Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fifty Shades Darker CHAPTER 13


Holy fuck.
She’s here, gazing at me with an unnerving blank expression, holding a gun. My subconscious swoons into a dead faint, and I don’t think even smelling salts will bring her back.
I blink repeatedly at Leila as my mind goes into overdrive. How did she get in? Where’s Ethan? Holy shit! Where is Ethan?
A creeping cold fear grips my heart, and my scalp prickles as each and every follicle on my head tightens with terror. What if she’s harmed him? I start breathing rapidly as adrenaline and bone-numbing dread course through my body. Keep calm, keep calm—I repeat the mantra over and over in my head.
She tilts her head to one side, regarding me as if I’m an exhibit in a freak show. Jeez, I’m not the freak here.
It feels like an eon has passed while I process all this, though in reality it is only a split second. Leila’s expression remains blank, and her appearance is as scruffy and ill-kempt as ever. She’s still wearing that grubby trench coat, and she looks desperately in need of a wash. Her hair is greasy and lank, plastered against her head, and her eyes are a dull brown, cloudy, and vaguely confused.
Despite the fact that my mouth has no moisture in it whatsoever, I attempt to speak. “Hi. Leila, isn’t it?” I rasp. She smiles, but it’s a disturbing curl of her lip rather than a true smile.
“She speaks,” she whispers, and her voice is soft and hoarse at the same time, an eerie sound.
“Yes, I speak,” I say gently as if to a child. “Are you here alone?” Where is Ethan? My heart pounds at the thought that he might have come to some harm.
Her face falls, so much so that I think she’s about to burst into tears—she looks so forlorn.
“Alone,” she whispers. “Alone.” And the depth of sadness in that one word is heart wrenching. What does she mean? I am alone? She’s alone? She’s alone because she’s harmed Ethan? Oh . . . no . . . I have to fight the choking fear clawing at my throat as tears threaten.
“What are you doing here? Can I help you?” My words are a calm, gentle interrogation despite the suffocating fear in my throat. Her brow furrows as if she’s completely befuddled by my questions. But she makes no violent move against me. Her hand is still relaxed around her gun. I take a different tack, trying to ignore my tightening scalp.
“Would you like some tea?” Why am I asking her if she wants tea? It’s Ray’s answer to any emotional situation, resurfacing inappropriately. Jeez, he’d have a fit if he saw me right this minute. His army training would have kicked in, and he’d have disarmed her by now. She’s not actually pointing that gun at me. Perhaps I can move. She shakes her head and tilts it from side to side as if stretching her neck.
I take a deep precious lungful of air, trying to calm my panicked breathing, and move toward the kitchen island. She frowns as if she can’t quite understand what I am doing and shifts a little so she is still facing me. I reach the kettle and with a shaking hand fill it from the faucet. As I move, my breathing eases. Yes, if she wanted me dead, surely she would have shot me by now. She watches me with an absent, bemused curiosity. As I switch on the kettle, I’m plagued by the thought of Ethan. Is he hurt? Tied up?
“Is there anyone else in the apartment?” I ask tentatively.
She inclines her head the other way, and with her right hand—the hand not holding the revolver—she grabs a strand of her long greasy hair and starts twirling and fiddling with it, pulling and twisting. It’s obviously a nervous habit, and while I am distracted by this, I am struck once again by how much she resembles me. I hold my breath, waiting for her answer, the anxiety building to an almost unbearable pitch.
“Alone. All alone,” she murmurs. I find this comforting. Maybe Ethan isn’t here. The relief is empowering.
“Are you sure you don’t want tea or coffee?”
“Not thirsty,” she answers softly, and she takes a cautious step toward me. My feeling of empowerment evaporates. Fuck! I start panting with fear again, feeling it surge thick and rough through my veins. In spite of this and feeling beyond brave, I turn and fetch a couple of cups from the cupboard.
“What do you have that I don’t?” she asks, her voice assuming the singsong intonation of a child.
“What do you mean, Leila?” I ask as gently as I can.
“Master—Mr. Grey—he lets you call him by his given name.”
