Fifty shades darker, p.2
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       Fifty Shades Darker, p.2
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         Part #2 of Fifty Shades series by E. L. James
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  “We’re at Le Picotin, South West Third Avenue.” He hangs up.

  Jeez, he’s curt over the phone.

  “You’re very brusque with Taylor, in fact, with most people.”

  “I just get to the point quickly, Anastasia.”

  “You haven’t gotten to the point this evening. Nothing’s changed, Christian.”

  “I have a proposition for you.”

  “This started with a proposition.”

  “A different proposition.”

  The waiter returns, and Christian hands over his credit card without checking the bill. He gazes at me speculatively while the waiter swipes his card. Christian’s phone buzzes once, and he peers at it.

  He has a proposition? What now? A couple of scenarios run through my mind: kidnap, working for him. No, nothing makes sense. Christian finishes paying.

  “Come. Taylor’s outside.”

  We stand and he takes my hand.

  “I don’t want to lose you, Anastasia.” He kisses my knuckles tenderly, and the touch of his lips on my skin resonates throughout my body.

  Outside the Audi is waiting. Christian opens my door. Climbing in, I sink into the plush leather. He heads to the driver’s side, Taylor steps out of the car and they talk briefly. This isn’t their usual protocol. I’m curious. What are they talking about? Moments later, they both climb in, and I glance at Christian who’s wearing his impassive face as he stares ahead.

  I allow myself a brief moment to examine his godlike profile: straight nose, sculptured full lips, hair falling deliciously over his forehead. This divine man is surely not meant for me.

  Soft music suddenly fills the rear of the car, an orchestral piece that I don’t know, and Taylor pulls into the light traffic, heading for the I-5 and Seattle.

  Christian shifts to face me. “As I was saying, Anastasia, I have a proposition for you.”

  I glance nervously at Taylor.

  “Taylor can’t hear you,” Christian reassures me.

  “How?”

  “Taylor,” Christian calls. Taylor doesn’t respond. He calls again, still no response. Christian leans over and taps his shoulder. Taylor removes an ear bud I hadn’t noticed.

  “Yes, sir?”

  “Thank you, Taylor. It’s okay; resume your listening.”

  “Sir.”

  “Happy now? He’s listening to his iPod. Puccini. Forget he’s here. I do.”

  “Did you deliberately ask him to do that?”

  “Yes.”

  Oh. “Okay, your proposition?”

  Christian looks suddenly determined and businesslike. Holy shit. We’re negotiating a deal. I listen attentively.

  “Let me ask you something first. Do you want a regular vanilla relationship with no kinky fuckery at all?”

  My mouth drops open. “Kinky fuckery?” I squeak.

  “Kinky fuckery.”

  “I can’t believe you said that.” I glance nervously at Taylor.

  “Well, I did. Answer me,” he says calmly.

  I flush. My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication begging me.

  “I like your kinky fuckery,” I whisper.

  “That’s what I thought. So what don’t you like?”

  Not being able to touch you. You enjoying my pain, the bite of the belt…

  “The threat of cruel and unusual punishment.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “Well, you have all those canes and whips and stuff in your playroom, and they frighten the living daylights out of me. I don’t want you to use them on me.”

  “Okay, so no whips or canes-or belts, for that matter,” he says sardonically.

  I gaze at him puzzled. “Are you attempting to redefine the hard limits?”

  “Not as such, I’m just trying to understand you, get a clearer picture of what you do and don’t like.”

  “Fundamentally, Christian, it’s your joy in inflicting pain on me that’s difficult for me to handle. And the idea that you’ll do it because I have crossed some arbitrary line.”

  “But it’s not arbitrary; the rules are written down.”

  “I don’t want a set of rules.”

  “None at all?”

  “No rules.” I shake my head, but my heart is in my mouth. Where is he going with this?

  “But you don’t mind if I spank you?”

  “Spank me with what?”

  “This.” He holds up his hand.

  I squirm uncomfortably. “No, not really. Especially with those silver balls…” Thank heavens it’s dark, my face is flaming and my voice trails off as I recall that night. Yeah… I’d do that again.

  He smirks at me. “Yes, that was fun.”

  “More than fun,” I mutter.

  “So you can deal with some pain.”

  I shrug. “Yes, I suppose.” Oh, where is he going with this? My anxiety level has shot up several magnitudes on the Richter scale.

  He strokes his chin, deep in thought. “Anastasia, I want to start again. Do the vanilla thing and then maybe, once you trust me more and I trust you to be honest and to communicate with me, we could move on and do some of the things that I like to do.”

  I stare at him, stunned, with no thoughts in my head at all-like a computer crash. He gazes at me anxiously, but I can’t see him clearly, as we’re shrouded in the Oregon darkness. It occurs to me, finally, this is it.

