Fifty shades darker, p.9
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       Fifty Shades Darker, p.9
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         Part #2 of Fifty Shades series by E. L. James
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  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Bossy

  Date: June 13, 2011: 09:03

  To: Christian Grey

  Dear Mr. Grey

  Are you asking me to move in with you? And of course, I remembered that the evidence of your epic stalking capabilities is embargoed for another four weeks. Do I make a check out to Coping Together and send to your dad? Please don’t delete this e-mail. Please respond to it.

  ILY xxx

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  “Ana!” Jack makes me jump.

  “Yes,” I flush, and Jack frowns at me.

  “Everything okay?”

  “Sure.” I scramble up and take my notebook into his office.

  “Good. As you probably remember, I’m going to that Commissioning Fiction Symposium in New York on Thursday. I have tickets and reservations, but I’d like you to come with me.”

  “To New York?”

  “Yes. We’ll need to go Wednesday and stay overnight. I think you’ll find it a very educational experience.” His eyes darken as he says this, but his smile is polite. “Would you make the necessary travel arrangements? And book an additional room at the hotel where I am staying? I think Sabrina, my previous PA, left all the details handy somewhere.”

  “Okay.” I smile wanly at Jack.

  Crap. I wander back to my desk. This is not going to go down well with Fifty-but the fact is, I want to go. It sounds like a real opportunity, and I’m sure I can keep Jack at arm’s length if that’s his ulterior motive. Back at my desk there’s a response from Christian.

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: Me, Bossy?

  Date: June 13, 2011 09:07

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Yes. Please.

  Christian Grey,

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  Jeez… he does want me to move in. Oh, Christian-it’s too soon. I put my head in my hands to try and recover my wits. This is all I need after my extraordinary weekend. I haven’t had a moment to myself to think through and understand all that I have experienced and discovered these last two days.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Flynnisms

  Date: June 13, 2011: 09:20

  To: Christian Grey

  Christian

  What happened to walking before we run?

  Can we talk about this tonight, please?

  I’ve been asked to go to a conference in New York on Thursday.

  It means an overnight stay on Wednesday.

  Just thought you should know.

  A x

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: WHAT?

  Date: June 13, 2011 09:21

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Yes. Let’s talk this evening.

  Are you going on your own?

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: No Bold Shouty Capitals on a Monday Morning!

  Date: June 13, 2011: 09:30

  To: Christian Grey

  Can we talk about this tonight?

  A x

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: You Haven’t Seen Shouty Yet.

  Date: June 13, 2011 09:35

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Tell me.

  If it’s with the sleazeball you work with, then the answer is no, over my dead body.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  My heart sinks. Shit-it’s like he’s my dad.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: No YOU haven’t seen shouty yet.

  Date: June 13, 2011 09:46

  To: Christian Grey

  Yes. It is with Jack.

  I want to go. It’s an exciting opportunity for me.

  And I have never been to New York.

  Don’t get your knickers in a twist.

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From: Christian Grey

  Subject: No YOU haven’t seen shouty yet.

  Date: June 13, 2011 09:50

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Anastasia

  It’s not my fucking knickers I am worried about.

  The answer is NO.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  “No!” I shout at my computer, causing the entire office to come to a standstill and stare at me. Jack peers out from his office.

  “Everything all right, Ana?”

  “Yes. Sorry,” I mutter. “I er… just didn’t save a document.” I am scarlet with embarrassment. He smiles at me but with a puzzled expression. I take several deep breaths and quickly type a response. I am so mad.

  From: Anastasia Steele

  Subject: Fifty Shades

  Date: June 13, 2011 09:55

  To: Christian Grey

  Christian

  You need to get a grip.

  I am NOT going to sleep with Jack-not for all the tea in China.

  I LOVE you. That’s what happens when people love each other.

  They TRUST each other.

  I don’t think you are going to SLEEP WITH, SPANK, FUCK, or WHIP anyone else. I have FAITH and TRUST in you.

  Please extend the same COURTESY to me.

  Ana

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  I sit waiting for his response. Nothing arrives. I call the airline and book a ticket for myself, ensuring I am on the same flight as Jack. I hear the ping of new mail.

  From: Lincoln, Elena

  Subject: Lunch Date

  Date: June 13, 2011 10:15

  To: Anastasia Steele

  Dear Anastasia

  I would really like to have lunch with you. I think we got off on the wrong foot, and I’d like to make that right. Are you free sometime this week?