“I’m not his submissive, Leila. Er . . . Master understands that I am unable, inadequate to fulfill that role.”
She tilts her head to the other side. It’s wholly unnerving and unnatural as a gesture.
“In-ad-e-quate.” She tests the word, sounding it out, seeing how it feels on her tongue. “But Master is happy. I have seen him. He laughs and smiles. These reactions are rare . . . very rare for him.”
“You look like me.” Leila changes tack, surprising me, her eyes seeming to focus on me properly for the first time. “Master likes obedient ones who look like you and me. The others, all the same . . . all the same . . . and yet you sleep in his bed. I saw you.”
Shit! She was in the room. I didn’t imagine it.
“You saw me in his bed?” I whisper.
“I never slept in Master’s bed,” she murmurs. She’s like a fallen ethereal wraith. Half a person. She looks so slight, and in spite of the fact that she’s holding a gun, I suddenly feel overwhelmed with sympathy for her. Her hands flex around the weapon, and my eyes widen, threatening to pop from my head.
“Why does Master like us like this? It makes me think something . . . something . . . Master is dark . . . Master is a dark man, but I love him.”
No, no, he’s not. I bristle internally. He’s not dark. He’s a good man, and he’s not in the dark. He’s joined me in the light. And now she’s here, trying to drag him back with some warped idea that she loves him.
“Leila, do you want to give me the gun?” I ask softly. Her hand grips it tightly, and she hugs it to her chest.
“This is mine. It’s all I have left.” She gently caresses the gun. “So she can join her love.”
Holy shit! Which love—Christian? It’s like she’s punched me in the stomach. I know he will be here momentarily to find out what’s keeping me. Does she mean to shoot him? The thought is so horrific, I feel my throat swell and ache as a huge knot forms there, almost choking me, matching the fear that’s balled tightly in my stomach.
Right on cue the door bursts open, and Christian is standing in the doorway, Taylor behind him.
Glancing at me briefly, Christian’s eyes sweep over me from head to toe, and I notice the small spark of relief in his look. But his relief is fleeting as his gaze darts to Leila and stills, focusing on her, not wavering in the slightest. He glares at her with an intensity I have not seen before, his eyes wild, wide, angry, and scared.
Oh no . . . oh no.
Leila’s eyes widen, and for a moment, it seems her reason returns. She blinks rapidly while her hand tightens once more around the gun.
My breath catches in my throat, and my heart starts thumping so loud that I hear the blood pounding in my ears. No, no, no!
My world teeters precariously in the hands of this poor, fucked-up woman. Will she shoot? Both of us? Christian? The thought is crippling.
But after an eternity, as time hangs suspended around us, her head dips slightly and she gazes up at him, through her long lashes, her expression contrite.
Christian holds up his hand, signaling to Taylor to stay where he is. Taylor’s blanched face betrays his fury. I have never seen him like this, but he stands stock-still as Christian and Leila stare at each other.
I realize I’m holding my breath. What will she do? What will he do? But they just continue to stare at each other. Christian’s expression is raw, full of some unnamed emotion. It could be pity, fear, affection . . . or is it love? No, please, not love!
His eyes bore into her, and agonizingly slowly, the atmosphere in the apartment changes. The tension is building so that I can sense their connection, the charge between them.
No! Suddenly I feel I’m the interloper, intruding on them as they stand gazing at each other. I’m an outsider—a voyeur, spying on a forbidden, intimate scene behind closed curtains.
Christian’s intense gaze burns brighter, and his bearing changes subtly. He looks taller, more angular somehow, colder, and more distant. I recognize this stance. I’ve seen him like this before—in his playroom.
My scalp prickles anew. This is Dominant Christian, and how at ease he looks. Whether he was born to or made for this role, I just don’t know, but with a sinking heart and sickened stomach, I watch as Leila responds, her lips parting, her breathing picking up as the first flush of color stains her cheeks. No! It’s such an unwelcome glimpse into his past, agonizing to witness.
Finally, he mouths a word at her. I can’t make out what it is, but the effect on Leila is immediate. She drops to the floor on her knees, her head bowed, and the gun falls and skitters uselessly across the wooden floor. Holy fuck.
