Fifty shades darker, p.8
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       Fifty Shades Darker, p.8
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         Part #2 of Fifty Shades series by E. L. James
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  Jeez, he’s such a child sometimes. “I think Taylor looks after you very well. That’s why I like him. He seems kind, reliable and loyal. He has an avuncular appeal to me.”

  “Avuncular?”

  “Yes.”

  “Okay, avuncular.” Christian is testing the word and meaning. I laugh.

  “Oh, Christian, grow up, for heaven’s sake.”

  His mouth drops open, surprised by my outburst, but then he frowns as if considering my statement. “I’m trying,” he says eventually.

  “That you are. Very.” I answer softly but then roll my eyes at him.

  “What memories you evoke when you roll your eyes at me, Anastasia.” He grins.

  I smirk at him. “Well, if you behave yourself, maybe we can relive some of those memories.”

  His mouth twists with humor. “Behave myself?” He raises his eyebrows. “Really, Miss Steele-what makes you think I want to relive them?”

  “Probably the way your eyes lit up like Christmas when I said that.”

  “You know me so well already,” he says dryly.

  “I’d like to know you better.”

  He smiles softly. “And I you, Anastasia.”

  “Thanks, Mac.” Christian shakes McConnell’s hand and steps on the dock.

  “Always a pleasure, Mr. Grey, and good-bye. Ana, great to meet you.”

  I shake his hand shyly. He must know what Christian and I were up to on the boat while he went ashore.

  “Good day, Mac, and thank you.”

  He grins at me and winks, making me flush. Christian takes my hand, and we walk up the dock to the marina’s promenade.

  “Where’s Mac from?” I ask, curious about his accent.

  “Ireland… Northern Ireland,” Christian corrects himself.

  “Is he your friend?”

  “Mac? He works for me. Helped build The Grace.”

  “Do you have many friends?”

  He frowns. “Not really. Doing what I do… I don’t cultivate friendships. There’s only-” He stops, his frown deepening, and I know he was going to mention Mrs. Robinson.

  “Hungry?” he asks, trying to change the subject.

  I nod. Actually, I’m famished.

  “We’ll eat where I left the car. Come.”

  Next to SP’s is a small Italian bistro called Bee’s. It reminds me of the place in Portland-a few tables and booths, the décor very crisp and modern with a large black and white photograph of a turn-of-the-century fiesta serving as a mural.

  Christian and I are seated in a booth, poring over the menu and sipping a delicious light Frascati. When I glance up from the menu, having made my choice, Christian is gazing at me speculatively.

  “What?” I ask.

  “You look lovely, Anastasia. The outdoors agrees with you.”

  I flush. “I feel rather wind-burned to tell the truth. But I had a lovely afternoon. A perfect afternoon. Thank you.”

  He smiles, his eyes warm. “My pleasure,” he murmurs.

  “Can I ask you something?” I decide on a fact-finding mission.

  “Anything, Anastasia. You know that.” He cocks his head to one side, looking delicious.

  “You don’t seem to have many friends. Why is that?”

  He shrugs and frowns. “I told you, I don’t really have time. I have business associates-though that’s very different from friendships, I suppose. I have my family and that’s it. Apart from Elena.”

  I ignore the mention of the bitch-troll. “No male friends your own age that you can go out with and let off steam?”

  “You know how I like to let off steam, Anastasia.” Christian’s mouth twists. “And I’ve been working, building up the business.” He looks puzzled. “That’s all I do-except sail and fly occasionally.”

  “Not even in college?”

  “Not really.”

  “Just Elena, then?”

  He nods, his expression wary.

  “Must be lonely.”

  His lips curl in a small wistful smile. “What would you like to eat?” he asks, changing the subject again.

  “I’m going for the risotto.”

  “Good choice.” Christian summons the waiter, putting an end to that conversation.

  After we’ve placed our order, I shift uncomfortably in my seat, staring at my knotted fingers. If he’s in a talking mood, I need to take advantage.

  I have to talk to him about his expectations, about his, um… needs.

  “Anastasia, what’s wrong? Tell me.”

  I glance up into his concerned face.

  “Tell me,” he says more forcefully, and his concern evolves into what? Fear? Anger?

  I take a deep breath. “I’m just worried that this isn’t enough for you. You know, to let off steam.”

  His jaw tenses and his eyes harden. “Have I given you any indication that this isn’t enough?”

  “No.”

  “Then why do you think that?”

  “I know what you’re like. What you… um… need,” I stutter.

  He closes his eyes and rubs his forehead with long fingers.

  “What do I have to do?” His voice is ominously soft as if he’s angry, and my heart sinks.

  “No, you misunderstand-you have been amazing, and I know it’s just been a few days, but I hope I’m not forcing you to be someone you’re not.”

  “I’m still me, Anastasia-in all my fifty shades of fuckedupness. Yes, I have to fight the urge to be controlling… but that’s my nature, how I’ve dealt with my life. Yes, I expect you to behave a certain way, and when you don’t it’s both challenging and refreshing. We still do what I like to do. You let me spank you after your outrageous bid yesterday.” He smiles fondly at the memory. “I enjoy punishing you. I don’t think the urge will ever go… but I’m trying, and it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.”

  I squirm and flush, remembering our illicit tryst in his childhood bedroom. “I didn’t mind that,” I whisper, smiling shyly.

  “I know.” His lips curl in a reluctant smile. “Neither did I. But let me tell you, Anastasia, this is all new to me and these last few days have been the best in my life. I don’t want to change anything.”

  Oh!

