Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fifty Shades Darker CHAPTER 9


I cannot contain my jubilation. My subconscious gapes at me open-mouthed—in stunned silence—and I wear a face-splitting grin as I gaze longingly up into Christian’s wide, tortured eyes.
His soft sweet confession calls to me on some deep elemental level as if he’s seeking absolution; his three small words are my manna from heaven. Tears prick my eyes once more. Yes, you do. I know you do.
It’s such a liberating realization as if a crushing millstone has been tossed aside. This beautiful, fucked-up man, whom I once thought of as my romantic hero—strong, solitary, mysterious—possesses all these traits, but he’s also fragile and alienated and full of self-loathing. My heart swells with joy but also pain for his suffering. And I know in this moment that my heart is big enough for both of us. I hope it’s big enough for both of us.
I reach up to clasp his dear, dear, handsome face and kiss him gently, pouring all the love I feel into this one sweet connection. I want to devour him beneath the hot cascading water. Christian groans and encircles me in his arms, holding me as if I am the air he needs to breathe.
“Oh, Ana,” he whispers hoarsely, “I want you, but not here.”
“Yes,” I murmur fervently into his mouth.
He switches off the shower and takes my hand, leading me out and enfolding me in my bathrobe. Grabbing a towel, he wraps it around his waist, then takes a smaller one and begins to gently dry my hair. When he’s satisfied, he swathes the towel around my head so that in the large mirror over the sink I look like I’m wearing a veil. He’s standing behind me and our eyes meet in the mirror, smoldering gray to bright blue, and it gives me an idea.
“Can I reciprocate?” I ask.
He nods, though his brow creases. I reach for another towel from the plethora of fluffy towels stacked beside the vanity, and standing before him on tiptoe, I start to dry his hair. He bends forward, making the process easier, and as I catch the occasional glimpse of his face beneath the towel, I see he’s grinning at me like a small boy.
“It’s a long time since anyone did this to me. A very long time,” he murmurs, but then frowns. “In fact I don’t think anyone’s ever dried my hair.”
“Surely Grace did? Dried your hair when you were young?”
He shakes his head, hampering my progress.
“No. She respected my boundaries from day one, even though it was painful for her. I was very self-sufficient as a child,” he says quietly.
I feel a swift kick in the ribs as I think of a small copper-haired child looking after himself because no one else cares. The thought is sickeningly sad. But I don’t want my melancholy to hijack this blossoming intimacy.
“Well, I’m honored,” I gently tease him.
“That you are, Miss Steele. Or maybe it is I who am honored.”
“That goes without saying, Mr. Grey,” I respond tartly.
I finish with his hair, reach for another small towel, and move round to stand behind him. Our eyes meet again in the mirror, and his watchful, questioning look prompts me to speak.
“Can I try something?”
After a moment, he nods. Warily, and very gently, I run the soft cloth down his left arm, soaking up the water that has beaded on his skin. Glancing up, I check his expression in the mirror. He blinks at me, his eyes burning into mine.
I lean forward and kiss his bicep, and his lips part infinitesimally. I dry his other arm in a similar fashion, trailing kisses around his bicep, and a small smile plays on his lips. Carefully, I wipe his back beneath the faint lipstick line, which is still visible. I hadn’t gotten round to washing his back.
“Whole back,” he says quietly, “with the towel.” He takes a sharp breath and screws his eyes closed as I briskly dry him, careful to touch him only with the towel.
He has such an attractive back—broad, sculptured shoulders, all the small muscles clearly defined. He really looks after himself. The beautiful sight is marred only by his scars.
With difficulty, I ignore them and suppress my overwhelming urge to kiss each and every one. When I finish he exhales, and I lean forward and reward him with a kiss on his shoulder. Putting my arms around him, I dry his stomach. Our eyes meet once more in the mirror, his expression amused but wary, too.
“Hold this.” I hand him a smaller face towel, and he gives me a bemused frown. “Remember in Georgia? You made me touch myself using your hands,” I add.
His face darkens, but I ignore his reaction and put my arms around him. Gazing at us both in the mirror—his beauty, his nakedness, and me with my covered hair—we look almost Biblical, as if from an Old Testament baroque painting.
I reach for his hand, which he willingly entrusts to me, and guide it up to his chest to dry it, sweeping the towel slowly, awkwardly across his body. Once, twice—then again. He’s completely immobilized, rigid with tension, except for his eyes, which follow my hand clasped around his.
My subconscious looks on with approval, her normally pursed mouth smiling, and I am the supreme puppet master. His anxiety ripples off his back in waves, but he maintains eye contact, though his eyes are darker, more deadly. Showing their secrets maybe.
Is this a place I want to go? Do I want to confront his demons?
“I think you’re dry now,” I whisper as I drop my hand, gazing into the gray depths of his eyes in the mirror. His breathing is accelerated, lips parted.
“I need you, Anastasia,” he whispers.
