Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fifty Shades Darker CHAPTER 17


Christian is nuzzling my neck as I slowly wake.
“Morning, baby,” he whispers and nips at my earlobe. My eyes flutter open and close again quickly. Bright early morning light floods the room, and his hand is softly caressing my breast, gently teasing me. Moving down he grasps my hip as he lies behind me, holding me close.
I stretch out beside him, relishing his touch, and feel his erection against my behind. Oh my. A Christian Grey wake-up call.
“You’re pleased to see me,” I mumble sleepily, squirming suggestively against him. I feel his grin against my jaw.
“I’m very pleased to see you,” he says as he skates his hand over my stomach and down to cup my sex and explore with his fingers. “There are definite advantages to waking up beside you, Miss Steele,” he teases and gently pulls me round so that I’m lying on my back.
“Sleep well?” he asks as his fingers continue their sensual torture. He’s smiling down at me—his dazzling, all-American-drop-dead-male-model-perfect-teeth smile. He takes my breath away.
My hips begin to sway to the rhythm of the dance his fingers have begun. He kisses me chastely on the lips and then moves down my neck, nipping slowly, kissing, and sucking as he goes. I moan. He’s gentle and his touch is light and heavenly. His intrepid fingers move down, and slowly he eases one inside me, hissing quietly in awe.
“Oh, Ana,” he murmurs reverentially against my throat. “You’re always ready.” He moves his finger in time with his kisses as his lips journey leisurely across my clavicle and then down to my breast. He torments first one, then the other nipple with teeth and lips, but oh-so-gently, and they tighten and lengthen in sweet response.
I groan.
“Hmm,” he growls softly and raises his head to give me a blazing gray-eyed look. “I want you now.” He reaches over to the bedside table. He shifts on top of me, taking his weight on his elbows, and rubs his nose along mine while easing my legs apart with his. He kneels up and rips open the foil packet.
“I can’t wait until Saturday,” he says, his eyes glowing with salacious delight.
“Your party?” I pant.
“No. I can stop using these fuckers.”
“Aptly named.” I giggle.
He smirks at me as he rolls on the condom. “Are you giggling, Miss Steele?”
“No.” I try and fail to straighten my face.
“Now is not the time for giggling.” He shakes his head in admonishment and his voice is low, stern, but his expression—holy cow—is glacial and volcanic at once.
My breath catches in my throat. “I thought you liked it when I giggle,” I whisper hoarsely, gazing into the dark depths of his stormy eyes.
“Not now. There’s a time and a place for giggling. This is neither. I need to stop you, and I think I know how,” he says ominously, and his body covers mine.
“What would you like for breakfast, Ana?”
“I’ll just have some granola. Thank you, Mrs. Jones.”
I flush as I take my place at the breakfast bar beside Christian. The last time I set eyes on the very prim and proper Mrs. Jones, I was being unceremoniously dragged into the bedroom over Christian’s shoulder.
“You look lovely,” Christian says softly. I’m wearing my gray pencil skirt and gray silk blouse again.
“So do you.” I smile shyly at him. He’s wearing a pale blue shirt and jeans, and he looks cool and fresh and perfect, as always.
“We should buy you some more skirts,” he says matter-of-factly. “In fact—I’d love to take you shopping.”
Hmm—shopping. I hate shopping. But with Christian, maybe it won’t be so bad. I decide on distraction as the best form of defense.
“I wonder what will happen at work today?”
“They’ll have to replace the sleazeball.” Christian frowns, scowling as if he’s just stepped in something extraordinarily unpleasant.
“I hope they take on a woman as my new boss.”
“Well, you’re less likely to object to me going away with her,” I tease him.
His lips twitch and he starts on his omelet.
“What’s so funny?” I ask.
“You are. Eat your granola, all of it, if that’s all you’re having.”
Bossy as ever. I purse my lips at him, but dig in.
“So, the key goes here.” Christian points out the ignition beneath the gearshift.
“Strange place,” I mutter. But I’m delighted with every little detail, practically bouncing like a small child in the comfortable leather seat. Christian has finally let me drive my car.
He regards me coolly, though his eyes are alight with humor. “You’re quite excited about this, aren’t you?” he murmurs, amused.
I nod, grinning like a fool. “Just smell that new car smell. This is even better than the Submissive Special . . . um, the A3,” I add quickly, blushing.
Christian’s mouth twists. “Submissive Special, eh? You have such a way with words, Miss Steele.” He leans back with a faux look of disapproval, but he can’t fool me. I know he’s enjoying himself.
“Well, let’s go.” He waves his long-fingered hand toward the entrance of the garage.
I clap my hands, start the car, and the engine purrs to life. Putting the gearshift into drive, I ease my foot off the brake and the Saab moves smoothly forward. Taylor starts up the Audi behind us and once the garage barrier lifts, follows us out of Escala onto the street.
“Can we have the radio on?” I ask as we wait at the first stop sign.
“I want you to concentrate,” he says sharply.
“Christian, please, I can drive with music on.” I roll my eyes. He scowls for a moment and then reaches for the radio.
“You can play your iPod and mp3 discs as well as CDs on this,” he murmurs.
The too-loud dulcet tones of The Police suddenly fill the car. Christian turns the music down. Hmm . . . “King of Pain.”
“Your anthem,” I tease him, then instantly regret it when his mouth tightens in a thin line. Oh no. “I have this album, somewhere.” I continue hastily to distract him. Hmm . . . somewhere in the apartment I have spent very little time in.
