

“No. Paul’s just a friend. I told you yesterday.” Oh, this is getting silly. “Why do you ask?”

“You seem nervous around men.”

Holy crap, that’s personal. I’m just nervous around you, Grey.

“I find you intimidating.” I flush scarlet, but mentally pat myself on the back for my candor, and gaze at my hands again. I hear his sharp intake of breath.

“You should find me intimidating,” he nods. “You’re very honest. Please don’t look down. I like to see your face.”

Oh. I glance at him, and he gives me an encouraging but wry smile.

“It gives me some sort of clue what you might be thinking,” he breathes. “You’re a mystery, Miss Steele.”

Mysterious? Me?

“There’s nothing mysterious about me.”

“I think you’re very self-contained,” he murmurs.

Am I? Wow… how am I managing that? This is bewildering. Me, self-contained? No Way.

“Except when you blush, of course, which is often. I just wish I knew what you were blushing about.” He pops a small piece of muffin into his mouth and starts to chew it slowly, not taking his eyes off me. And as if on cue, I blush. Crap!

“Do you always make such personal observations?”

“I hadn’t realized I was. Have I offended you?” He sounds surprised.

“No,” I answer truthfully.

“Good.”

“But you’re very high-handed,” I retaliate quietly.

He raises his eyebrows and, if I’m not mistaken, he flushes slightly, too.

“I’m used to getting my own way, Anastasia,” he murmurs. “In all things.”

“I don’t doubt it. Why haven’t you asked me to call you by your first name?” I’m surprised by my audacity. Why has this conversation become so serious? This isn’t going the way I thought it was going to go. I can’t believe I’m feeling so antagonistic towards him. It’s like he’s trying to warn me off.

“The only people who use my given name are my family and a few close friends. That’s the way I like it.”

Oh. He still hasn’t said, ‘Call me Christian.’ He is a control freak, there’s no other explanation, and part of me is thinking maybe it would have been better if Kate had interviewed him. Two control freaks together. Plus of course she’s almost blonde – well, strawberry blonde – like all the women in his office. And she’s beautiful, my subconscious reminds me. I don’t like the idea of Christian and Kate. I take a sip of my tea, and Grey eats another small piece of his muffin.

“Are you an only child?” he asks.

Whoa… he keeps changing direction.

“Yes.”

“Tell me about your parents.”

Why does he want to know this? It’s so dull.

“My mom lives in Georgia with her new husband, Bob. My stepdad lives in Montesano.”

“Your father?”

“My father died when I was a baby.”

“I’m sorry,” he mutters and a fleeting troubled look crosses his face.

“I don’t remember him.”

“And your mother remarried?”

I snort.

“You could say that.”

He frowns at me.

“You’re not giving much away, are you?” he says dryly, rubbing his chin as if in deep thought.

“Neither are you.”

“You’ve interviewed me once already, and I can recollect some quite probing questions then.” He smirks at me.

Holy shit. He’s remembering the ‘gay’ question. Once again, I’m mortified. In years to come, I know, I’ll need intensive therapy to not feel this embarrassed every time I recall the moment. I start babbling about my mother – anything to block that memory.

“My mom is wonderful. She’s an incurable romantic. She’s currently on her fourth husband.”

Christian raises his eyebrows in surprise.

“I miss her,” I continue. “She has Bob now. I just hope he can keep an eye on her and pick up the pieces when her harebrained schemes don’t go as planned.” I smile fondly. I haven’t seen my mom for so long. Christian is watching me intently, taking occasional sips of his coffee. I really shouldn’t look at his mouth. It’s unsettling. Those lips.

“Do you get along with your stepfather?”

“Of course. I grew up with him. He’s the only father I know.”

“And what’s he like?”

“Ray? He’s… taciturn.”

“That’s it?” Grey asks, surprised.

I shrug. What does this man expect? My life story?

“Taciturn like his stepdaughter,” Grey prompts.

I refrain from rolling my eyes at him.

“He likes soccer – European soccer especially – and bowling, and fly-fishing, and making furniture. He’s a carpenter. Ex-army.” I sigh.

“You lived with him?”

“Yes. My mom met Husband Number Three when I was fifteen. I stayed with Ray.”

He frowns as if he doesn’t understand.

“You didn’t want to live with your mom?” he asks.

I blush. This really is none of his business.

“Husband Number Three lived in Texas. My home was in Montesano. And… you know, my mom was newly married.” I stop. My mom never talks about Husband Number Three. Where is Grey going with this? This is none of his business. Two can play at this game.

“Tell me about your parents,” I ask.

He shrugs.

“My dad’s a lawyer, my mom is a pediatrician. They live in Seattle.”

Oh… he’s had an affluent upbringing. And I wonder about a successful couple who adopts three kids, and one of them turns into a beautiful man who takes on the business world and conquers it single-handed. What drove him to be that way? His folks must be proud.

“What do your siblings do?”

“Elliot’s in construction, and my little sister is in Paris, studying cookery under some renowned French chef.” His eyes cloud with irritation. He doesn’t want to talk about his family or himself.

“I hear Paris is lovely,” I murmur. Why doesn’t he want to talk about his family? Is it because he’s adopted?

“It’s beautiful. Have you been?” he asks, his irritation forgotten.

“I’ve never left mainland USA.” So now we’re back to banalities. What is he hiding?

“Would you like to go?”

“To Paris?” I squeak. This has thrown me – who wouldn’t want to go to Paris? “Of course,” I concede. “But it’s England that I’d really like to visit.”

He cocks his head to one side, running his index finger across his lower lip… oh my.

“Because?”

I blink rapidly. Concentrate, Steele.

“It’s the home of Shakespeare, Austen, the Brontë sisters, Thomas Hardy. I’d like to see the places that inspired those people to write such wonderful books.”

All this talk of literary greats reminds me that I should be studying. I glance at my watch.

“I’d better go. I have to study.”

“For your exams?”

“Yes. They start Tuesday.”

“Where’s Miss Kavanagh’s car?”

“In the hotel parking lot.”

“I’ll walk you back.”

“Thank you for the tea, Mr. Grey.”

He smiles his odd I’ve got a whopping big secret smile.

“You’re welcome, Anastasia. It’s my pleasure. Come,” he commands, and holds his hand out to me. I take it, bemused, and follow him out of the coffee shop.

We stroll back to the hotel, and I’d like to say it’s in companionable silence. He at least looks his usual calm, collected self. As for me, I’m desperately trying to gauge how our little coffee morning has gone. I feel like I’ve been interviewed for a position, but I’m not sure what it is.

“Do you always wear jeans?” he asks out of the blue.

“Mostly.”

He nods. We’re back at the intersection, across the road from the hotel. My mind is reeling. What an odd question… And I’m aware that our time together is limited. This is it. This was it, and I’ve completely blown it, I know. Perhaps he has someone.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” I blurt out. Holy crap – I just said that out loud?

His lips quirk up in a half-smile, and he looks down at me.

“No, Anastasia. I don’t do the girlfriend thing,” he says softly.

Oh… what does that mean? He’s not gay. Oh, maybe he is – crap! He must have lied to me in his interview. And for a moment, I think he’s going to follow on with some explanation, some clue to this cryptic statement – but he doesn’t. I have to go. I have to try to reassemble my thoughts. I have to get away from him. I walk forward, and I trip, stumbling headlong onto the road.

“Shit, Ana!” Grey cries. He tugs the hand that he’s holding so hard that I fall back against him just as a cyclist whips past, narrowly missing me, heading the wrong way up this one-way street.

It all happens so fast – one minute I’m falling, the next I’m in his arms and he’s holding me tightly against his chest. I inhale his clean, vital scent. He smells of fresh laundered linen and some expensive body wash. Oh my, it’s intoxicating. I inhale deeply.

“Are you okay?” he whispers. He has one arm around me, clasping me to him, while the fingers of his other hand softly trace my face, gently probing, examining me. His thumb brushes my lower lip, and I hear his breath hitch. He’s staring into my eyes, and I hold his anxious, burning gaze for a moment or maybe it’s forever… but eventually, my attention is drawn to his beautiful mouth. Oh my. And for the first time in twenty-one years, I want to be kissed. I want to feel his mouth on me.

4

Kiss me damn it! I implore him, but I can’t move. I’m paralyzed with a strange, unfamiliar need, completely captivated by him. I’m staring at Christian Grey’s exquisitely sculptured mouth, mesmerized, and he’s looking down at me, his gaze hooded, his eyes darkening. He’s breathing harder than usual, and I’ve stopped breathing altogether. I’m in your arms. Kiss me, please. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and gives me a small shake of his head as if in answer to my silent question. When he opens his eyes again, it’s with some new purpose, a steely resolve.

“Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you,” he whispers. What? Where is this coming from? Surely I should be the judge of that. I frown up at him, and my head swims with rejection.

“Breathe, Anastasia, breathe. I’m going to stand you up and let you go,” he says quietly, and he gently pushes me away.

Adrenaline has spiked through my body, from the near miss with the cyclist or the heady proximity to Christian, leaving me wired and weak. NO! My psyche screams as he pulls away, leaving me bereft. He has his hands on my shoulders, holding me at arm’s length, watching my reactions carefully. And the only thing I can think is that I wanted to be kissed, made it pretty damned obvious, and he didn’t do it. He doesn’t want me. He really doesn’t want me. I have royally screwed up the coffee morning.

“I’ve got this,” I breathe, finding my voice. “Thank you,” I mutter, awash with humiliation. How could I have misread the situation between us so utterly? I need to get away from him.

“For what?” he frowns. He hasn’t taken his hands off me.

“For saving me,” I whisper.

“That idiot was riding the wrong way. I’m glad I was here. I shudder to think what could have happened to you. Do you want to come and sit down in the hotel for a moment?” He releases me, his hands by his sides, and I’m standing in front of him feeling like a fool.

With a shake, I clear my head. I just want to go. All my vague, unarticulated hopes have been dashed. He doesn’t want me. What was I thinking? I scold myself. What would Christian Grey want with you? My subconscious mocks me. I wrap my arms around myself and turn to face the road and note with relief that the green man has appeared. I quickly make my way across, conscious that Grey is behind me. Outside the hotel, I turn briefly to face him but cannot look him in the eye.

“Thanks for the tea and doing the photo shoot,” I murmur.

“Anastasia… I… ” He stops, and the anguish in his voice demands my attention, so I peer unwillingly up at him. His gray eyes are bleak as he runs his hand through his hair. He looks torn, frustrated, his expression stark, all his careful control has evaporated.

“What, Christian?” I snap irritably after he says – nothing. I just want to go. I need to take my fragile, wounded pride away and somehow nurse it back to health.

“Good luck with your exams,” he murmurs.

Huh? This is why he looks so desolate? This is the big send off? Just to wish me luck in my exams?

“Thanks.” I can’t disguise the sarcasm in my voice. “Goodbye, Mr. Grey.” I turn on my heel, vaguely amazed that I don’t trip, and without giving him a second glance, I disappear down the sidewalk toward the underground garage.

Once underneath the dark, cold concrete of the garage with its bleak fluorescent light, I lean against the wall and put my head in my hands. What was I thinking? Unbidden and unwelcome tears pool in my eyes. Why am I crying? I sink to the ground, angry at myself for this senseless reaction. Drawing up my knees, I fold in on myself. I want to make myself as small as possible. Perhaps this nonsensical pain will be smaller, the smaller I am. Placing my head on my knees, I let the irrational tears fall unrestrained. I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was – my dashed hopes, dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.

I have never been on the receiving end of rejection. Okay… so I was always one of the last to be picked for basketball or volleyball – but I understood that – running and doing something else at the same time like bouncing or throwing a ball is not my thing. I am a serious liability in any sporting field.

Romantically, though, I’ve never put myself out there, ever. A lifetime of insecurity – I’m too pale, too skinny, too scruffy, uncoordinated, my long list of faults goes on. So I have always been the one to rebuff any would-be admirers. There was that guy in my chemistry class who liked me, but no one has ever sparked my interest – no one except Christian damn Grey. Maybe I should be kinder to the likes of Paul Clayton and José Rodriguez, though I’m sure neither of them has been found sobbing alone in dark places. Perhaps I just need a good cry.

Stop! Stop Now! – My subconscious is metaphorically screaming at me, arms folded, leaning on one leg and tapping her foot in frustration. Get in the car, go home, do your studying. Forget about him… Now! And stop all this self-pitying, wallowing crap.

I take a deep, steadying breath and stand up. Get it together, Steele. I head for Kate’s car, wiping the tears off my face as I do. I will not think of him again. I can just chalk this incident up to experience and concentrate on my exams.

Kate is sitting at the dining table at her laptop when I arrive. Her welcoming smile fades when she sees me.

“Ana, what’s wrong?”

Oh no… not the Katherine Kavanagh Inquisition. I shake my head at her in a back-off now, Kavanagh way – but I might as well be dealing with a blind, deaf mute.

“You’ve been crying,” she has an exceptional gift for stating the damned obvious sometimes. “What did that bastard do to you?” she growls, and her face – jeez, she’s scary.

“Nothing, Kate.” That’s actually the problem. The thought brings a wry smile to my face.

“Then why have you been crying? You never cry,” she says, her voice softening. She stands, her green eyes brimming with concern. She puts her arms around me and hugs me. I need to say something just to get her to back off.

“I was nearly knocked over by a cyclist.” It’s the best that I can do, but it distracts her momentarily from… him.

“Jeez, Ana – are you okay? Were you hurt?” She holds me at arm’s length and does a quick visual checkup on me.

“No. Christian saved me,” I whisper. “But I was quite shaken.”

“I’m not surprised. How was coffee? I know you hate coffee.”

“I had tea. It was fine, nothing to report really. I don’t know why he asked me.”

“He likes you, Ana.” She drops her arms.

“Not anymore. I won’t be seeing him again.” Yes, I manage to sound matter-of-fact.

“Oh?”

Crap. She’s intrigued. I head into the kitchen so that she can’t see my face.

“Yeah… he’s a little out of my league, Kate,” I say as dryly as I can manage.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh Kate, it’s obvious.” I whirl round and face her as she stands in the kitchen doorway.

“Not to me,” she says. “Okay, he’s got more money than you, but then he has more money than most people in America!”

“Kate he’s- ” I shrug.

“Ana! For heaven’s sake – how many times must I tell you? You’re a total babe,” she interrupts me. Oh no. She’s off on this tirade again.

“Kate, please. I need to study.” I cut her short. She frowns.

“Do you want to see the article? It’s finished. José took some great pictures.”

Do I need a visual reminder of the beautiful Christian I-don’t-want-you Grey?

“Sure,” I magic a smile on to my face and stroll over to the laptop. And there he is, staring at me in black and white, staring at me and finding me lacking.

I pretend to read the article, all the time meeting his steady gray gaze, searching the photo for some clue as to why he’s not the man for me – his own words to me. And it’s suddenly, blindingly obvious. He’s too gloriously good-looking. We are poles apart and from two very different worlds. I have a vision of myself as Icarus flying too close to the sun and crashing and burning as a result. His words make sense. He’s not the man for me. This is what he meant, and it makes his rejection easier to accept… almost. I can live with this. I understand.

“Very good, Kate,” I manage. “I’m going to study.” I am not going to think about him again for now, I vow to myself, and opening my revision notes, I start to read.

It’s only when I’m in bed, trying to sleep, that I allow my thoughts to drift through my strange morning. I keep coming back to the ‘I don’t do the girlfriend thing’ quote, and I’m angry that I didn’t pounce on this information sooner, when I was in his arms mentally begging him with every fiber of my being to kiss me. He’d said it there and then. He didn’t want me as a girlfriend. I turn on to my side. Idly, I wonder if perhaps he’s celibate. I close my eyes and begin to drift. Maybe he’s saving himself. Well not for you, my sleepy subconscious has a final swipe at me before unleashing itself on my dreams.

And that night, I dream of gray eyes, leafy patterns in milk, and I’m running through dark places with eerie strip lighting, and I don’t know if I’m running toward something or away from it… it’s just not clear.

I put my pen down. Finished. My final exam is over. I feel the Cheshire cat grin spread over my face. It’s probably the first time all week that I’ve smiled. It’s Friday, and we shall be celebrating tonight, really celebrating. I might even get drunk! I’ve never been drunk before. I glance across the sports hall at Kate, and she’s still scribbling furiously, five minutes to the end. This is it, the end of my academic career. I shall never have to sit in rows of anxious, isolated students again. Inside I’m doing graceful cartwheels around my head, knowing full well that’s the only place I can do graceful cartwheels. Kate stops writing and puts her pen down. She glances across at me, and I catch her Cheshire cat smile, too.

We head back to our apartment together in her Mercedes, refusing to discuss our final paper. Kate is more concerned about what she’s going to wear to the bar this evening. I am busily fishing around in my purse for my keys.

“Ana, there’s a package for you.” Kate is standing on the steps up to the front door holding a brown paper parcel. Odd. I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon recently. Kate gives me the parcel and takes my keys to open the front door. It’s addressed to Miss Anastasia Steele. There’s no sender’s address or name. Perhaps it’s from my mom or Ray.

“It’s probably from my folks.”

“Open it!” Kate is excited as she heads into the kitchen for our ‘Exams are finished hurrah Champagne’.

I open the parcel, and inside I find a half leather box containing three seemingly identical old cloth-covered books in mint condition and a plain white card. Written on one side, in black ink in neat cursive handwriting, is:

I recognize the quote from Tess. I am stunned by the irony as I’ve just spent three hours writing about the novels of Thomas Hardy in my final examination. Perhaps there is no irony… perhaps it’s deliberate. I inspect the books closely, three volumes of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I open the front cover. Written in an old typeface on the front plate is:

‘London: Jack R. Osgood, McIlvaine and Co., 1891.’

Holy shit – they are first editions. They must be worth a fortune, and I know immediately who’s sent them. Kate is at my shoulder gazing at the books. She picks up the card.

“First editions,” I whisper.

“No.” Kate’s eyes are wide with disbelief. “Grey?”

I nod.

“Can’t think of anyone else.”

“What does this card mean?”

“I have no idea. I think it’s a warning – honestly, he keeps warning me off. I have no idea why. It’s not like I’m beating his door down.” I frown.

“I know you don’t want to talk about him, Ana, but he’s seriously into you. Warnings or no.”

I have not let myself dwell on Christian Grey for the past week. Okay… so his gray eyes are still haunting my dreams, and I know it will take an eternity to expunge the feel of his arms around me and his wonderful fragrance from my brain. Why has he sent me this? He told me that I wasn’t for him.

“I’ve found one Tess first edition for sale in New York at $14,000. But yours look in much better condition. They must have cost more.” Kate is consulting her good friend Google.

“This quote – Tess says it to her mother after Alec D’Urberville has had his wicked way with her.”

“I know,” muses Kate. “What is he trying to say?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. I can’t accept these from him. I’ll send them back with an equally baffling quote from some obscure part of the book.”

“The bit where Angel Clare says fuck off?” Kate asks with a completely straight face.

“Yes, that bit.” I giggle. I love Kate; she’s so loyal and supportive. I repack the books and leave them on the dining table. Kate hands me a glass of champagne.

“To the end of exams and our new life in Seattle,” she grins.

“To the end of exams, our new life in Seattle, and excellent results.” We clink glasses and drink.

The bar is loud and hectic, full of soon-to-be graduates out to get trashed. José joins us. He won’t graduate for another year, but he’s in the mood to party and gets us into the spirit of our newfound freedom by buying a pitcher of margaritas for us all. As I down my fifth, I know this is not a good idea on top of the champagne.

“So what now, Ana?” José shouts at me over the noise.

“Kate and I are moving to Seattle. Kate’s parents have bought a condo there for her.”

“Dios mio, how the other half live. But you’ll be back for my show?”

“Of course, José, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I smile, and he puts his arm around my waist and pulls me close.

“It means a lot to me that you’ll be there, Ana,” he whispers in my ear. “Another margarita?”

“José Luis Rodriguez – are you trying to get me drunk? Because I think it’s working.” I giggle. “I think I’d better have a beer. I’ll go get us a pitcher.”

“More drink, Ana!” Kate bellows.

Kate has the constitution of an ox. She’s got her arm draped over Levi, one of our fellow English students and her usual photographer on the student newspaper. He’s given up taking photos of the drunkenness that surrounds him. He only has eyes for Kate. She’s all tiny camisole, tight jeans, and high heels, hair piled high with tendrils hanging down softly around her face, her usual stunning self. Me, I’m more of a Converse and t-shirt kind of girl, but I’m wearing my most flattering jeans. I move out of José’s hold and get up from our table. Whoa. Head spin. I have to grab the back of the chair. Tequila-based cocktails are not a good idea.

I make my way to the bar and decide that I should visit the powder room while I am on my feet. Good thinking, Ana. I stagger off through the crowd. Of course, there’s a line, but at least it’s quiet and cool in the corridor. I reach for my cell phone to relieve the boredom of waiting in line. Hmm… Who did I last call? Was it José? Before that a number I don’t recognize. Oh yes. Grey, I think this is his number. I giggle. I have no idea what the time is, maybe I’ll wake him. Perhaps he can tell me why he sent me those books and the cryptic message. If he wants me to stay away, he should leave me alone. I suppress a drunken grin and hit the automatic redial. He answers on the second ring.

“Anastasia?” He’s surprised to hear from me. Well, frankly, I’m surprised to ring him. Then my befuddled brain registers… how does he know it’s me?

“Why did you send me the books?” I slur at him.

“Anastasia, are you okay? You sound strange.” His voice is filled with concern.

“I’m not the strange one, you are,” I accuse. There – that told him, my courage fuelled by alcohol.

“Anastasia, have you been drinking?”

“What’s it to you?”

“I’m – curious. Where are you?”

“In a bar.”

“Which bar?” He sounds exasperated.

“A bar in Portland.”

“How are you getting home?”

“I’ll find a way.” This conversation is not going how I expected.

“Which bar are you in?”

“Why did you send me the books, Christian?”

“Anastasia, where are you? Tell me now.” His tone is so, so dictatorial, his usual control freak. I imagine him as an old-time movie director wearing jodhpurs, holding an old-fashioned megaphone and a riding crop. The image makes me laugh out loud.

“You’re so… domineering,” I giggle.

“Ana, so help me, where the fuck are you?”

Christian Grey is swearing at me. I giggle again. “I’m in Portland… ’s a long way from Seattle.”

“Where in Portland?”

“Goodnight, Christian.”

“Ana!”

I hang up. Ha! Though he didn’t tell me about the books. I frown. Mission not accomplished. I am really quite drunk – my head swims uncomfortably as I shuffle with the line. Well, the object of the exercise was to get drunk. I have succeeded. This is what it’s like – probably not an experience to be repeated. The line has moved, and it’s now my turn. I stare blankly at the poster on the back of the toilet door that extols the virtues of safe sex. Holy crap, did I just call Christian Grey? Shit. My phone rings and it makes me jump. I yelp in surprise.

“Hi,” I bleat timidly in to the phone. I hadn’t reckoned on this.

“I’m coming to get you,” he says and hangs up. Only Christian Grey could sound so calm and so threatening at the same time.

Holy crap. I pull my jeans up. My heart is thumping. Coming to get me? Oh no. I’m going to be sick… no… I’m fine. Hang on. He’s just messing with my head. I didn’t tell him where I was. He can’t find me here. Besides, it will take him hours to get here from Seattle, and we’ll be long gone by then. I wash my hands and check my face in the mirror. I look flushed and slightly unfocused. Hmm… tequila.

I wait at the bar for what feels like an eternity for the pitcher of beer and eventually return to the table.

“You’ve been gone so long.” Kate scolds me. “Where were you?”

“I was in line for the restroom.”

José and Levi are having some heated debate about our local baseball team. José pauses in his tirade to pour us all beers, and I take a long sip.

“Kate, I think I’d better step outside and get some fresh air.”

“Ana, you are such a lightweight.”

“I’ll be five minutes.”

I make my way through the crowd again. I am beginning to feel nauseous, my head is spinning uncomfortably, and I’m a little unsteady on my feet. More unsteady than usual.

Drinking in the cool evening air in the parking lot makes me realize how drunk I am. My vision has been affected, and I’m really seeing double of everything like in old reruns of Tom and Jerry cartoons. I think I’m going to be sick. Why did I let myself get this messed up?

“Ana,” José has joined me. “You okay?”

“I think I’ve just had a bit too much to drink.” I smile weakly at him.

“Me too,” he murmurs, and his dark eyes are watching me intently. “Do you need a hand?” he asks and steps closer, putting his arm around me.

“José, I’m okay. I’ve got this.” I try and push him away rather feebly.

“Ana, please,” he whispers, and now he’s holding me in his arms, pulling me close.

“José, what are you doing?”

“You know I like you Ana, please.” He has one hand at the small of my back holding me against him, the other at my chin tipping back my head. Holy fuck… he’s going to kiss me.

“No José, stop – no.” I push him, but he’s a wall of hard muscle, and I cannot shift him. His hand has slipped into my hair, and he’s holding my head in place.

“Please, Ana, cariña,” he whispers against my lips. His breath is soft and smells too sweet – of margarita and beer. He gently trails kisses along my jaw up to the side of my mouth. I feel panicky, drunk, and out of control. The feeling is suffocating.

“José, no,” I plead. I don’t want this. You are my friend, and I think I’m going to throw up.

“I think the lady said no.” A voice in the dark says quietly. Holy shit! Christian Grey, he’s here. How? José releases me.

“Grey,” he says tersely. I glance anxiously up at Christian. He’s glowering at José, and he’s furious. Crap. My stomach heaves, and I double over, my body no longer able to tolerate the alcohol, and I vomit spectacularly on to the ground.

“Ugh – Dios mio, Ana!” José jumps back in disgust. Grey grabs my hair and pulls it out of the firing line and gently leads me over to a raised flowerbed on the edge of the parking lot. I note, with deep gratitude, that it’s in relative darkness.

“If you’re going to throw up again, do it here. I’ll hold you.” He has one arm around my shoulders – the other is holding my hair in a makeshift ponytail down my back so it’s off my face. I try awkwardly to push him away, but I vomit again… and again. Oh shit… how long is this going to last? Even when my stomach’s empty and nothing is coming up, horrible dry heaves wrack my body. I vow silently that I’ll never ever drink again. This is just too appalling for words. Finally, it stops.

My hands are resting on the brick wall of the flowerbed, barely holding me up. Vomiting profusely is exhausting. Grey takes his hands off me and passes me a handkerchief. Only he would have a monogrammed, freshly laundered linen handkerchief. CTG. I didn’t know you could still buy these. Vaguely I wonder what the T stands for as I wipe my mouth. I cannot bring myself to look at him. I’m swamped with shame, disgusted with myself. I want to be swallowed up by the azaleas in the flowerbed and be anywhere but here.

José is still hovering by the entrance to the bar, watching us. I groan and put my head in my hands. This has to be the single worst moment of my life. My head is still swimming as I try to remember a worse one – and I can only come up with Christian’s rejection – and this is so, so many shades darker in terms of humiliation. I risk a peek at him. He’s staring down at me, his face composed, giving nothing away. Turning, I glance at José who looks pretty shamefaced himself and, like me, intimidated by Grey. I glare at him. I have a few choice words for my so-called friend, none of which I can repeat in front of Christian Grey CEO. Ana, who are you kidding? He’s just seen you hurl all over the ground and into the local flora. There’s no disguising your lack of ladylike behavior.

“I’ll err… see you inside,” José mutters, but we both ignore him, and he slinks off back into the building. I’m on my own with Grey. Double crap. What should I say to him? Apologize for the phone call.

“I’m sorry,” I mutter, staring at the handkerchief which I am furiously worrying with my fingers. It’s so soft.

“What are you sorry for, Anastasia?”

Oh crap, he wants his damned pound of flesh.

“The phone call, mainly. Being sick. Oh, the list is endless,” I murmur, feeling my skin coloring up. Please, please can I die now?

“We’ve all been here, perhaps not quite as dramatically as you,” he says dryly. “It’s about knowing your limits, Anastasia. I mean, I’m all for pushing limits, but really this is beyond the pale. Do you make a habit of this kind of behavior?”

My head buzzes with excess alcohol and irritation. What the hell has it got to do with him? I didn’t invite him here. He sounds like a middle-aged man scolding me like an errant child. Part of me wants to say, if I want to get drunk every night like this, then it’s my decision and nothing to do with him – but I’m not brave enough. Not now that I’ve thrown up in front of him. Why is he still standing there?

“No,” I say contritely. “I’ve never been drunk before and right now I have no desire to ever be again.”

I just don’t understand why he’s here. I begin to feel faint. He notices my dizziness and grabs me before I fall and hoists me into his arms, holding me close to his chest like a child.

“Come on, I’ll take you home,” he murmurs.

“I need to tell Kate.” Holy Moses, I’m in his arms again.

“My brother can tell her.”

“What?”

“My brother Elliot is talking to Miss Kavanagh.”

“Oh?” I don’t understand.

“He was with me when you phoned.”

“In Seattle?” I’m confused.

“No, I’m staying at the Heathman.”

Still? Why?

“How did you find me?”

“I tracked your cell phone, Anastasia.”

Oh, of course he did. How is that possible? Is it legal? Stalker, my subconscious whispers at me through the cloud of tequila that’s still floating in my brain, but somehow, because it’s him, I don’t mind.

“Do you have a jacket or a purse?”

“Err… yes, I came with both. Christian, please, I need to tell Kate. She’ll worry.” His mouth presses into a hard line, and he sighs heavily.

“If you must.”

He sets me down, and, taking my hand, leads me back into the bar. I feel weak, still drunk, embarrassed, exhausted, mortified, and on some strange level absolutely off the scale thrilled. He’s clutching my hand – such a confusing array of emotions. I’ll need at least a week to process them all.

It’s noisy, crowded, and the music has started so there is a large crowd on the dance floor. Kate is not at our table, and José has disappeared. Levi looks lost and forlorn on his own.

“Where’s Kate?” I shout at Levi above the noise. My head is beginning to pound in time to the thumping bass line of the music.

“Dancing,” Levi shouts, and I can tell he’s mad. He’s eyeing Christian suspiciously. I struggle into my black jacket and place my small shoulder bag over my head so it sits at my hip. I’m ready to go, once I’ve seen Kate.

“She’s on the dance floor,” I touch Christian’s arm and lean up and shout in his ear, brushing his hair with my nose, smelling his clean, fresh smell. Oh my. All those forbidden, unfamiliar feelings that I have tried to deny surface and run amok through my drained body. I flush, and somewhere deep, deep down my muscles clench deliciously.

He rolls his eyes at me and takes my hand again and leads me to the bar. He’s served immediately, no waiting for Mr. Control-Freak Grey. Does everything come so easily to him? I can’t hear what he orders. He hands me a very large glass of iced water.

“Drink,” he shouts his order at me.

The moving lights are twisting and turning in time to the music, casting strange colored light and shadows all over the bar and the clientele. He’s alternately green, blue, white, and a demonic red. He’s watching me intently. I take a tentative sip.

“All of it,” he shouts.

He’s so overbearing. He runs his hand through his unruly hair. He looks frustrated, angry. What is his problem? Apart from a silly drunk girl ringing him in the middle of the night so he thinks she needs rescuing. And it turns out she does from her over-amorous friend. Then seeing her being violently ill at his feet. Oh Ana… are you ever going to live this down? My subconscious is figuratively tutting and glaring at me over her half-moon specs. I sway slightly, and he puts his hand on my shoulder to steady me. I do as I’m told and drink the entire glass. It makes me feel queasy. Taking the glass from me, he places it on the bar. I notice through a blur what he’s wearing: a loose white linen shirt, snug jeans, black Converse sneakers, and a dark pinstriped jacket. His shirt is unbuttoned at the top, and I see a sprinkling of hair in the gap. In my groggy frame of mind, he looks yummy.

He takes my hand once more. Holy cow – he’s leading me onto the dance floor. Shit. I do not dance. He can sense my reluctance, and under the colored lights I can see his amused, slightly sardonic smile. He gives my hand a sharp tug, and I’m in his arms again, and he starts to move, taking me with him. Boy, he can dance, and I can’t believe that I’m following him step for step. Maybe it’s because I’m drunk that I can keep up. He’s holding me tight against him, his body against mine… if he wasn’t clutching me so tightly, I’m sure I would swoon at his feet. In the back of my mind, my mother’s often-recited warning comes to me: Never trust a man who can dance.

He moves us through the crowded throng of dancers to the other side of the dance floor, and we are beside Kate and Elliot, Christian’s brother. The music is pounding away, loud and leery, outside and inside my head. I gasp. Kate is making her moves. She’s dancing her ass off, and she only ever does that if she likes someone. Really likes someone. It means there’ll be three of us for breakfast tomorrow morning. Kate!

Christian leans over and shouts in Elliot’s ear. I cannot hear what he says. Elliot is tall with wide shoulders, curly blond hair, and light, wickedly gleaming eyes. I can’t tell the color under the pulsating heat of the flashing lights. Elliot grins, and pulls Kate into his arms, where she is more than happy to be… Kate! Even in my inebriated state, I am shocked. She’s only just met him. She nods at whatever Elliot says and grins at me and waves. Christian propels us off the dance floor in double-quick time.

But I never got to talk to her. Is she okay? I can see where things are heading for her and him. I need to do the safe sex lecture. In the back of my mind, I hope she reads one of the posters on the back of the toilet doors. My thoughts crash through my brain, fighting the drunk, fuzzy feeling. It’s so warm in here, so loud, so colorful – too bright. My head begins to swim, oh no… and I can feel the floor coming up to meet my face or so it feels. The last thing I hear before I pass out in Christian Grey’s arms is his harsh epithet.

“Fuck!”

5

It’s very quiet. The light is muted. I am comfortable and warm, in this bed. Hmm… I open my eyes, and for a moment I’m tranquil and serene, enjoying the strange unfamiliar surroundings. I have no idea where I am. The headboard behind me is in the shape of a massive sun. It’s oddly familiar. The room is large and airy and plushly furnished in browns and golds and beige. I have seen it before. Where? My befuddled brain struggles through its recent visual memories. Holy crap. I’m in the Heathman hotel… in a suite. I have stood in a room similar to this with Kate. This looks bigger. Oh shit. I’m in Christian Grey’s suite. How did I get here?

Fractured memories of the previous night come slowly back to haunt me. The drinking, oh no, the drinking, the phone call, oh no, the phone call, the vomiting, oh no, the vomiting. José and then Christian. Oh no. I cringe inwardly. I don’t remember coming here. I’m wearing my t-shirt, bra, and panties. No socks. No jeans. Holy shit.

I glance at the bedside table. On it is a glass of orange juice and two tablets. Advil. Control freak that he is, he thinks of everything. I sit up and take the tablets. Actually, I don’t feel that bad, probably much better than I deserve. The orange juice tastes divine. It’s thirst-quenching and refreshing. Nothing beats freshly squeezed orange juice for reviving an arid mouth.

There’s a knock on the door. My heart leaps into my mouth, and I can’t seem to find my voice. He opens the door anyway and strolls in.

Holy hell, he’s been working out. He’s in gray sweat pants that hang, in that way, off his hips and a gray singlet, which is dark with sweat, like his hair. Christian Grey’s sweat; the notion does odd things to me. I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I feel like a two-year-old; if I close my eyes then I’m not really here.

“Good morning, Anastasia. How are you feeling?”

Oh no.

“Better than I deserve,” I mumble.

I peek up at him. He places a large shopping bag on a chair and grasps each end of the towel that he has around his neck. He’s staring at me, gray eyes dark, and as usual, I have no idea what he’s thinking. He hides his thoughts and feelings so well.

“How did I get here?” My voice is small, contrite.

He comes and sits down on the edge of the bed. He’s close enough for me to touch, for me to smell. Oh my… sweat and body wash and Christian. It’s a heady cocktail – so much better than a margarita, and now I can speak from experience.

“After you passed out, I didn’t want to risk the leather upholstery in my car taking you all the way to your apartment. So I brought you here,” he says phlegmatically.

“Did you put me to bed?”

“Yes.” His face is impassive.

“Did I throw up again?” My voice is quieter.

“No.”

“Did you undress me?” I whisper.

“Yes.” He quirks an eyebrow at me as I blush furiously.

“We didn’t-?” I whisper, my mouth drying in mortified horror as I can’t complete the question. I stare at my hands.

“Anastasia, you were comatose. Necrophilia is not my thing. I like my women sentient and receptive,” he says dryly.

“I’m so sorry.”

His mouth lifts slightly in a wry smile.

“It was a very diverting evening. Not one that I’ll forget in a while.”

Me, neither – oh he’s laughing at me, the bastard. I didn’t ask him to come and get me. Somehow I’ve been made to feel like the villain of the piece.

“You didn’t have to track me down with whatever James Bond stuff you’re developing for the highest bidder,” I snap at him. He stares at me, surprised, and if I’m not mistaken, a little wounded.

“Firstly, the technology to track cell phones is available over the Internet. Secondly, my company does not invest or manufacture any kind of surveillance devices, and thirdly, if I hadn’t come to get you, you’d probably be waking up in the photographer’s bed, and from what I can remember, you weren’t overly enthused about him pressing his suit,” he says acidly.

Pressing his suit! I glance up at Christian. He’s glaring at me, his gray eyes blazing, aggrieved. I try to bite my lip, but I fail to repress my laughter.

“Which medieval chronicle did you escape from?” I giggle. “You sound like a courtly knight.”

His mood visibly shifts. His eyes soften and his expression warms, and I see a trace of a smile on his beautifully chiseled lips.

“Anastasia, I don’t think so. Dark knight, maybe.” His smile is sardonic, and he shakes his head. “Did you eat last night?” His tone is accusatory. I shake my head. What major transgression have I committed now? His jaw clenches, but his face remains impassive.

“You need to eat. That’s why you were so ill. Honestly, Anastasia, it’s drinking rule number one.” He runs this hand through his hair, and I know it’s because he’s exasperated.

“Are you going to continue to scold me?”

“Is that what I’m doing?”

“I think so.”

“You’re lucky I’m just scolding you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday. You didn’t eat, you got drunk, you put yourself at risk.” He closes his eyes, dread etched on his lovely face, and he shudders slightly. When he opens his eyes, he glares at me. “I hate to think what could have happened to you.”

I scowl back at him. What is his problem? What’s it to him? If I was his… well I’m not. Though maybe, part of me would like to be. The thought pierces through the irritation I feel at his high-handed words. I flush at the waywardness of my subconscious – she’s doing her happy dance in a bright red hula skirt at the thought of being his.

“I would have been fine. I was with Kate.”

“And the photographer?” he snaps at me.

Hmm… young José. I’ll need to face him at some point.

“José just got out of line.” I shrug.

“Well the next time he gets out of line, maybe someone should teach him some manners.”

“You are quite the disciplinarian,” I hiss at him.

“Oh, Anastasia, you have no idea.” His eyes narrow, and then he grins wickedly. It’s disarming. One minute, I’m confused and angry, the next I’m gazing at his gorgeous smile. Wow… I am entranced, and it’s because his smile is so rare. I quite forget what he’s talking about.

“I’m going to have a shower. Unless you’d like to shower first?” He cocks his head to one side, still grinning. My heartbeat has picked up, and my medulla oblongata has neglected to fire any synapses to make me breathe. His grin widens, and he reaches over and runs his thumb down my cheek and across my lower lip.

“Breathe, Anastasia,” he whispers and rises. “Breakfast will be here in fifteen minutes. You must be famished.” He heads into the bathroom and closes the door.

I let out the breath that I’ve been holding. Why is he so damned attractive? Right now I want to go and join him in the shower. I have never felt this way about anyone. My hormones are racing. My skin tingles where his thumb traced over my face and lower lip. I feel like squirming with a needy, achy… discomfort. I don’t understand this reaction. Hmm… Desire. This is desire. This is what it feels like.

I lie back on the soft feather-filled pillows. ‘If you were mine.’ Oh my – what would I do to be his? He’s the only man who has ever set my blood racing around my body. Yet, he’s so antagonizing, too; he’s difficult, complicated and confusing. One minute he rebuffs me, the next he sends me fourteen-thousand-dollar books, then he tracks me like a stalker. And for all that, I have spent the night in his hotel suite, and I feel safe. Protected. He cares enough to come and rescue me from some mistakenly perceived danger. He’s not a dark knight at all, but a white knight in shining, dazzling armor – a classic romantic hero – Sir Gawain or Lancelot.

I scramble out of his bed frantically searching for my jeans. He emerges from the bathroom wet and glistening from the shower, still unshaven, with just a towel around his waist, and there am I – all bare legs and awkward gawkiness. He’s surprised to see me out of bed.

“If you’re looking for your jeans, I’ve sent them to the laundry.” His gaze is a dark obsidian. “They were spattered with your vomit.”

“Oh.” I flush scarlet. Why oh why does he always catch me on the back foot?

“I sent Taylor out for another pair and some shoes. They’re in the bag on the chair.”

Clean clothes. What an unexpected bonus.

“Um… I’ll have a shower,” I mutter. “Thanks.” What else can I say? I grab the bag and dart into the bathroom away from the unnerving proximity of naked Christian. Michelangelo’s David has nothing on him.

In the bathroom, it’s all hot and steamy from where he’s been showering. I strip off my clothes and quickly clamber into the shower, anxious to be under the cleansing stream of water. It cascades over me, and I hold up my face into the welcoming torrent. I want Christian Grey. I want him badly. Simple fact. For the first time in my life, I want to go to bed with a man. I want to feel his hands and his mouth on me.