  Elena Lincoln

  Holy crap-not Mrs. Robinson! How the hell did she find out my e-mail address? I put my head in my hands. Can this day get any worse?

  My phone rings and wearily I lift my head from my hands and answer, glancing at the clock. It is only ten twenty, and already I wish I hadn’t left Christian’s bed.

  “Jack Hyde’s office, Ana Steele speaking.”

  An achingly familiar voice snarls at me, “Will you please delete the last e-mail you sent me and try to be a little more circumspect in the language you use in your work e-mail? I told you, the system is monitored. I shall endeavor to do some damage limitation from here.” He hangs up.

  Holy fuck… I sit staring at the phone. Christian hung up on me. That man is stomping all over my fledgling career, and he hangs up on me? I glare at the receiver, and if it wasn’t completely inanimate, I know it would shrivel in horror under my withering stare.

  I open my e-mails and delete the one I sent him. It’s not that bad. I just mention spanking and well, whipping. Jeez, if he’s so ashamed of it, he damn well shouldn’t do it. I pick up my Blackberry and call his mobile.

  “What?” he snaps.

  “I am going to New York whether you like it or not,” I hiss.

  “Don’t count-”

  I hang up, cutting him off mid-sentence. Adrenaline is coursing through my body. There-that told him. I am so mad.

  I take a deep breath, trying to compose myself. Closing my eyes, I imagine that I am in my happy place. Hmm… a boat cabin with Christian. I shake the image off as I am too mad at Fifty right now for him to be anywhere near my happy place.

  Opening my eyes, I calmly reach for my notebook and carefully run through my to do list. I take a long, deep breath, my equilibrium restored.

  “Ana!” Jack shouts, s
tartling me. “Don’t book that flight!”

  “Oh, too late. I’ve done it,” I reply as he strides out of his office over to me. He looks mad.

  “Look, there’s something going on. For some reason, suddenly, all travel and hotel expenses for staff have to be approved by senior management. This has come right from the top. I am going up to see old Roach. Apparently, a moratorium on all spending has just been implemented. I don’t understand it.” Jack pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes.

  Most of the blood drains from my face and knots form in my stomach. Fifty!

  “Take my calls. I’ll go see what Roach has to say.” He winks at me and strides off to see his boss-not the boss’s boss.

  Damn it. Christian Grey… My blood starts to boil again.

  From:Anastasia Steele

  Subject:What have you done?

  Date:June 13, 2011 10:43

  To:Christian Grey

  Please tell me you won’t interfere with my work.

  I really want to go to this conference.

  I shouldn’t have to ask you.

  I have deleted the offending e-mail.

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From:Christian Grey

  Subject:What have you done?

  Date:June 13, 2011 10:46

  To:Anastasia Steele

  I am just protecting what is mine.

  The e-mail that you so rashly sent is wiped from the SIP server now, as are my e-mails to you.

  Incidentally, I trust you implicitly. It’s him I don’t trust.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  I check to see if I still have his e-mails, and they have disappeared. This man’s influence knows no bounds. How does he do this? Who does he know that can stealthily delve into the depths of SIP’s servers and remove e-mails? I am so out of my league here.

  From:Anastasia Steele

  Subject:Grown Up

  Date:June 13, 2011 10:43

  To:Christian Grey

  Christian

  I don’t need protecting from my own boss.

  He may make a pass at me, but I shall say no.

  You cannot interfere. It’s wrong and controlling on so many levels.

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From:Christian Grey

  Subject:The Answer is NO

  Date:June 13, 2011 10.50

  To:Anastasia Steele

  Ana

  I have seen how “effective” you are at fighting off unwanted attention. I remember that’s how I had the pleasure of spending my first night with you. At least the photographer has feelings for you. The sleazeball, on the other hand, does not. He is a serial philanderer, and he will try to seduce you. Ask him what happened to his previous PA and the one before that.

  I don’t want to fight about this.

  If you want to go to New York, I’ll take you. We can go this weekend. I have an apartment there.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  Oh, Christian! That’s not the point. He’s so damn frustrating. And of course he has an apartment there. Where else does he own property? Trust him to bring up José. Will I ever live that down? I was drunk, for heaven’s sake. I wouldn’t get drunk with Jack.