I wonder how Ethan is. I should try to call him today. I won’t have much to do at work.
Anxiety blooms in my stomach. What will happen when I get to the office? Will everyone know about Jack? Will everyone know of Christian’s involvement? Will I still have a job? Sheesh, if I have no job, what will I do?
Marry the gazillionaire, Ana! My subconscious has her snarky face on. I ignore her—rapacious bitch.
“Hey, Miss Smart Mouth. Come back.” Christian drags me into the here and now as I pull up at the next stoplight.
“You’re very distracted. Concentrate, Ana,” he scolds. “Accidents happen when you don’t concentrate.”
Oh, for heaven’s sake—and suddenly I’m catapulted back in time to when Ray was teaching me to drive. I don’t need another father. A husband maybe, a kinky husband. Hmm.
“I’m just thinking about work.”
“Baby, you’ll be fine. Trust me.” Christian smiles.
“Please don’t interfere—I want to do this on my own. Christian, please. It’s important to me,” I say as gently as I can. I don’t want to argue. His mouth sets once more into a hard stubborn line, and I think he’s going to berate me again.
Oh no.
“Let’s not argue, Christian. We’ve had such a wonderful morning. And last night was—” Words fail me, last night was—“Heaven.”
He says nothing. I glance over at him and his eyes are closed.
“Yes. Heaven,” he says softly. “I meant what I said.”
“I don’t want to let you go.”
“I don’t want to go.”
He smiles and it’s this new, shy smile that dissolves everything in its path. Boy, it’s powerful.
“Good,” he says simply, and he visibly relaxes.
I drive into the parking lot half a block from SIP.
“I’ll walk you to work. Taylor will take me from there,” Christian offers. I clamber out of the car, restricted by my pencil skirt while Christian climbs out gracefully, at ease with his body or giving the impression of someone at ease with his body. Hmm . . . someone who can’t bear to be touched can’t be that at ease. I frown at my errant thought.
“Don’t forget we’re seeing Flynn at seven this evening,” he says as he holds his hand out to me. I press the remote door lock and take his hand.
“I won’t forget. I’ll compile a list of questions for him.”
“Questions? About me?”
I nod.
“I can answer any questions you have about me.” Christian looks affronted.
I smile at him. “Yes, but I want the unbiased, expensive charlatan’s opinion.”
He frowns and suddenly pulls me into his embrace, holding both my hands tightly behind my back.
“Is this a good idea?” he says, his voice low and husky. I lean back to see the anxiety looming large and wide in his eyes. It tears at my soul.
“If you don’t want me to, I won’t.” I stare at him, blinking, wanting to caress the concern out of his face. I tug on one of my hands and he frees it. I touch his cheek tenderly—it’s smooth from shaving this morning.
“What are you worried about?” I ask, my voice soft and soothing.
“That you’ll go.”
“Christian, how many times do I have to tell you—I’m not going anywhere. You’ve already told me the worst. I’m not leaving you.”
“Then why haven’t you answered me?”
“Answered you?” I murmur disingenuously.
“You know what I’m talking about, Ana.”
I sigh. “I want to know that I’m enough for you, Christian. That’s all.”
“And you won’t take my word for it?” he says exasperated, releasing me.
“Christian, this has all been so quick. And by your own admission, you’re fifty shades of fucked-up. I can’t give you what you need,” I mutter. “It’s just not for me. But that makes me feel inadequate, especially seeing you with Leila. Who’s to say that one day you won’t meet someone who likes doing what you do? And who’s to say you won’t, you know . . . fall for her? Someone much better suited to your needs.” The thought of Christian with anyone else sickens me. I stare down at my knotted fingers.
“I knew several women who like doing what I like to do. None of them appealed to me the way you do. I’ve never had an emotional connection with any of them. It’s only ever been you, Ana.”
“Because you never gave them a chance. You’ve spent too long locked up in your fortress, Christian. Look, let’s discuss this later. I have to go to work. Maybe Dr. Flynn can offer us his insight.” This is all far too heavy a discussion for a parking lot at eight fifty in the morning, and Christian, for once, seems to agree. He nods but his eyes are wary.
“Come,” he orders, holding out his hand.
When I reach my desk, I find a note asking me to go straight to Elizabeth’s office. My heart leaps into my mouth. Oh, this is it. I’m going to get fired.
“Anastasia.” Elizabeth smiles kindly, waving me into a chair before her desk. I sit and gaze at her expectantly, hoping that she can’t hear my thumping heart. She smoothes her thick black hair and regards with me with somber, clear blue eyes.
“I have some rather sad news.”
Sad! Oh no.
“I’ve called you in to inform you that Jack has left the company rather suddenly.”
I flush. This isn’t sad for me. Should I tell her that I know?
“His rather hasty departure has left a vacancy, and we’d like you to fill it for now, until we find a replacement.”
What? I feel the blood rush from my head. Me?
“But, I’ve only been here for a week or so.”
“Yes, Anastasia, I understand but Jack was always a champion of your abilities. He had high hopes for you.”
I stop breathing. He had high hopes of getting me on my back, sure.
“Here’s a detailed job description. Have a good look through it, and we can discuss it later today.”
“Please, I know this is sudden, but you’ve already made contact with Jack’s key authors. Your chapter notes haven’t gone unnoticed by the other commissioning editors. You have a shrewd mind, Anastasia. We all think you can do it.”
“Okay.” This is unreal.
“Look, think about it. In the meantime, you can take Jack’s office.”