“I need you, too.” And as I say the words, I am struck how true they are. I cannot imagine being without Christian, ever.
“Let me love you,” he says hoarsely.
“Yes,” I answer, and turning, he hauls me into his arms, his lips seeking mine, beseeching me, worshipping me, cherishing me . . . loving me.
He trails his fingers up and down my spine as we gaze at each other, basking in our postcoital bliss, replete. We lie together, me on my front hugging my pillow, he on his side, and I am treasuring his tender touch. I know that right now he needs to touch me. I am a balm for him, a source of solace, and how could I deny him that? I feel exactly the same about him.
“So you can be gentle,” I murmur.
“Hmm . . . so it would seem, Miss Steele.”
I grin. “You weren’t particularly the first time we . . . um, did this.”
“No?” He smirks. “When, I robbed you of your virtue.”
“I don’t think you robbed me,” I mutter haughtily—Jeez, I’m not a helpless maiden. “I think my virtue was offered up pretty freely and willingly. I wanted you, too, and if I remember correctly, I rather enjoyed myself.” I smile shyly at him, biting my lip.
“So did I if I recall, Miss Steele. We aim to please,” he drawls and his face softens, serious. “And it means you’re mine, completely.” All trace of humor has vanished as he gazes at me.
“Yes, I am,” I murmur back at him. “I wanted to ask you something.”
“Go ahead.”
“Your biological father . . . do you know who he was?” This thought has been bugging me.
His brow creases, and then he shakes his head. “I have no idea. Wasn’t the savage who was her pimp, which is good.”
“How do you know?”
“Something my dad . . . something Carrick said to me.”
I gaze at my Fifty expectantly, waiting. He smirks at me.
“So hungry for information, Anastasia,” he sighs, shaking his head. “The pimp discovered the crack whore’s body and phoned it in to the authorities. Took him four days to make the discovery though. He shut the door when he left . . . left me with her . . . her body.” His eyes cloud at the memory.
I inhale sharply. Poor baby boy—the horror is too grim to contemplate.
“Police interviewed him later. He denied flat out I was anything to do with him, and Carrick said he looked nothing like me.”
“Do you remember what he did look like?”
“Anastasia, this isn’t a part of my life I revisit very often. Yes, I remember what he looked like. I’ll never forget him.” Christian’s face darkens and hardens, becoming more angular, his eyes frosting with anger. “Can we talk about something else?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
He shakes his head. “It’s old news, Ana. Not something I want to think about.”
“So what’s this surprise, then?” I need to change the subject before he goes all Fifty on me. His expression lightens immediately.
“Can you face going out for some fresh air? I want to show you something.”
“Of course.”
I marvel how quickly he turns—mercurial as ever. He grins at me with his boyish, carefree, I’m-only-twenty-seven smile, and my heart lurches into my mouth. So it’s something close to his heart, I can tell. He swats me playfully on my behind.
“Get dressed. Jeans will be good. I hope Taylor’s packed some for you.”
He rises and pulls on his boxer briefs. Oh . . . I could sit here all day, watching him wander around the room. My inner goddess agrees, swooning as she ogles from her chaise longue.
“Up,” he scolds, bossy as ever. I gaze at him, grinning.
“Just admiring the view.”
He rolls his eyes at me.
As we dress, I notice that we move with the synchronization of two people who know each other well, each watchful and acutely aware of the other, exchanging the occasional shy smile and sweet touch. And it dawns on me that this is just as new for him as it is for me.
“Dry your hair,” Christian orders once we’re dressed.
“Domineering as ever.” I smirk at him, and he leans down to kiss my hair.
“That’s never going to change, baby. I don’t want you sick.”
I roll my eyes at him, and his mouth twists in amusement.
“My palms still twitch, you know, Miss Steele.”
“I am glad to hear it, Mr. Grey. I was beginning to think you were losing your edge,” I retort.
“I could easily demonstrate that is not the case, should you so wish.” Christian drags a large, cream, cable-knit sweater out of his bag and drapes it artfully over his shoulders. With his white T-shirt and jeans, his artfully rumpled hair, and now this, he looks as if he’s stepped out of the pages of a high-end glossy magazine.
No one should look this good. And I don’t know if it’s the momentary distraction of his sheer perfect looks or the knowledge that he loves me, but his threat no longer fills me with dread. This is my Fifty Shades; this is the way he is.
As I reach for the hairdryer, a tangible ray of hope blossoms. We will find a middle way. We just have to recognize each other’s needs and accommodate them. I can do that, surely?
I gaze at myself in the dresser mirror. I’m wearing the pale blue shirt that Taylor bought and had packed for me. My hair is a mess, my face flushed, my lips swollen—I touch them, remembering Christian’s searing kisses, and I can’t help a small smile as I stare. Yes, I do, he said.
“Where are we going exactly?” I ask as we wait in the lobby for the parking valet.
Christian taps the side of his nose and winks at me conspiratorially, looking like he’s desperately trying to contain his glee. Frankly, it’s very un-Fifty.
