“Mac will be back soon,” he murmurs.
“Hmm.” My eyes flicker open to meet his soft gray gaze. Lord, his eyes are an amazing color—especially here, out on the sea—reflecting the light bouncing off the water through the small portholes into the cabin.
“As much as I’d like to lie here with you all afternoon, he’ll need a hand with the dinghy.” Leaning over, Christian kisses me tenderly. “Ana, you look so beautiful right now, all mussed up and sexy. Makes me want you more.” He smiles and rises from the bed. I lay on my front admiring the view.
“You ain’t so bad yourself, captain.” I smack my lips in admiration and he grins.
I watch him move gracefully about the cabin as he dresses. He really is divinely beautiful, and what’s more, he’s just made such sweet love to me again. I can hardly believe my good fortune. I can’t quite believe that this man is mine. He sits down beside me to put on his shoes.
“Captain, eh?” he says dryly. “Well, I am master of this vessel.”
I cock my head to one side. “You are master of my heart, Mr. Grey.” And my body . . . and my soul.
He shakes his head incredulously and bends to kiss me. “I’ll be on deck. There’s a shower in the bathroom if you want one. Do you need anything? A drink?” he asks solicitously, and all I can do is grin at him. Is this the same man? Is this the same Fifty?
“What?” he says, reacting to my stupid grin.
“What about me?”
“Who are you and what have you done with Christian?”
He lips twitch with a sad smile.
“He’s not very far away, baby,” he says softly, and there’s a touch of melancholy in his voice that makes me instantly regret asking the question. But he shakes it off. “You’ll see him soon enough”—he smirks at me—“especially if you don’t get up.” Reaching over, he smacks me hard on my behind so I yelp and laugh at the same time.
“You had me worried.”
“Did I, now?” Christian’s brow creases. “You do give off some mixed signals, Anastasia. How’s a man supposed to keep up?” He leans down and kisses me again. “Laters, baby,” he adds, and with a dazzling smile, he gets up and leaves me to my scattered thoughts.
When I surface on deck, Mac is back on board, but he disappears onto the upper deck as I open the saloon doors. Christian is on his Blackberry. Talking to whom? I wonder. He wanders over and pulls me close, kissing my hair.
“Great news . . . good. Yeah . . . Really? The fire escape stairwell? . . . I see . . . Yes, tonight.”
He hits the end button, and the sound of the engines firing up startles me. Mac must be in the cockpit above.
“Time to head back,” Christian says, kissing me once more as he straps me into my lifejacket.
The sun is low in the sky behind us as we make our way back to the marina, and I reflect on a wonderful afternoon. Under Christian’s careful, patient tuition, I have now stowed a mainsail, a headsail, and a spinnaker and learned to tie a reef knot, clove hitch, and sheepshank. His lips were twitching throughout the lesson.
“I may tie you up one day,” I mutter crabbily.
His mouth twists with humor. “You’ll have to catch me first, Miss Steele.”
His words bring to mind him chasing me round the apartment, the thrill, then the hideous aftermath. I frown and shudder. After that, I left him.
Would I leave him again now that he’s admitted he loves me? I gaze up into his clear gray eyes. Could I ever leave him again—no matter what he did to me? Could I betray him like that? No. I don’t think I could.
He’s given me a more thorough tour of this beautiful boat, explaining all the innovative designs and techniques, and the high-quality materials used to build it. I remember
the interview when I first met him. I picked up then on his passion for ships. I thought his love was only for the ocean-going freighters his company builds—not for super-sexy, sleek catamarans, too.
And, of course, he’s made sweet, unhurried love to me. I shake my head, remembering my body bowed and wanting beneath his expert hands. He is an exceptional lover, I’m sure—though, of course, I have no comparison. But Kate would have raved more if it was always like this; it’s not like her to hold back on details.
But how long will this be enough for him? I just don’t know, and the thought is unnerving.
Now he sits, and I stand in the safe circle of his arms for hours, it seems, in comfortable, companionable silence as The Grace glides closer and closer to Seattle. I have the wheel, Christian advising on adjustments every so often.
“There is poetry in sailing as old as the world,”1 he murmurs in my ear.
“That sounds like a quote.”
I sense his grin. “It is. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.”
“Oh . . . I adore The Little Prince.”