  He wants the light, but can I ask him to do this for me? And don’t I like the dark? Some dark, sometimes. Memories of the Thomas Tallis night drift invitingly through my mind.

  “But what about punishments?”

  “No punishments.” He shakes his head. “None.”

  “And the rules?”

  “No rules.”

  “None at all? But you have needs.”

  “I need you more, Anastasia. These last few days have been purgatory. All my instincts tell me to let you go, tell me I don’t deserve you.

  “Those photos the boy took… I can see how he sees you. You look so untroubled and beautiful, not that you’re not beautiful now, but here you sit. I see your pain. It’s hard knowing that I’m the one who has made you feel this way.

  “But I’m a selfish man. I’ve wanted you since you fell into my office. You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I am in awe of you. I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul.”

  My mouth goes dry. Holy shit. My subconscious nods with satisfaction. If that isn’t a declaration of love, I don’t know what is. And the words tumble out of me-a dam breached.

  “Christian, why do you think you have a dark soul? I would never say that. Sad maybe, but you’re a good man. I can see that… you’re generous, you’re kind, and you’ve never lied to me. And I haven’t tried very hard.

  “Last Saturday was such a shock to my system. It was my wake-up call. I realized that you’d been easy on me and that I couldn’t be the person you wanted me to be. Then, after I left, it dawned on me that the physical pain you inflicted was not as bad as the pain of losing you. I do want to please you, but it’s hard.”

  “You please me all the time,” he whispers. “How often do I have to tell you that?”

  “I never know what you’re thinking. Sometimes you’re so closed off… like an island state. You intimidate me. That’s why I keep quiet. I don’t know which way your mood is going to go. It swings from north to south and back again in a nanosecond. It’s confusing and you won’t let me touch you, and I want to so much to show you how much I love you.”

  He blinks at me in the darkness, warily I think, and I can resist him no longer. I unbuckle my seatbelt and scramble into his lap, taking him by surprise, and take his head in my hands.

  “I love you, Christian Grey. And you’re prepared to do all this for me. I’m the one who is undeserving, and I’m just sorry that I can’t do all those things for you. Maybe with time… I don’t know… but yes,
I accept your proposition. Where do I sign?”

  He snakes his arms around me and crushes me to him.

  “Oh, Ana,” he breathes as he buries his nose in my hair.

  We sit, our arms wrapped around each other, listening to the music-a soothing piano piece-mirroring the emotions in the car, the sweet tranquil calm after the storm. I snuggle into his arms, resting my head in the crook of his neck. He gently strokes my back.

  “Touching is a hard limit for me, Anastasia,” he whispers.

  “I know. I wish I understood why.”

  After a while, he sighs, and in a soft voice he says, “I had a horrific childhood. One of the crack whore’s pimps…” His voice trails off, and his body tenses as he recalls some unimaginable horror. “I can remember that,” he whispers, shuddering.

  Abruptly, my heart constricts as I remember the burn scars marring his skin. Oh, Christian. I tighten my arms around his neck.

  “Was she abusive? Your mother?” My voice is low and soft with unshed tears.

  “Not that I remember. She was neglectful. She didn’t protect me from her pimp.”

  He snorts. “I think it was me who looked after her. When she finally killed herself, it took four days for someone to raise the alarm and find us… I remember that.”

  I cannot contain my gasp of horror. Holy mother fuck. Bile rises in my throat.

  “That’s pretty fucked-up,” I whisper.

  “Fifty shades,” he murmurs.

  I turn my head and press my lips against his neck, seeking and offering solace as I imagine a small, dirty, gray-eyed boy lost and lonely beside the body of his dead mother.

  Oh, Christian. I breathe in his scent. He smells heavenly, my favorite fragrance in the entire world. He tightens his arms around me and kisses my hair, and I sit wrapped in his embrace as Taylor speeds into the night.

  When I wake, we’re driving through Seattle.

  “Hey,” Christian says softly.

  “Sorry,” I murmur as I sit up, blinking and stretching. I am still in his arms, on his lap.

  “I could watch you sleep forever, Ana.”

  “Did I say anything?”

  “No. We’re nearly at your place.”

  Oh? “We’re not going to yours?”

  “No.”

  I sit up and gaze at him. “Why not?”

  “Because you have work tomorrow.”

  “Oh.” I pout.

  He smirks at me. “Why, did you have something in mind?”

  I flush. “Well, maybe.”

  He chuckles. “Anastasia, I am not going to touch you again, not until you beg me to.”

  “What!”

  “So that you’ll start communicating with me. Next time we make love, you’re going to have to tell me exactly what you want in fine detail.”

  “Oh.” He shifts me off his lap as Taylor pulls up outside my apartment. Christian climbs out and holds the car door open for me.

  “I have something for you.” He moves to the back of the car, opens the trunk, and pulls out a large gift-wrapped box. What the hell is this?

