Fifty shades darker, p.6
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       Fifty Shades Darker, p.6
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         Part #2 of Fifty Shades series by E. L. James
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  A young man strolls onto the stage amid warm applause, turns to the band behind him and snaps his fingers. The familiar strains of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” fill the air.

  Christian smiles down at me, takes me in his arms, and starts to move. Oh, he dances so well, making it easy to follow. We grin at each other like idiots as he whirls me around the dance floor.

  “I love this song,” Christian murmurs, gazing down at me. “Seems very fitting.” He’s no longer grinning, but serious.

  “You’re under my skin, too,” I respond. “Or you were in your bedroom.”

  He purses his lips but he’s unable to hide his amusement.

  “Miss Steele,” he admonishes me teasingly, “I had no idea you could be so crude.”

  “Mr. Grey, neither did I. I think it’s all my recent experiences. They’ve been an education.”

  “For both of us.” Christian is serious again, and it could just be the two of us and the band. We are in our own private bubble.

  As the song finishes we both applaud. Sam the singer bows graciously and introduces his band.

  “May I cut in?”

  I recognize the man who bid on me at the auction. Christian grudgingly lets me go, but he’s amused, too.

  “Be my guest. Anastasia, this is John Flynn. John, Anastasia.”

  Shit!

  Christian smirks at me and wanders off to one side of the dance floor.

  “How do you do, Anastasia?” Dr. Flynn says smoothly, and I realize he’s British.

  “Hello,” I stutter.

  The band strikes up another song, and Dr. Flynn pulls me into his arms. He’s much younger than I imagined, though I can’t see his face. He’s wearing a mask similar to Christian’s. He’s tall, but not as tall as Christian, and he doesn’t move with Christian’s easy grace.

  What do I say to him? Why is Christian so fucked-up? Why did he bid on me? It’s the only thing I want to ask him, but somehow that seems rude.

  “I’m glad to finally meet you, Anastasia. Are you enjoying yourself?” he asks.

  “I was,” I whisper.

  “Oh. I hope I’m not responsible for your change of heart.” He gives me a brief, warm smile that puts me a little more at ease.

  “Doctor Flynn, you’re the shrink. You tell me.”

  He grins. “That’s the problem, isn’t it? The shrink bit?”

  I giggle. “I’m worried what I might reveal, so I’m a little self-conscious and intimidated. And really I only want to ask you about Christian.”

  He smiles. “First, this is a party so I’m not on duty,” he whispers conspiratorially. “And second, I really can’t talk to you about Christian. Besides,” he teases, “we’d need until Christmas.”

  I gasp in shock.

  “That’s a doctor’s joke, Anastasia.”

  I flush, embarrassed, and then feel slightly resentful. He’s making a joke at Christian’s expense. “You’ve just confirmed what I’ve been saying to Christian… that you’re an expensive charlatan,” I admonish him.

  Dr. Flynn snorts with laughter. “You could be onto something there.”

  “You’re British?”

  “Yes. Originally from London.”

  “How did you find yourself here?”

  “Happy circumstance.”

  “You don’t give much away, do you?”

  “There’s not much to give away. I’m really a very dull person.”

  “That’s very self-deprecating.”

  “It’s a British trait. Part of our national character.”

  “Oh.”

  “And I could accuse you of the same, Anastasia.”

  “That I’m a dull person, too, Dr. Flynn?”

  He snorts. “No, Anastasia, that you don’t give much away.”

  “There’s not much to give away.” I smile.

  “I sincerely doubt that.” He unexpectedly frowns.

  I flush, but the music finishes and Christian is once more by my side. Dr. Flynn releases me.

  “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Anastasia.” He gives me his warm smile again, and I feel that I’ve passed some kind of hidden test.

  “John.” Christian nods at him.

  “Christian.” Dr. Flynn returns his nod, turns on his heel, and disappears through the crowd.

  Christian pulls me into his arms for the next dance.

  “He’s much younger than I expected,” I murmur to him. “And terribly indiscreet.”

  Christian cocks his head to one side. “Indiscreet?”

  “Oh yes, he told me everything,” I tease.

  Christian tenses. “Well, in that case, I’ll get your bag. I’m sure you want nothing more to do with me,” he says softly.

  I stop. “He didn’t tell me anything!” My voice fills with panic.

  Christian blinks before relief floods his face. He pulls me into his arms again. “Then let’s enjoy this dance.” He beams down, reassuring me, then spins me round.

  Why would he think that I’d want to leave? It makes no sense.

  We dance for two more numbers, and I realize I need the restroom.

  “I won’t be long.”

  As I make my way to the powder room, I remember I have left my purse on the dinner table, so I head down to the marquee. When I enter, it’s still lit but quite deserted, except for a couple at the other end, who really ought to get a room! I reach for my bag.

  “Anastasia?”

  A soft voice startles me, and I turn to see a woman dressed in a long, tight, black velvet gown. Her mask is unique. It covers her face to her nose but also covers her hair. It’s stunning with elaborate gold filigree.

  “I’m so glad you’re on your own,” she says softly. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you all evening.”

  “I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are.”

  She pulls the mask from her face and releases her hair.

  Shit! It’s Mrs. Robinson.

  “I’m sorry, I startled you.”

  I gape at her. Holy cow-what the fuck does this woman want?

  I don’t know what the social conventions are for meeting known molesters of children. She’s smiling sweetly and gesturing for me to sit at the table. And because I am lacking any sphere of reference, I do as she asks out of stunned politeness, grateful that I am still wearing my mask.

  “I’ll be brief, Anastasia. I know what you think of me… Christian’s told me.”

  I gaze at her impassively, giving nothing away, but I’m pleased that she knows. It saves me telling her, and she’s cutting to the chase. Part of me is beyond intrigued as to what she could have to say.

  She pauses, glancing over my shoulder. “Taylor’s watching us.”

  I peek around to see him scanning the tent by the doorway. Sawyer is with him. They are looking anywhere but at us.

  “Look, we don’t have long,” she says hurriedly. “It must be obvious to you that Christian is in love with you. I have never seen him like this, ever.” She emphasizes the last word.

  What? Loves me? No. Why is she telling me? To reassure me? I don’t understand.

  “He won’t tell you because he probably doesn’t realize it himself, notwithstanding what I’ve said to him, but that’s Christian. He’s not very attuned to any positive feelings and emotions he may have. He dwells far too much on the negative. But then you’ve probably worked that out for yourself. He doesn’t think he’s worthy.”

  I am reeling. Christian loves me? He hasn’t said it, and this woman has told him that’s how he feels? How bizarre.