  I shake my head at the screen, but figure I cannot continue to argue with him over e-mail. I shall have to bide my time until this evening. I check the clock. Jack is still not back from his meeting with Jerry, and I need to deal with Elena. I read her e-mail again and decide that the best way to handle it is to send it to Christian. Let him concentrate on her rather than me.

  From:Anastasia Steele

  Subject:FW Lunch date or Irritating Baggage

  Date:June 13, 2011 11:15

  To:Christian Grey

  Christian

  While you have been busy interfering in my career and saving your ass from my careless missives, I received the following e-mail from Mrs. Lincoln. I really don’t want to meet with her-even if I did, I am not allowed to leave this building. How she got hold of my e-mail address, I don’t know. What would you suggest I do? Her e-mail is below:

  Dear Anastasia, I would really like to have lunch with you. I think we got off on the wrong foot, and I’d like to make that right. Are you free sometime this week?

  Elena Lincoln

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  From:Christian Grey

  Subject:Irritating Baggage

  Date:June 13, 2011 11:23

  To:Anastasia Steele

  Don’t be mad at me. I have your best interests at heart.

  If anything happened to you, I would never forgive myself.

  I’ll deal with Mrs. Lincoln.

  Christian Grey

  CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

  From:Anastasia Steele

  Subject:Laters

  Date:June 13, 2011: 11:32

  To:Christian Grey

  Can we please discuss this tonight?

  I am trying to work, and your continued interference is very distracting.

  Anastasia Steele

  Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

  Jack returns after midday and tells me that New York is off for me though he is still going and there’s nothing he can do to change senior management policy. He strides into his office, slamming the door, obviously furious. Why is he so angry?

  Deep down, I know his intentions are less than honorable, but I am sure I can deal with him, and I wonder what Christian knows about Jack’s previous PAs. I park these thoughts and continue with some work, but resolve to try to make Christian change his mind, though the prospects are bleak.

  At one o’clock, Jack pokes his head out of the office door.

  “Ana, please could you go and get me some lunch?”

  “Sure. What would you like?”

  “Pastrami on rye, hold the mustard. I’ll give you the money when you’re back.”

  “Anything to drink?”

  “Coke, please. Thanks, Ana.” He heads back into his office as I reach for my purse.

  Crap. I promised Christian I wouldn’t go out. I sigh. He’ll never know, and I’ll be quick.

  Claire from reception offers me her umbrella since it is still pouring with rain. As I head out of the front doors, I pull my jacket around me and take a furtive glance in both directions from beneath the overlarge golf umbrella. Nothing seems amiss. There’s no sign of Ghost Girl.

  I march briskly, and I hope inconspicuously, down the block to the deli. However, the closer I get to the deli, the more I have a creepy sense that I am being watched, and I don’t know if it’s my heightened feeling of paranoia or a reality. Shit. I hope it’s not Leila with a gun.

  It’s just your imagination, my subconscious snaps. Who the hell would want to shoot you?

  Within fifteen minutes, I am back-safe, sound but relieved. I think Christian’s extreme paranoia and his overprotective vigilance is beginning to get to me.

  As I take Jack’s lunch in to him, he glances up from the phone.

  “Ana, thanks. Since you’re not coming with me, I’m going to need you to work late. We need to get these briefs ready. Hope you don’t have plans.” He smiles up at me warmly, and I flush.

  “No, that’s fine,” I say with a bright smile and a sinking heart. This is not going to go down well. Christian will freak, I’m sure.

  As I head back to my desk I decide not to tell him immediately, otherwise he might have time to interfere in some way. I sit and eat the chicken salad sandwich Mrs. Jones made for me. It’s delicious. She makes a mean sandwich.

  Of course, if I moved in with Christian, she would make lunch for me every weekday. The idea is unsettling. I have never had dreams of obscene wealth and all the trappings-only love. To find someone who loves me and doesn’t try to cont
rol my every move. The phone rings.

  “Jack Hyde’s office-”

  “You assured me you wouldn’t go out,” Christian interrupts me, his voice cold and hard.

  My heart sinks for the millionth time this day. Shit. How the hell does he know?

  “Jack sent me out for some lunch. I couldn’t say no. Are you having me watched?” My scalp prickles at the notion. No wonder I felt so paranoid-someonewaswatching me. The thought makes me angry.

  “This is why I didn’t want you going back to work,” Christian snaps.

  “Christian, please. You’re being”-So Fifty-“so suffocating.”

  “Suffocating?” he whispers, surprised.