Christian walks calmly over to where the gun has fallen and bends gracefully to pick it up. He regards it with ill-disguised disgust then slips it into his jacket pocket. He gazes once more at Leila as she kneels compliantly beside the kitchen island.
“Anastasia, go with Taylor,” he commands. Taylor crosses the threshold and stares at me.
“Ethan,” I whisper.
“Downstairs.” He responds matter-of-factly, his eyes never leaving Leila.
Downstairs. Not here. Ethan’s okay. Relief floods hard and fast through my blood, and for a moment I think I’m going to faint.
“Anastasia,” Christian’s tone is clipped in warning.
I blink at him, and I’m suddenly unable to move. I don’t want to leave him—leave him with her. He moves to stand beside Leila as she kneels at his feet. He’s hovering over her, protectively. She’s so still, it’s unnatural. I can’t take my eyes off the two of them—together . . .
“For the love of God, Anastasia, will you do as you’re told for once in your life and go!” Christian’s eyes lock with mine as he glowers at me, his voice a blistering cold shard of ice. The anger beneath the quiet, deliberate delivery of his words is palpable.
Angry at me? Surely not. Please—No! I feel like he’s slapped me hard. Why does he want to stay with her?
“Taylor. Take Miss Steele downstairs. Now.”
Taylor nods at him as I stare at Christian.
“Why?” I whisper.
“Go. Back to the apartment.” His eyes blaze frostily at me. “I need to be alone with Leila.” He says it urgently.
I think he’s trying to convey some kind of message, but I’m so thrown by all that’s happened that I’m not sure. I glance down at Leila and notice a very small smile cross her lips, but otherwise she remains truly impassive. A complete submissive. Fuck! My heart chills.
This is what he needs. This is what he likes. No! I want to wail.
“Miss Steele. Ana.” Taylor holds his hand out to me, imploring me to come. I am immobilized by the horrific spectacle before me. It confirms my worst fears and plays on all my insecurities: Christian and Leila together—the Dom and his sub.
“Taylor,” Christian urges, and Taylor leans down and scoops me into his arms. The last thing I see as we leave is Christian gently stroking Leila’s head as he murmurs something softly to her.
As Taylor carries me down the stairs, I lie limply in his arms trying to grasp what’s happened in the last ten minutes—was it longer? Or shorter? The concept of time has deserted me.
Christian and Leila, Leila and Christian . . . together? What is he doing with her now?
“Jesus, Ana! What the fuck is going on?”
I am relieved to see Ethan as he paces the small lobby, still carrying his large shoulder bag. Oh, thank heavens he’s okay! When Taylor sets me down, I practically throw myself at Ethan, wrapping my arms around his neck.
“Ethan. Oh, thank God!” I hug him, holding him close. I was so worried, and for a brief moment, I enjoy some respite from my rising panic at what is unfolding upstairs in my apartment.
“What the fuck is going on, Ana? Who’s this guy?”
“Oh, sorry, Ethan, this is Taylor. He works with Christian. Taylor, this is Ethan, my roommate’s brother.”
They nod at each other.
“Ana, upstairs, what’s going on? I was fishing for the apartment keys when these guys jumped out of nowhere and grabbed them. One of them was Christian . . .” Ethan’s voice trails off.
“You were late . . . Thank God.”
“Yeah. I met a friend from Pullman—we had a quick drink. Upstairs, what’s going on?”
“There’s a girl, an ex of Christian’s. In our apartment. She’s gone postal, and Christian is . . .” My voice cracks, and tears pool in my eyes.
“Hey,” Ethan whispers and pulls me close once more. “Has anyone called the cops?”
“No, it’s not like that.” I sob into his chest and now I’ve started, I can’t stop crying, the tension of this latest episode releasing through my tears. Ethan tightens his arms around me, but I sense his bemusement.
“Hey, Ana, let’s go get a drink.” He pats my back awkwardly. Abruptly, I feel awkward, too, and embarrassed, and in all honesty, I want to be on my own. But I nod, accepting his offer. I want to be away from here, away from whatever’s going on upstairs.
I turn to Taylor.