  A hundred images dance through my head: the iPad, the gliding, flying to see me, all his actions, his possessiveness, one hundred thousand dollars for a dance. Is this love?

  And hearing it from this woman, having her confirm it for me is, frankly, unwelcome. I’d rather hear it from him.

  My heart constricts. He feels unworthy? Why?

  “I’ve never seen him so happy, and it’s obvious that you have feelings for him, too.” A brief sm
ile flits across her lips. “That’s great, and I wish you both the best of everything. But what I wanted to say is if you hurt him again, I will find you, lady, and it won’t be pleasant when I do.”

  She stares at me, ice-cold blue eyes boring into my skull, trying to get under my mask. Her threat is so astonishing, so off the wall that an involuntary, disbelieving giggle escapes me. Of all the things she could say to me, this is the least expected.

  “You think this is funny, Anastasia?” she splutters in dismay. “You didn’t see him last Saturday.”

  My face falls and darkens. The thought of Christian unhappy is not a palatable one, and last Saturday I left him. He must have gone to her. The idea makes me queasy. Why am I sitting here listening to this shit from her of all people? I slowly rise, gazing at her intently.

  “I’m laughing at your audacity, Mrs. Lincoln. Christian and I have nothing to do with you. And if I do leave him and you come looking for me, I’ll be waiting-don’t doubt it. And maybe I’ll give you a taste of your own medicine on behalf of the fifteen-year-old child you molested and probably fucked-up even more than he already was.”

  Her mouth falls open.

  “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have better things to do than waste my time with you.” I turn on my heel, adrenaline and anger coursing through my body, and stalk toward the entrance of the tent where Taylor is standing just as Christian arrives, looking flustered and worried.

  “There you are,” he mutters, then frowns when he sees Elena.

  I stride past him, saying nothing, giving him the opportunity to choose-her or me. He makes the right choice.

  “Ana,” he calls. I stop and face him as he catches up with me. “What’s wrong?” He gazes down at me, concern etched on his face.

  “Why don’t you ask your ex?” I hiss acidly.

  His mouth twists and his eyes frost. “I’m asking you,” he says, his voice soft but with an undertone of something far more menacing.

  We glare at each other.

  Okay, I can see this will end in a fight if I don’t tell him. “She’s threatening to come after me if I hurt you again-probably with a whip,” I snap at him.

  Relief flashes across his face, his mouth softening with humor. “Surely the irony of that isn’t lost on you?” he says, and I can tell he’s trying hard to stifle his amusement.

  “This isn’t funny, Christian!”

  “No, you’re right. I’ll talk to her.” He adopts his serious face, though he’s still suppressing his amusement.

  “You will do no such thing.” I fold my arms, my anger spiking again.

  He blinks at me, surprised by my outburst.

  “Look, I know you’re tied up with her financially, forgive the pun, but-” I stop. What am I asking him to do? Give her up? Stop seeing her? Can I do that? “I need the restroom.” I glare up at him, my mouth set in a grim line.

  He sighs and cocks his head to one side. Could he look any hotter? Is it the mask or just him?

  “Please don’t be mad. I didn’t know she was here. She said she wasn’t coming.” His tone is placating as if he’s talking to a child. Reaching up he runs his thumb along my pouting bottom lip. “Don’t let Elena ruin our evening, please, Anastasia. She’s really old news.”

  Old being the operative word, I think uncharitably, as he tips my chin up and gently grazes his lips against mine. I sigh in agreement, blinking up at him. He straightens and takes my elbow.

  “I’ll accompany you to the powder room so you don’t get interrupted again.”

  He leads me across the lawn toward the luxurious temporary restrooms. Mia said they had been delivered for the occasion, but I had no idea they came in deluxe versions.

  “I’ll wait here for you, baby,” he murmurs.

  When I come out, my mood has moderated. I have decided not to let Mrs. Robinson blight my evening because that’s probably what she wants. Christian is on the phone some distance away and out of earshot of the few people laughing and chatting nearby. As I get closer, I can hear him. He’s very terse.

  “Why did you change your mind? I thought we’d agreed. Well, leave her alone… This is the first regular relationship I’ve ever had, and I don’t want you jeopardizing it through some misplaced concern for me. Leave. Her. Alone. I mean it, Elena.” He pauses, listening. “No, of course not.” He frowns deeply as he says this. Glancing up, he sees me regarding him. “I have to go. Goodnight.” He presses the off button.

  I cock my head to one side and raise an eyebrow at him. Why is he phoning her?

  “How’s the old news?”

  “Cranky,” he replies sardonically. “Do you want to dance some more? Or would you like to go?” He glances at his watch. “The fireworks start in five minutes.”

  “I love fireworks.”

  “We’ll stay and watch them, then.” He puts his arms around me and pulls me close. “Don’t let her come between us, please.”

  “She cares about you,” I mutter.

  “Yes, and I her… as a friend.”

  “I think it’s more than a friendship to her.”

  His brow furrows. “Anastasia, Elena and I… it’s complicated. We have a shared history. But it is just that, history. As I’ve said to you time and time again, she’s a good friend. That’s all. Please, forget about her.” He kisses my hair, and in the interest of not ruining our evening, I let it go. I am just trying to understand.

  We wander hand in hand back to the dance floor. The band is still in full swing.

  “Anastasia.”

  I turn to find Carrick standing behind us.

  “I wondered if you’d do me the honor of the next dance.” Carrick holds his hand out to me. Christian shrugs and smiles, releasing my hand, and I let Carrick lead me onto the dance floor. Sam the bandleader launches into “Come Fly with Me,” and Carrick puts his arm around my waist and gently whirls me into the throng.

  “I wanted to thank you for the generous contribution to our charity, Anastasia.”

  From his tone, I suspect this is his roundabout way of asking whether I can afford it.

  “Mr. Grey-”

  “Call me Carrick, please, Ana.”

  “I’m delighted to be able to contribute. I unexpectedly came into some money. I don’t need it. And it’s such a worthy cause.”

  He smiles down at me, and I seize the opportunity for some innocent inquiries. Carpe diem, my subconscious hisses from behind her hand.

  “Christian told me a little about his past, so I think it’s appropriate to support your work,” I add, hoping that this might encourage Carrick to give me a small insight into the mystery that is his son.

  Carrick is surprised. “Did he? That’s unusual. You certainly have had a very positive effect on him, Anastasia. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so, so… buoyant.”

  I flush.

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

  “Well, in my limited experience, he’s a very unusual man,” I murmur.

  “He is,” Carrick agrees quietly.