She stands, effectively dismissing me, and holds out her hand. I shake it in a complete daze.
“I’m glad he’s gone,” she whispers and a haunted look crosses her face. Holy shit. What did he do to her?
Back at my desk, I grab my Blackberry and call Christian.
He answers on the second ring. “Anastasia. You okay?” he asks concerned.
“They’ve just given me Jack’s job to mind, temporarily,” I blurt out.
“You’re kidding,” he whispers, shocked.
“Did you have anything to do with this?” My voice is sharper than I mean it to be.
“No—no, not at all. I mean, with all due respect, Anastasia, you’ve only been there for a week or so—and I don’t mean that unkindly.”
“I know.” I frown. “Apparently Jack really rated me.”
“Did he now?” Christian’s tone is frosty and then he sighs.
“Well, baby, if they think you can do it, I’m sure you can. Congratulations. Perhaps we should celebrate after we’ve seen Flynn.”
“Hmm. Are you sure you had nothing to do with this?”
He is silent for a moment, and then he says in a low menacing voice. “Do you doubt me? It angers me that you do.”
I swallow. Boy, he gets mad so easily. “I’m sorry,” I breathe, chastened.
“If you need anything, let me know. I’ll be here. And Anastasia?”
“Use your Blackberry,” he adds tersely.
“Yes, Christian.”
He doesn’t hang up as I expect him to but takes a deep breath.
“I mean it. If you need me, I’m here.” His words are much softer, conciliatory. Oh, he’s so mercurial . . . his mood swings are like a metronome set at presto.
“Okay,” I murmur. “I’d better go. I have to move offices.”
“If you need me. I mean it,” he murmurs.
“I know, thank you, Christian. I love you.”
I sense his grin at the other end of the phone. I’ve won him back.
“I love you, too, baby.” Oh, will I ever tire of him saying those words to me?
“I’ll talk to you later.”
“Laters, baby.”
I hang up and glance at Jack’s office. My office. Holy cow—Anastasia Steele, Acting Commissioning Editor. Who would have thought? I should ask for more money.
What would Jack think if he knew? I shudder at the thought and wonder idly how he’s spent his morning, not in New York as he expected. I stroll into his—my office—sit down at the desk, and start reading the job description.
At twelve thirty, Elizabeth buzzes me.
“Ana, we need you in a meeting at one o’clock in the boardroom. Jerry Roach and Kay Bestie will be there—you know, the company president and vice president? All the commissioning editors will be attending.”
“Do I need to prepare anything?”
“No, this is just an informal gathering we do once a month. Lunch will be provided.”
“I’ll be there.” I hang up.
Holy shit! I check through the current roster of Jack’s authors. Yes, I’ve pretty much got those nailed. I have the five manuscripts he’s championing, plus two more, which should really be considered for publication. I take a deep breath—I cannot believe it’s lunchtime already. The day has flown by, and I’m loving it. There has been so much to absorb this morning. A ping from my calendar announces an appointment.
Oh no—Mia! In all the excitement I have forgotten about our lunch. I fish out my Blackberry and try frantically to find her phone number.
My phone buzzes.
“It’s him, in reception.” Claire’s voice is hushed.
“Who?” For a moment, I think it might be Christian.
“The blond god.”
Oh, what does he want? I immediately feel guilty for not having called him.
Ethan, dressed in a checked blue shirt, white T-shirt, and jeans, beams at me when I appear.
“Wow! You look hot, Steele,” he says, nodding appreciatively. He gives me a quick hug.
“Is everything okay?” I ask.
He frowns. “Everything’s fine, Ana. I just wanted to see you. I’ve not heard from you in a while, and I wanted to check how Mr. Mogul was treating you.”
I flush and can’t help my smile.
“Okay!” Ethan exclaims, holding up his hands. “I can tell by the secret smile. I don’t want to know any more. I came by on the off chance you could do lunch. I’m enrolling at Seattle for psych courses in September. For my master’s.”
“Oh Ethan. So much has happened. I have a ton to tell you, but right now, I can’t. I have a meeting.” An idea hits me hard. “And I wonder if you can do me a really, really, really big favor?” I clasp my hands together in supplication.
“Sure,” he says, bemused by my pleading.
“I’m supposed to be having lunch with Christian and Elliot’s sister—but I can’t get hold of her, and this meeting’s just been sprung on me. Please will you take her for lunch? Please?”
“Aw, Ana! I don’t want to babysit some brat.”
“Please, Ethan.” I give him the biggest-bluest-longest-eye-lashed look that I can manage. He rolls his eyes and I know I’ve got him.
“You’ll cook me something?” he mutters.
“Sure, whatever, whenever.”
“So where is she?”
“She’s due here now.” And as if on cue, I hear her voice.
“Ana!” she calls from the front door.
We both turn, and there she is—all curvaceous and tall with her sleek black bob—wearing a short mint-green minidress and matching high-heeled pumps with straps around her slim ankles. She looks stunning.
“The brat?” he whispers, gaping at her.
“Yes. The brat that needs babysitting,” I whisper back. “Hi, Mia.” I give her a quick hug as she stares rather blatantly at Ethan.
“Mia—this is Ethan, Kate’s brother.”
He nods, his eyebrows raised in surprise. Mia blinks several times as she gives him her hand.
“Delighted to meet you,” Ethan murmurs smoothly and Mia blinks again—silent for once. She blushes.
Holy cow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her blush.
“I can’t make lunch,” I say lamely. “Ethan has agreed to take you, if that’s okay? Can we have a rain check?”