  “They’ve been the best in my life, too, without exception,” I murmur and his smile broadens. My inner goddess nods frantically in agreement-and nudges me hard. Okay, okay.

  “So you don’t want to take me into your playroom?”

  He swallows and pales, all trace of humor gone. “No, I don’t.”

  “Why not?” I whisper. This is not the answer I expected.

  And yes, there it is, that little pinch of disappointment. My inner goddess stomps off pouting, her arms crossed like an angry toddler.

  “The last time we were in there you left me,” he says quietly. “I will shy away from anything that could make you leave me again. I was devastated when you left. I explained that. I never want to feel like that again. I’ve told you how I feel about you.” His gray eyes are wide and intense with his sincerity.

  “But it hardly seems fair. It can’t be very relaxing for you-to be constantly concerned about how I feel. You’ve made all these changes for me, and I… I think I should reciprocate in some way. I don’t know-maybe… try… some role-playing games,” I stutter, my face as crimson as the walls of the playroom.

  Why is this so hard to talk about? I have done all manner of kinky fuckery with this man, things I hadn’t even heard of a few weeks ago, things that I would never have thought possible, yet the hardest of all is talking to him.

  “Ana, you do reciprocate, more than you know. Please, please don’t feel like this.”

  Gone is carefree Christian. His eyes are wider now with alarm, and it’s gut-wrenching. “Baby, it’s only been one weekend,” he continues. “Give us some time. I thought a great deal about us last week when you left. We need time. You need to trust me, and I you. Maybe in time we can indulge, but I like how you are now. I like seeing you this happy, this r
elaxed and carefree, knowing that I had something to do with it. I have never-” He stops and runs his hand through his hair. “We have to walk before we can run.” Suddenly he smirks.

  “What’s so funny?”

  “Flynn. He says that all the time. I never thought I’d be quoting him.”

  “A Flynnism.”

  Christian laughs. “Exactly.”

  The waiter arrives with our starters and bruschetta, and our conversation changes tack as Christian relaxes.

  But when the unfeasibly large plates are placed before us, I can’t help think how I have thought of Christian today-relaxed, happy and carefree. At least he’s laughing now, at ease again.

  I breathe an inward sigh of relief as he starts quizzing me about places I’ve been. This is a short discussion, since I have never been anywhere except the continental US. Christian, on the other hand, has traveled the world. We slip into an easier, happier conversation, talking about all the places he’s visited.

  After our tasty and filling meal, Christian drives back to Escala, Eva Cassidy’s gentle sweet voice singing over the speakers. It allows me a peaceful interlude in which to think. I have had a mind-blowing day. Dr. Greene, our shower, Christian’s admission, making love at the hotel and on the boat, buying the car. Even Christian himself has been so different. It’s as if he’s letting go of something or rediscovering something-I don’t know.

  Who knew he could be so sweet? Did he?

  When I glance at him, he, too, looks lost in thought. It strikes me then that he never really had an adolescence-a normal one anyway. I shake my head.

  My mind drifts back to the ball and dancing with Dr. Flynn and Christian’s fear that Flynn had told me all about him. Christian is still hiding something from me. How can we move on if he feels that way?

  He thinks I might leave if I know him. He thinks that I might leave if he’s himself. Oh, this man is so complicated.

  As we get closer to his home, he starts radiating tension until it becomes palpable. As we drive, he scans the sidewalks and side alleys, his eyes darting everywhere, and I know he’s looking for Leila. I start looking, too. Every young brunette is a suspect, but we don’t see her.

  When he pulls into the garage, his mouth is set in a tense, grim line. I wonder why we’ve come back here if he’s going to be so wary and uptight. Sawyer is in the garage, patrolling. The defiled Audi is gone. He comes to open my door as Christian pulls in beside the SUV.

  “Hello, Sawyer,” I murmur my greeting.

  “Miss Steele.” He nods. “Mr. Grey.”

  “No sign?” Christian asks.

  “No, sir.”

  Christian nods, grasps my hand, and heads for the elevator. I know his brain is working overtime-he’s distracted. Once we’re inside he turns to me.

  “You are not allowed out of here alone. You understand?” he snaps.

  “Okay.” Jeez-keep your hair on. But his attitude makes me smile. I want to hug myself-now this man, all domineering and short with me I know. I marvel that I would have found it so threatening only a week or so ago when he spoke to me this way. But now, I understand him so much better. This is his coping mechanism. He’s stressed about Leila, he loves me, and he wants to protect me.

  “What’s so funny?” he murmurs, a hint of amusement in his expression.

  “You are.”

  “Me? Miss Steele? Why am I funny?” he pouts.

  Christian pouting is… hot.

  “Don’t pout.”

  “Why?” He’s even more amused.

  “Because it has the same effect on me as I have on you when I do this.” I bite my lip deliberately.

  He raises his eyebrows, surprised and pleased at the same time. “Really?” He pouts again and leans down to give me a swift chaste kiss.

  I raise my lips to meet his, and in the nanosecond when our lips touch, the nature of the kiss changes-wildfire spreading through my veins from this intimate point of contact, driving me to him.

  Suddenly, my fingers are curling in his hair as he grabs me and pushes me against the elevator wall, his hands framing my face, holding me to his lips as our tongues thrash against each other. And I don’t know if it’s the confines of the elevator making everything much more real, but I feel his need, his anxiety, his passion.

  Holy shit. I want him, here, now.

  The elevator pings to a halt, the doors slide open, and Christian drags his face from mine, his hips still pinning me to the wall, his erection digging into me.