It is early evening as Christian, his hands still on mine, steers us into the marina. There are lights winking from the boats, reflecting off the dark water, but it is still light—a balmy, bright evening, an overture for what is sure to be a spectacular sunset.
A crowd gathers on the dockside as Christian slowly turns the boat around in a relatively small space. He does it with ease and reverses smoothly into the same berth we left earlier. Mac jumps on to the dock and ties The Grace securely to a bollard.
“Back again,” Christian murmurs.
“Thank you,” I murmur shyly. “That was a perfect afternoon.”
Christian grins. “I thought so, too. Perhaps we can enroll you in sailing school, so we can go out for a few days, just the two of us.”
“I’d love that. We can christen the bedroom again and again.”
He leans forward and kisses me under my ear. “Hmm . . . I look forward to it, Anastasia,” he whispers, making every single hair follicle on my body stand to attention.
How does he do that?
“Come, the apartment is clean. We can go back.”
“What about our things at the hotel?”
“Taylor has collected them already.”
“Earlier today, after he did a sweep of The Grace with his team.” Christian answers my unspoken question.
“Does that poor man ever sleep?”
1 de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine. Night Flight. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, June 1932. (First published in 1931 under the original title of Vol de nuit.)
“He sleeps.” Christian quirks an eyebrow at me, puzzled. “He’s just doing his job, Anastasia, which he’s very good at. Jason is a real find.”
I remember when I thought Taylor was his first name. Jason. It suits him—solid, reliable. For some reason it makes me smile.
“You’re fond of Taylor,” Christian says, eyeing me with speculation.
“I suppose I am.” His question derails me. He frowns. “I’m not attracted to him, if that’s why you’re frowning. Stop.”
Christian is almost pouting—sulky.
Jeez, he’s such a child sometimes. “I think Taylor looks after you very well. That’s why I like him. He seems kind, reliable and loyal. He has an avuncular appeal to me.”
“Okay, avuncular.” Christian is testing the word and meaning. I laugh.
“Oh, Christian, grow up, for heaven’s sake.”
His mouth drops open, surprised by my outburst, but then he frowns as if considering my statement. “I’m trying,” he says eventually.
“That you are. Very.” I answer softly but then roll my eyes at him.
“What memories you evoke when you roll your eyes at me, Anastasia.” He grins.
I smirk at him. “Well, if you behave yourself, maybe we can relive some of those memories.”
His mouth twists with humor. “Behave myself?” He raises his eyebrows. “Really, Miss Steele—what makes you think I want to relive them?”
“Probably the way your eyes lit up like Christmas when I said that.”
“You know me so well already,” he says dryly.
“I’d like to know you better.”
He smiles softly. “And I you, Anastasia.”
“Thanks, Mac.” Christian shakes McConnell’s hand and steps on the dock.
“Always a pleasure, Mr. Grey, and good-bye. Ana, great to meet you.”
I shake his hand shyly. He must know what Christian and I were up to on the boat while he went ashore.
“Good day, Mac, and thank you.”
He grins at me and winks, making me flush. Christian takes my hand, and we walk up the dock to the marina’s promenade.
“Where’s Mac from?” I ask, curious about his accent.
“Ireland . . . Northern Ireland,” Christian corrects himself.
“Is he your friend?”
“Mac? He works for me. Helped build The Grace.”
“Do you have many friends?”
He frowns. “Not really. Doing what I do . . . I don’t cultivate friendships. There’s only—” He stops, his frown deepening, and I know he was going to mention Mrs. Robinson.
“Hungry?” he asks, trying to change the subject.
I nod. Actually, I’m famished.
“We’ll eat where I left the car. Come.”
Next to SP’s is a small Italian bistro called Bee’s. It reminds me of the place in Portland—a few tables and booths, the décor very crisp and modern with a large black and white photograph of a turn-of-the-century fiesta serving as a mural.
Christian and I are seated in a booth, poring over the menu and sipping a delicious light Frascati. When I glance up from the menu, having made my choice, Christian is gazing at me speculatively.
“What?” I ask.
“You look lovely, Anastasia. The outdoors agrees with you.”
I flush. “I feel rather wind-burned to tell the truth. But I had a lovely afternoon. A perfect afternoon. Thank you.”
He smiles, his eyes warm. “My pleasure,” he murmurs.
“Can I ask you something?” I decide on a fact-finding mission.
“Anything, Anastasia. You know that.” He cocks his head to one side, looking delicious.