“Sure,” she says quietly. Mia quiet, this is novel.
“Yeah, I’ll take it from here. Laters, Ana,” Ethan says, offering Mia his arm. She accepts it with a shy smile.
“Bye, Ana.” Mia turns to me and mouths, “Oh. My. God!” giving me an exaggerated wink.
Jeez . . . she likes him! I wave at them as they leave the building. I wonder what Christian’s attitude is about his sister dating? The thought makes me uneasy. She’s my age, so he can’t object, can he?
This is Christian we’re dealing with. My snarky subconscious is back, hatchet-mouthed, cardigan and purse in the crook of her arm. I shake off the image. Mia is a grown woman and Christian can be reasonable, can’t he? I dismiss the thought and head back to Jack’s . . . er . . . my office to prep for the meeting.
It’s three thirty when I return. The meeting went well. I have even secured approval to progress the two manuscripts I was championing. It’s a heady feeling.
On my desk is an enormous wicker basket crammed with stunning white and pale pink roses. Wow—the fragrance alone is heavenly. I smile as I pick up the card. I know who sent them.
Congratulations, Miss Steele
And all on your own!
No help from your overfriendly, neighborhood, megalomaniac CEO
I pick up my Blackberry to e-mail him.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Megalomaniac . . .
Date: June 16, 2011 15:43
To: Christian Grey
. . . is my favorite type of maniac. Thank you for the beautiful flowers. They’ve arrived in a huge wicker basket that makes me think of picnics and blankets.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Fresh Air
Date: June 16, 2011 15:55
To: Anastasia Steele
Maniac, eh? Dr. Flynn may have something to say about that.
You want to go on a picnic?
We could have fun in the great outdoors, Anastasia . . .
How is your day going, baby?
Christian Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Oh my. I flush reading his response.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Hectic
Date: June 16, 2011 16:00
To: Christian Grey
The day has flown by. I have hardly had a moment to myself to think about anything other than work. I think I can do this! I’ll tell you more when I’m home.
Outdoors sounds . . . interesting.
Love you.
A x
PS: Don’t worry about Dr. Flynn.
My phone buzzes. It’s Claire from reception, desperate to know who sent the flowers and what happened to Jack. Holed up in the office all day, I have missed the gossip. I tell her quickly that the flowers are from my boyfriend and that I know very little about Jack’s departure. My Blackberry buzzes and I have another e-mail from Christian.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: I’ll try . . .
Date: June 16, 2011 16:09
To: Anastasia Steele
. . . not to worry.
Laters, baby. x
Christian Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
At five thirty, I pack up my desk. I can’t believe how quickly the day has gone. I have to get back to Escala and prepare to meet Dr. Flynn. I haven’t even had time to think of questions. Perhaps today we can have an initial meeting, and maybe Christian will let me see him again. I shrug off the thought as I dash out of the office, waving a quick good-bye to Claire.
I’ve also got Christian’s birthday to think about. I know what I’m going to give him. I’d like him to have it tonight before we meet Flynn, but how? Beside the parking lot is a small store selling touristy trinkets. Inspiration hits me and I duck inside.
Christian is on his Blackberry, standing and staring out the glass wall as I enter the great room half an hour later. Turning, he beams at me and wraps up his call.
“Ros, that’s great. Tell Barney and we’ll go from there . . . Good-bye.”
He strides over to me as I stand shyly in the entryway. He’s changed now into a white T-shirt and jeans, all bad boy and smoldering. Whoa.
“Good evening, Miss Steele,” he murmurs and he bends to kiss me. “Congratulations on your promotion.” He wraps his arms around me. He smells delicious.
“You’ve showered.”
“I’ve just had a work-out with Claude.”
“Managed to knock him on his ass twice.” Christian beams, boyish and pleased with himself. His grin is infectious.
“That doesn’t happen often?”
“No. Very satisfying when it does. Hungry?”
I shake my head.
“What?” He frowns at me.
“I’m nervous. About Dr. Flynn.”
“Me, too. How was your day?” He releases me, and I him give a brief summary. He listens attentively.
“Oh—there’s one more thing I should tell you,” I add. “I was supposed to have lunch with Mia.”
He raises his eyebrows, surprised. “You never mentioned that.”
“I know, I forgot. I couldn’t make it because of the meeting, and Ethan took her out to lunch instead.”
His face darkens. “I see. Stop biting your lip.”
“I’m going to freshen up,” I say changing the subject and turning to leave before he can react any further.
Dr. Flynn’s office is a short drive from Christian’s apartment. Very handy, I muse, for emergency sessions.
“I usually run here from home,” Christian says as he parks my Saab. “This is a great car.” He smiles at me.
“I think so, too.” I smile back at him. “Christian . . . I—” I gaze anxiously at him.
“What is it, Ana?”
“Here.” I pull the small black gift box from my purse. “This is for you for your birthday. I wanted to give it to you now—but only if you promise not to open it until Saturday, okay?”
He blinks at me in surprise and swallows. “Okay,” he murmurs cautiously.
Taking a deep breath, I hand it to him, ignoring his bemused expression. He shakes the box, and it produces a very satisfactory rattle. He frowns. I know he’s desperate to see what it contains. Then he grins, his eyes alight with youthful, carefree excitement. Oh boy . . . he looks his age—and so beautiful.
“You can’t open it until Saturday,” I warn him.
“I get it,” he says. “Why are you giving this to me now?” He pops the box into the inside pocket of his blue pinstriped jacket, close to his heart.