He said he likes his women sentient. He’s probably not celibate then. But he’s not made a pass at me, unlike Paul or José. I don’t understand. Does he want me? He wouldn’t kiss me last week. Am I repellent to him? And yet, I’m here and he brought me here. I just don’t know what his game is. What’s he thinking? You’ve slept in his bed all night, and he’s not touched you, Ana. You do the math. My subconscious has reared her ugly, snide head. I ignore her.

The water is warm and soothing. Hmm… I could stay under this shower, in his bathroom, forever. I reach for the body wash and it smells of him. It’s a delicious smell. I rub it all over myself, fantasizing that it’s him – him rubbing this heavenly scented soap into my body, across my breasts, over my stomach, between my thighs with his long-fingered hands. Oh my. My heartbeat picks up again. This feels so… so good.

“Breakfast is here.” He knocks on the door, startling me.

“Okay,” I stutter as I’m yanked cruelly out of my erotic daydream.

I climb out of the shower and grab two towels. I put my hair in one and wrap it Carmen Miranda-style on my head. Hastily, I dry myself, ignoring the pleasurable feel of the towel rubbing against my over-sensitized skin.

I inspect the bag of jeans. Not only has Taylor brought me jeans and new Converse, but a pale blue shirt, socks, and underwear. Oh my. A clean bra and panties – actually to describe them in such a mundane, utilitarian way does not do them justice. They are exquisitely designed fancy European lingerie. All pale blue lace and finery. Wow. I am in awe and slightly daunted by this underwear. What’s more, they fit perfectly. But of course they do. I flush to think of the Buzz-Cut man in some lingerie store buying this for me. I wonder what else is in his job description.

I dress quickly. The rest of the clothing is a perfect fit. I brusquely towel-dry my hair and try desperately to bring it under control. But, as usual, it refuses to cooperate, and my only option is to restrain it with a hair tie. I shall search in my purse, when I find it. I take a deep breath. Time to face Mr. Confusing.

I’m relieved to find the bedroom empty. I hunt quickly for my purse – but it’s not in here. Taking another deep breath, I enter the living area of the suite. It’s huge. There’s an opulent, plush seating area, all overstuffed couches and soft cushions, an elaborate coffee table with a stack of large glossy books, a study area with a top-of-the-range Mac, an enormous plasma screen TV on the wall, and Christian is sitting at a dining table on the other side of the room reading a newspaper. It’s the size of a tennis court or something, not that I play tennis, though I have watched Kate a few times. Kate!

“Crap, Kate,” I croak. Christian peers up at me.

“She knows you’re here and still alive. I texted Elliot,” he says with just a trace of humor.

Oh no. I remember her fervent dancing of the night before. All her patented moves used with maximum effect to seduce Christian’s brother, no less! What’s she going to think about me being here? I’ve never stayed out before. She’s still with Elliot. She’s only done this twice before, and both times I’ve had to endure the hideous pink PJs for a week from the fallout. She’s going to think I’ve had a one-night stand, too.

Christian stares at me imperiously. He’s wearing a white linen shirt, collar and cuffs undone.

“Sit,” he commands, pointing to a place at the table. I make my way across the room and sit down opposite him as I’ve been directed. The table is laden with food.

“I didn’t know what you liked, so I ordered a selection from the breakfast menu.” He gives me a crooked, apologetic smile.

“That’s very profligate of you,” I murmur, bewildered by the choice, though I am hungry.

“Yes, it is.” He sounds guilty.

I opt for pancakes, maple syrup, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Christian tries to hide a smile as he returns to his egg white omelet. The food is delicious.

“Tea?” he asks.

“Yes, please.”

He passes me a small teapot of hot water and on the saucer is a Twinings English Breakfast teabag. Jeez, he remembers how I like my tea.

“Your hair’s very damp,” he scolds.

“I couldn’t find the hairdryer,” I mutter, embarrassed. Not that I looked.

Christian’s mouth presses into a hard line, but he doesn’t say anything.

“Thank you for organizing the clothes.”

“It’s a pleasure, Anastasia. That color suits you.”

I blush and stare down at my fingers.

“You know, you really should learn to take a compliment.” His tone is castigating.

“I should give you some money for these clothes.”

He glares at me as if I have offended him on some level. I hurry on.

“You’ve already given me the books, which, of course, I can’t accept. But these clothes… please let me pay you back.” I smile tentatively at him.

“Anastasia, trust me, I can afford it.”

“That’s not the point. Why should you buy these for me?”

“Because I can,” his eyes flash with a wicked gleam.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should,” I reply quietly as he arches an eyebrow at me, his eyes twinkling, and suddenly I feel that we’re talking about something else, but I don’t know what it is. Which reminds me…

“Why did you send me the books, Christian?” My voice is soft. He puts down his cutlery and regards me intently, his gray eyes burning with some unfathomable emotion. Holy crap – my mouth dries.

“Well, when you were nearly run over by the cyclist – and I was holding you and you were looking up at me – all ‘kiss me, kiss me, Christian’,” he pauses and shrugs slightly, “I felt I owed you an apology and a warning.” He runs his hand through his hair. “Anastasia, I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of man, I don’t do romance. My tastes are very singular. You should steer clear of me.” He closes his eyes as if in defeat. “There’s something about you, though, and I’m finding it impossible to stay away. But I think you’ve figured that out already.”

My appetite vanishes. He can’t stay away!

“Then don’t,” I whisper.

He gasps, his eyes wide.

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“Enlighten me, then.”

We sit gazing at each other, neither of us touching our food.

“You’re not celibate, then?” I breathe.

Amusement lights up his gray eyes.

“No, Anastasia, I’m not celibate.” He pauses for this information to sink in, and I flush scarlet. The mouth-to-brain filter is broken again. I can’t believe I’ve just said that out loud.

“What are your plans for the next few days?” he asks, his voice low.

“I’m working today, from midday. What is the time?” I panic suddenly.

“It’s just after ten; you’ve plenty of time. What about tomorrow?” He has his elbows on the table, and his chin is resting on his long, steepled fingers.

“Kate and I are going to start packing. We’re moving to Seattle next weekend, and I’m working at Clayton’s all this week.”

“You have a place in Seattle already?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“I can’t remember the address. It’s in the Pike Market District.”

“Not far from me,” his lips twitch up in a half smile. “So what are you going to do for work in Seattle?”

Where is he going with all these questions? The Christian Grey Inquisition is almost as irritating as the Katherine Kavanagh Inquisition.

“I’ve applied for some internships. I’m waiting to hear.”

“Have you applied to my company as I suggested?”

I flush… of course not.

“Um… no.”

“And what’s wrong with my company?”

“Your company or your Company?” I smirk.

He smiles slightly.

“Are you smirking at me, Miss Steele?” He cocks his head to one side, and I think he looks amused, but it’s hard to tell. I flush and glance down at my unfinished breakfast. I can’t look him in the eye when he uses that tone of voice.

“I’d like to bite that lip,” he whispers darkly.

Oh my. I am completely unaware that I am chewing my bottom lip. My mouth pops open as I gasp and swallow at the same time. That has to be the sexiest thing anybody has ever said to me. My heart beat spikes, and I think I’m panting. Jeez, I’m a quivering, moist mess, and he hasn’t even touched me. I squirm in my seat and meet his dark glare.

“Why don’t you?” I challenge quietly.

“Because I’m not going to touch you, Anastasia – not until I have your written consent to do so.” His lips hint at a smile.

What?

“What does that mean?”

“Exactly what I say.” He sighs and shakes his head at me, amused, but exasperated, too. “I need to show you, Anastasia. What time do you finish work this evening?”

“About eight.”

“Well, we could go to Seattle this evening or next Saturday for dinner at my place, and I’ll acquaint you with the facts then. The choice is yours.”

“Why can’t you tell me now?” I sound petulant.

“Because I’m enjoying my breakfast and your company. Once you’re enlightened, you probably won’t want to see me again.”

Holy shit. What does that mean? Does he white-slave small children to some God-forsaken part of the planet? Is he part of some underworld crime syndicate? It would explain why he’s so rich. Is he deeply religious? Is he impotent? Surely not, he could prove that to me right now. Oh my. I flush scarlet thinking about the possibilities. This is getting me nowhere. I’d like to solve the riddle that is Christian Grey sooner rather than later. If it means that whatever secret he has is so gross that I don’t want to know him any more then, quite frankly, it will be a relief. Don’t lie to yourself – my subconscious yells at me – it’ll have to be pretty bloody bad to have you running for the hills.

“Tonight.”

He raises an eyebrow.

“Like Eve, you’re so quick to eat from the tree of knowledge,” he smirks.

“Are you smirking at me, Mr. Grey?” I ask sweetly. Pompous ass.

He narrows his eyes at me and picks up his BlackBerry. He presses one number.

“Taylor. I’m going to need Charlie Tango.”

Charlie Tango! Who’s he?

“From Portland at say twenty-thirty… No, standby at Escala… All night.”

All night!

“Yes. On call tomorrow morning. I’ll pilot from Portland to Seattle.”

Pilot?

“Standby pilot from twenty-two-thirty.” He puts the phone down. No please or thank you.

“Do people always do what you tell them?”

“Usually, if they want to keep their jobs,” he says, deadpan.

“And if they don’t work for you?”

“Oh, I can be very persuasive, Anastasia. You should finish your breakfast. And then I’ll drop you home. I’ll pick you up at Clayton’s at eight when you finish. We’ll fly up to Seattle.”

I blink at him rapidly.

“Fly?”

“Yes. I have a helicopter.”

I gape at him. I have my second date with Christian oh-so-mysterious Grey. From coffee to helicopter rides. Wow.

“We’ll go by helicopter to Seattle?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

He grins wickedly.

“Because I can. Finish your breakfast.”

How can I eat now? I’m going to Seattle by helicopter with Christian Grey. And he wants to bite my lip… I squirm at the thought

“Eat,” he says more sharply. “Anastasia, I have an issue with wasted food… eat.”

“I can’t eat all this.” I gape at what’s left on the table.

“Eat what’s on your plate. If you’d eaten properly yesterday, you wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be declaring my hand so soon.” His mouth sets in a grim line. He looks angry.

I frown and return to my now cold food. I’m too excited to eat, Christian. Don’t you understand? My subconscious explains. But I’m too much of a coward to voice these thoughts aloud, especially when he looks so sullen. Hmm, like a small boy. I find the thought amusing.

“What’s so funny?” he asks. I shake my head, not daring tell him, and keep my eyes on my food. Swallowing my last piece of pancake, I peek up at him. He’s eyeing me speculatively.

“Good girl,” he says. “I’ll take you home when you’ve dried your hair. I don’t want you getting ill.” There’s some kind of unspoken promise in his words. What does he mean? I leave the table, wondering for a moment if I should ask permission but dismissing the idea. Sounds like a dangerous precedent to set. I head back to his bedroom. A thought stops me.

“Where did you sleep last night?” I turn to gaze at him still sitting in the dining room chair. I can’t see any blankets or sheets out here – perhaps he’s had them tidied away.

“In my bed,” he says simply, his gaze impassive again.

“Oh.”

“Yes, it was quite a novelty for me, too.” He smiles.

“Not having… sex.” There – I said the word. I blush – of course.

“No,” he shakes his head and frowns as if recalling something uncomfortable. “Sleeping with someone.” He picks up his newspaper and continues to read.

What in heaven’s name does that mean? He’s never slept with anyone? He’s a virgin? Somehow I doubt that. I stand staring at him in disbelief. He is the most mystifying person I’ve ever met. And it dawns on me that I have slept with Christian Grey, and I kick myself – what would I have given to be conscious to watch him sleep? See him vulnerable. Somehow, I find that hard to imagine. Well, allegedly all will be revealed tonight.

In his bedroom, I hunt through a chest of drawers and find the hair dryer. Using my fingers, I dry my hair the best I can. When I’ve finished, I head into the bathroom. I want to clean my teeth. I eye Christian’s toothbrush. It would be like having him in my mouth. Hmm… Glancing guiltily over my shoulder at the door, I feel the bristles on the toothbrush. They are damp. He must have used it already. Grabbing it quickly, I squirt toothpaste on it and brush my teeth in double-quick time. I feel so naughty. It’s such a thrill.

Grabbing my t-shirt, bra, and panties from yesterday, I put them in the shopping bag that Taylor brought and head back to the living area to hunt for my bag and jacket. Deep joy, there is a hair tie in my bag. Christian is watching me as I tie my hair into a ponytail, his expression unreadable. I feel his eyes follow me as I sit down and wait for him to finish. He’s on his BlackBerry talking to someone.

“They want two?… How much will that cost?… Okay, and what safety measures do we have in place?… And they’ll go via Suez?… How safe is Ben Sudan?… And when do they arrive in Darfur?… Okay, let’s do it. Keep me abreast of progress.” He hangs up.

“Ready to go?”

I nod. I wonder what his conversation was about. He slips on a navy pinstriped jacket, picks up his car keys, and heads for the door.

“After you, Miss Steele,” he murmurs, opening the door for me. He looks so casually elegant.

I pause, fractionally too long, drinking in the sight of him. And to think I slept with him last night and, after all the tequila and the throwing up, he’s still here. What’s more, he wants to take me to Seattle. Why me? I don’t understand it. I head out the door recalling his words – There’s something about you – well, the feeling is entirely mutual, Mr. Grey, and I aim to find out what it is.

We walk in silence down the corridor toward the elevator. As we wait, I peek up at him through my lashes, and he looks out of the corner of his eyes down at me. I smile, and his lips twitch.

The elevator arrives, and we step in. We’re alone. Suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, possibly our proximity in such an enclosed space, the atmosphere between us changes, charged with an electric, exhilarating anticipation. My breathing alters as my heart races. His head turns fractionally toward me, his eyes darkest slate. I bite my lip.

“Oh, fuck the paperwork,” he growls. He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator. Before I know it, he’s got both of my hands in one of his in a vice-like grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his hips. Holy shit. His other hand grabs my ponytail and yanks down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine. It’s only just not painful. I moan into his mouth, giving his tongue an opening. He takes full advantage, his tongue expertly exploring my mouth. I have never been kissed like this. My tongue tentatively strokes his and joins his in a slow erotic dance that’s all about touch and sensation, all bump and grind. He brings his hand up to grasp my chin and holds me in place. I am helpless, my hands pinned, my face held, and his hips restraining me. I feel his erection against my belly. Oh my… He wants me. Christian Grey, Greek god, wants me, and I want him, here… now, in the elevator.

“You. Are. So. Sweet,” he murmurs, each word a staccato.

The elevator stops, the doors open, and he pushes away from me in the blink of an eye, leaving me hanging. Three men in business suits look at both of us and smirk as they climb on board. My heart rate is through the roof, I feel like I’ve run an uphill race. I want to lean over and grasp my knees… but that’s just too obvious.

I glance up at him. He looks so cool and calm, like he’s been doing the Seattle Times crossword. How unfair. Is he totally unaffected by my presence? He glances at me out of the corner of his eye, and he gently blows out a deep breath. Oh, he’s affected all right – and my very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba. The businessmen exit on the second floor. We have one more floor to travel.

“You’ve brushed your teeth,” he says, staring at me.

“I used your toothbrush,” I breathe.

His lips quirk up in a half smile.

“Oh, Anastasia Steele, what am I going to do with you?”

The doors open at the first floor, and he takes my hand and pulls me out.

“What is it about elevators?” he mutters, more to himself than to me as he strides across the lobby. I struggle to keep pace with him because my wits have been thoroughly, royally, scattered all over the floor and walls of elevator three in the Heathman Hotel.

6

Christian opens the passenger door to the black Audi SUV, and I clamber in. It’s a beast of a car. He hasn’t mentioned the outburst of passion that exploded in the elevator. Should I? Should we talk about it or pretend that it didn’t happen? It hardly seems real, my first proper no-holds-barred kiss. As time ticks on, I assign it mythical, Arthurian legend, Lost City of Atlantis status. It never happened, it never existed. Perhaps I imagined it all. No. I touch my lips, swollen from his kiss. It definitely happened. I am a changed woman. I want this man, desperately, and he wanted me.

I glance at him. Christian is his usual polite, slightly distant self.

How confusing.

He starts the engine and reverses out of his space in the parking lot. He switches on the MP3 player. The car interior is filled with the sweetest, most magical music of two women singing. Oh wow… all my senses are in disarray, so this is doubly affecting. It sends delicious shivers up my spine. Christian pulls out on to SW Park Avenue, and he drives with easy, lazy confidence.

“What are we listening to?”

“It’s the Flower Duet by Delibes, from the opera Lakmé. Do you like it?”

“Christian, it’s wonderful.”

“It is, isn’t it?” he grins, glancing at me. And for a fleeting moment, he seems his age: young, carefree, and heart-stoppingly beautiful. Is this the key to him? Music? I sit and listen to the angelic voices, teasing and seducing me.

“Can I hear that again?”

“Of course.” Christian pushes a button, and the music is caressing me once more. It’s a gentle, slow, sweet, and sure assault on my aural senses.

“You like classical music?” I ask, hoping for a rare insight into his personal preferences.

“My taste is eclectic, Anastasia, everything from Thomas Tallis to the Kings of Leon. It depends on my mood. You?”

“Me, too. Though I don’t know who Thomas Tallis is.”

He turns and gazes at me briefly before his eyes are back on the road.

“I’ll play it for you sometime. He’s a sixteenth century British composer. Tudor, church choral music.” Christian grins at me. “Sounds very esoteric, I know, but it’s also magical, Anastasia.”

He presses a button and the Kings of Leon start singing. Hmm… this I know. Sex on Fire. How appropriate. The music is interrupted by the sound of a cell phone ringing over the MP3 speakers. Christian hits a button on the steering wheel.

“Grey,” he snaps. He’s so brusque.

“Mr. Grey, it’s Welch here. I have the information you require.” A rasping, disembodied voice comes over the speakers.

“Good. E-mail it to me. Anything to add?”

“No sir.”

He presses the button, then the call ceases and the music is back. No goodbye or thanks. I’m so glad that I never seriously entertained the thought of working for him. I shudder at the very idea. He’s just too controlling and cold with his employees. The music cuts off again for the phone.

“Grey.”

“The NDA has been e-mailed to you, Mr. Grey.” A woman’s voice.

“Good. That’s all, Andrea.”

“Good day, sir.”

Christian hangs up by pressing a button on the steering wheel. The music is on very briefly when the phone rings again. Holy hell, is this his life, constant nagging phone calls?

“Grey,” he snaps.

“Hi, Christian, d’you get laid?”

“Hello, Elliot – I’m on speaker phone, and I’m not alone in the car,” Christian sighs.

“Who’s with you?”

Christian rolls his eyes.

“Anastasia Steele.”

“Hi, Ana!”

Ana!

“Hello, Elliot.”

“Heard a lot about you,” Elliot murmurs huskily. Christian frowns.

“Don’t believe a word Kate says.”

Elliot laughs.

“I’m dropping Anastasia off now.” Christian emphasizes my name. “Shall I pick you up?”

“Sure.”

“See you shortly.” Christian hangs up, and the music is back.

“Why do you insist on calling me Anastasia?”

“Because it’s your name.”

“I prefer Ana.”

“Do you now?” he murmurs.

We are almost at my apartment. It’s not taken long.

“Anastasia,” he muses. I scowl at him, but he ignores my expression. “What happened in the elevator – it won’t happen again, well, not unless it’s premeditated.”

He pulls up outside my duplex. I belatedly realize he’s not asked me where I live – yet he knows. But then he sent the books; of course he knows where I live. What able, cell-phone-tracking, helicopter-owning stalker wouldn’t.

Why won’t he kiss me again? I pout at the thought. I don’t understand. Honestly, his surname should be Cryptic, not Grey. He climbs out of the car, walking with easy, long-legged grace round to my side to open the door, ever the gentleman – except perhaps in rare, precious moments in elevators. I flush at the memory of his mouth on mine, and the thought that I’d been unable to touch him enters my mind. I wanted to run my fingers through his decadent, untidy hair, but I’d been unable to move my hands. I am retrospectively frustrated.

“I liked what happened in the elevator,” I murmur as I climb out of the car. I’m not sure if I hear an audible gasp, but I choose to ignore it and head up the steps to the front door.

Kate and Elliot are sitting at our dining table. The fourteen-thousand-dollar books have disappeared. Thank heavens. I have plans for them. She has the most un-Kate ridiculous grin on her face, and she looks mussed up in a sexy kind of way. Christian follows me into the living area, and in spite of her I’ve-been-having-a-good-time-all-night grin, Kate eyes him suspiciously.

“Hi, Ana.” She leaps up to hug me, then holds me at arm’s length so she can examine me. She frowns and turns to Christian.

“Good morning, Christian,” she says, and her tone is a little hostile.

“Miss Kavanagh,” he says in his stiff formal way.

“Christian, her name is Kate,” Elliot grumbles.

“Kate.” Christian gives her a polite nod and glares at Elliot who grins and rises to hug me, too.

“Hi, Ana,” he smiles, his blue eyes twinkling, and I like him immediately. He’s obviously nothing like Christian, but then they’re adopted brothers.

“Hi, Elliot,” I smile at him, and I’m aware that I’m biting my lip.

“Elliot, we’d better go.” Christian says mildly.

“Sure.” He turns to Kate and pulls her into his arms and gives her a long lingering kiss.

Jeez… get a room. I stare at my feet, embarrassed. I glance up at Christian, and he’s watching me intently. I narrow my eyes at him. Why can’t you kiss me like that? Elliot continues to kiss Kate, sweeping her off her feet and dipping her in a dramatic hold so that her hair touches the ground as he kisses her hard.

“Laters, baby,” he grins.

Kate just melts. I’ve never seen her melt before – the words comely and compliant come to mind. Compliant Kate. Boy, Elliot must be good. Christian rolls his eyes and stares down at me, his expression unreadable, although maybe he’s mildly amused. He tucks a stray strand of my hair that has worked its way free from my ponytail behind my ear. My breath hitches at the contact, and I lean my head slightly into his fingers. His eyes soften, and he runs his thumb across my lower lip. My blood sears in my veins. And all too quickly, his touch is gone.

“Laters, baby,” he murmurs, and I have to laugh because it’s so unlike him. But even though I know he’s being irreverent, the endearment tugs at something deep inside me.

“I’ll pick you up at eight.” He turns to leave, opening the front door and stepping out on to the porch. Elliot follows him to the car but turns and blows Kate another kiss, and I feel an unwelcome pang of jealousy.

“So, did you?” Kate asks as we watch them climb into the car and drive off, the burning curiosity evident in her voice.

“No,” I snap irritably, hoping that will halt the questions. We head back into the apartment. “You obviously did, though.” I can’t contain my envy. Kate always manages to ensnare men. She is irresistible, beautiful, sexy, funny, forward… all the things that I’m not. But her answering grin is infectious.

“And I’m seeing him again this evening.” She claps her hands and jumps up and down like a small child. She cannot contain her excitement and happiness, and I can’t help but feel happy for her. A happy Kate… this is going to be interesting.

“Christian is taking me to Seattle this evening.”

“Seattle?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe you will then?”

“Oh, I hope so.”

“You like him, then?”

“Yes.”

“Like him enough to…?”

“Yes.”

She raises her eyebrows.

“Wow. Ana Steele, finally falling for a man, and it’s Christian Grey – hot, sexy billionaire.”

“Oh yeah – it’s all about the money.” I smirk, and we both fall into a fit of giggles.

“Is that a new blouse?” she asks, and I let her have all the unexciting details about my night.

“Has he kissed you yet?” she asks as she makes coffee.

I blush.

“Once.”

“Once!” she scoffs.

I nod, rather shamefaced.

“He’s very reserved.”

She frowns.

“That’s odd.”

“I don’t think odd covers it, really,” I murmur.

“We need to make sure you’re simply irresistible for this evening,” she says with determination.

Oh no… this sounds like it will be time-consuming, humiliating, and painful.

“I have to be at work in an hour.”

“I can work with that timeframe. Come on.” Kate grabs my hand and takes me into her bedroom.

The day drags at Clayton’s even though we’re busy. We’ve hit the summer season, so I have to spend two hours restocking the shelves once the shop is closed. It’s mindless work, and it gives me too much time to think. I’ve not really had a chance all day.

Under Kate’s tireless and frankly intrusive instruction, my legs and underarms are shaved to perfection, my eyebrows plucked, and I am buffed all over. It has been a most unpleasant experience. But she assures me that this is what men expect these days. What else will he expect? I have to convince Kate that this is what I want to do. For some strange reason, she doesn’t trust him, maybe because he’s so stiff and formal. She says she can’t put her finger on it, but I have promised to text her when I arrive in Seattle. I haven’t told her about the helicopter; she’d freak.

I also have the José issue. He’s left three messages and seven missed calls on my cell. He’s also called home twice. Kate has been very vague as to where I am. He’ll know she’s covering for me. Kate doesn’t do vague. But I have decided to let him stew. I’m still too angry with him.

Christian mentioned some kind of written paperwork, and I don’t know if he was joking or if I’m going to have to sign something. It’s so frustrating trying to guess. And on top of all the angst, I can barely contain my excitement or my nerves. Tonight’s the night! After all this time, am I ready for this? My inner goddess glares at me, tapping her small foot impatiently. She’s been ready for this for years, and she’s ready for anything with Christian Grey, but I still don’t understand what he sees in me… mousey Ana Steele – it makes no sense.

He is punctual, of course, and waiting for me when I leave Clayton’s. He climbs out of the back of the Audi to open the door and smiles warmly at me.

“Good evening, Miss Steele,” he says.

“Mr. Grey.” I nod politely to him as I climb into the backseat of the car. Taylor is sitting in the driver’s seat.

“Hello, Taylor,” I say.

“Good evening, Miss Steele,” his voice is polite and professional. Christian climbs in the other side and clasps my hand, giving it a gentle squeeze that I feel all the way though my body.

“How was work?” he asks.

“Very long,” I reply, and my voice is husky, too low, and full of need.

“Yes, it’s been a long day for me, too.” His tone is serious.

“What did you do?” I manage.

“I went hiking with Elliot.” His thumb strokes my knuckles, back and forth, and my heart skips a beat as my breathing accelerates. How does he do this to me? He’s only touching a very small area of my body, and the hormones are flying.

The drive to the heliport is short and, before I know it, we arrive. I wonder where the fabled helicopter might be. We’re in a built-up area of the city and even I know helicopters need space to take off and land. Taylor parks, climbs out, and opens my car door. Christian is beside me in an instant and takes my hand again.

“Ready?” he asks. I nod and want to say for anything, but I can’t articulate the words as I’m too nervous, too excited.

“Taylor.” He nods curtly at his driver, and we head into the building, straight to a set of elevators. Elevator! The memory of our kiss this morning comes back to haunt me. I have thought of nothing else all day, daydreaming at the register at Clayton’s. Twice Mr. Clayton had to shout my name to bring me back to Earth. To say I’ve been distracted would be the understatement of the year. Christian glances down at me, a slight smile on his lips. Ha! He’s thinking about it, too.

“It’s only three floors,” he says dryly, his gray eyes dancing with amusement. He’s telepathic, surely. It’s spooky.

I try to keep my face impassive as we enter the elevator. The doors close, and it’s there, the weird electrical attraction crackling between us, enslaving me. I close my eyes in a vain attempt to ignore it. He tightens his grip on my hand, and five seconds later the doors open on to the roof of the building. And there it is, a white helicopter with the name Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. written in blue with the company logo on the side. Surely this is misuse of Company property.

He leads me to a small office where an old timer sits behind the desk.

“Here’s your flight plan, Mr. Grey. All external checks are done. It’s ready and waiting, sir. You’re free to go.”

“Thank you, Joe.” Christian smiles warmly at him.

Oh. Someone deserving of the polite treatment from Christian. Perhaps he’s not an employee. I stare at the old guy in awe.

“Let’s go,” Christian says, and we make our way toward the helicopter. When we’re up close, it’s much bigger than I thought. I expected it to be a roadster version for two, but it has at least seven seats. Christian opens the door and directs me to one of the seats at the very front.

“Sit – don’t touch anything,” he orders as he clambers in behind me.

He shuts the door with a slam. I’m glad that the area is floodlit, otherwise I’d find it difficult to see inside the small cockpit. I sit down in my allotted seat, and he crouches beside me to strap me into the harness. It’s a four-point harness with all the straps connecting to one central buckle. He tightens both of the upper straps, so I can hardly move. He’s so close and intent on what he’s doing. If I could only lean forward, my nose would be in his hair. He smells, clean, fresh, heavenly, but I’m fastened securely into my seat and effectively immobile. He glances up and smiles, like he’s enjoying his usual private joke, his gray eyes heated. He’s so tantalizingly close. I hold my breath as he pulls at one of the upper straps.

“You’re secure, no escaping,” he whispers, his eyes are scorching. “Breathe, Anastasia,” he adds softly. Reaching up, he caresses my cheek, running his long fingers down to my chin which he grasps between his thumb and forefinger. He leans forward and plants a brief, chaste kiss on my lips, leaving me reeling, my insides clenching at the thrilling, unexpected touch of his lips.

“I like this harness,” he whispers.

What?

He sits down beside me and buckles himself into his seat, then begins a protracted procedure of checking gauges and flipping switches and buttons from the mind-boggling array of dials and lights and switches in front of me. Little lights wink and flash from various dials, and the whole of the instrument panel lights up.

“Put your cans on,” he says, pointing to a set of headphones in front of me. I pop them on, and the rotor blades start. They are deafening. He puts his headphones on and continues flipping various switches.

“I’m just going through all the pre-flight checks.” Christian’s disembodied voice is in my ears through the headphones. I turn and grin at him.

“Do you know what you are doing?” I ask. He turns and smiles at me.

“I’ve been a fully qualified pilot for four years, Anastasia. You’re safe with me.” He gives me a wolfish grin. “Well, while we’re flying,” he adds and winks at me.

Winking… Christian!

“Are you ready?”

I nod wide-eyed.

“Okay, tower. PDX this is Charlie Tango Golf – Golf Echo Hotel, cleared for take-off. Please confirm, over.”

“Charlie Tango – you are clear. PDX to call, proceed to one four thousand, heading zero one zero, over. ”

“Roger tower, Charlie Tango set, over and out. Here we go,” he adds to me, and the helicopter rises slowly and smoothly into the air.

Portland disappears in front of us as we head into US airspace, though my stomach remains firmly in Oregon. Whoa! All the bright lights shrink until they are twinkling sweetly below us. It’s like looking out from inside a fish bowl. Once we’re higher, there really is nothing to see. It’s pitch black, not even the moon to shed any light on our journey. How can he see where we’re going?

“Eerie, isn’t it?” Christian’s voice is in my ears.

“How do you know you’re going the right way?”

“Here.” He points his long index finger at one of the gauges, and it shows an electronic compass. “This is an EC135 Eurocopter. One of the safest in its class. It’s equipped for night flight.” He glances and grins at me.

“There’s a helipad on top of the building I live in. That’s where we’re heading.”

Of course there’s a helipad where he lives. I am so out of my league here. His face is softly illuminated by the lights on the instrument panel. He’s concentrating hard, and he’s continually glancing at the various dials in front of him. I drink in his features from beneath my lashes. He has a beautiful profile. Straight nose, square jawed – I’d like to run my tongue along his jaw. He hasn’t shaved, and his stubble makes the prospect doubly tempting. Hmm… I’d like to feel how rough it is beneath my tongue, my fingers, against my face.

“When you fly at night, you fly blind. You have to trust the instrumentation,” he interrupts my erotic reverie.

“How long will the flight be?” I manage breathlessly. I wasn’t thinking about sex at all, no, no way.

“Less than an hour, the wind is in our favor.”

Hmm, less than an hour to Seattle… that’s not bad going. No wonder we’re flying.

I have less than an hour before the big reveal. All the muscles clench deep in my belly. I have a serious case of butterflies. They are flourishing in my stomach. Holy shit, what has he got in store for me?

“You okay, Anastasia?”

“Yes.” My answer is short, clipped, squeezed out through my nerves.

I think he smiles, but it’s difficult to tell in the darkness. Christian flicks yet another switch.

“PDX this is Charlie Tango now at one four thousand, over.” He exchanges information with air traffic control. It all sounds very professional to me. I think we’re moving from Portland’s air space to Seattle International Airport’s.

“Understood Sea-Tac, standing by, over and out.”

“Look, over there.” He points to a small pinpoint of light in the far distance. “That’s Seattle.”

“Do you always impress women this way? ‘Come and fly in my helicopter’?” I ask, genuinely interested.

“I’ve never brought a girl up here, Anastasia. It’s another first for me.” His voice is quiet, serious.

Oh, that was an unexpected answer. Another first? Oh the sleeping thing, perhaps?

“Are you impressed?”

“I’m awed, Christian.”

He smiles.

“Awed?” And for a brief moment, he’s his age again.

I nod.

“You’re just so… competent.”

“Why, thank you, Miss Steele,” he says politely. I think he’s pleased, but I’m not sure.

We ride into the dark night in silence for a while. The bright spot that is Seattle is slowly getting bigger.

“Sea-Tac tower to Charlie Tango. Flight plan to Escala in place. Please proceed. And standby. Over.”

“This is Charlie Tango, understood Sea-Tac. Standing by, over and out.”

“You obviously enjoy this,” I murmur.

“What?” He glances at me. He looks quizzical in the half-light of the instruments.

“Flying,” I reply.

“It requires control and concentration… how could I not love it? Though, my favorite is soaring.”

“Soaring?”

“Yes. Gliding, to the layperson. Gliders and helicopters – I fly them both.”

“Oh.” Expensive hobbies. I remember him telling me during the interview. I like reading and occasionally going to the movies. I am out of my depth here.

“Charlie Tango come in please, over.” The disembodied voice of air traffic control interrupts my reverie. Christian answers, sounding in control and confident.

Seattle is getting closer. We are on the very outskirts now. Wow! It looks absolutely stunning. Seattle at night, from the sky…

“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Christian murmurs.

I nod enthusiastically. It looks otherworldly – unreal – and I feel like I’m on a giant film set; José’s favorite film maybe, Bladerunner. The memory of José’s attempted kiss haunts me. I’m beginning to feel a bit cruel not calling him back. He can wait until tomorrow… surely.

“We’ll be there in a few minutes,” Christian mutters, and suddenly my blood is pounding in my ears as my heartbeat accelerates and adrenaline spikes through my system. He starts talking to air traffic control again, but I am no longer listening. Oh my… I think I’m going to faint. My fate is in his hands.

We are now flying amongst the buildings, and up ahead I can see a tall skyscraper with a helipad on top. The word Escala is painted in white on top of the building. It’s getting nearer and nearer, bigger and bigger… like my anxiety. God, I hope I don’t let him down. He’ll find me lacking in some way. I wish I’d listened to Kate and borrowed one of her dresses, but I like my black jeans, and I’m wearing a soft mint green shirt and Kate’s black jacket. I look smart enough. I grip the edge of my seat tighter and tighter. I can do this. I can do this. I chant this mantra as the skyscraper looms below us.

The helicopter slows and hovers, and Christian sets it down on the helipad on top of the building. My heart is in my mouth. I can’t decide if it’s from nervous anticipation, relief that we’ve arrived alive, or fear that I will fail in some way. He switches the ignition off and the rotor blades slow and quiet until all I hear is the sound of my own erratic breathing. Christian takes his headphones off, and reaches across and pulls mine off, too.

“We’re here,” he says softly.

His look is so intense, half in shadow and half in the bright white light from the landing lights. Dark knight and white knight, it’s a fitting metaphor for Christian. He looks strained. His jaw is clenched and his eyes are tight. He unfastens his seatbelt and reaches over to unbuckle mine. His face is inches from mine.

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. You know that, don’t you?” His tone is so earnest, desperate even, his gray eyes impassioned. He takes me by surprise.

“I’d never do anything I didn’t want to do, Christian.” And as I say the words, I don’t quite feel their conviction because at this moment in time I’d probably do anything for this man seated beside me. But this does the trick. He’s mollified.

He eyes me warily for a moment and somehow, even though he’s so tall, he manages to ease his way gracefully to the door of the helicopter and open it. He jumps out, waiting for me to follow, and takes my hand as I clamber down on to the helipad. It’s very windy on top of the building, and I’m nervous about the fact that I’m standing at least thirty stories high in an unenclosed space. Christian wraps his arm around my waist, pulling me tightly against him.

“Come,” he shouts above the noise of the wind. He drags me over to an elevator shaft and, after tapping a number into a keypad, the doors open. It’s warm inside and all mirrored glass. I can see Christian to infinity everywhere I look, and the wonderful thing is he’s holding me to infinity, too. Christian taps another code into the keypad, then the doors close and the elevator descends.

Moments later, we’re in an all-white foyer. In the middle is a round, dark wood table, and on it is an unbelievably huge bunch of white flowers. On the walls there are paintings, everywhere. He opens two double doors, and the white theme continues through the wide corridor and directly opposite where a palatial room opens up. It’s the main living area, double height. Huge is too small a word for it. The far wall is glass and leads on to a balcony that overlooks Seattle.

To the right is an imposing U-shaped sofa that could seat ten adults comfortably. It faces a state-of-the-art stainless steel – or maybe platinum for all I know – modern fireplace. The fire is lit and flaming gently. On the left beside us, by the entryway, is the kitchen area. All white with dark wood worktops and a large breakfast bar which seats six.

Near the kitchen area, in front of the glass wall, is a dining table surrounded by sixteen chairs. And tucked in the corner is a full size, shiny black grand piano. Oh yes… he probably plays the piano, too. There is art of all shapes and sizes on all the walls. In fact, this apartment looks more like a gallery than a place to live.

“Can I take your jacket?” Christian asks. I shake my head. I’m still cold from the wind on the helipad.

“Would you like a drink?” he asks. I blink at him. After last night! Is he trying to be funny? For one second, I think about asking for a margarita – but I don’t have the nerve.

“I’m going to have a glass of white wine, would you like to join me?”

“Yes, please,” I murmur.

I am standing in this enormous room feeling out of place. I walk over to the glass wall, and I realize that the lower half of the wall opens concertina-style on to the balcony. Seattle is lit up and lively in the background. I walk back to the kitchen area – it takes a few seconds, it’s so far from the glass wall – and Christian is opening a bottle of wine. He’s removed his jacket.

“Pouilly Fumé okay with you?”

“I know nothing about wine, Christian. I’m sure it will be fine.” My voice is soft and hesitant. My heart is thumping. I want to run. This is seriously rich. Seriously over-the-top Bill Gates-style wealthy. What am I doing here? You know very well what you’re doing here – my subconscious sneers at me. Yes, I want to be in Christian Grey’s bed.

“Here.” He hands me a glass of wine. Even the glasses are rich… heavy, contemporary, crystal. I take a sip, and the wine is light, crisp, and delicious.

“You’re very quiet, and you’re not even blushing. In fact, I think this is the palest I’ve ever seen you, Anastasia,” he murmurs. “Are you hungry?”

I shake my head. Not for food.

“It’s a very big place you have here.”

“Big?”

“Big.”

“It’s big,” he agrees, and his eyes glow with amusement. I take another sip of wine.

“Do you play?” I point my chin at the piano.

“Yes.”

“Well?”

“Yes.”

“Of course you do. Is there anything you can’t do well?”

“Yes… a few things.” He takes a sip of his wine. He doesn’t take his eyes off me. I feel them following me as I turn and glance around this vast room. Room is the wrong word. It’s not a room – it’s a mission statement.

“Do you want to sit?”

I nod, and he takes my hand and leads me to the large off-white couch. As I sit, I’m struck by the fact that I feel like Tess Durbeyfield looking at the new house that belongs to the notorious Alec D’Urberville. The thought makes me smile.

“What’s so amusing?” He sits down beside me, turning to face me. He rests his head on his right hand, his elbow propped on the back of the couch.

“Why did you give me Tess of the D’Urbervilles specifically?” I ask. Christian stares at me for a moment. I think he’s surprised by my question.

“Well, you said you liked Thomas Hardy.”

“Is that the only reason?” Even I can hear the disappointment in my voice. His mouth presses into a hard line.

“It seemed appropriate. I could hold you to some impossibly high ideal like Angel Clare or debase you completely like Alec D’Urberville,” he murmurs, and his gray eyes flash dark and dangerous.

“If there are only two choices, I’ll take the debasement.” I whisper, gazing at him. My subconscious is staring at me in awe. He gasps.

“Anastasia, stop biting your lip, please. It’s very distracting. You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

He frowns.

“Yes. Would you excuse me for a moment?” He disappears through a wide doorway on the far side of the room. He’s gone for a couple of minutes and returns with a document.

“This is a nondisclosure agreement.” He shrugs and has the grace to look a little embarrassed. “My lawyer insists on it.” He hands it to me. I’m completely bemused. “If you’re going for option two, debasement, you’ll need to sign this.”

“And if I don’t want to sign anything?”

“Then it’s Angel Clare high ideals, well, for most of the book anyway.”

“What does this agreement mean?”

“It means you cannot disclose anything about us. Anything, to anyone.”

I stare at him in disbelief. Holy shit. It’s bad, really bad, and now I’m very curious to know.

“Okay. I’ll sign.”

He hands me a pen.

“Aren’t you even going to read it?”

“No.”

He frowns.

“Anastasia, you should always read anything you sign,” he admonishes me.

“Christian, what you fail to understand is that I wouldn’t talk about us to anyone, anyway. Even Kate. So it’s immaterial whether I sign an agreement or not. If it means so much to you, or your lawyer… whom you obviously talk to, then fine. I’ll sign.”

He gazes down at me, and he nods gravely.

“Fair point well made, Miss Steele.”

I lavishly sign on the dotted line of both copies and hand one back to him. Folding the other, I place it my purse and take a large swig of my wine. I’m sounding so much braver than I’m actually feeling.

“Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Christian?” Holy shit. Did I just say that? His mouth drops open slightly, but he recovers quickly.

“No, Anastasia it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I fuck… hard. Secondly, there’s a lot more paperwork to do, and thirdly, you don’t yet know what you’re in for. You could still run for the hills. Come, I want to show you my playroom.”

My mouth drops open. Fuck hard! Holy shit, that sounds so… hot. But why are we looking at a playroom? I am mystified.

“You want to play on your Xbox?” I ask. He laughs, loudly.

“No, Anastasia, no Xbox, no Playstation. Come.” He stands, holding out his hand. I let him lead me back out to the corridor. On the right of the double doors, where we came in, another door leads to a staircase. We go up to the second floor and turn right. Producing a key from his pocket, he unlocks yet another door and takes a deep breath.

“You can leave anytime. The helicopter is on stand-by to take you whenever you want to go; you can stay the night and go home in the morning. It’s fine whatever you decide.”

“Just open the damn door, Christian.”

He opens the door and stands back to let me in. I gaze at him once more. I so want to know what’s in here. Taking a deep breath I walk in.

And it feels like I’ve time-traveled back to the sixteenth century and the Spanish Inquisition.

Holy fuck.

7

The first thing I notice is the smell: leather, wood, polish with a faint citrus scent. It’s very pleasant, and the lighting is soft, subtle. In fact, I can’t see the source, but it’s around the cornice in the room, emitting an ambient glow. The walls and ceiling are a deep, dark burgundy, giving a womb-like effect to the spacious room, and the floor is old, old varnished wood. There is a large wooden cross like an X fastened to the wall facing the door. It’s made of high-polished mahogany, and there are restraining cuffs on each corner. Above it is an expansive iron grid suspended from the ceiling, eight foot square at least, and from it hang all manner of ropes, chains, and glinting shackles. By the door, two long, polished, ornately carved poles, like spindles from a banister but longer, hang like curtain rods across the wall. From them swing a startling assortment of paddles, whips, riding crops, and funny-looking feathery implements.

Beside the door stands a substantial mahogany chest of drawers, each drawer slim as if designed to contain specimens in a crusty old museum. I wonder briefly what the drawers actually do hold. Do I want to know? In the far corner is an oxblood leather padded bench, and fixed to the wall beside it is a wooden, polished rack that looks like a pool or billiard cue holder, but on closer inspection, it holds canes of varying lengths and widths. There’s a stout six-foot-long table in the opposite corner – polished wood with intricately carved legs – and two matching stools underneath.

But what dominates the room is a bed. It’s bigger than king size, an ornately carved rococo four-poster with a flat top. It looks late nineteenth century. Under the canopy, I can see more gleaming chains and cuffs. There is no bedding… just a mattress covered in red leather and red satin cushions piled at one end.

At the foot of the bed, set apart a few feet, is a large oxblood chesterfield couch, just stuck in the middle of the room facing the bed. An odd arrangement… to have a couch facing the bed, and I smile to myself – I’ve picked on the couch as odd, when really it’s the most mundane piece of furniture in the room. I glance up and stare at the ceiling. There are carabiners all over the ceiling at odd intervals. I vaguely wonder what they’re for. Weirdly, all the wood, dark walls, moody lighting and oxblood leather makes the room kind of soft and romantic… I know it’s anything but; this is Christian’s version of soft and romantic.

I turn, and he’s regarding me intently as I knew he would be, his expression completely unreadable. I walk further into the room, and he follows me. The feathery thing has me intrigued. I touch it hesitantly. It’s suede, like a small cat-of-nine-tails but bushier, and there are very small plastic beads on the end.

“It’s called a flogger,” Christian’s voice is quiet and soft.

A flogger… hmm. I think I’m in shock. My subconscious has emigrated or been struck dumb or simply keeled over and expired. I am numb. I can observe and absorb but not articulate my feelings about all this, because I’m in shock. What is the appropriate response to finding out a potential lover is a complete freaky sadist or masochist? Fear… yes… that seems to be the overriding feeling. I recognize it now. But weirdly not of him – I don’t think he’d hurt me, well, not without my consent. So many questions cloud my mind. Why? How? When? How often? Who? I walk toward the bed and run my hands down one of the intricately carved posts. The post is very sturdy, the craftsmanship outstanding.

“Say something,” Christian commands, his voice deceptively soft.

“Do you do this to people or do they do it to you?”

His mouth quirks up, either amused or relieved.

“People?” He blinks a couple of times as he considers his answer. “I do this to women who want me to.”

I don’t understand.

“If you have willing volunteers, why am I here?”

“Because I want to do this with you, very much.”

“Oh,” I gasp. Why?

I wander to the far corner of the room and pat the waist high padded bench and run my fingers over the leather. He likes to hurt women. The thought depresses me.

“You’re a sadist?”

“I’m a Dominant.” His eyes are a scorching gray, intense.

“What does that mean?” I whisper.

“It means I want you to willingly surrender yourself to me, in all things.”

I frown at him as I try to assimilate this idea.

“Why would I do that?”

“To please me,” he whispers as he cocks his head to one side, and I see a ghost of a smile.

Please him! He wants me to please him! I think my mouth drops open. Please Christian Grey. And I realize, in that moment, that yes, that’s exactly what I want to do. I want him to be damned delighted with me. It’s a revelation.

“In very simple terms, I want you to want to please me,” he says softly. His voice is hypnotic.

“How do I do that?” My mouth is dry, and I wish I had more wine. Okay, I understand the pleasing bit, but I am puzzled by the soft-boudoir-Elizabethan-torture set up. Do I want to know the answer?

“I have rules, and I want you to comply with them. They are for your benefit and for my pleasure. If you follow these rules to my satisfaction, I shall reward you. If you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn,” he whispers. I glance at the rack of canes as he says this.

“And where does all this fit in?” I wave my hand in the general direction of the room.

“It’s all part of the incentive package. Both reward and punishment.”

“So you’ll get your kicks by exerting your will over me.”

“It’s about gaining your trust and your respect, so you’ll let me exert my will over you. I will gain a great deal of pleasure, joy even, in your submission. The more you submit, the greater my joy – it’s a very simple equation.”

“Okay, and what do I get out of this?”

He shrugs and looks almost apologetic.

“Me,” he says simply.

Oh my. Christian rakes his hand through his hair as he gazes at me.

“You’re not giving anything away, Anastasia,” he murmurs, exasperated. “Let’s go back downstairs where I can concentrate better. It’s very distracting having you in here.” He holds his hand out to me, and now I’m hesitant to take it.

Kate had said he was dangerous; she was so right. How did she know? He’s dangerous to my health, because I know I’m going to say yes. And part of me doesn’t want to. Part of me wants to run screaming from this room and all it represents. I am so out of my depth here.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Anastasia.” His gray eyes implore, and I know he speaks the truth. I take his hand, and he leads me out of the door.

“If you do this, let me show you.” Rather than going back downstairs, he turns right out of the playroom, as he calls it, and down a corridor. We pass several doors until we reach the one at the end. Beyond it is a bedroom with a large double bed, all in white… everything, furniture, walls, bedding. It’s sterile and cold but with the most glorious view of Seattle through the glass wall.

“This will be your room. You can decorate it how you like, have whatever you like in here.”

“My room? You’re expecting me to move in?” I can’t hide the horror in my voice.

“Not full time. Just say, Friday evening through Sunday. We have to talk about all that, negotiate. If you want to do this,” he adds, his voice quiet and hesitant.

“I’ll sleep here?”

“Yes.”

“Not with you.”

“No. I told you, I don’t sleep with anyone, except you when you’re stupefied with drink.” His eyes are reprimanding.

My mouth presses in a hard line. This is what I cannot reconcile. Kind, caring Christian, who rescues me from inebriation and holds me gently while I’m throwing up into the azaleas, and the monster who possesses whips and chains in a special room.

“Where do you sleep?”

“My room is downstairs. Come, you must be hungry.”

“Weirdly, I seem to have lost my appetite,” I murmur petulantly.

“You must eat, Anastasia,” he admonishes and, taking my hand, leads me back downstairs.

Back in the impossibly big room, I am filled with deep trepidation. I am on the edge of a precipice, and I have to decide whether or not to jump.

“I’m fully aware that this is a dark path I’m leading you down, Anastasia, which is why I really want you to think about this. You must have some questions,” he says as he wanders into the kitchen area, releasing my hand.

I do. But where to start?

“You’ve signed your NDA; you can ask me anything you want and I’ll answer.”

I stand at the breakfast bar watching him as he opens the refrigerator and pulls out a plate of different cheeses with two large bunches of green and red grapes. He sets the plate down on the worktop and proceeds to cut up a French baguette.

“Sit.” He points to one of the stools at the breakfast bar, and I obey his command. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to get used to it. I realize he’s been this bossy since I met him.

“You mentioned paperwork.”

“Yes.”

“What paperwork?”

“Well, apart from the NDA, a contract saying what we will and won’t do. I need to know your limits, and you need to know mine. This is consensual, Anastasia.”

“And if I don’t want to do this?”

“That’s fine,” he says carefully.

“But we won’t have any sort of relationship?” I ask.

“No.”

“Why?”

“This is the only sort of relationship I’m interesting in.”

“Why?”

He shrugs.

“It’s the way I am.”

“How did you become this way?”

“Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese? Mrs. Jones – my housekeeper – has left this for supper.” He takes some large, white plates from a cupboard and places one in front of me.

We’re talking about cheese… Holy crap.

“What are your rules that I have to follow?”

“I have them written down. We’ll go through them once we’ve eaten.”

Food. How can I eat now?

“I’m really not hungry,” I whisper.

“You will eat,” he says simply. Dominating Christian, it all becomes clear. “Would you like another glass of wine?”

“Yes, please.”

He pours wine into my glass and comes to sit beside me. I take a hasty sip.

“Help yourself to food, Anastasia.”

I take a small bunch of grapes. This I can manage. He narrows his eyes.

“Have you been like this for a while?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Is it easy to find women who want to do this?”

He raises an eyebrow at me.

“You’d be amazed,” he says dryly.

“Then why me? I really don’t understand.”

“Anastasia, I’ve told you. There’s something about you. I can’t leave you alone.” He smiles ironically. “I’m like a moth to a flame.” His voice darkens. “I want you very badly, especially now, when you’re biting your lip again.” He takes a deep breath and swallows.

My stomach somersaults – he wants me… in a weird way, true, but this beautiful, strange, kinky man wants me.

“I think you have that cliché the wrong way round.” I grumble. I am the moth and he is the flame, and I’m going to get burnt. I know.

“Eat!”

“No. I haven’t signed anything yet, so I think I’ll hang on to my free will for a bit longer, if that’s okay with you.”

His eyes soften, and his lips turn up in a smile.

“As you wish, Miss Steele.”

“How many women?” I blurt out the question, but I’m so curious.

“Fifteen.”

Oh… not as many as I thought.

“For long periods of time?”

“Some of them, yes.”

“Have you ever hurt anyone?”

“Yes.”

Holy shit.

“Badly?”

“No.”

“Will you hurt me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Physically, will you hurt me?”

“I will punish you when you require it, and it will be painful.”

I think I feel a little faint. I take another sip of wine. Alcohol – this will make me brave.

“Have you ever been beaten?” I ask.

“Yes.”

Oh… that surprises me. Before I can question him on this revelation further, he interrupts my train of thought.

“Let’s discuss this in my study. I want to show you something.”

This is so hard to process. Here I was foolishly thinking that I’d spend a night of unparalleled passion in this man’s bed, and we’re negotiating this weird arrangement.

I follow him into his study, a spacious room with another floor-to-ceiling window that opens out on to the balcony. He sits on the desk, motions for me to sit on a leather chair in front of him, and hands me a piece of paper.

“These are the rules. They may be subject to change. They form part of the contract, which you can also have. Read these rules and let’s discuss.”

RULES

Obedience:

The Submissive will obey any instructions given by the Dominant immediately without hesitation or reservation and in an expeditious manner. The Submissive will agree to any sexual activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Dominant excepting those activities which are outlined in hard limits (Appendix 2). She will do so eagerly and without hesitation.

Sleep:

The Submissive will ensure she achieves a minimum of seven hours’ sleep a night when she is not with the Dominant.

Food:

The Submissive will eat regularly to maintain her health and wellbeing from a prescribed list of foods (Appendix 4). The Submissive will not snack between meals, with the exception of fruit.

Clothes:

During the Term, the Submissive will wear clothing only approved by the Dominant. The Dominant will provide a clothing budget for the Submissive, which the Submissive shall utilize. The Dominant shall accompany the Submissive to purchase clothing on an ad hoc basis. If the Dominant so requires, the Submissive shall wear during the Term any adornments the Dominant shall require, in the presence of the Dominant and at any other time the Dominant deems fit.

Exercise:

The Dominant shall provide the Submissive with a personal trainer four times a week in hour-long sessions at times to be mutually agreed between the personal trainer and the Submissive. The personal trainer will report to the Dominant on the Submissive’s progress.

Personal Hygiene/Beauty:

The Submissive will keep herself clean and shaved and/or waxed at all times. The Submissive will visit a beauty salon of the Dominant’s choosing at times to be decided by the Dominant, and undergo whatever treatments the Dominant sees fit.

Personal Safety:

The Submissive will not drink to excess, smoke, take recreational drugs, or put herself in any unnecessary danger.

Personal Qualities:

The Submissive will not enter into any sexual relations with anyone other than the Dominant. The Submissive will conduct herself in a respectful and modest manner at all times. She must recognize that her behavior is a direct reflection on the Dominant. She shall be held accountable for any misdeeds, wrongdoings, and misbehavior committed when not in the presence of the Dominant.

Failure to comply with any of the above will result in immediate punishment, the nature of which shall be determined by the Dominant.

Holy fuck.

“Hard limits?” I ask.

“Yes. What you won’t do, what I won’t do, we need to specify in our agreement.”

“I’m not sure about accepting money for clothes. It feels wrong.” I shift uncomfortably, the word ‘ho’ rattling round my head.

“I want to lavish money on you, let me buy you some clothes. I may need you to accompany me to functions, and I want you dressed well. I’m sure your salary, when you do get a job, won’t cover the kind of clothes I’d like you to wear.”

“I don’t have to wear them when I’m not with you?”

“No.”

“Okay.” Think of them as a uniform.

“I don’t want to exercise four times a week.”

“Anastasia, I need you supple, strong, and with stamina. Trust me, you need to exercise.”

“But surely not four times a week. How about three?”

“I want you to do four.”

“I thought this was a negotiation?”

He purses his lips at me.

“Okay, Miss Steele, another point well made. How about an hour on three days and one day half an hour?”

“Three days, three hours. I get the impression you’re going to keep me exercised when I’m here.”

He smiles wickedly, and his eyes glow as if relieved. “Yes, I am. Okay, agreed. Are you sure you don’t want to intern at my company? You’re a good negotiator.”

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I stare down at his rules. Waxing! Waxing what? Everything? Ugh.

“So, limits. These are mine.” He hands me another piece of paper.

Hard Limits

No acts involving fire play.

No acts involving urination or defecation and the products thereof.

No acts involving needles, knives, piercing, or blood.

No acts involving gynecological medical instruments.

No acts involving children or animals.

No acts that will leave any permanent marks on the skin.

No acts involving breath control.

No activity that involves the direct contact of electric current (whether alternating or direct), fire or flames to the body.

Ugh. He has to write these down! Of course – they all look very sensible, and frankly, necessary… any sane person wouldn’t want to be involved in this sort of thing, surely? Though I now feel a little queasy.

“Is there anything you’d like to add?” he asks kindly.

Crap. I’ve no idea. I am completely stumped. He gazes at me and furrows his brow.

“Is there anything you won’t do?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

I squirm uncomfortably and bite my lip.

“I’ve never done anything like this.”

“Well, when you’ve had sex, was there anything that you didn’t like doing?”

For the first time in what seems to be ages, I blush.

“You can tell me, Anastasia. We have to be honest with each other or this isn’t going to work.”

I squirm uncomfortably again and stare at my knotted fingers.

“Tell me,” he commands.

“Well… I’ve not had sex before, so I don’t know.” My voice is small. I peek up at him, and he’s staring at me, mouth-open, frozen, and pale – really pale.

“Never?” he whispers. I shake my head.

“You’re a virgin?” he breathes. I nod, flushing again. He closes his eyes and looks to be counting to ten. When he opens them again, he’s angry, glaring at me.

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?” he growls.

8

Christian is running both his hands through his hair and pacing up and down his study. Two hands – that’s double exasperation. His usual concrete control seems to have slipped a notch.

“I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me,” he castigates me.

“The subject never came up. I’m not in the habit of revealing my sexual status to everyone I meet. I mean, we hardly know each other.” I’m staring at my hands. Why am I feeling guilty? Why is he so mad? I peek up at him.

“Well, you know a lot more about me now,” he snaps, his mouth presses into a hard line. “I knew you were inexperienced, but a virgin!” He says it like it’s a really dirty word. “Hell, Ana, I just showed you,” he groans. “May God forgive me. Have you ever been kissed, apart from by me?”

“Of course I have.” I try my best to look affronted. Okay… maybe twice.

“And a nice young man hasn’t swept you off your feet? I just don’t understand. You’re twenty-one, nearly twenty-two. You’re beautiful.” He runs his hand through his hair again.

Beautiful. I flush with pleasure. Christian Grey thinks I’m beautiful. I knot my fingers together, staring at them hard, trying to conceal my goofy grin. Perhaps he’s nearsighted, my subconscious has reared her somnambulant head. Where was she when I needed her?

“And you’re seriously discussing what I want to do, when you have no experience.” His brows knit together. “How have you avoided sex? Tell me, please.”

I shrug.

“No one’s really, you know…” Come up to scratch, only you. And you turn out to be some kind of monster. “Why are you so angry with me?” I whisper.

“I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with myself. I just assumed…” He sighs. He regards me shrewdly and then shakes his head. “Do you want to go?” he asks, his voice gentle.

“No, unless you want me to go,” I murmur. Oh no… I don’t want to leave.

“Of course not. I like having you here.” He frowns as he says this and then glances at his watch. “It’s late.” And he turns to look at me. “You’re biting your lip.” His voice is husky, and he’s eyeing me speculatively.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. It’s just that I want to bite it too, hard.”

I gasp… how can he say things like that to me and not expect me to be affected.

“Come,” he murmurs.

“What?”

“We’re going to rectify the situation right now.”

“What do you mean? What situation?”

“Your situation. Ana, I’m going to make love to you, now.”

“Oh.” The floor has fallen away. I’m a situation. I’m holding my breath.

“That’s if you want to, I mean, I don’t want to push my luck.”

“I thought you didn’t make love. I thought you fucked hard.” I swallow, my mouth suddenly dry.

He gives me a wicked grin, the effects of which travel all the way down there.

“I can make an exception, or maybe combine the two, we’ll see. I really want to make love to you. Please, come to bed with me. I want our arrangement to work, but you really need to have some idea what you’re getting yourself into. We can start your training tonight – with the basics. This doesn’t mean I’ve come over all hearts and flowers, it’s a means to an end, but one that I want, and hopefully you do, too.” His gray gaze is intense.

I flush… oh my… wishes do come true.

“But I haven’t done all the things you require from your list of rules.” My voice is all breathy, hesitant.

“Forget about the rules. Forget about all those details for tonight. I want you. I’ve wanted you since you fell into my office, and I know you want me. You wouldn’t be sitting here calmly discussing punishment and hard limits if you didn’t. Please, Ana, spend the night with me.” He holds his hand out to me, his eyes are bright, fervent… excited, and I put my hand in his. He pulls me up and into his arms so I can feel the length of his body against mine, this swift action taking me by surprise. He runs his fingers round the nape of my neck, winds my ponytail around his wrist, and gently pulls so I’m forced to look up at him. He gazes down at me.

“You are one brave young woman,” he whispers. “I am in awe of you.”

His words are like some kind of incendiary device; my blood flames. He leans down and kisses my lips gently, and he sucks at my lower lip.

“I want to bite this lip,” he murmurs against my mouth, and carefully he tugs at it with his teeth. I moan, and he smiles.

“Please Ana, let me make love to you.”

“Yes,” I whisper, because that’s why I’m here. His smile is triumphant as he releases me and takes my hand and leads me through the apartment.

His bedroom is vast. The ceiling-height windows look out on a lit-up, high-rise Seattle. The walls are white, and the furnishings are pale blue. The enormous bed is ultra-modern, made of rough, grey wood like driftwood, four posts, but no canopy. On the wall above it is a stunning painting of the sea.

I am quaking like a leaf. This is it. Finally, after all this time, I’m going to do it, with none other than Christian Grey. My breath is shallow, and I can’t take my eyes off him. He removes his watch and places it on top of a chest of drawers that matches the bed, and removes his jacket, placing it on a chair. He’s dressed in his white linen shirt and jeans. He is heart-stoppingly beautiful. His dark copper hair is a mess, his shirt hanging out – his gray eyes bold and dazzling. He steps out of his Converse shoes and reaches down and takes his socks off individually. Christian Grey’s feet… wow… what is it about naked feet? Turning, he gazes at me, his expression soft.

“I assume you’re not on the pill.”

What! Shit.

“I didn’t think so.” He opens the top drawer of the chest and removes a packet of condoms. He gazes at me intently.

“Be prepared,” he murmurs. “Do you want the blinds drawn?”

“I don’t mind.” I whisper. “I thought you didn’t let anyone sleep in your bed.”

“Who says we’re going to sleep?” he murmurs softly.

“Oh.” Holy hell.

He strolls slowly toward me. Confident, sexy, eyes blazing, and my heart begins to pound. My blood’s pumping around my body. Desire, thick and hot, pools in my belly. He stands in front of me, staring down into my eyes. He’s so freaking hot.

“Let’s get this jacket off, shall we?” he says softly, and takes hold of the lapels and gently slides my jacket off my shoulders. He places it on the chair.

“Do you have any idea how much I want you, Ana Steele?” he whispers. My breath hitches. I cannot take my eyes off his. He reaches up and gently runs his fingers down my cheek to my chin.

“Do you have any idea what I’m going to do to you?” he adds, caressing my chin.

The muscles inside the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delicious fashion. The pain is so sweet and sharp I want to close my eyes, but I’m hypnotized by his gray eyes staring fervently into mine. Leaning down, he kisses me. His lips are demanding, firm and slow, molding mine. He starts unbuttoning my shirt while he places feather-like kisses across my jaw, my chin, and the corners of my mouth. Slowly he peels it off me and lets it fall to the floor. He stands back and gazes at me. I’m in the pale blue lacy perfect-fit bra. Thank heavens.

“Oh, Ana,” he breathes. “You have the most beautiful skin, pale and flawless. I want to kiss every single inch of it.”

I flush. Oh my… Why did he say he couldn’t make love? I will do anything he wants. He grasps my hair tie, pulls it free, and gasps as my hair cascades down around my shoulders.

“I like brunettes,” he murmurs, and both of his hands are in my hair, grasping each side of my head. His kiss is demanding, his tongue and lips coaxing mine. I moan, and my tongue tentatively meets his. He puts his arms around me and hauls me against his body, squeezing me tightly. One hand remains in my hair, the other travels down my spine to my waist and down to my behind. His hand flexes over my backside and squeezes gently. He holds me against his hips, and I feel his erection, which he languidly pushes into me.

I moan once more into his mouth. I can hardly contain the riotous feelings – or are they hormones? – that rampage through my body. I want him so badly. Gripping his upper arms, I feel his biceps, he’s surprisingly strong… muscular. Tentatively, I move my hands up to his face and into his hair. Holy Moses. It’s so soft, unruly. I tug gently, and he groans. He eases me toward the bed, until I feel it behind my knees. I think he’s going to push me down on to it, but he doesn’t. Releasing me, he suddenly drops to his knees. He grabs my hips with both his hands and runs his tongue around my navel, then gently nips his way to my hipbone, then across my belly to my other hipbone.

“Ah,” I groan.

Seeing him on his knees in front of me, feeling his mouth on me, it’s so unexpected, and hot. My hands stay in his hair, pulling gently as I try to quiet my too-loud breathing. He gazes up at me through impossibly long lashes, his eyes a scorching smoky gray. His hands reach up and undo the button on my jeans, and he leisurely pulls down the zipper. Without taking his eyes off mine, his hands move beneath the waistband, skimming me and moving to my behind. His hands glide slowly down my backside to my thighs, removing my jeans as they go. I cannot look away. He stops and licks his lips, never breaking eye contact. He leans forward, running his nose up the apex between my thighs. I feel him. There.

“You smell so good,” he murmurs and closes his eyes, a look of pure pleasure on his face, and I practically convulse. He reaches up and tugs the duvet off the bed, then pushes me gently so I fall on to the mattress.

Still kneeling, he grasps my foot and undoes my Converse, pulling off my shoe and sock. I raise myself up on my elbows to see what he’s doing. I’m panting… wanting. He lifts my foot by the heel and runs his thumbnail up my instep. It’s almost painful, but I feel the movement echoed in my groin. I gasp. Not taking his eyes off mine, again he runs his tongue along my instep and then his teeth. Shit. I groan… how can I feel this, there? I fall back on to the bed, moaning. I hear his soft chuckle.

“Oh, Ana, what I could do to you,” he whispers. He removes my other shoe and sock, then stands and removes my jeans. I’m lying on his bed dressed only in my bra and panties, and he’s staring down at me.

“You’re very beautiful, Anastasia Steele. I can’t wait to be inside you.”

Holy shit. His words. He’s so seductive. He takes my breath away.

“Show me how you pleasure yourself.”

What? I frown.

“Don’t be coy, Ana, show me,” he whispers.

I shake my head.

“I don’t know what you mean.” My voice is hoarse. I hardly recognize it, laced with desire.

“How do you make yourself come? I want to see.”

I shake my head.

“I don’t,” I mumble. He raises his eyebrows, astonished for a moment, and his eyes darken, and he shakes his head in disbelief.

“Well, we’ll have to see what we can do about that.” His voice is soft, challenging, a delicious sensual threat. He undoes the buttons of his jeans and slowly pulls his jeans down, his eyes on mine the whole time. He leans down over me and, grasping each of my ankles, quickly jerks my legs apart and crawls onto the bed between my legs. He hovers over me. I am squirming with need.

“Keep still,” he murmurs, and then he leans down and kisses the inside of my thigh, trailing kisses up, over the thin lacy material of my panties, kissing me.

Oh… I can’t keep still. How can I not move? I wriggle beneath him.

“We’re going to have to work on keeping you still, baby.” He trails kisses up my belly, and his tongue dips into my navel. Still he’s heading north, kissing me across my torso. My skin is burning. I’m flushed, too hot, too cold, and I’m clawing at the sheet beneath me. He lies down beside me and his hand trails up from my hip, to my waist, and up to my breast. He gazes down at me, his expression unreadable, and gently cups my breast.

“You fit my hand perfectly, Anastasia,” he murmurs and dips his index finger into the cup of my bra and gently yanks it down, freeing my breast, but the underwire and fabric of the cup force it upward. His finger moves to my other breast and repeats the process. My breasts swell, and my nipples harden under his steady gaze. I am trussed up by my own bra.

“Very nice,” he whispers appreciatively, and my nipples harden even more.

He blows very gently on one as his hand moves to my other breast, and his thumb slowly rolls the end of my nipple, elongating it. I groan, feeling the sweet sensation all the way to my groin. I am so wet. Oh please, I beg internally as my fingers clasp the sheet tighter. His lips close around my other nipple and when he tugs, I nearly convulse.

“Let’s see if we can make you come like this,” he whispers, continuing his slow, sensual assault. My nipples bear the delicious brunt of his deft fingers and lips, setting alight every single nerve ending so that my whole body sings with the sweet agony. He just doesn’t stop.

“Oh… please,” I beg, and I pull my head back, my mouth open as I groan, my legs stiffening. Holy hell, what’s happening to me?

“Let go, baby,” he murmurs. His teeth close round my nipple, and his thumb and finger pull hard, and I fall apart in his hands, my body convulsing and shattering into a thousand pieces. He kisses me, deeply, his tongue in my mouth absorbing my cries.

Oh my. That was extraordinary. Now I know what all the fuss is about. He gazes down at me, a satisfied smile on his face, while I’m sure there’s nothing but gratitude and awe on mine.

“You are very responsive,” he breathes. “You’re going to have to learn to control that, and it’s going to be so much fun teaching you how.” He kisses me again.

My breathing is still ragged as I come down from my orgasm. His hand moves down my waist, to my hips, and then cups me, intimately… Jeez. His finger slips through the fine lace and slowly circles around me – there. Briefly he closes his eyes, and his breathing hitches.

“You’re so deliciously wet. God, I want you.” He thrusts his finger inside me, and I cry out as he does it again and again. He palms my clitoris, and I cry out once more. He pushes inside me harder and harder still. I groan.

Suddenly, he sits up and tugs my panties off and throws them on the floor. Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow… He reaches over to his bedside table and grabs a foil packet, and then he moves between my legs, spreading them further apart. He kneels up and pulls a condom onto his considerable length. Oh no… Will it? How?

“Don’t worry,” he breathes, his eyes on mine. “You expand too.” He leans down, his hands on either side of my head, so he’s hovering over me, staring down into my eyes, his jaw clenched, eyes burning. It’s only now that I register he’s still wearing his shirt.

“You really want to do this?” he asks softly.

“Please,” I beg.

“Pull your knees up,” he orders softly, and I’m quick to obey. “I’m going to fuck you now, Miss Steele,” he murmurs as he positions the head of his erection at the entrance of my sex. “Hard,” he whispers, and he slams into me.

“Aargh!” I cry as I feel a weird pinching sensation deep inside me as he rips through my virginity. He stills, gazing down at me, his eyes bright with ecstatic triumph.

His mouth is open slightly, and his breathing is harsh. He groans.

“You’re so tight. You okay?”

I nod, my eyes wide, my hands on his forearms. I feel so full. He stays still, letting me acclimatize to the intrusive, overwhelming feeling of him inside me.

“I’m going to move, baby,” he breathes after a moment, his voice tight.

Oh.

He eases back with exquisite slowness. And he closes his eyes and groans, and thrusts into me again. I cry out a second time, and he stills.

“More?” he whispers, his voice raw.

“Yes,” I breathe. He does it once more, and stills again.

I groan, my body accepting him… Oh, I want this.

“Again?” he breathes.

“Yes.” It’s a plea.

And he moves, but this time he doesn’t stop. He shifts onto his elbows so I can feel his weight on me, holding me down. He moves slowly at first, easing himself in and out of me. And as I grow accustomed to the alien feeling, my hips move tentatively to meet his. He speeds up. I moan, and he pounds on, picking up speed, merciless, a relentless rhythm, and I keep up, meeting his thrusts. He grasps my head between his hands and kisses me hard, his teeth pulling at my lower lip again. He shifts slightly, and I can feel something building deep inside me, like before. I start to stiffen as he thrusts on and on. My body quivers, bows; a sheen of sweat gathers over me. Oh my… I didn’t know it would feel like this… didn’t know it could feel as good as this. My thoughts are scattering… there’s only sensation… only him… only me… oh please… I stiffen.

“Come for me, Ana,” he whispers breathlessly, and I unravel at his words, exploding around him as I climax and splinter into a million pieces underneath him. And as he comes, he calls out my name, thrusting hard, then stilling as he empties himself into me.

I am still panting, trying to slow my breathing, my thumping heart, and my thoughts are in riotous disarray. Wow… that was astounding. I open my eyes, and he has his forehead pressed against mine, his eyes closed, his breathing ragged. Christian’s eyes flicker open and gaze down at me, dark but soft. He’s still inside me. Leaning down, he gently presses a kiss against my forehead then slowly pulls out of me.

“Ooh.” I wince at the unfamiliarity.

“Did I hurt you?” Christian asks as he lies down beside me propped on one elbow. He tucks a stray strand of my hair behind my ear. And I have to grin, widely.

You are asking me if you hurt me?”

“The irony is not lost on me,” he smiles sardonically. “Seriously, are you okay?” His eyes are intense, probing, demanding even.

I stretch out beside him, feeling loose-limbed, my bones like jelly, but I’m relaxed, deeply relaxed. I grin at him. I can’t stop grinning. Now I know what all the fuss is about. Two orgasms… coming apart at the seams, like the spin cycle on a washing machine, wow. I had no idea what my body was capable of, could be wound so tightly and released so violently, so gratifyingly. The pleasure was indescribable.

“You’re biting your lip, and you haven’t answered me.” He’s frowning. I grin up at him impishly. He looks glorious with his tousled hair, burning narrowed gray eyes, and serious, dark expression.

“I’d like to do that again,” I whisper. For a moment, I think I see a fleeting look of relief on his face, before the shutters come down, and he gazes at me through hooded eyes.

“Would you now, Miss Steele?” he murmurs dryly. He leans down and kisses me very gently at the corner of my mouth. “Demanding little thing, aren’t you? Turn on your front.”

I blink at him momentarily, and then I turn over. He unhooks my bra and runs his hand down my back to my behind.

“You really have the most beautiful skin,” he murmurs. He shifts so that one of his legs pushes between mine, and he’s half lying across my back. I can feel the buttons of his shirt pressing into me as he gathers my hair off my face and kisses my bare shoulder.

“Why are you wearing your shirt?” I ask. He stills. After a beat, he shuffles out of his shirt, and he lies back down on me. I feel his warm skin against mine. Hmm… it feels heavenly. He has a light dusting of hair across his chest, which tickles my back.

“So you want me to fuck you again?” he whispers in my ear, and he begins to trail feather-light kisses around my ear and down my neck.

His hand moves down, skimming my waist, over my hip, and down my thigh to the back of my knee. He pushes my knee up higher, and my breath hitches… oh my, what’s he doing now? He shifts so he’s between my legs, pressed against my back, and his hand travels up my thigh to my behind. He caresses my cheek slowly, and then trails his fingers down between my legs.

“I’m going to take you from behind, Anastasia,” he murmurs, and with his other hand, he grasps my hair at the nape in a fist and pulls gently, holding me in place. I cannot move my head. I am pinioned beneath him, helpless.

“You are mine,” he whispers. “Only mine. Don’t forget it.” His voice is intoxicating, his words heady, seductive. I feel his growing erection against my thigh.

His long fingers reach round to gently massage my clitoris, circling slowly. His breath is soft against my face as he slowly nips me along my jaw.

“You smell divine,” he nuzzles behind my ear. His hand rubs against me, round and round. Reflexively, my hips start to circle, mirroring his hand, as excruciating pleasure spikes through my blood like adrenaline.

“Keep still,” he orders, his voice soft but urgent, and slowly he inserts his thumb inside me, rotating it round and round, stroking the front wall of my vagina. The effect is mind-blowing – all my energy concentrating on this one small space inside my body. I moan.

“You like this?” he asks softly, his teeth grazing my outer ear, and he starts to flex his thumb slowly, in, out, in, out… his fingers still circling.

I close my eyes, trying to keep my breathing under control, trying to absorb the disordered, chaotic sensations that his fingers are unleashing on me, fire coursing through my body. I moan again.

“You’re so wet, so quickly. So responsive. Oh, Anastasia, I like that. I like that a lot,” he whispers.

I want to stiffen my legs, but I can’t move. He’s pinning me down, keeping up a constant, slow, tortuous rhythm. It’s absolutely exquisite. I moan again, and he moves suddenly.

“Open your mouth,” he commands and thrusts his thumb in my mouth. My eyes fly open, blinking wildly.

“See how you taste,” he breathes against my ear. “Suck me, baby.” His thumb presses on my tongue, and my mouth closes round him, sucking wildly. I taste the saltiness on his thumb and the faint metallic tang of blood. Holy fuck. This is wrong, but holy hell is it erotic.

“I want to fuck your mouth, Anastasia, and I will soon,” his voice is hoarse, raw, his breathing more disjointed.

Fuck my mouth! I moan, and I bite down on him. He gasps, and he pulls my hair tighter, painfully, so I release him.

“Naughty, sweet girl,” he whispers, and then reaches over to the bedside table for a foil packet. “Stay still, don’t move,” he orders as he releases my hair.

He rips the foil while I’m breathing hard, my blood singing in my veins. The anticipation is exhilarating. He leans down, his weight on me again, and he grabs my hair, holding my head immobile. I cannot move. I’m enticingly ensnared by him, and he’s poised and ready to take me once more.

“We’re going to go real slow this time, Anastasia,” he breathes.

And slowly he eases into me, slowly, slowly, until he’s buried in me. Stretching, filling, relentless. I groan loudly. It feels deeper this time, delectable. I groan again, and he deliberately circles his hips and pulls back, pauses a beat, and then eases his way back in. He repeats this motion again and again. It’s driving me insane – his teasing, deliberately slow thrusts, and the intermittent feeling of fullness is overwhelming.

“You feel so good,” he groans, and my insides start to quiver. He pulls back and waits. “Oh no, baby, not yet,” he murmurs, and as the quivering ceases, he starts the whole delicious process again.

“Oh, please,” I beg. I’m not sure I can take much more. My body is wound so tight, craving release.

“I want you sore, baby,” he murmurs, and he continues his sweet, leisurely torment, backward, forward.

“Every time you move tomorrow, I want you to be reminded that I’ve been here. Only me. You are mine.”

I groan.

“Please, Christian,” I whisper.

“What do you want, Anastasia? Tell me.”

I groan again. He pulls out and moves slowly back into me, circling his hips once more.

“Tell me,” he murmurs.

“You, please.”

He increases the rhythm infinitesimally, and his breathing becomes more erratic. My insides start quickening, and Christian picks up the rhythm.

“You. Are. So. Sweet,” he murmurs between each thrust. “I. Want. You. So. Much.”

I moan.

“You. Are. Mine. Come for me, baby,” he growls.

His words are my undoing, tipping me over the precipice. My body convulses around him, and I come, loudly calling out a garbled version of his name into the mattress. Christian follows with two sharp thrusts, and he freezes, pouring himself into me as he finds his release. He collapses on top of me, his face in my hair.

“Fuck. Ana,” he breathes. He pulls out of me immediately and rolls onto his side of the bed. I pull my knees up to my chest, utterly spent, and immediately drift off or pass out into an exhausted sleep.

When I wake, it’s still dark. I have no idea how long I’ve slept. I stretch out beneath the duvet, and I feel sore, deliciously sore. Christian is nowhere to be seen. I sit up, staring out at the cityscape in front of me. There are fewer lights on amongst the skyscrapers, and there’s a whisper of dawn in the east. I hear the music. The lilting notes of the piano, a sad, sweet lament. Bach, I think, but I’m not sure.

I wrap the duvet round me and quietly pad down the corridor toward the big room. Christian is at the piano, completely lost in the music he’s playing. His expression is sad and forlorn, like the music. His playing is stunning. Leaning against the wall at the entrance, I listen enraptured. He’s such an accomplished musician. He sits naked, his body bathed in the warm light cast by a solitary freestanding lamp beside the piano. With the rest of the large room in darkness, it’s like he’s in his own isolated little pool of light, untouchable… lonely, in a bubble.

I pad quietly toward him, enticed by the sublime, melancholy music. I’m mesmerized watching his long skilled fingers as they find and gently press the keys, thinking how those same fingers have expertly handled and caressed my body. I flush and gasp at the memory and press my thighs together. He glances up, his unfathomable gray eyes bright, his expression unreadable.

“Sorry,” I whisper. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

A frown flits across his face.

“Surely, I should be saying that to you,” he murmurs. He finishes playing and puts his hands on his legs.

I notice now that he’s wearing PJ pants. He runs his fingers through his hair and stands. His pants hang from his hips, in that way… oh my. My mouth goes dry as he casually strolls around the piano toward me. He has broad shoulders, narrow hips, and his abdominal muscles ripple as he walks. He really is stunning.

“You should be in bed,” he admonishes.

“That was a beautiful piece. Bach?”

“Transcription by Bach, but it’s originally an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello.”

“It was exquisite, but very sad, such a melancholy melody.”

His lips quirk up in a half smile.

“Bed,” he orders. “You’ll be exhausted in the morning.”

“I woke and you weren’t there.”

“I find it difficult to sleep, and I’m not used to sleeping with anyone,” he murmurs. I can’t fathom his mood. He seems a little despondent, but it’s difficult to tell in the darkness. Perhaps it was the tone of the piece he was playing. He puts his arm around me and gently walks me back to the bedroom.

“How long have you been playing? You play beautifully.”

“Since I was six.”

“Oh.” Christian as a six-year-old boy… my mind conjures an image of a beautiful, copper-haired little boy with gray eyes and my heart melts – a moppet-haired kid who likes impossibly sad music.

“How are you feeling?” he asks when we are back in the room. He switches on a sidelight.

“I’m good.”

We both glance down at the bed at the same time. There’s blood on the sheets – evidence of my lost virginity. I flush, embarrassed, pulling the duvet tighter around me.

“Well, that’s going to give Mrs. Jones something to think about,” Christian mutters as he stands in front of me. He puts his hand under my chin and tips my head back, staring down at me. His eyes are intense as he examines my face. I realize that I’ve not seen his naked chest before. Instinctively, I reach out to run my fingers through the smattering of dark hair on his chest to see how it feels. Immediately, he steps back out of my reach.

“Get into bed,” he says sharply. “I’ll come and lie down with you.” His voice softens. I drop my hand and frown. I don’t think I’ve ever touched his torso. He opens a chest of drawers and pulls out a t-shirt and quickly slips it on.

