Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fifty Shades Darker CHAPTER 22


All the color drains from my face as my blood turns to ice and fear lances through my body. Instinctively I step between her and Christian.
“What is it?” Christian murmurs, his tone wary.
I ignore him. I cannot believe Kate is doing this.
“Kate! This is nothing to do with you.” I glare venomously at her, anger replacing my fear. How dare she do this? Not now, not today. Not on Christian’s birthday. Surprised by my response, she blinks at me, green eyes wide.
“Ana, what is it?” Christian says again, his tone more menacing.
“Christian, would you just go, please?” I ask him.
“No. Show me.” He holds out his hand, and I know he’s not to be argued with—his voice is cold and hard. Reluctantly I give him the e-mail.
“What’s he done to you?” Kate asks, ignoring Christian. She looks so apprehensive. I flush as a myriad of erotic images flit quickly across my mind.
“That’s none of your business, Kate.” I can’t keep the exasperation out of my voice.
“Where did you get this?” Christian asks, his head cocked to one side, his face expressionless, but his voice . . . so menacingly soft. Kate flushes.
“That’s irrelevant.” At his stony glare, she hastily continues. “It was in the pocket of a jacket—which I assume is yours—that I found on the back of Ana’s bedroom door.” Faced with Christian’s burning gray gaze, Kate’s steeliness slips a little, but she seems to recover and scowls at him.
She’s a beacon of hostility in a slinky, bright red dress. She looks magnificent. But what the hell is she going through my clothes for? It’s usually the other way round.
“Have you told anyone?” Christian’s voice is like a silk glove.
“No! Of course not,” Kate snaps, affronted. Christian nods and appears to relax. He turns and heads toward the fireplace. Wordlessly Kate and I watch as he picks up a lighter from the mantelpiece, sets fire to the e-mail, and releases it, letting it float afire slowly into the grate until it is no more. The silence in the room is oppressive.
“Not even Elliot?” I ask, turning my attention back to Kate.
“No one,” Kate says emphatically, and for the first time she looks puzzled and hurt. “I just want to know you’re okay, Ana,” she whispers.
“I’m fine, Kate. More than fine. Please, Christian and I are good, really good—this is old news. Please ignore it.”
“Ignore it?” she says. “How can I ignore that? What’s he done to you?” And her green eyes are so full of heartfelt concern.
“He hasn’t done anything to me, Kate. Honestly—I’m good.”
She blinks at me.
“Really?” she asks.
Christian wraps an arm around me and draws me close, not taking his eyes off Kate.
“Ana has consented to be my wife, Katherine,” he says quietly.
“Wife!” Kate squeaks, her eyes widening in disbelief.
“We’re getting married. We’re going to announce our engagement this evening,” he says.
“Oh!” Kate gapes at me. She’s stunned. “I leave you alone for sixteen days, and this happens? It’s very sudden. So yesterday, when I said—” She gazes at me, lost. “Where does that e-mail fit into all this?”
“It doesn’t, Kate. Forget it—please. I love him and he loves me. Don’t do this. Don’t ruin his party and our night,” I whisper. She blinks and unexpectedly her eyes are shining with tears.
“No. Of course I won’t. You’re okay?” She wants reassurance.
“I’ve never been happier,” I whisper. She reaches forward and grabs my hand regardless of Christian’s arm wrapped around me.
“You really are okay?” she asks hopefully.
“Yes.” I grin at her, my joy returning. She’s back onside. She smiles at me, my happiness reflecting back on her. I step out of Christian’s hold, and she hugs me suddenly.
“Oh, Ana—I was so worried when I read this. I didn’t know what to think. Will you explain it to me?” she whispers.
“One day, not now.”
“Good. I won’t tell anyone. I love you so much, Ana, like my own sister. I just thought . . . I didn’t know what to think. I’m sorry. If you’re happy, then I’m happy.” She
looks directly at Christian and repeats her apology. He nods at her, his eyes glacial, and his expression does not change. Oh shit, he’s still mad.
“I really am sorry. You’re right, it’s none of my business,” she whispers to me.
There’s a knock on the door that startles Kate and I apart. Grace pokes her head around.
“Everything okay, darling?” she asks Christian.
“Everything’s fine, Mrs. Grey,” Kate says immediately.
“Fine, Mom,” Christian says.
“Good.” Grace enters. “Then you won’t mind if I give my son a birthday hug.” She beams at both of us. He hugs her tightly and thaws immediately.
“Happy birthday, darling,” she says softly, closing her eyes in his embrace. “I’m so glad you’re still with us.”
“Mom, I’m fine.” Christian smiles down at her. She pulls back, looks at him closely, and grins.
“I’m so happy for you,” she says and caresses his face.
He grins at her—his thousand megawatt smile.
She knows! When did he tell her?
“Well, kids, if you’ve all finished your tête-à-tête, there’s a throng of people here to check that you really are in one piece, Christian, and to wish you a happy birthday.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Grace glances anxiously at Kate and me and seems reassured by our smiles. She winks at me as she holds the door open for us. Christian holds out his hand to me and I take it.
“Christian, I really do apologize,” Kate says humbly. Humble Kate is something to behold. Christian nods at her, and we follow her out.
In the hallway, I gaze anxiously up at Christian. “Does your mother know about us?”
“Oh.” And to think our evening could have been derailed by the tenacious Miss Kavanagh. I shudder at the thought—the ramifications of Christian’s lifestyle revealed to all. Holy cow.
“Well, that was an interesting start to the evening.” I smile sweetly at him. He glances down at me—and it’s back, his amused look. Thank heavens.
“As ever, Miss Steele, you have a gift for understatement.” He raises my hand to his lips and kisses my knuckles as we walk into the living room to a sudden, spontaneous, and deafening round of applause.
Crap. How many people are here?
I scan the room quickly: all the Greys, Ethan with Mia, Dr. Flynn and his wife, I assume. There’s Mac from the boat, a tall, handsome African American—I remember seeing him in Christian’s office the first time I met Christian—Mia’s bitchy friend Lily, two women I don’t recognize at all, and . . . Oh no. My heart sinks. That woman . . . Mrs. Robinson.
Gretchen materializes with a tray of champagne. She’s in a low-cut black dress, no pigtails but an updo, flushing and fluttering her eyelashes at Christian. The applause dies down, and Christian squeezes my hand as all eyes turn to him expectantly.
“Thank you, everyone. Looks like I’ll need one of these.” He grabs two drinks off Gretchen’s tray and gives her a brief smile. I think Gretchen’s going to expire or swoon. He hands a glass to me.
Christian raises his glass to the rest of the room, and immediately everyone surges forward. Leading the charge is the evil woman in black. Does she ever wear any other color?
“Christian, I was so worried.” Elena gives him a brief hug and kisses both his cheeks. He doesn’t let me go despite the fact I try to free my hand.
“I’m good, Elena,” Christian mutters coolly.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Her plea is desperate, her eyes searching his.
“I’ve been busy.”
“Didn’t you get my messages?”
Christian shifts uncomfortably and pulls me closer, putting his arm around me. His face remains impassive as he regards Elena. She can no longer ignore me, so she nods politely in my direction.
“Ana,” she purrs. “You look lovely, dear.”
“Elena,” I purr back. “Thank you.”
I catch Grace’s eye. She frowns, watching the three of us.
“Elena, I need to make an announcement,” Christian says, eyeing her dispassionately.
Her clear blue eyes cloud. “Of course.” She fakes a smile and steps back.
“Everyone,” Christian calls. He waits for a moment until the buzz in the room dies down and all eyes are once more on him.
“Thank you for coming today. I have to say I was expecting a quiet family dinner, so this is a pleasant surprise.” He stares pointedly at Mia, who grins and gives him a little wave. Christian shakes his head in exasperation and continues.
“Ros and I”—he acknowledges the red-haired woman standing nearby with a small bubbly blonde—“we had a close call yesterday.”
Oh, that’s the Ros that works with him. She grins and raises her glass to him. He nods back at her.
“So I’m especially glad to be here today to share with all of you my very good news. This beautiful woman”—he glances down at me—“Miss Anastasia Rose Steele, has consented to be my wife, and I’d like you to be the first to know.”
There are general gasps of astonishment, the odd cheer, and then a round of applause! Jeez—this is really happening. I think I am the color of Kate’s dress. Christian grasps my chin, lifts my lips to his, and kisses me quickly.
“You’ll soon be mine.”
“I am already,” I whisper.
“Legally,” he mouths at me and gives me a wicked grin.
Lily, who is standing beside Mia, looks crestfallen; Gretchen looks like she’s eaten something nasty and bitter. As I glance anxiously around at the assembled crowd, I catch sight of Elena. Her mouth is open. She’s stunned—horrified even, and I can’t help a small but intense feeling of satisfaction to see her dumbstruck. What the hell is she doing here, anyway?
Carrick and Grace interrupt my uncharitable thoughts, and soon I am being hugged and kissed and passed around by all the Greys.
“Oh, Ana—I am so delighted you’re going to be family,” Grace gushes. “The change in Christian . . . He’s . . . happy. I am so thankful to you.” I blush, embarrassed by her exuberance but secretly delighted, too.
“Where is the ring?” exclaims Mia as she embraces me.
“Um . . .” A ring! Jeez. I hadn’t even thought about a ring. I glance anxiously up at Christian.
“We’re going to choose one together.” Christian glowers at her.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, Grey!” she scolds him, then wraps her arms around him. “I’m so thrilled for you, Christian,” she says. She’s the only person I know who is not intimidated by the Grey glower. It has me quailing . . . Well, it certainly used to.