He was like this when we went gliding—perhaps that’s what we’re doing. I beam back at him. He stares down his nose at me in that superior way he has with his lopsided grin. Leaning down, he kisses me gently.
“Do you have any idea how happy you make me feel?” he murmurs.
“Yes . . . I know exactly. Because you do the same for me.”
The valet zooms up in Christian’s car, wearing a face-splitting grin. Jeez, everyone is so happy today.
“Great car, sir,” he mumbles as he hands over the keys. Christian winks and gives him an obscenely large tip.
I frown at him. Honestly.
As we cruise through the traffic, Christian is deep in thought. A young woman’s voice comes over the loudspeakers; it has a beautiful, rich, mellow timbre, and I lose myself in her sad, soulful voice.
“I need to make a detour. It shouldn’t take long,” he says absentmindedly, distracting me from the song.
Oh, why? I’m intrigued to know the surprise. My inner goddess is bouncing about like a five-year-old.
“Sure,” I murmur. Something is amiss. Suddenly, he looks grimly determined.
He pulls into the parking lot of large car dealership, stops the car, and turns to face me, his expression wary.
“We need to get you a new car,” he says. I gape at him.
Now? On a Sunday? What the hell? And this is a Saab dealership.
“Not an Audi?” is, stupidly, the only thing I can think of to say, and bless him, he actually flushes.
Holy cow—Christian, embarrassed. This is a first.
“I thought you might like something else,” he mutters. He’s almost squirming.
Oh, please . . . This is too valuable an opportunity not to tease him. I smirk. “A Saab?”
“Yeah. A 9-3. Come.”
“What is it with you and foreign cars?”
“The Germans and the Swedes make the safest cars in the world, Anastasia.”
Do they? “I thought you’d already ordered me another Audi A3?”
He gives me a darkly amused look. “I can cancel that. Come.” Climbing smoothly out of the car, he strolls gracefully to my side and opens my door.
“I owe you a graduation present,” he says softly and holds his hand out for me.
“Christian, you really don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, I do. Please. Come.” His tone says he’s not to be trifled with.
I resign myself to my fate. A Saab? Do I want a Saab? I quite like the Audi Submissive Special. It was very nifty.
Of course, now it’s under a ton of white paint . . . I shudder. And she’s still out there.
I take Christian’s hand, and we wander into the showroom.
Troy Turniansky, the salesman, is all over Fifty like a cheap suit. He can smell a sale. Weirdly his accent sounds mid-Atlantic, maybe British? It’s difficult to tell.
“A Saab, sir? Pre-owned?” He rubs his hands with glee.
“New.” Christian’s lips set into a hard line.
“Did you have a model in mind, sir?” And he’s smarmy, too.
“9-3 2.0T Sport Sedan.”
“An excellent choice, sir.”
“What color, Anastasia?” Christian inclines his head.
“Er . . . black?” I shrug. “You really don’t need to do this.”
He frowns. “Black’s not easily seen at night.”
Oh, for heaven’s sake. I resist the temptation to roll my eyes. “You have a black car.”
He scowls at me.
“Bright canary yellow then.” I shrug.
Christian makes a face—canary yellow is obviously not his thing.
“What color do you want me to have?” I ask as if he’s a small child, which he is in many ways. The thought is unwelcome—sad and sobering at once.
“Silver or white.”
“Silver, then. You know I’ll take the Audi,” I add, chastened by my thoughts.
Troy pales, sensing he’s losing a sale. “Perhaps you’d like the convertible, ma’am?” he asks, clapping his hands with enthusiasm.
My subconscious is cringing in disgust, mortified by the whole buying-a-car business, but my inner goddess tackles her to the floor. Convertible? Drool!
Christian frowns and peers at me. “Convertible?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
I flush. It’s like he has a direct hotline to my inner goddess, which of course, he has. It’s most inconvenient at times. I stare down at my hands.
Christian turns to Troy. “What are the safety stats on the convertible?”
Troy, sensing Christian’s vulnerability, heads in for the kill, reeling off all manner of statistics.
Of course, Christian wants me safe. It’s a religion with him, and like the zealot he is, he listens intently to Troy’s well-honed patter. Fifty really does care.
Yes. I do. I remember his whispered, choked words from this morning, and a melting glow spreads like warm honey through my veins. This man—God’s gift to women—loves me.
I find myself grinning goofily at him, and when he glances down at me, he’s amused yet puzzled by my expression. I just want to hug myself, I am so happy.
“Whatever you’re high on, I’d like some, Miss Steele,” he murmurs as Troy heads off to his computer.
“I’m high on you, Mr. Grey.”
“Really? Well you certainly look intoxicated.” He kisses me briefly. “And thank you for accepting the car. That was easier than last time.”
“Well, it’s not an Audi A3.”
He smirks. “That’s not the car for you.”
“I liked it.”