  “Yes. You have to stop this. I’ll talk to you this evening. Unfortunately, I have to work late because I can’t go to New York.”

  “Anastasia, I don’t want to suffocate you,” he says quietly, appalled.

  “Well, you are. I have work to do. I’ll talk to you later.” I hang up, feeling drained and vaguely depressed.

  After our wonderful weekend, the reality is hitting home. I have never felt more like running. Running to some quiet retreat so I can think about this man, about how he is, and about how to deal with him. On one level, I know he’s broken-I can see that clearly now-and it’s both heartbreaking and exhausting. From the small pieces of precious information that he’s given me about his life, I understand why. An unloved child; a hideously abusive environment; a mother who couldn’t protect him, whom he couldn’t protect, and who died in front of him.

  I shudder. My poor Fifty. I am his, but not to be kept in some gilded cage. How am I going to make him see this?

  With a heavy heart, I drag one of the manuscripts Jack wants me to summarize into my lap and continue to read. I can think of no easy solution to Christian’s fucked-up control issues. I will just have to talk to him later, face to face.

  Half an hour later, Jack e-mails me a document that I need to tidy up and polish, ready for printing tomorrow in time for his conference. It will take me not just the rest of the afternoon but well into the evening, too. I set to work.

  When I look up, it’s after seven and the office is deserted, though the light in Jack’s office is still on. I hadn’t noticed everyone leaving, but I am nearly finished. I e-mail the document back to Jack for his approval and check my inbox. There’s nothing new from Christian, so I quickly glance at my Blackberry, and it startles me by buzzing-it’s Christian.

  “Hi,” I murmur.

  “Hi, when will you be finished?”

  “By seven thirty, I think.”

  “I’ll meet you outside.”

  “Okay.”

  He sounds quiet, nervous even. Why? Wary of my reaction?

  “I’m still mad at you, but that’s all,” I whisper. “We have a lot to talk about.”

  “I know. See you at seven thirty.”

  Jack comes out of his office.

  “I have to go. See you later.” I hang up.

  I look up at Jack as he strolls casually toward me.

  “I just need a couple of tweaks. I’ve e-mailed the brief back to you.”

  He leans over me while I retrieve the document, rather close-uncomfortably close. His arm brushes mine. Accidentally? I flinch, but he pretends not to notice. His other arm rests on the back of my chair, touching my back. I sit up so I’m not leaning against the backrest.

  “Pages sixteen and twenty-three, and that should be it,” he murmurs, his mouth inches from my ear.

  My skin crawls at his proximity, but I choose to ignore it. Opening the document, I shakily start on the changes. He’s still leaning over me, and all my senses are hyperaware. It’s distracting and awkward, and inside I am screaming, Back off!

  “Once this is done, it’ll be good to go to print. You can organize that tomorrow. Thank you for staying late and doing this, Ana.” His voice is smooth, gentle, like he’s talking to a wounded animal. My stomach twists.

  “I think the least I could do is reward you with a quick drink. You deserve one.” He tucks a strand of my hair that’s come loose from my hair tie behind my ear and gently caresses the lobe.

  I cringe gritting my teeth, and I jerk my head away. Shit! Christian was right. Don’t touch me.

  “Actually, I can’t this evening.” Or any other evening, Jack.

  “Just a quick one?” he coaxes.

  “No, I can’t. But thank you.”

  Jack sits on the end of my desk and frowns. Alarm bells sound loudly in my head. I am on my own in the office. I cannot leave. I glance nervously at the clock. Another five minutes before Christian is due.

  “Ana, I think we make a great team. I’m sorry that I couldn’t pull off this New York trip. It won’t be the same without you.”

  I’m sure it won’t. I smile weakly up at him, because I can’t think of what to say. And for the first time all day, I feel the tiniest hint of relief that I am not going.

  “So, did you have a good weekend?” he asks smoothly.

  “Yes, thanks.” Where is he going with this?

  “See your boyfriend?”

  “Yes.”

  “What does he do?”

  Owns your ass… “He’s in business.”

  “That’s interesting. What kind of business?”

  “Oh, he has his fingers in all sorts of pies.”

  Jack cocks his head to one side as he leans in toward me, invading my personal space-again.

  “You’re being very coy, Ana.”

  “Well, he’s in telecommunications, manufacturing, and agriculture.”

  Jack raises his eyebrows. “So many things. Who does he work for?”