“When will you get married? Have you set a date?” She beams up at Christian.
He shakes his head, his exasperation palpable. “No idea, and no we haven’t. Ana and I need to discuss all that,” he says irritably.
“I hope you have a big wedding—here,” she beams enthusiastically, ignoring his caustic tone.
“We’ll probably fly to Vegas tomorrow,” he growls at her, and he’s rewarded with a full-on Mia Grey pouty grimace. Rolling his eyes, he turns to Elliot, who gives him his second bear hug in as many days.
“Way to go, bro.” He claps Christian’s back.
The response from the room is overwhelming, and it’s a few minutes before I find myself back beside Christian with Dr. Flynn. Elena seems to have disappeared, and Gretchen is sullenly refilling champagne glasses.
Beside Dr. Flynn is a striking young woman with long, dark, almost black hair, cleavage, and lovely hazel eyes.
“Christian,” says Flynn, holding out his hand. Christian shakes it gladly.
“John. Rhian.” He kisses the dark-haired woman on her cheek. She’s petite and pretty.
“Glad you’re still with us, Christian. My life would be most dull—and penurious—without you.”
Christian smirks.
“John!” Rhian scolds, much to Christian’s amusement.
“Rhian, this is Anastasia, my fiancée. Ana, this is John’s wife.”
“Delighted to meet the woman who has finally captured Christian’s heart.” Rhian smiles kindly at me.
“Thank you,” I mutter, embarrassed again.
“That was one googly you bowled there, Christian,” Dr. Flynn shakes his head in amused disbelief. Christian frowns at him.
“John—you and your cricket metaphors.” Rhian rolls her eyes. “Congratulations to the pair of you and happy birthday, Christian. What a wonderful birthday present.” She smiles broadly at me.
I had no idea Dr. Flynn would be here, or Elena. It’s a shock, and I rack my brains to see if I have anything to ask him, but a birthday party hardly seems the appropriate venue for a psychiatric consult.
For a few minutes, we make small talk. Rhian is a stay-at-home mom with two young boys. I deduce that she is the reason Dr. Flynn practices in the US.
“She’s good, Christian, responding well to treatment. Another couple of weeks and we can consider an out-patient program.” Dr. Flynn’s and Christian’s voices are low, but I can’t help listening in, rather rudely tuning out Rhian.
“So it’s all play-dates and diapers at the moment . . .”
“That must take up your time.” I flush, turning my attention back to Rhian, who laughs sweetly. I know Christian and Flynn are discussing Leila.
“Ask her something for me,” Christian murmurs.
“So what do you do, Anastasia?”
“Ana, please. I work in publishing.”
Christian and Dr. Flynn lower their voices further; it’s so frustrating. But they stop when we’re joined by the two women I didn’t recognize earlier—Ros and the bubbly blonde whom Christian introduces as her partner, Gwen.
Ros is charming, and I soon discover they live almost opposite Escala. She is full of praise for Christian’s piloting skills. It was her first time in Charlie Tango, and she says she wouldn’t hesitate to go again. She’s one of the few women I’ve met who isn’t dazzled by him . . . well, the reason is obvious.
Gwen is giggly with a wry sense of humor, and Christian seems extraordinarily at ease with both of them. He knows them well. They don’t discuss work, but I can tell that Ros is one smart woman who can easily keep up with him. She also has a great, throaty, too-many-cigarettes laugh.
Grace interrupts our leisurely conversation to inform everyone that dinner is being served buffet-style in the Grey kitchen. Slowly the guests make their way toward the back of the house.
Mia collars me in the hallway. In her pale pink, frothy babydoll dress and killer heels, she towers over me like a Christmas tree fairy. She’s holding two cocktail glasses.
“Ana,” she hisses conspiratorially. I glance up at Christian, who releases me with a best-of-luck-I-find-her-impossible-to-deal-with-too look, and I sneak into the dining room with her.
“Here,” she says mischievously. “This is one of my dad’s special lemon martinis—much nicer than champagne.” She hands me a glass and watches anxiously while I take a tentative sip.
“Hmm . . . delicious. But strong.” What does she want? Is she trying to get me drunk?
“Ana, I need some advice. And I can’t ask Lily—she’s so judgmental about everything.” Mia rolls her eyes then grins at me. “She is so jealous of you. I think she was hoping one day that she and Christian might get together.” Mia bursts out laughing at the absurdity, and I quail inside.
This is something I will have to contend with for a long time—other women wanting my man. I push the unwelcome thought out of my head and distract myself with the matter in hand. I take another sip of my martini.
“I’ll try and help. Fire away.”
“As you know, Ethan and I met recently, thanks to you.” She beams at me.
“Yes.” Where the hell is she going with this?
“Ana—he doesn’t want to date me.” She pouts.
“Oh.” I blink at her, stunned, and I think, Maybe he’s just not that into you.
“Look, that sounded all wrong. He doesn’t want to date because his sister is going out with my brother. You know—he thinks it’s all kind of incestuous. But I know he likes me. What can I do?”
“Oh, I see,” I mutter, trying to buy myself some time. What can I say? “Can you agree to be friends and give it some time? I mean you’ve only just met him.”
She cocks her eyebrow and I flush.
“Look, I know I’ve only really just met Christian but . . .” I scowl at her not sure what I want to say. “Mia, this is something you and Ethan have to work out together. I would try the friendship route.”
Mia grins.
“You’ve learned that look from Christian.”
I flush. “If you want advice, ask Kate. She may have some insight as to how her brother feels.”
“You think?” Mia asks.
“Yes.” I smile encouragingly.
“Cool. Thanks, Ana.” She gives me another hug and scuttles excitedly—and impressively, given her high heels—to the door, no doubt off to bother Kate. I take another sip of my martini, and I’m about to follow her when I am stopped in my tracks.
Elena breezes into the room, her face taut, set in grim, angry determination. She closes the door quietly behind her and scowls at me.
Oh crap.
“Ana,” she sneers.
I summon all my self-possession, slightly fuzzy from two glasses of champagne and the lethal cocktail I hold in my hand. I think the blood has drained from my face, but I marshal both my subconscious and my inner goddess in order to appear as calm and as unflappable as I can.
“Elena.” My voice is small, but steady—despite my dry mouth. Why does this woman freak me out so much? And what does she want now?
“I would offer you my heartfelt congratulations, but I think that would be inappropriate.” Her piercing cold blue eyes stare frostily into mine, filled with loathing.
“I neither need nor want your congratulations, Elena. I’m surprised and disappointed to see you here.”
She arches an eyebrow. I think she’s impressed.
“I wouldn’t have thought of you as a worthy adversary, Anastasia. But you surprise me at every turn.”
“I haven’t thought of you at all,” I lie, coolly. Christian would be proud. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have much better things to do than waste my time with you.”
“Not so fast, missy,” she hisses, leaning against the door, effectively blocking it. “What on earth do you think you’re doing, consenting to marry Christian? If you think for one minute you can make him happy, you’re very much mistaken.”
“What I’m consenting to do with Christian is none of your concern.” I smile with sarcastic sweetness. She ignores me.
“He has needs—needs you cannot possibly begin to satisfy,” she gloats.
“What do you know of his needs?” I snarl. My sense of indignation flares brightly, burning inside me as adrenaline surges through my body. How dare this fucking bitch preach to me? “You’re nothing but a sick child molester, and if it was up to me, I’d toss
you into the seventh circle of hell and walk away smiling. Now get out of my way—or do I have to make you?”
“You’re making a big mistake here, lady.” She shakes a long, skinny, finely manicured finger at me. “How dare you judge our lifestyle? You know nothing, and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. And if you think he’s going to be happy with a mousy little gold-digger like you . . .”
That’s it! I throw the rest of my lemon martini in her face, drenching her.
“Don’t you dare tell me what I’m getting myself into!” I shout at her. “When will you learn? It’s none of your goddamned business!”
She gapes at me, horror struck, wiping the sticky drink off her face. I think she’s about to lunge at me, but she’s suddenly shunted forward as the door opens.
Christian is standing in the doorway. It takes him a nanosecond to assess the situation—me ashen and shaking, her soaked and livid. His lovely face darkens and contorts with anger as he comes to stand between us.
“What the fuck are you doing, Elena?” he says, his voice glacial and laced with menace.
She blinks up at him. “She’s not right for you, Christian,” she whispers.
“What?” he shouts, startling both of us. I can’t see his face but his whole body has tensed, and he radiates animosity.
“How the fuck do you know what’s right for me?”
“You have needs, Christian,” she says her voice softer.
“I’ve told you before—this is none of your fucking business,” he roars. Oh crap—Very Angry Christian has reared his not-so-ugly head. People are going to hear.
“What is this?” He pauses, glaring at her. “Do you think it’s you? You? You think you’re right for me?” His voice is softer but drips contempt, and suddenly I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to witness this intimate encounter. I’m intruding. But I’m stuck—my limbs unwilling to move.
Elena swallows and seems to draw herself upright. Her stance changes subtly, becomes more commanding, and she steps toward him.
“I was the best thing that ever happened to you,” she hisses arrogantly at him. “Look at you now. One of the richest, most successful, entrepreneurs in the US—controlled, driven—you need nothing. You are master of your universe.”
He steps back as if he’s been struck and gapes at her in outraged disbelief.
“You loved it, Christian, don’t try and kid yourself. You were on the road to self-destruction, and I saved you from that, saved you from a life behind bars. Believe me, baby, that’s where you would have ended up. I taught you everything you know, everything you need.”