“Was the apartment checked?” I ask him tearfully, wiping my nose with the back of my hand.
“This afternoon.” Taylor shrugs apologetically as he hands me a handkerchief. He looks devastated. “I’m sorry, Ana,” he murmurs.
I frown. Jeez, he looks so guilty. I don’t want to make him feel worse.
“She does seem to have an uncanny ability to evade us,” he adds scowling again.
“Ethan and I will go for a quick drink then head back to Escala.” I dry my eyes.
Taylor shuffles from foot to foot uncomfortably. “Mr. Grey wanted you to go back to the apartment,” he says quietly.
“Well, we know where Leila is now.” I can’t keep the bitterness out of my voice. “So, no need for all the security. Tell Christian we’ll see him later.”
Taylor opens his mouth to speak and then wisely closes it again.
“Do you want to leave your bag with Taylor?” I ask Ethan.
“No, I’ll keep it with me, thanks.”
Ethan nods at Taylor, then ushers me out of the front door. Too late, I remember that I’ve left my purse in the back of Audi. I have nothing.
“My purse—”
“Don’t worry,” Ethan murmurs, his face full of concern. “It’s cool, it’s on me.”
We choose a bar across the street, settling onto wooden bar stools by the window. I want to see what’s going on—who’s coming, and more importantly who’s going. Ethan hands me a bottle of beer.
“Trouble with an ex?” he says gently.
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” I mutter, abruptly guarded. I can’t talk about this—I have signed an NDA. And for the first time, I really resent that fact and that Christian’s said nothing about rescinding it.
“I’ve got time,” Ethan says kindly and takes a long slug of his beer.
“She’s an ex, from years back. She left her husband for some guy. Then a couple of weeks or so ago he was killed in a car crash, and now she’s come after Christian.” I shrug. There, that didn’t give too much away.
“Come after him?”
“She had a gun.”
“What the fuck!”
“She didn’t actually threaten anyone with it. I think she meant to harm herself. But that’s why I was so worried about you. I didn’t know if you were in the apartment.”
“I see. She sounds unstable.”
“Yes, she is.”
“And what’s Christian doing with her now?”
The blood drains from my face and bile rises in my throat. “I don’t know,” I whisper.
Ethan’s eyes widen—at last he’s got it.
This is the crux of my problem. What the fuck are they doing? Talking, I hope. Just talking. Yet all I can see in my mind’s eye is his hand, tenderly stroking her hair.
She’s disturbed and Christian cares about her, that’s all this is, I rationalize. But in the back of my mind, my subconscious is shaking her head sadly.
It’s more than that. Leila was able to fulfill his needs in a way I cannot. The thought is depressing.
I try to focus on all we’ve done in the last few days—his declaration of love, his flirty humor, his playfulness. But Elena’s words keep coming back to taunt me. It’s true what they say about eavesdroppers.
Don’t you miss it . . . your playroom?
I finish my beer in record time, and Ethan lines up another. I am not much of a companion, but to his credit he stays with me, chatting, trying to lift my spirits, talking about Barbados, and Kate and Elliot’s antics, which is wonderfully distracting. But it’s just that—a distraction.
My mind, my heart, my soul are all still in that apartment with my Fifty Shades and the woman who used to be his submissive. A woman who thinks she still loves him. A woman who looks like me.
During our third beer, a large cruiser with heavily-tinted windows pulls up next to the Audi in front of the apartment. I recognize Dr. Flynn as he climbs out, accompanied by a woman dressed in what look like pale blue scrubs. I glimpse Taylor as he lets them in through the front door.
“Who’s that?” Ethan asks.
“His name’s Dr. Flynn. Christian knows him.”
“What kind of doctor?”
“A shrink.”
We both watch, and a few minutes later they are back. Christian is carrying Leila who is wrapped in a blanket. What? I watch horrified as they all climb into the cruiser, and it speeds away.
Ethan glances at me sympathetically, and I feel desolate, completely desolate.
“Can I have something a bit stronger?” I ask Ethan, my voice small.
“Sure. What would you like?”
“A brandy. Please.”