“Bed,” he orders again. I climb back onto the bed, trying not to think about the blood. He clambers in beside me and pulls me into his embrace, wrapping his arms around me so that I’m facing away from him. He kisses my hair gently, and he inhales deeply.

“Sleep, sweet Anastasia,” he murmurs, and I close my eyes, but I can’t help feel a residual melancholy either from the music or his demeanor. Christian Grey has a sad side.

9

Light fills the room, coaxing me from deep sleep to wakefulness. I stretch out and open my eyes. It’s a beautiful May morning, Seattle at my feet. Wow, what a view. Beside me, Christian Grey is fast asleep. Wow, what a view. I’m surprised he’s still in bed. He’s facing me, and I have an unprecedented opportunity to study him. His lovely face looks younger, relaxed in sleep. His sculptured, pouty lips are parted slightly, and his shiny, clean hair is a glorious mess. How could anyone look this good and still be legal? I remember his room upstairs… perhaps he’s not legal. I shake my head, so much to think about. It’s tempting to reach out and touch him, but like a small child, he’s so lovely when he’s asleep. I don’t have to worry about what I’m saying, what he’s saying, what plans he has, especially his plans for me.

I could gaze at him all day, but I have needs – bathroom needs. Slipping out of bed, I find his white shirt on the floor and shrug it on. I walk through a door thinking that it might be the bathroom, but I’m in a vast walk-in closet as big as my bedroom. Lines and lines of expensive suits, shirts, shoes, and ties. How can anyone need this many clothes? I tut with disapproval. Actually, Kate’s wardrobe probably rivals this. Kate! Oh no. I didn’t think about her all evening. I was supposed to text her. Crap. I’m going to be in trouble. I wonder briefly how she’s getting on with Elliot.

Returning to the bedroom, Christian is still asleep. I try the other door. It’s the bathroom, and it’s bigger than my bedroom. Why does one man need so much space? Two sinks, I notice with irony. Given he doesn’t sleep with anyone, one of them can’t have been used.

I stare at myself in the gigantic mirror above the sinks. Do I look different? I feel different. I feel a little sore, if I’m honest, and my muscles – jeez, it’s like I’ve never done any exercise in my life. You don’t do any exercise in your life, my subconscious has woken. She’s staring at me with pursed lips, tapping her foot. So you’ve just slept with him, given him your virginity, a man who doesn’t love you. In fact, he has very odd ideas about you, wants to make you some sort of kinky sex slave.

ARE YOU CRAZY? She’s shouting at me.

I wince as I look in the mirror. I am going to have to process all this. Honestly, fancy falling for a man who’s beyond beautiful, richer than Croesus, and has a Red Room of Pain waiting for me. I shudder. I’m bewildered and confused. My hair is its usual wayward self. Just-fucked hair doesn’t suit me. I try and bring order to the chaos with my fingers but fail miserably and give up – maybe I’ll find hair ties in my purse.

I’m starving. I head back out to the bedroom. Sleeping beauty is still sleeping, so I leave him and head for the kitchen.

Oh no… Kate. I left my purse in Christian’s study. I fetch it and reach for my cell phone. Three texts.

*RU OK Ana*

*Where RU Ana*

*Damn it Ana*

I call Kate. When she doesn’t answer, I leave her a groveling message to tell her I am alive and have not succumbed to Bluebeard, well not in the sense she would be worried about – or perhaps I have. Oh this is so confusing. I have to try and categorize and analyze my feelings for Christian Grey. It’s an impossible task. I shake my head in defeat. I need alone time, away from here to think.

I find two welcome hair ties at the same time in my bag and quickly tie my hair in pigtails. Yes! The more girly I look perhaps the safer I’ll be from Bluebeard. I take my iPod out of the bag and plug my headphones in. There’s nothing like music to cook by. I slip it into the breast pocket of Christian’s shirt, turn it up loud, and start dancing.

Holy hell, I’m hungry.

I am daunted by his kitchen. It’s so sleek and modern and none of the cupboards have handles. It takes me a few seconds to deduce that I have to push the cupboard doors to open them. Perhaps I should cook Christian breakfast. He was eating an omelet the other day… um, yesterday at the Heathman. Jeez, so much has happened since then. I check in the fridge, where there are plenty of eggs, and decide I want pancakes and bacon. I set about making some batter, dancing my way round the kitchen.

Being busy is good. It allows a bit of time to think but not too deeply. Music blaring in my ears also helps to stave off deep thought. I came here to spend the night in Christian Grey’s bed, and managed it, even though he doesn’t let anyone in his bed. I smile, mission accomplished. Big time. I grin. Big, big time, and I’m distracted by the memory of last night. His words, his body, his lovemaking… I close my eyes as my body hums at the recollection, and my muscles contract deliciously deep in my belly. My subconscious scowls at me… fuckingnot lovemaking – she screams at me like a harpy. I ignore her, but deep down I know she has a point. I shake my head to concentrate on the task at hand.

There is a state-of-the-art range. I think I have the hang of it. I need somewhere to keep the pancakes warm, and I start on the bacon. Amy Studt is singing in my ear about misfits. This song used to mean so much to me; that’s because I’m a misfit. I have never fitted in anywhere and now… I have an indecent proposal to consider from King Misfit himself. Why is he this way? Nature or nurture? It’s so alien to anything I know.

I put the bacon under the grill, and while it’s cooking, I whisk some eggs. I turn, and Christian is sitting on one of the bar stools at the breakfast bar, leaning on it, his face supported by his steepled hands. He’s still wearing the t-shirt he’s slept in. Just-fucked hair really, really suits him, as does his designer stubble. He looks both amused and bewildered. I freeze, flush, then gather myself and pull the headphones out of my ears, my knees weak at the sight of him.

“Good morning, Miss Steele. You’re very energetic this morning,” he says dryly.

“I slept well,” I stutter my explanation. His lips try to mask his smile.

“I can’t imagine why.” He pauses and frowns. “So did I after I came back to bed.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Very,” he says with an intense look, and I don’t think he’s referring to food.

“Pancakes, bacon, and eggs?”

“Sounds great.”

“I don’t know where you keep your placemats.” I shrug, trying desperately hard not to look flustered.

“I’ll do that. You cook. Would you like me to put some music on so you can continue your… err… dancing?”

I stare down at my fingers, knowing that I am turning puce.

“Please, don’t stop on my account. It’s very entertaining.” His tone is one of wry amusement.

I purse my lips. Entertaining eh? My subconscious has doubled over in laughter at me. I turn and continue to whisk the eggs, probably beating them a little harder than they need. In a moment, he’s beside me. He gently pulls my pigtail.

“I love these,” he whispers. “They won’t protect you.” Hmm Bluebeard…

“How would you like your eggs?” I ask tartly. He smiles.

“Thoroughly whisked and beaten,” he smirks.

I turn back to the task at hand, trying to hide my smile. He’s hard to stay mad at. Especially when he’s being so uncharacteristically playful. He opens a drawer and takes out two black slate placemats for the breakfast bar. I pour the egg mix into a pan, pull out the bacon and turn it over, and put it back under the grill.

When I turn back round, there is orange juice on the table, and he’s making coffee.

“Would you like some tea?”

“Yes, please. If you have some.”

I find a couple of plates and place them in the warming tray of the range. Christian reaches into a cupboard and pulls out some Twinings English Breakfast tea. I purse my lips.

“Bit of a foregone conclusion, wasn’t I?”

“Are you? I’m not sure we’ve concluded anything yet, Miss Steele,” he murmurs.

What does he mean by that? Our negotiations? Our, err… relationship… whatever that is? He’s still so cryptic. I serve up the breakfast onto the heated plates and lay them on the placemats. I hunt in the refrigerator and find some maple syrup.

I glance up at Christian, and he’s waiting for me to sit down.

“Miss Steele.” He motions to one of the bar stools.

“Mr. Grey.” I nod in acknowledgement. I climb up and wince slightly as I sit down.

“Just how sore are you?” he asks as he sits down. His gray eyes dark.

I flush. Why does he ask such personal questions?

“Well, to be truthful, I have nothing to compare this to,” I snap at him. “Did you wish to offer your commiserations?” I ask too sweetly. I think he’s trying to stifle a smile, but I can’t be sure.

“No. I wondered if we should continue your basic training.”

“Oh.” I stare at him dumbfounded as I stop breathing and everything inside me clenches tight. Ooh… that’s so nice. I suppress my groan.

“Eat, Anastasia.” My appetite has become uncertain again… more… more sex… yes please.

“This is delicious, incidentally.” He grins at me.

I try a forkful of omelet but can barely taste it. Basic training! I want to fuck your mouth. Does that form part of basic training?

“Stop biting your lip. It’s very distracting, and I happen to know you’re not wearing anything under my shirt which makes it even more distracting,” he growls.

I dunk my teabag in the small pot that Christian has provided. My mind is in a whirl.

“What sort of basic training did you have in mind?” I ask, my voice slightly too high, betraying my wish to sound as natural, disinterested, and calm as I can with my hormones wreaking havoc through my body.

“Well, as you’re sore, I thought we could stick to oral skills.”

I choke on my tea, and I stare at him, eyes wide and gaping. He pats me gently on the back and passes me some orange juice. I cannot tell what he’s thinking.

“That’s if you want to stay,” he adds. I glance up at him, trying to recover my equilibrium. His expression is unreadable. It’s so frustrating.

“I’d like to stay for today. If that’s okay. I have to work tomorrow.”

“What time do you have to be at work tomorrow?”

“Nine.”

“I’ll get you to work by nine tomorrow.”

I frown. Does he want me to stay another night?

“I’ll need to go home tonight – I need clean clothes.”

“We can get you some here.”

I don’t have spare cash to spend on clothes. His hand comes up, and he grasps my chin, tugging it so my lip is released from the grip of my teeth. I’m not even aware I’ve been biting my lip.

“What is it?” he asks.

“I need to be home this evening.”

His mouth is a hard line.

“Okay, this evening,” he acquiesces. “Now eat your breakfast.”

My thoughts and my stomach are in turmoil. My appetite has vanished. I stare at my half-eaten breakfast. I’m just not hungry.

“Eat, Anastasia. You didn’t eat last night.”

“I’m really not hungry,” I whisper.

His eyes narrow.

“I would really like you to finish your breakfast.”

“What is it with you and food?” I blurt. His brow knits.

“I told you, I have issues with wasted food. Eat,” he snaps. His eyes are dark, pained.

Holy crap. What is that all about? I pick up my fork and eat slowly, trying to chew. I must remember not to put so much on my plate if he’s going to be weird about food. His expression softens as I carefully make my way through my breakfast. I note that he cleans his plate. He waits for me to finish, and then he clears my plate.

“You cooked, I’ll clear.”

“That’s very democratic.”

“Yes.” He frowns. “Not my usual style. After I’ve done this, we’ll take a bath.”

“Oh, okay.” Oh my… I’d much rather have a shower. My cell rings, interrupting my reverie. It’s Kate.

“Hi.” I wander over to the glass doors of the balcony, away from him.

“Ana, why didn’t you text last night?” She’s angry.

“I’m sorry, I was overtaken by events.”

“You’re okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Did you?” She’s fishing for information. I roll my eyes at the expectation in her voice.

“Kate, I don’t want to talk over the phone.” Christian glances up at me.

“You did… I can tell.”

How can she tell? She’s bluffing, and I can’t talk about this. I’ve signed a damned agreement.

“Kate, please.”

“What was it like? Are you okay?”

“I’ve told you I’m okay.”

“Was he gentle?”

“Kate, please!” I can’t hide my exasperation.

“Ana, don’t hold out on me, I’ve been waiting for this day for nearly four years.”

“I’ll see you this evening.” I hang up.

That is going to be one difficult square to circle. She’s so tenacious, and she wants to know – in detail, and I can’t tell her because I’ve signed a – what was it called? NDA. She’ll freak and rightly so. I need a plan. I head back to watch Christian move gracefully around his kitchen.

“The NDA, does it cover everything?” I ask tentatively.

“Why?” he turns and gazes at me while putting the Twinings away. I flush.

“Well, I have a few questions, you know, about sex.” I stare down at my fingers. “And I’d like to ask Kate.”

“You can ask me.”

“Christian, with all due respect…” My voice fades. I can’t ask you. I’ll get your biased, kinky-as-hell, distorted world view regarding sex. I want an impartial opinion. “It’s just about mechanics. I won’t mention the Red Room of Pain.”

He raises his eyebrows.

“Red Room of Pain? It’s mostly about pleasure, Anastasia. Believe me,” he says. “Besides,” his tone is harsher. “Your roommate is making the beast with two backs with my brother. I’d really rather you didn’t.”

“Does your family know about your… um, predilection?”

“No. It’s none of their business.” He saunters toward me until he’s standing in front of me.

“What do you want to know?” he asks, and raising his hand runs his fingers gently down my cheek to my chin, tilting my head back so he can look directly into my eyes. I squirm inwardly. I cannot lie to this man.

“Nothing specific at the moment,” I whisper.

“Well, we can start with – how was last night for you?” His eyes burn, filled with curiosity. He’s anxious to know. Wow.

“Good,” I murmur.

His lips lift slightly.

“Me, too,” he murmurs. “I’ve never had vanilla sex before. There’s a lot to be said for it. But then, maybe it’s because it’s with you.” He runs his thumb across my lower lip.

I inhale sharply. Vanilla sex?

“Come, let’s have a bath.” He leans down and kisses me. My heart leaps and desire pools way down low… way down there.

The bath is a white stone, deep, egg-shaped affair, very designer. Christian leans over and fills it from the faucet on the tiled wall. He pours some expensive-looking bath oil into the water. It foams as the bath fills and smells of sweet sultry Jasmine. He stands and gazes at me, his eyes dark, then peels his t-shirt off and casts it on the floor.

“Miss Steele.” He holds his hand out.

I’m standing in the doorway, wide-eyed and wary, my arms wrapped around myself. I step forward while surreptitiously admiring his physique. He is just yummy. My subconscious swoons and passes out somewhere in the back of my head. I take his hand, and he bids me to step into the bath while I am still wearing his shirt. I do as I’m told. I’ll have to get used to it if I’m going to take him up on his outrageous offer… if! The water is enticingly hot.

“Turn around, face me,” he orders, his voice soft. I do as I’m bid. He’s watching me intently.

“I know that lip is delicious, I can attest to that, but will you stop biting it?” he says through clenched teeth. “You chewing it makes me want to fuck you, and you’re sore, okay?”

I gasp, automatically unlocking my lip, shocked.

“Yeah,” he challenges. “Got the picture.” He glares at me. I nod frantically. I had no idea I could affect him so.

“Good.” He reaches forward and takes my iPod out of the breast pocket, and he puts it by the sink.

“Water and iPods – not a clever combination,” he mutters. He reaches down, grasps the hem of my white shirt, lifts it above my head, and discards it on the floor.

He stands back to gaze at me. I’m naked for heaven’s sake. I flush crimson and stare down at my hands, level with the base of my belly, and I desperately want to disappear into the hot water and foam, but I know he won’t want that.

“Hey,” he summons me. I peek up at him, and his head is cocked to one side. “Anastasia, you’re a very beautiful woman, the whole package. Don’t hang your head like you’re ashamed. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s a real joy to stand here and gaze at you.” He takes my chin in his hand and tilts my head up to reach his eyes. They are soft and warm, heated even. Oh my. He’s so close. I could just reach up and touch him.

“You can sit down now.” He halts my scattered thoughts, and I scoot down into the warm, welcoming water. Ooh… it stings. Which takes me by surprise, but it smells heavenly, too, and the initial smarting pain soon ebbs away. I lie back and briefly close my eyes, relaxing in the soothing warmth. When I open them, he is gazing down at me.

“Why don’t you join me?” I ask, bravely I think – my voice husky.

“I think I will. Move forward,” he orders.

He strips out of his PJ pants and climbs in behind me. The water rises as he sits and pulls me against his chest. He places his long legs over mine, his knees bent and his ankles level with mine, and he pulls his feet apart, opening my legs. I gasp in surprise. His nose is in my hair and he inhales deeply.

“You smell so good, Anastasia.”

A tremor runs through my whole body. I am naked, in a bath with Christian Grey. He’s naked. If someone had told me I’d be doing this when I woke up in his hotel suite yesterday, I would not have believed them.

He reaches for a bottle of body wash from the built-in shelf beside the bath and squirts some into his hand. He rubs his hands together, creating a soft, foaming lather, and he closes his hands around my neck and starts to rub the soap into my neck and shoulders, massaging firmly with his long, strong fingers. I groan. His hands on me feel good.

“You like that?” I hear his smile.

“Hmm.”

He moves down my arms, then under them to my underarms, washing gently. I’m so glad Kate insisted I shave. His hands glide across to my breasts, and I inhale sharply as his fingers encircle them and start kneading gently, taking no prisoners. My body bows instinctively, pushing my breasts into his hands. My nipples are tender. Very tender, no doubt from his less-than-delicate treatment of them last night. He doesn’t linger long and glides his hands down to my stomach and belly. My breathing increases and my heart is racing. His growing erection presses against my behind. It’s such a turn-on knowing that it’s my body making him feel this way. Ha… not your mind. My subconscious sneers. I shake off the unwelcome thought.

He stops and reaches for a washcloth as I pant against him, wanting… needing. My hands rest on his firm, muscular thighs. Squirting more soap on to the washcloth, he leans down and washes between my legs. I hold my breath. His fingers skillfully stimulating me through the cloth, it’s heavenly, and my hips start moving at their own rhythm, pushing against his hand. As the sensations take over, I tilt my head back, my eyes rolling to the back of my head, my mouth slack, and I groan. The pressure is building slowly, inexorably inside me… oh my.

“Feel it, baby,” Christian whispers in my ear and very gently grazes my earlobe with his teeth. “Feel it for me.” My legs are pinioned by his to the side of the bath, holding me prisoner, giving him easy access to this most private part of myself.

“Oh… please,” I whisper. I try to stiffen my legs as my body goes rigid. I am in a sexual thrall to this man, and he doesn’t let me move.

“I think you’re clean enough now,” he murmurs, and he stops. What! No! No! No! My breathing is ragged.

“Why are you stopping?” I gasp.

“Because I have other plans for you, Anastasia.”

What… oh my… but… I was… that’s not fair.

“Turn around. I need washing, too,” he murmurs.

Oh! Turning to face him, I’m shocked to find he has his erection firmly in his grasp. My mouth drops open.

“I want you to become well acquainted, on first name terms if you will, with my favorite and most cherished part of my body. I’m very attached to this.”

It’s so big and growing. His erection is above the water line, the water lapping at his hips. I glance up at him and come face to face with his wicked grin. He’s enjoying my astounded expression. I realize that I’m staring. I swallow. That was inside me! It doesn’t seem possible. He wants me to touch him. Hmm… okay, bring it on.

I smile at him and reach for the body wash, squirting some soap onto my hand. I do as he’s done, lathering the soap in my hands until they are foamy. I do not take my eyes off his. My lips are parted to accommodate my breathing… very deliberately I gently bite my bottom lip and then run my tongue across it, tracing where my teeth have been. His eyes are serious and dark, and they widen as my tongue skims my lower lip. I reach forward and place one of my hands around him, mirroring how he’s holding himself. His eyes close briefly. Wow… feels much firmer than I expected. I squeeze, and he places his hand over mine.

“Like this,” he whispers, and he moves his hand up and down with a firm grip round my fingers, and my fingers tighten around him. He closes his eyes again, and his breath hitches in his throat. When he opens them again, his gaze is scorching molten gray. “That’s right, baby.”

He releases my hand, leaving me to continue alone, and closes his eyes as I move up and down his length. He flexes his hips slightly into my hand and reflexively I grasp him tighter. A low groan escapes from deep within his throat. Fuck my mouth… hmm. I remember him pushing his thumb in my mouth and asking me to suck, hard. His mouth drops open slightly as his breathing increases. I lean forward, while he has his eyes closed, and place my lips around him and tentatively suck, running my tongue over the tip.

“Whoa… Ana.” His eyes fly open, and I suck harder.

Hmm… he’s soft and hard at once, like steel encased in velvet, and surprisingly tasty – salty and smooth.

“Christ,” he groans, and he closes his eyes again.

Moving down, I push him into my mouth. He groans again. Ha! My inner goddess is thrilled. I can do this. I can fuck him with my mouth. I twirl my tongue around the tip again, and he flexes his hips. His eyes are open now, blistering with heat. His teeth are clenched as he flexes again, and I push him deeper into my mouth, supporting myself on his thighs. I feel his legs tense beneath my hands. He reaches up and grabs my pigtails and starts to really move.

“Oh… baby… that feels good,” he murmurs. I suck harder, flicking my tongue across the head of his impressive erection. Wrapping my teeth behind my lips, I clamp my mouth around him. His breath hisses between his teeth, and he groans.

“Jesus. How far can you go?” he whispers.

Hmm… I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey flavor popsicle. I suck harder and harder, pushing him deeper and deeper, swirling my tongue round and round. Hmm… I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing. My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.

“Anastasia, I’m going to come in your mouth,” his breathy tone is warning. “If you don’t want me to, stop now.” He flexes his hips again, his eyes are wide, wary, and filled with salacious need – need for me. Need for my mouth… oh my.

Holy crap. His hands are really gripping my hair. I can do this. I push even harder and, in a moment of extraordinary confidence, I bare my teeth. It tips him over the edge. He cries out and stills, and I can feel warm, salty liquid oozing down my throat. I swallow quickly. Ugh… I’m not sure about this. But one look at him, and he’s come apart in the bath because of me, and I don’t care. I sit back and watch him, a triumphant, gloating smile tugging at the corners of my lips. His breathing is ragged. Opening his eyes, he glares at me.

“Don’t you have a gag reflex?” he asks, astonished. “Christ, Ana… that was… good, really good, unexpected though.” He frowns. “You know, you never cease to amaze me.”

I smile and consciously bite my lip. He eyes me speculatively.

“Have you done that before?”

“No.” And I can’t help the small tinge of pride in my denial.

“Good,” he says complacently and, I think, relieved. “Yet another first, Miss Steele.” He looks appraisingly at me. “Well, you get an A in oral skills. Come, let’s go to bed, I owe you an orgasm.”

Orgasm! Another one!

Quickly, he clambers out of the bath, giving me my first full glimpse of the Adonis, divinely formed, that is Christian Grey. My inner goddess has stopped dancing and is staring, too, mouth open and drooling slightly. His erection tamed, but still substantial… wow. He wraps a small towel around his waist, covering the essentials, and holds out a larger fluffy white towel for me. Climbing out of the bath, I take his proffered hand. He wraps me in the towel, pulls me into his arms, and kisses me hard, pushing his tongue into my mouth. I long to reach round and embrace him… touch him… but he has my arms trapped in the towel. I’m soon lost in his kiss. He cradles my head, his tongue exploring my mouth, and I get a sense he’s expressing his gratitude – maybe – for my first blowjob? Whoa.

He pulls away, his hands on either side of my face, staring intently into my eyes. He looks lost.

“Say yes,” he whispers fervently.

I frown, not understanding.

“To what?”

“Yes to our arrangement. To being mine. Please, Ana,” he whispers, emphasizing the last word and my name, pleading. He kisses me again, sweetly, passionately, before he stands back and stares at me, blinking slightly. He takes my hand and leads me back to his bedroom, leaving me reeling, so I follow him meekly. Stunned. He really wants this.

In his bedroom, he stares down at me as we stand by his bed.

“Trust me?” he asks suddenly. I nod, wide-eyed with the sudden realization that I do trust him. What’s he going to do to me now? An electric thrill hums through me.

“Good girl,” he breathes, his thumb brushing my bottom lip. He steps away into his closet and comes back with a silver-grey silk woven tie.

“Knit your hands together in front of you,” he orders as he peels the towel off me and throws it on the floor.

I do as he asks, and he binds my wrists together with his tie, knotting it firmly. His eyes are bright with wild excitement. He tugs at the binding. It’s secure. Some boy scout he must have been to learn these knots. What now? My pulse has gone through the roof, my heart beating a frantic tattoo. He runs his fingers down my pigtails.

“You look so young with these,” he murmurs and moves forward. Instinctively, I move back until I feel the bed against the back of my knees. He drops his towel, but I can’t take my eyes off his face. His expression is ardent, full of desire.

“Oh, Anastasia, what shall I do to you?” he whispers as he lowers me on to the bed, lying beside me, and raising my hands above my head.

“Keep your hands up here, don’t move them, understand?” His eyes burn into mine, and I’m breathless from their intensity. This is not a man I want to cross… ever.

“Answer me,” he demands, his voice soft.

“I won’t move my hands.” I’m breathless.

“Good girl,” he murmurs and deliberately licks his lips slowly. I’m mesmerized by his tongue as it sweeps slowly over his upper lip. He’s staring into my eyes, watching me, appraising. He leans down and plants a chaste, swift kiss on my lips.

“I’m going to kiss you all over, Miss Steele,” he says softly, and he cups my chin, pushing it up giving him access to my throat. His lips glide down my throat, kissing, sucking, and nipping, to the small dip at the base of my neck. My body leaps to attention… everywhere. My recent bath experience has made my skin hypersensitive. My heated blood pools low in my belly, between my legs, right down there. I groan.

I want to touch him. I move my hands and rather awkwardly, given I’m restrained, feel his hair. He stops kissing me and glares up at me, shaking his head from side to side, tutting as he does. He reaches for my hands and places them above my head again.

“Don’t move your hands, or we just have to start all over again,” he scolds me mildly. Oh, he’s such a tease.

“I want to touch you.” My voice is all breathy and out of control.

“I know,” he murmurs. “Keep your hands above your head,” he orders, his voice forceful.

He cups my chin again and starts to kiss my throat as before. Oh… he’s so frustrating. His hands run down my body and over my breasts as he reaches the dip at the base of my neck with his lips. He swirls the tip of his nose around it then begins a very leisurely cruise with his mouth, heading south, following the path of his hands, down my sternum to my breasts. Each one is kissed and nipped gently and my nipples tenderly sucked. Holy crap. My hips start swaying and moving of their own accord, grinding to the rhythm of his mouth on me, and I’m desperately trying to remember to keep my hands above my head.

“Keep still,” he warns, his breath warm against my skin. Reaching my navel, he dips his tongue inside, and then gently grazes my belly with his teeth. My body bows off the bed.

“Hmm. You are so sweet, Miss Steele.” His nose glides along the line between my belly and my pubic hair, biting me gently, teasing me with his tongue. Sitting up suddenly, he kneels at my feet, grasping both my ankles and spreading my legs wide.

Holy shit. He grabs my left foot, bends my knee, and brings my foot up to his mouth. Watching and assessing my every reaction, he tenderly kisses each of my toes then bites each one of them softly on the pads. When he reaches my little toe, he bites harder, and I convulse, whimpering. He glides his tongue up my instep – and I can no longer watch him. It’s too erotic. I’m going to combust. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to absorb and manage all the sensations he’s creating. He kisses my ankle and trails kisses up my calf to my knee, stopping just above. He then starts on my right foot, repeating the whole, seductive, mind-blowing process.

“Oh, please,” I moan as he bites my little toe, the action resonating deep in my belly.

“All good things, Miss Steele,” he breathes.

This time he doesn’t stop at my knee, he continues up the inside of my thigh, pushing my thighs apart as he does. And I know what he’s going to do, and part of me wants to push him off because I’m mortified and embarrassed. He’s going to kiss me there! I know it. And part of me is glorying in the anticipation. He turns to my other knee and kisses his way up my thigh, kissing, licking, sucking, and then he’s between my legs, running his nose up and down my sex, very softly, very gently. I writhe… oh my.

He stops, waiting for me to calm. I do and raise my head to gaze at him, my mouth open as my pounding heart struggles to come out.

“Do you know how intoxicating you smell, Miss Steele?” he murmurs, and keeping his eyes on mine, he pushes his nose into my pubic hair and inhales.

I flush scarlet, everywhere, feeling faint, and I instantly close my eyes. I can’t watch him do that!

He blows gently up the length of my sex. Oh fuck…

“I like this.” He gently tugs at my pubic hair. “Perhaps we’ll keep this.”

“Oh… please,” I beg.

“Hmm, I like it when you beg me, Anastasia.”

I groan.

“Tit for tat is not my usual style, Miss Steele,” he whispers as he gently blows up and down me. “But you’ve pleased me today, and you should be rewarded.” I hear the wicked grin in his voice, and while my body is singing from his words, his tongue starts to slowly circle my clitoris as his hands hold down my thighs.

“Aargh!” I moan as my body bows and convulses at the touch of his tongue.

He swirls his tongue round and round, again and again, keeping up the torture. I’m losing all sense of self, every atom of my being concentrating hard on that small, potent powerhouse at the apex of my thighs. My legs go rigid, and he slips his finger inside me, and I hear his growling groan.

“Oh, baby. I love that you’re so wet for me.”

He moves his finger in a wide circle, stretching me, pulling at me, his tongue mirroring his actions, round and round, I groan. It is too much… My body begs for relief, and I can no longer deny it. I let go, losing all cogent thought as my orgasm seizes me, wringing my insides again and again. Holy fuck. I cry out, and the world dips and disappears from view as the force of my climax renders everything null and void.

I am panting and vaguely hear the rip of foil. Very slowly he eases into me and starts to move. Oh… my. The feeling is sore and sweet, and bold and gentle all at once.

“How’s this?” he breathes.

“Fine. Good,” I breathe. And he really starts to move, fast, hard, and large, thrusting into me over and over, implacable, pushing me and pushing me until I am close to the edge again. I whimper.

“Come for me, baby.” His voice is harsh, hard, raw at my ear, and I explode around him as he pounds rapidly into me.

“Thank fuck,” he whispers, and he thrusts hard once more and groans as he reaches his climax, pressing himself into me. Then he stills, his body rigid.

Collapsing on top of me, I feel his full weight forcing me into the mattress. I pull my tied hands over his neck and hold him the best I can. I know in that moment that I would do anything for this man. I am his. The wonder that he’s introduced me to, it’s beyond anything I could have imagined. And he wants to take it further, so much further, to a place I can’t, in my innocence, even imagine. Oh… what to do?

He leans up on his elbows and stares down at me, gray eyes intense.

“See how good we are together,” he murmurs. “If you give yourself to me, it will be so much better. Trust me, Anastasia, I can take you places you don’t even know exist.” His words echo my thoughts. He strokes his nose against mine. I am still reeling from my extraordinary physical reaction to him, and I gaze up at him blankly, grasping for a coherent thought.

Suddenly we both become aware of voices in the hall outside his bedroom door. It takes a moment to process what I can hear.

“But if he’s still in bed, then he must be ill. He’s never in bed at this time. Christian never sleeps in.”

“Mrs. Grey, please.”

“Taylor. You cannot keep me from my son.”

“Mrs. Grey, he’s not alone.”

“What do you mean he’s not alone?”

“He has someone with him.”

Oh… ” Even I hear the disbelief in her voice.

Christian blinks rapidly, staring down at me, wide-eyed with humored horror.

“Shit! It’s my mother.”

10

He pulls out of me suddenly. I wince. He sits up on the bed and throws the used condom in a wastebasket.

“Come on, we need to get dressed – that’s if you want to meet my mother.” He grins, leaps up off the bed, and pulls on his jeans, no underwear! I struggle to sit up as I’m still tethered.

“Christian – I can’t move.”

His grin widens, and leaning down, he undoes the tie. The woven pattern has made an indentation around my wrists. It’s… sexy. He gazes at me. He’s amused, his eyes dancing with mirth. He kisses my forehead quickly and beams at me.

“Another first,” he acknowledges, but I have no idea what he’s talking about.

“I have no clean clothes in here.” I am filled with sudden panic, and considering what I’ve just experienced, I’m finding the panic overwhelming. His mother! Holy crap. I have no clean clothes, and she’s practically walked in on us in flagrante delicto. “Perhaps I should stay here.”

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Christian threatens. “You can wear something of mine.” He’s slipped on a white t-shirt and runs his hand through his just-fucked hair. In spite of my anxiety, I lose my train of thought. Will I ever get used to looking at this beautiful man? His beauty is derailing.

“Anastasia, you could be wearing a sack and you’d look lovely. Please don’t worry. I’d like you to meet my mother. Get dressed. I’ll just go and calm her down.” His mouth presses into a hard line. “I will expect you in that room in five minutes, otherwise I’ll come and drag you out of here myself in whatever you’re wearing. My t-shirts are in this drawer. My shirts are in the closet. Help yourself.” He eyes me speculatively for a moment, then leaves the room.

Holy shit. Christian’s mother. This is so much more than I bargained for. Perhaps meeting her will help put a little part of the jigsaw in place. Might help me understand why Christian is the way he is… Suddenly, I want to meet her. I pull my shirt off the floor, and I’m pleased to discover that it has survived the night well with hardly any creases. I find my blue bra under the bed and dress quickly. But if there’s one thing I hate, it’s not wearing clean panties. I rifle through Christian’s chest of drawers and come across his boxer briefs. After pulling on a pair of tight gray Calvin Kleins, I tug on my jeans and my Converse.

Grabbing my jacket, I dash into the bathroom and stare at my too-bright eyes, my flushed face – and my hair! Holy crap… just-fucked pigtails do not suit me either. I hunt in the vanity unit for a brush and find a comb. It will have to do. A ponytail is the only answer. I despair at my clothes. Maybe I should take Christian up on his offer of clothes. My subconscious purses her lips and mouths the word ‘ho’. I ignore her. Struggling into my jacket, pleased that the cuffs cover the tell-tale patterns from his tie, I take a last anxious glance at myself in the mirror. This will have to do. I make my way into the main living room.

“Here she is.” Christian stands from where he’s lounging on the couch.

His expression is warm and appreciative. The sandy-haired woman beside him turns and beams at me, a full megawatt smile. She stands, too. She’s impeccably attired in a camel-colored fine knit sweater dress with matching shoes. She looks groomed, elegant, beautiful, and inside I die a little, knowing I look such a mess.

“Mother, this is Anastasia Steele. Anastasia, this is Grace Trevelyan-Grey.”

Dr. Trevelyan-Grey holds her hand out to me. T… for Trevelyan?

“What a pleasure to meet you,” she murmurs. If I’m not mistaken, there is wonder and maybe stunned relief in her voice and a warm glow in her hazel eyes. I grasp her hand, and I can’t help but smile, returning her warmth.

“Dr. Trevelyan-Grey,” I murmur.

“Call me Grace,” she grins, and Christian frowns. “I am usually Dr. Trevelyan, and Mrs. Grey is my mother-in-law.” She winks. “So how did you two meet?” She looks questioningly at Christian, unable to hide her curiosity.

“Anastasia interviewed me for the student paper at WSU because I’m conferring the degrees there this week.”

Double crap. I’d forgotten that.

“So you are graduating this week?” Grace asks.

“Yes.”

My cell phone starts ringing. Kate, I bet.

“Excuse me.” It’s in the kitchen. I wander over and lean across the breakfast bar, not checking the number.

“Kate.”

“Dios mio! Ana!” Holy crap, it’s José. He sounds desperate. “Where are you? I’ve been trying to contact you. I need to see you, to apologize for my behavior on Friday. Why haven’t you returned my calls?”

“Look José, now’s not a good time.” I glance anxiously over at Christian who’s watching me intently, his face impassive as he murmurs something to his mom. I turn my back to him.

“Where are you? Kate is being so evasive,” he whines.

“I’m in Seattle.”

“What are you doing in Seattle? Are you with him?”

“José, I’ll call you later. I can’t talk to you now.” I hang up.

I walk nonchalantly back to Christian and his mother. Grace is in full flow.

“… And Elliot called to say you were around – I haven’t seen you for two weeks, darling.”

“Did he now?” Christian murmurs, gazing at me, his expression unreadable.

“I thought we might have lunch together, but I can see you have other plans, and I don’t want to interrupt your day.” She gathers up her long cream coat and turns to him, offering him her cheek. He kisses her briefly, sweetly. She doesn’t touch him.

“I have to drive Anastasia back to Portland.”

“Of course, darling. Anastasia, it’s been such a pleasure. I do hope we meet again.” She holds her hand out to me, her eyes glowing, and we shake.

Taylor appears from… where?

“Mrs. Grey?” he asks.

“Thank you, Taylor.” He escorts her from the room and through the double doors to the foyer. Taylor was here the whole time? How long has he been here? Where has he been?

Christian glares at me.

“So the photographer called?”

Crap.

“Yes.”

“What did he want?”

“Just to apologize, you know – for Friday.”

Christian narrows his eyes.

“I see,” he says simply.

Taylor reappears.

“Mr. Grey, there’s an issue with the Darfur shipment.”

Christian nods curtly at him.

“Charlie Tango back at Boeing Field?”

“Yes sir.”

Taylor nods at me.

“Miss Steele.”

I smile tentatively back at him, and he turns and leaves.

“Does he live here? Taylor?”

“Yes.” His tone is clipped. What is his problem?

Christian heads over to the kitchen and picks up his BlackBerry, scrolling through some e-mails, I assume. His mouth presses in a hard line, and he makes a call.

“Ros, what’s the issue?” he snaps. He listens, watching me, gray eyes speculative, as I stand in the middle of the huge room wondering what to do with myself, feeling extraordinarily self-conscious and out of place.

“I’m not having either crew put at risk. No, cancel… We’ll air drop instead… Good.” He hangs up. The warmth in his eyes has disappeared. He looks forbidding, and with one quick glance at me, he heads into his study and returns a moment later.

“This is the contract. Read it, and we’ll discuss it next weekend. May I suggest you do some research, so you know what’s involved.” He pauses. “That’s if you agree, and I really hope you do.” He adds, his tone softer, anxious.

“Research?”

“You’ll be amazed what you can find on the Internet,” he murmurs.

Internet! I don’t have access to a computer, only Kate’s laptop, and I couldn’t use Claytons’, not for this sort of ‘research’ surely?

“What is it?” he asks, cocking his head to one side.

“I don’t have a computer. I’ll see if I can use Kate’s laptop.”

He hands me a manila envelope.

“I’m sure I can… err, lend you one. Grab your things, we’ll drive back to Portland and grab some lunch on the way. I need to dress.”

“I’ll just make a call,” I murmur. I just want to hear Kate’s voice. He frowns.

“The photographer?” His jaw clenches, and his eyes burn. I blink at him. “I don’t like to share, Miss Steele. Remember that.” His quiet, chilling tone is a warning, and with one long, cold look at me, he heads back to the bedroom.

Holy crap. I just wanted to call Kate, I want to call after him, but his sudden aloofness has left me paralyzed. What happened to the generous, relaxed, smiling man who was making love to me not half an hour ago?

“Ready?” Christian asks as we stand by the double doors to the foyer.

I nod uncertainly. He’s resumed his distant, polite, uptight persona, his mask back up and on show. He’s carrying a leather messenger bag. Why does he need that? Perhaps he’s staying in Portland, and then I remember graduation. Oh yes… he’ll be there on Thursday. He’s wearing a black leather jacket. He certainly doesn’t look like the multi-multi-millionaire, billionaire, whatever-aire, in these clothes. He looks like a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, maybe a badly behaved rock star or a catwalk model. I sigh inwardly, wishing I had a tenth of his poise. He’s so calm and controlled. I frown, recalling his outburst about José… Well, he seems to be.

Taylor is hovering in the background.

“Tomorrow, then,” he says to Taylor who nods.

“Yes sir. Which car are you taking, sir?”

He looks down at me briefly.

“The R8.”

“Safe trip, Mr. Grey. Miss Steele.” Taylor looks kindly at me, though perhaps there’s a hint of pity hidden in the depths of his eyes.

No doubt he thinks I’ve succumbed to Mr. Grey’s dubious sexual habits. Not yet, just his exceptional sexual habits, or perhaps sex is like that for everyone. I frown at the thought. I have no comparison, and I can’t ask Kate. That’s something I am going to have to address with Christian. It’s perfectly natural that I should talk to someone – and I can’t talk to him if he is so open one minute and so standoffish the next.

Taylor holds the door open for us and ushers us through. Christian summons the elevator.

“What is it, Anastasia?” he asks. How does he know I’m chewing something over in my mind? He reaches up and pulls my chin.

“Stop biting your lip, or I will fuck you in the elevator, and I don’t care who gets in with us.”

I blush, but there’s a hint of a smile around his lips. Finally his mood seems to be shifting.

“Christian, I have a problem.”

“Oh?” I have his full attention.

The elevator arrives. We walk in, and Christian presses the button marked G.

“Well,” I flush. How to say this? “I need to talk to Kate. I’ve so many questions about sex, and you’re too involved. If you want me to do all these things, how do I know-?” I pause, struggling to find the right words. “I just don’t have any terms of reference.”

He rolls his eyes at me.

“Talk to her if you must.” He sounds exasperated. “Make sure she doesn’t mention anything to Elliot.”

I bristle at his insinuation. Kate isn’t like that.

“She wouldn’t do that, and I wouldn’t tell you anything she tells me about Elliot – if she were to tell me anything,” I add quickly.

“Well, the difference is that I don’t want to know about his sex life,” Christian murmurs dryly. “Elliot’s a nosy bastard. But only about what we’ve done so far,” he warns. “She’d probably have my balls if she knew what I wanted to do to you,” he adds so softly I’m not sure I’m supposed to hear it.

“Okay,” I agree readily, smiling up at him, relieved. The thought of Kate with Christian’s balls is not something I want to dwell on.

His lip quirks up at me, and he shakes his head.

“The sooner I have your submission the better, and we can stop all this,” he murmurs.

“Stop all what?”

“You, defying me.” He reaches down and cups my chin and plants a swift, sweet kiss on my lips as the doors to the elevator open. He grabs my hand and leads me into the underground garage.