Christian blanches, staring at her in horror. When he speaks, his voice is low and incredulous.
“You taught me how to fuck, Elena. But it’s empty, like you. No wonder Linc left.”
Bile rises in my mouth. I should not be here. But I’m frozen to the spot, morbidly fascinated as they eviscerate each other.
“You never once held me,” Christian whispers. “You never once said you loved me.”
She narrows her eyes. “Love is for fools, Christian.”
“Get out of my house.” Grace’s implacable, furious voice startles us. Three heads swing rapidly to where Grace stands on the threshold of the room. She is glaring at Elena, who pales beneath her St. Tropez tan.
Time seems suspended as we collectively take a deep gasping breath, and Grace stalks deliberately into the room. Her eyes blaze with fury, never once leaving Elena, until she stands before her. Elena’s eyes widen in alarm, and Grace slaps her hard across the face, the sound of the impact resounding off the walls of the dining room.
“Take your filthy paws off my son, you whore, and get out of my house—now!” she hisses through gritted teeth.
Elena clutches her reddening cheek and stares in horror for a moment, shocked and blinking at Grace. Then she hurries from the room, not bothering to close the door behind her.
Grace turns slowly to face Christian and a tense silence settles like a thick blanket over us as Christian and Grace stare at each other. After a beat, Grace speaks.
“Ana, before I hand him over to you, would you mind giving me a minute or two alone with my son?” Her voice is quiet, husky, but oh-so-strong.
“Of course,” I whisper, and exit as quickly as I can, glancing anxiously over my shoulder. But neither of them look at me as I leave. They continue to stare at each other, their unspoken communication blaringly loud.
In the hallway, I am momentarily lost. My heart pounds and my blood races through my veins . . . I feel panicked and out of my depth. Holy fuck, that was heavy and now Grace knows. Crap. I can’t think what she’s going to say to Christian, and I know it’s wrong, I know, but I lean against the door trying to listen.
“How long, Christian?” Grace’s voice is soft. I can barely hear her.
I cannot hear his reply.
“How old were you?” Her voice is more insistent. “Tell me. How old were you when this all started?” Again I can’t hear Christian.
“Everything okay, Ana?” Ros interrupts me.
“Yes. Fine. Thank you. I . . .”
Ros smiles. “I’m just going to fetch my purse. I need a cigarette.”
For a brief moment, I contemplate joining her.
“I’m off to the bathroom.” I need to gather my wits and my thoughts, to process what I’ve just witnessed and heard. Upstairs seems the safest place to be on my own. I watch Ros stroll into the drawing room, and I bolt two stairs at a time to the second floor, then up to the third. There’s only one place I want to be.
I open the door to Christian’s childhood bedroom and shut it behind me, taking a huge gulping breath. Heading for his bed, I flop onto it and stare at the plain white ceiling.
Holy cow. That has to be, without doubt, one of the most excruciating confrontations I’ve ever had to endure, and now I feel numb. My fiancé and his ex-lover—no would-be bride should have to see that. Having said that, part of me is glad she’s revealed her true self, and that I was there to bear witness.
My thoughts turn to Grace. Poor Grace, to hear all that. I clutch one of Christian’s pillows. She’ll have overheard that Christian and Elena had an affair—but not the nature of it. Thank heavens. I groan.
What am I doing? Perhaps the evil witch had a point.
No, I refuse to believe that. She’s so cold and cruel. I shake my head. She’s wrong. I am right for Christian. I am what he needs. And in a moment of stunning clarity, I don’t question how he’s lived his life until recently—but why. His reasons for doing what he’s done to countless girls—I don’t even want to know how many. The how isn’t wrong. They were all adults. They were all—how did Flynn put it?—in safe, sane, consensual relationships. It’s the why. The why was wrong. The why was from his place of darkness.
I close my eyes and drape my arm over them. But now he’s moved on, left it behind, and we are both in the light. I’m dazzled by him and he by me. We can guide each other. A thought occurs to me. Shit! A gnawing, insidious thought and I’m in the one place where I can lay this ghost to rest. I sit up. Yes, I must do this.
Shakily I get to my feet, kick off my shoes, walk over to his desk, and examine the pin board above it. The photos of young Christian are all still there—more poignant than ever as I think of the spectacle I’ve just witnessed between him and Mrs. Robinson. And there in the corner is the small black and white photo—his mother, the crack whore.
I switch on the desk lamp and focus the light on her picture. I don’t even know her name. She looks so much like him but younger and sadder and all I feel, looking at her sorrowful face, is compassion. I try to see the similarities between her face and mine. I squint at the picture, getting really, really close, and see none. Except maybe our hair, but I think hers is lighter than mine. I don’t look like her at all. It’s a relief.
My subconscious tuts at me, arms crossed, glaring over her half-moon glasses. Why are you torturing yourself? You’ve said yes. You’ve made your bed. I purse my lips at her. Yes I have, gladly so. I want to lie in that bed with Christian for the rest of my life. My inner goddess, sitting in the lotus position, smiles serenely. Yes. I’ve made the right decision.
I must find him—Christian will be worried. I have no idea how long I’ve been in his room; he’ll think that I’ve fled. I roll my eyes as I contemplate his overreaction. I hope that he and Grace have finished. I shudder to think what else she might have said to him.
I meet Christian as he climbs the stairs to the second floor, looking for me. His face is strained and weary—not the carefree Fifty I arrived with. As I stand on the landing, he stops on the top stair so that we are eye to eye.
“Hi,” he says cautiously.
“Hi,” I answer warily.
“I was worried—”
“I know,” I interrupt him. “I’m sorry—I couldn’t face the festivities. I just had to get away, you know. To think.” Reaching up, I caress his face. He closes his eyes and leans his face into my hand.
“And you thought you’d do that in my room?”
He reaches for my hand and pulls me into an embrace, and I go willingly into his arms, my favorite place in the whole world. He smells of fresh laundry, body wash, and Christian—the most calming and arousing scent on the planet. He inhales with his nose in my hair.
“I’m sorry you had to endure all that.”
“It’s not your fault, Christian. Why was she here?” He gazes down at me, and his mouth curls apologetically.
“She’s a family friend.”
I try not to react. “Not any more. How’s your mom?”
“Mom is pretty fucking mad at me right now. I’m really glad you’re here, and that we’re in the middle of a party. Otherwise I might be breathing my last.”
“That bad, huh?”
He nods, his eyes serious, and I sense his bewilderment at her reaction.
“Can you blame her?” My voice is quiet, cajoling.
He hugs me tightly and he seems uncertain, processing his thoughts.
Finally he answers. “No.”
Whoa! Breakthrough. “Can we sit?” I ask.
“Sure. Here?”
I nod and we both sit at the top of the stairs.
“So, how do you feel?” I ask, anxiously clutching his hand and gazing at his sad, serious face.
He sighs.
“I feel liberated.” He shrugs, then beams—a glorious, carefree Christian smile, and the weariness and strain present moments ago have vanished.
“Really?” I beam back. Wow, I’d crawl over broken glass for that smile.
“Our business relationship is over. Done.”
I frown at him. “Will you liquidate the salon business?”
He snorts. “I’m not that vindictive, Anastasia,” he admonishes me. “No. I’ll gift them to her. I’ll talk to my lawyer Monday. I owe her that much.”
I arch an eyebrow at him. “No more Mrs. Robinson?” His mouth twists in amusement and he shakes his head.
I grin.
“I’m sorry you lost a friend.”
He shrugs then smirks. “Are you?”
“No,” I confess, flushing.
“Come.” He stands and offers me his hand. “Let’s join the party in our honor. I might even get drunk.”
“Do you get drunk?” I ask as I take his hand.
“Not since I was a wild teenager.” We walk down the stairs.
“Have you eaten?” he asks.
Oh crap.
“Well you should. From the look and smell of Elena, that was one of my father’s lethal cocktails you threw over her.” He gazes at me, trying and failing to keep the amusement off his face.
“Christian, I—”
He holds up his hand.
“No arguing, Anastasia. If you’re going to drink—and throw alcohol over my exes—you need to eat. It’s rule number one. I believe we’ve already had that discussion after our first night together.”
Oh yes. The Heathman.
Back in the hallway, he pauses to caress my face, his fingers skimming my jaw.
“I lay awake for hours and watched you sleep,” he murmurs. “I might have loved you even then.”
He leans down and kisses me softly, and I melt everywhere, all the tension of the last hour or so seeping languidly from my body.
“Eat,” he whispers.
“Okay,” I acquiesce because right now I’d probably do anything for him. Taking my hand, he leads me toward the kitchen where the party is in full swing.
“Goodnight, John, Rhian.”
“Congratulations again, Ana. You two will be just fine.” Dr. Flynn smiles kindly at us, standing arm in arm in the hallway as he and Rhian take their leave.
Christian closes the door and shakes his head. He gazes down at me, his eyes suddenly bright with excitement.
What’s this?
“Just the family left. I think my mother has had too much to drink.” Grace is singing karaoke on some game console in the family room. Kate and Mia are giving her a run for her money.
“Do you blame her?” I smirk at him, trying to keep the atmosphere between us light. I succeed.
“Are you smirking at me, Miss Steele?”
“I am.”
“It’s been quite a day.”
“Christian, recently, every day with you has been quite a day.” My voice is sardonic.
He shakes his head. “Fair point well made, Miss Steele. Come—I want to show you something.” Taking my hand, he leads me through the house to the kitchen where Carrick, Ethan, and Elliot are talking Mariners, drinking the last of the cocktails, and eating leftovers.