  “Christian’s early childhood sounds hideously traumatic, from what he’s told me.”

  Carrick frowns, and I worry if I’ve overstepped the mark.

  “My wife was the doctor on duty when the police brought him in. He was skin and bones, and badly dehydrated. He wouldn’t speak.” Carrick frowns again, lost in the awful memory, despite the up-tempo music surrounding us. “In fact, he didn’t speak for nearly two years. It was playing the piano that eventually brought him out of himself. Oh, and Mia’s arrival, of course.” He smiles down at me fondly.

  “He plays beautifully. And he’s accomplished so much, you must be very proud of him.” I sound distracted. Holy Shit. Didn’t speak for two years.

  “Immensely so. He’s a very determined, very capable, very bright young man. But between you and me, Anastasia, it’s seeing him like he is this evening-carefree, acting his age-that’s the real thrill for his mother and me. We were both commenting on it today. I believe we ha
ve you to thank for that.”

  I think I blush to my roots. What am I supposed to say to this?

  “He’s always been such a loner. We never thought we’d see him with anyone. Whatever you’re doing, please don’t stop. We’d like to see him happy.” He stops suddenly as if he’s overstepped the mark. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

  I shake my head. “I’d like to see him happy, too,” I mutter, unsure of what else to say.

  “Well, I’m very glad you came this evening. It’s been a real pleasure seeing the two of you together.”

  As the final strains of “Come Fly with Me” fade away, Carrick releases me and bows, and I curtsey, mirroring his civility.

  “That’s enough dancing with old men.” Christian is at my side again. Carrick laughs.

  “Less of the ‘old,’ son. I’ve been known to have my moments.” Carrick winks at me playfully and saunters into the crowd.

  “I think my dad likes you,” Christian mutters as he watches his father mingle with the crowd…

  “What’s not to like?” I peek coquettishly up at him through my lashes.

  “Good point well made, Miss Steele.” He pulls me into an embrace as the band starts to play “It Had to Be You.”

  “Dance with me,” he whispers seductively.

  “With pleasure, Mr. Grey.” I smile in response, and he sweeps me across the dance floor once more.

  At midnight, we stroll down toward the shore between the marquee and the boathouse where the other partygoers are gathered to watch the fireworks. The MC, back in charge, has permitted the removal of masks, the better to see the display. Christian has his arm around me, but I’m aware that Taylor and Sawyer are close by, probably because we’re in the crowd now. They are looking anywhere but at the dockside where two pyrotechnicians dressed in black are making their final preparations. Seeing Taylor reminds me of Leila. Perhaps she’s here. Shit. The thought chills my blood, and I huddle closer to Christian. He gazes down at me as he pulls me closer.

  “You okay, baby? Cold?”

  “I’m fine.” I glance quickly behind us and see the other two security guys, whose names I forget, standing close by. Moving me in front of him, Christian puts both his arms around me over my shoulders.

  Suddenly, a stirring classical soundtrack booms over the dock and two rockets soar into the air, exploding with a deafening bang over the bay, lighting it all in a dazzling canopy of sparkling orange and white that’s reflected in a glittering shower over the still calm water of the bay. My jaw drops as several more rockets fire into the air and explode in a kaleidoscope of color.

  I can’t recall ever seeing a display this impressive, except perhaps on television, and it never looks this good on TV. They’re all in time to the music. Volley after volley, bang after bang, and light after light as the crowd answers with gasps and ooohs and ahhs. It is out of this world.

  On the pontoon in the bay several silver fountains of light shoot up twenty feet in the air, changing color through blue, red, orange, and back to silver-and yet more rockets explode as the music reaches its crescendo.

  My face is beginning to ache from the ridiculous grin of wonder plastered across it. I glance at Fifty, and he’s the same, marveling like a child at the sensational show. For the finale a volley of six rockets shoot into the dark and explode simultaneously, bathing us in a glorious golden light as the crowd erupts into frantic, enthusiastic applause.

  “Ladies and gentlemen,” the MC calls out as the cheers and whistles fade. “Just one note to add at the end of this wonderful evening; your generosity has raised a total of one million, eight hundred and fifty three thousand dollars!”

  Spontaneous applause erupts again, and out on the pontoon, a message lights up in silver streams of sparks forming the words Thank You From Coping Together, sparkling and shimmering over the water.

  “Oh, Christian… that was wonderful.” I grin up at him and he bends down to kiss me.

  “Time to go,” he murmurs, a broad smile on his beautiful face, and his words hold so much promise.

  Suddenly, I feel very tired.

  He glances up again, and Taylor is close, the crowd dispersing around us. They don’t speak but something passes between them.

  “Stay with me a moment. Taylor wants us to wait while the crowd disperses.”

  Oh.

  “I think that firework display probably aged him a hundred years,” he adds.

  “Doesn’t he like fireworks?”

  Christian gazes down at me fondly and shakes his head but doesn’t elaborate.

  “So, Aspen,” he says, and I know he’s trying to distract me from something. It works.

  “Oh… I haven’t paid for my bid,” I gasp.

  “You can send a check. I have the address.”

  “You were really mad.”

  “Yes, I was.”

  I grin. “I blame you and your toys.”

  “You were quite overcome, Miss Steele. A most satisfactory outcome if I recall.” He smiles salaciously. “Incidentally, where are they?”

  “The silver balls? In my bag.”

  “I’d like them back.” He smirks down at me. “They are far too potent a device to be left in your innocent hands.”

  “Worried I might be quite overcome again, maybe with somebody else?”

  His eyes glitter dangerously. “I hope that’s not going to happen,” he says, a cool edge to his voice. “But no, Ana. I want all your pleasure.”

  Whoa. “Don’t you trust me?”

  “Implicitly. Now, can I have them back?”

  “I’ll think about it.”

  He narrows his eyes at me.

  There’s music once more from the dance floor but it’s a DJ playing a thumping dance number, the bass pounding out a relentless beat.

  “Do you want to dance?”

  “I’m really tired, Christian. I’d like to go, if that’s okay.”

  Christian glances at Taylor, who nods, and we set off toward the house, following a couple of drunken guests. I’m grateful when Christian takes my hand-my feet are aching from the dizzying height and tight confinement of my shoes.

  Mia comes bounding up to us. “You’re not going, are you? The real music’s just beginning. Come on, Ana.” She grabs my hand.

  “Mia,” Christian admonishes her. “Anastasia’s tired. We’re going home. Besides, we have a big day tomorrow.”

  We do?

  Mia pouts but surprisingly doesn’t push Christian.

  “You must come by sometime next week. Maybe we can hit the mall?”