“Sir, the 9-3? I’ve located one at our Beverly Hills dealership. We can have it here for you in a couple of days.” Troy glows with triumph.
“Top of the range?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Excellent.” Christian produces his credit card, or is it Taylor’s? The thought is unnerving. I wonder how Taylor is, and if he’s located Leila in the apartment. I rub my forehead. Yes, there’s all of Christian’s baggage, too.
“If you’ll come this way, Mr.”—Troy glances at the name on the card—“Grey.”
Christian opens my door, and I climb back into the passenger seat.
“Thank you,” I say when he’s seated beside me.
He smiles.
“You’re most welcome, Anastasia.”
The music starts again as Christian starts the engine.
“Who’s this?” I ask.
“Eva Cassidy.”
“She has a lovely voice.”
“She does, she did.”
“She died young.”
“Are you hungry? You didn’t finish all your breakfast.” He glances quickly at me, disapproval outlined on his face.
Uh-oh. “Yes.”
“Lunch first, then.”
Christian drives toward the waterfront then heads north along the Alaskan Way. It’s another beautiful day in Seattle. It’s been uncharacteristically fine for the last few weeks, I muse.
Christian looks happy and relaxed as we sit back listening to Eva Cassidy’s sweet, soulful voice and cruise down the highway. Have I ever felt this comfortable in his company before? I don’t know.
I am less nervous of his moods, confident that he won’t punish me, and he seems more comfortable with me, too. He turns left, following the coast road, and eventually pulls up in a parking lot opposite a vast marina.
“We’ll eat here. I’ll open your door,” he says in such a way that I know it’s not wise to move, and I watch him move around the car. Will this ever get old?
We stroll arm in arm to the waterfront where the marina stretches out in front of us.
“So many boats,” I murmur in wonder. There are hundreds of them in all shapes and sizes, bobbing up and down on the calm, still waters of the marina. Out on the Sound there are dozens of sails in the wind, weaving to and fro, enjoying the fine weather. It’s a wholesome, outdoorsy sight. The wind has picked up a little, so I pull my jacket around me.
“Cold?” he asks and pulls me tightly against him.
“No, just admiring the view.”
“I could stare at it all day. Come, this way.”
Christian leads me into a large seafront bar and makes his way to the counter. The décor is more New England than West Coast—white-limed walls, pale blue furnishings, and boating paraphernalia hanging everywhere. It’s a bright, cheery place.
“Mr. Grey!” the barman greets Christian warmly. “What can I get you this afternoon?”
“Dante, good afternoon.” Christian grins as we both slip onto bar stools. “This lovely lady is Anastasia Steele.”
“Welcome to SP’s Place.” Dante gives me a friendly smile. He’s black and beautiful, his dark eyes assessing me and not finding me wanting, it seems. One large diamond stud winks at me from his ear. I like him immediately.
“What would you like to drink, Anastasia?”
I glance at Christian, who regards me expectantly. Oh, he’s going to let me choose.
“Please, call me Ana, and I’ll have whatever Christian’s drinking.” I smile shyly at Dante. Fifty’s so much better at wine than I am.
“I’m going to have a beer. This is the only bar in Seattle where you can get Adnam’s Explorer.”
“A beer?”
“Yes.” He grins at me. “Two Explorers, please, Dante.”
Dante nods and sets up the beers on the bar.
“They do a delicious seafood chowder here,” Christian says.
He’s asking me.
“Chowder and beer sounds great.” I smile at him.
“Two chowders?” Dante asks.
“Please.” Christian grins at him.
We talk through our meal, as we never have before. Christian is relaxed and calm—he looks young, happy, and animated despite all that transpired yesterday. He recounts the history of Grey Enterprises Holdings, and the more he reveals, the more I sense his passion for fixing problem companies, his hopes for the technology he’s developing, and his dreams of making land in the third world more productive. I listen enraptured. He’s funny, clever, philanthropic, and beautiful, and he loves me.
In turn, he plagues me with questions about Ray and my mom, about growing up in the lush forests of Montesano, and my brief stints in Texas and Vegas. He demands to know my favorite books and films, and I’m surprised by how much we have in common.
As we talk, it strikes me that he’s turned from Hardy’s Alec to Angel, debasement to high ideal in such a short space of time.
It’s after two when we finish our meal. Christian settles the tab with Dante, who wishes us a fond farewell.
“This is a great place. Thank you for lunch,” I say as Christian takes my hand and we leave the bar.
“We’ll come again,” he says, and we stroll along the waterfront. “I wanted to show you something.”
“I know . . . and I can’t wait to see it, whatever it is.”
We wander hand in hand along the marina. It is such a pleasant afternoon. People are out enjoying their Sunday—walking dogs, admiring the boats, watching their kids run along the promenade.
As we head down the marina, the boats are getting progressively larger. Christian leads me on to the dock and stops in front of a huge catamaran.
“I thought we’d go sailing this afternoon. This is my boat.”