  “Open it when you get inside.”

  “You’re not coming in?”

  “No, Anastasia.”

  “So when will I see you?”

  “Tomorrow.”

  “My boss wants me to go for a drink with him tomorrow.”

  Christian’s face hardens. “Does he, now?” His voice is laced with latent menace.

  “To celebrate my first week,” I add quickly.

  “Where?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “I could pick you up from there.”

  “Okay… I’ll e-mail or text you.”

  “Good.”

  He walks me to the lobby door and waits while I dig my keys out of my purse. As I unlock the door, he leans forward and cups my chin, tilting my head back. His mouth hovers over mine, and closing his eyes, he runs a trail of kisses from the corner of my eye to the corner of my mouth.

  A small moan escapes my mouth as my insides melt and unfurl.

  “Until tomorrow,” he breathes.

  “Goodnight, Christian,” I whisper, and I hear the need in my voice.

  He smiles.

  “In you go,” he orders, and I walk through the lobby carrying my mysterious parcel.

  “Laters, baby,” he calls, then turns and with his easy grace, heads back to the car.

  Once in the apartment, I open the gift box and find my MacBook Pro laptop, the Blackberry, and another rectangular box. What is this? I unwrap the silver paper. Inside is a black, slim, leather case.

  Opening the case, I find an iPad. Holy shit… an iPad. A white card is resting on the screen with a message written in Christian’s handwriting:

  Holy cow. I have a Christian Grey mix-tape in the guise of a high-end iPad. I shake my head in disapproval because of the expense, but deep down I love it. Jack at the office has one, so I know how they work.

  I switch it on and gasp as the wallpaper image appears: a small model glider. Oh my. It’s the Blanik L23 I gave him, mounted on a glass stand and sitting on what I think is Christian’s desk at his office. I gape at it.

  He built it! He really did build it. I remember now he mentioned it in the note with the flowers. I’m reeling, and I know in that instant that he’s put a great deal of thought into this gift.

  I slide the arrow at the bottom of the screen to unlock it and gasp again. The background photograph is of Christian and me at my graduation in the marquee. It’s the one that appeared in the Seattle Times. Christian looks so handsome and I can’t help my face-splitting grin, as my inner goddess curls up hugging herself on her chaise longue-Yes, and he’s mine!

  With a swipe of my finger, the icons shift, and several new ones appear on the next screen. A Kindle app, iBooks, Words-whatever that is.

  Holy shit! The British Library? I touch the icon and a menu appears: Historical Collection. Scrolling down, I select Novels of the 18th and 19th Century. Another menu. I tap on a title: The American by Henry James. A new window opens, offering me a scanned copy of the book to read. Holy crap-it’s an early edition, published in 1879, and it’s on my iPad! He’s bought me the British Library at a touch of a button.

  I exit quickly, knowing that I could be lost in this app for an eternity. I notice a “good food” app that makes me roll my eyes and smile at the same time, a news app, a weather app, but his note mentioned music. I go back to the main screen, hit the iPod icon and a playlist appears. I scroll through the songs, and the list makes me smile. Thomas Tallis-I’m not going to forget that in a hurry. I heard it twice, after all, while he flogged and fucked me.

  “Witchcraft.” My grin gets wider-dancing round the great room. The Bach Marcello piece-oh no, that’s way too sad for my mood right now. Hmm. Jeff Buckley-yeah, I’ve heard of him. Snow Patrol-my favorite band-and a song called “Principles of Lust” by Enigma. How Christian. I smirk. Another called “Possession”… oh yes, very Fifty Shades. And a few more I have never heard.

  Selecting a song that catches my eye, I press play. It’s called “Try” by Nellie Furtado. She starts to sing, and her voice is a silken scarf wrapping around me, enveloping me. I lie down on my bed.

  Does this mean Christian’s going to try? Try this new relationship? I drink in the lyrics, staring at the ceiling, trying to understand his turnaround. He missed me. I missed him. He must have some feelings for me. He must. This iPad, these songs, these apps-he cares. He really cares. My heart swells with hope.

  The song ends and tears spring to my eyes. I quickly scroll to another-“The Scientist” by Coldplay-one of Kate’s favorite bands. I know the track, but I’ve never really listened to the lyrics before. I close my eyes and let the words wash over and through me.

  My tears start to flow. I can’t stem them. If this isn’t an apology, what is it? Oh, Christian.

  Or is this an invitation? Will he answer my questions? Am I reading too much into this? I am probably reading too much into this.
My subconscious nods at me, trying to hide her pity.

  I dash my tears away. I have to e-mail him to thank him. I leap off my bed to fetch the mean machine.

  Coldplay continues as I sit cross-legged on my bed. The Mac powers up and I log in.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: IPAD

  Date: June 9, 2011 23:56

  To: Christian Grey

  You’ve made me cry again.