Ethan nods and retreats to the bar. I gaze through the window at the front door. Moments later Taylor emerges, climbs into the Audi, and heads off toward Escala . . . after Christian? I don’t know.
Ethan places a large brandy in front of me.
“Come on, Steele. Let’s get drunk.”
Sounds like the best offer I’ve had in a while. We clink glasses, and I take a gulp of the burning amber liquid, the fiery heat a welcome distraction from the hideous blossoming pain in my heart.
It’s late, and I feel fuzzy. Ethan and I are locked out of the apartment. He insists on walking me back to Escala, but he won’t stay. He’s called the friend he met earlier for a drink and arranged to crash with him.
“So, this is where the Mogul lives.” Ethan whistles through his teeth, impressed.
I nod.
“Sure you don’t want me to come in with you?” he asks.
“No, I need to face this—or just go to bed.”
“See you tomorrow?”
“Yes. Thanks, Ethan.” I hug him.
“You’ll work it out, Steele,” he murmurs against my ear. He releases me and watches while I head into the building.
“Laters,” he calls. I offer him a weak smile and a wave then press the button to call the elevator.
The elevator doors open, and I step into Christian’s apartment. Taylor is not waiting, which is unusual. Opening the double doors, I head toward the great room. Christian is on the phone, pacing the room near the piano.
“She’s here,” he snaps. He turns to glare at me as he switches off his phone. “Where the fuck have you been?” he growls but doesn’t make a move toward me.
Holy crap, he’s angry with me? He’s the one that just spent God knows how long with his loony ex-girlfriend, and he’s angry with me?
“Have you been drinking?” he asks, appalled.
“A bit.” I didn’t think it was that obvious.
He gasps and runs his hand through his hair. “I told you to come back here.” His voice is menacingly quiet. “It’s now fifteen after ten. I’ve been worried about you.”
“I went for a drink or three with Ethan while you attended to your ex,” I hiss at him. “I didn’t know how long you were going to be . . . with her.”
He narrows his eyes and takes a few paces toward me but stops.
“Why do you say it that like that?”
I shrug and stare down at my fingers.
“Ana, what’s wrong?” And for the first time, I hear something other than anger in his voice. What? Fear?
I swallow, trying to work out what I want to say. “Where’s Leila?” I ask looking up at him.
“In a psychiatric hospital in Fremont,” he says, and his face is scrutinizing mine. “Ana, what is it?” He moves toward me until he’s standing right in front of me. “What’s wrong?” he breathes.
I shake my head. “I’m no good for you.”
“What?” he breathes, his eyes widening in alarm. “Why do you think that? How can you possibly think that?”
“I can’t be everything you need.”
“You are everything I need.
“Just seeing you with her . . .” My voice trails off.
“Why do you do this to me? This is not about you, Ana. It’s about her.” He takes a sharp breath, running his hand through his hair again. “At the moment she’s a very sick girl.”
“But I felt it . . . what you had together.”
“What? No.” He reaches for me, and I step back instinctively. He drops his hand, blinking at me. He looks as though he’s seized with panic.
“You’re running?” he whispers as his eyes widen with fear.
I say nothing as I try to collect my scattered thoughts.
“You can’t,” he pleads.
“Christian . . . I—” I struggle to collect my thoughts. What am I trying to say? I need time, time to process this. Give me time.
“No. No!” he says.
“I . . .”
He looks wildly around the room. For inspiration? For divine intervention? I don’t know.
“You can’t go. Ana, I love you!”
“I love you, too, Christian, it’s just—”
“No . . . no!” he says in desperation and puts both hands on his head.
“Christian . . .”
“No,” he breathes, his eyes wide with panic, and suddenly he drops to his knees in front of me, head bowed, long-fingered hands spread out on his thighs. He takes a deep breath and doesn’t move.
What? “Christian, what are you doing?”
He continues to stare down, not looking at me.
“Christian! What are you doing?” My voice is high-pitched. He doesn’t move. “Christian, look at me!” I command in panic.
His head sweeps up without hesitation, and he regards me passively with his cool gray gaze—he’s almost serene . . . expectant.
Holy Fuck . . . Christian. The submissive.

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