Holy cow. It must be at least forty, maybe fifty feet. Two sleek white hulls, a deck, a roomy cabin, and towering over them a very tall mast. I know nothing about boats, but I can tell this one is special.
“Wow . . . ,” I murmur in wonder.
“Built by my company,” he says proudly and my heart swells. “She’s been designed from the ground up by the very best naval architects in the world and constructed here in Seattle at my yard. She has hybrid electric drives, asymmetric dagger boards, a square-topped mainsail—”
“Okay . . . you’ve lost me, Christian.”
He grins. “She’s a great boat.”
“She looks mighty fine, Mr. Grey.”
“That she does, Miss Steele.”
“What’s her name?”
He pulls me to the side so I can see her name: The Grace. I’m surprised. “You named her after your mom?”
“Yes.” He cocks his head to one side, quizzical. “Why do you find that strange?”
I shrug. I am surprised—he always seems ambivalent in her presence.
“I adore my mom, Anastasia. Why wouldn’t I name a boat after her?”
I flush. “No, it’s not that . . . it’s just . . .” Shit, how can I put this into words?
“Anastasia, Grace Trevelyan saved my life. I owe her everything.”
I gaze at him, and let the reverence in his softly spoken admission wash over me. It’s obvious to me, for the first time, that he loves his mom. Why then his strange strained ambivalence toward her?
“Do you want to come aboard?” he asks, his eyes bright, excited.
“Yes, please.” I smile.
He looks delighted and delightful in one yummy scrumptious package. Grasping my hand, he strides up the small gangplank and leads me aboard so that we are standing on deck beneath a rigid canopy.
To one side there’s a table and a U-shaped banquette covered in pale blue leather, which must seat at least eight people. I glance through the sliding doors to the interior of the cabin and jump, startled when I spy someone there. The tall blond man opens the sliding doors and emerges—all tanned, curly-haired and brown-eyed—wearing a faded pink short-sleeved polo shirt, shorts, and deck shoes. He must be in his early thirties.
“Mac.” Christian beams.
“Mr. Grey! Welcome back.” They shake hands.
“Anastasia, this is Liam McConnell. Liam, my girlfriend, Anastasia Steele.”
Girlfriend! My inner goddess performs a quick arabesque. She’s still grinning over the convertible. I have to get used to this—it’s not the first time he’s said it, but hearing him say it is still a thrill.
“How do you do?” Liam and I shake hands.
“Call me Mac,” he says warmly, and I can’t place his accent. “Welcome aboard, Miss Steele.”
“Ana, please,” I mutter, flushing. He has deep brown eyes.
“How’s she shaping up, Mac?” Christian interjects quickly, and for a moment, I think he’s talking about me.
“She’s ready to rock and roll, sir,” Mac beams. Oh, the boat, The Grace. Silly me.
“Let’s get underway, then.”
“You going to take her out?”
“Yep.” Christian flashes Mac a quick wicked grin. “Quick tour, Anastasia?”
“Yes, please.”
I follow him inside the cabin. An L-shaped cream leather sofa is directly in front of us, and above it, a massive curved window offers a panoramic view of the marina. To the left is the kitchen area—very well appointed, all pale wood.
“This is the main saloon. Galley beside,” Christian says, waving his hand in the direction of the kitchen.
He takes my hand and leads me through the main cabin. It’s surprisingly spacious. The floor is the same pale wood. It looks modern and sleek and has a light, airy feel, but it’s all very functional, as if he doesn’t spend much time here.
“Bathrooms on either side.” Christian points to two doors, then opens the small, oddly shaped door directly in front of us and steps in. We’re in a plush bedroom. Oh . . .
It has a king-size cabin bed and is all pale blue linen and pale wood like his bedroom at Escala. Christian obviously chooses a theme and sticks to it.
“This is the master cabin.” He gazes down at me, gray eyes glowing. “You’re the first girl in here, apart from family,” he smirks. “They don’t count.”
I flush under his heated stare, and my pulse quickens. Really? Another first. He pulls me into his arms, his fingers tangling in my hair, and kisses me, long and hard. We’re both breathless when he pulls away.
“Might have to christen this bed,” he whispers against my mouth.
Oh, at sea!
“But not right now. Come, Mac will be casting off.” I ignore the stab of disappointment as he takes my hand and leads me back through the saloon. He indicates another door.
“Office in there, and at the front here, two more cabins.”
“So how many can sleep on board?”
“It’s a six-berth cat. I’ve only ever had the family on board, though. I like to sail alone. But not when you’re here. I need to keep an eye on you.”
He delves into a chest and pulls out a bright red lifejacket.
“Here.” Putting it over my head, he tightens all the straps, a faint smile playing on his lips.
“You love strapping me in, don’t you?”
“In any form,” he says, a wicked grin playing on his lips.
“You are a pervert.”
“I know.” He raises his eyebrows and his grin broadens.
“My pervert,” I whisper.
“Yes, yours.”
Once secured, he grabs the sides of the jacket and kisses me. “Always,” he breathes, then releases me before I have a chance to respond.