  “Sure, Mia.” I grin, though in the back of my mind I’m wondering how since I have to work for a living.

  She gives me a quick kiss then hugs Christian fiercely, taking us both by surprise. More astoundingly still, she places her hands directly on the lapels of his jacket, and he just gazes down at her, indulgently.

  “I like seeing you this happy,” she says sweetly and kisses him on the cheek. “Bye. You guys have fun.” She skips off toward her waiting friends-among them Lily, who looks even more sour-faced without her mask.

  I wonder idly where Sean is.

  “We’ll say goodnight to my parents before we leave. Come.” Christian leads me through a gaggle of guests to Grace and Carrick, who wish us fond and warm farewells.

  “Please do come again, Anastasia, it’s been lovely having you here,” says Grace kindly.

  I am a little overwhelmed by both her and Carrick’s reaction. Fortunately, Grace’s parents have retired for the evening, so at least I am spared their enthusiasm.

  Quietly, Christian and I walk hand in hand to the front of the house where countless cars are lined up and waiting to collect guests. I glance up at Fifty. He looks happy and relaxed. It’s a real pleasure to see him this way, though I suspect it’s unusual after such an extraordinary day.

  “Are you warm enough?” he asks.

  “Yes, thank you.” I clasp my satin wrap.

  “I real
ly enjoyed this evening, Anastasia. Thank you.”

  “Me too, some parts more than others.” I grin.

  He grins and nods, then his brow creases. “Don’t bite your lip,” he warns in a way that makes my blood sing.

  “What did you mean about a big day tomorrow?” I ask to distract myself.

  “Dr. Greene is coming to sort you out. Plus, I have a surprise for you.”

  “Dr. Greene!” I halt.

  “Yes.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I hate condoms,” he says quietly. His eyes glint in the soft light from the paper lanterns, gauging my reaction.

  “It’s my body,” I mutter, annoyed that he hasn’t asked me.

  “It’s mine, too,” he whispers.

  I gaze up at him as various guests pass by, ignoring us. He looks so earnest. Yes, my body is his… he knows it better than I do.

  I reach up, and he flinches ever so slightly but stays still. Grasping the corner of his bow tie, I pull so it unravels, revealing the top button of his shirt. Gently I undo it.

  “You look hot like this,” I whisper. Actually he looks hot all the time, but really hot like this.

  He smirks at me. “I need to get you home. Come.”

  At the car, Sawyer hands Christian an envelope. He frowns at it and glances at me as Taylor ushers me into the car. Taylor looks relieved for some reason. Christian climbs in and hands me the envelope, unopened, as Taylor and Sawyer take their seats in the front.

  “It’s addressed to you. One of the staff gave it to Sawyer. No doubt from yet another ensnared heart.” Christian’s mouth twists. It’s obvious this is an unpleasant concept to him.

  I stare at the note. Who is this from? Ripping it open, I read it quickly in the dim light. Holy shit, it’s from her! Why won’t she leave me alone?

  Fuck, she’s signed it Mrs. Robinson! He told her. The bastard.

  “You told her?”

  “Told who, what?”

  “That I call her Mrs. Robinson,” I snap.

  “It’s from Elena?” Christian is shocked. “This is ridiculous,” he grumbles, running a hand through his hair, and I can tell he’s irritated. “I’ll deal with her tomorrow. Or Monday,” he mutters bitterly.

  And though I’m ashamed to admit it, a very small part of me is pleased. My subconscious nods sagely. Elena is pissing him off, and this can only be good-surely. I decide to say nothing for now but stash her note in my bag, and in a gesture guaranteed to lighten his mood, I hand him back the balls.

  “Until next time,” I murmur.

  He glances at me, and it’s hard to see his face in the dark, but I think he’s smirking. He reaches for my hand and squeezes it.

  I gaze out of the window into the darkness, reflecting on this long day. I’ve learned so much about him, gleaned so many missing details-the salons, the road map, his childhood-but there’s still so much more to discover. And what about Mrs. R? Yes, she cares for him, and deeply, it would appear. I can see that, and he cares for her-but not in the same way. I don’t know what to think anymore. All this information is making my head hurt.

  Christian wakes me just as we pull up outside Escala. “Do I need to carry you in?” he asks gently.

  I shake my head sleepily. No way.

  As we stand in the elevator, I lean against him, putting my head against his shoulder. Sawyer stands in front of us, shifting uncomfortably.

  “It’s been a long day, eh, Anastasia?”

  I nod.

  “Tired?”

  I nod.

  “You’re not very talkative.”

  I nod and he grins.

  “Come. I’ll put you to bed.” He takes my hand as we exit the elevator, but we stop in the foyer when Sawyer holds up his hand. In that split second, I am instantly wide awake. Sawyer talks into his sleeve. I had no idea that he was wearing a radio.

  “Will do, T,” he says and turns to face us. “Mr. Grey, the tires on Ms. Steele’s Audi have been slashed and paint thrown all over it.”

  Holy shit. My car! Who would do that? And I know the answer as soon as the question materializes in my mind. Leila. I glance up at Christian, and he blanches.

  “Taylor is concerned that the perp may have entered the apartment and may still be there. He wants to make sure.”

  “I see,” Christian whispers. “What’s Taylor’s plan?”

  “He’s coming up in the service elevator with Ryan and Reynolds. They’ll do a sweep then give us the all clear. I’m to wait with you, sir.”

  “Thank you, Sawyer.” Christian tightens his arm around me. “This day just gets better and better,” he sighs bitterly, nuzzling my hair. “Listen, I can’t stand here and wait. Sawyer, take care of Miss Steele. Don’t let her in until you have the all clear. I am sure Taylor is overreacting. She can’t get into the apartment.”

  What? “No, Christian-you have to stay with me,” I plead.

  Christian releases me. “Do as you’re told, Anastasia. Wait here.”

  No!

  “Sawyer?” Christian says.

  Sawyer opens the foyer door to let Christian enter the apartment then shuts the door behind him and stands in front of it, staring impassively down at me.

  Holy shit. Christian! All manner of horrific outcomes run through my mind, but all I can do is stand and wait.

  8

  Sawyer talks into his sleeve again.

  “Taylor, Mr. Grey has entered the apartment.” He flinches and grabs the earpiece, pulling it out of his ear, presumably receiving some powerful invective from Taylor.

  Oh no-if Taylor is worried…

  “Please let me go in,” I plead.

  “Sorry, Miss Steele. This won’t take long.” Sawyer holds both hands up in a defensive gesture. “Taylor and the guys are just coming into the apartment now.”