  “He works for himself. If you’re happy with the document, I’d like to go, if that’s okay?”

  He leans back. My personal space is safe again.

  “Of course. Sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you,” he says disingenuously.

  “What time does the building close?”

  “Security is here until eleven.”

  “Good.” I smile, and my subconscious flops down in her armchair, relieved to know that we are not alone in the building. Switching off my computer, I grab my purse and stand up, ready to leave.

  “You like him then? Your boyfriend?”

  “I love him,” I answer, looking Jack squarely in the eye.

  “I see.” Jack frowns and he stands up from my desk. “What’s his surname?”

  I flush.

  “Grey. Christian Grey,” I mumble.

  Jack’s mouth drops open. “Seattle’s richest bachelor? That Christian Grey?”

  “Yes. The same.” Yes, that Christian Grey, your future boss who will have you for breakfast if you invade my personal space again.

  “I thought he looked familiar,” Jack says darkly and his brow creases again. “Well, he’s a lucky man.”

  I blink at him. What do I say to that?

  “Have a good evening, Ana.” Jack smiles, but the smile doesn’t touch his eyes, and he walks stiffly back into his office without a backward glance.

  I let out a long sigh of relief. Well, that problem might be solved. Fifty works his magic again. Just his name is my talisman, and it has this man retreating with his tail between his legs. I allow myself a small victorious smile. You see, Christian? Even your name protects me-you didn’t have to go to all that trouble of clamping down on expenses. I tidy my desk and check my watch. Christian should be outside.

  The Audi is parked up against the sidewalk, and Taylor leaps out to open the rear passenger door. I have never been so pleased to see him, and I scramble into the car out of the rain.

  Christian is in the rear seat, gazing at me, his eyes wide and wary. He’s bracing himself for my anger, his jaw tight and tense.

  “Hi,” I murmur.

  “Hi,” he replies cautiously. He reaches over and grasps my hand, squeezing it tightly, and my heart thaws a little. I’m so confused. I haven’t even worked out what I need to say to him.

  “Are you still mad
?” he asks.

  “I don’t know,” I murmur. He raises my hand and lightly grazes my knuckles with soft butterfly kisses.

  “It’s been a shitty day,” he says.

  “Yes, it has.” But for the first time since he left for work this morning, I begin to relax. Just being in his company is a soothing balm, and all the shit from Jack, and the snarky e-mails to and fro, and the nuisance that is Elena fade into the background. It’s just me and my control freak in the back of the car.

  “It’s better now that you’re here,” he murmurs. We sit in silence as Taylor weaves through the evening traffic, both of us brooding and contemplative; but I feel Christian slowly unwind beside me as he, too, relaxes, gently running his thumb across my knuckles in a soft, soothing rhythm.

  Taylor drops us outside the apartment building, and we both duck inside, out of the rain. Christian clasps my hand as we wait for the elevator, his eyes scanning the front of the building.

  “I take it you haven’t found Leila yet.”

  “No. Welch is still looking for her,” he mutters despondently.

  The elevator arrives and in we step. Christian glances down at me, his gray eyes unreadable. Oh, he just looks glorious-tousled hair, white shirt, dark suit. And suddenly it’s there, from nowhere, that feeling. Oh my-the longing, the lust, the electricity. If it were visible, it would be an intense blue aura around and between us it’s so strong. His lips part as he gazes at me.

  “Do you feel it?” he breathes.

  “Yes.”

  “Oh, Ana.” He groans and he grabs me, his arms snaking around me, one hand at the nape of my neck, tipping my head back as his lips find mine. My fingers are in his hair and caressing his cheek as he pushes me back against the elevator wall.

  “I hate arguing with you,” he breathes against my mouth, and there’s a desperate, passionate quality to his kiss that mirrors mine. Desire explodes in my body, all the tension of the day seeking an outlet, straining against him, seeking more. We’re all tongues and breathing and hands and touch and sweet, sweet sensation. His hand is on my hip, and abruptly he’s pulling up my skirt, his fingers stroking my thighs.

  “Sweet Jesus, you’re wearing stockings.” He moans in appreciative awe as his thumb caresses the flesh above my stocking line. “I want to see this,” he breathes, and he pulls my skirt right up, exposing the tops of my thighs.