  I love the iPad.

  I love the songs.

  I love the British Library App.

  I love you.

  Thank you.

  Goodnight.

  Ana xx

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: iPad

  Date: June 10, 2011 00:03

  To: Anastasia Steele

  I’m glad you like it. I bought one for myself.

  Now, if I were there, I would kiss away your tears.

  But I’m not-so go to sleep.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  His response makes me smile, still so bossy, still so Christian. Will that change, too? And I realize in that moment that I hope not. I like him like this-commanding-as long as I can stand up to him without fear of punishment.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Mr. Grumpy

  Date: June 10, 2011 00:07

  To: Christian Grey

  You sound your usual bossy and possibly tense, possibly grumpy self, Mr. Grey.

  I know something that could ease that. But then, you’re not here-you wouldn’t let me stay, and you expect me to beg…

  Dream on, Sir.

  Ana xx

  PS: I also note that you included the Stalker’s Anthem, “Every Breath You Take.” I do enjoy your sense of humor, but does Dr. Flynn know?

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: Zen-Like Calm

  Date: June 10, 2011 00.10

  To: Anastasia Steele

  My Dearest Miss Steele

  Spanking occurs in vanilla relationships, too, you know. Usually consensually and in a sexual context… but I am more than happy to make an exception.

  You’ll be relieved to know that Dr. Flynn also enjoys my sense of humor.

  Now, please go to sleep as you won’t get much tomorrow.

  Incidentally-you will beg, trust me. And I look forward to it.

  Christian Grey

  Tense CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Goodnight, Sweet Dreams

  Date: June 10, 2011 00:12

  To: Christian Grey

  Well, since you ask so nicely, and I like your delicious threat, I shall curl up with the iPad that you have so kindly given me and fall asleep browsing in the British Library, listening to the music that says it for you.

  A xxx

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: One more request

  Date: June 10, 2011 00:15

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Dream of me.

  x

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  Dream of you, Christian Grey? Always.

  I change quickly into my pajamas, brush my teeth, and slip into bed. Putting my ear buds in, I pull the flattened Charlie Tango balloon from underneath my pillow and hug it to me.

  I am brimming with joy, a stupid, widemouthed grin on my face. What a difference a day can make. How am I ever going to sleep?

  José Gonzalez starts to sing a soothing melody with a hypnotic guitar riff, and I drift slowly into sleep, marveling how the world has righted itself in one evening and wondering idly if I should make a playlist for Christian.

  3

  The one good thing about being car-less is that on the bus on my way to work, I can plug my headphones into my iPad while it’s safely in my purse and listen to all the wonderful tunes Christian has given me. By the time I arrive at the office, I have the most ludicrous grin on my face.

  Jack glances up at me and does a double take.

  “Good morning, Ana. You look… radiant.” His remark flusters me. How inappropriate!

  “I slept well, thank you, Jack. Good morning.”

  His brow crinkles.

  “Can you read these for me and have reports on them by lunchtime, please?” He hands me four manuscripts. At my horrified expression, he adds, “Just first chapters.”

  “Sure,” I smile with relief, and he gives me a broad smile in return.

  I switch on the computer to start work, finishing my latte and eating a banana. There’s an e-mail from Christian.

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: So Help Me…

  Date: June 10, 2011 08:05

  To: Anastasia Steele

  I do hope you’ve had breakfast.

  I missed you last night.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Old books…

  Date: June 10, 2011 08:33

  To: Christian Grey

  I am eating a banana as I type. I have not had breakfast for several days, so it is a step forward. I love the British Library App-I started rereading Robinson Crusoe… and of course, I love you.

  Now leave me alone-I am trying to work.

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: Is that all you’ve eaten?

  Date: June 10, 2011 08:36

  To: Anastasia Steele

  You can do better than that. You’re going to need your energy for begging.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Pest

  Date: June 10, 2011 08:39

  To: Christian Grey

  Mr. Grey-I am trying to work for a living-and it’s you that will be begging.

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: Bring it On!

  Date: June 10, 2011 08:36

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Why Miss Steele, I love a challenge…

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  I sit grinning at the screen like an idiot. But I need to read these chapters for Jack and write reports on all of them. Placing the manuscripts on my desk, I begin.

  At lunchtime I head to the deli for a pastrami sandwich and listen to the playlist on my iPad. First up there’s Nitin Sawhney, some world music called “Homelands”-it’s good. Mr. Grey has an eclectic taste in music. I wander back, listening to a classical piece, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughn Williams. Oh, Fifty has a sense of humor, and I love him for it. Will this stupid grin ever leave my face?

  The afternoon drags. I decide, in an unguarded moment, to e-mail Christian.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Bored…

  Date: June 10, 2011 16:05

  To: Christian Grey

  Twiddling my thumbs.

  How are you?

  What are you doing?