“You don’t seem to have many friends. Why is that?”
He shrugs and frowns. “I told you, I don’t really have time. I have business associates—though that’s very different from friendships, I suppose. I have my family and that’s it. Apart from Elena.”
I ignore the mention of the bitch-troll. “No male friends your own age that you can go out with and let off steam?”
“You know how I like to let off steam, Anastasia.” Christian’s mouth twists. “And I’ve been working, building up the business.” He looks puzzled. “That’s all I do—except sail and fly occasionally.”
“Not even in college?”
“Just Elena, then?”
He nods, his expression wary.
“Must be lonely.”
His lips curl in a small wistful smile. “What would you like to eat?” he asks, changing the subject again.
“I’m going for the risotto.”
“Good choice.” Christian summons the waiter, putting an end to that conversation.
After we’ve placed our order, I shift uncomfortably in my seat, staring at my knotted fingers. If he’s in a talking mood, I need to take advantage.
I have to talk to him about his expectations, about his, um . . . needs.
“Anastasia, what’s wrong? Tell me.”
I glance up into his concerned face.
“Tell me,” he says more forcefully, and his concern evolves into what? Fear? Anger?
I take a deep breath. “I’m just worried that this isn’t enough for you. You know, to let off steam.”
His jaw tenses and his eyes harden. “Have I given you any indication that this isn’t enough?”
“Then why do you think that?”
“I know what you’re like. What you . . . um . . . need,” I stutter.
He closes his eyes and rubs his forehead with long fingers.
“What do I have to do?” His voice is ominously soft as if he’s angry, and my heart sinks.
“No, you misunderstand—you have been amazing, and I know it’s just been a few days, but I hope I’m not forcing you to be someone you’re not.”
“I’m still me, Anastasia—in all my fifty shades of fuckedupness. Yes, I have to fight the urge to be controlling . . . but that’s my nature, how I’ve dealt with my life. Yes, I expect you to behave a certain way, and when you don’t it’s both challenging and refreshing. We still do what I like to do. You let me spank you after your outrageous bid yesterday.” He smiles fondly at the memory. “I enjoy punishing you. I don’t think the urge will ever go . . . but I’m trying, and it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.”
I squirm and flush, remembering our illicit tryst in his childhood bedroom. “I didn’t mind that,” I whisper, smiling shyly.
“I know.” His lips curl in a reluctant smile. “Neither did I. But let me tell you, Anastasia, this is all new to me and these last few days have been the best in my life. I don’t want to change anything.”
“They’ve been the best in my life, too, without exception,” I murmur and his smile broadens. My inner goddess nods frantically in agreement—and nudges me hard. Okay, okay.
“So you don’t want to take me into your playroom?”
He swallows and pales, all trace of humor gone. “No, I don’t.”
“Why not?” I whisper. This is not the answer I expected.
And yes, there it is, that little pinch of disappointment. My inner goddess stomps off pouting, her arms crossed like an angry toddler.
“The last time we were in there you left me,” he says quietly. “I will shy away from anything that could make you leave me again. I was devastated when you left. I explained that. I never want to feel like that again. I’ve told you how I feel about you.” His gray eyes are wide and intense with his sincerity.
“But it hardly seems fair. It can’t be very relaxing for you—to be constantly concerned about how I feel. You’ve made all these changes for me, and I . . . I think I should reciprocate in some way. I don’t know—maybe . . . try . . . some role-playing games,” I stutter, my face as crimson as the walls of the playroom.
Why is this so hard to talk about? I have done all manner of kinky fuckery with this man, things I hadn’t even heard of a few weeks ago, things that I would never have thought possible, yet the hardest of all is talking to him.
“Ana, you do reciprocate, more than you know. Please, please don’t feel like this.”
Gone is carefree Christian. His eyes are wider now with alarm, and it’s gut-wrenching. “Baby, it’s only been one weekend,” he continues. “Give us some time. I thought a great deal about us last week when you left. We need time. You need to trust me, and I you. Maybe in time we can indulge, but I like how you are now. I like seeing you this happy, this relaxed and carefree, knowing that I had something to do with it. I have never—” He stops and runs his hand through his hair. “We have to walk before we can run.” Suddenly he smirks.
“What’s so funny?”
“Flynn. He says that all the time. I never thought I’d be quoting him.”
Christian laughs. “Exactly.”