How apt, I muse. I smirk at him.
“Because I can, Mr. Grey.”
His mouth twists with wry amusement.
“Why, Miss Steele, you stole my line.”
We are ushered into Dr. Flynn’s palatial office by a brisk and friendly receptionist. She greets Christian warmly, a little too warmly for my taste—jeez, she’s old enough to be his mother—and he knows her name.
The room is understated: pale green with two dark green couches facing two leather winged chairs, and it has the atmosphere of a gentlemen’s club. Dr. Flynn is seated at a desk at the far end of the room.
As we enter, he stands and walks over to join us in the seating area. He wears black pants and a pale-blue open-necked shirt—no tie. His bright blue eyes seem to miss nothing.
“Christian.” He smiles amicably.
“John.” Christian shakes John’s hand. “You remember Anastasia?”
“How could I forget? Anastasia, welcome.”
“Ana, please,” I mumble as he shakes my hand firmly. I do love his English accent.
“Ana,” he says kindly, ushering us toward the couches.
Christian gestures to one of them for me. I sit, trying to look relaxed, resting my hand on the couch rest, and he sprawls on the other couch beside me so that we’re at right angles
to each other. A small table with a simple lamp is between us. I note with interest a box of tissues beside the lamp.
This isn’t what I expected. I had in my mind’s eye a stark white room with a black leather chaise longue; my inner goddess might have felt more at home then.
Looking relaxed and in control, Dr. Flynn takes a seat in one of the winged chairs and picks up a leather notepad. Christian crosses his legs, his ankle resting on his knee, and stretches one arm along the back of the couch. Reaching across with his other hand, he finds my hand on the couch rest and gives it a reassuring squeeze.
“Christian has requested that you accompany him to one of our sessions,” Dr. Flynn begins gently. “Just so you know, we treat these sessions with absolute confidentiality—”
I raise my eyebrow at Flynn, halting him mid-speech.
“Oh—um . . . I’ve signed an NDA,” I murmur, embarrassed that he’s stopped. Both Flynn and Christian stare at me, and Christian releases my hand.
“A non-disclosure agreement?” Dr. Flynn’s brow furrows, and he glances quizzically at Christian.
Christian shrugs.
“You start all your relationships with women with an NDA?” Dr. Flynn asks him.
“The contractual ones, I do.”
Dr. Flynn’s lip twitches. “You’ve had other types of relationships with women?” he asks, and he looks amused.
“No,” Christian answers after a beat, and he looks amused, too.
“As I thought.” Dr. Flynn turns his attention back to me. “Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about confidentiality, but may I suggest that the two of you discuss this at some point? As I understand, you’re no longer entering into that kind of contractual relationship.”
“Different kind of contract, hopefully,” says Christian softly, glancing at me. I flush and Dr. Flynn narrows his eyes.
“Ana. You’ll have to forgive me, but I probably know a lot more about you than you think. Christian has been very forthcoming.”
I glance nervously at Christian. What has he said?
“An NDA?” he continues. “That must have shocked you.”
I blink at him. “Oh, I think the shock of that has paled into insignificance, given Christian’s most recent revelations,” I answer, my voice soft and hesitant. I sound so nervous.
“I’m sure.” Dr. Flynn smiles kindly at me. “So, Christian, what would you like to discuss?”
Christian shrugs like a surly teen. “Anastasia wanted to see you. Perhaps you should ask her.”
Dr. Flynn’s face registers his surprise once more, and he gazes shrewdly at me.
Holy shit. This is mortifying. I gaze down at my fingers.
“Would you be more comfortable if Christian left us for a while?”
My eyes dart to Christian and he’s gazing at me expectantly.
“Yes,” I whisper.
Christian frowns and opens his mouth but closes it again quickly and stands in one swift graceful movement.
“I’ll be in the waiting room,” he says, his mouth a flat, grumpy line.
Oh no.
“Thank you, Christian,” Dr. Flynn says impassively.
Christian gives me one long, searching look then stalks out of the room—but he doesn’t slam the door. Phew. I immediately relax.
“He intimidates you?”
“Yes. But not as much as he used to.” I feel disloyal but it’s the truth.
“That doesn’t surprise me, Ana. What can I help you with?”
I stare down at my knotted fingers. What can I ask?
“Dr. Flynn, I’ve never been in a relationship before, and Christian is . . . well, he’s Christian. And over the last week or so, a great deal has happened. I haven’t had a chance to think things through.”
“What do you need to think through?”
I glance up at him, and his head is cocked to one side as he gazes at me with compassion, I think.
“Well . . . Christian tells me that he’s happy to give up . . . er—” I stumble and pause. This is so much more difficult to discuss than I’d imagined.
Dr. Flynn sighs. “Ana, in the very limited time that you’ve known him, you’ve made more progress with my patient than I have in the last two years. You have had a profound effect on him. You must see that.”
“He’s had a profound effect on me, too. I just don’t know if I’m enough. To fulfill his needs,” I whisper.
“Is that what you need from me? Reassurance?”
I nod.
“Needs change,” he says simply. “Christian has found himself in a situation where his methods of coping are no longer effective. Very simply, you’ve forced him to confront some of his demons and rethink.”
I blink at him. This echoes what Christian has told me.
“Yes, his demons,” I murmur.
“We don’t dwell on them—they’re in the past. Christian knows what his demons are, as do I—and now I’m sure you do, too. I’m much more concerned with the future and getting Christian to a place where he wants to be.”
