Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fifty Shades Darker CHAPTER 21


CHAPTER 21

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

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