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: Your thumbs

  Date: June 10, 2011 16:15

  To: Anastasia Steele

  You should have come to work for me.

  You wouldn’t be twiddling your thumbs.

  I am sure I could put them to better use.

  In fact I can think of a number of options…

  I am doing the usual humdrum mergers and acquisitions.

  It’s all very dry.

  Your e-mails at SIP are monitored.

  Christian Grey

  Distracted CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  Oh shit. I had no idea. How the hell does he know? I scowl at the screen a
nd quickly check the e-mails we’ve sent, deleting them as I do.

  Promptly at five thirty, Jack is at my desk. It is Dress-down Friday so he’s wearing jeans and a black shirt. He looks very casual.

  “Drink, Ana? We usually like to go for a quick one at the bar across the street.”

  “We?” I ask, hopeful.

  “Yeah, most of us go… you coming?”

  For some unknown reason, which I don’t want to examine too closely, relief floods through me.

  “I’d love to. What’s the bar called?”

  “50s.”

  “You’re kidding.”

  He looks at me oddly. “No. Some significance for you?”

  “No, sorry. I’ll join you over there.”

  “What would you like to drink?”

  “A beer please.”

  “Cool.”

  I make my way to the powder room and e-mail Christian from the Blackberry.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: You’ll Fit Right In

  Date: June 10, 2011 17:36

  To: Christian Grey

  We are going to a bar called Fifty’s.

  The rich seam of humor that I could mine from this is endless.

  I look forward to seeing you there, Mr. Grey.

  A x

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: Hazards

  Date: June 10, 2011 17:38

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Mining is a very, very dangerous occupation.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Hazards?

  Date: June 10, 2011 17:40

  To: Christian Grey

  And your point is?

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: Merely…

  Date: June 10, 2011 17:42

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Making an observation, Miss Steele.

  I’ll see you shortly.

  Sooners rather than laters, baby.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  I check myself in the mirror. What a difference a day can make. I have more color in my cheeks, and my eyes are shining. It’s the Christian Grey effect. A little e-mail sparring with him will do that to a girl. I grin at the mirror and straighten my pale blue shirt-the one Taylor bought me. I am wearing my favorite jeans today, too. Most of the women in the office wear either jeans or floaty skirts. I will need to invest in a floaty skirt or two. Perhaps I’ll do that this weekend and bank the check Christian gave me for Wanda, my Beetle.

  As I head out of the building, I hear my name called.

  “Miss Steele?”

  I turn expectantly, and an ashen young woman approaches me cautiously. She looks like a ghost-so pale and strangely blank.

  “Miss Anastasia Steele?” she repeats, and her features stay static even though she’s speaking.

  “Yes?”

  She stops, staring at me from about three feet away on the sidewalk, and I stare back, immobilized. Who is she? What does she want?

  “Can I help you?” I ask. How does she know my name?

  “No… I just wanted to look at you.” Her voice is eerily soft. Like me, she has dark hair that starkly contrasts with her fair skin. Her eyes are brown, like bourbon, but flat. There’s no life in them at all. Her beautiful face is pale, and etched with sorrow.

  “Sorry-you have me at a disadvantage,” I say politely, trying to ignore the warning tingle up my spine. On closer inspection, she looks odd, disheveled and uncared for. Her clothes are two sizes too big, including her designer trench coat.

  She laughs, a strange, discordant sound that only feeds my anxiety.

  “What do you have that I don’t?” she asks sadly.

  My anxiety turns to fear. “I’m sorry-who are you?”

  “Me? I’m nobody.” She lifts her arm to drag her hand through her shoulder length hair, and as she does, the sleeve of her trench coat rides up, revealing a soiled bandage around her wrist.

  Holy fuck.

  “Good day, Miss Steele.” Turning, she walks up the street as I stand rooted to the spot. I watch as her slight frame disappears from view, lost amongst the workers pouring out of their various offices.

  What was that about?

  Confused, I cross the street to the bar, trying to assimilate what has just happened, while my subconscious rears her ugly head and hisses at me-She has something to do with Christian.

  Fifty’s is a cavernous, impersonal bar with baseball pennants and posters hanging on the wall. Jack is at the bar with Elizabeth, Courtney the other commissioning editor, two guys from finance, and Claire from reception. She is wearing her trademark silver hooped earrings.

  “Hi, Ana!” Jack hands me a bottle of Bud.

  “Cheers… thank you,” I murmur, still shaken by my encounter with Ghost Girl.

  “Cheers.” We clink bottles, and he continues his conversation with Elizabeth. Claire smiles sweetly at me.

  “So, how has your first week been?” she asks.

  “Good, thank you. Everyone seems very friendly.”

  “You seem much happier today.”

  I flush. “It’s Friday,” I mutter quickly. “So-have you any plans this weekend?”