I frown and he raises an eyebrow.
“The technical term is SFBT—sorry.” He smiles. “That stands for Solution-Focused Brief Therapy. Essentially, it’s goal oriented. We concentrate on where Christian wants to be and how to get him there. It’s a dialectical approach. There’s no point in breast-beating about the past—all that’s been picked over by every physician, psychologist, and psychiatrist Christian’s ever seen. We know why he’s the way he is, but it’s the future that’s important. Where Christian envisages himself, where he wants to be. It took you walking out on him to make him take this form of therapy seriously. He realizes that his goal is a loving relationship with you. It’s that simple, and that’s what we’re working on now. Of course there are obstacles—his haphephobia for one.”
Oh jeez . . . his what? I gasp.
“I’m sorry. I mean his fear of being touched,” Dr. Flynn says, shaking his head as if scolding himself. “Which I’m sure you’re aware of.”
I flush and nod. Oh that!
“He has a morbid self-abhorrence. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you. And of course there’s the parasomnia . . . um—night terrors, sorry, to the layperson.”
I blink at him, trying to absorb all these long words. I know about all of this. But Flynn hasn’t mentioned my central concern.
“But he’s a sadist. Surely, as such, he has needs which I can’t fulfill.”
Dr. Flynn actually rolls his eyes, and his mouth presses into a hard line. “That’s no longer recognized as a psychiatric term. I don’t know how many times I have told him that. It’s not even classified as a paraphilia any more, not since the nineties.”
Dr. Flynn has lost me again. I blink at him. He smiles kindly at me.
“This is a pet peeve of mine.” He shakes his head. “Christian just thinks the worst of any given situation. It’s part of his self-abhorrence. Of course, there’s such a thing as sexual sadism, but it’s not a disease; it’s a lifestyle choice. And if it’s practiced in a safe, sane relationship between consenting adults, then it’s a nonissue. My understanding is that Christian has conducted all of his BDSM relationships in this manner. You’re the first lover who hasn’t consented, so he’s not willing to do it.”
“But surely it’s not that simple.”
“Why not?” Dr. Flynn shrugs good-naturedly.
“Well . . . the reasons he does it.”
“Ana, that’s the point. In terms of solution-focused therapy, it is that simple. Christian wants to be with you. In order to do that, he needs to forego the more extreme aspects of that kind of relationship. After all, what you’re asking for is not unreasonable . . . is it?”
I flush. No, it’s not unreasonable, is it?
“I don’t think so. But I worry that he does.”
“Christian recognizes that and has acted accordingly. He’s not insane.” Dr. Flynn sighs. “In a nutshell, he’s not a sadist, Ana. He’s an angry, frightened, brilliant young man, who was dealt a shit hand of cards when he was born. We can all beat our breasts about it, and analyze the who, the how and the why to death—or Christian can move on and decide how he wants to live. He’d found something that worked for him for a few years, more or less, but since he met you, it no longer works. And as a consequence, he’s changing his modus operandi. You and I have to respect his choice and support him in it.”
I gape at him. “That’s my reassurance?”
“As good as it gets, Ana. There are no guarantees in this life.” He smiles. “And that is my professional opinion.”
I smile, too, weakly. Doctor jokes . . . jeez.
“But he thinks of himself as a recovering alcoholic.”
“Christian will always think the worst of himself. As I said, it’s part of his self-abhorrence. It’s in his makeup, no matter what. Naturally he’s anxious about making this change in his life. He’s potentially exposing himself to a whole world of emotional pain, which, incidentally, he had a taste of when you left him. Naturally he’s apprehensive.” Dr. Flynn pauses. “I don’t mean to stress how important a role you have in his Damascene conversion—
his road to Damascus. But you have. Christian would not be in this place if he had not met you. Personally I don’t think that an alcoholic is a very good analogy, but if it works for him for now, then I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Give Christian the benefit of the doubt. I frown at the thought.
“Emotionally, Christian is an adolescent, Ana. He bypassed that phase in his life totally. He’s channeled all his energies into succeeding in the business world, and he has beyond all expectations. His emotional world has to play catch-up.”
“So how do I help?”
Dr. Flynn laughs. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” he grins at me. “Christian is head over heels. It’s a delight to see.”
I flush, and my inner goddess is hugging herself with glee, but something bothers me.
“Can I ask you one more thing?”
“Of course.”
I take a deep breath. “Part of me thinks that if he wasn’t this broken he wouldn’t . . . want me.”
Dr. Flynn’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “That’s a very negative thing to say about yourself, Ana. And frankly it says more about you than it does about Christian. It’s not quite up there with his self-loathing, but I’m surprised by it.”
“Well, look at him . . . and then look at me.”
Dr. Flynn frowns. “I have. I see an attractive young man, and I see an attractive young woman. Ana, why don’t you think of yourself as attractive?”
Oh no . . . I don’t want this to be about me. I stare down at my fingers. There’s a sharp knock on the door that makes me jump. Christian comes back into the room, glaring at both of us. I flush and glance quickly at Flynn, who is smiling benignly at Christian.
“Welcome back, Christian,” he says.
“I think time is up, John.”
“Nearly, Christian. Join us.”
Christian sits down, beside me this time, and places his hand possessively on my knee. His action does not go unnoticed by Dr. Flynn.
“Did you have any other questions, Ana?” Dr. Flynn asks and his concern is obvious. Shit . . . I should not have asked that question. I shake my head.
“Not today, John.”
Flynn nods.