“Off for a stroll?” Elliot teases suggestively as we make our way through the French doors. Christian ignores him. Carrick frowns at Elliot, shaking his head in a silent rebuke.
As we make our way up the steps to the lawn, I take off my shoes. The half-moon shines brightly over the bay. It’s brilliant, casting everything in myriad of shades of gray as the lights of Seattle twinkle sweetly in the distance. The lights of the boathouse are on, a soft glowing beacon in the cool cast of the moon.
“Christian, I’d like to go to church tomorrow.”
“I prayed you’d come back alive and you did. It’s the least I could do.”
We wander hand in hand in a relaxed silence for a few moments. Then something occurs to me.
“Where are you going to put the photos José took of me?”
“I thought we might put them in the new house.”
“You bought it?”
He stops to stare at me, and his voice full of concern. “Yes. I thought you liked it.”
“I do. When did you buy it?”
“Yesterday morning. Now we need to decide what to do with it,” he murmurs, relieved.
“Don’t knock it down. Please. It’s such a lovely house. It just needs some tender loving care.”
Christian glances at me and smiles. “Okay. I’ll talk to Elliot. He knows a good architect; she did some work on my place is Aspen. He can do the remodeling.”
I snort, suddenly remembering the last time we crossed the lawn under the moonlight to the boathouse. Oh, perhaps that’s what we’re going to do now. I grin.
“I remember the last time you took me to the boathouse.”
Christian chuckles quietly. “Oh, that was fun. In fact . . .” He suddenly stops and scoops me over his shoulder, and I squeal, though we don’t have far to go.
“You were really angry, if I remember correctly,” I gasp.
“Anastasia, I’m always really angry.”
“No you’re not.”
He swats my behind as he stops outside the wooden door. He slides me down his body back to the ground and takes my head in his hands.
“No, not anymore.” Leaning down, he kisses me, hard. When he pulls away, I’m breathless and desire is racing round my body.
He gazes down at me, and in the glow of the strip of light coming from inside the boathouse, I can see he’s anxious. My anxious man, not a white knight or a dark knight, but a man—a beautiful, not-quite-so-fucked-up man—whom I love. I reach up and caress his face, running my fingers through his sideburns and along his jaw to his chin, then let my index finger touch his lips. He relaxes.
“I’ve something to show you in here,” he murmurs and opens the door.
The harsh light of the fluorescents illuminates the impressive motor launch in the dock, bobbing gently on the dark water. There’s a row boat beside it.
“Come.” Christian takes my hand and leads me up the wooden stairs. Opening the door at the top, he steps aside to let me in.
My mouth drops to the floor. The attic is unrecognizable. The room is filled with flowers . . . there are flowers everywhere. Someone has created a magical bower of beautiful wild meadow flowers mixed with glowing fairy lights and miniature lanterns that glow soft and pale round the room.
My face whips round to meet his, and he’s gazing at me, his expression unreadable. He shrugs.
“You wanted hearts and flowers,” he murmurs.
I blink at him, not quite believing what I’m seeing.
“You have my heart.” And he waves toward the room.
“And here are the flowers,” I whisper, completing his sentence. “Christian, it’s lovely.” I can’t think of what else to say. My heart is in my mouth as tears prick my eyes.
Tugging my hand, he pulls me into the room, and before I know it, he’s sinking to one knee in front of me. Holy hell . . . I did not expect this! I stop breathing.
From his inside jacket pocket he produces a ring and gazes up at me, his eyes bright gray and raw, full of emotion.
“Anastasia Steele. I love you. I want to love, cherish, and protect you for the rest of my life. Be mine. Always. Share my life with me. Marry me.”
I blink down at him as my tears fall. My Fifty, my man. I love him so, and all I can say as the tidal wave of emotion hits me is, “Yes.”
He grins, relieved, and slowly slides the ring on my finger. It’s beautiful, an oval diamond in a platinum ring. Jeez—it’s big . . . Big, but oh-so-simple and stunning in its simplicity.
“Oh, Christian,” I sob, suddenly overwhelmed with joy, and I join him on my knees, my fingers fisting in his hair as I kiss him, kiss him with all my heart and soul. Kiss this beautiful man, who loves me as I love him; and as he wraps his arms around me, his hands moving to my hair, his mouth on mine. I know deep down I will always be his, and he will always be mine. We’ve come so far together, we have so far to go, but we are made for each other. We are meant to be.
The cigarette end glows brightly in the darkness as he takes a deep pull. He blows the smoke out in a long exhale, finishing with two smoke rings that dissolve in front of him, pale and ghostly in the moonlight. He shifts in his seat, bored, and takes a quick shot of cheap bourbon from a bottle wrapped in shabby brown paper before resting it back between his thighs.
He can’t believe he’s still on the trail. His mouth twists in a sardonic sneer. The helicopter had been a rash and bold move. One of the most exhilarating things he’d ever done in his life. But to no avail. He rolls his eyes ironically. Who would have thought the son-of-a-bitch could actually fly the fucker?
He snorts.
They have underestimated him. If Grey thought for one minute he’d go whimpering quietly into the dusk, that prick didn’t know jack shit.
It had been the same all his life. People constantly underestimating him—just a man who reads books. Fuck that! A man with a photographic memory who reads books. Oh,
the things he’s learned, the things he knows. He snorts again—Yeah, about you, Grey. The things I know about you.
Not bad for a kid from the gutter end of Detroit.
Not bad for the kid who won a scholarship to Princeton.
Not bad for the kid who worked his ass off through college and got into publishing.
And now all of that’s fucked, fucked because of Grey and his little bitch. He scowls at the house as if it represents everything he despises. But there’s nothing doing. The only drama had been the stacked, blond broad in black, teetering down the driveway in tears before she climbed into the white CLK and fucked off.
He chuckles mirthlessly, then winces. Fuck, his ribs. Still sore from the swift kicking Grey’s henchman delivered.
He replays the scene in his mind. “You fucking touch Miss Steele again, I’ll fucking kill you.”
That motherfucker will get it good, too. Yeah—get what’s coming to him.
He settles back in his seat. Looks like it’s going to be a long night. He’ll stay, watch, and wait. He takes another toke of his Marlboro red. His chance will come. His chance will come soon.
End of Part Two . . .

Fifty Shades Darker CHAPTER 21


Christian pauses outside the playroom.
“You’re sure about this?” he asks, his gaze heated yet anxious.
“Yes,” I murmur, smiling shyly at him.
His eyes soften. “Anything you don’t want to do?”
I’m derailed by his unexpected question, and my mind goes into overdrive. One thought occurs. “I don’t want you to take photos of me.”
He stills, and his expression hardens as he cocks his head to one side and eyes me speculatively.
Oh shit. I think he’s going to ask me why, but fortunately he doesn’t.
“Okay,” he murmurs. His brow furrows as he unlocks the door, then stands aside to usher me into the room. I feel his eyes on me as he follows me inside and closes the door.
Placing the gift box on the chest of drawers, he takes out the iPod, switches it on, then waves at the music center on the wall so that the smoked glass doors glide silently open. He presses some buttons, and after a moment, the sound of a subway train echoes round the room. He turns it down so that the slow, hypnotic electronic beat that follows becomes ambient. A woman starts to sing, I don’t know who she is but her voice is soft yet rasping and the beat is measured, deliberate . . . erotic. Oh my. It’s music to make love to.
Christian turns to face me as I stand in the middle of the room, my heart pounding, my blood singing in my veins, pulsing—or so it feels—in time to the music’s seductive beat. He saunters casually over to me and tugs on my chin so I’m no longer biting my lip.
“What do you want to do, Anastasia?” he murmurs, planting a soft chaste kiss at the corner of my mouth, his fingers still grasping my chin.
“It’s your birthday. Whatever you want,” I whisper. He traces his thumb along my lower lip, his brow creased once more.
“Are we in here because you think I want to be in here?” His words are softly spoken, but he regards me intently.
“No,” I whisper. “I want to be in here, too.”
His gaze darkens, growing bolder as he assesses my response. After what seems an eternity, he speaks.
“Oh, there are so many possibilities, Miss Steele.” His voice is low, excited. “But let’s start with getting you naked.” He pulls the sash of my robe so that it falls open, revealing my silk nightdress, then steps back and sits nonchalantly down on the arm of the chesterfield couch.
“Take your clothes off. Slowly.” He gives me a sensual, challenging look.
I swallow compulsively, pressing my thighs together. I’m already damp between my legs. My inner goddess is stripped naked and standing in line, ready and waiting and begging me to play catch-up. I pull the robe away from my shoulders, my eyes never leaving his, and shrug, letting it fall billowing to the floor. His mesmerizing gray eyes heat, and he runs his index finger over his lips as he gazes at me.
Slipping the spaghetti straps of my gown off my shoulders, I gaze at him for a beat, then release them. My nightdress skims and ripples softly down my body, pooling at my feet. I am naked and practically panting and oh-so-ready.
Christian pauses for a moment, and I marvel at the frankly carnal appreciation in his expression. Standing up, he makes his way over to the chest and picks up his silver-gray tie—my favorite tie. He pulls it through his fingers as he turns and strolls casually toward me, a smile playing on his lips. When he stands in front of me, I expect him to ask for my hands, but he doesn’t.
“I think you’re underdressed, Miss Steele,” he murmurs. He places the tie around my neck, and slowly but dexterously ties it in what I assume is a fine Windsor knot. As he tightens the knot, his fingers brush the base of my throat and electricity shoots through me, making me gasp. He leaves the wide end of the tie long, long enough so the tip skims my pubic hair.