  “Whoa,” he murmurs panting.

  “Whoa,” I mirror him, dragging a welcome breath into my lungs.

  He gazes at me, eyes blazing. “What you do to me, Ana.” He traces my lower lip with his thumb.

  Out of the corner of my eye, Taylor steps backward so he’s no longer in my line of sight. I reach up and kiss Christian at the corner of his beautifully sculptured mouth.

  “What you do to me, Christian.”

  He steps back and takes my hand, his eyes darker now, hooded. “Come,” he orders.

  Taylor is still in the foyer, waiting discreetly for us.

  “Good evening, Taylor,” Christian says cordially.

  “Mr. Grey, Miss Steele.”

  “I was Mrs. Taylor yesterday.” I grin at Taylor, who flushes.

  “That has a nice ring to it, Miss Steele,” Taylor says matter-of-factly.

  “I thought so, too.”

  Christian tightens his hold on my hand, scowling. “If you two have quite finished, I’d like a debrief.” He glares at Taylor, who now looks uncomfortable, and I cringe inwardly. I have overstepped the mark.

  “Sorry,” I mouth at Taylor, who shrugs and smiles kindly before I turn to follow Christian.

  “I’ll be with you shortly. I just want a word with Miss Steele,” Christian says to Taylor, and I know I’m in trouble.

  Christian leads me into his bedroom and closes the door.

  “Don’t flirt with the staff, Anastasia,” he scolds.

  I open my mouth to defend myself-then close it again, then open it. “I wasn’t flirting. I was being friendly-there is a difference.”

  “Don’t be friendly with the staff or flirt with them. I don’t like it.”

  Oh. Good-bye, carefree Christian. “I’m sorry,” I mutter and stare down at my fingers. He hasn’t made me feel like a child all day. Reaching down he cups my chin, pulling my head up to meet his eyes.

  “You know how jealous I am,” he whispers.

  “You have no reason to be jealous, Christian. You own me body and soul.”

  He blinks as if he’s finding this fact hard to process. He leans down and kisses me quickly, but with none of the passion we experienced a moment ago in the elevator.

  “I won’t be long. Make yourself at home,” he says sulkily and turns, leaving me standing in his bedroom, dazed and confused.

  Why on earth would he be jealous of Taylor? I shake my head in disbelief.

  Glancing at the alarm clock, I notice it’s just after eight. I decide to get my clothes ready for work tomorrow. I head upstairs to my room and open the walk-in closet. It’s empty. All the clothes have gone. Oh no! Christian has taken me at my word and disposed of the clothes. Shit.

  My subconscious glares at me. Well, that will be you and your big mouth.

  Why did he take me at my word? My mother’s advice comes back to haunt me, “Men are so literal, darling.” I pout, staring at the empty space. There were some lovely clothes, too, like the silver dress I wore to the ball.

  I wander disconsolately into the bedroom, Wait a moment-what is going on? The iPad is gone. Where’s my Mac? Oh no. My first uncharitable thought is that Leila may have stolen them.

  I fly back downstairs and back into Christian’s bedroom. On the bedside table are my Mac, my iPad, and my satchel. It’s all here.

  I open the walk-in closet door. My clothes are here-all of them-sharing space with Christian’s clothes. When did this happen? Why does he never warn me before he does things lik
e this?

  I turn, and he’s standing in the doorway.

  “Oh, they managed the move,” he mutters, distracted.

  “What’s wrong?” I ask. His face is grim.

  “Taylor thinks Leila was getting in through the emergency stairwell. She must have had a key. All the locks have been changed now. Taylor’s team has done a sweep of every room in the apartment. She’s not here.” He stops and runs a hand through his hair. “I wish I knew where she was. She’s evading all our attempts to find her when she needs help.” He frowns, and my earlier pique vanishes. I put my arms around him. Folding me into his embrace, he kisses my hair.

  “What will you do when you find her?” I ask.

  “Dr. Flynn has a place.”

  “What about her husband?”

  “He’s washed his hands of her.” Christian’s tone is bitter. “Her family is in Connecticut. I think she’s very much on her own out there.”

  “That’s sad.”

  “Are you okay with all your stuff being here? I want you to share my room,” he murmurs.

  Whoa, quick change of direction.

  “Yes.”

  “I want you sleeping with me. I don’t have nightmares when you’re with me.”

  “You have nightmares?”

  “Yes.”

  I tighten my hold around him. Holy cow. More baggage. My heart contracts for this man.

  “I was just getting my clothes ready for work tomorrow,” I mutter.

  “Work!” Christian exclaims as if it’s a dirty word, and he releases me, glaring.

  “Yes, work,” I reply, confused by his reaction.

  He stares at me with complete incomprehension. “But Leila-she’s out there,” he pauses. “I don’t want you to go to work.”

  What? “That’s ridiculous, Christian. I have to go to work.”

  “No, you don’t.”

  “I have a new job, which I enjoy. Of course I have to go to work.” What does he mean?

  “No, you don’t,” he repeats, emphatically.

  “Do you think I am going to stay here twiddling my thumbs while you’re off being Master of the Universe?”

  “Frankly… yes.”

  Oh, Fifty, Fifty, Fifty… give me strength.

  “Christian, I need to go to work.”

  “No, you don’t.”

  “Yes. I. Do.” I say it slowly as if he’s a child.

  He scowls at me. “It’s not safe.”

  “Christian… I need to work for a living, and I’ll be fine.”

  “No, you don’t need to work for a living-and how do you know you’ll be fine?” He’s almost shouting.