Me, defying him… how?

Beside the elevator, I can see the black 4x4 Audi, but it’s the sleek, black sporty number that blips open and lights up when he points the key fob at it. It’s one of those cars that should have a very leggy blonde, wearing nothing but a sash, sprawled across the hood.

“Nice car,” I murmur dryly.

He glances up and grins.

“I know,” he says, and for a split second sweet, young, carefree Christian is back. It warms my heart. He’s so excited. Boys and their toys. I roll my eyes at him but can’t stifle my smile. He opens the door for me and I climb in. Whoa… it’s low. He moves round the car with easy grace and folds his long frame elegantly in beside me. How does he do that?

“So what sort of car is this?”

“It’s an Audi R8 Spyder. It’s a lovely day; we can take the top down. There’s a baseball cap in there. In fact there should be two.” He points to the glove box. “And sunglasses if you want them.”

He starts the ignition, and the engine roars behind us. He places his bag in the space behind our seats, presses a button, and the roof slowly reclines. With the flick of a switch, Bruce Springsteen surrounds us.

“Gotta love Bruce,” he grins at me and eases the car out of the parking space and up the steep ramp where we pause for the barrier.

Then we’re out into the bright Seattle May morning. I reach into the glove box and retrieve the baseball caps. The Mariners. He likes baseball? I pass him a cap, and he puts it on. I pass my ponytail through the back of mine and pull the peak down low.

People stare at us as we drive through the streets. For a moment, I think it’s at him… and then a very paranoid part thinks everyone is looking at me because they know what I’ve been doing during the last twelve hours, but finally I realize it’s the car. Christian seems oblivious, lost in thought.

The traffic is light and we’re soon on the I-5 heading south, the wind sweeping over our heads. Bruce is singing about being on fire and his desire. How apt. I flush as I listen to the words. Christian glances at me. He’s got his Ray-Bans on so I can’t see what he’s thinking. His mouth twitches slightly, and he reaches across and places his hand on my knee, squeezing gently. My breath hitches.

“Hungry?” he asks.

Not for food.

“Not particularly.”

His mouth tightens into that hard line.

“You must eat, Anastasia,” he chides. “I know a great place near Olympia. We’ll stop there.” He squeezes my knee again, and then returns his hand to the steering wheel as he puts his foot down on the gas. I’m pressed into the back of my seat. Boy, this car can move.

The restaurant is small and intimate, a wooden chalet in the middle of a forest. The décor is rustic: random chairs and tables with gingham tablecloths, wild flowers in little vases. Cuisine Sauvage, it boasts above the door.

“I’ve not been here for a while. We don’t get a choice – they cook whatever they’ve caught or gathered.” He raises his eyebrows in mock horror, and I have to laugh. The waitress takes our drinks order. She flushes when she sees Christian, avoiding eye contact with him, hiding under her long blonde bangs. She likes him! It’s not just me!

“Two glasses of the Pinot Grigio,” Christian says with a voice of authority. I purse my lips, exasperated.

“What?” he snaps.

“I wanted a Diet Coke,” I whisper.

His gray eyes narrow and he shakes his head.

“The Pinot Grigio here’s a decent wine. It will go well with the meal, whatever we get,” he says patiently.

“Whatever we get?”

“Yes.” He smiles his dazzling head-cocked-to-one-side smile, and my stomach pole vaults over my spleen. I can’t help but reflect his glorious smile back at him.

“My mother liked you,” he says dryly.

“Really?” His words make me flush with pleasure.

“Oh yes. She’s always thought I was gay.”

My mouth drops open, and I remember that question… from the interview. Oh no.

“Why did she think you were gay?” I whisper.

“Because she’s never seen me with a girl.”

“Oh… not even one of the fifteen?”

He smiles.

“You remembered. No, none of the fifteen.”

“Oh.”

“You know, Anastasia, it’s been a weekend of firsts for me, too,” he says quietly.

“It has?”

“I’ve never slept with anyone, never had sex in my bed, never flown a girl in Charlie Tango, never introduced a woman to my mother. What are you doing to me?” His eyes burn, their intensity takes my breath away.

The waitress arrives with our glasses of wine, and I immediately take a quick sip. Is he opening up or just making a casual observation?

“I’ve really enjoyed this weekend,” I murmur. He narrows his eyes at me again.

“Stop biting that lip,” he growls. “Me, too,” he adds.

“What’s vanilla sex?” I ask, if anything to distract myself from the intense, burning, sexy look he’s giving me. He laughs.

“Just straightforward sex, Anastasia. No toys, no added extras.” He shrugs. “You know… well actually you don’t, but that’s what it means.”

“Oh.” I thought it was chocolate fudge brownie sex that we had, with a cherry on the top. But hey, what do I know?

The waitress brings us soup. We both stare at it rather dubiously.

“Nettle soup,” the waitress informs us before turning and flouncing back into the kitchen. I don’t think she likes to be ignored by Christian. I take a tentative taste. It’s delicious. Christian and I look up at each other at the same time with relief. I giggle, and he cocks his head to one side.

“That’s a lovely sound,” he murmurs.

“Why have you never had vanilla sex before? Have you always done… err, what you’ve done?” I ask, intrigued.

He nods slowly.

“Sort of.” His voice is wary. He frowns for a moment and seems to be engaged in some kind of internal struggle. Then he glances up, a decision made. “One of my mother’s friends seduced me when I was fifteen.”

“Oh.” Holy shit that’s young!

“She had very particular tastes. I was her submissive for six years.” He shrugs.

“Oh.” My brain has frozen, stunned into inactivity by this admission.

“So I do know what it involves, Anastasia.” His eyes glow with insight.

I stare at him, unable to articulate anything – even my subconscious is silent.

“I didn’t really have a run-of-the-mill introduction to sex.”

Curiosity kicks in big time.

“So you never dated anyone at college?”

“No.” He shakes his head to emphasize the point.

The waitress takes our plates, interrupting us for a moment.

“Why?” I ask when she’s gone.

He smiles sardonically.

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t want to. She was all I wanted, needed. And besides, she’d have beaten the shit out of me.” He smiles fondly at the memory.

Oh, this is way too much information – but I want more.

“So if she was a friend of your mother’s, how old was she?”

He smirks.

“Old enough to know better.”

“Do you still see her?”

“Yes.”

“Do you still… err…?” I flush.

“No.” He shakes his head and smiles indulgently at me. “She’s a very good friend.”

“Oh. Does your mother know?”

He gives me a don’t-be-stupid stare.

“Of course not.”

The waitress returns with venison, but my appetite has vanished. What a revelation. Christian the submissive… Holy shit. I take a large slug of Pinot Grigio – he’s right, of course, it’s delicious. Jeez, all these revelations, it’s so much to think about. I need time to process this, when I’m on my own, not when I’m distracted by his presence. He’s so overwhelming, so Alpha Male, and now he’s thrown this bombshell into the equation. He knows what it’s like.

“But it can’t have been full time?” I’m confused.

“Well, it was, though I didn’t see her all the time. It was… difficult. After all, I was still at school and then at college. Eat up, Anastasia.”

“I’m really not hungry, Christian.” I am reeling from your disclosure.

His expression hardens.

“Eat,” he says quietly, too quietly.

I stare at him. This man – sexually abused as an adolescent – his tone is so threatening.

“Give me a moment,” I mutter quietly. He blinks a couple of times.

“Okay,” he murmurs, and he continues with his meal.

This is what it will be like if I sign, him ordering me around. I frown. Do I want this? Reaching for my knife and fork, I tentatively cut into the venison. It’s very tasty.

“Is this what our, err… relationship will be like?” I whisper. “You ordering me around?” I can’t quite bring myself to look at him.

“Yes,” he murmurs.

“I see.”

“And what’s more, you’ll want me to,” he adds, his voice low.

I sincerely doubt that. I slice another piece of venison, holding it against my mouth.

“It’s a big step,” I murmur and eat.

“It is.” He closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them, they are wide and grave. “Anastasia, you have to go with your gut. Do the research, read the contract – I’m happy to discuss any aspect. I’ll be in Portland until Friday if you want to talk about it before then.” His words are coming at me in a rush. “Call me – maybe we can have dinner – say, Wednesday? I really want to make this work. In fact, I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want this to work.”

His burning sincerity, his longing, is reflected in his eyes. This is fundamentally what I don’t grasp. Why me? Why not one of the fifteen? Oh no… Will that be me – a number? Sixteen of many?

“What happened to the fifteen?” I blurt.

He raises his eyebrows in surprise, then looks resigned, shaking his head.

“Various things, but it boils down to…” He pauses, struggling to find the words I think. “Incompatibility.” He shrugs.

“And you think that I might be compatible with you?”

“Yes.”

“So you’re not seeing any of them anymore?”

“No, Anastasia, I’m not. I am monogamous in my relationships.”

Oh… this is news.

“I see.”

“Do the research, Anastasia.”

I put my knife and fork down. I cannot eat any more.

“That’s it? That’s all you’re going to eat?”

I nod. He scowls at me but chooses not to say anything. I breathe a small sigh of relief. My stomach is churning with all this new information, and I’m feeling a little lightheaded from the wine. I watch as he devours everything on his plate. He eats like a horse. He must work out to stay in such great shape. The memory of the way his pajamas hung from his hips comes unbidden to my mind. The image is totally distracting. I squirm uncomfortably. He glances up at me, and I blush.

“I’d give anything to know what you’re thinking right at this moment,” he murmurs. I blush further.

He smiles a wicked smile at me.

“I can guess,” he teases softly.

“I’m glad you can’t read my mind.”

“Your mind, no, Anastasia, but your body – that I’ve got to know quite well since yesterday.” His voice is suggestive. How does he switch so quickly from one mood to the next? He’s so mercurial… It’s hard to keep up.

He motions for the waitress and asks for the check. Once he’s paid, he stands and holds out his hand.

“Come.” Taking my hand in his, he leads me back to the car. This contact, flesh to flesh, it’s what is so unexpected from him, normal, intimate. I can’t reconcile this ordinary, tender gesture with what he wants to do in that room… the Red Room of Pain.

We are quiet on the drive from Olympia to Vancouver, both lost in our own thoughts. When he parks outside my apartment, it’s five in the evening. The lights are on – Kate is at home. Packing, no doubt, unless Elliot is still there. He switches off the engine, and I realize I’m going to have to leave him.

“Do you want to come in?” I ask. I don’t want him to go. I want to prolong our time together.

“No. I have work to do,” he says simply, gazing at me, his expression unfathomable.

I stare down at my hands, as I knot my fingers together. Suddenly I feel emotional. He’s leaving. Reaching over, he takes one of my hands and slowly pulls it to his mouth, tenderly kissing the back of my hand, such an old fashioned, sweet gesture. My heart leaps into my mouth.

“Thank you for this weekend, Anastasia. It’s been… the best. Wednesday? I’ll pick you up from work, from wherever?” he says softly.

“Wednesday,” I whisper.

He kisses my hand again and places it back in my lap. He climbs out, comes round to my side, and opens the passenger door. Why do I feel suddenly bereft? A lump forms in my throat. I must not let him see me like this. Fixing a smile on my face, I clamber out of the car and head up the path, knowing I have to face Kate, dreading facing Kate. I turn and gaze at him midway. Chin up Steele, I chide myself.

“Oh… by the way, I’m wearing your underwear.” I give him a small smile and pull up the waistband of the boxer briefs I’m wearing so he can see. Christian’s mouth drops open, shocked. What a great reaction. My mood shifts immediately, and I sashay into the house, part of me wanting to jump and punch the air. YES! My inner goddess is thrilled.

Kate is in the living area packing up her books into crates.

“You’re back. Where’s Christian? How are you?” Her voice is fevered, anxious, and she bounds up to me, grabbing my shoulders, minutely analyzing my face before I’ve even said hello.

Crap… I have to deal with Kate’s persistence and tenacity, and I’m in possession of a signed legal document saying I can’t talk. It’s not a healthy mix.

“Well, how was it? I couldn’t stop thinking about you, after Elliot left, that is.” She grins mischievously.

I can’t help but smile at her concern and her burning curiosity, but suddenly I feel shy. I blush. It was very private. All of it. Seeing and knowing what Christian has to hide. But I have to give her some details, because she won’t leave me alone until I do.

“It was good, Kate. Very good, I think,” I say quietly, trying to hide my embarrassed tell-all smile.

“You think?”

“I’ve got nothing to compare it to, do I?” I shrug apologetically.

“Did he make you come?”

Holy crap. She’s so blunt. I go scarlet.

“Yes,” I mumble, exasperated.

Kate pulls me to the couch and we sit. She clasps my hands.

“That is good.” Kate looks at me in disbelief. “It was your first time. Wow, Christian must really know what he’s doing.”

Oh Kate, if only you knew.

“My first time was horrid,” she continues, making a sad comedy face.

“Oh?” This has me interested, something she’s never divulged before.

“Yes, Steve Paton. High school, dickless jock.” She shudders. “He was rough. I wasn’t ready. We were both drunk. You know – typical teenage post-prom disaster. Ugh – it took me months before I decided to have another go. And not with him, the gutless wonder. I was too young. You were right to wait.”

“Kate, that sounds awful.”

Kate looks wistful.

“Yeah, took almost a year to have my first orgasm through penetrative sex and here you are… first time?”

I nod shyly. My inner goddess sits in the lotus position looking serene except for the sly, self-congratulatory smile on her face.

“I’m glad you lost it to someone who knows their ass from their elbow.” She winks at me. “So when are you seeing him again?”

“Wednesday. We’re having dinner.”

“So you still like him?”

“Yes. But I don’t know about… the future.”

“Why?”

“He’s complicated, Kate. You know – he inhabits a very different world to mine.” Great excuse. Believable, too. Much better than – he’s got a Red Room of Pain, and he wants to make me his sex slave.

“Oh please, don’t let this be about money, Ana. Elliot said it’s very unusual for Christian to date anyone.”

“Did he?” My voice hitches up several octaves.

Too obvious, Steele! My subconscious glares at me, wagging her long skinny finger, then morphs into the scales of justice to remind me he could sue if I disclose too much. Ha… what’s he going to do – take all my money? I must remember to Google ‘penalties for breaching a nondisclosure agreement’ while I’m doing the rest of my ‘research’. It’s like I’ve been given a school assignment. Maybe I’ll be graded. I flush, remembering my A for this morning’s bath experiment.

“Ana, what is it?”

“I’m just remembering something Christian said.”

“You look different,” Kate says fondly.

“I feel different. Sore,” I confess.

“Sore?”

“A little.” I flush.

“Me, too. Men,” she says in mock disgust. “They’re animals.” We both laugh.

“You’re sore?” I exclaim.

“Yes… overuse.”

I giggle.

“Tell me about Elliot the over-user,” I ask when I’ve stopped giggling. Oh, I can feel myself relaxing for the first time since I was in line at the bar… before the phone call that started all this – when I was admiring Mr. Grey from afar. Happy uncomplicated days.

Kate blushes. Oh my… Katherine Agnes Kavanagh goes all Anastasia Rose Steele on me. She gives me a dewy-eyed look. I’ve never seen her react this way to a man before. My jaw drops to the floor. Where’s Kate; what have you done with her?

“Oh, Ana,” she gushes. “He’s just so… Everything. And when we… oh… really good.” She can hardly string a sentence together she’s got it so bad.

“I think you’re trying to tell me that you like him.”

She nods, grinning like a lunatic.

“And I’m seeing him on Saturday. He’s going to help us move.” She clasps her hands together, leaps up off the couch, and pirouettes to the window. Moving. Crap – I’d forgotten all about that, even with the packing cases surrounding us.

“That’s helpful of him,” I say appreciatively. I can get to know him, too. Perhaps he can give me more insight into his strange, disturbing brother.

“So what did you do last night?” I ask. She cocks her head at me and raises her eyebrows in a what-do-think-stupid look.

“Pretty much what you did, though we had dinner first.” She grins at me. “Are you okay really? You look kind of overwhelmed.”

“I feel overwhelmed. Christian is very intense.”

“Yeah, I could see how he could be. But he was good to you?”

“Yes,” I reassure her. “I’m really hungry, shall I cook?”

She nods and picks up two more books to pack.

“What do you want to do with the fourteen-thousand-dollar books?” she asks.

“I’m going to return them to him.”

“Really?”

“It’s a completely over-the-top gift. I can’t accept it, especially now.” I grin at Kate, and she nods.

“I understand. A couple of letters came for you, and José has been calling every hour on the hour. He sounded desperate.”

“I’ll call him,” I mutter evasively. If I tell Kate about José, she’ll have him for breakfast. I collect the letters from the dining table and open them.

“Hey, I have interviews! The week after next, in Seattle, for intern placements!”

“For which publishing house?”

“For both of them!”

“I told you your GPA would open doors, Ana.”

Kate, of course, already has an internship set up at the Seattle Times. Her father knows someone, who knows someone.

“How does Elliot feel about you going away?” I ask.

Kate wanders into the kitchen, and for the first time this evening, she’s disconsolate.

“He’s understanding. Part of me doesn’t want to go, but it’s tempting to lie in the sun for a couple of weeks. Besides, Mom is hanging in there, thinking this will be our last real family holiday before Ethan and I head off into the world of paid employment.”

I have never left continental US. Kate is off to Barbados with her parents and her brother Ethan for two whole weeks. I’ll be Kateless in our new apartment. That will be weird. Ethan has been traveling the world since he graduated last year. I wonder briefly if I’ll see him before they go on vacation. He’s such a lovely guy. The phone rings, jolting me from my reverie.

“That’ll be José.”

I sigh. I know I have to talk to him. I grab the phone.

“Hi.”

“Ana, you’re back!” José shouts his relief at me.

“Obviously.” Sarcasm drips from my voice, and I roll my eyes at the phone.

He’s silent for a moment.

“Can I see you? I’m sorry about Friday night. I was drunk… and you… well. Ana – please forgive me.”

“Of course, I forgive you José. Just don’t do it again. You know I don’t feel like that about you.”

He sighs heavily, sadly.

“I know, Ana. I just thought, if I kissed you, it might change how you feel.”

“José, I love you dearly, you mean so much to me. You’re like the brother I never had. That’s not going to change. You know that.” I hate to let him down, but it’s the truth.

“So you’re with him now?” His tone is full of disdain.

“José, I’m not with anybody.”

“But you spent the night with him.”

“That’s none of your business!”

“Is it the money?”

“José! How dare you!” I shout, staggered by his audacity.

“Ana,” he whines and apologizes simultaneously. I cannot deal with his petty jealousy now. I know he’s hurt, but my plate is overflowing dealing with Christian Grey.

“Maybe we can have a coffee or something tomorrow. I’ll call you.” I am conciliatory. He is my friend, and I’m very fond of him. But right now, I don’t need this.

“Tomorrow, then. You’ll call?” The hope in his voice twists my heart.

“Yes… goodnight, José.” I hang up, not waiting for his response.

“What was that all about?” Katherine demands, her hands on her hips. I decide honesty is the policy. She’s looking more intractable than ever.

“He made a pass at me on Friday.”

“José? And Christian Grey? Ana, your pheromones must be working overtime. What was the stupid fool thinking?” She shakes her head in disgust and returns to packing crates.

Forty-five minutes later, we pause our packing for the house specialty, my lasagna. Kate opens a bottle of wine, and we sit amongst the boxes eating, quaffing cheap red wine, and watching crap TV. This is normality. It’s so grounding and welcome after the last forty-eight hours of… madness. I eat my first unhurried, no nagging, peaceful meal in that time. What is it about him and food? Kate clears the dishes and I finish packing up the living room. We are left with the couch, the TV and the dining table. What more could we need? Just the kitchen and our bedrooms left to pack up, and we have the rest of the week. Result!

The phone rings again. It’s Elliot. Kate winks at me and skips off to her bedroom like she’s fourteen. I know that she should be writing her Valedictorian speech, but it seems Elliot is more important. What is it about the Grey men? What is it that makes them totally distracting, all-consuming and irresistible? I take another slug of wine.

I flick through the TV channels, but deep down I know I’m procrastinating. Burning a bright red hole in the side of my purse is that contract. Do I have the strength and the wherewithal to read it tonight?

I put my head in my hands. José and Christian, they both want something from me. José is easy to deal with. But Christian… Christian takes a whole different league of handling, of understanding. Part of me wants to run and hide. What am I going to do? His burning gray eyes and that intense smoldering stare come into my mind’s eye, and my body tightens at the thought. I gasp. He’s not even here and I’m turned on. It just can’t be about sex, can it? I recall his gentle banter this morning at breakfast, his joy at my delight with the helicopter ride, him playing the piano – the sweet soulful oh-so-sad music.

He’s such a complicated person. And now I have an insight as to why. A young man deprived of his adolescence, sexually abused by some evil Mrs. Robinson figure… no wonder he’s old before his time. My heart fills with sadness at the thought of what he must have been through. I’m too naïve to know exactly what, but the research should shed some light. But do I really want to know? Do I want to explore this world I know nothing about? It’s such a big step.

If I’d not met him, I’d still be sweetly and blissfully oblivious. My mind drifts to last night, and this morning… and the incredible, sensual sexuality I’ve experienced. Do I want to say goodbye to that? No! screams my subconscious… my inner goddess nods in silent Zen-like agreement with her.

Kate wanders back into the living room, grinning from ear to ear. Perhaps she’s in love – I gape at her. She’s never behaved like this.

“Ana, I’m off to bed. I’m pretty tired.”

“Me too, Kate.”

She hugs me.

“I’m glad you’re back in one piece. There’s something about Christian,” she adds quietly, apologetically. I give her a small, reassuring smile – all the while thinking… How the hell does she know? This is what will make her a great journalist, her unfaltering intuition.

Collecting my purse, I wander listlessly into my bedroom. I am weary from all our carnal exertions of the last day and from the complete and utter dilemma that I’m faced with. I sit on my bed and gingerly extract the manila envelope from the bag, turning it over and over in my hands. Do I really want to know the extent of Christian’s depravity? It’s so daunting. I take a deep breath, and with my heart in my throat, I rip open the envelope.

11

There are several papers inside the envelope. I fish them out, my heart still pounding, and I sit back on my bed and begin to read.

CONTRACT

Made this day____________________ of 2011 (“The Commencement Date”)

BETWEEN

MR. CHRISTIAN GREY of 301 Escala, Seattle, WA 98889

(“The Dominant”)

MISS ANASTASIA STEELE of 1114 SW Green Street, Apartment 7, Haven Heights, Vancouver, WA 98888

(“The Submissive”)

THE PARTIES AGREE AS FOLLOWS

1 The following are the terms of a binding contract between the Dominant and the Submissive.

FUNDAMENTAL TERMS

2 The fundamental purpose of this contract is to allow the Submissive to explore her sensuality and her limits safely, with due respect and regard for her needs, her limits and her wellbeing.

3 The Dominant and the Submissive agree and acknowledge that all that occurs under the terms of this contract will be consensual, confidential, and subject to the agreed limits and safety procedures set out in this contract. Additional limits and safety procedures may be agreed in writing.

4 The Dominant and the Submissive each warrant that they suffer from no sexual, serious, infectious or life-threatening illnesses including but not limited to HIV, Herpes and Hepatitis. If during the Term (as defined below) or any extended term of this contract either party should be diagnosed with or become aware of any such illness he or she undertakes to inform the other immediately and in any event prior to any form of physical contact between the parties.

5 Adherence to the above warranties, agreements and undertakings (and any additional limits and safety procedures agreed under clause 3 above) are fundamental to this contract. Any breach shall render it void with immediate effect and each party agrees to be fully responsible to the other for the consequence of any breach.

6 Everything in this contract must be read and interpreted in the light of the fundamental purpose and the fundamental terms set out in clauses 2-5 above.

ROLES

7 The Dominant shall take responsibility for the wellbeing and the proper training, guidance, and discipline of the Submissive. He shall decide the nature of such training, guidance, and discipline and the time and place of its administration, subject to the agreed terms, limitations and safety procedures set out in this contract or agreed additionally under clause 3 above.

8 If at any time the Dominant should fail to keep to the agreed terms, limitations and safety procedures set out in this contract or agreed additionally under clause 3 above the Submissive is entitled to terminate this contract forthwith and to leave the service of the Dominant without notice.

9 Subject to that proviso and to clauses 2-5 above the Submissive is to serve and obey the Dominant in all things. Subject to the agreed terms, limitations and safety procedures set out in this contract or agreed additionally under clause 3 above she shall without query or hesitation offer the Dominant such pleasure as he may require and she shall accept without query or hesitation his training, guidance and discipline in whatever form it may take

COMMENCEMENT AND TERM

10 The Dominant and Submissive enter into this contract on The Commencement Date fully aware of its nature and undertake to abide by its conditions without exception.

11 This contract shall be effective for a period of three Calendar Months from The Commencement Date (“The Term”). On the expiry of The Term the parties shall discuss whether this contract and the arrangements they have made under this contract are satisfactory and whether the needs of each party have been met. Either party may propose the extension of this contract subject to adjustments to its terms, or to the arrangements they have made under it. In the absence of agreement to such extension this contract shall terminate and both parties shall be free to resume their lives separately.

AVAILABILITY

12 The Submissive will make herself available to the Dominant from Friday evenings through to Sunday afternoons each week during the Term at times to be specified by the Dominant (“the Allotted Times”). Further allocated time can be mutually agreed on an ad hoc basis.

13 The Dominant reserves the right to dismiss the Submissive from his service at any time and for any reason. The Submissive may request her release at any time, such request to be granted at the discretion of the Dominant subject only to the Submissive’s rights under clauses 2-5 and 8 above.

LOCATION

14 The Submissive will make herself available during the Allotted Times and agreed additional times at locations to be determined by the Dominant. The Dominant will ensure that all travel costs incurred by the Submissive for that purpose are met by the Dominant.

SERVICE PROVISIONS

15 The following service provisions have been discussed and agreed and will be adhered to by both parties during the Term. Both parties accept that certain matters may arise which are not covered by the terms of this contract or the service provisions, or that certain matters may be renegotiated. In such circumstance further clauses may be proposed by way of amendment. Any further clauses or amendments must be agreed, documented and signed by both parties and shall be subject to the fundamental terms set out at clauses 2-5 above.

DOMINANT

15.1 The Dominant shall make the Submissive’s health and safety a priority at all times. The Dominant shall not at any time require, request, allow or demand the Submissive to participate at the hands of the Dominant in the activities detailed in Appendix 2 or in any act that either party deems to be unsafe. The Dominant will not undertake or permit to be undertaken any action which could cause serious injury or any risk to the Submissive’s life. The remaining sub-clauses of this clause 15 are to be read subject to this proviso and to the fundamental matters agreed in clauses 2-5 above.

15.2 The Dominant accepts the Submissive as his, to own, control, dominate and discipline during the Term. The Dominant may use the Submissive’s body at any time during the Allotted Times or any agreed additional times in any manner he deems fit, sexually or otherwise.

15.3 The Dominant shall provide the Submissive with all necessary training and guidance in how to properly serve the Dominant.

15.4 The Dominant shall maintain a stable and safe environment in which the Submissive may perform her duties in service of the Dominant.

15.5 The Dominant may discipline the Submissive as necessary to ensure the Submissive fully appreciates her role of subservience to the Dominant and to discourage unacceptable conduct. The Dominant may flog, spank, whip or corporally punish the Submissive as he sees fit, for purposes of discipline, for his own personal enjoyment, or for any other reason, which he is not obliged to provide.

15.6 In training and in the administration of discipline the Dominant shall ensure that no permanent marks are made upon the Submissive’s body nor any injuries incurred that may require medical attention.

15.7 In training and in the administration of discipline the Dominant shall ensure that the discipline and the instruments used for the purposes of discipline are safe, shall not be used in such a way as to cause serious harm and shall not in any way exceed the limits defined and detailed in this contract.

15.8 In case of illness or injury the Dominant shall care for the Submissive, seeing to her health and safety, encouraging and when necessary ordering medical attention when it is judged necessary by the Dominant.

15.9 The Dominant shall maintain his own good health and seek medical attention when necessary in order to maintain a risk-free environment.

15.10 The Dominant shall not loan his Submissive to another Dominant.

15.11 The Dominant may restrain, handcuff, or bind the Submissive at any time during the Allotted Times or any agreed additional times for any reason and for extended periods of time, giving due regard to the health and safety of the Submissive.

15.12 The Dominant will ensure that all equipment used for the purposes of training and discipline shall be maintained in a clean, hygienic and safe state at all times.

SUBMISSIVE

15.13 The Submissive accepts the Dominant as her master, with the understanding that she is now the property of the Dominant, to be dealt with as the Dominant pleases during the Term generally but specifically during the Allotted Times and any additional agreed allotted times.

15.14 The Submissive shall obey the rules (“the Rules”) set out in Appendix 1 to this agreement.

15.15 The Submissive shall serve the Dominant in any way the Dominant sees fit and shall endeavor to please the Dominant at all times to the best of her ability.

15.16 The Submissive shall take all measures necessary to maintain her good health and shall request or seek medical attention whenever it is needed, keeping the Dominant informed at all times of any health issues that may arise.

15.17 The Submissive will ensure that she procures oral contraception and ensure that she takes it as and when prescribed to prevent any pregnancy.

15.18 The Submissive shall accept without question any and all disciplinary actions deemed necessary by the Dominant and remember her status and role in regard to the Dominant at all times.

15.19 The Submissive shall not touch or pleasure herself sexually without permission from the Dominant.

15.20 The Submissive shall submit to any sexual activity demanded by the Dominant and shall do so without hesitation or argument.

15.21 The Submissive shall accept whippings, floggings, spankings, caning, paddling or any other discipline the Dominant should decide to administer, without hesitation, enquiry or complaint.

15.22 The Submissive shall not look directly into the eyes of the Dominant except when specifically instructed to do so. The Submissive shall keep her eyes cast down and maintain a quiet and respectful bearing in the presence of the Dominant.

15.23 The Submissive shall always conduct herself in a respectful manner to the Dominant and shall address him only as Sir, Mr. Grey, or such other title as the Dominant may direct.

15.24 The Submissive will not touch the Dominant without his express permission to do so.

ACTIVITIES

16 The Submissive shall not participate in activities or any sexual acts that either party deems to be unsafe or any activities detailed in Appendix 2.

17 The Dominant and the Submissive have discussed the activities set out in Appendix 3 and recorded in writing on Appendix 3 their agreement in respect of them.

SAFEWORDS

18 The Dominant and the Submissive recognize that the Dominant may make demands of the Submissive that cannot be met without incurring physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or other harm at the time the demands are made to the Submissive. In such circumstances related to this, the Submissive may make use of a safeword (“The Safeword(s)”). Two Safewords will be invoked depending on the severity of the demands.

19 The Safeword “Yellow” will be used to bring to the attention of the Dominant that the Submissive is close to her limit of endurance.

20 The Safeword “Red” will be used to bring to the attention of the Dominant that the Submissive cannot tolerate any further demands. When this word is said the Dominant’s action will cease completely with immediate effect.

CONCLUSION

21 We the undersigned have read and understood fully the provisions of this contract. We freely accept the terms of this contract and have acknowledged this by our signatures below.

____________________

The Dominant: Christian Grey

Date

____________________

The Submissive: Anastasia Steele

Date

APPENDIX 1

RULES

Obedience:

The Submissive will obey any instructions given by the Dominant immediately without hesitation or reservation and in an expeditious manner. The Submissive will agree to any sexual activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Dominant excepting those activities which are outlined in hard limits (Appendix 2). She will do so eagerly and without hesitation.

Sleep:

The Submissive will ensure she achieves a minimum of eight hours sleep a night when she is not with the Dominant.

Food:

The Submissive will eat regularly to maintain her health and wellbeing from a prescribed list of foods (Appendix 4). The Submissive will not snack between meals, with the exception of fruit.

Clothes:

During the Term the Submissive will wear clothing only approved by the Dominant. The Dominant will provide a clothing budget for the Submissive, which the Submissive shall utilize. The Dominant shall accompany the Submissive to purchase clothing on an ad hoc basis. If the Dominant so requires, the Submissive shall during the Term wear adornments the Dominant shall require, in the presence of the Dominant and at any other time the Dominant deems fit.

Exercise:

The Dominant shall provide the Submissive with a personal trainer four times a week in hour-long sessions at times to be mutually agreed between the personal trainer and the Submissive. The personal trainer will report to the Dominant on the Submissive’s progress.

Personal Hygiene/Beauty:

The Submissive will keep herself clean and shaved and/or waxed at all times. The Submissive will visit a beauty salon of the Dominant’s choosing at times to be decided by the Dominant, and undergo whatever treatments the Dominant sees fit. All costs will be met by the Dominant.

Personal Safety:

The Submissive will not drink to excess, smoke, take recreational drugs or put herself in any unnecessary danger.

Personal Qualities:

The Submissive will not enter into any sexual relations with anyone other than the Dominant. The Submissive will conduct herself in a respectful and modest manner at all times. She must recognize that her behavior is a direct reflection on the Dominant. She shall be held accountable for any misdeeds, wrongdoings and misbehavior committed when not in the presence of the Dominant.

Failure to comply with any of the above will result in immediate punishment, the nature of which shall be determined by the Dominant.

APPENDIX 2

Hard Limits

No acts involving fire play.

No acts involving urination or defecation and the products thereof.

No acts involving needles, knives, cutting, piercing, or blood.

No acts involving gynecological medical instruments.

No acts involving children or animals.

No acts that will leave any permanent marks on the skin.

No acts involving breath control.

No activity that involves the direct contact of electric current (whether alternating or direct), fire or flames to the body.

APPENDIX 3

Soft Limits

To be discussed and agreed between both parties:

Which of the following sexual acts are acceptable to the Submissive?

• Masturbation

• Fellatio

• Cunnilingus

• Vaginal intercourse

• Vaginal fisting

• Anal intercourse

• Anal fisting

Is swallowing semen acceptable to the Submissive?

Is the use of sex toys acceptable to the Submissive?

• Vibrators

• Dildos

• Butt Plugs

• Other

Is Bondage acceptable to the Submissive?

• Hands in front

• Hands behind back

• Ankles

• Knees

• Elbows

• Wrists to ankles

• Spreader bars

• Tied to furniture

• Blindfolding

• Gagging

• Bondage with Rope

• Bondage with Tape

• Bondage with leather cuffs

• Suspension

• Bondage with handcuffs/metal restraints

What is the Submissive’s general attitude about receiving pain? Where 1 is likes intensely and 5 is dislikes intensely: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5

How much pain does the submissive want to receive? Where 1 is none and 5 is severe: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5

Which of the following types of pain/punishment/discipline are acceptable to the Submissive?

• Spanking

• Paddling

• Whipping

• Caning

• Biting

• Nipple clamps

• Genital clamps

• Ice

• Hot wax

• Other types/methods of pain

Holy Fuck. I can’t bring myself to even consider the food list. I swallow hard, my mouth dry, and read it again.

My head is buzzing. How can I possibly agree to all this? And apparently it’s for my benefit, to explore my sensuality, my limitssafely – oh please! I scoff angrily. Serve and obey in all things. All Things! I shake my head in disbelief. Actually, doesn’t the marriage ceremony use those words… obey? This throws me. Do couples still say that? Only three months, is that why there have been so many? He doesn’t keep them for long? Or have they had enough after three months? Every weekend? That’s too much. I’ll never see Kate or whatever friends I may make at my new job – provided I get one. Perhaps I should have one weekend a month to myself. Perhaps when I have my period, that sounds… practical. He’s my master! To be dealt with as he pleases! Holy shit.

I shudder at the thought of being flogged or whipped. Spanking probably wouldn’t be so bad, humiliating though. And tied up? Well he did tie my hands together. That was… well it was hot, really hot, so perhaps that won’t be so bad. He won’t loan me to another Dominant – damn right he won’t. That would be totally unacceptable. Why am I even thinking about this?

I can’t look him in the eye. How weird is that? The only way I ever have any chance to see what he’s thinking. Actually, who am I kidding? I never know what he’s thinking, but I like looking into his eyes. He has beautiful eyes – captivating, intelligent, deep and dark, dark with dominant secrets. I recall his burning smoky gaze and press my thighs together, squirming.

And I can’t touch him. Well, no surprise there. And these silly rules… No, no I can’t do this. I put my head in my hands. This is no way to have a relationship. I need some sleep. I’m shattered. All the physical shenanigans I’ve been engaged in over the last twenty-four hours have been, frankly, exhausting. And mentally… oh man, this is so much to take on board. As José would say, a real mind-fuck. Perhaps in the morning this might not read like a bad joke.

I scramble up and change quickly. Perhaps I should borrow Kate’s pink flannel pajamas. I want something cuddly and reassuring around me. I head to the bathroom in my t-shirt and sleep shorts and brush my teeth.

I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. You can’t seriously be considering this… My subconscious sounds sane and rational, not her usual snarky self. My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five-year-old. Please, let’s do this… otherwise we’ll end up alone with lots of cats and your classic novels to keep you company.

The only man I’ve ever been attracted to, and he comes with a bloody contract, a flogger, and a whole world of issues. Well, at least I got my way this weekend. My inner goddess stops jumping and smiles serenely. Oh yes… she mouths, nodding at me smugly. I flush at the memory of his hands and his mouth on me, his body inside mine. Closing my eyes, I feel the familiar delicious pull of my muscles from deep, deep down. I want to do that again and again. Maybe if I just sign up for the sex… would he go with that? I suspect not.

Am I submissive? Maybe I come across that way. Maybe I misled him in the interview. I’m shy, yes… but submissive? I let Kate bully me – is that the same? And those soft limits, jeez. My mind boggles, but I’m reassured that they are up for discussion.

I wander back to my bedroom. This is too much to think about. I need a clear head – a fresh morning approach to the problem. I put the offending documents back in my satchel. Tomorrow… tomorrow is another day. Clambering into bed, I switch off the light and lie staring up at the ceiling. Oh, I wish I’d never met him. My inner goddess shakes her head at me. She and I know it’s a lie. I have never felt as alive as I do now.

I close my eyes, and I drift into a heavy sleep with occasional dreams of four-poster beds and shackles and intense gray eyes.

Kate wakes me the next day.

“Ana, I’ve been calling you. You must have been out cold.”

My eyes reluctantly open. She’s not just up – she’s been for a run. I glance at my alarm. It’s eight in the morning. Holy Moses, I’ve slept for a solid nine hours.

“What is it?” I mumble sleepily.

“There’s a man here with a delivery for you. You have to sign for it.”

“What?”

“Come on. It’s big. It looks interesting.” She hops from foot to foot excitedly and bounds back into the living area. I clamber out of bed and grab my dressing gown hanging on the back of my door. A smart young man with a ponytail is standing in our living room clasping a large box.

“Hi,” I mumble.

“I’ll make you some tea.” Kate scuttles off to the kitchen.

“Miss Steele?”

And I immediately know who the parcel is from.

“Yes,” I answer cautiously.

“I have a package for you here, but I have to set it up and show you how to use it.”

“Really? At this time?”

“Only following orders, ma’am.” He smiles in a charming but professional he’s-not-taking-any-crap way.

Did he just call me ma’am? Have I aged ten years overnight? If I have, it’s that contract. My mouth puckers in disgust.

“Okay, what is it?”

“It’s a MacBook Pro.”

“Of course it is.” I roll my eyes.

“These aren’t available in the shops yet, ma’am; the very latest from Apple.”

How come that does not surprise me? I sigh heavily.

“Just set it up on the dining table over there.”

I wander into the kitchen to join Kate.

“What is it?” she says inquisitive, bright eyed and bushy tailed. She’s slept well, too.

“It’s a laptop from Christian.”

“Why’s he sent you a laptop? You know you can use mine,” she frowns.

Not for what he has in mind.

“Oh, it’s only on loan. He wanted me to try it out.” My excuse sounds feeble. But Kate nods her assent. Oh my… I have hoodwinked Katherine Kavanagh. A first. She hands me my tea.

The Mac laptop is sleek and silver and rather beautiful. It has a very large screen. Christian Grey likes scale – I think of his living area, in fact, his whole apartment.

“It’s got the latest OS and a full suite of programs, plus a one-point-five terabyte hard drive so you’ll have plenty of room, thirty-two gigs of RAM – what are you planning to use it for?

“Uh… e-mail.”

“E-mail!” he chokes, bemused, raising his eyebrows with a slightly sick look on his face.

“And maybe Internet research?” I shrug apologetically.

He sighs.

“Well, this has full wireless N, and I’ve set it up with your Me account details. This baby is all ready to go, practically anywhere on the planet.” He looks longingly at it.

“Me account?”

“Your new e-mail address.”

I have an e-mail address?

He points to an icon on the screen and continues to talk at me but it’s like white noise. I haven’t got a clue what he’s saying, and in all honestly, I’m not interested. Just tell me how to switch it on and off – I’ll figure out the rest. After all, I’ve been using Kate’s for four years. Kate whistles, impressed when she sees it.

“This is next-generation tech.” She raises her eyebrows at me. “Most women get flowers or maybe jewelry,” she says suggestively, trying to suppress a smile.

I scowl at her but can’t keep a straight face. We both burst into a fit of giggles, and computer man gapes at us, bemused. He finishes up and asks me to sign the delivery note.

As Kate shows him out, I sit with my cup of tea, open the e-mail program, and sitting there waiting for me is an e-mail from Christian. My heart leaps into my mouth. I have an e-mail from Christian Grey. Nervously, I open it.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Your New Computer

Date: May 22 2011 23:15

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Miss Steele

I trust you slept well. I hope that you put this laptop to good use, as discussed.

I look forward to dinner, Wednesday.