  Stepping back, he reaches over to press the stop button, and the elevator coasts smoothly to a halt between the twenty-second and twenty-third floors. His eyes are dark, lips parted, and he’s breathing as hard as am I. We gaze at each other, not touching. I am grateful for the wall against my back, holding me up while I bask in this beautiful man’s sensual, carnal appraisal.

  “Take your hair down,” he orders, his voice husky. I reach up and undo the tie, releasing my hair so it tumbles in a thick cloud around my shoulders to my breasts. “Undo the top two buttons of your shirt,” he whispers, his eyes wilder now.

  He makes me feel so wanton. My inner goddess is writhing on her chaise longue, waiting, wanting, and panting. I reach up and undo each button, achingly, slowly, so that the tops of my breasts are tantalizingly revealed.

  He swallows. “Do you have any idea how alluring you look right now?”

  Very deliberately, I bite my lip and shake my head. He closes his eyes briefly, and when he opens them again, they are blazing. He steps forward and places his hands on the elevator walls on either side of my face. He’s as close as he can be without touching me.

  I tip my face up to meet his gaze, and he leans down and runs his nose against mine, so it’s the only contact between us. I am so hot in the confines of this elevator with him. I want him-now.

  “I think you do, Miss Steele. I think you like to drive me wild.”

  “Do I drive you wild?” I whisper.

  “In all things, Anastasia. You are a siren, a goddess.” And he reaches for me, grasping my leg above my knee and hitching it around his waist, so that I am standing on one leg, leaning into him. I feel him against me, feel him hard and wanting above the apex of my thighs as he runs his lips down my throat. I moan and wrap my arms around his neck.

  “I’m going to take you now, Anastasia,” he breathes and I arch my back in response, pressing myself against him, eager for the friction. He groans deep and low in the back of his throat and boosts me higher as he undoes his fly.

  “Hold tight, baby,” he murmurs, and magically produces a foil packet that he holds in front of my mouth. I take it between my teeth, and he tugs, so that between us, we rip it open.

  “Good girl.” He steps back a fraction as he slides on the condom. “God, I can’t wait for the next six days,” he growls and gazes down at me through hooded eyes. “I do hope you’re not overly fond of these panties.” He tears through them with his adept fingers, and they disintegrate in his hands. My blood is pounding through my veins. I am panting with need.

  His words are intoxicating, all my angst from the day forgotten. It’s just him and me, doing what we do best. Without taking his eyes off mine, he sinks slowly into me. My body bows and I tilt my head back, closing my eyes, relishing the feel of him inside me. He pulls back and then moves into me again, so slow, so sweet. I groan.

  “You’re mine, Anastasia,” he murmurs against my throat.

  “Yes. Yours. When will you accept that?” I pant. He groans and starts to move, really move. And I surrender myself to his relentless rhythm, savoring each push and pull, his ragged breathing, his need for me, reflecting mine.

  It makes me feel powerful, strong, desired and loved-loved by this captivating, complicated man, whom I love in return with all my heart. He pushes harder and harder, his breathing ragged, losing himself in me as I lose myself in him.

  “Oh, baby,” Christian moans, his teeth grazing my jaw, and I come hard around him. He stills, clutches me, and follows suit, whispering my name.

  Now that Christian is spent, calm and kissing me gently, his breathing eases. He holds me upright against the elevator wall, our foreheads pressed together, and my body is like jelly, weak but gratifyingly sated from my climax.

  “Oh, Ana,” he murmurs. “I need you so much.” He kisses my forehead.

  “And I you, Christian.”

  Releasing me, he straightens my skirt and does up the two buttons on my shirt, then punches the combination into the keypad that starts the elevator again. It rises with a jolt so that I reach out and clasp his arms.

  “Taylor will be wondering where we are,” he grins lasciviously at me.

  Oh crap. I drag my fingers through my hair in a vain attempt to combat the just-fucked look, then give up and tie it in a ponytail.

  “You’ll do.” Christian smirks as he does up his fly and puts the condom in his pants pocket.

  Once more he looks the embodiment of an American entrepreneur, and since his hair looks just fucked most of the time, there’s very little difference. Except now he’s smiling, relaxed, his eyes crinkling with boyish charm. Are all men this easily placated?

  Taylor is waiting when the doors open.

  “Problem with the elevator,” Christian murmurs as we both step out, and I cannot look either of them in the face. I scurry through the double doors to Christian’s bedroom in search of some fresh underwear.