  Oh. I feel so impotent. Standing stock-still, I listen avidly for the slightest sound, but all I hear is my aggravated breathing. It’s loud and shallow, my scalp prickles, my mouth is dry, and I feel faint. Please, let Christian be okay, I pray silently.

  I have no idea how much time passes, and still we hear nothing. Surely no sound is good-there are no gunshots. I begin pacing around the table in the foyer and examine the paintings on the walls to distract myself.

  I’ve never really looked at them before: all figurative paintings, all religious-the Madonna and child, all sixteen of them. How odd?

  Christian isn’t religious, is he? All of the paintings in the great room are abstracts-these are so different. They don’t distract me for long-Where is Christian?

  I stare at Sawyer and he watches me impassively.

  “What’s happening?”

  “No news, Miss Steele.”

  Abruptly, the doorknob moves. Sawyer spins like a top and draws a gun from his shoulder holster.

  I freeze. Christian appears at the door.

  “All clear,” he says, frowning at Sawyer, who puts his gun away immediately and steps back to let me in.

  “Taylor is overreacting,” Christian grumbles as he holds out his hand to me. I stand gaping at him, unable to move, drinking in every little detail: his unruly hair, the tightness round his eyes, the tense jaw, the top two buttons of his shirt undone. I think I must have aged ten years. Christian frowns at me in concern, his eyes dark.

  “It’s alright, baby.” He moves toward me, enveloping me in his arms, and kisses my hair. “Come on, you’re tired. Bed.”

  “I was so worried,” I murmur, rejoicing in his embrace and inhaling his sweet, sweet scent with my head against his chest.

  “I know. We’re all jumpy.”

  Sawyer has disappeared, presumably into the apartment.

  “Honestly, your exes are proving to be very challenging, Mr. Grey,” I mutter wryly. Christian relaxes.

  “Yes. They are.”

  He releases me and taking my hand, leads me across the hallway and into the great room.

  “Taylor and his crew are checking all the closets and cupboards. I
don’t think she’s here.”

  “Why would she be here?” It makes no sense.

  “Exactly.”

  “Could she get in?”

  “I don’t see how. But Taylor is overcautious sometimes.”

  “Have you searched your playroom?” I whisper.

  Christian glances quickly at me, his brow creasing. “Yes, it’s locked-but Taylor and I checked.”

  I take a deep, cleansing breath.

  “Do you want a drink or anything?” Christian asks.

  “No.” Fatigue sweeps through me-I just want to go to bed.

  “Come. Let me put you to bed. You look exhausted.” Christian’s expression softens.

  I frown. Isn’t he coming, too? Does he want to sleep alone?

  I’m relieved when he leads me into his bedroom. I place my clutch bag on the chest of drawers and open it to empty the contents. I spy Mrs. Robinson’s note.

  “Here.” I pass it to Christian. “I don’t know if you want to read this. I want to ignore it.”

  Christian scans it briefly and his jaw tenses.

  “I’m not sure what blanks she can fill in,” he says dismissively. “I need to talk to Taylor.” He gazes down at me. “Let me unzip your dress.”

  “Are you going to call the police about the car?” I ask as I turn around.

  He sweeps my hair out of the way, his fingers softly grazing my naked back, and tugs down my zipper.

  “No. I don’t want the police involved. Leila needs help, not police intervention, and I don’t want them here. We just have to double our efforts to find her.” He leans down and plants a gentle kiss on my shoulder.

  “Go to bed,” he orders and then he’s gone.

  I lie, staring at the ceiling, waiting for him to return. So much has happened today, so much to process. Where to start?

  I wake with a jolt-disorientated. Have I been asleep? Blinking in the dim glow the hallway casts through the slightly open bedroom door, I notice that Christian is not with me. Where is he? I glance up. Standing at the end of the bed is a shadow. A woman, maybe? Dressed in black? It’s difficult to tell.

  In my befuddled state, I reach across and switch on the bedside light, then turn back to look but there’s no one there. I shake my head. Did I imagine it? Dream it?

  I sit up and look around the room, a vague, insidious unease gripping me-but I am quite alone.

  I rub my face. What time is it? Where’s Christian? The alarm says it’s two fifteen in the morning.

  Climbing groggily out of bed, I set off to hunt him down, disconcerted by my overactive imagination. I am seeing things now. It must be a reaction to the dramatic events of the evening.

  The main room is empty, the only light emanating from the three pendulum lamps above the breakfast bar. But his study door is ajar, and I hear him on the phone.

  “I don’t know why you’re calling at this hour. I have nothing to say to you… well, you can tell me now. You don’t have to leave a message.”

  I stand motionless by the door, eavesdropping guiltily. Who is he talking to?

  “No, you listen. I asked you, and now I am telling you. Leave her alone. She’s nothing to do with you. Do you understand?”

  He sounds belligerent and angry. I hesitate to knock.

  “I know you do. But I mean it, Elena. Leave her the fuck alone. Do I need to put it in triplicate for you? Are you hearing me?… Good. Good night.” He slams the phone down on the desk.

  Oh shit. I knock tentatively on the door.

  “What?” he snarls, and I almost want to run and hide.

  He sits at his desk with his head in his hands. He glances up, his expression ferocious, but his face softens immediately when he sees me. His eyes are wide and cautious. Suddenly, he looks so tired and my heart constricts.

  He blinks, and his eyes sweep down my legs and back again. I am wearing one of his T-shirts.

  “You should be in satin or silk, Anastasia,” he breathes. “But even in my T-shirt you look beautiful.”

  Oh, an unexpected compliment. “I missed you. Come to bed.”

  He rises slowly out of the chair still in his white shirt and black dress pants. But now his eyes are shining and full of promise… but there’s a trace of sadness, too. He stands in front of me, staring intently but not touching me.

  “Do you know what you mean to me?” he murmurs. “If something happened to you, because of me…” His voice trails off, his brow creasing, and the pain that flashes across his face is almost palpable. He looks so vulnerable-his fear very much apparent.

  “Nothing’s going to happen to me,” I reassure him, my voice soothing. I reach up and stroke his face, running my fingers through the stubble on his cheek. It’s unexpectedly soft. “Your beard grows quickly,” I whisper, unable to hide the wonder in my voice at this beautiful, fucked-up man who stands before me.

  I trace the line of his bottom lip then trail my fingers down his throat, to the faint smudge of lipstick at the base of his neck. He gazes down at me, still not touching me, his lips parted. I run my index finger along the line, and he closes his eyes. His soft breathing quickens. My fingers reach the edge of his shirt, and I run them down to the next fastened button.