  My patented distraction technique works and I’m saved. Claire turns out to be one of seven kids, and she’s going to a big family get-together in Tacoma. She becomes quite animated, and I realize I haven’t spoken to any women my own age since Kate left for Barbados.

  Absently I wonder how Kate is… and Elliot. I must remember to ask Christian if he’s heard from him. Oh, and Ethan her brother will be back next Tuesday, and he’ll be staying in our apartment. I can’t imagine Christian is going to be happy about that. My earlier encounter with strange Ghost Girl slips further from my mind.

  During my conversation with Claire, Elizabeth hands me another beer.

  “Thanks,” I smile at her.

  Claire is very easy to talk to-she likes to talk-and before I know it, I am on my third beer, courtesy of one of the guys from finance.

  When Elizabeth and Courtney leave, Jack joins Claire and me. Where is Christian? One of the finance guys engages Claire in conversation.

  “Ana, think you made the right decision coming here?” Jack’s voice is soft, and he’s standing a bit too close. But I’ve noticed that he has a tendency to do this with everyone, even at the office. My subconscious narrows her eyes. You’re reading too much into this, she admonishes me.

  “I’ve enjoyed myself this week, thank you, Jack. Yes, I think I made the right decision.”

  “You’re a very bright girl, Ana. You’ll go far.”

  I blush. “Thank you,” I mutter, because I don’t know what else to say.

  “Do you live far?”

  “The Pike Market district.”

  “Not far from me.” Smiling, he moves even closer and leans against the bar, effectively trapping me. “Do you have any plans this weekend?”

  “Well… um-”

  I feel him before I see him. It’s as if my whole body is highly attuned to his presence. It relaxes and ignites at the same time-a weird, internal duality-and I sense that strange pulsing electricity.

  Christian drapes his arm around my shoulder in a seemingly casual display of affection-but I know differently. He is staking a claim, and on this occasion, it’s very welcome. Softly he kisses my hair.

  “Hello, baby,” he murmurs.

  I can’t help but feel relieved, safe, and excited with his arm around me. He draws me to his side, and I glance up at him while he stares at Jack, his expression impassive. Turning his attention to me, he gives me a brief crooked smile followed by a swift kiss. He’s wearing his navy pinstriped jacket over jeans and an open white shirt. He looks edible.

  Jack shuffles back uncomfortably.

  “Jack, this is Christian,” I mumble apologetically. Why am I apologizing? “Christian, Jack.”

/>   “I’m the boyfriend,” Christian says with a small, cool smile that doesn’t reach his eyes as he shakes Jack’s hand. I glance up at Jack who is mentally assessing the fine specimen of manhood in front of him.

  “I’m the boss,” Jack replies arrogantly. “Ana did mention an ex-boyfriend.”

  Oh, shit. You don’t want to play this game with Fifty.

  “Well, no longer ex,” Christian replies calmly. “Come on, baby, time to go.”

  “Please, stay and join us for a drink,” Jack says smoothly.

  I don’t think that’s a good idea. Why is this so uncomfortable? I glance at Claire, who is, of course staring, open-mouthed and with frankly carnal appreciation at Christian. When will I stop caring about the effect he has on other women?

  “We have plans,” Christian replies with his enigmatic smile.

  We do? And a frisson of anticipation runs through my body.

  “Another time, perhaps,” he adds. “Come,” he says to me as he takes my hand.

  “See you Monday.” I smile at Jack, Claire, and the guys from finance, trying hard to ignore Jack’s less-than-pleased expression, and follow Christian out of the door.

  Taylor is at the wheel of the Audi waiting at the curb.

  “Why did that feel like a pissing contest?” I ask Christian as he opens the car door for me.

  “Because it was,” he murmurs and gives me his enigmatic smile then shuts my door.

  “Hello, Taylor,” I say and our eyes meet in the review mirror.

  “Miss Steele,” Taylor acknowledges with a genial smile.

  Christian slides in beside me, clasps my hand, and gently kisses my knuckles. “Hi,” he says softly.

  My cheeks turn pink, knowing that Taylor can hear us, grateful that he can’t see the scorching, panty-combusting look that Christian is giving me. It takes all my self-restraint not to leap on him right here, in the back seat of the car.

  Oh, the back seat of the car… hmm. My inner goddess strokes her chin gently in quiet contemplation.

  “Hi,” I breathe, my mouth dry.

  “What would you like to do this evening?”

  “I thought you said we had plans.”

  “Oh, I know what I’d like to do, Anastasia. I’m asking you what you want to do.”

  I beam at him.

  “I see,” he says with a wickedly salacious grin. “So… begging it is, then. Do you want to beg at my place or yours?” He tilts his head to one side and smiles his oh-so-sexy smile at me.

  “I think you’re being very presumptuous, Mr. Grey. But by way of a change, we could go to my apartment.” I bite my lip deliberately, and his expression darkens.