  When I return, Christian has removed his jacket and is sitting at the breakfast bar chatting with Mrs. Jones. She smiles kindly at me as she puts out two plates of hot food for us. Mmm, it smells delicious-coq au vin, if I am not mistaken. I am famished.

  “Enjoy, Mr. Grey, Ana,” she says and leaves us to it.

  Christian fetches a bottle of white wine from the fridge, and as we sit and eat, he tells me about how much nearer he’s getting to perfecting a solar-powered mobile phone. He’s animated and excited about the whole project, and I know then that he hasn’t had an entirely shitty day.

  I ask him about his properties. He smirks, and it turns out he only has the apartment in New York and Aspen, and Escala.
Nothing else. When we’re done, I collect his plate and mine and take them to sink.

  “Leave that. Gail will do it,” he says. I turn and gaze at him, and he’s watching me intently. Will I ever get used to having someone clean up after me?

  “Well, now that you are more docile, Miss Steele, shall we talk about today?”

  “I think you’re the one who’s more docile. I think I’m doing a good job in taming you.”

  “Taming me?” he snorts, amused. When I nod, he frowns as if reflecting on my words. “Yes. Maybe you are, Anastasia.”

  “You were right about Jack,” I murmur, serious now, and I lean across the kitchen island gauging his reaction. Christian’s face falls and his eyes harden.

  “Has he tried anything?” he whispers, his voice deathly cold.

  I shake my head to reassure him. “No, and he won’t, Christian. I told him today that I’m your girlfriend, and he backed right off.”

  “You’re sure? I could fire the fucker.” Christian scowls.

  I sigh, emboldened by my glass of wine. “You really have to let me fight my own battles. You can’t constantly second-guess me and try to protect me. It’s stifling, Christian. I’ll never flourish with your incessant interference. I need some freedom. I wouldn’t dream of meddling in your affairs.”

  He blinks at me. “I only want you safe, Anastasia. If anything happened to you, I-” He stops.

  “I know, and I understand why you feel so driven to protect me. And part of me loves it. I know that if I need you, you’ll be there, as I am for you. But if we are to have any hope of a future together, you have to trust me and trust my judgment. Yes, I’ll get it wrong sometimes-I’ll make mistakes, but I have to learn.”

  He stares at me, his expression anxious, spurring me to walk round to him so that I am standing between his legs while he sits on the barstool. Grabbing his hands, I put them around me and place my hands on his arms.

  “You can’t interfere in my job. It’s wrong. I don’t need you charging in like a white knight to save the day. I know you want to control everything, and I understand why, but you can’t. It’s an impossible goal… you have to learn to let go.” I reach up and stroke his face as he gazes at me, his eyes wide. “And if you can do that-give me that-I’ll move in with you,” I add softly.

  He inhales sharply, surprised. “You’d do that?” he whispers.

  “Yes.”

  “But you don’t know me.” He frowns and sounds choked and panicky all of a sudden, very un-Fifty.

  “I know you well enough, Christian. Nothing you tell me about yourself will frighten me away.” I gently run my knuckles across his cheek. His expression turns from anxious to dubious. “But if you could just ease up on me,” I plead.

  “I’m trying, Anastasia. I couldn’t just stand by and let you go to New York with that… sleazeball. He has an alarming reputation. None of his assistants have lasted more than three months, and they’re never retained by the company. I don’t want that for you, baby.” He sighs. “I don’t want anything to happen to you. You being hurt… the thought fills me with dread. I can’t promise not to interfere, not if I think you’ll come to harm.” He pauses and takes a deep breath. “I love you, Anastasia. I will do everything in my power to protect you. I cannot imagine my life without you.”

  Holy cow. My inner goddess, my subconscious, and I all gape at Fifty in shock.

  Jeez, three little words. My world stands still, tilts, then spins on a new axis; and I savor the moment, gazing into his sincere, beautiful gray eyes.

  “I love you, too, Christian.” I lean over and kiss him, and the kiss deepens.

  Entering unseen, Taylor clears his throat. Christian pulls back, gazing intently at me. He stands, his arm around my waist.

  “Yes?” he snaps at Taylor.

  “Mrs. Lincoln is on her way up, sir.”

  “What?”

  Taylor shrugs apologetically. Christian sighs heavily and shakes his head.

  “Well, this should be interesting,” he mutters and gives me a crooked grin of resignation.

  Fuck! Why can’t that damned woman leave us alone?