“You look mighty fine now, Miss Steele,” he says and bends to kiss me gently on my lips. It’s a swift kiss, and I want more, desire spiraling wantonly through my body.
“What shall we do with you now?” he says, and then picking up the tie, he yanks sharply so that I’m forced forward into his arms. His hands dive into my hair and pull my head back, and he really kisses me, hard, his tongue unforgiving and merciless. One of his hands roams freely down my back to cup my behind. When he pulls away, he’s panting too and gazing down at me, his eyes molten gray; and I’m left wanting, gasping for breath, my wits thoroughly scattered. I’m sure my lips will be swollen after his sensual assault.
“Turn around,” he orders gently and I obey. Pulling my hair free of the tie, he quickly braids and secures it. He tugs the braid so my head tilts up.
“You have beautiful hair, Anastasia,” he murmurs and kisses my throat, sending shivers running up and down my spine. “You just have to say stop. You know that, don’t you?” he whispers against my throat.
I nod, my eyes closed, and relish his lips on me. He turns me round once more and picks up the end of the tie.
“Come,” he says, tugging gently, leading me over to the chest where the rest of the box’s contents are on display.
“Anastasia, these objects.” He holds up the butt plug. “This is a size too big. As an anal virgin, you don’t want to start with this. We want to start with this.” He holds up his pinky finger, and I gasp, shocked. Fingers . . . there? He smirks at me, and the unpleasant thought of the anal fisting mentioned in the contract comes to mind.
“Just finger—singular,” he says softly with that uncanny ability he has to read my mind. My eyes dart to his. How does he do that?
“These clamps are vicious.” He prods the nipple clamps. “We’ll use these.” He places a different pair of clamps on the chest. They look like giant black hairpins, but with little jet jewels hanging down. “They’re adjustable,” Christian murmurs, his voice laced with gentle concern.
I blink up at him, wide-eyed. Christian, my sexual mentor. He knows so much more about all this than I do. I’ll never catch up. I frown. He knows more than me about most things . . . except cooking.
“Clear?” he asks.
“Yes,” I whisper, my mouth dry. “Are you going to tell me what you intend to do?”
“No. I’m making this up as I go along. This isn’t a scene, Ana.”
“How should I behave?”
His brow creases. “However you want to.”
“Were you expecting my alter ego, Anastasia?” he asks, his tone vaguely mocking and bemused at once. I blink at him.
“Well, yes. I like him,” I murmur. He smiles his private smile and reaches up to run his thumb down my cheek.
“Do you now,” he breathes and runs his thumb across my lower lip. “I’m your lover, Anastasia, not your Dom. I love to hear your laugh and your girlish giggle. I like you relaxed and happy, like you are in José’s photos. That’s the girl that fell into my office. That’s the girl I fell in love with.”
Holy cow. My mouth drops open, and a welcome warmth blooms in my heart. It’s joy—pure joy.
“But having said all that, I also like to do rude things to you, Miss Steele; and my alter ego knows a trick or two. So, do as you’re told and turn around.” His eyes glint wickedly, and the joy moves sharply south, seizing me tightly and gripping every sinew below my waist. I do as I’m told. Behind me, he opens one of the drawers and a moment later he’s in front of me again.
“Come,” he orders and tugs on the tie, leading me to the table. As we walk past the couch, I notice for the first time that all the canes have vanished. It distracts me. Were they there yesterday when I came in? I don’t remember. Did Christian move them? Mrs. Jones? Christian interrupts my train of thought.
“I want you to kneel up on this,” he says when we’re at the table.
Oh, okay. What does he have in mind? My inner goddess can’t wait to find out—she’s already scissor-kicked onto the table and is watching him with adoration.
He gently lifts me onto the table, and I fold my legs beneath me and kneel in front of him, surprised by my own grace. Now we are eye to eye. He runs his hands down my thighs, grasps my knees, and pulls my legs apart and stands directly in front of me. He looks very serious, his eyes darker, hooded . . . lustful.
“Arms behind your back. I’m going to cuff you.”
He produces some leather cuffs from his back pocket and reaches around me. This is it. Where’s he going to take me this time?
His proximity is intoxicating. This man is going to be my husband. Can one lust after one’s husband like this? I don’t remember reading about that anywhere. I can’t resist him, and I run my parted lips along his jaw, feeling the stubble, a heady combination of prickly and soft, under my tongue. He stills and closes his eyes. His breathing falters and he pulls back.
“Stop. Or this will be over far quicker than either of us wants,” he warns. For a moment, I think he might be angry but then he smiles, and his heated eyes are alight with amusement.
“You’re irresistible,” I pout.
“Am I now?” he says dryly.
I nod.
“Well—don’t distract me, or I’ll gag you.”
“I like distracting you,” I whisper, looking mulishly at him, and he cocks his eyebrow at me.
“Or spank you.”
Oh! I try to hide my smile. There was a time, not very long ago, when I would have been subdued by this threat. I would never have had the nerve to kiss him, unbidden, while he was in this room. I realize now, I’m no longer intimidated by him. It’s a revelation. I grin mischievously, and he smirks at me.
“Behave,” he growls and stands back, gazing at me and slaps the leather cuffs across his palm. And the warning is there, implicit in his actions. I try for contrite, and I think I succeed. He approaches me again.
“That’s better,” he breathes and leans behind me once more with the cuffs. I resist touching him but inhale his glorious Christian scent, still fresh from last night’s shower. Hmm . . . I should bottle this.
I expect him to cuff my wrists, but he attaches each cuff above my elbows. It makes me arch my back, pushing my breasts forward, though my elbows are by no means together. When he’s finished, he stands back to admire me.
“Feel okay?” he asks. It’s not the most comfortable of positions, but I’m so wired with anticipation to see where he’s going with this that I nod, weak with wanting.
“Good.” He pulls the mask from his back pocket.
“I think you’ve seen enough now,” he murmurs. He slides the mask over my head, covering my eyes. My breathing spikes. Wow. Why is not being able to see so erotic? I am here, trussed up and kneeling on a table, waiting—sweet anticipation hot and heavy deep in my belly. I can still hear, though, and the melodic steady beat of the track continues. It resonates through my body. I hadn’t noticed before. He must have it on repeat.
Christian steps away. What is he doing? He moves back to the chest and opens a drawer, then closes it again. A moment later he’s back, and I sense him in front of me. There’s a pungent, rich, musky scent in the air. It’s delicious, almost mouth-watering.
“I don’t want to ruin my favorite tie,” he murmurs. It slowly unravels as he undoes it.
I inhale sharply as the tail of the tie travels up my body, tickling me in its wake. Ruin his tie? I listen acutely to determine what he’s going to do. He’s rubbing his hands together. His knuckles suddenly brush over my cheek, down to my jaw following my jawline.
My body leaps to attention as his touch sends a delicious shiver through me. His hand flexes over my neck, and it’s slick with sweet-smelling oil so his hand glides smoothly down my throat, across my clavicle, and up to my shoulder, his fingers kneading gently as they go. Oh, I’m getting a massage. Not what I expected.
He places his other hand on my other shoulder and begins another slow teasing journey across my clavicle. I groan softly as he works his way down toward my increasingly aching breasts, aching for his touch. It’s tantalizing. I arch my body further into his deft touch, but his hands glide to my sides, slow, measured, in time to the beat of the music, and studiously avoid my breasts. I groan, but I don’t know if it’s from pleasure or frustration.
“You are so beautiful, Ana,” he murmurs, his voice low and husky, his mouth next to my ear. His nose follows along my jaw as he continues to massage me—beneath my breasts, across my belly, down . . . He kisses me fleetingly on my lips, then he runs his nose down my neck, my throat. Holy cow, I’m on fire . . . his nearness, his hands, his words.
“And soon you’ll be my wife to have and to hold,” he whispers.
Oh my.
“To love and to cherish.”
“With my body, I will worship you.”
I tip my head back and moan. His fingers run through my pubic hair, over my sex, and he rubs the palm of his hand against my clitoris.
“Mrs. Grey,” he whispers as his palm works against me.
I groan.
“Yes,” he breathes as his palm continues to tease me. “Open your mouth.”
My mouth is already open from panting. I open wider, and he slips a large cool metal object between my lips. Shaped like an oversized baby’s pacifier, it has small grooves or carvings, and what feels like a chain at the end. It’s big.
“Suck,” he commands softly. “I’m going to put this inside you.”
Inside me? Inside me where? My heart lurches into my mouth.
“Suck,” he repeats and he stops palming me.
No. Don’t stop, I want to shout, but my mouth is full. His oiled hands glide back up my body and finally cup my neglected breasts.
“Don’t stop sucking.”
Gently he rolls my nipples between his thumbs and forefingers, and they harden and lengthen under his expert touch, sending synaptic waves of pleasure all the way to my groin.
“You have such beautiful breasts, Ana,” he murmurs and my nipples harden further in response. He murmurs his approval and I moan. His lips move down from my neck toward one breast, trailing soft bites and sucks over and over, down toward my nipple, and suddenly I feel the pinch of the clamp.
“Ah!” I garble my groan through the device in my mouth. Holy cow, the feeling is exquisite, raw, painful, pleasurable . . . oh—the pinch. Gently, he laves the restrained nipple with his tongue, and as he does so, he applies the other. The bite of the second clamp is equally harsh . . . but just as good. I groan loudly.
“Feel it,” he whispers.
Oh, I do. I do. I do.