  “Taylor, Miss Steele’s, please.”

  “Sir,” Taylor acknowledges and he heads off into the traffic.

  “So how has your day been?” he asks.

  “Good. Yours?”

  “Good, thank you.”

  His ridiculously broad grin reflects mine, and he kisses my hand again.

  “You look lovely,” he says.

  “As do you.”

  “Your boss, Jack Hyde, is he good at his job?”

  Whoa! That’s a sudden change in direction? I frown. “Why? This isn’t about your pissing contest?”

  Christian smirks. “That man wants into your panties, Anastasia,” he says dryly.

  I go crimson as my mouth drops open, and I glance nervously at Taylor. My subconscious inhales sharply, shocked.

  “Well, he can want all he likes… why are we even having this conversation? You know I have no interest in him whatsoever. He’s just my boss.”

  “That’s the point. He wants what’s mine. I need to know if he’s good at his job.”

  I shrug. “I think so.” Where is he going with this?

  “Well, he’d better leave you alone, or he’ll find himself on his ass on the sidewalk.”

  “Oh, Christian, what are you talking about? He hasn’t done anything wrong.”…Yet. He just stands too close.

  “He makes one move, you tell me. It’s called gross moral turpitude-or sexual harassment.”

  “It was just a drink after work.”

  “I mean it. One move and he’s out.”

  “You don’t have that kind of power.” Honestly! And before I roll my eyes at him, the realization hits me with the force of a speeding freight truck. “Do you, Christian?”

  Christian gives me his enigmatic smile.

  “You’re buying the company,” I whisper in horror.

  His smile slips in response to the panic in my voice. “Not exactly,” he says.

  “You’ve bought it. SIP. Already.”

  He blinks at me, warily. “Possibly.”

  “You have or you haven’t?”

  “Have.”

  What the hell? “Why?” I gasp, appalled. Oh, this just is too much.

  “Because I can, Anastasia. I need you safe.”

  “But you said you wouldn’t interfere in my career!”

  “And I won’t.”

  I snatch my hand out of his. “Christian…” Words fail me.

  “Are you mad at me?”

  “Yes. Of course I’m mad at you.” I seethe. “I mean, what kind of responsible business executive makes decisions based on who they are currently fucking?” I blanch and glance nervously once more at Taylor who is stoically ignoring us.

  Shit. What a time to have a brain-to-mouth filter malfunction. Anastasia! My subconscious glares at me.

  Christian opens his mouth then closes it again and scowls at me. I glare at him. The atmosphere in the car plunges from warm with sweet reunion to frigid with unspoken words and potential recriminations as we glower at each other.

  Fortunately, our uncomfortable car journey doesn’t last long, and Taylor pulls up outside my apartment.

  I scramble out of the car quickly, not waiting for anyone to open the door.

  I hear Christian mutter to Taylor, “I think you’d better wait here.”

  I sense him standing close behind me as I struggle to find the front door keys in my purse.

  “Anastasia,” he says calmly as if I’m some cornered wild animal.

  I sigh and turn to face him. I am so mad at him, my anger is palpable-a dark entity threatening to choke me.

  “First, I haven’t fucked you for a while-a long while, it feels-and second, I wanted to get into publishing. Of the four companies in Seattle, SIP is the most profitable, but it’s on the cusp and it’s going to stagnate-it needs to branch out.”

  I stare frigidly at him. His eyes are so intense, threatening even, but sexy as hell. I could get lost in their steely depths.

  “So you’re my boss now,” I snap.

  “Technically, I’m your boss’s boss’s boss.”

  “And, technically, it’s gross moral turpitude-the fact that I am fucking my boss’s boss’s boss.”

  “At the moment, you’re arguing with him.” Christian scowls.

  “That’s because he’s such an arse,” I hiss.

  Christian steps back in stunned surprise. Oh shit. Have I gone too far?

  “An arse?” he murmurs as his expression changes to one of amusement.

  Goddamn it! I am mad at you, do not make me laugh!

  “Yes.” I struggle to maintain my look of moral outrage.

  “An arse?” Christian says again. This time his lips twitch with a repressed smile.

  “Don’t make me laugh when I am mad at you!” I shout.

  And he smiles, a dazzling, full-toothed, all-American-boy smile, and I can’t help it. I am grinning and laughing, too. How could I not be affected by the joy I see in his smile?

  “Just because I have a stupid damn grin on my face doesn’t mean I’m not mad as hell at you,” I mutter breathlessly, trying to suppress my high-school-cheerleader giggling. Though I was never cheerleader-the bitter thought crosses my mind.

  He leans in, and I think he’s going to kiss me but he doesn’t. He nuzzles my hair and inhales deeply.