Always! Holy shit.
“Come.” He grabs my hand and leads me outside, up some steps, and onto the upper deck to a small cockpit that houses a big steering wheel and a raised seat. At the prow of the boat, Mac is doing something with ropes.
“Is this where you learned all your rope tricks?” I ask Christian innocently.
“Clove hitches have come in handy,” he says, looking at me appraisingly. “Miss Steele, you sound curious. I like you curious, baby. I’d be more than happy to demonstrate what I can do with a rope.” He smirks at me, and I gaze back impassively as if he’s upset me. His face falls.
“Gotcha.” I grin.
His mouth twists and he narrows his eyes. “I may have to deal with you later, but right now, I’ve got to drive my boat.” He sits at the controls, presses a button, and the engines roar into life.
Mac comes scooting back down the side of the boat, grinning at me, and jumps down to the deck below where he starts to unfasten a rope. Maybe he knows some rope tricks, too. The idea pops unwelcome into my head and I flush.
My subconscious glares at me. Mentally I shrug at her and glance at Christian—I blame Fifty. He picks up the receiver and radios the coastguard as Mac calls up that we are set to go.
Once more, I am dazzled by Christian’s expertise. He’s so competent. Is there nothing that this man can’t do? Then I remember his earnest attempt to chop and dice a pepper in my apartment on Friday. The thought makes me smile.
Slowly, Christian eases The Grace out of her berth and toward the marina entrance. Behind us, a small crowd has gathered on the dockside to watch our departure. Small children are waving, and I wave back.
Christian glances over his shoulder, then pulls me between his legs and points out various dials and gadgets in the cockpit. “Grab the wheel,” he orders, bossy as ever, but I do as I’m told.
“Aye, aye, captain!” I giggle.
Placing his hands snugly over mine, he continues to steer our course out of the marina, and within a few minutes, we are out on the open sea, slap into the cold blue waters of Puget Sound. Away from the shelter of the marina’s protective wall, the wind is stronger, and the sea pitches and rolls beneath us.
I can’t help but grin, feeling Christian’s excitement—this is such fun. We make a large curve until we are heading west toward the Olympic Peninsula, the wind behind us.
“Sail time,” Christian says, excited. “Here—you take her. Keep her on this course.”
What? He grins, reacting to the horror in my face.
“Baby, it’s really easy. Hold the wheel and keep your eye on the horizon over the bow. You’ll do great; you always do. When the sails go up, you’ll feel the drag. Just hold her steady. I’ll signal like this”—he makes a slashing motion across his throat—“and you can cut the engines. This button here.” He points to a large black button. “Understand?”
“Yes.” I nod frantically, feeling panicky. Jeez—I hadn’t expected to do anything!
He kisses me quickly, then he steps off his captain’s chair and bounds up to the front of the boat to join Mac where he starts unfurling sails, untying ropes, and operating winches and pulleys. They work well together in a team, shouting various nautical terms to each other, and it’s warming to see Fifty interacting with someone else in such a carefree manner.
Perhaps Mac is Fifty’s friend. He doesn’t seem to have many, as far as I can tell, but then, I don’t have many either. Well, not here in Seattle. The only friend I have is on vacation sunning herself in St. James on the west coast of Barbados.
I have a sudden pang for Kate. I miss my roommate more than I thought I would when she left. I hope she changes her mind and comes home with her brother Ethan, rather than prolong her stay with Christian’s brother Elliot.
Christian and Mac hoist the mainsail. It fills and billows out as the wind seizes it hungrily, and the boat lurches suddenly, zipping forward. I feel it through the wheel. Whoa!
They get to work on the headsail, and I watch fascinated as it flies up the mast. The wind catches it, stretching it taut.
“Hold her steady, baby, and cut the engines!” Christian cries out to me over the wind, motioning me to switch off the engines. I can only just hear his voice, but I nod enthusiastically,
gazing at the man I love, all windswept, exhilarated, and bracing himself against the pitch and yaw of the boat.
I press the button, the roar of the engines ceases, and The Grace soars toward the Olympic Peninsula, skimming across the water as if she’s flying. I want to yell and scream and cheer—this has to be one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life—except perhaps the glider, and maybe the Red Room of Pain.
Holy cow, this boat can move! I stand firm, grasping the wheel, fighting the rudder, and Christian is behind me once more, his hands on mine.
“What do you think?” he shouts above the sound of the wind and the sea.
“Christian! This is fantastic.”
He beams, grinning from ear to ear. “You wait until the spinney’s up.” He points with his chin toward Mac, who is unfurling the spinnaker—a sail that’s a dark, rich red. It reminds me of the walls in the playroom.
“Interesting color,” I shout.
He gives me a wolfish grin and winks. Oh, it’s deliberate.
The spinney balloons out—a large, odd elliptical shape—putting The Grace in overdrive. Finding her head, she speeds over the Sound.