Happy to answer any questions before then, via e-mail, should you so desire.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

I hit reply.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Your New Computer (on loan)

Date: May 23 2011 08:20

To: Christian Grey

I slept very well thank you – for some strange reason – Sir.

I understood that this computer was on loan, ergo not mine.

Ana

Almost instantaneously there is a response.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Your New Computer (on loan)

Date: May 23 2011 08:22

To: Anastasia Steele

The computer is on loan. Indefinitely, Miss Steele.

I note from your tone that you have read the documentation I gave you.

Do you have any questions so far?

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

I can’t help but grin.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Enquiring Minds

Date: May 23 2011 08:25

To: Christian Grey

I have many questions, but not suitable for e-mail, and some of us have to work for a living.

I do not want or need a computer indefinitely.

Until later, good day. Sir.

Ana

His reply again is instant, and it makes me smile.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Your New Computer (again on loan)

Date: May 23 2011 08:26

To: Anastasia Steele

Laters, baby.

PS: I work for a living, too.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

I shut the computer down, grinning like an idiot. How can I resist playful Christian? I am going to be late for work. Well, it is my last week – Mr. and Mrs. Clayton will probably cut me some slack. I race into the shower, unable to shake my face-splitting grin. He e-mailed me. I’m like a small, giddy child. And all the contract angst fades. As I wash my hair, I try and think what I could possibly ask him via e-mail. Surely it’s better to talk these things through. Suppose someone hacked into his account? I flush at the thought. I dress quickly, shout a hasty goodbye to Kate, and I’m off to work my last week at Clayton’s.

José phones at eleven.

“Hey, are we doing coffee?” He sounds like the old José. José my friend, not a – what did Christian call him? Suitor. Ugh.

“Sure. I’m at work. Can you make it here for say twelve?”

“See you then.”

He hangs up, and I go back to restocking the paintbrushes and thinking about Christian Grey and his contract.

José is punctual. He comes bounding into the shop like a gamboling dark-eyed puppy.

“Ana,” he smiles his dazzling toothy all-Hispanic-American smile, and I can’t be angry with him anymore.

“Hi, José.” I hug him. “I’m starving. I’ll just let Mrs. Clayton know I’m going for lunch.”

As we stroll to the local coffee shop, I slip my arm through José’s. I’m so grateful for his – normality. Someone I know and understand.

“Hey, Ana,” he murmurs. “You’ve really forgiven me?”

“José, you know I can never stay mad at you for long.”

He grins.

I can’t wait to get home. The lure of e-mailing Christian, and maybe I can begin my research project. Kate is out somewhere, so I fire up the new laptop and open my e-mail. Sure enough, there’s a message from Christian sitting in the inbox. I’m practically bouncing out of my seat with glee.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Working for a living

Date: May 23 2011 17:24

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Miss Steele

I do hope you had a good day at work.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

I hit reply.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Working for living

Date: May 23 2011 17:48

To: Christian Grey

Sir… I had a very good day at work.

Thank you.

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Do The Work!

Date: May 23 2011 17:50

To: Anastasia Steele

Miss Steele

Delighted you had a good day.

While you are e-mailing, you are not researching.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Nuisance

Date: May 23 2011 17:53

To: Christian Grey

Mr. Grey, stop e-mailing me, and I can start my assignment.

I’d like another A.

Ana

I hug myself.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Impatient

Date: May 23 2011 17:55

To: Anastasia Steele

Miss Steele

Stop e-mailing me – and do your assignment.

I’d like to award another A.

The first one was so well deserved.;)

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

Christian Grey just sent me a winking smiley… Oh my. I fire up Google.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Internet Research

Date: May 23 2011 17:59

To: Christian Grey

Mr. Grey

What would you suggest I put into a search engine?

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Internet Research

Date: May 23 2011 18:02

To: Anastasia Steele

Miss Steele

Always start with Wikipedia.

No more e-mails unless you have questions. Understood?

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Bossy!

Date: May 23 2011 18:04

To: Christian Grey

Yes… Sir.

You are so bossy.

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: In Control

Date: May 23 2011 18:06

To: Anastasia Steele

Anastasia, you have no idea.

Well, maybe an inkling now.

Do the work.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

I type Submissive into Wikipedia.

Half an hour later, I feel slight queasy and frankly shocked to my core. Do I really want this stuff in my head? Jeez – is this what he gets up to in the Red Room of Pain? I sit staring at the screen, and part of me, a very moist and integral part of me – that I’ve only become acquainted with very recently, is seriously turned on. Oh my, some of this stuff is HOT. But is it for me? Holy shit… could I do this? I need space. I need to think.

12

For the first time in my life, I voluntarily go for a run. I find my nasty, never-used sneakers, some sweat pants, and a t-shirt. I put my hair in pigtails, blushing at the memories they bring back, and I plug in my iPod. I can’t sit in front of that marvel of technology and look at or read any more disturbing material. I need to expend some of this excess, enervating, energy. Quite frankly, I have a mind to run to the Heathman hotel and just demand sex from the control freak. But that’s five miles, and I don’t think I’ll be able to run one mile, let alone five, and of course, he might turn me down which would be beyond humiliating.

Kate is walking from her car as I head out of the door. She nearly drops her shopping when she sees me. Ana Steele in sneakers. I wave and don’t stop for the inquisition. I need some serious alone time. Snow Patrol blaring in my ears, I set off into the opal and aquamarine dusk.

I pace through the park. What am I going to do? I want him, but on his terms? I just don’t know. Perhaps I should negotiate what I want. Go through that ridiculous contract line by line and say what is acceptable and what isn’t. My research has told me that legally it’s unenforceable. He must know that. I figure that it just sets up the parameters of the relationship. It illustrates what I can expect from him and what he expects from me – my total submission. Am I prepared to give him that? Am I even capable?

I am plagued by one question – why is he like this? Is it because he was seduced at such a young age? I just don’t know. He’s still such a mystery.

I stop beside a large spruce and put my hands on my knees, breathing hard, dragging precious air into my lungs. Oh, this feels good, cathartic. I can feel my resolve hardening. Yes. I need to tell him what’s okay and what isn’t. I need to e-mail him my thoughts, and then we can discuss these on Wednesday. I take a deep cleansing breath, then jog back to the apartment.

Kate has been shopping, as only she can, for clothes for her holiday to Barbados. Mainly bikinis and matching sarongs. She will look fabulous in all of them, yet she still makes me sit and comment while she tries on each and every one. There are only so many ways one can say – you look fabulous, Kate. She has a curvy, slim figure to die for. She doesn’t do it on purpose, I know, but I haul my sorry, perspiration clad, old t-shirt, sweat pants, and sneakers ass into my room on the pretext of packing more boxes. Could I feel any more inadequate? Taking the awesome free technology with me, I set the laptop up on my desk. I e-mail Christian.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Shocked of WSUV

Date: May 23 2011 20:33

To: Christian Grey

Okay, I’ve seen enough.

It was nice knowing you.

Ana

I press send, hugging myself, laughing at my little joke. Will he find it as funny? Oh shit – probably not. Christian Grey is not famed for his sense of humor. But I know it exists, I’ve experienced it. Perhaps I’ve gone too far. I wait for his answer.

I wait… and wait. I glance at my alarm clock. Ten minutes have passed.

To distract myself from the anxiety that blooms in my belly, I start doing what I told Kate I would be doing – packing up my room. I begin by cramming my books into a crate. By nine, I’ve heard nothing. Perhaps he’s out. I pout petulantly as I plug my iPod ear buds in, listen to Snow Patrol, and sit down at my small desk to reread the contract and make my comments.

I don’t know why I glance up, maybe I catch a slight movement from the corner of my eye, I don’t know, but when I do, he’s standing in the doorway of my bedroom watching me intently. He’s wearing his grey flannel pants and a white linen shirt, gently twirling his car keys. I pull my ear buds out and freeze. Fuck!

“Good evening, Anastasia.” His voice is cool, his expression completely guarded and unreadable. The capacity to speak deserts me. Damn Kate for letting him in here with no warning. Vaguely, I’m aware that I’m still in my sweats, unshowered, yucky, and he’s just gloriously yummy, his pants doing that hanging from the hips thing, and what’s more, he’s here in my bedroom.

“I felt that your e-mail warranted a reply in person,” he explains dryly.

I open my mouth and then close it again, twice. The joke is on me. Never in this or any alternative universe did I expect him to drop everything and turn up here.

“May I sit?” he asks, his eyes now dancing with humor – thank heavensmaybe he’ll see the funny side?

I nod. The power of speech remains elusive. Christian Grey is sitting on my bed.

“I wondered what your bedroom would look like,” he says.

I glance around it, plotting an escape route, no – there’s still only the door or window. My room is functional but cozy – sparse white wicker furniture and a white iron double bed with a patchwork quilt, made by my mother when she was in her folksy American quilting phase. It’s all pale blue and cream.

“It’s very serene and peaceful in here,” he murmurs. Not at the moment… not with you here.

Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose. I breathe.

“How…?”

He smiles at me.

“I’m still at the Heathman.”

I know that.

“Would you like a drink?” Politeness wins out over everything else I’d like to say.

“No thank you, Anastasia.” He smiles a dazzling, crooked smile, his head cocked slightly to one side.

Well, I might need one.

“So, it was nice knowing me?”

Holy cow, is he offended? I stare down at my fingers. How am I going to dig myself out of this? If I tell him it was a joke, I don’t think he’ll be impressed.

“I thought you’d reply by e-mail.” My voice is small, pathetic.

“Are you biting your lower lip deliberately?” he asks darkly.

I blink up at him, gasping, freeing my lip.

“I wasn’t aware I was biting my lip,” I murmur softly.

My heart is pounding. I can feel that pull, that delicious electricity between us charging, filling the space between us with static. He’s sitting so close to me, his eyes dark smoky gray, his elbows resting on his knees, his legs apart. Leaning forward, he slowly undoes one of my pigtails, his fingers freeing my hair. My breathing is shallow, and I cannot move. I watch hypnotized as his hand moves to my second pigtail, and pulling the hair tie, he loosens the braid with his long, skilled fingers.

“So you decided on some exercise,” he breathes, his voice soft and melodious. His fingers gently tuck my hair behind my ear. “Why, Anastasia?” His fingers circle my ear, and very softly, he tugs my earlobe, rhythmically. It’s so sexual.

“I needed time to think,” I whisper. I’m all rabbit/headlights, moth/flame, bird/snake… and he knows exactly what he’s doing to me.

“Think about what, Anastasia?”

“You.”

“And you decided that it was nice knowing me? Do you mean knowing me in the biblical sense?”

Oh shit. I flush.

“I didn’t think you were familiar with the Bible.”

“I went to Sunday School, Anastasia. It taught me a great deal.”

“I don’t remember reading about nipple clamps in the Bible. Perhaps you were taught from a modern translation.”

His lips arch with a trace of a smile, and my eyes are drawn to his beautiful sculptured mouth.

“Well, I thought I should come and remind you how nice it was knowing me.”

Holy crap. I stare at him open mouthed, and his fingers move from my ear to my chin.

“What do you say to that, Miss Steele?”

His gray eyes blaze at me, his challenge intrinsic in his stare. His lips are parted – he’s waiting, coiled to strike. Desire – acute, liquid and smoldering, combusts deep in my belly. I take preemptive action and launch myself at him. Somehow he moves, I have no idea how, and in the blink of an eye I’m on the bed pinned beneath him, my arms stretched out and held above my head, his free hand clutching my face, and his mouth finds mine.

His tongue is in my mouth, claiming and possessing me, and I revel in the force he uses. I feel him against the length of my body. He wants me, and this does strange, delicious things to my insides. Not Kate in her little bikinis, not one of the fifteen, not evil Mrs. Robinson. Me. This beautiful man wants me. My inner goddess glows so bright she could light up Portland. He stops kissing me, and opening my eyes, I find him gazing down at me.

“Trust me?” he breathes.

I nod, wide-eyed, my heart bouncing off my ribs, my blood thundering around my body.

He reaches down, and from his pants pocket, he takes out his silver grey silk tie… that silver grey woven tie that leaves small impressions of its weave on my skin. He moves so quickly, sitting astride me as he fastens my wrists together, but this time, he ties the other end of the tie to one of the spokes of my white iron headboard. He pulls at my binding, checking it’s secure. I’m not going anywhere. I’m tied, literally, to my bed, and I’m so aroused.

He slides off me and stands beside the bed, staring down at me, his eyes dark with want. His look is triumphant, mixed with relief.

“That’s better,” he murmurs and smiles a wicked, knowing smile. He bends and starts undoing one of my sneakers. Oh no… no… my feet. No. I’ve just been running.

“No,” I protest, trying to kick him off.

He stops.

“If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Katherine is probably outside listening right now.”

Gag me! Kate! I shut up.

He removes my shoes and my socks efficiently and slowly peels off my sweat pants. Oh – what panties am I wearing? He lifts me and pulls the quilt and my duvet out from underneath me and places me back down, this time on the sheets.

“Now then.” He licks his bottom lip slowly. “You’re biting that lip, Anastasia. You know the effect it has on me.” He places his long index finger over my mouth, a warning.

Oh my. I can barely contain myself, lying helpless, watching him move gracefully around my room. It’s a heady aphrodisiac. Slowly, almost leisurely, he removes his shoes and socks, undoes his pants, and lifts his shirt off over his head.

“I think you’ve seen too much,” he chuckles slyly. He sits astride me again, pulls my t-shirt up, and I think he’s going to take it off me, but he rolls it up to my neck and then pulls it up over my head so he can see my mouth and my nose, but it covers my eyes. And because it’s folded over – I cannot see a thing through it.

“Mmm,” he breathes appreciatively. “This just gets better and better. I’m going to get a drink.”

Leaning down, he kisses me, his lips tender against mine, and his weight shifts off the bed. I hear the quiet creak of the bedroom door. Get a drink. Where? Here? Portland? Seattle? I strain to hear him. I can make out low rumblings, and I know he’s talking to Kate – oh no… he’s practically naked. What’s she going to say? I hear a faint popping sound. What’s that? He returns, the door creaking once more, his feet padding across the bedroom floor, and ice tinkling against glass as it swirls in liquid. What kind of drink? He shuts the door and shuffles around removing his pants. They drop to the floor, and I know he’s naked. He sits astride me again.

“Are you thirsty, Anastasia?” he asks, his voice teasing

“Yes,” I breathe, because my mouth is suddenly parched. I hear the ice clink against the glass, and he puts it down again and leans down and kisses me, pouring a delicious crisp liquid into my mouth as he does. It’s white wine. It’s so unexpected, hot, though it’s chilled, and Christian’s lips are cool.

“More?” he whispers.

I nod. It tastes all the more divine because it’s been in his mouth. He leans down, and I drink another mouthful from his lips… oh my.

“Let’s not go too far; we know your capacity for alcohol is limited, Anastasia.”

I can’t help it. I grin, and he leans down to deliver another delicious mouthful. He shifts so he’s lying beside me, his erection at my hip. Oh, I want him inside me.

“Is this nice?” he asks, but I hear the edge in his voice.

I tense. He moves the glass again and leans down, kissing me and depositing a small shard of ice in my mouth with a little wine. He slowly and leisurely trails chilled kisses down the center of my body, from the base of my throat, between my breasts, down my torso, and to my belly. He pops a fragment of ice in my navel in a pool of cool, cold wine. It burns all the way down to the depths of my belly. Wow.

“Now you have to keep still,” he whispers. “If you move, Anastasia, you’ll get wine all over the bed.”

My hips flex automatically.

“Oh no. If you spill the wine, I will punish you, Miss Steele.”

I groan and desperately fight the urge to tilt my hips, pulling on my restraint. Oh no… please.

With one finger, he pulls down my bra cups in turn, my breasts pushed up, exposed and vulnerable. Leaning down, he kisses and tugs at each of my nipples in turn with cool, cold lips. I fight my body as it tries to arch in response.

“How nice is this?” he breathes, blowing on one of my nipples.

I hear another clink of ice, and then I can feel it round my right nipple as he tugs the left one with his lips. I moan, struggling not to move. It’s sweet, agonizing torture.

“If you spill the wine, I won’t let you come.”

“Oh… please… Christian… Sir… Please.” He’s driving me insane. I hear him smile.

The ice in my navel is melting. I am beyond warm – warm and chilled and wanting. Wanting him, inside me. Now.

His cool fingers trail languidly across my belly. My skin is oversensitive, my hips flex automatically, and the now warmer liquid from my navel seeps over my belly. Christian moves quickly, lapping it up with his tongue, kissing, biting me softly, sucking.

“Oh dear, Anastasia, you moved. What am I going to do to you?”

I’m panting loudly. All I can concentrate on is his voice and his touch. Nothing else is real. Nothing else matters, nothing else registers on my radar. His fingers slip into my panties, and I’m rewarded with his unguarded sharp intake of air.

“Oh, baby,” he murmurs and he pushes two fingers inside me.

I gasp.

“Ready for me so soon,” he says. He moves his fingers tantalizingly slowly, in, out, and I push against him, tilting my hips up.

“You are a greedy girl,” he scolds softly, and his thumb circles my clitoris and then presses down.

I groan loudly as my body bucks beneath his expert fingers. He reaches up and pushes the t-shirt over my head so I can see him as I blink in the soft light of my sidelight. I long to touch him.

“I want to touch you,” I breathe.

“I know,” he murmurs. He leans down and kisses me, his fingers still moving rhythmically inside me, his thumb circling and pressing. His other hand scoops my hair off my head and holds my head in place. His tongue mirrors the actions of his fingers, claiming me. My legs begin to stiffen as I push against his hand. He gentles his hand, so I’m brought back from the brink. He does this again and again. It’s so frustrating… Oh please, Christian, I scream in my head.

“This is your punishment, so close and yet so far. Is this nice?” he breathes in my ear. I whimper, exhausted, pulling against my restraint. I’m helpless, lost in an erotic torment.

“Please,” I beg, and he finally takes pity on me.

“How shall I fuck you, Anastasia?”

Oh… my body starts to quiver. He stills again.

“Please.”

“What do you want, Anastasia?”

“You… now,” I cry.

“Shall I fuck you this way, or this way, or this way? There’s an endless choice,” he breathes against my lips. He withdraws his hand and reaches over to the bedside table for a foil packet. He kneels up between my legs, and very slowly he pulls my panties off, staring down at me, his eyes gleaming. He puts on the condom. I watch fascinated, mesmerized.

“How nice is this?” he says as he strokes himself.

“I meant it as a joke,” I whimper. Please fuck me, Christian.

He raises his eyebrows as his hand moves up and down his impressive length.

“A joke?” His voice is menacingly soft.

“Yes. Please, Christian,” I beseech him.

“Are you laughing now?”

“No,” I mewl.

I am just one ball of sexual, tense, need. He stares down at me for a moment, measuring my need, then he grabs me suddenly and flips me over. It takes me by surprise, and because my hands are tied, I have to support myself on my elbows. He pushes both my knees up the bed so my behind is in the air, and he slaps me hard. Before I can react, he plunges inside me. I cry out – from the slap and from his sudden assault, and I come instantly again and again, falling apart beneath him as he continues to slam deliciously into me. He doesn’t stop. I’m spent. I can’t take this… and he pounds on and on and on… then I’m building again… surely not… no…

“Come on, Anastasia, again,” he growls through clenched teeth, and unbelievably, my body responds, convulsing around him as I climax anew, calling out his name. I shatter again into tiny fragments, and Christian stills, finally letting go, silently finding his release. He collapses on top of me, breathing hard.

“How nice was that?” he asks through his gritted teeth.

Oh my.

I lie panting and spent on the bed, eyes closed as he slowly pulls out of me. He rises immediately and dresses. When he’s fully clothed, he climbs back on the bed and gently undoes his tie and pulls my t-shirt off. I flex my fingers and rub my wrists, smiling at the woven pattern imprinted on my wrists from the tie. I re-adjust my bra as he pulls the duvet and quilt over me. I stare up at him completely dazed, and he smirks down at me.

“That was really nice,” I whisper, smiling coyly.

“There’s that word again.”

“You don’t like that word?”

“No. It doesn’t do it for me at all.”

“Oh – I don’t know… it seems to have a very beneficial effect on you.”

“I’m a beneficial effect, now am I? Could you wound my ego any further, Miss Steele?”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your ego.” But even as I say it, I don’t feel the conviction of my words – something elusive crosses my mind, a fleeting thought, but it’s lost before I can grasp it.

“You think?” His voice is soft. He’s lying beside me, fully clothed, his head propped up on his elbow, and I am only wearing my bra.

“Why don’t you like to be touched?”

“I just don’t.” He reaches over and plants a soft kiss on my forehead. “So, that e-mail was your idea of a joke.”

I smile apologetically at him and shrug.

“I see. So you are still considering my proposition?”

“Your indecent proposal… yes I am. I have issues though.”

He grins down at me as if relieved.

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”

“I was going to e-mail them to you, but you kind of interrupted me.”

“Coitus interruptus.”

“See, I knew you had a sense of humor somewhere in there.” I smile.

“Only certain things are funny, Anastasia. I thought you were saying no, no discussion at all.” His voice drops.

“I don’t know yet. I haven’t made up my mind. Will you collar me?”

He raises his eyebrows.

“You have been doing your research. I don’t know, Anastasia. I’ve never collared anyone.”

Oh… should I be surprised by this? I know so little about the scene… I don’t know.

“Were you collared?” I whisper.

“Yes.”

“By Mrs. Robinson?”

“Mrs. Robinson!” he laughs loudly, freely, and he looks so young and carefree, his head thrown back, his laughter infectious.

I grin back at him.

“I’ll tell her you said that; she’ll love it.”

“You still talk to her regularly?” I can’t keep the shock out of my voice.

“Yes.” He’s serious now.

Oh… and part of me is suddenly insanely jealous – I’m disturbed by the depth of my feeling.

“I see.” My voice is tight. “So you have someone you can discuss your alternative lifestyle with, but I’m not allowed.”

He frowns.

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it like that. Mrs. Robinson was part of that lifestyle. I told you, she’s a good friend now. If you’d like, I can introduce you to one of my former subs. You could talk to her.”

What? Is he deliberately trying to upset me?

“Is this your idea of a joke?

“No, Anastasia.” He’s bemused as he shakes his head earnestly.

“No – I’ll do this on my own, thank you very much,” I snap at him, pulling the duvet up to my chin.

He stares at me, at sea, surprised.

“Anastasia, I… ” He’s lost for words. A first, I think. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“I’m not offended. I’m appalled.”

“Appalled?”

“I don’t want to talk to one of your ex-girlfriends… slave… sub… whatever you call them.”

“Anastasia Steele – are you jealous?”

I flush, crimson.

“Are you staying?”

“I have a breakfast meeting tomorrow at the Heathman. Besides, I told you, I don’t sleep with girlfriends, slaves, subs, or anyone. Friday and Saturday night were exceptions. It won’t happen again.” I can hear the resolve behind his soft, husky voice.

I purse my lips at him.

“Well I’m tired now.”

“Are you kicking me out?” He raises his eyebrows at me, amused and a little dismayed.

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s another first.” He eyes me speculatively. “So nothing you want to discuss now? About the contract.”

“No.” I reply petulantly.

“God, I’d like to give you a good hiding. You’d feel a lot better, and so would I.”

“You can’t say things like that… I haven’t signed anything yet.”

“A man can dream, Anastasia.” He leans over me and grasps my chin. “Wednesday?” he murmurs, and he kisses me lightly on my lips.

“Wednesday,” I agree. “I’ll see you out. If you give me a minute.” I sit up and grab my t-shirt, pushing him out of the way. Amused and reluctant, he gets up off the bed.

“Please pass me my sweat pants.”

He collects them from the floor and hands them to me.

“Yes, ma’am.” He’s trying unsuccessfully to hide his smile.

I narrow my eyes at him as I slip the pants on. My hair is a state, and I know I’ll have to face the Katherine Kavanagh Inquisition after he’s gone. Grabbing a hair tie, I walk to my bedroom door, opening it slightly to check for Kate. She is not in the living area. I think I can hear her on the phone in her room. Christian follows me out. During the short walk from bedroom to front door, my thoughts and feelings ebb and flow, transforming. I’m no longer angry with him, I feel suddenly unbearably shy. I don’t want him to go. For the first time, I’m wishing he was – normal – wanting a normal relationship that doesn’t need a ten-page agreement, a flogger, and carabiners in his playroom ceiling.

I open the door for him and stare down at my hands. This is the first time I have ever had sex in my home, and as sex goes, I think it was pretty damn fine. But now I feel like a receptacle – an empty vessel to be filled at his whim. My subconscious shakes her head. You wanted to run to the Heathman for sex – you had it express-delivered. She crosses her arms and taps her foot with a what-are-you-complaining-about look on her face. Christian stops in the doorway and clasps my chin, forcing my eyes to meet his. His brow creases slightly.

“You okay?” he asks tenderly as his thumb lightly caresses my bottom lip.

“Yes.” I reply, though in all honesty I’m just not sure. I feel a paradigm shift. I know that if I do this thing with him, I will get hurt. He’s not capable, interested, or willing to offer me any more… and I want more. Much more. The surge of jealousy I felt only moments ago tells me that I have deeper feelings for him than I have admitted to myself.

“Wednesday,” he confirms, and he leans forward and kisses me softly. Something changes while he’s kissing me, his lips grow more urgent against mine, his hand moves up from my chin and he’s holding the side of my head, his other hand on the other side. His breathing accelerates. He deepens the kiss, leaning into me. I put my hands on his arms. I want to run them through his hair, but I resist, knowing that he won’t like it. He leans his forehead against mine, his eyes closed, his voice strained.

“Anastasia,” he whispers. “What are you doing to me?”

“I could say the same to you,” I whisper back.

Taking a deep breath, he kisses my forehead and leaves. He strolls purposefully down the path toward his car as he runs his hand through his hair. Glancing up as he opens his car door, he smiles his breathtaking smile. My answering smile is weak, completely dazzled by him, and I’m reminded once more of Icarus soaring too close to the Sun. I close the front door as he climbs into his sporty car. I have an overwhelming urge to cry, a sad and lonely melancholy grips and tightens round my heart. Dashing back to my bedroom, I close the door and lean against it trying to rationalize my feelings. I can’t. Sliding to the floor, I put my head in my hands as my tears begin to flow.

Kate knocks gently.

“Ana?” she whispers. I open the door. She takes one look at me and throws her arms around me.

“What’s wrong? What did that creepy good-looking bastard do?”

“Oh Kate, nothing I didn’t want him to.”

She pulls me to my bed and we sit.

“You have dreadful sex hair.”

In spite of my poignant sadness, I laugh.

“It was good sex, not dreadful at all.”

Kate smiles.

“That’s better. Why are you crying? You never cry.” She retrieves my brush from the side table, and sitting behind me, very slowly starts brushing out the knots.

“I just don’t think our relationship is going to go anywhere.” I stare down at my fingers.

“I thought you said you were going to see him on Wednesday?”

“I am. That was our original plan.”

“So, why did he turn up here today?”

“I sent him an e-mail.”

“Asking him to drop by?”

“No, saying I didn’t want to see him anymore.”

“And he turns up? Ana, that’s genius.”

“Actually it was a joke.”

“Oh. Now I’m really confused.”

Patiently, I explain the essence of my e-mail without giving anything away.

“So you thought he’d reply by e-mail.”

“Yes.”

“But instead he turns up here.”

“Yes.”

“I’d say he’s completely smitten with you.”

I frown. Christian, smitten with me? Hardly. He’s just looking for a new toy – a convenient new toy that he can bed and do unspeakable things to. My heart tightens painfully. This is the reality.

“He came here to fuck me, that’s all.”

“Who said romance was dead?” she whispers horrified. I’ve shocked Kate. I didn’t think that was possible. I shrug apologetically.

“He uses sex as a weapon.”

“Fuck you into submission?” She shakes her head disapprovingly. I blink rapidly at her, and I can feel the blush as it spreads across my face. Oh… spot on, Katherine Kavanagh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

“Ana, I don’t understand, you just let him make love to you?”

“No, Kate, we don’t make love – we fuck – Christian’s terminology. He doesn’t do the love thing.”

“I knew there was something weird about him. He has commitment issues.”

I nod, as if in agreement. Inwardly, I pine. Oh Kate… I wish I could tell you everything, everything about this strange, sad, kinky guy, and you could tell me to forget about him. Stop me from being a fool.

“I guess it’s all a little overwhelming,” I murmur. That’s the understatement of the year.

Because I don’t want to talk about Christian any more, I ask her about Elliot. Katherine’s whole demeanor changes at the mere mention of his name. She lights up from within, beaming at me.

“He’s coming over early Saturday to help load up.” She hugs the hairbrush – boy, has she got it bad – and I feel a familiar faint stab of envy. Kate has found herself a normal man, and she looks so happy.

I turn and hug her.

“Oh, I meant to say. Your dad called while you were… err, occupied. Apparently Bob has sustained some injury, so your mom and he can’t make graduation. But your dad will be here Thursday. He wants you to call.”

“Oh… my mom never called me. Is Bob okay?”

“Yes. Call her in the morning. It’s late now.”

“Thanks, Kate. I’m okay now. I’ll call Ray in the morning, too. I think I’ll just turn in.”

She smiles, but her eyes crinkle at the corners with concern.

After she’s gone, I sit and read the contract again, making more notes as I go. When I’ve finished, I fire up the laptop, ready to respond.

There’s an e-mail from Christian in my inbox.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: This evening

Date: May 23 2011 23:16

To: Anastasia Steele

Miss Steele

I look forward to receiving your notes on the contract.

Until then, sleep well baby.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Issues

Date: May 24 2011 00:02

To: Christian Grey

Dear Mr. Grey

Here is my list of issues. I look forward to discussing them more fully at dinner on Wednesday.

The numbers refer to clauses:

2: Not sure why this is solely for MY benefit – i.e. to explore MY sensuality and limits. I’m sure I wouldn’t need a ten-page contract to do that! Surely this is for YOUR benefit.

4: As you are aware you are my only sexual partner. I don’t take drugs, and I’ve not had any blood transfusions. I’m probably safe. What about you?

8: I can terminate at any time if I don’t think you’re sticking to the agreed limits. Okay – I like this.

9: Obey you in all things? Accept without hesitation your discipline? We need to talk about this.

11: One month trial period. Not three.

12: I cannot commit every weekend. I do have a life, or will have. Perhaps three out of four?

15.2: Using my body as you see fit sexually or otherwise – please define “or otherwise.”

15.5: This whole discipline clause. I’m not sure I want to be whipped, flogged, or corporally punished. I am sure this would be in breach of clauses 2-5. And also “for any other reason”. That’s just mean – and you told me you weren’t a sadist.

15.10: Like loaning me out to someone else would ever be an option. But I’m glad it’s here in black and white.

15.14: The Rules. More on those later.

15.19: Touching myself without your permission. What’s the problem with this? You know I don’t do it anyway.

15.21: Discipline – Please see clause 15.5 above.

15.22: I can’t look into your eyes? Why?

15.24: Why can’t I touch you?

Rules:

Sleep – I’ll agree to 6 hours. Food – I am not eating food from a prescribed list. The food list goes or I do – Deal breaker. Clothes – as long as I only have to wear your clothes when I’m with you… okay. Exercise – We agreed 3 hours, this still says 4.

Soft Limits:

Can we go through all of these? No Fisting of any kind. What is suspension? Genital Clamps – you have got to be kidding me.

Can you please let me know the arrangements for Wednesday? I am working until 5pm that day.

Good night.

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: This evening

Date: May 24 2011 00:07

To: Anastasia Steele

Miss Steele

That’s a long list. Why are you still up?

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Burning the midnight oil

Date: May 24 2011 00:10

To: Christian Grey

Sir

If you recall, I was going through this list when I was distracted and bedded by a passing control freak.

Goodnight.

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Stop Burning the midnight oil

Date: May 24 2011 00:12

To: Anastasia Steele

GO TO BED ANASTASIA.

Christian Grey

CEO & Control Freak, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

Oh… shouty capitals! I switch off. How can he intimidate me when he’s six miles away? I shake my head. My heart still heavy, I climb into bed and fall instantly into a deep but troubled sleep.

13

The following day, I call my mom when I’m home from work. It’s been a relatively peaceful day at Clayton’s, allowing me far too much time to think. I’m restless, nervous about my showdown with Mr. Control Freak tomorrow, and at the back of my mind, I’m worried that perhaps I’ve been too negative in my response to the contract. Perhaps he’ll call the whole thing off.

My mom is oozing contrition, desperately sorry not to make my graduation. Bob has twisted some ligament which means he’s hobbling all over the place. Honestly, he’s as accident-prone as I am. He’s expected to make a full recovery, but it means he’s resting up, and my mother has to wait on him hand and sore foot.

“Ana, honey, I’m so sorry,” my mom whines down the phone.

“Mom, it’s fine. Ray will be there.”

“Ana, you sound distracted – are you okay, baby?”

“Yes, Mom,” Oh if only you knew. There’s an obscenely rich guy I’ve met and he wants some kind of strange kinky sexual relationship, in which I don’t get a say in things.

“Have you met someone?”

“No, Mom.” I am so not going there right now.

“Well, darling, I’ll be thinking of you on Thursday. I love you… you know that, honey?”

I close my eyes. Her precious words give me a warm glow inside.

“Love you too, Mom. Say hi to Bob, and I hope he gets better fast.”

“Will do, honey. Bye.”

“Bye.”

I have strayed into my bedroom with the phone. Idly, I switch the mean machine on and fire up the e-mail program. There’s an e-mail from Christian from late last night or very early this morning, depending on your point of view. My heart rate spikes instantly, and I hear the blood pumping in my ears. Holy crap… perhaps he’s said no – that’s it – maybe he’s canceling dinner. The thought is so painful. I dismiss it quickly and open the e-mail.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Your Issues

Date: May 24 2011 01:27

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Miss Steele

Following my more thorough examination of your issues, may I bring to your attention the definition of submissive.

submissive [suhb-mis-iv] - adjective

1. inclined or ready to submit; unresistingly or humbly obedient: submissive servants.

2. marked by or indicating submission: a submissive reply.

Origin: 1580-90; submiss + -ive

Synonyms: 1. tractable, compliant, pliant, amenable. 2. passive, resigned, patient, docile, tame, subdued. Antonyms: 1. rebellious, disobedient.

Please bear this in mind for our meeting on Wednesday.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

My initial feeling is one of relief. He’s willing to discuss my issues at least, and he still wants to meet tomorrow. After some thought, I reply.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: My Issues… What about Your Issues?

Date: May 24 2011 18:29

To: Christian Grey

Sir

Please note the date of origin: 1580-90. I would respectfully remind Sir that the year is 2011. We have come a long way since then.

May I offer a definition for you to consider for our meeting:

compromise [kom-pruh-mahyz] - noun

1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands. 2. the result of such a settlement. 3. something intermediate between different things: The split-level is a compromise between a ranch house and a multistoried house. 4. an endangering, esp. of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.: a compromise of one’s integrity.

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: What about My Issues?

Date: May 24 2011 18:32

To: Anastasia Steele

Good point, well made, as ever, Miss Steele. I will collect you from your apartment at 7:00 tomorrow.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: 2011 – Women can drive

Date: May 24 2011 18:40

To: Christian Grey

Sir

I have a car. I can drive.

I would prefer to meet you somewhere.

Where shall I meet you?

At your hotel at 7:00?

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Stubborn Young Women

Date: May 24 2011 18:43

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Miss Steele

I refer to my e-mail dated May 24, 2011 sent at 1:27 and the definition contained therein.

Do you ever think you’ll be able to do what you’re told?

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Intractable Men

Date: May 24 2011 18:49

To: Christian Grey

Mr. Grey

I would like to drive.

Please.

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Exasperated Men

Date: May 24 2011 18:52

To: Anastasia Steele

Fine.

My hotel at 7:00.

I’ll meet you in the Marble Bar.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

He’s even grumpy by e-mail. Doesn’t he understand that I may need to make a quick getaway? Not that my Beetle is quick… but still – I need a means of escape.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Not So Intractable Men

Date: May 24 2011 18:55

To: Christian Grey

Thank you.

Ana x

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Exasperating Women

Date: May 24 2011 18:59

To: Anastasia Steele

You’re welcome.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

I call Ray, who is just about to watch the Sounders play some soccer team from Salt Lake City, so our conversation is mercifully brief. He’s driving down on Thursday for graduation. He wants to take me out afterward for a meal. My heart swells talking to Ray, and a huge lump knots in my throat. He has been my constant through all Mom’s romantic ups and downs. We have a special bond that I treasure. Even though he’s my stepdad, he’s always treated me as his own, and I can’t wait to see him. It’s been too long. His quiet fortitude is what I need now, what I miss. Maybe I can channel my inner Ray for my meeting tomorrow.

Kate and I concentrate on packing, sharing a bottle of cheap red wine as we do. When I finally go to bed, having almost finished packing my room, I feel calmer. The physical activity of boxing everything up has been a welcome distraction, and I’m tired. I want a good night’s sleep. I snuggle into my bed and am soon asleep.

Paul is back from Princeton before he sets off for New York to start an internship with a financing company. He follows me round the store all day asking me for a date. It’s annoying.

“Paul, for the hundredth time, I have a date this evening.”

“No, you don’t, you’re just saying that to avoid me. You’re always avoiding me.”

Yes… you’d think you’d take the hint.

“Paul, I never thought it was a good idea to date the boss’s brother.”

“You’re finishing here on Friday. You’re not working tomorrow.”

“And I’ll be in Seattle as of Saturday and you’ll be in New York soon. We couldn’t get much further apart if we tried. Besides, I do have a date this evening.”

“With José?”

“No.”

“Who then?”

“Paul… oh.” My sigh is exasperated. He’s not going to let this go. “Christian Grey.” I cannot help the annoyance in my voice. But it does the trick. Paul’s mouth falls open, and he gapes at me, struck dumb. Humph – even his name renders people speechless.

“You have a date with Christian Grey?” he says finally, once he’s over the shock. Disbelief is evident in his voice.

“Yes.”

“I see.” Paul looks positively crestfallen, stunned even, and a very small part of me resents that he should find this a surprise. My inner goddess does, too. She makes a very vulgar and unattractive gesture at him with her fingers.

After that, he ignores me, and at five I am out of the door, pronto.

Kate has lent me two dresses and two pairs of shoes for tonight and for graduation tomorrow. I wish I could feel more enthused about clothes and make an extra effort, but clothes are just not my thing. What is your thing, Anastasia? Christian’s softly spoken question haunts me. Shaking my head and endeavoring to quell my nerves, I decide on the plum-colored sheath dress for this evening. It’s demure and vaguely businesslike – after all, I am negotiating a contract.

I shower, shave my legs and underarms, wash my hair, and then spend a good half hour drying it so that it falls in soft waves to my breasts and down my back. I slip a comb in to keep one side off my face and apply mascara and some lip gloss. I rarely wear makeup – it intimidates me. None of my literary heroines had to deal with makeup – maybe I’d know more about it if they had. I slip on the plum-colored stilettos that match the dress, and I’m ready by six thirty.

“Well?” I ask Kate.

She grins.

“Boy, you scrub up well, Ana.” She nods with approval. “You look hot.”

“Hot! I’m aiming for demure and businesslike.”

“That too, but most of all, hot. The dress really suits you and your coloring. The way it clings.” She smirks.

“Kate!” I scold.

“Just keeping it real, Ana. The whole package – looks good. Keep the dress. You’ll have him eating out of your hand.”

My mouth presses in a hard line. Oh, you so have that the wrong way round.

“Wish me luck.”

“You need luck for a date?” Her brow furrows, puzzled.

“Yes, Kate.”

“Well then – good luck.” She hugs me, and I am out the front door.

I have to drive in my bare feet – Wanda, my sea-blue Beetle, wasn’t built to be driven by stiletto-wearers. I pull up outside the Heathman at six fifty-eight precisely and hand my car keys to the valet for parking. He looks askance at my Beetle, but I ignore him. Taking a deep breath and mentally girding my loins, I head into the hotel.

Christian is leaning casually against the bar, drinking a glass of white wine. He’s dressed in his customary white linen shirt, black jeans, black tie, and black jacket. His hair is as tousled as ever. I sigh. Of course he looks gorgeous. I stand for a few seconds in the entrance of the bar, gazing at him, admiring the view. He is beyond beautiful. He glances, nervously I think, toward the entrance and stills when he sees me. Blinking a couple of times, he then smiles a slow, lazy, sexy smile that renders me speechless and all molten inside. Making a supreme effort not to bite my lip, I move forward aware that I, Anastasia Steele of Clumsyville, am in high stilettos. He walks gracefully over to meet me.

“You look stunning,” he murmurs as he leans down to briefly kiss my cheek. “A dress, Miss Steele. I approve.” Taking my arm, he leads me to a secluded booth and signals for the waiter.

“What would you like to drink?”

My lips quirk up in a quick, sly smile as I sit and slide into the booth – well, at least he’s asking me.

“I’ll have what you’re having, please.” See! I can play nice and behave myself. Amused, he orders another glass of Sancerre and slides in opposite me.

“They have an excellent wine cellar here,” he says, cocking his head to one side.

Putting his elbows on the table, he steeples his fingers in front of his beautiful mouth, his gray eyes alive with some unreadable emotion. And there it is… that familiar pull and charge from him, it connects somewhere deep inside me. I shift uncomfortably under his scrutiny, my heart palpitating. I must keep my cool.

“Are you nervous?” he asks softly.

“Yes.”

He leans forward.