“Give me this.” He tugs gently on the ornate metal pacifier in my mouth, and I release it. His hands once more trail down my body, toward my sex. He’s re-oiled his hands. They glide around to my backside.
I gasp. What’s he going to do? I tense up on my knees as he runs his fingers between my buttocks.
“Hush, easy,” he breathes close to my ear and kisses my neck as his fingers stroke and tease me.
What’s he going to do? His other hand glides down my belly to my sex, palming me once more. He eases his fingers inside me, and I moan loudly, appreciatively.
“I’m going to put this inside you,” he murmurs. “Not here.” His fingers trail between my buttocks, spreading oil. “But here.” He moves his fingers round and round, in and out, hitting the front wall of my vagina. I moan and my restrained nipples swell.
“Hush now.” Christian removes his fingers and slides the object into me. He cups my face and kisses me, his mouth invading mine, and I hear a very faint click. Instantly the plug inside me starts to vibrate—down there! I gasp. The feeling is extraordinary—beyond anything I’ve felt before.
“Easy,” Christian calms me, stifling my gasps with his mouth. His hands move down and tug very gently on the clamps. I cry out loudly.
“Christian, please!”
“Hush, baby. Hang in there.”
This is too much—all this overstimulation, everywhere. My body starts to climb, and on my knees, I’m unable to control the buildup. Oh my . . . Will I be able to handle this?
“Good girl,” he soothes.
“Christian,” I pant, sounding desperate even to my own ears.
“Hush, feel it, Ana. Don’t be afraid.” His hands are now on my waist, holding me, but I can’t concentrate on his hands, what’s inside me, and the clamps, too. My body is building, building to an explosion—with the relentless vibrations and the sweet, sweet torture of my
nipples. Holy hell. It will be too intense. His hands move from my hips, down and around, slick and oiled, touching, feeling, kneading my skin—kneading my behind.
“So beautiful,” he murmurs and suddenly he gently pushes an anointed finger inside me . . . there! Into my backside. Fuck. It feels alien, full, forbidden . . . but oh . . . so . . . good. And he moves slowly, easing in and out, while his teeth graze my upturned chin.
“So beautiful, Ana.”
I’m suspended high—high above a wide, wide ravine, and I’m soaring then falling giddily at the same time, plunging to the Earth. I can hold on no more, and I scream as my body convulses and climaxes at the overwhelming fullness. As my body explodes, I’m nothing but sensation—everywhere. Christian releases first one and then the other clamp, causing my nipples to sing with a surge of sweet, sweet painful feeling, but it’s oh-so-good and causing my orgasm, this orgasm, to go on and on. His finger stays where it is, gently easing in and out.
“Argh!” I cry out, and Christian wraps himself around me, holding me, as my body continues to pulse mercilessly inside.
“No!” I shout again, pleading, and this time he tugs the vibrator out of me, and his finger, too, as my body continues to convulse.
He unstraps one of the cuffs so that my arms fall forward. My head lolls on his shoulder, and I am lost, lost to all this overwhelming sensation. I’m all shattered breath, exhausted desire and sweet, welcome oblivion.
Vaguely, I’m aware that Christian lifts me, carries me over to the bed, and lays me down on the cool satin sheets. After a moment, his hands, still oiled, gently rub the backs of my thighs, my knees, my calves, and my shoulders. I feel the bed dip as he stretches out beside me.
He pulls the mask off, but I don’t have the energy to open my eyes. Finding my braid he undoes the hair tie and leans forward, kissing me softly on my lips. Only my erratic breathing disturbs the silence in the room and steadies as I float gently back to Earth. The music has stopped.
“So beautiful,” he murmurs.
When I persuade one eye to open, he’s gazing down at me, smiling softly.
“Hi,” he says. I manage a grunt in response, and his smile broadens. “Rude enough for you?”
I nod and give him a reluctant grin. Jeez, any ruder and I’d have to spank the pair of us.
“I think you’re trying to kill me,” I mutter.
“Death by orgasm.” He smirks. “There are worse ways to go,” he says but then frowns ever so slightly as an unpleasant thought crosses his mind. It distresses me. I reach up and caress his face.
“You can kill me like this anytime,” I whisper. I notice that he’s gloriously naked and ready for action. When he takes my hand and kisses my knuckles, I lean up and capture his face between my hands and pull his mouth to mine. He kisses me briefly, then stops.
“This is what I want to do,” he murmurs and reaches beneath his pillow for the music center remote. He presses a button and the soft strains of a guitar echo round the walls.
“I want to make love to you,” he says gazing down at me, his gray eyes burning with bright, loving sincerity. Softly in background, a familiar voice starts to sing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” And his lips find mine.
As I tighten around him, finding my release once more, Christian unravels in my arms, his head thrown back as he calls out my name. He clasps me tightly to his chest as we sit nose to nose in the middle of his vast bed, me astride him. And in this moment—this moment of joy with this man to this music—the intensity of my experience this morning in here with him and all that has occurred during the past week overwhelms me anew, not just physically but emotionally. I am completely overcome with all these feelings. I am so deeply, deeply in love with him. For the first time I’m offered a glimmer of understanding as to how he feels about my safety.
Recalling his close call with Charlie Tango yesterday, I shudder at the thought and tears pool in my eyes. If anything ever happened to him—I love him so. My tears run unchecked down my cheeks. So many sides of Christian—his sweet, gentle persona and his rugged, I-can-do-what-I-fucking-well-like-to-you-and-you’ll-come-like-a-train Dominant side—his fifty shades—all of him. All spectacular. All mine. And I’m aware we don’t know each other well, and we have a mountain of issues to overcome, but I know for each other, we will—and we’ll have a lifetime to do it.
“Hey,” he breathes, clasping my head in his hands, gazing down at me. He’s still inside me. “Why are you crying?” His voice is filled with concern.
“Because I love you so much,” I whisper. He half-closes his eyes as if drugged, absorbing my words. When he opens them again, they blaze with his love.
“And I you, Ana. You make me . . . whole.” He kisses me gently as Roberta Flack finishes her song.
We have talked and talked and talked, sitting upright together on the bed in the playroom, me in his lap, our legs curled around each other. The red satin sheet is draped around us like a royal cocoon, and I have no idea how much time has passed. Christian is laughing at my impersonation of Katherine during the photo shoot at the Heathman.
“To think it could have been her who came to interview me. Thank the Lord for the common cold,” he murmurs and kisses my nose.
“I believe she had flu, Christian,” I scold him, trailing my fingers idly through his chest hair and marveling that he’s tolerating it so well. “All the canes have gone,” I murmur, recalling my distraction from earlier. He tucks my hair behind my ear for the umpteenth time.
“I didn’t think you’d ever get past that hard limit.”
“No, I don’t think I will,” I whisper wide-eyed at him, then find myself glancing over at the whips, paddles and floggers lining the opposite wall. He follows my gaze.
“You want me to get rid of them, too?” He’s amused but sincere.
“Not the crop . . . the brown one. Or that suede flogger, you know.” I flush.
He smiles down at me.
“Okay, the crop and the flogger. Why, Miss Steele, you’re full of surprises.”
“As are you, Mr. Grey. It’s one of the things I love about you.” I kiss him gently at the corner of his mouth.
“What else do you love about me?” he asks and his eyes widen.
I know it’s a huge deal for him to ask this question. It humbles me and I blink at him. I love everything about him—even his fifty shades. I know that life with Christian will never be boring.
“This.” I stroke my index finger across his lips. “I love this, and what comes out of it, and what you do to me with it. And what’s in here.” I caress his temple. “You’re so smart and witty and knowledgeable, competent in so many things. But most of all, I love what’s in here.” I press my palm gently against his chest, feeling his steady, beating heart. “You are the most compassionate man I’ve met. What you do. How you work. It’s awe-inspiring,” I whisper.
“Awe-inspiring?” He’s puzzled, but there’s a trace of humor on his face. Then his face transforms, and his shy smile appears as if he’s embarrassed, and I want to launch myself at him. So I do.
I am dozing, wrapped in satin and Grey. Christian nuzzles me awake.
“Hungry?” he whispers
“Hmm, famished.”
“Me, too.”
I lean up to gaze down at him sprawled on the bed.
“It’s your birthday, Mr. Grey. I’ll cook you something. What would you like?”
“Surprise me.” He runs his hand down my back, stroking me gently. “I should check my Blackberry for all the messages I missed yesterday.” He sighs and starts to sit up, and I know this special time is over . . . for now.
“Let’s shower,” he says.
Who am I to turn down the birthday boy?
Christian is in his study on the phone. Taylor is with him, looking serious but casual in jeans and a tight, black T-shirt. I busy myself in the kitchen fixing lunch. I have found salmon steaks in the fridge, and I’m poaching them with lemon, making a salad, and boiling some baby potatoes. I feel extraordinarily relaxed and happy, on top of the world—literally. Turning toward the large window, I stare out at the glorious blue sky. All that talking . . . all that sexing . . . hmm. A girl could get used to that.
Taylor emerges from the study, interrupting my reverie. I turn down my iPod and take out an ear bud.
“Hi, Taylor.”
“Ana.” He nods.
“Your daughter okay?”
“Yes, thanks. My ex-wife thought she had appendicitis, but she was overreacting as usual.” Taylor rolls his eyes, surprising me. “Sophie’s fine, though she has a nasty stomach bug.”
“I’m sorry.”
He smiles.
“Has Charlie Tango been located?”
“Yes. The recovery team is on its way. She should be back at Boeing Field late tonight.”
“Oh, good.”
He gives me a tight smile. “Will that be all, ma’am?”