“Asymmetrical sail. For speed.” Christian answers my unasked question.
“It’s amazing.” I can think of nothing better to say. I have the most ridiculous grin on my face as we whip through the water, heading for the majesty of the Olympic Mountains and Bainbridge Island. Glancing back, I see Seattle shrinking behind us, Mount Rainier in the far distance.
I had not really appreciated how beautiful and rugged Seattle’s surrounding landscape is—verdant, lush, and temperate, tall evergreens and cliff faces jutting out here and there. It has a wild but serene beauty on this glorious sunny afternoon that takes my breath away. The stillness is stunning compared to our speed as we whip across the water.
“How fast are we going?”
“She’s doing 15 knots.”
“I have no idea what that means.”
“It’s about 17 miles an hour.”
“Is that all? It feels much faster.”
He squeezes my hands, smiling. “You look lovely, Anastasia. It’s good to see some color in your cheeks . . . and not from blushing. You look like you do in José’s photos.”
I turn and kiss him.
“You know how to show a girl a good time, Mr. Grey.”
“We aim to please, Miss Steele.” He scoops my hair out of the way and kisses the back of my neck, sending delicious tingles down my spine. “I like seeing you happy,” he murmurs and tightens his arms around me.
I gaze out over the wide blue water, wondering what I could possibly have done in the past to have fortune smile and deliver this beautiful man to me.
Yes, you’re a lucky bitch, my subconscious snaps. But you have your work cut out with him. He’s not going to want this vanilla crap forever . . . you’re going to have to compromise. I glare mentally at her snarky, insolent face and rest my head against Christian’s
chest. But deep down I know my subconscious is right, but I banish the thoughts. I don’t want to spoil my day.
An hour later, we are anchored in a small, secluded cove off Bainbridge Island. Mac has gone ashore in the inflatable—for what, I don’t know—but I have my suspicions because as soon as Mac starts the outboard engine, Christian grabs my hand and practically drags me into his cabin, a man with a mission.
Now he stands before me, exuding his intoxicating sensuality as his deft fingers make quick work of the straps on my lifejacket. He tosses it to one side and gazes intently down at me, eyes dark, dilated.
I’m already lost and he’s barely touched me. He raises his hand to my face, and his fingers move down my chin, the column of my throat, my sternum, searing me with his touch, to the first button of my blue blouse.
“I want to see you,” he breathes and dexterously undoes the button. Bending, he plants a soft kiss on my parted lips. I am panting and eager, aroused by the potent combination of his captivating beauty, his raw sexuality in the confines of this cabin, and the gentle sway of the boat. He stands back.
“Strip for me,” he whispers, eyes burning.
Oh my. I’m only too happy to comply. Not taking my eyes off his, I slowly undo each button, savoring his scorching gaze. Oh, this is heady stuff. I can see his desire—it’s evident on his face . . . and elsewhere.
I let my shirt fall to the floor and reach for the button on my jeans.
“Stop,” he orders. “Sit.”
I sit down on the edge of the bed, and in one fluid movement he’s on his knees in front of me, undoing the laces of first one and then the other sneaker, pulling each off, followed by my socks. He picks up my left foot and raising it, plants a soft kiss on the pad of my big toe, then grazes his teeth against it.
“Ah!” I moan as I feel the effect in my groin. He stands in one smooth move, holds his hand out to me, and pulls me up off the bed.
“Continue,” he says and stands back to watch me.
I ease the zipper of my jeans down and hook my thumbs in the waistband as I sashay then slide the denim down my legs. A soft smile plays on his lips, but his eyes remain dark.
And I don’t know if it’s because he made love to me this morning, and I mean really made love to me, gently, sweetly, or if it was his impassioned declaration—yes . . . I do—but I don’t feel embarrassed at all. I want to be sexy for this man. He deserves sexy—he makes me feel sexy.
Okay, it’s new to me, but I’m learning under his expert tutelage. And then again, so much is new to him, too. It balances the seesaw between us, a little, I think.
I am wearing some of my new underwear—a white lacy thong and matching bra—a designer brand with a price tag to match. I step out of my jeans and stand there for him in the lingerie he’s paid for, but I no longer feel cheap. I feel his.
Reaching behind I unhook my bra, sliding the straps down my arms, and drop it on top of my blouse. Slowly, I slip my panties off, letting them fall to my ankles, and step out of them, surprised by my grace.
Standing before him, I am naked and unashamed, and I know it’s because he loves me. I no longer have to hide. He says nothing, just gazes at me. All I see is his desire, his adoration even, and something else, the depth of his need—the depth of his love for me.
He reaches down, lifts the hem of his cream-colored sweater, and pulls it over his head, followed by his T-shirt, revealing his chest, never taking his bold gray eyes off mine. His shoes and socks follow before he grasps the button of his jeans.
Reaching over, I whisper, “Let me.”
His lips purse briefly into an ooh shape, and he smiles. “Be my guest.”