  What does he mean? He’s going to support me? Oh, this is beyond ridiculous-I’ve known him for what-five weeks?

  He’s angry now, his gray eyes stormy and flashing, but I don’t give a shit.

  “For heaven’s sake, Christian, Leila was standing at the end of your bed, and she didn’t harm me, and yes, I do need to work. I don’t want to be beholden to you. I have my student loans to pay.”

  His mouth presses into a grim line, as I place my hands on my hips. I am not budging on this. Who the fuck does he think he is?

  “I don’t want you going to work.”

  “It’s not up to you, Christian. This is not your decision to make.”

  He runs his hand through his hair as he stares at me. Seconds, minutes tick by as we glare at each other.

  “Sawyer will come with you.”

  “Christian, that’s not necessary. You’re being irrational.”

  “Irrational?” he growls. “Either he comes with you, or I will be really irrational and keep you here.”

  He wouldn’t, would he? “How, exactly?”

  “Oh, I’d find a way, Anastasia. Don’t push me.”

  “Okay!” I concede, holding up both my hands, placating him. Holy fuck-Fifty is back with a vengeance.

  We stand, scowling at each other.

  “Okay-Sawyer can come with me if it makes you feel better.” I concede rolling my eyes. Christian narrows his and takes a menacing step in my direction. I immediately step back. He stops and takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and runs both his hands through his hair. Oh no. Fifty is well and truly wound up.

  “Shall I give you a tour?”

  A tour? Are you kidding me? “Okay,” I mutter warily. Another change of tack-Mr. Mercurial is back in town. He holds out his hand and when I take it, he squeezes mine softly.

  “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

  “You didn’t. I was just getting ready to run,” I quip.

  “Run?” Christian eyes widen.

  “I’m joking!” Oh jeez.

  He leads me out of the closet, and I take a moment to calm down. Adrenaline is still coursing through my body. A fight with Fifty is not to be undertaken lightly.

  He gives me a tour of the apartment, showing me the various rooms. Along with the playroom and three spare bedrooms upstairs, I’m intrigued to find that Taylor and Mrs. Jones have a wing to themselves-a kitchen, spacious living area, and a bedroom each. Mrs. Jones has not yet returned from visiting her sister who lives in Portland.

  Downstairs, the room that catches my eye is opposite his study-a TV room with a too-large plasma screen and assorted games consoles. It’s cozy.

  “So you do have an Xbox?” I smirk.

  “Yes, but I’m crap at it. Elliot always beats me. That was funny, when you thought I meant this room was my playroom.” He grins down at me his snit-fit forgotten. Thank heavens he’s recovered his good mood.

  “I’m glad you find me amusing, Mr. Grey,” I respond haughtily.

  “That you are, Miss Steele-when you’re not being exasperating, of course.”

  “I’m usually exasperating when you’re being unreasonable.”

  “Me? Unreasonable?”

  “Yes, Mr. Grey. Unreasonable could be your middle name.”

  “I don’t have a middle name.”

  “Unreasonable would suit then.”

  “I think that’s a matter of opinion, Miss Steele.”

  “I would be interested in Dr. Flynn’s professional opinion.”

  Christian smirks.

  “I thought Trevelyan was your middle name.”

  “No. Surname.”

  “But you don’t use it.”

  “It’s too long. Come,” he commands. I follow him out of the TV room through the great room to the main corridor past the utility room and an impressive wine cellar and into Taylor’s own large, well-equipped office. Taylor stands when we enter. There’s room in here for a meeting table that seats six. Above one desk is a bank of monitors. I had no idea the apartment had CCTV. It appears to monitor the balcony, stairwell, service elevator, and foyer.

  “Hi, Taylor. I’m just giving Anastasia a tour.”

  Taylor nods but doesn’t smile. I wonder if he’s been told off, too, and why is he still working? When I smile at him, he nods politely. Christian grabs my hand once more and leads me to the library.

  “And, of course, you’ve been in here.” Christian opens the door. I spy the green baize of the billiard table.

  “Shall we play?” I ask. Christian smiles, surprised.

  “Okay. Have you played before?”

  “A few times,” I lie, and he narrows his eyes, cocking his head to one side.

  “You’re a hopeless liar, Anastasia. Either you’ve never played before or-”

  I lick my lips. “Frightened of a little competition?”

  “Frightened of a little girl like you?” Christian scoffs good-naturedly.

  “A wager, Mr. Grey.”

  “You’re that confident, Miss Steele?” He smirks, amused and incredulous at once. “What would you like to wager?”

  “If I win, you’ll take me back into the playroom.”

  He gazes at me as if he can’t quite comprehend what I’ve said. “And if I win?” he asks after several shell-shocked beats.

  “Then it’s your choice.”

/>   His mouth twists as he contemplates his answer. “Okay, deal.” He smirks. “Do you want to play pool, English snooker or carom billiards?”

  “Pool, please. I don’t know the others.”

  From a cupboard beneath one of the bookshelves, Christian takes out a large leather case. Inside the pool balls are nested in velvet. Quickly and efficiently, he racks the balls on the baize. I don’t think I’ve ever played pool on such a large table before. Christian hands me a cue and some chalk.

  “Would you like to break?” He feigns politeness. He’s enjoying himself-he thinks he’s going to win.

  “Okay.” I chalk the end of my cue, and blow the excess chalk off-staring up at Christian through my lashes. His eyes darken as I do.

  I line up on the white ball and with a swift clean stroke, hit the center ball of the triangle square on with such force that a striped ball spins and plunges into the top right pocket. I’ve scattered the rest of the balls.