  “I’m not going to touch you. I just want to undo your shirt,” I whisper.

  His eyes open wide, regarding me with alarm. But he doesn’t move, and he doesn’t stop me. Very slowly I unfasten the button, holding the material away from his skin, and move tentatively down to the next button, repeating the process-slowly, concentrating on what I am doing.

  I don’t want to touch him. Well, I do… but I won’t. On the fourth button, the red line reappears, and I smile shyly up at him.

  “Back on home territory.” I trace the line with my fingers before undoing the final button. I pull his shirt open and move to his cuffs, removing his black polished stone cufflinks one at a time.

  “Can I take your shirt off?” I ask, my voice low.

  He nods, eyes still wide, as I reach up and pull his shirt over his shoulders. He frees his hands so he’s standing in front of me naked from the waist up. With his shirt off, he seems to recover his equilibrium. He smirks down at me.

  “What about my pants, Miss Steele?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.

  “In the bedroom. I want you in your bed.”

  “Do you now? Miss Steele, you are insatiable.”

  “I can’t think why.” I grab his hand, pull him from his study, and lead him to his bedroom. The room is chilly.

  “You opened the balcony door?” he asks, frowning down at me as we arrive in his room.

  “No.” I don’t remember doing that. I recall scanning the room when I woke. The door was definitely closed.

  Oh shit… All the blood rushes from my face, and I stare at Christian as my mouth falls open.

  “What?” he snaps, glaring at me.

  “When I woke… there was someone in here,” I whisper. “I thought it was my imagination.”

  “What?” He looks horrified and dashes to the balcony door, peers out, then steps back into the room and locks the door behind him. “Are you sure? Who?” he asks his voice tight.

  “A woman, I think. It was dark. I’d only just woken up.”

  “Get dressed,” he snarls at me on his way back in. “Now!”

  “My clothes are upstairs,” I whimper.

  He pulls open one of the drawers in his chest of drawers and fishes out a pair of sweatpants.

  “Put these on.” They are far too big, but he is not to be argued with.

  He swipes a T-shirt, too, and quickly pulls it over his head. Grabbing the bedside phone, he presses two buttons.

  “She’s still fucking here,” he hisses down the phone.

  Approximately three seconds later, Taylor and one of the other security guys, burst into Christian’s bedroom. Christian gives them a précis of what has happened.

  “How long ago?” Taylor demands, staring at me all businesslike. He’s still wearing his jacket. Doe
s this man ever sleep?

  “About ten minutes,” I mutter, for some reason feeling guilty.

  “She knows the apartment like the back of her hand,” says Christian. “I am taking Anastasia away now. She’s hiding here somewhere. Find her. When is Gail back?

  “Tomorrow evening, sir.”

  “She’s not to return until this place is secure. Understand?” Christian snaps.

  “Yes, sir. Will you be going to Bellevue?”

  “I’m not leading this problem to my parents. Book me somewhere.”

  “Yes. I’ll call you.”

  “Aren’t we all overreacting slightly?” I ask.

  Christian glowers at me. “She may have a gun,” he growls.

  “Christian, she was standing at the end of the bed. She could have shot me then, if that’s what she wanted to do.”

  Christian pauses for a moment to rein in his temper, I think. In a menacingly soft voice he says, “I’m not prepared to take the risk. Taylor, Anastasia needs shoes.”

  Christian disappears into his closet while the security guy watches me. I can’t remember his name, Ryan maybe. He looks alternately down the hall and to the balcony windows. Christian emerges a couple of minutes later with a leather messenger bag, wearing jeans and his pinstriped blazer. He drapes a denim jacket around my shoulders.

  “Come.” He clasps my hand tightly, and I have to practically run to keep up with his long strides into the great room.

  “I can’t believe she could hide somewhere in here,” I mutter, staring out the balcony doors.

  “It’s a big place. You haven’t seen it all yet.”

  “Why don’t you just call her… tell her you want to talk to her?”

  “Anastasia, she’s unstable, and she may be armed,” he says irritably.

  “So we just run?”

  “For now-yes.”

  “Supposing she tries to shoot Taylor?”

  “Taylor knows and understands guns,” he says with distaste. “He’ll be quicker with a gun than she is.”

  “Ray was in the army. He’s taught me to shoot.”

  Christian raises his eyebrows and for a moment looks utterly bemused. “You, with a gun?” he says incredulously.

  “Yes.” I am affronted. “I can shoot, Mr. Grey, so you’d better beware. It’s not just crazy ex-subs you need to worry about.”

  “I’ll bear that in mind, Miss Steele,” he answers dryly, amused, and it feels good to know that even in this ridiculously tense situation, I can make him smile.

  Taylor meets us in the foyer and hands me my small suitcase and my black Converse. I am stunned that he’s packed me some clothes. I smile shyly at him with gratitude, and his returning smile is swift and reassuring. Before I can stop myself-I hug him, hard. He’s taken by surprise, and when I release him, he’s pink in both cheeks.

  “Be careful,” I murmur.

  “Yes, Miss Steele,” he mutters.

  Christian frowns at me and then looks questioningly at Taylor, who smiles very slightly and adjusts his tie.

  “Let me know where I’m going.” Christian says.

  Taylor reaches into his jacket, pulls out his wallet, and hands Christian a credit card.

  “You might want to use this when you get there.”

  Christian nods. “Good thinking.”

  Ryan joins us. “Sawyer and Reynolds found nothing,” he says to Taylor.

  “Accompany Mr. Grey and Miss Steele to the garage,” Taylor orders.

  The garage is deserted. Well, it is nearly three in the morning. Christian ushers me into the passenger seat of the R8 and puts my case and his bag in the trunk at the front of the car. The Audi beside us is a complete mess-every tire slashed, white paint splattered all over it. It’s chilling and makes me grateful that Christian is taking me somewhere else.

  “A replacement will arrive on Monday,” Christian says bleakly when he’s seated beside me.

  “How could she have known it was my car?”

  He glances anxiously at me and sighs. “She had an Audi A3. I buy one for all my submissives-it’s one of the safest cars in its class.”

  Oh. “So, not so much a graduation present, then.”

  “Anastasia, despite what I hoped, you have never been my submissive, so technically it is a graduation present.” He pulls out of the parking space and speeds to the exit.

  Despite what he hoped. Oh no… my subconscious shakes her head sadly. This is what we come back to all the time.

  “Are you still hoping?” I whisper.

  The in-car phone buzzes. “Grey,” Christian snaps.

  “Fairmont Olympic. In my name.”

  “Thank you, Taylor. And, Taylor, be careful.”