“Yes, yes of course.” I flush . . . will I ever get used to Taylor calling me ma’am? It makes me feel so old, at least thirty.
He nods and heads out of the great room. Christian is still on the phone. I am waiting for the potatoes to boil. It gives me an idea. Fetching my purse, I fish out my Blackberry. There’s a text from Kate.
*C U this evening. Looking forward to a loooooong chat*
I text back.
*Same here*
It will be good to talk to Kate.
Calling up the e-mail program, I type a quick message to Christian.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Lunch
Date: June 18, 2011 13:12
To: Christian Grey
Dear Mr. Grey
I am e-mailing to inform you that your lunch is nearly ready.
And that I had some mind-blowing, kinky fuckery earlier today.
Birthday kinky fuckery is to be recommended.
And another thing—I love you.
A x
(Your fiancée)
I listen carefully for a reaction, but he’s still on the phone. I shrug. Perhaps he’s just too busy. My Blackberry vibrates.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Kinky Fuckery
Date: June 18, 2011 13:15
To: Anastasia Steele
What aspect was most mind-blowing?
I’m taking notes.
Christian Grey
Famished and Wasting Away After the Mornings Exertions CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
PS: I love your signature
PPS: What happened to the art of conversation?
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Famished?
Date: June 18, 2011 13:18
To: Christian Grey
Dear Mr. Grey
May I draw your attention to the first line of my previous e-mail informing you that your lunch is indeed almost ready . . . so none of this famished and wasting away nonsense. With regard to the mind-blowing aspects of the kinky fuckery . . . frankly—all of it. I’d be interested in reading your notes. And I like my bracketed signature, too.
A x
(Your fiancée)
PS: Since when have you been so loquacious? And you’re on the phone!
I press send and look up, and he’s standing in front of me, smirking. Before I can say anything, he bounds around the kitchen island, sweeps me up in his arms, and kisses me soundly.
“That is all, Miss Steele,” he says, releasing me, and he saunters—in his jeans, bare feet and untucked white shirt—back to his office, leaving me breathless.
I’ve made a watercress, cilantro, and sour cream dip to accompany the salmon, and I’ve set the breakfast bar. I hate interrupting him while he’s working, but now I stand in the doorway of his office. He’s still on the phone, all thoroughly fucked hair and bright gray eyes—a visually nourishing feast. He looks up when he sees me and doesn’t take his eyes off me. He frowns slightly, and I don’t know if it’s at me or because of his conversation.
“Just let them in and leave them alone. Do you understand, Mia?” he hisses and rolls his eyes. “Good.”
I mime eating, and he grins at me and nods.
“I’ll see you later.” He hangs up. “One more call?” he asks.
“That dress is very short,” he adds.
“You like it?” I give him a quick twirl. It’s one of Caroline Acton’s purchases. A soft turquoise sundress, probably more suitable for the beach, but it’s such a lovely day on so many levels. He frowns and my face falls.
“You look fantastic in it, Ana. I just don’t want anyone else to see you like that.”
“Oh!” I scowl at him. “We’re at home, Christian. No one but the staff.”
His mouth twists, and either he’s trying to hide his amusement or he really doesn’t think that’s funny. But eventually he nods, reassured. I shake my head at him—he’s actually being serious? I head back to the kitchen.
Five minutes later, he’s back in front of me, holding the phone.
“I have Ray for you,” he murmurs, his eyes wary.
All the air leaves my body at once. I take the phone and cover the mouthpiece.
“You told him!” I hiss. Christian nods, and his eyes widen at my obvious look of distress.
Shit! I take a deep breath. “Hi, Dad.”
“Christian has just asked me if he can marry you,” Ray says.
Oh Shit. The silence stretches between us as I desperately think what to say. Ray as usual stays silent, giving me no clue as to his reaction to this news.
“What did you say?” I crack first.
“I said I wanted to talk to you. It’s kind of sudden, don’t you think, Annie? You’ve not known him long. I mean, he’s a nice guy, knows his fishing . . . but so soon?” His voice is calm and measured.
“Yes. It is sudden . . . hang on.” Hastily, I leave the kitchen area away from Christian’s anxious gaze and head toward the great window. The doors to the balcony are open, and I step out into the sunshine. I can’t quite walk to the edge. It’s just too far up.
“I know it’s sudden and all—but . . . well, I love him. He loves me. He wants to marry me, and there’ll never be anyone else for me.” I flush thinking this is probably the most intimate conversation I have ever had with my stepfather.
Ray is silent on the other end of the phone.
“Have you told your mother?”
“Annie . . . I know he’s all kinds of rich and eligible, but marriage? It’s such a big step. You’re sure?”
“He’s my happily ever after,” I whisper.
“Whoa.” Ray says after a moment, his tone softer.
“He’s everything.”
“Annie, Annie, Annie. You’re such a headstrong young woman. I hope to God you know what you’re doing. Hand me back to him, will you?”
“Sure, Dad, and will you give me away at the wedding?” I ask quietly.
“Oh, honey.” His voice cracks, and he’s quiet for a few moments, the emotion in his voice bringing tears to my eyes. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure,” he says eventually.
Oh, Ray. I love you so much . . . I swallow, to keep from crying. “Thank you, Dad. I’ll hand you back to Christian. Be gentle with him. I love him,” I whisper.
I think Ray is smiling on the other end of the line, but it’s hard to tell. It’s always hard to tell with Ray.
“Sure thing, Annie. And come and visit this old man and bring that Christian with you.”
I march back into the room—pissed at Christian for not warning me—and hand him the phone, my expression letting him know just how pissed I am. He’s amused as he takes the phone and heads back into his study.
Two minutes later, he reappears.
“I have your stepfather’s rather begrudging blessing,” he says proudly, so proudly, in fact, that it makes me giggle, and he grins at me. He’s acting like he’s just negotiated a major new merger or acquisition, which I suppose on one level, he has.
“Damn, you’re a good cook, woman.” Christian swallows his last mouthful and raises his glass of white wine to me. I blossom under his praise, and it occurs to me I’ll only get to cook for him on weekends. I frown. I enjoy cooking. Perhaps I should have made him a cake for his birthday. I check my watch. I still have time.
“Ana?” He interrupts my thoughts. “Why did you ask me not to take your photo?” His question startles me all the more because his voice is deceptively soft.
Oh . . . shit. The photos. I stare down at my empty plate, twisting my fingers in my lap. What can I say? I’d promised myself not to mention that I’d found his version of Readers’ Wives.
“Ana,” he snaps. “What is it?” He makes me jump, and his voice commands me to look at him. When did I think he didn’t intimidate me?
“I found your photos,” I whisper.
His eyes widen in shock. “You’ve been in the safe?” he asks, incredulous.
“Safe? No. I didn’t know you had a safe.”
He frowns. “I don’t understand.”
“In your closet. The box. I was looking for your tie, and the box was under your jeans . . . the ones you normally wear in the playroom. Except today.” I flush.
He gapes at me, appalled, and nervously runs his hand through his hair as he processes this information. He rubs his chin, lost in thought, but he can’t mask the perplexed annoyance etched on his face. Abruptly he shakes his head, exasperated—but amused, too—and a faint smile of admiration kisses the corner of his mouth. He steeples his hands in front of him and focuses on me once more.
“It’s not what you think. I’d forgotten all about them. That box has been moved. Those photographs belong in my safe.”
“Who moved them?” I whisper.
He swallows. “There’s only one person who could have done that.”
“Oh. Who? And what do you mean, ‘it’s not what I think’?”
He sighs and tilts his head to one side, and I think he’s embarrassed. So he should be! My subconscious snarls.
“This is going to sound cold, but—they’re an insurance policy,” he whispers steeling himself for my response.
“Insurance policy?”
“Against exposure.”
The penny drops and rattles uncomfortably round and round in my empty head.
“Oh,” I murmur, because I can’t think of what else to say. I close my eyes. This is it. This is Fifty Shades of Fucked-Up, right here, right now. “Yes. You’re right,” I mutter. “That does sound cold.” I stand to clear our dishes. I don’t want to know any more.
“Do they know? The girls . . . the subs?”
He frowns. “Of course they know.”
Oh, well, that’s something. He reaches out, grabbing me and pulling me to him.
“Those photos are supposed to be in the safe. They’re not for recreational use.” He stops. “Maybe they were when they were taken originally. But—” He stops, imploring me. “They don’t mean anything.”
“Who put them in your closet?”
“It could only have been Leila.”
“She knows your safe combination?”
He shrugs. “It wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a very long combination, and I use it so rarely. It’s the one number I have written down and haven’t changed.” He shakes his head. “I wonder what else she knows and if she’s taken anything else out of there.” He frowns, then turns his attention back to me. “Look, I’ll destroy the photos. Now, if you like.”
“They’re your photos, Christian. Do with them as you wish,” I mutter.
“Don’t be like that,” he says, taking my head in his hands and holding my gaze to his. “I don’t want that life. I want our life, together.”
Holy cow. How does he know that beneath my horror about these photos is the fact that I’m paranoid?
“Ana, I thought we exorcised all those ghosts this morning. I feel that way. Don’t you?”
I blink at him, recalling our very, very pleasurable and romantic and downright dirty morning in his playroom.
“Yes,” I smile. “Yes, I feel like that, too.”
“Good.” He leans forward and kisses me, folding me in his arms. “I’ll shred them,” he murmurs. “And then I have to go to work. I’m sorry, baby, but I have a mountain of business to get through this afternoon.”