The waiter arrives with our starters and bruschetta, and our conversation changes tack as Christian relaxes.
But when the unfeasibly large plates are placed before us, I can’t help think how I have thought of Christian today—relaxed, happy and carefree. At least he’s laughing now, at ease again.
I breathe an inward sigh of relief as he starts quizzing me about places I’ve been. This is a short discussion, since I have never been anywhere except the continental US. Christian, on the other hand, has traveled the world. We slip into an easier, happier conversation, talking about all the places he’s visited.
After our tasty and filling meal, Christian drives back to Escala, Eva Cassidy’s gentle sweet voice singing over the speakers. It allows me a peaceful interlude in which to think. I have had a mind-blowing day. Dr. Greene, our shower, Christian’s admission, making love at the hotel and on the boat, buying the car. Even Christian himself has been so different. It’s as if he’s letting go of something or rediscovering something—I don’t know.
Who knew he could be so sweet? Did he?
When I glance at him, he, too, looks lost in thought. It strikes me then that he never really had an adolescence—a normal one anyway. I shake my head.
My mind drifts back to the ball and dancing with Dr. Flynn and Christian’s fear that Flynn had told me all about him. Christian is still hiding something from me. How can we move on if he feels that way?
He thinks I might leave if I know him. He thinks that I might leave if he’s himself. Oh, this man is so complicated.
As we get closer to his home, he starts radiating tension until it becomes palpable. As we drive, he scans the sidewalks and side alleys, his eyes darting everywhere, and I know he’s looking for Leila. I start looking, too. Every young brunette is a suspect, but we don’t see her.
When he pulls into the garage, his mouth is set in a tense, grim line. I wonder why we’ve come back here if he’s going to be so wary and uptight. Sawyer is in the garage, patrolling. The defiled Audi is gone. He comes to open my door as Christian pulls in beside the SUV.
“Hello, Sawyer,” I murmur my greeting.
“Miss Steele.” He nods. “Mr. Grey.”
“No sign?” Christian asks.
Christian nods, grasps my hand, and heads for the elevator. I know his brain is working overtime—he’s distracted. Once we’re inside he turns to me.
“You are not allowed out of here alone. You understand?” he snaps.
“Okay.” Jeez—keep your hair on. But his attitude makes me smile. I want to hug myself—now this man, all domineering and short with me I know. I marvel that I would have found it so threatening only a week or so ago when he spoke to me this way. But now, I understand him so much better. This is his coping mechanism. He’s stressed about Leila, he loves me, and he wants to protect me.
“What’s so funny?” he murmurs, a hint of amusement in his expression.
“Me? Miss Steele? Why am I funny?” he pouts.
Christian pouting is . . . hot.
“Why?” He’s even more amused.
“Because it has the same effect on me as I have on you when I do this.” I bite my lip deliberately.
He raises his eyebrows, surprised and pleased at the same time. “Really?” He pouts again and leans down to give me a swift chaste kiss.
I raise my lips to meet his, and in the nanosecond when our lips touch, the nature of the kiss changes—wildfire spreading through my veins from this intimate point of contact, driving me to him.
Suddenly, my fingers are curling in his hair as he grabs me and pushes me against the elevator wall, his hands framing my face, holding me to his lips as our tongues thrash against each other. And I don’t know if it’s the confines of the elevator making everything much more real, but I feel his need, his anxiety, his passion.
Holy shit. I want him, here, now.
The elevator pings to a halt, the doors slide open, and Christian drags his face from mine, his hips still pinning me to the wall, his erection digging into me.
“Whoa,” he murmurs panting.
“Whoa,” I mirror him, dragging a welcome breath into my lungs.
He gazes at me, eyes blazing. “What you do to me, Ana.” He traces my lower lip with his thumb.
Out of the corner of my eye, Taylor steps backward so he’s no longer in my line of sight. I reach up and kiss Christian at the corner of his beautifully sculptured mouth.
“What you do to me, Christian.”
He steps back and takes my hand, his eyes darker now, hooded. “Come,” he orders.
Taylor is still in the foyer, waiting discreetly for us.
“Good evening, Taylor,” Christian says cordially.
“Mr. Grey, Miss Steele.”
“I was Mrs. Taylor yesterday.” I grin at Taylor, who flushes.
“That has a nice ring to it, Miss Steele,” Taylor says matter-of-factly.
“I thought so, too.”