  “I choose stripes,” I say innocently, smiling coyly at Christian. His mouth twists in amusement.

  “Be my guest,” he says politely.

  I proceed to pocket the next three balls in quick succession. Inside, I’m dancing. At this moment, I am so grateful to José for teaching me to play pool and play it well. Christian watches impassively, giving nothing away, but his amusement seems to ebb. I miss the green stripe by a hairsbreadth.

  “You know, Anastasia, I could stand here and watch you leaning and stretching across this billiard table all day,” he says appreciatively.

  I flush. Thank heavens I am wearing my jeans. He smirks. He’s trying to put me off my game, the bastard. He pulls his cream sweater over his head, tosses it onto the back of a chair, and grins at me, as he saunters over to take his first shot.

  He bends low over the table. My mouth goes dry. Oh, I see what he means. Christian in tight jeans and white T-shirt, bending, like that… is something to behold. I quite lose my train of thought. He sinks four solids rapidly, then fouls by sinking the white.

  “A very elementary mistake, Mr. Grey,” I tease.

  He smirks. “Ah, Miss Steele, I am but a foolish mortal. Your go, I believe.” He waves at the table.

  “You’re not trying to lose are you?”

  “Oh no. For what I have in mind as the prize, I want to win, Anastasia.” He shrugs casually. “But then, I always want to win.”

  I narrow my eyes at him. Right then… I’m so glad I’m wearing my blue blouse, which is pleasingly low-cut. I stalk around the table, bending low at every available opportunity-giving Christian an eyeful of my behind and my cleavage whenever I can. Two can play at that game. I glance at him.

  “I know what you’re doing,” he whispers, his eyes dark.

  I tilt my head coquettishly to one side, gently fondling my cue, running my hand up and down it slowly. “Oh. I am just deciding where to take my next shot,” I murmur distractedly.

  Leaning across, I hit the orange stripe into a better position. I then stand directly in front of Christian and take the rest from underneath the table. I line up my next shot, leaning right over the table. I hear Christian’s sharp intake of breath, and of course, I miss. Shit.

  He comes to stand behind me while I am still bent over the table and places his hand on my backside. Hmm…

  “Are you waving this around to taunt me, Miss Steele?” And he smacks me, hard.

  I gasp. “Yes,” I mutter, because it’s true.

  “Be careful what you wish for, baby.”

  I rub my behind as he wanders to the other end of the table, leans over, and takes his shot. Jeez, I could look at him all day. He hits the red ball, and it shoots into the left side pocket. He aims for the yellow, top right, and it just misses. I grin.

  “Red Room here we come,” I taunt him.

  He merely raises an eyebrow and directs me to continue. I make quick work of the green stripe and by some fluke, manage to knock in the final orange stripe.

  “Name your pocket,” Christian murmurs, and it’s as if he’s talking about something else, something dark and rude.

  “Top left-hand.” I take aim over the black, hit it, but miss. It skirts wide. Damn.

  Christian smiles a wicked grin as he leans over the table and makes short work of the two remaining solids. I am practically panting, watching him, his lithe body stretching over the table. He stands and chalks his cue, his eyes burning into me.

  “If I win…”

  Oh yes?

  “I am going to spank you, then fuck you over this billiard table.”

  Holy shit. Every single muscle south of my navel clenches hard.

  “Top right,” he murmurs, pointing to the black, and bends to take the shot.

  11

  With easy grace, Christian taps the white ball so that it glides across the table, kisses the black and oh-so-slowly the black rolls, teeters on the edge, and finally drops into the top right pocket of the billiard table.

  Damn.

  He stands, and his mouth twists in a triumphant I-so-own-you-Steele smile. Putting down his cue, he saunters casually toward me, all tousled hair, jeans, and white T-shirt. He doesn’t look like a CEO-he looks like a bad boy from the wrong side of town. Holy cow, he’s so fucking sexy.

  “You’re not going to be a sore loser, are you?” he murmurs, barely containing his grin.

  “Depends how hard you spank me,” I whisper, holding on to my cue for support. He takes my cue and puts it to one side, hooks his finger into the top of my shirt, and pulls me toward him.

  “Well, let’s count your misdemeanors, Miss Steele.” He counts on his long fingers. “One, making me jealous of my own staff. Two, arguing with me about working. And three, waving your delectable derriere at me for the last twenty minutes.”

  His eyes glow a soft gray with excitement, and leaning down, he rubs his nose against mine. “I want you to take your jeans and this very fetching shirt off. Now.” He plants a feather-soft kiss on my lips, wanders nonchalantly over to the door, and locks it.

  Oh my.

  When he turns and gazes at me, his eyes are burning. I stand paralyzed like a complete zombie, my heart pounding, my blood pumping, not actually able to move a muscle. In my mind, all I can think is-this is for him-the thought repeating like a mantra over and over again.

  “Clothes, Anastasia. You appear to still be wearing them. Take them off-or I will do it for you.”

  “You do it.” I finally find my voice, and it sounds low and heated. Christian grins.

  “Oh, Miss Steele. It’s a dirty job, but I think I can rise to the challenge.”

  “You normally rise to most challenges, Mr. Grey.” I raise an eyebrow at him, and he smirks.

  “Why, Miss Steele, whatever do you mean?” On his way over to me, he pauses at the small desk built into one of the bookshelves. Reaching over, he picks up a twelve-inch Perspex ruler. He holds each end and flexes it, his eyes not leaving mine.

  Holy shit-his weapon of choice. My mouth goes dry.