“Me, too,” he whispers conspiratorially. My eyes shoot up to meet his. Him. Nervous. Never. I blink at him, and he smiles his adorable lopsided smile at me. The waiter arrives with my wine, a small dish of mixed nuts, and another of olives.

“So, how are we going to do this?” I ask. “Run through my points one by one?”

“Impatient as ever, Miss Steele.”

“Well, I could ask you what you thought of the weather today?”

He smiles, and his long fingers reach down to collect an olive. He pops it in his mouth, and my eyes linger on his mouth, that mouth, that’s been on me… all parts of me. I flush.

“I thought the weather was particularly unexceptional today,” he smirks.

“Are you smirking at me, Mr. Grey?”

“I am, Miss Steele.”

“You know this contract is legally unenforceable.”

“I am fully aware of that, Miss Steele.”

“Were you going to tell me that at any point?”

He frowns at me.

“You’d think I’d coerce you into something you don’t want to do, and then pretend that I have a legal hold over you?”

“Well… yes.”

“You don’t think very highly of me at all, do you?”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“Anastasia, it doesn’t matter if it’s legal or not. It represents an arrangement that I would like to make with you – what I would like from you and what you can expect from me. If you don’t like it, then don’t sign. If you do sign, and then decide you don’t like it, there are enough get-out clauses so you can walk away. Even if it were legally binding, do you think I’d drag you through the courts if you did decide to run?”

I take a long draft of my wine. My subconscious taps me hard on the shoulder. You must keep your wits about you. Don’t drink too much.

“Relationships like this are built on honesty and trust,” he continues. “If you don’t trust me – trust me to know how I’m affecting you, how far I can go with you, how far I can take you – if you can’t be honest with me, then we really can’t do this.”

Oh my, we’ve cut to the chase quickly. How far he can take me. Holy shit. What does that mean?

“So it’s quite simple, Anastasia. Do you trust me or not?” His eyes are burning, fervent.

“Did you have similar discussions with, um… the fifteen?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because they were all established submissives. They knew what they wanted out of a relationship with me and generally what I expected. With them, it was just a question of fine-tuning the soft limits, details like that.”

“Is there a store you go to? Submissives R Us?”

He laughs.

“Not exactly.”

“Then how?”

“Is that what you want to discuss? Or shall we get down to the nitty-gritty? Your issues, as you say.”

I swallow. Do I trust him? Is that what this all comes down to – trust? Surely that should be a two-way thing. I remember his snit when I phoned José.

“Are you hungry?” he asks, distracting me from my thoughts.

Oh no… food.

“No.”

“Have you eaten today?”

I stare at him. Honesty… Holy crap, he’s not going to like my answer.

“No.” My voice is small.

He narrows his eyes.

“You have to eat, Anastasia. We can eat down here or in my suite. What would you prefer?”

“I think we should stay in public, on neutral ground.”

He smiles sardonically.

“Do you think that would stop me?” he says softly, a sensual warning.

My eyes widen, and I swallow again.

“I hope so.”

“Come, I have a private dining room booked. No public.” He smiles at me enigmatically and climbs out of the booth, holding his hand out to me.

“Bring your wine,” he murmurs.

Placing my hand in his, I slide out and stand up beside him. He releases me, and his hand reaches for my elbow. He leads me back through the bar and up the grand stairs to a mezzanine floor. A young man in full Heathman livery approaches us.

“Mr. Grey, this way sir.”

We follow him through a plush seating area to an intimate dining room. Just one secluded table. The room is small but sumptuous. Beneath a shimmering chandelier, the table is all starched linen, crystal glasses, silver cutlery, and white rose bouquet. An old-world, sophisticated charm pervades the wood-paneled room. The waiter pulls out my chair, and I sit. He places my napkin in my lap. Christian sits opposite me. I peek up at him.

“Don’t bite your lip,” he whispers.

I frown. Damn it. I don’t even know that I’m doing it.

“I’ve ordered already. I hope you don’t mind.”

Frankly, I’m relieved. I’m not sure I can make any further decisions.

“No, that’s fine,” I acquiesce.

“It’s good to know that you can be amenable. Now, where were we?”

“The nitty-gritty.” I take another large sip of wine. It really is delicious. Christian Grey does wine well. I remember the last sip of wine he gave me, in my bed. I blush at the intrusive thought.

“Yes, your issues.” He fishes into his inside jacket pocket and pulls out a piece of paper. My e-mail.

“Clause 2. Agreed. This is for the benefit of us both. I shall redraft.”

I blink at him. Holy shit… we are going to go through each of these points one at a time. I just don’t feel so brave face to face. He looks so earnest. I steel myself with another sip of my wine. Christian continues.

“My sexual health. Well, all of my previous partners have had blood tests, and I have regular tests every six months for all the health risks you mention. All my recent tests are clear. I have never taken drugs. In fact, I’m vehemently anti-drugs. I have a strict no-tolerance policy with regards to drugs for all my employees, and I insist on random drug testing.”

Wow… control freakery gone mad. I blink at him shocked.

“I have never had any blood transfusions. Does that answer your question?”

I nod, impassive.

“Your next point I mentioned earlier. You can walk away any time, Anastasia. I won’t stop you. If you go, however – that’s it. Just so you know.”

“Okay,” I answer softly. If I go, that’s it. The thought is surprisingly painful.

The waiter arrives with our first course. How can I possibly eat? Holy Moses – he’s ordered oysters on a bed of ice.

“I hope you like oysters,” Christian’s voice is soft.

“I’ve never had one.” Ever.

“Really? Well.” He reaches for one. “All you do is tip and swallow. I think you can manage that.” He gazes at me, and I know what he’s referring to. I blush scarlet. He grins at me, squirts some lemon juice onto his oyster, and then tips it into his mouth.

“Hmm, delicious. Tastes of the sea,” he grins at me. “Go on,” he encourages.

“So, I don’t chew it?”

“No, Anastasia, you don’t.” His eyes are alight with humor. He looks so young like this.

I bite my lip and his expression changes instantly. He looks sternly at me. I reach across and pick up my first ever oyster. Okay… here goes nothing. I squirt some lemon juice on it and tip it up. It slips down my throat, all seawater, salt, the sharp tang of citrus, and fleshiness… ooh. I lick my lips, and he’s watching me intently, his eyes hooded.

“Well?”

“I’ll have another,” I say dryly.

“Good girl,” he says proudly.

“Did you choose these deliberately? Aren’t they known for their aphrodisiac qualities?”

“No, they are the first item on the menu. I don’t need an aphrodisiac near you. I think you know that, and I think you react the same way near me,” he says simply. “So where were we?” He glances at my e-mail as I reach for another oyster.

He reacts the same way. I affect him… wow.

“Obey me in all things. Yes, I want you to do that. I need you to do that. Think of it as role-play, Anastasia.”

“But I’m worried you’ll hurt me.”

“Hurt you how?”

“Physically.” And emotionally.

“Do you really think I would do that? Go beyond any limit you can’t take?”

“You’ve said you’ve hurt someone before.”

“Yes, I have. It was a long time ago.”

“How did you hurt them?”

“I suspended them from my playroom ceiling. In fact, that’s one of your questions. Suspension – that’s what the carabiners are for in the playroom. Rope play. One of the ropes was tied too tightly.”

I hold my hand up, begging him to stop.

“I don’t need to know any more. So you won’t suspend me then?”

“Not if you really don’t want to. You can make that a hard limit.”

“Okay.”

“So obeying, do you think you can manage that?”

He stares at me, his gray eyes intense. The seconds tick by.

“I could try,” I whisper.

“Good.” He smiles. “Now term. One month instead of three is no time at all, especially if you want a weekend away from me each month. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from you for that length of time. I can barely manage it now,” he pauses.

He can’t stay away from me? What?

“How about, one day over one weekend per month you get to yourself – but I get a midweek night that week?”

“Okay.”

“And please, let’s try it for three months. If it’s not for you then, you can walk away anytime.”

“Three months?” I’m feeling railroaded. I take another large sip of wine and treat myself to another oyster. I could learn to like these.

“The ownership thing, that’s just terminology and goes back to the principle of obeying. It’s to get you into the right frame of mind, to understand where I’m coming from. And I want you to know that as soon as you cross my threshold as my submissive, I will do what I like to you. You have to accept that and willingly. That’s why you have to trust me. I will fuck you, any time, any way I want – anywhere I want. I will discipline you, because you will screw up. I will train you to please me. But I know you’ve not done this before. Initially, we’ll take it slowly, and I will help you. We’ll build up to various scenarios. I want you to trust me, but I know I have to earn your trust, and I will. The “or otherwise” – again it’s to help you get into the mindset; it means anything goes.”

He’s so passionate, mesmerizing. This is obviously his obsession, the way he is… I can’t take my eyes off him. He really, really wants this. He stops talking and gazes at me.

“Still with me?” he whispers, his voice rich, warm and seductive. He takes a sip of his wine, his penetrating stare holding mine.

The waiter comes to the door, and Christian subtly nods permitting the waiter to clear our table.

“Would you like some more wine?”

“I have to drive.”

“Some water then?”

I nod.

“Still or sparkling?”

“Sparkling, please.”

The waiter leaves.

“You’re very quiet,” Christian whispers.

“You’re very verbose.”

He smiles.

“Discipline. There’s a very fine line between pleasure and pain, Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how pleasurable pain can be. You don’t believe me now, but this is what I mean about trust. There will be pain, but nothing that you can’t handle. Again, it comes down to trust. Do you trust me, Ana?”

Ana!

“Yes, I do.” I respond spontaneously, not thinking… because it’s true – I do trust him.

“Well then,” he looks relieved. “The rest of this stuff is just details.”

“Important details.”

“Okay, let’s talk through those.”

My head is swimming with all his words. I should have brought Kate’s mini-disc player so I can listen back to this. There is so much information, so much to process. The waiter re-emerges with our entrees: black cod, asparagus, and crushed potatoes with a hollandaise sauce. I have never felt less like food.

“I hope you like fish,” Christian says mildly.

I make a stab at my food and take a long drink of my sparkling water. I vehemently wish it was wine.

“The rules. Let’s talk about them. The food is a deal breaker?”

“Yes.”

“Can I modify to say that you will eat at least three meals a day?”

“No.” I am so not backing down on this. No one is going to dictate to me what I eat. How I fuck, yes, but eat… no, no way.

He purses his lips.

“I need to know that you’re not hungry.”

I frown. Why?

“You’ll have to trust me.”

He gazes at me for a moment, and he relaxes.

“Touché, Miss Steele,” he says quietly. “I concede the food and the sleep.”

“Why can’t I look at you?”

“That’s a Dom/sub thing. You’ll get used to it.”

Will I?

“Why can’t I touch you?”

“Because you can’t.”

His mouth sets in a mulish line.

“Is it because of Mrs. Robinson?”

He looks quizzically at me.

“Why would you think that?” And immediately he understands. “You think she traumatized me?”

I nod.

“No, Anastasia. She’s not the reason. Besides, Mrs. Robinson wouldn’t take any of that shit from me.”

Oh… but I have to. I pout.

“So nothing to do with her.”

“No. And I don’t want you touching yourself, either.”

What? Ah yes, the no masturbation clause.

“Out of curiosity… why?”

“Because I want all your pleasure,” his voice is husky, but determined.

Oh… I have no answer for that. On one level it’s up there with, ‘I want to bite that lip’; on another, it’s so selfish. I frown and take a bite of cod, trying to assess mentally what concessions I’ve gained. The food, the sleep, I can look him in the eye. He’s going to take it slow, and we haven’t discussed soft limits. But I’m not sure I can face that over food.

“I’ve given you a great deal to think about, haven’t I?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to go through the soft limits now, too?”

“Not over dinner.”

He smiles.

“Squeamish?”

“Something like that.”

“You’ve not eaten very much.”

“I’ve had enough.”

“Three oysters, four bites of cod, and one asparagus stalk, no potatoes, no nuts, no olives, and you’ve not eaten all day. You said I could trust you.”

Jeez. He’s kept an inventory.

“Christian, please, it’s not every day I sit through conversations like this.”

“I need you fit and healthy, Anastasia.”

“I know.”

“And right now, I want to peel you out of that dress.”

I swallow. Peel me out of Kate’s dress. I feel the pull deep in my belly. Muscles that I’m now more acquainted with clench at his words. But I can’t have this. His most potent weapon, used against me again. He’s so good at sex – even I’ve figured this out.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I murmur quietly. “We haven’t had dessert.”

“You want dessert?” he snorts.

“Yes.”

“You could be dessert,” he murmurs suggestively.

“I’m not sure I’m sweet enough.”

“Anastasia, you’re deliciously sweet. I know.”

“Christian. You use sex as a weapon. It really isn’t fair,” I whisper, staring down at my hands, and then looking directly at him. He raises his eyebrows, surprised, and I see he’s considering my words. He strokes his chin thoughtfully.

“You’re right. I do. In life you use what you know, Anastasia. Doesn’t change how much I want you. Here. Now.”

How can he seduce me solely with his voice? I’m panting already – my heated blood rushing through my veins, my nerves tingling.

“I’d like to try something,” he breathes.

I frown. He’s just given me a shit load of ideas to process and now this.

“If you were my sub, you wouldn’t have to think about this. It would be easy.” His voice is soft, seductive. “All those decisions – all the wearying thought processes behind them. The – ‘is this the right thing to do? Should this happen here? Can it happen now?’ You wouldn’t have to worry about any of that detail. That’s what I’d do as your Dom. And right now, I know you want me, Anastasia.”

My frown deepens. How can he tell?

“I can tell because… ”

Holy shit, he’s answering my unspoken question. Is he psychic as well?

“… Your body gives you away. You’re pressing your thighs together, you’re flushed, and your breathing has changed.”

OK, this is too much.

“How do you know about my thighs?” My voice is low, disbelieving. They’re under the table, for heaven’s sake.

“I felt the tablecloth move, and it’s a calculated guess based on years of experience. I’m right, aren’t I?”

I flush and stare down at my hands. That’s what I’m hindered by in this game of seduction. He’s the only one who knows and understands the rules. I’m just too naïve and inexperienced. My only sphere of reference is Kate, and she doesn’t take any shit from men. My other references are all fictional: Elizabeth Bennet would be outraged, Jane Eyre too frightened, and Tess would succumb, just as I have.

“I haven’t finished my cod.”

“You’d prefer cold cod to me?”

My head jerks up to glare at him, and his gray eyes burn molten silver with compelling need.

“I thought you liked me clearing my plate.”

“Right now, Miss Steele, I couldn’t give a fuck about your food.”

“Christian. You just don’t fight fair.”

“I know. I never have.”

My inner goddess frowns at me. You can do this, she coaxes – play this sex god at his own game. Can I? Okay. What to do? My inexperience is an albatross around my neck. Picking up a spear of asparagus, I gaze at him and bite my lip. Then very slowly put the tip of my cold asparagus in my mouth and suck it.

Christian’s eyes widen infinitesimally, but I notice.

“Anastasia. What are you doing?”

I bite off the tip.

“Eating my asparagus.”

Christian shifts in his seat.

“I think you’re toying with me, Miss Steele.”

I feign innocence.

“I’m just finishing my food, Mr. Grey.”

The waiter chooses this moment to knock and, unbidden, enter. He glances briefly at Christian, who frowns at him but then nods, so the waiter clears our plates. The waiter’s arrival has broken the spell. And I grasp this precious moment of clarity. I have to go. Our meeting will only end one way if I stay, and I need some boundaries after such an intense conversation. As much as my body craves his touch, my mind is rebelling. I need some distance to think about all he’s said. I still haven’t made a decision, and his sexual allure and prowess doesn’t make it any easier.

“Would you like some dessert?” Christian asks, ever the gentleman, but his eyes still blaze.

“No, thank you. I think I should go.” I stare down at my hands.

“Go?” He can’t hide his surprise.

The waiter leaves hastily.

“Yes.” It’s the right decision. If I stay here, in this room with him, he will fuck me. I stand, purposefully. “We both have the graduation ceremony tomorrow.”

Christian stands automatically, revealing years of ingrained civility.

“I don’t want you to go.”

“Please… I have to.”

“Why?”

“Because you’ve given me so much to consider… and I need some distance.”

“I could make you stay,” he threatens.

“Yes, you could easily, but I don’t want you to.”

He runs his hand through his hair, regarding me carefully.

“You know, when you fell into my office to interview me, you were all ‘yes, sir’, ‘no, sir’. I thought you were a natural born submissive. But quite frankly, Anastasia, I’m not sure you have a submissive bone in your delectable body.” He moves slowly toward me as his speaks, his voice tense.

“You may be right,” I breathe.

“I want the chance to explore the possibility that you do,” he murmurs, staring down at me. He reaches up and caresses my face, his thumb tracing my lower lip. “I don’t know any other way, Anastasia. This is who I am.”

“I know.”

He leans down to kiss me, but pauses before his lips touch mine, his eyes searching mine, wanting, asking permission. I raise my lips to his, and he kisses me and because I don’t know if I’ll ever kiss him again, I let go – my hands moving of their own accord and twisting into his hair, pulling him to me, my mouth opening, my tongue stroking his. His hand grasps the nape of my neck as he deepens the kiss, responding to my ardor. His other hand slides down my back and flattens at the base of my spine as he pushes me against his body.

“I can’t persuade you to stay?” he breathes between kisses.

“No.”

“Spend the night with me.”

“And not touch you? No.”

He groans.

“You impossible girl.” He pulls back, gazing down at me. “Why do I think you’re telling me goodbye?”

“Because I’m leaving now.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”

“Christian, I have to think about this. I don’t know if I can have the kind of relationship you want.”

He closes his eyes and presses his forehead against mine, giving us both the opportunity to slow our breathing. After a moment, he kisses my forehead, inhales deeply, his nose in my hair, and then he releases me, stepping back.

“As you wish, Miss Steele,” he says, his face impassive. “I’ll escort you to the lobby.” He holds out his hand. Leaning down, I grab my purse and place my hand in his. Holy crap, this could be it. I follow him meekly down the grand stairs and into the lobby, my scalp prickling, my blood pumping. This could be the last goodbye if I decide to say no. My heart contracts painfully in my chest. What a turnaround. What a difference a moment of clarity can make to a girl.

“Do you have your valet ticket?”

I fish into my clutch purse and hand him the ticket, which he gives to the doorman. I peek up at him as we stand waiting.

“Thank you for dinner,” I murmur.

“It’s a pleasure as always, Miss Steele,” he says politely, though he looks deep in thought, completely distracted.

As I peer up at him, I commit his beautiful profile to memory. The idea that I might not see him again haunts me, unwelcome and too painful to contemplate. He turns suddenly, staring down at me, his expression intense.

“You’re moving this weekend to Seattle. If you make the right decision, can I see you on Sunday?” He sounds hesitant.

“We’ll see. Maybe,” I breathe. Momentarily, he looks relieved, and then he frowns.

“It’s cooler now, don’t you have a jacket?”

“No.”

He shakes his head in irritation and takes off his jacket.

“Here. I don’t want you catching cold.”

I blink up at him as he holds it open, and as I hold my arms out behind me, I’m reminded of the time in his office when he slipped my coat onto my shoulders – the first time I met him – and the effect he had on me then. Nothing’s changed; in fact, it’s more intense. His jacket is warm, far too big, and it smells of him. Oh my… delicious.

My car pulls up outside. Christian’s mouth drops open.

“That’s what you drive?” He’s appalled. Taking my hand, he leads me outside. The valet jumps out and hands me my keys, and Christian coolly palms him some money.

“Is this roadworthy?” He’s glaring at me now.

“Yes.”

“Will it make it to Seattle?”

“Yes. She will.”

“Safely?”

“Yes,” I snap, exasperated. “Okay she’s old. But she’s mine, and she’s roadworthy. My stepdad bought it for me.”

“Oh, Anastasia, I think we can do better than this.”

“What do you mean?” Realization dawns. “You are not buying me a car.”

He glowers at me, his jaw tense.

“We’ll see,” he says tightly.

He grimaces as he opens the driver’s door and helps me in. I take my shoes off and roll down the window. He’s gazing at me, his expression unfathomable, eyes dark.

“Drive safely,” he says quietly.

“Goodbye, Christian.” My voice is hoarse from unbidden, unshed tears – jeez, I’m not going to cry. I give him a small smile.

As I drive away, my chest constricts, my tears start to fall, and I choke back a sob. Soon tears are streaming down my face, and I really don’t understand why I’m crying. I was holding my own. He explained everything. He was clear. He wants me, but the truth is I need more. I need him to want me like I want and need him, and deep down I know that’s not possible. I am just overwhelmed.

I don’t even know how to categorize him. If I do this thing… will he be my boyfriend? Will I be able to introduce him to my friends? Go out to bars, the cinema, bowling even, with him? The truth is I don’t think I will. He won’t let me touch him and he won’t let me sleep with him. I know I’ve not had these things in my past, but I want them in my future. And that’s not the future he envisages.

What if I do say yes, and in three months’ time he says no, he’s had enough of trying to mold me into something I’m not? How will I feel? I’ll have emotionally invested three months, doing things that I’m not sure I want to do. And if he then says no, agreement over, how could I cope with that level of rejection? Perhaps it’s best to back away now with what self-esteem I have reasonably intact.

But the thought of not seeing him again is agonizing. How has he gotten under my skin so quickly? It can’t just be the sex… can it? I dash the tears from my eyes. I don’t want to examine my feelings for him. I’m frightened what I’ll uncover if I do. What am I going to do?

I park up outside our duplex. No lights on. Kate must be out. I’m relieved. I don’t want her to catch me crying again. As I undress, I wake up the mean machine and sitting in my inbox is a message from Christian.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Tonight

Date: May 25 2011 22:01

To: Anastasia Steele

I don’t understand why you ran this evening. I sincerely hope I answered all your questions to your satisfaction. I know I have given you a great deal to contemplate, and I fervently hope that you will give my proposal your serious consideration. I really want to make this work. We will take it slow.

Trust me.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

His e-mail makes me weep more. I am not a merger. I am not an acquisition. Reading this, I might as well be. I don’t reply. I just don’t know what to say to him. I fumble into my PJs and, wrapping his jacket around me, I climb into bed. As I lie staring into the darkness, I think of all the times he warned me to stay away.

‘Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you.’

‘I don’t do the girlfriend thing.’

‘I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of guy.’

‘I don’t make love.’

‘This is all I know.’

And as I weep into my pillow silently, it’s this last idea I cling to. This is all I know, too. Perhaps together we can chart a new course.

14

Christian is standing over me grasping a plaited, leather riding crop. He’s wearing old, faded, ripped Levis and that’s all. He flicks the crop slowly into his palm as he gazes down at me. He’s smiling, triumphant. I cannot move. I am naked and shackled, spread-eagled on a large four-poster bed. Reaching forward, he trails the tip of the crop from my forehead down the length of my nose, so I can smell the leather, and over my parted, panting lips. He pushes the tip into my mouth so I can taste the smooth, rich leather.

“Suck,” he commands, his voice soft. My mouth closes over the tip as I obey.

“Enough,” he snaps.

I’m panting once more as he tugs the crop out of my mouth, trails it down and under my chin, on down my neck to the hollow at the base of my throat. He swirls it slowly there and then continues to drag the tip down my body, along my sternum, between my breasts, over my torso down to my navel. I’m panting, squirming, pulling against my restraints that are biting into my wrists and my ankles. He swirls the tip around my navel then continues to trail the leather tip south, through my pubic hair to my clitoris. He flicks the crop and it hits my sweet spot with a sharp slap, and I come, gloriously, shouting my release.

Abruptly, I wake, gasping for breath, covered in sweat and feeling the aftershocks of my orgasm. Holy hell. I’m completely disorientated. What the hell just happened? I’m in my bedroom alone. How? Why? I sit bolt upright, shocked… wow. It’s morning. I glance at my alarm clock – eight o’clock. I put my head in my hands. I didn’t know I could dream sex. Was it something I ate? Perhaps the oysters and my Internet research manifesting itself in my first wet dream. It’s bewildering. I had no idea that I could orgasm in my sleep.

Kate is skipping around the kitchen when I stagger in.

“Ana, are you okay? You look odd. Is that Christian’s jacket you’re wearing?”

“I’m fine.” Damn, should have checked in the mirror. I avoid her piercing green eyes. I’m still reeling from my morning’s event. “Yes, this is Christian’s jacket.”

She frowns.

“Did you sleep?”

“Not very well.”

I head for the kettle. I need tea.

“How was dinner?”

So it begins.

“We had oysters. Followed by cod, so I’d say it was fishy.”

“Ugh… I hate oysters, and I don’t want to know about the food. How was Christian? What did you talk about?”

“He was attentive,” I pause.

What can I say? His HIV status is clear, he’s heavily into role-play, wants me to obey his every command, he hurt someone he tied to his playroom ceiling, and he wanted to fuck me in the private dining room. Would that be a good summary? I try desperately to remember something from my encounter with Christian that I can discuss with Kate.

“He doesn’t approve of Wanda.”

“Who does, Ana? That’s old news. Why are you being so coy? Give it up, girlfriend.”

“Oh, Kate, we talked about lots things. You know – how fussy he is about food. Incidentally, he liked your dress.” The kettle has boiled, so I make myself some tea. “Do you want tea? Would you like me to hear your speech for today?”

“Yes, please. I worked on it last night over at Lilah’s. I’ll go fetch it. And yes, I’d love some tea.” Kate races out of the kitchen.

Phew, Katherine Kavanagh sidetracked. I slice a bagel and pop it into the toaster. I flush remembering my very vivid dream. What on earth was that about?

Last night I found it hard to sleep. My head was buzzing with various options. I am so confused. Christian’s idea of a relationship is more like a job offer. It has set hours, a job description, and a rather harsh grievance procedure. It’s not how I envisaged my first romance – but, of course, Christian doesn’t do romance. If I tell him I want more, he may say no… and I could jeopardize what he has offered. And this is what concerns me most, because I don’t want to lose him. But I’m not sure I have the stomach to be his submissive – deep down, it’s the canes and whips that put me off. I’m a physical coward, and I will go a long way to avoid pain. I think of my dream… is that what it would be like? My inner goddess jumps up and down with cheerleading pom-poms shouting yes at me.

Kate comes back into the kitchen with her laptop. I concentrate on my bagel and listen patiently as she runs through her Valedictorian speech.

I am dressed and ready when Ray arrives. I open the front door, and he’s standing on the porch in his ill-fitting suit. A warm surge of gratitude and love for this uncomplicated man streaks through me, and I throw my arms around him in an uncharacteristic display of affection. He’s taken aback, bemused.

“Hey, Annie, I’m pleased to see you, too,” he mutters as he hugs me. Setting me back, his hands on my shoulders, he looks me up and down, his brow furrowed. “You okay, kid?”

“Of course, Dad. Can’t a girl be pleased to see her old man?”

He smiles, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners, and follows me into the living area.

“You look good,” he says.

“This is Kate’s dress.” I glance down at the grey chiffon halter neck dress.

He frowns.

“Where is Kate?”

“She’s gone to campus. She’s giving a speech, so she has to be early.”

“Should we head on over?”

“Dad, we have half an hour. Would you like some tea? And you can tell me how everyone in Montesano is getting along. How was the drive down?”

Ray pulls his car into the campus parking lot, and we follow the stream of humanity dotted with ubiquitous black and red gowns heading toward the sports auditorium.

“Good luck, Annie. You seem awfully nervous. Do you have to do anything?”

Holy crap… why has Ray picked today to be so observant?

“No, Dad. It’s a big day.” And I’m going to see him.

“Yeah, my baby girl has gotten a degree. I’m proud of you, Annie.”

“Aw… thanks, Ray.” Oh, I love this man.

The sports auditorium is crowded. Ray has gone to sit with the other parents and well-wishers in the raked seating, while I make my way to my seat. I’m wearing my black gown and my cap, and I feel protected by them, anonymous. There is no one on the stage yet, but I can’t seem to steady my nerves. My heart is pounding, and my breathing is shallow. He’s here, somewhere. I wonder if Kate is talking to him, interrogating him maybe. I make my way to my seat amongst fellow students whose surnames also begin with S. I am in the second row, affording me yet more anonymity. I glance behind me and spot Ray sat up high in the bleachers. I give him a wave. He self-consciously gives me a half-wave, half-salute back. I sit and wait.

The auditorium fills quickly, and the buzz of excited voices gets louder and louder. The row of seats in front fills. On either side of me, I am joined by two girls whom I don’t know from a different faculty. They’re obviously close friends and talk across me excitedly.

At eleven precisely, the Chancellor appears from behind the stage, followed by the three Vice Chancellors, and then the senior professors, all decked out in their black and red regalia. We stand and applaud our teaching staff. Some professors nod and wave, others look bored. Professor Collins, my tutor and my favorite teacher, looks like he’s just fallen out of bed, as usual. Last on to the stage are Kate and Christian. Christian stands out in his bespoke gray suit, copper highlights glinting in his hair under the auditorium lights. He looks so serious and self-contained. As he sits, he undoes his single-breasted jacket, and I glimpse his tie. Holy shit… that tie! I rub my wrists reflexively. I cannot take my eyes off him – his beauty as distracting as ever – and he’s wearing that tie, on purpose no doubt. I can feel my mouth press into a hard line. The audience sits down and the applause ceases.

“Look at him!” one of the girls beside me breathes enthusiastically to her friend.

“He’s hot.”

I stiffen. I’m sure they’re not talking about Professor Collins.

“Must be Christian Grey.”

“Is he single?”

I bristle.

“I don’t think so,” I murmur.

“Oh.” Both girls look at me in surprise.

“I think he’s gay,” I mutter.

“What a shame,” one of the girls groans.

As the Chancellor gets to his feet and kicks off the proceedings with his speech, I watch Christian subtly scanning the hall. I sink into my seat, hunching my shoulders, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I fail miserably as a second later his gray eyes find mine. He stares at me, his face impassive, completely inscrutable. I squirm uncomfortably, hypnotized by his glare as I feel a slow flush spread across my face. Unbidden, I recall my dream from this morning, and the muscles in my belly do the delectable clench thing. I inhale sharply. I can see the shadow of a smile cross his lips, but it’s fleeting. He briefly closes his eyes, and on opening them, resumes his indifferent expression. Following a swift glance up at the Chancellor, he stares ahead, focusing on the WSUV emblem hung above the entrance. He doesn’t turn his eyes toward me again. The Chancellor drones on, and Christian still doesn’t look at me. He just stares fixedly ahead.

Why won’t he look at me? Perhaps he’s changed his mind? A wave of unease washes over me. Perhaps walking out on him last night was the end for him, too. He’s bored of waiting for me to make up my mind. Oh no, I could have completely blown it. I remember his e-mail last night. Maybe he’s mad that I haven’t replied.

Suddenly, the room erupts into applause as Miss Katherine Kavanagh has taken the stage. The Chancellor sits, and Kate tosses her lovely long hair behind her as she places her papers on the lectern. She takes her time, not intimidated by a thousand people gawping at her. She smiles when she’s ready, looks up at the captivated throng, and launches eloquently into her speech. She’s so composed and funny, the girls beside me erupt on cue at her first joke. Oh, Katherine Kavanagh, you can deliver a good line. I feel so proud of her at that moment, my errant thoughts of Christian are pushed to one side. Even though I have heard her speech before, I listen carefully. She commands the room and takes her audience with her.

Her theme is What Next After College? Oh, what next indeed. Christian is watching Kate, his eyebrows slightly raised – in surprise, I think. Yes, it could have been Kate that went to interview him. And it could have been Kate that he was now making indecent proposals to. Beautiful Kate and beautiful Christian, together. I could be like the two girls beside me, admiring him from afar. I know Kate wouldn’t have given him the time of day. What did she call him the other day? Creepy. The thought of a confrontation between Kate and Christian makes me uncomfortable. I have to say I don’t know which of them I would put my money on.

Kate concludes her speech with a flourish, and spontaneously everyone stands, applauding and cheering, her first standing ovation. I beam at her and cheer, and she grins back at me. Good job, Kate. She sits, as does the audience, and the Chancellor rises and introduces Christian… holy shit, Christian’s going to give a speech. The Chancellor touches briefly on Christian’s achievements: CEO of his own extraordinarily successful company, a real self-made man.

“And also a major benefactor to our university, please welcome, Mr. Christian Grey.”

The Chancellor pumps Christian’s hand, and there is a swell of polite applause. My heart’s in my throat. He approaches the lectern and surveys the hall. He looks so confident standing in front of us all, as Kate did before him. The two girls beside me lean in, enraptured. In fact, I think most of the female members of the audience inch closer and a few of the men. He begins, his voice soft, measured, and mesmerizing.

“I’m profoundly grateful and touched by the great compliment accorded to me by the authorities of WSU today. It offers me a rare opportunity to talk about the impressive work of the environmental science department here at the University. Our aim is to develop viable and ecologically sustainable methods of farming for third world countries; our ultimate goal is to help eradicate hunger and poverty across the globe. Over a billion people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, live in abject poverty. Agricultural dysfunction is rife within these parts of the world and the result is ecological and social destruction. I have known what it’s like to be profoundly hungry. This is a very personal journey for me… ”

My jaw falls to the floor. What? Christian was hungry once. Holy crap. Well, that explains a great deal. And I recall the interview; he really does want to feed the world. I desperately rack my brains to remember what Kate had written in her article. Adopted at age four, I think. I can’t imagine that Grace starved him, so it must have been before then, as a little boy. I swallow, my heart constricting at the thought of a hungry, gray-eyed toddler. Oh no. What kind of life did he have before the Greys got hold of him and rescued him?

I’m seized by a sense of raw outrage. Poor, fucked-up, kinky, philanthropic Christian – though I’m sure he wouldn’t see himself this way and would repel any thoughts of sympathy or pity. Abruptly, everyone bursts into applause and stands. I follow, though I haven’t heard half his speech. He’s doing all of these good works, running a huge company, and chasing me at the same time. It’s overwhelming. I remember the brief snippets of conversations he’s had about Darfur… it all falls into place. Food.

He smiles briefly at the warm applause – even Kate is clapping, then he resumes his seat. He doesn’t look my way, and I’m off-kilter trying to assimilate this new information about him.

One of the Vice Chancellors rises, and we begin the long, tedious process of collecting our degrees. There are over four hundred to be given out, and it takes just over an hour before I hear my name. I make my way up to the stage between the two giggling girls. Christian gazes down at me, his look warm but guarded.

“Congratulations, Miss Steele,” he says as he shakes my hand, squeezing it gently. I feel the charge of his flesh on mine. “Do you have a problem with your laptop?”

I frown as he hands me my degree.

“No.”

“Then you are ignoring my e-mails?”

“I only saw the mergers and acquisitions one.”

He looks quizzically at me.

“Later,” he says, and I have to move on because I’m holding up the line.

I go back to my seat. E-mails? He must have sent another. What did it say?

The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It’s interminable. Finally, the Chancellor leads the faculty members off the stage to yet more rousing applause, preceded by Christian and Kate. Christian does not glance at me, even though I’m willing him to do it. My inner goddess is not pleased.

As I stand and wait for our row to disperse, Kate calls to me. She’s heading my way from behind the stage.

“Christian wants to talk to you,” she shouts. The two girls who are now standing beside me turn and gape at me.

“He’s sent me out here,” she continues.

Oh…

“Your speech was great, Kate.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” she beams. “Are you coming? He can be very insistent.” She rolls her eyes, and I grin.

“You have no idea. I can’t leave Ray for long.” I glance up at Ray and hold my fingers up indicating five minutes. He nods, giving me an okay sign, and I follow Kate into the corridor behind the stage. Christian is talking to the Chancellor and two of the teaching staff. He looks up when he sees me.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I hear him murmur. He comes toward me and smiles briefly at Kate.

“Thank you,” he says, and before she can reply, he takes my elbow and steers me into what looks like a men’s locker room. He checks to see if it’s empty, and then he locks the door.

Holy shit, what does he have in mind? I blink up at him as he turns on me.

“Why haven’t you e-mailed me? Or texted me back?” He glares. I’m nonplussed.

“I haven’t looked at my computer today, or my phone.” Crap, has he been trying to call? I try my distraction technique that’s so effective on Kate. “That was a great speech.”

“Thank you.”

“Explains your food issues to me.”

He runs a hand through his hair, exasperated.

“Anastasia, I don’t want to go there at the moment.” He closes his eyes, looking pained. “I’ve been worried about you.”

“Worried, why?”

“Because you went home in that deathtrap you call a car.”

“What? It’s not a deathtrap. It’s fine. José regularly services it for me.”

“José, the photographer?” Christian’s eyes narrow, his face frosting. Oh, crap.

“Yes, the Beetle used to belong to his mother.”

“Yes, and probably her mother and her mother before her. It’s not safe.”

“I’ve been driving it for over three years. I’m sorry you were worried. Why didn’t you call?” Jeez, he’s completely overreacting.

He takes a deep breath.

“Anastasia, I need an answer from you. This waiting around is driving me crazy.”

“Christian, I… look, I’ve left my stepdad on his own.”

“Tomorrow. I want an answer by tomorrow.”

“Okay. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you then.” I blink at him.

He steps back, regarding me coolly, and his shoulders relax.

“Are you staying for drinks?” he asks.

“I don’t know what Ray wants to do.”

“Your stepfather? I’d like to meet him.”

Oh no… why?

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

Christian unlocks the door, his mouth in a grim line.

“Are you ashamed of me?”

“No!” It’s my turn to sound exasperated. “Introduce you to my dad as what? ‘This is the man who deflowered me and wants us to start a BDSM relationship’. You’re not wearing running shoes.”

Christian glares down at me, and then his lips twitch up in a smile. And in spite of the fact I’m mad at him, my face is unwillingly pulled into an answering grin.

“Just so you know, I can run quite fast. Just tell him I’m your friend, Anastasia.”

He opens the door, and I head out. My mind is whirling. The Chancellor, the three Vice Chancellors, four professors, and Kate stare at me as I walk hastily past them. Holy crap. Leaving Christian with the faculty I go in search of Ray.

Tell him I’m your friend. Friend with benefits, my subconscious scowls. I know, I know. I shake the unpleasant thought away. How will I introduce him to Ray? The hall is still at least half full, and Ray has not moved from his spot. He sees me, waves, and makes his way down.

“Hey, Annie. Congratulations.” He puts his arm around me.

“Would you like to come and have a drink in the marquee?”

“Sure. It’s your day. Lead the way.”

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Please say no…

“Annie, I’ve just sat for two and half hours listening to all kinds of jabbering. I need a drink.”

I put my arm through his, and we stroll out with the throng into the warmth of the early afternoon. We pass the line for the official photographer.

“Oh, that reminds me.” Ray drags a digital camera out of his pocket. “One for the album, Annie.” I roll my eyes at him as he snaps a picture of me.

“Can I take the cap and gown off now? I feel kind of dorky.”

You look kinda dorky… my subconscious is at her snarky best. So are you going to introduce Ray to the man you’re fucking? She is glaring at me over her wing-shaped spectacles. He’d be so proud. God, I hate her sometimes.

The marquee is immense, and crowded – students, parents, teachers, and friends, all chattering happily. Ray hands me a glass of champagne or cheap fizzy wine, I suspect. It’s not chilled, and it tastes sweet. My thoughts turn to Christian… he won’t like this.

“Ana!” I turn, and Ethan Kavanagh scoops me into his arms. He twirls me around, without spilling my wine – some feat.

“Congratulations!” He beams down at me, green eyes twinkling.

What a surprise. His dirty blonde hair is tousled and sexy-looking. He’s as beautiful as Kate. The family resemblance is striking.

“Wow – Ethan! How lovely to see you. Dad, this is Ethan, Kate’s brother. Ethan, this is my dad, Ray Steele.” They shake hands, my dad coolly assessing Mr. Kavanagh.

“When did you get back from Europe?” I ask.

“I’ve been back for a week, but I wanted to surprise my little sister,” he says conspiratorially.

“That’s so sweet.” I grin up at him.

“She is Valedictorian, couldn’t miss that.” He looks immensely proud of his sister.

“She gave a great speech.”

“That she did,” Ray agrees.

Ethan has his arm around my waist when I look up into the frosty gray eyes of Christian Grey. Kate is beside him.

“Hello, Ray,” Kate kisses Ray on both cheeks, making him blush. “Have you met Ana’s boyfriend? Christian Grey.”

Holy shit… Kate! Fuck! All the blood drains from my face.

“Mr. Steele, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Christian says smoothly, warmly, completely unflustered by Kate’s introduction. He holds out his hand, which, all credit to Ray, Ray takes, not showing a hint of the drop-dead surprise he’s just had thrust upon him.

Thank you very much, Katherine Kavanagh, I fume. I think my subconscious has fainted.

“Mr. Grey,” Ray murmurs, his expression indecipherable except perhaps for the slight widening of his big brown eyes. They slide over my face with a when-were-you-going-to-give-me-this-news look. I bite my lip.

“And this is my brother, Ethan Kavanagh.” says Kate to Christian.

Christian turns his arctic glare on Ethan, who still has one arm around me.

“Mr. Kavanagh.”

They shake hands. Christian holds his hand out to me.

“Ana, baby,” he murmurs, and I nearly expire at the endearment.

I walk out of Ethan’s grasp, while Christian smiles icily at him, and I take my place at his side. Kate grins at me. She knows exactly what she’s doing, the vixen!

“Ethan, Mom and Dad wanted a word.” Kate drags Ethan away.

“So how long have you kids known each other?” Ray looks impassively from Christian to me.

The power of speech has deserted me. I want the ground to swallow me up. Christian puts his arm around me, his thumb skimming my naked back in a caress, before his hand clasps my shoulder.

“Couple of weeks or so now,” he says smoothly. “We met when Anastasia came to interview me for the student magazine.”