Christian tightens his hold on my hand, scowling. “If you two have quite finished, I’d like a debrief.” He glares at Taylor, who now looks uncomfortable, and I cringe inwardly. I have overstepped the mark.
“Sorry,” I mouth at Taylor, who shrugs and smiles kindly before I turn to follow Christian.
“I’ll be with you shortly. I just want a word with Miss Steele,” Christian says to Taylor, and I know I’m in trouble.
Christian leads me into his bedroom and closes the door.
“Don’t flirt with the staff, Anastasia,” he scolds.
I open my mouth to defend myself—then close it again, then open it. “I wasn’t flirting. I was being friendly—there is a difference.”
“Don’t be friendly with the staff or flirt with them. I don’t like it.”
Oh. Good-bye, carefree Christian. “I’m sorry,” I mutter and stare down at my fingers. He hasn’t made me feel like a child all day. Reaching down he cups my chin, pulling my head up to meet his eyes.
“You know how jealous I am,” he whispers.
“You have no reason to be jealous, Christian. You own me body and soul.”
He blinks as if he’s finding this fact hard to process. He leans down and kisses me quickly, but with none of the passion we experienced a moment ago in the elevator.
“I won’t be long. Make yourself at home,” he says sulkily and turns, leaving me standing in his bedroom, dazed and confused.
Why on earth would he be jealous of Taylor? I shake my head in disbelief.
Glancing at the alarm clock, I notice it’s just after eight. I decide to get my clothes ready for work tomorrow. I head upstairs to my room and open the walk-in closet. It’s empty. All the clothes have gone. Oh no! Christian has taken me at my word and disposed of the clothes. Shit.
My subconscious glares at me. Well, that will be you and your big mouth.
Why did he take me at my word? My mother’s advice comes back to haunt me, “Men are so literal, darling.” I pout, staring at the empty space. There were some lovely clothes, too, like the silver dress I wore to the ball.
I wander disconsolately into the bedroom, Wait a moment—what is going on? The iPad is gone. Where’s my Mac? Oh no. My first uncharitable thought is that Leila may have stolen them.
I fly back downstairs and back into Christian’s bedroom. On the bedside table are my Mac, my iPad, and my satchel. It’s all here.
I open the walk-in closet door. My clothes are here—all of them—sharing space with Christian’s clothes. When did this happen? Why does he never warn me before he does things like this?
I turn, and he’s standing in the doorway.
“Oh, they managed the move,” he mutters, distracted.
“What’s wrong?” I ask. His face is grim.
“Taylor thinks Leila was getting in through the emergency stairwell. She must have had a key. All the locks have been changed now. Taylor’s team has done a sweep of every room in the apartment. She’s not here.” He stops and runs a hand through his hair. “I wish I knew where she was. She’s evading all our attempts to find her when she needs help.” He frowns, and my earlier pique vanishes. I put my arms around him. Folding me into his embrace, he kisses my hair.
“What will you do when you find her?” I ask.
“Dr. Flynn has a place.”
“What about her husband?”
“He’s washed his hands of her.” Christian’s tone is bitter. “Her family is in Connecticut. I think she’s very much on her own out there.”
“Are you okay with all your stuff being here? I want you to share my room,” he murmurs.
Whoa, quick change of direction.
“I want you sleeping with me. I don’t have nightmares when you’re with me.”
“You have nightmares?”
I tighten my hold around him. Holy cow. More baggage. My heart contracts for this man.
“I was just getting my clothes ready for work tomorrow,” I mutter.
“Work!” Christian exclaims as if it’s a dirty word, and he releases me, glaring.
“Yes, work,” I reply, confused by his reaction.
He stares at me with complete incomprehension. “But Leila—she’s out there,” he pauses. “I don’t want you to go to work.”
What? “That’s ridiculous, Christian. I have to go to work.”
“No, you don’t.”
“I have a new job, which I enjoy. Of course I have to go to work.” What does he mean?
“No, you don’t,” he repeats, emphatically.
“Do you think I am going to stay here twiddling my thumbs while you’re off being Master of the Universe?”
“Frankly . . . yes.”
Oh, Fifty, Fifty, Fifty . . . give me strength.
“Christian, I need to go to work.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes. I. Do.” I say it slowly as if he’s a child.
He scowls at me. “It’s not safe.”
“Christian . . . I need to work for a living, and I’ll be fine.”