  Suddenly, I’m hot and bothered and damp in all the right places. Only Christian could turn me on with just a look and the flex of a ruler. He slips it into the back pocket of his jeans and ambles toward me, eyes dark and full of promise. Without saying a word, he drops to his knees in front of me and starts to undo my laces, quickly and efficiently, dragging both my Converse and socks off. I lean on the side of the billiard table so I don’t fall. Gazing down at him as he undoes my laces, I marvel at the depth of feeling that I have for this beautiful flawed man. I love him.

  He grabs my hips, slips his fingers into the waistband of my jeans, and undoes the button and zipper. He peers up through his long lashes, grinning his most salacious grin as he slowly peels my jeans off. I step out of them, glad that I’m wearing these pretty, pretty panties, and he grasps the back of my legs and runs his nose along the apex of my thighs. I practically melt.

  “I want to be quite rough with you, Ana. You’ll have to tell me to stop if it’s too much,” he breath
es.

  Oh my. He kisses me… there. I moan softly.

  “Safe word?” I murmur.

  “No, no safe word, just tell me to stop, and I’ll stop. Understand?” He kisses me again, nuzzling me. Oh, that feels good. He stands, his stare intense. “Answer me,” he orders his voice velvet soft.

  “Yes, yes, I understand.” I’m puzzled by his insistence.

  “You’ve been dropping hints and giving me mixed signals all day, Anastasia,” he says. “You said you were worried I’d lost my edge. I’m not sure what you meant by that, and I don’t know how serious you were, but we are going to find out. I don’t want to go back into the playroom yet, so we can try this now, but if you don’t like it, you must promise to tell me.” A burning intensity born of his anxiety replaces his earlier cockiness.

  Whoa, please don’t be anxious, Christian. “I’ll tell you. No safe word,” I reiterate to reassure him.

  “We’re lovers, Anastasia. Lovers don’t need safe words.” He frowns. “Do they?”

  “I guess not,” I murmur. Jeez-how do I know? “I promise.”

  He searches my face for any clue that I might lack the courage of my convictions, and I’m nervous but excited, too. I’m much happier to do this, knowing that he loves me. It’s very simple to me, and right now, I don’t want to overthink it.

  A slow smile stretches across his face, and he starts to unbutton my shirt, his deft fingers making short work of it, though he doesn’t take it off. He leans over and picks up the cue.

  Oh fuck, what’s he going to do with that? A frisson of fear runs through me.

  “You play well, Miss Steele. I must say I’m surprised. Why don’t you sink the black?”

  My fear forgotten, I pout, wondering why the hell he should be surprised-sexy, arrogant bastard. My inner goddess is limbering up in the background, doing her floor exercises-a great fat smile on her face.

  I position the white ball. Christian strolls back around the table and stands right behind me as I lean over to take my shot. He places his hand on my right thigh and runs his fingers up and down my leg, up to my behind and back again, lightly stroking me.

  “I am going to miss if you keep doing that,” I whisper, closing my eyes and relishing the feel of his hands on me.

  “I don’t care if you hit or miss, baby. I just wanted to see you like this-partially dressed, stretched out on my billiard table. Do you have any idea how hot you look at the moment?”

  I flush, and my inner goddess grabs a rose between her teeth and starts to tango. Taking a deep breath, I try to ignore him and line up my shot. It’s impossible. He caresses my behind, over and over again.

  “Top left,” I murmur, then hit the white ball. He smacks me hard, squarely on my backside.

  It’s so unexpected, I yelp. The white hits the black, which bounces off the cushion wide of the pocket. Christian caresses my behind again.

  “Oh, I think you need to try that again,” he whispers. “You should concentrate, Anastasia.”

  I am panting now, excited by this game. He strolls to the end of the table, sets up the black ball again, then runs the white ball back down to me. He looks so carnal, dark eyed with a lascivious smile. How could I ever resist this man? I catch the ball and line it up, ready to strike again.

  “Uh-uh,” he admonishes. “Just wait.” Oh, he just loves prolonging the agony. He wanders back and stands behind me again. I close my eyes once more as he strokes my left thigh this time then fondles my backside again.

  “Take aim,” he breathes.

  I can’t help my moan as desire twists and turns inside me. And I try, really try, to think about where I should hit the black with the white. I shift slightly to my right, and he follows me. I bend over the table once more. Using every last vestige of inner strength-which has diminished considerably since I know what will happen once I strike the white ball-I take aim and hit the white again. Christian smacks me once more, hard.

  Ow! I miss again. “Oh no!” I groan.

  “Once more, baby. And if you miss this time, I’m really going to let you have it.”

  What? Have what?

  He sets up the black ball once more and walks, achingly slow, back to me until he’s standing behind me, caressing my backside once more.

  “You can do it,” he coaxes.

  Oh-not when you’re distracting me like this. I push my behind back against his hand, and he smacks me lightly.

  “Eager, Miss Steele?” he murmurs.

  Yes. I want you.

  “Well, let’s get rid of these.” He gently slides my panties down my thighs and off. I can’t see what he does with them, but he leaves me feeling exposed as he plants a soft kiss on each cheek.

  “Take the shot, baby.”

  I want to whimper, this is so not going to happen. I know I am going to miss. I line up the white, hit it, and in my impatience, miss the black completely. I wait for the blow-but it doesn’t come. Instead he leans right over me, flattening me against the table, takes the cue out of my hand and rolls it to the side cushion. I can feel him, hard, against my backside.

  “You missed,” he says softly in my ear. My cheek is pressed against the baize. “Put your hands flat on the table.”