  Taylor pauses. “Yes, sir,” he says quietly, and Christian hangs up.

  The streets of Seattle are deserted, and Christian roars up Fifth Avenue toward the I-5. Once on the interstate, he floors the gas pedal, heading north. He accelerates so quickly I’m momentarily thrown back in my seat.

  I peek at him. He’s deep in thought, radiating a deadly brooding silence. He hasn’t answered my question. He glances frequently at the rearview mirror, and I realize he’s checking that we’re not being followed. Perhaps that’s why we’re on the I-5. I thought the Fairmont was in Seattle.

  I gaze out of the window, trying to rationalize my exhausted, overactive mind. If she’d wanted to hurt me, she had ample opportunity in the bedroom.

  “No. It’s not what I hope for, not anymore. I thought that was obvious.” Christian interrupts my introspection, his voice soft.

  I blink at him, pulling his denim jacket tighter around me, and I don’t know if the chill is emanating from within me or from outside.

  “I worry that, you know… that I’m not enough.”

  “You’re more than enough. For the love of God, Anastasia, what do I have to do?”

  Tell me about yourself. Tell me you love me.

  “Why did you think I’d leave when I told you Dr. Flynn had told me all there was to know about you?”

  He sighs heavily, closing his eyes for a moment, and for the longest time he doesn’t answer. “You cannot begin to understand the depths of my depravity, Anastasia. And it’s not something I want to share with you.”

  “And you really think I’d leave, if I knew?” My voice is high, incredulous. Doesn’t he understand that I love him? “Do you think so little of me?”

  “I know you’ll leave,” he says sadly.

  “Christian… I think that’s very unlikely. I can’t imagine being without you.” Ever…

  “You left me once-I don’t want to go there again.”

  “Elena said she saw you last Saturday,” I whisper quietly.

  “She didn’t.” He frowns.

  “You didn’t go to see her, when I left?”

  “No,” he snaps, irritated. “I just told you I didn’t-and I don’t like to be doubted,” he scolds. “I didn’t go anywhere last weekend. I sat and made the glider you gave me. Took me forever,” he adds quietly.

  My heart clenches again. Mrs. Robinson said she saw him.

  Did she or didn’t she? She’s lying. Why?

  “Contrary to what Elena thinks, I don’t rush to her with all my problems, Anastasia. I don’t rush to anybody. You may have noticed-I’m not much of a talker.” He tightens his hold on the steering wheel.

  “Carrick told me you didn’t talk for two years.”

  “Did he now?” Christian’s mouth presses into a hard line.

  “I kind of pumped him for information.” Embarrassed, I stare at my fingers.

  “So what else did Daddy say?”

  “He said your mom was the doctor who examined you when you were brought into the hospital. After you were discovered in your apartment.”

  Christian’s expression remains blank… careful.

  “He said learning the piano helped. And Mia.”

  His lips curl in a fond smile at the mention of her name. After a moment he says, “She was about
six months old when she arrived. I was thrilled, Elliot less so. He’d already had to contend with my arrival. She was perfect.” The sweet, sad awe in his voice is affecting. “Less so now, of course,” he mutters, and I recall her successful attempts at the ball to thwart our lascivious intentions. It makes me giggle.

  Christian gives me a sideways glance. “You find that amusing, Miss Steele?”

  “She seemed determined to keep us apart.”

  He laughs mirthlessly. “Yes, she’s quite accomplished.” He reaches across and squeezes my knee. “But we got there in the end.” He smiles then glances in the rearview mirror once more. “I don’t think we’ve been followed.” He turns off the I-5 and heads back to central Seattle.

  “Can I ask you something about Elena?” We are stopped at some traffic lights.

  He gazes at me warily. “If you must,” he mutters sullenly, but I don’t let his irritability deter me.

  “You told me ages ago that she loved you in a way you found acceptable. What did that mean?”

  “Isn’t it obvious?” he asks.

  “Not to me.”

  “I was out of control. I couldn’t bear to be touched. I can’t bear it now. For a fourteen, fifteen-year-old adolescent boy with hormones raging, it was a difficult time. She showed me a way to let off steam.”

  Oh. “Mia said you were a brawler.”

  “Christ, what is it with my loquacious family? Actually-it’s you.” We’ve stopped at more lights, and he narrows his eyes at me. “You inveigle information out of people.” He shakes his head in mock disgust.

  “Mia volunteered that information. In fact, she was very forthcoming. She was worried you’d start a brawl in the marquee if you didn’t win me at the auction,” I mutter indignantly.

  “Oh, baby, there was no danger of that. There was no way I would let anyone else dance with you.”

  “You let Dr. Flynn.”

  “He’s always the exception to the rule.”

  Christian pulls into the impressive, leafy driveway of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel and parks near the front door, beside a quaint stone fountain.

  “Come.” He climbs out of the car and retrieves our luggage. A valet rushes toward us, looking surprised-no doubt at our late arrival. Christian tosses him the car keys.

  “Name of Taylor,” he says. The valet nods and can’t contain his glee as he leaps into the R8 and drives off. Christian takes my hand and strides into the lobby.

  As I stand beside him at the reception desk, I feel utterly, utterly ridiculous. Here I am, in Seattle’s most prestigious hotel, dressed in an oversized denim jacket, oversized sweatpants, and an old T-shirt next to this elegant, beautiful, Greek god. No wonder the receptionist is looking from one to the other as if the equation doesn’t add up. Of course, she’s over-awed by Christian. I roll my eyes as she flushes crimson and stutters. Jeez, even her hands are shaking.

  “Do… you need a hand… with your bags, Mr. Taylor?” she asks, going scarlet again.

  “No, Mrs. Taylor and I can manage.”

  Mrs. Taylor! But I’m not wearing a ring. I put my hands behind my back.

  “You’re in the Cascade Suite, Mr. Taylor, eleventh floor. Our bellboy will help with your bags.”

  “We’re fine,” Christian says curtly. “Where are the elevators?”

  Miss Flushing Crimson explains, and Christian grasps my hand once more. I glance briefly round the impressive, sumptuous lobby full of overstuffed chairs, deserted save for a dark-haired woman sitting on a cozy sofa, feeding tidbits to her westie. She glances up and smiles at us as we make our way to the elevators. So the hotel allows pets? Odd for a place so grand!

  The suite has two bedrooms, a formal dining room, and comes complete with grand piano. A log fire blazes in the massive main room. Jeez… This suite is bigger than my apartment.

  “Well, Mrs. Taylor, I don’t know about you, but I’d really like a drink,” Christian mutters, locking the front door securely.