“No, you don’t need to work for a living—and how do you know you’ll be fine?” He’s almost shouting.
What does he mean? He’s going to support me? Oh, this is beyond ridiculous—I’ve known him for what—five weeks?
He’s angry now, his gray eyes stormy and flashing, but I don’t give a shit.
“For heaven’s sake, Christian, Leila was standing at the end of your bed, and she didn’t harm me, and yes, I do need to work. I don’t want to be beholden to you. I have my student loans to pay.”
His mouth presses into a grim line, as I place my hands on my hips. I am not budging on this. Who the fuck does he think he is?
“I don’t want you going to work.”
“It’s not up to you, Christian. This is not your decision to make.”
He runs his hand through his hair as he stares at me. Seconds, minutes tick by as we glare at each other.
“Sawyer will come with you.”
“Christian, that’s not necessary. You’re being irrational.”
“Irrational?” he growls. “Either he comes with you, or I will be really irrational and keep you here.”
He wouldn’t, would he? “How, exactly?”
“Oh, I’d find a way, Anastasia. Don’t push me.”
“Okay!” I concede, holding up both my hands, placating him. Holy fuck—Fifty is back with a vengeance.
We stand, scowling at each other.
“Okay—Sawyer can come with me if it makes you feel better.” I concede rolling my eyes. Christian narrows his and takes a menacing step in my direction. I immediately step back. He stops and takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and runs both his hands through his hair. Oh no. Fifty is well and truly wound up.
“Shall I give you a tour?”
A tour? Are you kidding me? “Okay,” I mutter warily. Another change of tack—Mr. Mercurial is back in town. He holds out his hand and when I take it, he squeezes mine softly.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“You didn’t. I was just getting ready to run,” I quip.
“Run?” Christian eyes widen.
“I’m joking!” Oh jeez.
He leads me out of the closet, and I take a moment to calm down. Adrenaline is still coursing through my body. A fight with Fifty is not to be undertaken lightly.
He gives me a tour of the apartment, showing me the various rooms. Along with the playroom and three spare bedrooms upstairs, I’m intrigued to find that Taylor and Mrs. Jones have a wing to themselves—a kitchen, spacious living area, and a bedroom each. Mrs. Jones has not yet returned from visiting her sister who lives in Portland.
Downstairs, the room that catches my eye is opposite his study—a TV room with a too-large plasma screen and assorted games consoles. It’s cozy.
“So you do have an Xbox?” I smirk.
“Yes, but I’m crap at it. Elliot always beats me. That was funny, when you thought I meant this room was my playroom.” He grins down at me his snit-fit forgotten. Thank heavens he’s recovered his good mood.
“I’m glad you find me amusing, Mr. Grey,” I respond haughtily.
“That you are, Miss Steele—when you’re not being exasperating, of course.”
“I’m usually exasperating when you’re being unreasonable.”
“Yes, Mr. Grey. Unreasonable could be your middle name.”
“I don’t have a middle name.”
“Unreasonable would suit then.”
“I think that’s a matter of opinion, Miss Steele.”
“I would be interested in Dr. Flynn’s professional opinion.”
“I thought Trevelyan was your middle name.”
“But you don’t use it.”
“It’s too long. Come,” he commands. I follow him out of the TV room through the great room to the main corridor past the utility room and an impressive wine cellar and into Taylor’s own large, well-equipped office. Taylor stands when we enter. There’s room in here for a meeting table that seats six. Above one desk is a bank of monitors. I had no idea the apartment had CCTV. It appears to monitor the balcony, stairwell, service elevator, and foyer.
“Hi, Taylor. I’m just giving Anastasia a tour.”
Taylor nods but doesn’t smile. I wonder if he’s been told off, too, and why is he still working? When I smile at him, he nods politely. Christian grabs my hand once more and leads me to the library.
“And, of course, you’ve been in here.” Christian opens the door. I spy the green baize of the billiard table.
“Shall we play?” I ask. Christian smiles, surprised.
“Okay. Have you played before?”
“A few times,” I lie, and he narrows his eyes, cocking his head to one side.
“You’re a hopeless liar, Anastasia. Either you’ve never played before or—”
I lick my lips. “Frightened of a little competition?”
“Frightened of a little girl like you?” Christian scoffs good-naturedly.
“A wager, Mr. Grey.”
“You’re that confident, Miss Steele?” He smirks, amused and incredulous at once. “What would you like to wager?”