“Didn’t know you worked on the student magazine, Ana.” Ray’s voice is a quiet admonishment, revealing his irritation. Shit.

“Kate was ill,” I murmur. It’s all I can manage.

“Fine speech you gave, Mr. Grey.”

“Thank you, sir. I understand that you’re a keen fisherman.”

Ray raises his eyebrows and smiles – a rare, genuine, bona fide Ray Steele smile – and off they go, talking fish. In fact, I soon feel surplus to requirements. He’s charming the pants off my dad… like he did you, my subconscious snaps at me. His power knows no bounds. I excuse myself to go and find Kate.

She’s talking to her parents, who are delightful as ever and greet me warmly. We exchange brief pleasantries, mostly about their up and coming holiday to Barbados and about our move.

“Kate, how could you out me to Ray?” I hiss at the first opportunity we won’t be overheard.

“Because I knew you never would, and I want to help with Christian’s commitment issues.” Kate smiles at me sweetly.

I scowl. It’s me that won’t commit to him, silly!

“He seems trés cool about it, Ana. Don’t sweat it. Look at him now – Christian cannot take his eyes off you.” I glance up, and both Ray and Christian are looking at me. “He’s been watching you like a hawk.”

“I’d better go rescue Ray or Christian. I don’t know which. You haven’t heard the last of this, Katherine Kavanagh!” I glare at her.

“Ana, I did you a favor,” she calls after me.

“Hi.” I smile at both of them on my return.

They seem okay. Christian is enjoying some private joke, and my dad looks unbelievably relaxed given he’s in a social situation. What have they been discussing apart from fish?

“Ana, where are the restrooms?”

“Back out front of the marquee and to the left.”

“See you in a moment. You kids enjoy yourselves.”

Ray heads out. I glance nervously up at Christian. We pause briefly as a photographer takes a picture of both of us.

“Thank you, Mr. Grey.” The photographer scurries off. I blink from the flash.

“So you’ve charmed my father as well?”

“As well?” Christian’s gray eyes burn and he raises a questioning eyebrow. I flush. He lifts his hand and traces my cheek with his fingers.

“Oh, I wish I knew what you were thinking, Anastasia,” he whispers darkly, cupping my chin and raising my head so that we gaze intently into each other’s eyes.

My breath hitches. How can he have this effect on me, even in this crowded tent?

“Right now, I’m thinking, nice tie,” I breathe.

He chuckles.

“It’s recently become my favorite.”

I blush scarlet.

“You look lovely, Anastasia. This halter-neck dress suits you, and I get to stroke your back, feel your beautiful skin.”

Suddenly, it’s like we’re on our own in the room. Just the two of us. My whole body has come alive, every nerve ending singing softly, that electricity pulling me to him, charging between us.

“You know it’s going to be good, don’t you, baby?” he whispers. I close my eyes as my insides uncoil and melt.

“But I want more,” I whisper.

“More?” he looks down at me puzzled, his eyes darkening. I nod and swallow. Now he knows.

“More,” he says again softly. Testing the word – a small, simple word, but so full of promise. His thumb traces my lower lip. “You want hearts and flowers.”

I nod again. He blinks down at me, and I watch his internal struggle played out in his eyes.

“Anastasia.” His voice is soft. “It’s not something I know.”

“Me neither.”

He smiles slightly.

“You don’t know much,” he murmurs.

“You know all the wrong things.”

“Wrong? Not to me.” He shakes his head. He looks so sincere. “Try it,” he whispers. A challenge, daring me, and he cocks his head to one side and smiles his crooked, dazzling smile.

I gasp, and I’m Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he’s the serpent, and I cannot resist.

“Okay,” I whisper.

“What?” I have his full, undivided attention. I swallow.

“Okay. I’ll try.”

“You’re agreeing?” His disbelief is evident.

“Subject to the soft limits, yes. I’ll try.” My voice is so small. Christian closes his eyes and pulls me into an embrace.

“Jesus, Ana, you’re so unexpected. You take my breath away.”

He steps back, and suddenly Ray’s returned, and the volume in the marquee gradually rises and fills my ears. We are not alone. Holy shit, I’ve just agreed to be his sub. Christian smiles at Ray and his eyes are dancing with joy.

“Annie, should we get some lunch?”

“Okay.” I blink up at Ray, trying to find my equilibrium. What have you done? My subconscious screams at me. My inner goddess is doing back flips in a routine worthy of a Russian Olympic gymnast.

“Would you like to join us, Christian?” Ray asks.

Christian! I stare up at him, imploring him to refuse. I need space to think… what the fuck have I done?

“Thank you, Mr. Steele, but I have plans. It’s been great to meet you, sir.”

“Likewise,” Ray responds. “Look after my baby girl.”

“Oh, I fully intend to, Mr. Steele.”

They shake hands. I feel sick. Ray has no idea how Christian intends to look after me. Christian takes my hand and raises it to his lips and kisses my knuckles tenderly, his scorching eyes intent on mine.

“Later, Miss Steele,” he breathes, his voice full of promise.

My belly curls at the thought… oh my. Hang on… later?

Ray takes my elbow and leads me toward the entrance to the tent.

“Seems a solid young man. Well-off, too. You could do a lot worse, Annie. Though why I had to hear about him from Katherine,” he scolds.

I shrug apologetically.

“Well, any man who likes and knows his fly-fishing is okay with me.”

Holy cow – Ray approves. If only he knew.

Ray drops me back at the house at dusk.

“Call your mom,” he says.

“I will. Thanks for coming, Dad.”

“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, Annie. You make me so proud.”

Oh no. I’m not going to get emotional. A huge lump forms in my throat, and I hug him, hard. He puts his arms around me, bemused, and I can’t help it – tears pool in my eyes.

“Hey, Annie, sweetheart,” Ray croons. “Big old day… eh? Want me to come in and make you some tea?”

I laugh, in spite of my tears. Tea is always the answer, according to Ray. I remember my mother complaining about him, saying that when it came to tea and sympathy, he was always good at the tea, not so hot on the sympathy.

“No, Dad, I’m good. It’s been so great to see you. I’ll visit real soon once I’m settled in Seattle.”

“Good luck with the interviews. Let me know how they go.”

“Sure thing, Dad.”

“Love you, Annie.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

He smiles, his brown eyes warm, glowing, and he climbs back into his car. I wave him off as he drives into the dusk, and I wander listlessly back into the apartment.

First thing I do is check my cell phone. It needs recharging, so I have to hunt down the charger and plug it in before I can collect my messages. Four missed calls, one voice message, and two texts. Three missed calls from Christian… no messages. One missed call from José and a voice mail from him wishing me all the best for graduation.

I open the texts.

*Are you home safe?*

*Call me*

They are both from Christian. Why didn’t he call the house? I head into my bedroom and fire up the mean machine.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Tonight

Date: May 25 2011 23:58

To: Anastasia Steele

I hope you made it home in that car of yours.

Let me know if you’re okay.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

Jeez… why is he so worried about my Beetle? It has given me three years of loyal service, and José has always been on hand to maintain it for me. Christian’s next e-mail is from today.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Soft Limits

Date: May 26 2011 17:22

To: Anastasia Steele

What can I say that I haven’t already?

Happy to talk these through anytime.

You looked beautiful today.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

I want to see him. I hit reply

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Soft Limits

Date: May 26 2011 19:23

To: Christian Grey

I can come over this evening to discuss if you’d like.

Ana

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Soft Limits

Date: May 26 2011 19:27

To: Anastasia Steele

I’ll come to you. I meant it when I said I wasn’t happy about you driving that car.

I’ll be with you shortly.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

Holy crap… he’s coming over now. I have to get one thing ready for him – the first edition Thomas Hardy books are still on the shelves in the living room. I cannot keep them. I wrap them in brown paper, and I scrawl on the wrapping a direct quote from Tess from the book:

***

15

“Hi.” I feel unbearably shy when I open the door. Christian is standing on the porch in his jeans and leather jacket.

“Hi,” he says, and his face lights up with his radiant smile. I take a moment to admire the pretty. Oh my, he’s hot in leather.

“Come in.”

“If I may,” he says amused. He holds up a bottle of champagne as he walks in. “I thought we’d celebrate your graduation. Nothing beats a good Bollinger.”

“Interesting choice of words,” I comment dryly.

He grins.

“Oh, I like your ready wit, Anastasia.”

“We only have teacups. We’ve packed all the glasses.”

“Teacups? Sounds good to me.”

I head into the kitchen. Nervous, butterflies flooding my stomach, it’s like having a panther or mountain lion all unpredictable and predatory in my living room.

“Do you want saucers as well?”

“Teacups will be fine, Anastasia,” Christian calls distractedly from the living room.

When I return, he’s staring at the brown parcel of books. I place the cups on the table.

“That’s for you,” I murmur anxiously.

Crap… this is probably going to be a fight.

“Hmm, I figured as much. Very apt quote.” His long index finger absently traces the writing. “I thought I was D’Urberville, not Angel. You decided on the debasement.” He gives me a brief wolfish smile. “Trust you to find something that resonates so appropriately.”

“It’s also a plea,” I whisper. Why am I so nervous? My mouth is dry.

“A plea? For me to go easy on you?”

I nod.

“I bought these for you,” he says quietly, his gaze impassive. “I’ll go easier on you if you accept them.”

I swallow convulsively.

“Christian, I can’t accept them, they’re just too much.”

“You see, this is what I was talking about, you defying me. I want you to have them, and that’s the end of the discussion. It’s very simple. You don’t have to think about this. As a submissive you would just be grateful for them. You just accept what I buy you because it pleases me for you to do so.”

“I wasn’t a submissive when you bought them for me,” I whisper.

“No… but you’ve agreed, Anastasia.” His eyes turn wary.

I sigh. I am not going to win this, so over to plan B.

“So they are mine to do with as I wish?”

He eyes me suspiciously, but concedes.

“Yes.”

“In that case, I’d like to give them to a charity, one working in Darfur since that seems to be close to your heart. They can auction them.”

“If that’s what you want to do.” His mouth sets into a hard line. He’s disappointed.

I flush.

“I’ll think about it,” I murmur. I don’t want to disappoint him, and his words come back to me. I want you to want to please me.

“Don’t think, Anastasia. Not about this.” His tone is quiet and serious.

How can I not think? You can pretend to be a car, like his other possessions, my subconscious makes an unwelcome vitriolic return. I ignore her. Oh, can’t we rewind? The atmosphere between us is now tense. I don’t know what to do. I stare down at my fingers. How do I retrieve this situation?

He puts the champagne bottle on the table and stands in front of me. Putting his hand under my chin, he tilts my head up. He gazes down at me, his expression grave.

“I will buy you lots of things, Anastasia. Get used to it. I can afford it. I’m a very wealthy man.” He leans down and plants a swift, chaste kiss on my lips. “Please.” He releases me.

‘Ho’, my subconscious mouths at me.

“It makes me feel cheap,” I murmur.

Christian runs his hand through his hair, exasperated.

“It shouldn’t. You’re over-thinking it, Anastasia. Don’t place some vague moral judgment on yourself based on what others might think. Don’t waste your energy. It’s only because you have reservations about our arrangement; that’s perfectly natural. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”

I frown, trying to process his words.

“Hey, stop this,” he commands softly, cupping my chin again and pulling at it gently so I release my lower lip from my teeth. “There is nothing about you that is cheap, Anastasia. I won’t have you thinking that. I just bought you some old books that I thought might mean something to you, that’s all. Have some champagne.” His eyes warm and soften, and I smile tentatively back up at him. “That’s better,” he murmurs. He picks up the champagne, takes off the foil top and cage, twists the bottle rather than the cork, and opens it with a small pop and a practiced flourish that doesn’t spill a drop. He half fills the cups.

“It’s pink,” I murmur, surprised.

“Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 1999, an excellent vintage,” he says with relish.

“In teacups.”

He grins.

“In teacups. Congratulations on your degree, Anastasia.” We clink cups, and he takes a drink, but I can’t help thinking this is really about my capitulation.

“Thank you,” I murmur and take a sip. Of course it’s delicious. “Shall we go through the soft limits?”

He smiles, and I blush.

“Always so eager.” Christian takes my hand and leads me to the couch where he sits and tugs me down beside him.

“Your stepfather’s a very taciturn man.”

Oh… not soft limits, then. I just want to get this out of the way; the anxiety is gnawing at me.

“You managed to have him eating out of your hand.” I pout.

Christian laughs softly.

“Only because I know how to fish.”

“How did you know he liked fishing?”

“You told me. When we went for coffee.”

“Oh… did I?” I take another sip. Wow, he has a memory for detail. Hmm… this champagne really is very good. “Did you try the wine at the reception?”

Christian makes a face.

“Yes. It was foul.”

“I thought of you when I tasted it. How did you get to be so knowledgeable about wine?”

“I’m not knowledgeable, Anastasia, I just know what I like.” His gray eyes shine, almost silver, and it makes me flush. “Some more?” he asks, referring to the champagne.

“Please.”

Christian rises gracefully and collects the bottle. He fills my cup. Is he getting me tipsy? I eye him suspiciously.

“This place looks pretty bare. Are you ready for the move?”

“More or less.”

“Are you working tomorrow?”

“Yes, my last day at Clayton’s”

“I’d help you move, but I promised to meet my sister at the airport.”

Oh… this is news.

“Mia arrives from Paris very early Saturday morning. I’m heading back to Seattle tomorrow, but I hear Elliot is giving you two a hand.”

“Yes, Kate is very excited about that.”

Christian frowns.

“Yes, Kate and Elliot, who would have thought?” he murmurs, and for some reason he doesn’t look pleased.

“So what are you doing about work in Seattle?”

When are we going to talk about the limits? What’s his game?

“I have a couple of interviews for intern places.”

“You were going tell me this when?” He arches a brow.

“Err… I’m telling you now.”

He narrows his eyes.

“Where?”

For some reason, possibly because he might use his influence, I don’t want to tell him.

“A couple of publishing houses.”

“Is that what you want to do, something in publishing?”

I nod warily.

“Well?” He looks at me patiently wanting more information.

“Well what?”

“Don’t be obtuse, Anastasia, which publishing houses?” he scolds.

“Just small ones,” I murmur.

“Why don’t you want me to know?”

“Undue influence.”

He frowns.

“Oh, now you’re being obtuse.”

He laughs.

“Obtuse? Me? God, you’re challenging. Drink up, let’s talk about these limits.” He fishes out another copy of my e-mail and the list. Does he wander about with these lists in his pockets? I think there’s one in his jacket that I have. Shit, I’d better not forget that. I drain my cup.

He glances quickly at me.

“More?”

“Please.”

He smiles that oh-so-smug private smile of his, holds the champagne bottle up, and pauses.

“Have you eaten anything?”

Oh no… not this old chestnut.

“Yes. I had a three-course meal with Ray.” I roll my eyes at him. The champagne is making me bold.

He leans forward and holds my chin, staring intently into my eyes.

“Next time you roll your eyes at me, I will take you across my knee.”

What?!

“Oh,” I breathe, and I can see the excitement in his eyes.

“Oh,” he responds, mirroring my tone. “So it begins, Anastasia.”

My heart slams against my chest, and the butterflies escape from my stomach into my constricting throat. Why is that hot?

He fills my cup, and I drink practically all of it. Chastened, I stare up at him.

“Got your attention now, haven’t I?”

I nod.

“Answer me.”

“Yes… you’ve got my attention.”

“Good,” he smiles a knowing smile. “So sexual acts. We’ve done most of this.”

I move closer to him on the couch and glance down at the list.

APPENDIX 3

Soft Limits

To be discussed and agreed between both parties:

Which of the following sexual acts are acceptable to the Submissive?

• Masturbation

• Fellatio

• Cunnilingus

• Vaginal intercourse

• Vaginal fisting

• Anal intercourse

• Anal fisting

“No fisting, you say. Anything else you object to?” he asks softly.

I swallow.

“Anal intercourse doesn’t exactly float my boat.”

“I’ll agree to the fisting, but I’d really like to claim your ass, Anastasia. But we’ll wait for that. Besides, it’s not something we can dive into,” he smirks at me. “Your ass will need training.”

“Training?” I whisper.

“Oh yes. It’ll need careful preparation. Anal intercourse can be very pleasurable, trust me. But if we try it and you don’t like it, we don’t have to do it again.” He grins down at me.

I blink up at him. He thinks I’ll enjoy it? How does he know it’s pleasurable?

“Have you done that?” I whisper.

“Yes.”

Holy crap. I gasp.

“With a man?”

“No. I’ve never had sex with a man. Not my scene.”

“Mrs. Robinson?”

“Yes.”

Holy shit… how? I frown. He moves on down the list.

“Okay… swallowing semen. Well, you get an A in that.”

I flush, and my inner goddess smacks her lips together glowing with pride.

“So.” He looks down at me grinning. “Swallowing semen okay?”

I nod, not able to look him in the eye, and drain my cup again.

“More?” he asks.

“More.” And I’m suddenly reminded of our conversation earlier today as he refills my cup. Is he referring to that or just the champagne? Is this whole champagne thing more?

“Sex toys?” he asks.

I shrug, glancing down the list.

Is the use of sex toys acceptable to the Submissive?

• Vibrators

• Dildos

• Butt Plugs

• Other

“Butt plug? Does it do what it says on the tin?” I scrunch my nose up in distaste.

“Yes,” he smiles. “And I refer to anal intercourse above. Training.”

“Oh… what’s in other?”

“Beads, eggs… that sort of stuff.”

“Eggs?” I’m alarmed.

“Not real eggs,” he laughs loudly, shaking his head.

I purse my lips at him.

“I’m glad you find me funny.” I can’t keep my injured feelings out of my voice.

He stops laughing.

“I apologize. Miss Steele, I’m sorry,” he says, trying to look contrite, but his eyes are still dancing with humor. “Any problem with toys?”

“No,” I snap.

“Anastasia,” he cajoles. “I am sorry. Believe me. I don’t mean to laugh. I’ve never had this conversation in so much detail. You’re just so inexperienced. I’m sorry.” His eyes are big and gray and sincere.

I thaw a little and take another sip of champagne.

“Right – bondage,” he says, returning to the list. I examine the list, and my inner goddess bounces up and down like a small child waiting for ice cream.

Is Bondage acceptable to the Submissive?

• Hands in front

• Hands behind back

• Ankles

• Knees

• Elbows

• Wrists to ankles

• Spreader bars

• Tied to furniture

• Blindfolding

• Gagging

• Bondage with Rope

• Bondage with Tape

• Bondage with leather cuffs

• Suspension

• Bondage with handcuffs/metal restraints

“We’ve talked about suspension. And it’s fine if you want to set that up as a hard limit. It takes a great deal of time, and I only have you for short periods of time anyway. Anything else?”

“Don’t laugh at me, but what’s a spreader bar?”

“I promise not to laugh. I’ve apologized twice.” He glares at me. “Don’t make me do it again,” he warns. And I think I visibly shrink… oh, he’s so bossy. “A spreader is a bar with cuffs for ankles and/or wrists. They’re fun.”

“Okay… Well, gagging me. I’d be worried I wouldn’t be able to breathe.”

I’d be worried if you couldn’t breathe. I don’t want to suffocate you.”

“And how will I use safewords if I’m gagged?”

He pauses.

“First of all, I hope you never have to use them. But if you’re gagged, we’ll use hand signals,” he says simply.

I blink up at him. But if I’m trussed up, how’s that going to work? My brain is beginning to fog… hmm, alcohol.

“I’m nervous about the gagging.”

“Okay. I’ll take note.”

I stare up at him, realization dawning.

“Do you like tying your submissives up so they can’t touch you?”

He gazes at me, his eyes widening.

“That’s one of the reasons,” he says quietly.

“Is that why you’ve tied my hands?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t like talking about that,” I murmur.

“No, I don’t. Would you like another drink? It’s making you brave, and I need to know how you feel about pain.”

Holy crap… this is the tricky part. He refills my teacup, and I sip.

“So, what’s your general attitude to receiving pain?” Christian looks expectantly at me. “You’re biting your lip,” he says darkly.

I stop immediately, but I don’t know what to say. I flush and stare down at my hands.

“Were you physically punished as a child?”

“No.”

“So you have no sphere of reference at all?”

“No.”

“It’s not as bad as you think. Your imagination is your worst enemy in this,” he whispers.

“Do you have to do it?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Goes with the territory, Anastasia. It’s what I do. I can see you’re nervous. Let’s go through methods.”

He shows me the list. My subconscious runs, screaming, and hides behind the couch.

• Spanking

• Paddling

• Whipping

• Caning

• Biting

• Nipple clamps

• Genital clamps

• Ice

• Hot wax

• Other types/methods of pain

“Well, you said no to genital clamps. That’s fine. It’s caning that hurts the most.”

I blanch.

“We can work up to that.”

“Or not do it at all,” I whisper.

“This is part of the deal, baby, but we’ll work up to all of this. Anastasia, I won’t push you too far.”

“This punishment thing, it worries me the most.” My voice is very small.

“Well, I’m glad you’ve told me. We’ll keep caning off the list for now. And as you get more comfortable with this stuff, we’ll increase intensity. We’ll take it slow.”

I swallow, and he leans forward and kisses me on my lips.

“There, that wasn’t so bad was it?”

I shrug, my heart in mouth again.

“Look, I want to talk about one more thing, then I’m taking you to bed.”

“Bed?” I blink rapidly, and my blood pounds round my body, warming places I didn’t know existed until very recently.

“Come on, Anastasia, talking through all this, I want to fuck you into next week, right now. It must be having some effect on you, too.”

I squirm. My inner goddess is panting.

“See? Besides, there’s something I want to try.”

“Something painful?”

“No – stop seeing pain everywhere. It’s mainly pleasure. Have I hurt you yet?”

I flush.

“No.”

“Well then. Look, earlier today you were talking about wanting more,” he halts, uncertain all of a sudden.

Oh my… where’s this going?

He clasps my hand.

“Outside of the time you’re my sub, perhaps we could try. I don’t know if it will work. I don’t know about separating everything. It may not work. But I’m willing to try. Maybe one night a week. I don’t know.”

Holy cow… my mouth drops open, my subconscious is in shock. Christian Grey is up for more! He’s willing to try! My subconscious peeks out from behind the couch, still registering shock on her harpy face.

“I have one condition.” He looks warily at my stunned expression.

“What?” I breathe. Anything. I’ll give you anything.

“You graciously accept my graduation present to you.”

“Oh.” And deep down I know what it is. Dread spawns in my belly.

He’s staring down at me, gauging my reaction.

“Come,” he murmurs and rises, dragging me up. Taking his jacket off, he drapes it over my shoulders and heads for the door.

Parked outside is a red hatchback car, a two-door compact Audi.

“It’s for you. Happy graduation,” he murmurs, pulling me into his arms and kissing my hair.

He’s bought me a damned car, brand new by the looks of it. Jeez… I’ve had enough trouble with the books. I stare at it blankly, trying desperately to determine how I feel about this. I am appalled on one level, grateful on another, shocked that he’s actually done it, but the overriding emotion is anger. Yes, I’m angry, especially after everything I told him about the books… but then he’d already bought this. Taking my hand, he leads me down the path toward this new acquisition.

“Anastasia, that Beetle of yours is old and frankly dangerous. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you when it’s so easy for me to make it right,” he trails off.

His eyes are on me, but at the moment I cannot bring myself to look at him. I stand silently staring at its awesome bright red newness.

“I mentioned it to your stepfather. He was all for it,” he murmurs.

Turning, I glare at him, my mouth open in horror.

“You mentioned this to Ray? How could you?” I can barely spit the words out. How dare he? Poor Ray. I feel sick, mortified for my dad.

“It’s a gift, Anastasia. Can’t you just say thank you?”

“But you know it’s too much.”

“Not to me it isn’t, not for my peace of mind.”

I frown at him, at a loss what to say. He just doesn’t get it! He’s had money all his life. Okay, not all his life – not as a small child – and my world view shifts. The thought is very sobering, and I soften toward the car, feeling guilty about my fit of pique. His intentions are good, misguided, but not from a bad place.

“I’m happy for you to loan this to me, like the laptop.”

He sighs heavily.

“Okay. On loan. Indefinitely.” He looks warily at me.

“No, not indefinitely, but for now. Thank you.”

He frowns. I reach up and kiss him briefly on his cheek.

“Thank you for the car, sir.” I say as sweetly as I can manage.

He grabs me suddenly and yanks me up against him, one hand at my back holding me to him and the other fisting in my hair.

“You are one challenging woman, Ana Steele.” He kisses me passionately, forcing my lips apart with his tongue, taking no prisoners.

My blood heats immediately, and I’m returning his kiss with my own passion. I want him badly – in spite of the car, the books, the soft limits… the caning… I want him.

“It’s taking all my self-control not to fuck you on the hood of this car right now, just to show you that you are mine, and if I want to buy you a fucking car, I’ll buy you a fucking car,” he growls. “Now let’s get you inside and naked.” He plants a swift rough kiss on me.

Boy, he’s angry. He grabs my hand and leads me back into the apartment and straight into my bedroom… no passing go. My subconscious is behind the sofa again, head hidden under her hands. He switches on the sidelight and halts, staring at me.

“Please don’t be angry with me,” I whisper.

His gaze is impassive; his gray eyes cold shards of smoky glass.

“I’m sorry about the car and the books,” I trail off. He remains silent and brooding. “You scare me when you’re angry,” I breathe, staring at him.

He closes his eyes and shakes his head. When he opens them, his expression has softened fractionally. He takes a deep breath and swallows.

“Turn round,” he whispers. “I want to get you out of that dress.”

Another mercurial mood swing; it’s so hard to keep up. Obediently, I turn and my heart is thumping, desire instantly replacing unease, coursing through my blood and settling dark and yearning low, low in my belly. He scoops my hair off my back so it hangs down my right side, curling at my breast. He places his index finger at the nape of my neck and achingly slowly drags it down my spine. His well-manicured fingernail gently grazes down my back.

“I like this dress,” he murmurs. “I like to see your flawless skin.”

His finger reaches the back of my halter dress midway down my spine, and hooking his finger beneath the top, he pulls me closer so that I step back against him. I feel him flush against my body. Leaning down, he inhales my hair.

“You smell so good, Anastasia. So sweet.” His nose skims past my ear down my neck, and he trails soft, feather-light kisses along my shoulder.

My breathing changes, becoming shallow, rushed, full of expectation. His fingers are at my zipper. Achingly slow, once more he eases it down while his lips move, licking and kissing and sucking their way across to my other shoulder. He is so tantalizingly good at this. My body resonates, and I start to squirm languidly beneath his touch.

“You. Are. Going. To. Have. To. Learn. To. Keep. Still,” he whispers, kissing me around my nape between each word.

He tugs at the fastening at the halter neck, and the dress drops and pools at my feet.

“No bra, Miss Steele. I like that.”

His hands reach round and cup my breasts, and my nipples pucker at his touch.

“Lift your arms and put them around my head,” he murmurs against my neck.

I obey immediately, and my breasts rise and push into his hands, my nipples hardening further. My fingers weave into his hair, and very gently I tug his soft, sexy hair. I roll my head to one side to give him easier access to my neck.

“Mmm… ” he murmurs into that space behind my ear as he starts to extend my nipples with his long fingers, mirroring my hands in his hair.

I groan as the sensation registers sharp and clear in my groin.

“Shall I make you come this way?” he whispers.

I arch my back to force my breasts into his expert hands.

“You like this, don’t you, Miss Steele?”

“Mmm… ”

“Tell me.” He continues the slow sensuous torture, pulling gently.

“Yes.”

“Yes, what.”

“Yes… Sir.”

“Good girl.” He pinches me hard, and my body writhes convulsively against his front.

I gasp at the exquisite, acute, pleasure/pain. I feel him against me. I moan and my hands clench in his hair pulling harder.

“I don’t think you’re ready to come yet,” he whispers, stilling his hands, and he gently bites my earlobe and tugs at it. “Besides, you have displeased me.”

Oh… no, what will this mean? My brain registers through the fog of needy desire as I groan.

“So perhaps I won’t let you come after all.” He returns the attention of his fingers to my nipples, pulling, twisting, kneading. I grind my behind against him… moving side to side.

I feel his grin against my neck as his hands move down to my hips. His fingers hook into my panties at the back, stretching them, and he pushes his thumbs through the material, shredding them and tossing them in front of me so I can see… holy shit. His hands move down to my sex, and from behind, he slowly inserts his finger.

“Oh, yes. My sweet girl is all ready,” he breathes as he whirls me round so I’m facing him. His breathing has quickened. He puts his finger in his mouth. “You taste so fine, Miss Steele.” He sighs. “Undress me,” he commands quietly, staring down at me, eyes hooded.

All I’m wearing is my shoes, well, Kate’s high-heeled pumps. I’m taken aback. I’ve never undressed a man.

“You can do it,” he cajoles softly.

Oh my. I blink rapidly. Where to start? I reach for his t-shirt, and he grabs my hands and shakes his head, smiling slyly at me.

“Oh no.” He shakes his head, grinning. “Not the t-shirt, you may need to touch me for what I have planned.” His eyes are alive with excitement.

Oh… this is news… I can touch with clothes. He takes one of my hands and places it against his erection.

“This is the effect you have on me, Miss Steele.”

I gasp and flex my fingers around his girth, and he grins.

“I want to be inside you. Take my jeans off. You’re in charge.”

Holy fuck… me in charge. My mouth drops open.

“What are you going to do with me?” he teases.

Oh the possibilities… my inner goddess roars, and from somewhere born of frustration, need, and sheer Steele bravery, I push him on to the bed. He laughs as he falls, and I gaze down at him feeling victorious. My inner goddess is going to explode. I yank off his shoes, quickly, clumsily, and his socks. He’s staring up at me, his eyes luminous with amusement and desire. He looks… glorious… mine. I crawl up the bed and sit astride him to undo his jeans, sliding my fingers under the waistband, feeling the hair in his oh-so-happy trail. He closes his eyes and flexes his hips.

“You’ll have to learn to keep still,” I scold, and I tug at the hair under his waistband.

His breath hitches, and he grins at me.

“Yes, Miss Steele,” he murmurs, eyes burning bright. “In my pocket, condom,” he breathes.

I search in his pocket slowly, watching his face as I feel around. His mouth is open. I fish out both foil packets that I find and lay them on the bed by his hips. Two! My over-eager fingers reach for the button of his waistband and undo it, fumbling a little. I am beyond excited.

“So eager, Miss Steele,” he murmurs, his voice laced with humor. I tug down the zipper, and now I’m faced with the problem of removing his pants… hmm. I shuffle down and pull. They hardly move. I frown. How can this be so difficult?

“I can’t keep still if you’re going to bite that lip,” he warns, then arches his pelvis up off the bed so I’m able to tug down his trousers and his boxers at the same time, whoa… freeing him. He kicks his clothes to the floor.

Holy Moses, he’s all mine to play with, and suddenly it’s Christmas.

“Now what are you going to do?” he breathes, all trace of humor gone. I reach up and touch him, watching his expression as I do. His mouth shapes like a letter O as he takes a sharp breath. His skin is so smooth and soft… and hard… hmm, what a delicious combination. I lean forward, my hair falling around me, and he’s in my mouth. I suck, hard. He closes his eyes, his hips jerking beneath me.

“Jeez, Ana, steady,” he groans.

I feel so powerful; it’s such a heady feeling, teasing and testing him with my mouth and tongue. He tenses underneath me as I run my mouth up and down him, pushing him to the back of my throat, my lips tight… again and again.

“Stop, Ana, stop. I don’t want to come.”

I sit up, blinking at him, and I’m panting like him, but confused. I thought I was in charge? My inner goddess looks like someone snatched her ice cream.

“Your innocence and enthusiasm is very disarming,” he gasps. “You, on top… that’s what we need to do.”

Oh.

“Here, put this on.” He hands me a foil packet.

Holy crap. How? I rip the packet open, and the rubbery condom is all tacky in my fingers.

“Pinch the top and then roll it down. You don’t want any air in the end of that sucker,” he pants.

And very slowly, concentrating hard, I do as I’m told.

“Christ, you’re killing me here, Anastasia,” he groans.

I admire my handiwork and him. He really is a fine specimen of a man. Looking at him is very, very arousing.

“Now. I want to be buried inside you,” he murmurs. I stare down at him, daunted, and he sits up suddenly, so we’re nose to nose.

“Like this,” he breathes, and he snakes one hand round my hips, lifting me slightly, and with the other he positions himself beneath me, and very slowly, eases me on to him.

I groan as he stretches me open, filling me, my mouth hanging open in surprise at the sweet, sublime, agonizing, over-full feeling. Oh… please.

“That’s right, baby, feel me, all of me,” he growls and briefly closes his eyes.

And he’s inside me, sheathed to the hilt, and he holds me in place, for seconds… minutes… I have no idea, staring intently into my eyes.

“It’s deep this way,” he murmurs. He flexes and swivels his hips in the same motion, and I groan… oh my – the sensation radiates throughout my belly… everywhere. Fuck!

“Again,” I whisper. He grins a lazy grin and obliges.

Moaning, I throw my head back, my hair tumbling down my back, and very slowly, he sinks back down on to the bed.

“You move, Anastasia, up and down, how you want. Take my hands,” he breathes, his voice hoarse and low and oh-so-sexy.

I clasp his hands, holding on for life. Gently I push off him and back down, oh my. His eyes are burning with wild anticipation. His breathing is ragged, matching mine, and he lifts his pelvis as I come down, bouncing me back up. We pick up the rhythm… up, down, up, down… over and over… and it feels so… good. Between my panting breaths, the deep down, brimming fullness… the vehement sensation pulsing through me that’s building quickly, I watch him, our eyes locked… and I see wonder there, wonder at me.

I am fucking him. I am in charge. He’s mine, and I’m his. The thought pushes me, weighted with concrete, over the edge, and I climax around him… shouting incoherently. He grabs my hips, and closing his eyes, tipping his head back, his jaw strained, he comes quietly. I collapse on to his chest, overwhelmed, somewhere between fantasy and reality, a place where there are no hard or soft limits.

16

Slowly the outside world invades my senses, and oh my, what an invasion. I am floating, my limbs soft and languid, utterly spent. I’m lying on top of him, my head on his chest, and he smells divine: fresh, laundered linen and some expensive body wash, and the best, most seductive scent on the planet… Christian. I don’t want to move, I want to breathe this elixir for eternity. I nuzzle him, wishing I didn’t have the barrier of his t-shirt. And as rhyme and reason return to the rest of my body, I stretch my hand out on his chest. This is the first time I’ve touched him here. He’s firm… strong. His hand swoops up and grabs mine, but he softens the blow by pulling it to his mouth and sweetly kissing my knuckles. He rolls over so he’s gazing down at me.

“Don’t,” he murmurs, then kisses me lightly.

“Why don’t you like to be touched?” I whisper, staring up into soft gray eyes.

“Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia.”

Oh… his honesty is completely disarming. I blink up at him.

“I had a very tough introduction to life. I don’t want to burden you with the details. Just don’t.” He strokes his nose against mine, and then he pulls out of me and sits up.

“I think that’s all the very basics covered. How was that?”

He looks thoroughly pleased with himself and sounds very matter-of-fact at the same time, like he’s just marked another tick box in a checklist. I’m still reeling from the ‘tough introduction to life’ comment. It’s so frustrating – I am desperate to know more. But he won’t tell me. I cock my head to one side, like he does, and make an enormous effort to smile at him.

“If you imagine for one minute that I think you ceded control to me, well you haven’t taken into account my GPA.” I smile shyly at him. “But thank you for the illusion.”

“Miss Steele, you are not just a pretty face. You’ve had six orgasms so far and all of them belong to me,” he boasts, playful again.

I flush and blink at the same time, as he stares down at me. He’s keeping count! His brow furrows.

“Do you have something to tell me?” his voice is suddenly stern.

I frown. Crap.

“I had a dream this morning.”

“Oh?” He glares at me.

Double crap. Am I in trouble?

“I came in my sleep.” I throw my arm over my eyes. He says nothing. I peek up at him from under my arm, and he looks amused.

“In your sleep?”

“Woke me up.”

“I’m sure it did. What were you dreaming about?”

Crap.

“You.”

“What was I doing?”

I throw my arm over my eyes again. And like a small child, I briefly entertain the thought that if I can’t see him, then he can’t see me.

“Anastasia, what was I doing? I won’t ask you again.”

“You had a riding crop.”

He moves my arm.

“Really?”

“Yes.” I am crimson.

“There’s hope for you yet,” he murmurs. “I have several riding crops.”

“Brown plaited leather?”

He laughs.

“No, but I’m sure I could get one.” His gray eyes blaze with excitement.

Leaning down, he gives me a brief kiss then stands and grabs his boxers, oh no… he’s going. I glance quickly at the time – it’s only nine forty. I scoot out of bed, too, and grab my sweat pants and a cami top, then sit back on the bed, cross-legged, watching him. I don’t want him to go. What can I do?

“When is your period due?” He interrupts my thoughts.

What?!

“I hate wearing these things,” he grumbles. He holds up the condom, then puts it on the floor, and slips on his jeans.

“Well?” he prompts when I don’t reply, and he looks at me expectantly as if he’s waiting for my opinion on the weather. Holy crap… this is personal stuff.

“Next week.” I stare down at my hands.

“You need to sort out some contraception.”

He is so bossy. I stare at him blankly. He sits back on the bed as he puts on his shoes and socks.

“Do you have a doctor?”

I shake my head. We are back to mergers and acquisitions – another 180-degree mood swing.

He frowns.

“I can have mine come and see you at your apartment – Sunday morning before you come and see me. Or he can see you at my place. Which would you prefer?”

No pressure then. Something else that he’s paying for… but actually this is for his benefit.

“Your place.” That means I am guaranteed to see him Sunday.

“Okay. I’ll let you know the time.”

“Are you leaving?”

Don’t go… stay with me, please.

“Yes.”

Why?

“How are you getting back?” I whisper.

“Taylor will pick me up.”

“I can drive you. I have a lovely new car.”

He gazes at me, his expression warm.

“That’s more like it. But I think you’ve had too much to drink.”

“Did you get me tipsy on purpose?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because you over-think everything, and you’re reticent like your stepdad. A drop of wine in you and you start talking, and I need you to communicate honestly with me. Otherwise you clam up and I have no idea what you’re thinking. In vino veritas, Anastasia.”

“And you think you’re always honest with me?”

“I endeavor to be.” He looks down at me warily. “This will only work if we’re honest with each other.”

“I’d like you to stay and use this.” I hold up the second condom.

He smiles and his eyes glow with humor.

“Anastasia, I have crossed so many lines here tonight. I have to go. I’ll see you on Sunday. I’ll have the revised contract ready for you, and then we can really start to play.”

“Play?” Holy shit. My heart leaps into my mouth.

“I’d like to do a scene with you. But I won’t until you’ve signed, so I know you’re ready.”

“Oh. So I could stretch this out, if I don’t sign?”

He gazes at me assessing, and then his lips twitch into a smile.

“Well, I suppose you could, but I may crack under the strain.”

“Crack? How?” My inner goddess has woken and is paying attention.

He nods slowly, and then he grins, teasing.

“Could get really ugly.”

His grin is infectious.

“Ugly, how?”

“Oh you know, explosions, car chases, kidnapping, incarceration.”

“You’d kidnap me?”

“Oh yes,” he grins.

“Hold me against my will?” Jeez, this is hot.

“Oh yes,” he nods. “And then we’re talking TPE 24/7.”

“You’ve lost me,” I breathe, my heart is pounding… is he serious?

“Total Power Exchange – round the clock.” His eyes are shining, and I can feel his excitement from where I sit.

Holy shit.

“So you have no choice,” he says sardonically.

“Clearly.” I can’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice as my eyes reach for the heavens.

“Oh, Anastasia Steele, did you just roll your eyes at me?”

Crap.

“No,” I squeak.

“I think you did. What did I say I’d do to you if you rolled your eyes at me again?”

Shit. He sits down on the edge of the bed.

“Come here,” he says softly.

I blanch. Jeez… he’s serious. I sit staring at him, completely immobile.

“I haven’t signed,” I whisper.

“I told you what I’d do. I’m a man of my word. I’m going to spank you, and then I’m going to fuck you very quick and very hard. Looks like we’ll need that condom after all.”

His voice is so soft, menacing, and it’s damned hot. My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid, desire. He gazes at me, waiting, eyes blazing. Tentatively, I uncurl my legs. Should I run? This is it; our relationship hangs in the balance, right here, right now. Do I let him do this or do I say no, and then that’s it? Because I know it will be over if I say no. Do it! my inner goddess pleads with me. My subconscious is as paralyzed as I am.

“I’m waiting,” he says. “I’m not a patient man.”

Oh, for the love of all that’s holy. I’m panting, afraid, turned on. Blood pounding through my body, my legs are like jelly. Slowly, I crawl over to him until I am beside him.

“Good girl,” he murmurs. “Now stand up.”

Oh shit… can’t he just get this over with? I’m not sure if I can stand. Hesitantly, I clamber to my feet. He holds his hand out, and I place the condom in his palm. Suddenly he grabs me, tipping me across his lap. With one smooth movement, he angles his body so my torso is resting on the bed beside him. He throws his right leg over both of mine and plants his left forearm on the small of my back, holding me down so I cannot move. Oh fuck.

“Put your hands up on either side of your head,” he orders.

I obey immediately.

“Why am I doing this, Anastasia?” he asks.

“Because I rolled my eyes at you,” I can barely speak.

“Do you think that’s polite?”

“No.”

“Will you do it again?”

“No.”

“I will spank you e