  In the bedroom, he puts my case and his satchel on the ottoman at the foot of the king-size four-poster bed and leads me by the hand into the main room where the fire is burning brightly. It’s a welcome sight. I stand and warm my hands while Christian fixes us both a drink.

  “Armagnac?”

  “Please.”

  After a moment, he joins me by the fire and hands me a crystal brandy glass.

  “It’s been quite a day, huh?”

  I nod and his gray eyes gaze at me searchingly, concerned.

  “I’m okay,” I whisper reassuringly. “How about you?”

  “Well, right now I’d like to drink this and then, if you’re not too tired, take you to bed and lose myself in you.”

  “I think that can be arranged, Mr. Taylor.” I smile shyly at him as he shuffles out of his shoes and peels off his socks.

  “Mrs. Taylor, stop biting your lip,” he whispers.

  I blush into my glass. The Armagnac is delicious, leaving a burning warmth in its wake as it glides silkily down my throat. When I glance up at Christian, he’s sipping his brandy, watching me, his eyes dark-hungry.

  “You never cease to amaze me, Anastasia. After a day like today-or yesterday, rather-you’re not whining or running off into the hills screaming. I am in awe of you. You’re very strong.”

  “You’re a very good reason to stay,” I murmur. “I told you, Christian, I’m not going anywhere, no matter what you’ve done. You know how I feel about you.”

  His mouth twists as if he doubts my words, and his brow creases as if what I’m saying is painful for him to hear. Oh, Christian, what do I have to do to make you realize how I feel?

  Let him beat you, my subconscious sneers at me. I scowl inwardly at her.

  “Where are you going to hang José’s portraits of me?” I try to lighten the mood.

  “That depends.” His lips twitch. This is obviously a much more palatable topic of conversation for him.

  “On what?”

  “Circumstances,” he says mysteriously. “His show’s not over yet, so I don’t have to decide straight away.”

  I cock my head to one side and narrow my eyes.

  “You can look as sternly as you like, Mrs. Taylor. I’m saying nothing,” he teases.

  “I may torture the truth from you.”

  He raises an eyebrow. “Really, Anastasia, I don’t think you should make promises you can’t fulfill.”

  Oh my, is that what he thinks? I place my glass on the mantelpiece, reach over, and much to Christian’s surprise, take his glass and place it beside mine.

  “We’ll just have to see about that,” I murmur. Very bravely-emboldened by the brandy, no doubt-I take Christian’s hand and pull him toward the bedroom. At the foot of the bed I stop. Christian is trying to hide his amusement.

  “Now you have me in here, Anastasia, what are you going to do with me?” he teases, his voice low.

  “I’m going to start by undressing you. I want to finish what I started earlier.” I reach for the lapels on his jacket, careful not to touch him, and he doesn’t flinch but he’s holding his breath.

  Gently, I push his jacket over his shoulders, and his eyes stay on mine, all traces of humor gone, as they grow larger, burning into me, wary and needful? There are so many interpretations of his look. What is he thinking? I place his jacket on the ottoman.

  “Now your T-shirt,” I whisper and lift it by the hem. He cooperates, raising his arms and backing away, making it easier for me to pull it off. Once off, he gazes down at me, intently, wearing just his jeans that hang so provocatively from his hips. The band of his boxer briefs is visible.

  My eyes move hungrily up across his taut stomach to the remains of the lipstick line, faded and smudged, then up to his chest. I want nothing more than to run my tongue through his chest hair to savor his taste.

  “Now what?” he whispers, eyes blazing.

  “I want to kiss you here.” I run my finger from hipbone to hipbone across his belly.

  His lips part
as he inhales sharply. “I’m not stopping you,” he breathes.

  I take his hand. “You’d better lie down then,” I murmur and lead him to the side of the four-poster bed. He seems bewildered, and it occurs to me that perhaps no one has taken the lead with him since… her. No, don’t go there.

  Lifting the covers, he sits on the edge of the bed, gazing up at me, waiting, his expression wary and serious. I stand before him and slip off his denim jacket and let it drop to the floor, then I shuffle out of his sweatpants.

  He rubs his thumb over the tips of his fingers. He’s itching to touch me, I can tell, but he suppresses the urge. Taking a deep breath and beyond courageous, I reach for the hem of my T-shirt and lift it over my head so I am naked before him. His eyes don’t leave mine, but he swallows and his lips part.

  “You are Aphrodite, Anastasia,” he murmurs.

  I clasp his face in my hands, tip his head up, and bend to kiss him. He groans low in his throat.

  As I place my mouth on his, he grabs my hips, and before I know it, I am pinned beneath him, his legs forcing mine apart so that he’s cradled against my body between my legs. He’s kissing me, ravaging my mouth, our tongues entwined. His hand trails from my thigh, over my hip, along my belly to my breast, squeezing, kneading, and pulling enticingly on my nipple.

  I groan and tilt my pelvis involuntarily against him, finding a delicious friction against the seam of his fly and his growing erection. He stops kissing me and gazes down at me bemused and breathless. He flexes his hips so his erection pushes against me…Yes. Right there.

  I close my eyes and moan, and he does it again, but this time I push back, relishing his answering moan as he kisses me again. He continues the slow delicious torture-rubbing me, rubbing him. And he’s right-getting lost in him-it’s intoxicating to the exclusion of everything else. All my worries are obliterated.

  I am here in this moment with him-my blood singing in my veins, thrumming loudly through my ears, mixed with the sound of our panting breaths. I bury my hands in his hair, holding him to my mouth, consuming him, my tongue as avaricious as his. I trail my fingers down his arms, down his lower back to the waistband of his jeans and push my intrepid, greedy hands inside, urging him on and on-forgetting everything, except us.

  “You’re going to unman me, Ana,” he whispers suddenly, breaking away from me and kneeling up. He briskly pulls down his jeans and hands me a foil packet.

  “You want me, baby, and I sure as hell want you. You know what to do.”

  With anxious, dexterous fingers, I rip open the foil and unroll the condom over him. He grins down at me, his mouth open, eyes misty gray and full of carnal promise. Leaning over me, he rubs his nose against mine, his eyes closed, and deliciously, slowly, he enters me.

  I grasp his arms and tilt my chin up, reveling in the exquisitely full feeling of his possession. He runs his teeth along my chin, eases back, and then slides into me again-so slow, so sweet, so tender-his body pressing down on me, his elbows and his hands on either side of my face.

  “You make me forget everything. You are the best therapy,” he breathes, moving at an achingly leisurely pace, savoring every inch of me.

  “Please, Christian-faster,” I murmur, wanting more, now.

 
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