I step toward him, slip my fearless fingers inside the waistband of his jeans, and tug so he’s forced to take a step closer to me. He gasps involuntarily at my unexpected audacity then smiles down at me. I undo the button, but before I unzip him I let my fingers wander, tracing his erection through the soft denim. He flexes his hips into my palm and closes his eyes briefly, relishing my touch.
“You’re getting so bold, Ana, so brave,” he whispers and clasps my face with both hands, bending to kiss me deeply.
I put my hands on his hips—half on his cool skin and half on the low-slung waistband of his jeans. “So are you,” I murmur against his lips as my thumbs rub slow circles on his skin, and he smiles.
“Getting there.”
I move my hands to the front of his jeans and pull down the zipper. My intrepid fingers move through his pubic hair to his erection, and I grasp him tightly.
He makes a low sound in his throat, his sweet breath washing over me, and he kisses me again, lovingly. As my hand moves over him, around him, stroking him, squeezing him tightly, he puts his arms around me, his right hand flat against the middle of my back and his fingers spread. His left hand is in my hair, holding me to his mouth.
“Oh, I want you so much, baby,” he breathes, and steps back suddenly to remove his jeans and boxers in one swift, agile move. He is a fine, fine sight in or out of clothes, every single inch of him.
He is perfect. His beauty desecrated only by his scars, I think sadly. And they run so much deeper than his skin.
“What’s wrong, Ana?” he murmurs and gently strokes my cheek with his knuckles.
“Nothing. Love me, now.”
He pulls me into his arms, kissing me, twisting his hands into my hair. Our tongues entwined, he walks me backward to the bed and gently lowers me onto it, following me down so that he’s lying by my side.
He runs his nose along my jawline as my hands move to his hair.
“Do you have any idea how exquisite your scent is, Ana? It’s irresistible.”
His words do what they always do—flame my blood, quicken my pulse—and he trails his nose down my throat, across my breasts, kissing me reverentially as he does.
“You are so beautiful,” he murmurs, as he takes one of my nipples in his mouth and softly suckles.
I moan as my body bows off the bed.
“Let me hear you, baby.”
His hand trails down to my waist, and I glory in the feel of his touch, skin to skin—his hungry mouth at my breasts and his skilled long fingers caressing and stroking me, cherishing me. Moving over my hips, over my behind, and down my leg to my knee, and all this time he’s kissing and sucking my breasts—oh my.
Grasping my knee, he suddenly hitches my leg up, curling it over his hips, making me gasp, and I feel rather than see his responding grin against my skin. He rolls over so that I am astride him and hands me a foil packet.
I shift back, taking him in my hands, and I just can’t resist him in all his glory. I bend and kiss him, taking him in my mouth, swirling my tongue around him, then sucking hard. He groans and flexes his hips so that he’s deeper in my mouth.
Mmm . . . he tastes good. I want him inside me. I sit up and gaze at him; he’s breathless, mouth open, watching me intently.
Hurriedly I tear open the condom and unroll it over him. He holds out his hands for me. I take one and with my other hand, position myself over him, then slowly claim him as mine.
He groans low in his throat, closing his eyes.
The feel of him in me . . . stretching . . . filling me—I moan softly—it’s divine. He places his hands on my hips and moves me up, down, and pushes into me. Oh . . . it’s so good.
“Oh, baby,” he whispers, and suddenly he sits up so we’re nose to nose, and the sensation is extraordinary—so full. I gasp, grabbing his upper arms as he clasps my head in his hands and gazes into my eyes—his intense and gray, burning with desire.
“Oh, Ana. What you make me feel,” he murmurs and kisses me passionately with fervent ardor. I kiss him back, dizzy with the delicious feeling of him buried deep inside me.
“Oh, I love you,” I murmur. He groans as if pained to hear my whispered words and rolls over, taking me with him without breaking our precious contact, so that I’m lying beneath him. I wrap my legs around his waist.
He stares down at me with adoring wonder, and I am sure I mirror his expression as I reach up to caress his beautiful face. Very slowly, he starts to move, closing his eyes as he does and moaning softly.
The gentle sway of the boat and the peace and quiet tranquility of the cabin are broken only by our mingled breaths as he moves slowly in and out of me, so controlled and so good—it’s heavenly. He puts his arm over my head, his hand on my hair, and he caresses my face with the other as he bends to kiss me.
I’m cocooned by him, as he loves me, slowly moving in and out, savoring me. I touch him—sticking to the boundaries—his arms, his hair, his lower back, his beautiful behind—and my breathing accelerates as his steady rhythm pushes me higher and higher. He’s kissing my mouth, my chin, my jaw, then nibbling my ear. I can hear his staccato breaths with each gentle thrust of his body.
My body starts to quiver. Oh . . . This feeling that I now know so well . . . I am close . . . Oh . . .
“That’s right, baby . . . give it up for me . . . Please . . . Ana,” he murmurs and his words are my undoing.
“Christian,” I call out, and he groans as we both come together.

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