 
As ever, Miss Steele, you are unexpected.” He leans back and gazes at me, his eyes dancing with humor. “So are you going to invite me in, or am I to be sent packing for exercising my democratic right as an American citizen, entrepreneur, and consumer to purchase whatever I damn well please?”

  “Have you spoken to Dr. Flynn about this?”

  He laughs. “Are you going to let me in or not, Anastasia?”

  I try for a grudging look-biting my lip helps-but I’m smiling as I open the door. Christian turns and waves to Taylor, and the Audi pulls away.

  It’s odd having Christian Grey in the apartment. The place feels too small for him.

  I am still mad at him-his stalking knows no bounds, and it dawns on me that this is how he knew about the e-mail being monitored at SIP. He probably knows more about SIP than I do. The thought is unsavory.

  What can I do? Why does he have this need to keep me safe? I am a grown-up-sort of-for heaven’s sake. What can I do to reassure him?

  I gaze at his beautiful face as he paces the room like a caged predator, and my anger subsides. Seeing him here in my space when I thought we were over is heartwarming. More than heartwarming, I love him, and my heart swells with a nervous, heady elation. He glances around, assessing his surroundings.

  “Nice place,” he says.

  “Kate’s parents bought it for her.”

  He nods distractedly, and his bold gray eyes come to rest on mine, staring at me.

  “Er… would you like a drink?” I mutter, flushing with nerves.

  “No, thank you, Anastasia.” His eyes darken.

  Oh crap. Why am I so nervous?

  “What would you like to do, Anastasia?” he asks softly as he walks toward me, all feral and hot. “I know what I want to do,” he adds in a low voice.

  I back up until I bump against the concrete kitchen island.

  “I’m still mad at you.”

  “I know.” He smiles a lopsided apologetic smile and I melt… Well, maybe not so mad.

  “Would you like something to eat?” I ask.

  He nods slowly. “Yes. You,” he murmurs. Everything south of my waistline clenches. I’m seduced by his voice alone, but that look, that hungry I-want-you-now look-oh my.

  He’s standing in front of me, not quite touching, staring down into my eyes and bathing me in the heat that’s radiating off his body. I’m stiflingly hot, flustered, and my legs are like jelly as dark desire courses through me. I want him.

  “Have you eaten today?” he murmurs.

  “I had a sandwich at lunch,” I whisper. I don’t want to talk food.

  He narrows his eyes. “You need to eat.”

  “I’m really not hungry right now… for food.”

  “What are you hungry for, Miss Steele?”

  “I think you know, Mr. Grey.”

  He leans down, and again I think he’s going to kiss me, but he doesn’t.

  “Do you want me to kiss you, Anastasia?” he whispers softly in my ear.

  “Yes,” I breathe.

  “Where?”

  “Everywhere.”

  “You’re going to have to be a bit more specific than that. I told you I am not going to touch you until you beg me and tell me what to do.”

  My inner goddess is writhing on her chaise longue. I am lost; he’s not playing fair.

  “Please,” I whisper.

  “Please what?”

  “Touch me.”

  “Where, baby?”

  He is so tantalizingly close, his scent intoxicating. I reach up, and immediately he steps back.

  “No, no,” he chides, his eyes suddenly wide and alarmed.

  “What?” No… come back.

  “No.” He shakes his head.

  “Not at all?” I can’t keep the longing out of my voice.

  He looks at me uncertainly, and I’m emboldened by his hesitation. I step toward him, and he steps back, holding up his hands in defense, but smiling.

  “Look, Ana.” It’s a warning, and he runs his hand through his hair, exasperated.

  “Sometimes you don’t mind,” I observe plaintively. “Perhaps I should find a marker pen, and we could map out the no-go areas.”

  He raises an eyebrow. “That’s not a bad idea. Where’s your bedroom?”

  I nod in the direction. Is he deliberately changing the subject?

  “Have you been taking your pill?”

  Oh shit. My pill.

  His face falls at my expression.

  “No,” I squeak.

  “I see,” he says, and his lips press into a thin line. “Come, let’s have something to eat.”

  Oh no!

  “I thought we were going to bed! I want to go to bed with you.”

  “I know, baby.” He smiles, and suddenly darting toward me, he grabs my wrists and pulls me into his arms so that his body is pressed against mine.

  “You need to eat and so do I,” he murmurs, burning gray eyes gazing down at me. “Besides… anticipation is the key to seduction, and right now, I’m really into delayed gratification.”

  Huh, since when?

  “I’m seduced and I want my gratification now. I’ll beg, please.” I sound whiney. My inner goddess is beside herself.

  He smiles at me tenderly. “Eat. You’re too slender.” He kisses my forehead and releases me.

  This is a game, part of some evil plan. I scowl at him.

  “I’m still mad that you bought SIP, and now I am mad at you because you’re making me wait.” I pout.

  “You are one angry little madam, aren’t you? You’ll feel better after a good meal.”

 
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