“If I win, you’ll take me back into the playroom.”
He gazes at me as if he can’t quite comprehend what I’ve said. “And if I win?” he asks after several shell-shocked beats.
“Then it’s your choice.”
His mouth twists as he contemplates his answer. “Okay, deal.” He smirks. “Do you want to play pool, English snooker or carom billiards?”
“Pool, please. I don’t know the others.”
From a cupboard beneath one of the bookshelves, Christian takes out a large leather case. Inside the pool balls are nested in velvet. Quickly and efficiently, he racks the balls on the baize. I don’t think I’ve ever played pool on such a large table before. Christian hands me a cue and some chalk.
“Would you like to break?” He feigns politeness. He’s enjoying himself—he thinks he’s going to win.
“Okay.” I chalk the end of my cue, and blow the excess chalk off—staring up at Christian through my lashes. His eyes darken as I do.
I line up on the white ball and with a swift clean stroke, hit the center ball of the triangle square on with such force that a striped ball spins and plunges into the top right pocket. I’ve scattered the rest of the balls.
“I choose stripes,” I say innocently, smiling coyly at Christian. His mouth twists in amusement.
“Be my guest,” he says politely.
I proceed to pocket the next three balls in quick succession. Inside, I’m dancing. At this moment, I am so grateful to José for teaching me to play pool and play it well. Christian watches impassively, giving nothing away, but his amusement seems to ebb. I miss the green stripe by a hairsbreadth.
“You know, Anastasia, I could stand here and watch you leaning and stretching across this billiard table all day,” he says appreciatively.
I flush. Thank heavens I am wearing my jeans. He smirks. He’s trying to put me off my game, the bastard. He pulls his cream sweater over his head, tosses it onto the back of a chair, and grins at me, as he saunters over to take his first shot.
He bends low over the table. My mouth goes dry. Oh, I see what he means. Christian in tight jeans and white T-shirt, bending, like that . . . is something to behold. I quite lose my train of thought. He sinks four solids rapidly, then fouls by sinking the white.
“A very elementary mistake, Mr. Grey,” I tease.
He smirks. “Ah, Miss Steele, I am but a foolish mortal. Your go, I believe.” He waves at the table.
“You’re not trying to lose are you?”
“Oh no. For what I have in mind as the prize, I want to win, Anastasia.” He shrugs casually. “But then, I always want to win.”
I narrow my eyes at him. Right then . . . I’m so glad I’m wearing my blue blouse, which is pleasingly low-cut. I stalk around the table, bending low at every available opportunity—giving Christian an eyeful of my behind and my cleavage whenever I can. Two can play at that game. I glance at him.
“I know what you’re doing,” he whispers, his eyes dark.
I tilt my head coquettishly to one side, gently fondling my cue, running my hand up and down it slowly. “Oh. I am just deciding where to take my next shot,” I murmur distractedly.
Leaning across, I hit the orange stripe into a better position. I then stand directly in front of Christian and take the rest from underneath the table. I line up my next shot, leaning right over the table. I hear Christian’s sharp intake of breath, and of course, I miss. Shit.
He comes to stand behind me while I am still bent over the table and places his hand on my backside. Hmm . . .
“Are you waving this around to taunt me, Miss Steele?” And he smacks me, hard.
I gasp. “Yes,” I mutter, because it’s true.
“Be careful what you wish for, baby.”
I rub my behind as he wanders to the other end of the table, leans over, and takes his shot. Jeez, I could look at him all day. He hits the red ball, and it shoots into the left side pocket. He aims for the yellow, top right, and it just misses. I grin.
“Red Room here we come,” I taunt him.
He merely raises an eyebrow and directs me to continue. I make quick work of the green stripe and by some fluke, manage to knock in the final orange stripe.
“Name your pocket,” Christian murmurs, and it’s as if he’s talking about something else, something dark and rude.
“Top left-hand.” I take aim over the black, hit it, but miss. It skirts wide. Damn.
Christian smiles a wicked grin as he leans over the table and makes short work of the two remaining solids. I am practically panting, watching him, his lithe body stretching over the table. He stands and chalks his cue, his eyes burning into me.
“If I win . . .”
“I am going to spank you, then fuck you over this billiard table.”
Holy shit. Every single muscle south of my navel clenches hard.
“Top right,” he murmurs, pointing to the black, and bends to take the shot.