  I do as he says.

  “Good. I’m going to spank you now and next time, maybe you won’t.” He shifts so he’s standing to my left side, his erection against my hip.

  I groan and my heart leaps into my mouth. My breath comes in short pants and a hot, heavy excitement courses through my veins. Gently, he caresses my behind and curls his other hand around the nape of my neck, his fingers fisting in my hair, his elbow at my back, holding me down. I am completely helpless.

  “Open your legs,” he murmurs and for a moment, I hesitate. And he smacks me hard-with the ruler! The noise is harsher than the sting, and it takes me by surprise. I gasp, and he hits me again.

  “Legs,” he orders. I open my legs, panting. The ruler strikes again. Ow-it stings, but its crack across my skin sounds worse than it feels.

  I close my eyes and absorb the pain. It’s not too bad, and Christian’s breathing becomes harsher. He hits me again and again, and I moan. I am not sure how many more strokes I can bear-but hearing him, knowing how turned on he is, feeds my arousal and my willingness to continue. I am crossing to the dark side, a place in my psyche I don’t know well but have visited before in the playroom-with the Tallis. The ruler strikes once more, and I moan loudly, and Christian groans in response. He hits me again-and again… and once more… harder this time-and I wince.

  “Stop.” The word is out of my mouth before I’m even aware that I’ve said it. Christian drops the ruler immediately and releases me.

  “Enough?” he whispers.

  “Yes.”

  “I want to fuck you now,” he says, his voice strained.

  “Yes,” I murmur with longing. He undoes his fly, as I lie panting on the table, knowing that he’s going to be rough.

  I marvel once more at how I have managed-and yes, enjoyed- what he’s done to me up to this point. It’s so dark but so him.

  He eases two fingers inside me and moves them in a circular motion. The feeling is exquisite. Closing my eyes, I revel in the sensation. I hear the telltale rip of foil, then he’s standing behind me, between my legs, pushing them wider.

  Slowly he sinks into me, filling me. I hear his groan of pure pleasure, and it stirs my soul. He grasps my hips firmly, eases out of me again, and this time slams back into me, causing me to cry out. He stills for a moment.

  “Again?” he asks softly.

  “Yes… I’m fine. Lose yourself… take me with you,” I murmur breathlessly.

  He moans low in his throat, eases out of me once more, then slams into me, and repeats this over and over slowly, deliberately-a punishing, brutal, heavenly rhythm.

  Oh fucking my… My insides begin to quicken. He feels it, too, and increases the rhythm, pushing me, higher, harder, faster-and I surrender, exploding around him-a draining,
soul-grabbing orgasm that leaves me spent and exhausted.

  I’m vaguely aware that Christian, too, is letting go, calling my name, his fingers digging into my hips, and then he stills and collapses on me. We sink to the floor, and he cradles me in his arms.

  “Thank you, baby,” he breathes, covering my upturned face in soft feather-light kisses. I open my eyes and gaze up at him, and he wraps his arms tighter around me.

  “Your cheek is pink from the baize,” he murmurs, rubbing my face tenderly. “How was that?” His eyes are wide and cautious.

  “Teeth-clenchingly good,” I mutter. “I like it rough, Christian, and I like it gentle, too. I like that it’s with you.”

  He closes his eyes and hugs me even tighter.

  Jeez, I’m tired.

  “You never fail, Ana. You are beautiful, bright, challenging, fun, sexy, and I thank divine providence every day that it was you that came to interview me and not Katherine Kavanagh.” He kisses my hair. I smile and yawn against his chest. “I’m wearing you out,” he continues. “Come. Bath, then bed.”

  We are both in Christian’s bath, facing each other chin-deep in foam, the sweet scent of jasmine enveloping us. Christian is massaging my feet, one at a time. It feels so good it should be illegal.

  “Can I ask you something?” I murmur.

  “Of course. Anything, Ana, you know that.”

  I take a deep breath and sit up, flinching only slightly.

  “Tomorrow-when I go to work-can Sawyer just deliver me to the front door of the office then pick me up at the end of the day? Please, Christian. Please,” I plead.

  His hands still as his brow creases. “I thought we agreed,” he grumbles.

  “Please,” I beg.

  “What about lunchtime?”

  “I’ll make myself something to take from here so I don’t have to go out, please.”

  He kisses my instep. “I find it very difficult to say no to you,” he mutters as if he senses this is a failing on his part. “You won’t go out?”

  “No.”

  “Okay.”

  I beam at him. “Thank you.” I lean up onto my knees, sloshing water everywhere, and kiss him.

  “You’re most welcome, Miss Steele. How’s your behind?”

  “Sore. But not too bad. The water is soothing.”

  “I’m glad you told me to stop,” he says, gazing at me.

  “So is my behind.”

  He grins.

  I stretch out in bed, so tired. It’s only ten thirty, but it feels like three in the morning. This has to be one of the most exhausting weekends of my life.

  “Didn’t Ms. Acton provide any nightwear?” Christian asks, his voice laced with disapproval as he stares down at me.

  “I have no idea. I like wearing your T-shirts,” I mumble sleepily.

  His face softens, and he leans over and kisses my forehead.

  “I need to work. But I don’t want to leave you alone. Can I use your laptop to log in to the office? Will I disturb you if I work from here?”

  “S’not my laptop.” I drift.

  The alarm clicks on, startling me awake with the traffic news. Christian is still asleep beside me. Rubbing my eyes, I glance at the clock. Six thirty-too early.