“It may be beneficial if you both come again. I’m sure Ana will have more questions.”
Christian nods, reluctantly.
I flush. Shit . . . he wants to delve. Christian clasps my hand and regards me intently.
“Okay?” he asks softly.
I smile at him, nodding. Yes, we’re going for the benefit of the doubt, courtesy of the good doctor from England.
Christian squeezes my hand and turns to Flynn.
“How is she?” he asks softly.
“She’ll get there,” he says reassuringly.
“Good. Keep me updated of her progress.”
“I will.”
Holy fuck. They’re talking about Leila.
“Shall we go and celebrate your promotion?” Christian asks me pointedly.
I nod shyly as Christian stands.
We say our quick good-byes to Dr. Flynn, and Christian ushers me out with unseemly haste.
In the street, he turns to me. “How was that?” his voice is anxious.
“It was good.”
He regards me suspiciously. I cock my head to one side.
“Mr. Grey, please don’t look at me that way. Under doctor’s orders I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“What does that mean?”
“You’ll see.”
His mouth twists and his eyes narrow. “Get in the car,” he orders while opening the passenger door of the Saab.
Oh, change of direction. My Blackberry buzzes. I haul it out of my purse.
Shit, José!
“Ana, hi . . .”
I stare at Fifty, who is eyeing me suspiciously. “José,” I mouth at him. He stares impassively at me, but his eyes harden. Does he think I don’t notice? I turn my attention back to José.
“Sorry I haven’t called you. Is it about tomorrow?” I ask José, but stare up at Christian.
“Yeah, listen—I spoke with some guy at Grey’s place, so I know where I’m delivering the photos, and I should get there between five and six . . . after that, I’m free.”
“Well, I’m actually staying with Christian at the moment, and if you want to, he says you can stay at his place.”
Christian presses his mouth in a hard line. Hmm—some host he is.
José is silent for a moment, absorbing this news. I cringe. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about Christian.
“Okay,” he says eventually. “This thing with Grey, it’s serious?”
I turn away from the car and pace to the other side of the sidewalk.
“How serious?”
I roll my eyes and pause. Why does Christian have to be listening?
“Is he with you now? That why you’re speaking in monosyllables?”
“Okay. So are you allowed out tomorrow?”
“Of course I am.” I hope. I automatically cross my fingers.
“So where shall I meet you?”
“You could collect me from work,” I offer.
“I’ll text you the address.”
“What time?”
“Say six?”
“Sure. I’ll see you then, Ana. Looking forward to it. I miss you.”
I grin. “Cool. I’ll see you then.” I switch the phone off and turn.
Christian is leaning against the car watching me carefully, his expression impossible to read.
“How’s your friend?” he asks coolly.
“He’s well. He’ll pick me up from work, and I think we’ll go for a drink. Would you like to join us?”
Christian hesitates, his gray eyes cool. “You don’t think he’ll try anything?”
“No!” My tone is exasperated—but I refrain from rolling my eyes.
“Okay,” Christian holds his hands up in defeat. “You hang out with your friend, and I’ll see you later in the evening.”
I was expecting a fight, and his easy acquiescence throws me off balance.
“See? I can be reasonable.” He smirks.
My mouth twists. We’ll see about that.
“Can I drive?”
Christian blinks at me, surprised by my request.
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Why, exactly?”
“Because I don’t like to be driven.”
“You managed this morning, and you seem to tolerate Taylor driving you.”
“I trust Taylor’s driving implicitly.”
“And not mine?” I put my hands on my hips. “Honestly—your control freakery knows no bounds. I’ve been driving since I was fifteen.”
He shrugs in response, as if this is of no consequence whatsoever. Oh—he’s so exasperating! Benefit of the doubt? Well, screw that.
“Is this my car?” I demand.
He frowns at me. “Of course it’s your car.”
“Then give me the keys, please. I’ve driven it twice, and only to and from work. Now you’re having all the fun.” I am in full-on pout mode. Christian’s lips twitch with a repressed smile.
“But you don’t know where we’re going.”
“I’m sure you can enlighten me, Mr. Grey. You’ve done a great job of it so far.”
He gazes at me stunned then smiles, his new shy smile that totally disarms me and takes my breath away.
“Great job, eh?” he murmurs.
I blush. “Mostly, yes.”
“Well, in that case.” He hands me the keys, walks round to the driver’s door, and opens it for me.
“Left here,” Christian orders, and we head north toward the I-5. “Hell—gently, Ana.” He grabs hold of the dashboard.
Oh, for heaven’s sake. I roll my eyes, but don’t turn to look at him. Van Morrison croons in the background over the car sound system.
“Slow down!”
“I am slowing down!”
Christian sighs. “What did Flynn say?” I hear his anxiety leaching into his voice.
“I told you. He says I should give you the benefit of the doubt.” Damn—maybe I should have let Christian drive. Then I could watch him. In fact . . . I signal to pull over.
“What are you doing?” he snaps, alarmed.
“Letting you drive.”
“So I can look at you.”
He laughs. “No, no—you wanted to drive. So, you drive, and I’ll look at you.”
I scowl at him. “Keep your eyes on the road!” he shouts.
My blood boils. Right! I pull over to the curb just before a stoplight and storm out of the car, slamming the door, and stand on the sidewalk, arms folded, I glare at him. He climbs out of the car.
“What are you doing?” he asks angrily, staring down at me.
“No. What are you doing?”
“You can’t park here.”
“I know that.”
“So why have you?”