“It’s cool. I have to call my mother.” I grimace. “Then I want to do some shopping and bake you a cake.”
He grins and his eyes light up like a small boy’s.
“A cake?”
I nod.
“A chocolate cake?”
“You want a chocolate cake?” His grin is infectious.
He nods.
“I’ll see what I can do, Mr. Grey.”
He kisses me once more.
Carla is stunned into silence.
“Mom, say something.”
“You’re not pregnant, are you, Ana?” she whispers in horror.
“No, no, no, nothing like that.” Disappointment slices through my heart, and I’m saddened that she would think that of me. But then I remember with an ever-sinking feeling that she was pregnant with me when she married my father.
“I’m sorry, darling. This is just so sudden. I mean, Christian is quite a catch, but you’re so young, and you should see a little of the world.”
“Mom, can’t you just be happy for me? I love him.”
“Darling, I just need to get used to the idea. It’s a shock. I could tell in Georgia that there was something very special between you two, but marriage . . . ?”
In Georgia he wanted me to be his submissive, but I won’t tell her that.
“Have you set a date?”
“I wish your father was alive,” she whispers. Oh no . . . not this. Not this, now.
“I know, Mom. I would have liked to know him, too.”
“He only held you once, and he was so proud. He thought you were the most beautiful girl in the world.” Her voice is a deathly hush as the familiar tale is retold . . . again. She will be in tears next.
“I know, Mom.”
“And then he died.” She sniffs, and I know this has set her off as it does every time.
“Mom,” I whisper, wanting to reach down the phone and hold her.
“I’m a silly old woman,” she murmurs and she sniffs again. “Of course I am happy for you, darling. Does Ray know?” she adds, and she seems to have recovered her equilibrium.
“Christian’s just asked him.”
“Oh, that’s sweet. Good.” She sounds melancholic, but she’s making an effort.
“Yes, it was,” I murmur.
“Ana, darling, I love you so much. I am happy for you. And you must both visit.”
“Yes, Mom. I love you, too.”
“Bob is calling me, I have to go. Let me have a date. We need to plan . . . are you having a big wedding?”
Big wedding, crap. I haven’t even thought about that. Big wedding? No. I don’t want a big wedding.
“I don’t know yet. As soon as I do, I’ll call.”
“Good. You take care now and be safe. You two need to have some fun . . . plenty of time for kids later.”
Kids! Hmm . . . and there it is again—a not-so-veiled reference to the fact that she had me so early.
“Mom, I didn’t really ruin your life, did I?”
She gasps. “Oh no, Ana, never think that. You were the best thing that ever happened to your father and me. I just wish he was here to see you so grown up and getting married.” She’s wistful and maudlin again.
“I wish that, too.” I shake my head thinking about my mythical father. “Mom, I’ll let you go. I’ll call soon.”
“Love you, darling.”
“Me, too, Mom. Good-bye.”
Christian’s kitchen is a dream to work in. For a man who knows nothing about cooking, he seems to have everything. I suspect Mrs. Jones loves to cook, too. The only thing I need is some high quality chocolate for the frosting. I leave the two halves of the cake on a cooling rack, grab my purse, and pop my head around Christian’s study door. He’s concentrating on his computer screen. He looks up and smiles at me.
“I’m just heading to the store to pick up some ingredients.”
“Okay.” He frowns at me.
“You going to put some jeans on or something?”
Oh, come on. “Christian, they’re just legs.”
He gazes at me, unamused. This is going to be a fight. And it’s his birthday. I roll my eyes at him, feeling like an errant teenager.
“What if we were at the beach?” I take a different tack.
“We’re not at the beach.”
“Would you object if we were at the beach?”
He considers this for a moment. “No,” he says simply.
I roll my eyes again and smirk at him. “Well, just imagine we are. Laters.” I turn and bolt for the foyer. I make it to the elevator before he catches up with me. As the doors close, I wave at him, grinning sweetly as he watches, helpless—but fortunately amused—with narrowed eyes. He shakes his head in exasperation, then I can see him no more.
Oh, that was exciting. Adrenaline is pounding through my veins, and my heart feels like it wants to exit my chest. But as the elevator descends, so do my spirits. Shit, what have I done?
I have a tiger by the tail. He’s going to be mad when I get back. My subconscious is glaring at me over her half-moon glasses, a willow switch in her hand. Shit. I think about what little experience I have with men. I’ve never lived with a man before—well, except Ray—and for some reason he doesn’t count. He’s my dad . . . well, the man I consider my dad.
And now I have Christian. He’s never really lived with anyone, I think. I’ll have to ask him—if he’s still talking to me.
But I feel strongly that I should wear what I like. I remember his rules. Yes, this must be hard for him, but he sure as hell paid for this dress. He should have given Neimans a better brief. Nothing too short!
This skirt isn’t that short, is it? I check in the large mirror in the lobby. Damn. Yes, it is quite short, but I’ve made a stand now. And no doubt I’ll have to face the consequences. I wonder idly what he’ll do, but first I need cash.
I stare at my receipt from the ATM: $51,689.16. That’s fifty thousand dollars too much! Anastasia, you’re going to have to learn to be rich, too, if you say yes. And so it begins. I take my paltry fifty dollars and make my way to the store.
I head straight to the kitchen when I arrive back, and I can’t help feeling a frisson of alarm. Christian is still in his study. Jeez, that’s most of the afternoon. I decide my best option is to face him and see how much damage I’ve done. I peek cautiously around his study door. He’s on the phone, staring out the window.
“And the Eurocopter specialist is due Monday afternoon? . . . Good. Just keep me informed. Tell them that I’ll need their initial findings either Monday evening or Tuesday morning.” He hangs up and swivels his chair round, but stills when he sees me, his expression impassive.
“Hi,” I whisper. He says nothing, and my heart free-falls into my stomach. Gingerly I walk into his study and around his desk to where he’s sitting. He still says nothing, his eyes never leaving mine. I stand in front of him, feeling fifty shades of foolish.
“I’m back. Are you mad at me?”
He sighs, reaches out for my hand, and pulls me into his lap, folding his arms around me. He buries his nose in my hair.
“Yes,” he says.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” I curl up in his lap inhaling his heavenly Christian smell, feeling safe regardless of the fact that he’s mad.
“Me neither. Wear what you like,” he murmurs. He runs his hand up my bare leg to my thigh. “Besides, this dress has its advantages.” He bends to kiss me, and as our lips touch, passion or lust or a deep-seated need to make amends lances through me and desire flares in my blood. I seize his head in my hands, fisting my fingers in his hair. He groans as his body responds, and he hungrily nips at my lower lip—my throat, my ear, his tongue invading my mouth, and before I’m even aware of it he’s unzipping his pants, pulling me astride his lap, and sinking into me. I grasp the back of the chair, my feet just touching the ground . . . and we start to move.
“I like your version of sorry,” he breathes into my hair.
“And I like yours,” I giggle, snuggling against his chest. “Have you finished?”
“Christ, Ana, you want more?”
“No! Your work.”
“I’ll be done in about half an hour. I heard your message on my voicemail.”
“From yesterday.”
“You sounded worried.”
I hug him tightly.
“I was. It’s not like you not to respond.”
He kisses my hair.
“Your cake should be ready in half an hour.” I smile at him and climb off his lap.
“Looking forward to it. It smelled delicious, evocative even, while it was baking.”
I smile shyly down at him, feeling a little self-conscious, and he mirrors my expression. Jeez, are we really so different? Perhaps it’s his early memories of baking. Leaning down, I plant a swift kiss on the corner of his mouth and make my way back to the kitchen.
I am all prepared when I hear him come out of his study, and I light the solitary gold candle on his cake. He gives me an ear-splitting grin as he saunters toward me, and I softly sing Happy Birthday to him. Then he leans over and blows it out, closing his eyes.
“I’ve made my wish,” he says as he opens them again, and for some reason his look makes me flush.
“The frosting is still soft. I hope you like it.”
“I can’t wait to taste it, Anastasia,” he murmurs, and he makes that sound so rude. I cut us each a slice, and we dig in with small pastry forks.
“Mmm,” he groans in appreciation. “This is why I want to marry you.”
And I laugh with relief . . . he likes it.
“Ready to face my family?” Christian switches the R8 ignition off. We’re parked in his parents’ driveway.
“Yes. Are you going to tell them?”
“Of course. I’m looking forward to seeing their reactions.” He smiles wickedly at me and climbs out of the car.
It is seven thirty, and though it’s been a warm day, there’s a cool evening breeze blowing off the bay. I pull my wrap around me as I step out of the car. I’m wearing an emerald green cocktail dress I found this morning while I was rummaging through the closet. It has a wide matching belt. Christian takes my hand, and we head to the front door. Carrick opens it wide before he can knock.
“Christian, hello. Happy birthday, son.” He takes Christian’s proffered hand but pulls him into a brief hug, surprising him.
“Er . . . thanks, Dad.”
“Ana, how lovely to see you again.” He hugs me, too, and we follow him into the house.
Before we can set foot in the living room, Kate comes barreling down the hallway toward the two of us. She looks furious.
Oh no!
“You two! I want to talk to you.” She snarls in her you-better-not-fucking-mess-with-me voice. I glance nervously at Christian, who shrugs and decides to humor her as we follow her into the dining room, leaving Carrick bemused on the threshold of the living room. She shuts the door and turns on me.
“What the fuck is this?” she hisses and waves a piece of paper at me. Completely at a loss, I take it from her and scan it quickly. My mouth dries. Holy shit. It’s my e-mail response to Christian, discussing the contract.