  It’s raining outside for the first time in ages, and the light is muted and mellow. I’m cozy and comfortable in this vast modern monolith with Christian at my side. I stretch and turn to the delicious man beside me. His eyes spring open and he blinks sleepily.

  “Good morning.” I smile and caress his face, leaning down to kiss him.

  “Good morning, baby. I usually wake before the alarm goes off,” he murmurs in wonder.

  “It’s set so early.”

  “That it is, Miss Steele.” Christian grins. “I have to get up.” He kisses me, and then he’s up and out of bed. I flop back against the pillows. Wow, waking up on a school day next to Christian Grey. How did this all happen? I close my eyes and doze.

  “Come on, sleepyhead, get up.” Christian leans over me. He’s shaved, clean, fresh-Hmm, he smells so good-in a crisp white shirt and black suit, no tie-the CEO is back. Holy Moses, he looks good like this, too.

  “What?” he asks.

  “I wish you’d come back to bed.”

  His lips part, surprised by my come-on, and he smiles almost shyly. “You are insatiable, Miss Steele. As much as that idea appeals, I have an eight thirty meeting, so I have to go shortly.”

  Oh, I’ve slept for another hour or so. Shit. I leap out of bed, much to Christian’s amusement.

  I shower and dress quickly, wearing the clothes I set out yesterday: a fitted, gray pencil skirt; pale-gray silk shirt; and high-heeled black pumps, all care of my new wardrobe. I brush my hair and carefully put it up, then wander out to the great room, not really knowing what to expect. How am I going to get to work?

  Christian is sipping coffee at the breakfast bar. Mrs. Jones is in the kitchen making pancakes and bacon.

  “You look lovely,” Christian murmurs. Wrapping an arm around me, he kisses me under my ear. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Mrs. Jones’s smile. I flush.

  “Good morning, Miss Steele,” she says as she places pancakes and bacon in front of me.

  “Oh, thank you. Good morning,” I mumble. Jeez-I could get used to this.

  “Mr. Grey says you’d like to take lunch with you to work. What would you like to eat?”

  I glance at Christian, who is trying very hard not to smirk. I narrow my eyes at him.

  “A sandwich… salad. I really don’t mind.” I beam at Mrs. Jones.

  “I’ll rustle up a packed lunch for you, ma’am.”

  “Please, Mrs. Jones, call me Ana.”

  “Ana.” She smiles and turns to make me tea.

  Wow… this is so cool.

  I turn and cock my head at Christian, challenging him-go on, accuse me of flirting with Mrs. Jones.

  “I have to go, baby. Taylor will come back and drop you at work with Sawyer.”

  “Only to the door.”

  “Yes. Only to the door.” Christian rolls his eyes. “Be careful, though.”

  I glance around and spy Taylor standing in the entranceway. Christian stands and kisses me, grasping my chin.

  “Laters, baby.”

  “Have a good day at the office, dear,” I call after him. He turns and flashes me his beautiful smile then he’s gone. Mrs. Jones hands me a cup of tea, and suddenly I feel awkward with just the two of us here.

  “How long have you worked for Christian?” I ask, thinking I ought to make some kind of conversation.

  “Four years or so,” she says pleasantly, as she sets about making my packed lunch.

  “You know, I can do that,” I mutter, embarrassed that she should be doing this for me.

  “You eat your breakfast, Ana. This is what I do. I enjoy it. It’s nice to look after someone other than Mr. Taylor and Mr. Grey.” She smiles very sweetly at me.

  My cheeks pink with pleasure, and I want to bombard this woman with questions. She must know so much about Fifty, and although her manner is warm and friendly, it’s also very professional. I know I’ll only embarrass both of us if I start quizzing her, so I finish my breakfast in a reasonably comfortable silence, punctuated only by her questions on my food preferences for lunch.

  Twenty-five minutes later Sawyer appears at the entrance to the great room. I have brushed my teeth, and I’m waiting to go. Clutching my brown paper lunch bag-I can’t even remember my mom doing this for me-Sawyer and I head to the first floor via the elevator. He’s very taciturn, too, giving nothing away. Taylor is waiting in the Audi, and I climb into the rear passenger seat when Sawyer opens the door.

  “Good morning, Taylor,” I say brightly.

  “Miss Steele.” He smiles.

  “Taylor, I’m sorry about yesterday and my inappropriate remarks. I hope I didn’t get you into trouble.”

  Taylor frowns in bemusement at me from the rearview mirror as he pulls out into the Seattle
traffic.

  “Miss Steele, I’m rarely in trouble,” he says reassuringly.

  Oh good. Maybe Christian didn’t tell him off. Just me, then, I think sourly.

  “I’m glad to hear it, Taylor.” I smile.

  Jack gazes at me, assessing my appearance, as I make my way to my desk.

  “Morning, Ana. Good weekend?”

  “Yes, thanks. You?”

  “It was good. Get settled in-I have work for you to do.”

  I nod and sit down at my computer. It seems like years since I was at work. I switch on my computer and fire up my e-mail program-and of course there’s an e-mail from Christian.

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: Boss

  Date: June 13, 2011 08:24

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Good morning, Miss Steele

  I just wanted to say thank you for a wonderful weekend in spite of all the drama.

  I hope you never leave, ever.

  And just to remind you that the news of SIP is embargoed for four weeks.

  Delete this e-mail as soon as you’ve read it.

  Yours

  Christian Grey,

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. & Your boss’s boss’s boss.

  Hope I never leave? Does he want me to move in? Holy Moses… I barely know the man. I press delete.

 
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