“Because I’ve had it with you barking orders. Either you drive or you shut up about my driving!”
“Anastasia, get back in the car before we get a ticket.”
He blinks at me, at a total loss, then runs his hands through his hair, and his anger becomes bewilderment. He looks so comical all of a sudden, and I can’t help but smile at him. He frowns.
“What?” he snaps once more.
“Oh, Anastasia! You are the most frustrating female on the planet.” He throws his hands in the air. “Fine—I’ll drive.” I grab the edges of his jacket and pull him to me.
“No—you are the most frustrating man on the planet, Mr. Grey.”
He gazes down at me, his eyes dark and intense, he snakes his arms around my waist and embraces me, holding me close.
“Maybe we’re meant for each other, then,” he says softly and inhales deeply, his nose in my hair. I wrap my arms around him and close my eyes. For the first time since this morning, I feel myself relax.
“Oh . . . Ana, Ana, Ana,” he breathes, his lips pressed against my hair. I tighten my arms around him, and we stand, immobile, enjoying a moment of unexpected tranquility, on the street. Releasing me, he opens the passenger door. I climb in and sit quietly, watching him walk around the car.
Restarting the car, Christian pulls out into the traffic, absentmindedly humming along to Van Morrison.
Whoa. I’ve never heard him sing, not even in the shower, ever. I frown. He has a lovely voice—of course. Hmm . . . has he heard me sing?
He wouldn’t be asking you to marry him if he had! My subconscious has her arms crossed and is wearing Burberry check . . . jeez. The song finishes and Christian smirks.
“You know, if we had gotten a ticket, the title of this car is in your name.”
“Well, good thing I’ve been promoted—I can afford the fine,” I say smugly, staring at his lovely profile. His lips twitch. Another Van Morrison song starts playing as he takes the on-ramp to I-5, heading north.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise. What else did Flynn say?”
I sigh. “He talked about FFFSTB or something.”
“SFBT. The latest therapy option,” he mutters.
“You’ve tried others?”
Christian snorts. “Baby, I’ve been subjected to them all. Cognitivism, Freud, functionalism, Gestalt, behaviorism . . . You name it, over the years I’ve done it,” he says and his tone betrays his bitterness. The rancor in his voice is distressing.
“Do you think this latest approach will help?”
“What did Flynn say?”
“He said not to dwell on your past. Focus on the future—on where you want to be.”
Christian nods but shrugs at the same time, his expression cautious.
“What else?” he persists.
“He talked about your fear of being touched, although he called it something else. And about your nightmares and your self-abhorrence.” I glance at him, and in the evening light, he’s pensive, chewing on his thumbnail as he drives. He glances quickly at me.
“Eyes on the road, Mr. Grey,” I admonish, my eyebrow cocked at him.
He looks amused, and slightly exasperated. “You were talking forever, Anastasia. What else did he say?”
I swallow. “He doesn’t think you’re a sadist,” I whisper.
“Really?” Christian says quietly and frowns. The atmosphere in the car takes a nosedive.
“He says that term’s not recognized in psychiatry. Not since the nineties,” I mutter, quickly trying to rescue the mood between us.
Christian’s face darkens, and he exhales slowly.
“Flynn and I have differing opinions on this,” he says quietly.
“He said you always think the worst of yourself. I know that’s true,” I murmur. “He also mentioned sexual sadism—but he said that was a lifestyle choice, not a psychiatric condition. Maybe that’s what you’re thinking about.”
His gray eyes flash toward me again, and his mouth sets in a grim line.
“So—one talk with the good doctor and you’re an expert,” he says acidly and turns his eyes front.
Oh dear . . . I sigh.
“Look—if you don’t want to hear what he said, don’t ask me,” I mutter softly.
I don’t want to argue. Anyway he’s right—what the hell do I know about all his shit? Do I even want to know? I can list the salient points—his control freakery, his possessiveness, his jealousy, his overprotectiveness—and I completely understand where he’s coming from. I can even understand why he doesn’t like to be touched—I’ve seen the physical scars. I can only imagine the mental ones, and I’ve only glimpsed his nightmares once. And Dr. Flynn said—
“I want to know what you discussed.” Christian interrupts my thoughts as he heads off I-5 on exit 172, heading west toward the slowly sinking sun.
“He called me your lover.”
“Did he now?” His tone is conciliatory. “Well, he’s nothing if not fastidious about his terms. I think that’s an accurate description. Don’t you?”
“Did you think of your subs as lovers?”
Christian’s brow creases once more, but this time he’s thinking. He turns the Saab smoothly north once again. Where are we going?
“No. They were sexual partners,” he murmurs, his voice cautious again. “You’re my only lover. And I want you to be more.”
Oh . . . there’s that magical word again, brimming with possibility. It makes me smile, and inside I hug myself, my inner goddess radiating joy.
“I know,” I whisper, trying hard to hide my excitement. “I just need some time, Christian. To get my head around these last few days.” He glances at me oddly, perplexed, his head inclined to one side.
After a beat, the stoplight we’re stationed at turns green. He nods and turns the music up, and our discussion is over.
Van Morrison is still singing—more optimistically now—about it being a marvelous night for moondancing. I gaze out the windows at the pines and spruce dusted gold by the fading light of the sun, their long shadows stretching across the road. Christian has turned into a more residential street, and we’re heading west toward the Sound.
“Where are we going?” I ask again as we turn into a road. I catch a road sign—9th Ave NW. I am baffled.
“Surprise,” he says and smiles mysteriously.

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