  12

  “Did you talk to her today?” I ask Christian as we wait forMrs. Robinson’s arrival.

  “Yes.”

  “What did you say?”

  “I said that you didn’t want to see her, and that I understood your reasons why. I also told her that I didn’t appreciate her going behind my back.” His gaze is impassive, giving nothing away.

  Oh, good. “What did she say?”

  “She brushed it off in a way that only Elena can.” His mouth flattens to a crooked line.

  “Why do you think she’s here?”

  “I have no idea.” Christian shrugs.

  Taylor enters the great room again. “Mrs. Lincoln,” he announces.

  And here she is… Why is she so damned attractive? She’s dressed entirely in black: tight jeans, a shirt that emphasizes her perfect figure, and a halo of bright, glossy hair.

  Christian pulls me close. “Elena,” he says, his tone puzzled.

  She gapes at me in shock, frozen to the spot. She blinks before finding her soft voice. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had company, Christian. It’s Monday,” she says as if this explains why she’s here.

  “Girlfriend,” he says by way of explanation and tilts his head to one side and smirks.

  She smiles, a slow, beaming smile directed entirely at him. It’s unnerving.

  “Of course. Hello, Anastasia. I didn’t know you’d be here. I know you don’t want to talk to me. I accept that.”

  “Do you?” I assert quietly, gazing at her and taking all of us by surprise. With a slight frown, she moves farther into the room.

  “Yes, I get the message. I’m not here to see you. Like I said, Christian rarely has company during the week.” She pauses. “I have a problem, and I need to talk to Christian about it.”

  “Oh?” Christian straightens up. “Do you want a drink?”

  “Yes, please,” she murmurs gratefully.

  Christian fetches a glass while Elena and I stand awkwardly gazing at each other. She fidgets with a large silver ring on her middle finger, while I don’t know where to look. Finally, she gives me a small tight smile and approaches the kitchen island and sits on the bar stool at the end. She obviously knows the place well and feels comfortable moving around here.

  Do I stay? Do I go? Oh, this is so difficult. My subconscious scowls at the woman with her most hostile harpy face.

  There’s so much I want to say to this woman, and none of it complimentary. But she’s Christian’sfriend-his only friend-and for all my loathing of this woman, I am innately polite. Deciding to stay, I sit as gracefully as I can manage on the stool Christian’s vacated. Christian pours wine into each of our glasses and sits between us at the breakfast bar. Can’t he feel how weird this is?

  “What’s up?” he asks her.

  Elena looks nervously at me, and Christian reaches over and clasps my hand.

  “Anastasia’s with me now,” he says to her silent query and squeezes my hand. I flush, and my subconscious beams at him, harpy face forgotten.

  Elena’s face softens as if she’s pleased for him. Really pleased for him. Oh, I don’t understand this woman at all, and I’m uncomfortable and edgy in her presence.

  She takes a deep breath and shifts, perching on the edge of her bar stool and looking agitated. She glances nervously down at her hands and starts manically twisting the large silver ring around and around on her middle finger.

  Jeez, what’s wrong with her? Is it my presence? Do I have that effect on her? Because I feel the same way-I don’t want her here. She raises her head and looks Christian squarely in the eye.

  “I’m being blackmailed.”

  Holy shit. Not what I expected out of her mouth. Christian stiffens. Has someone found out about her penchant for beating and fucking underage boys? I suppress my revulsion, and a fleeting thought about chick
ens coming home to roost crosses my mind. My subconscious rubs her hands together with ill-disguised glee. Good.

  “How?” Christian asks, his horror clear in his voice.

  She reaches into her oversized, patent-leather, designer purse, pulls out a note, and hands it to him.

  “Put it down, lay it out.” Christian points to the breakfast bar counter with his chin.

  “You don’t want to touch it?’

  “No. Fingerprints.”

  “Christian, you know I can’t go to the police with this.”

  Why am I listening to this? Is she fucking some other poor boy?

  She lays the note out for him, and he bends to read it.

  “They’re only asking for five thousand dollars,” he says almost absentmindedly. “Any idea who it might be? Someone in the community?”

  “No,” she says in her soft sweet voice.

  “Linc?”

  Linc? Who’s that?

  “What-after all this time? I don’t think so,” she grumbles.

  “Does Isaac know?”

  “I haven’t told him.”

  Who’s Isaac?

  “I think he needs to know,” Christian says. She shakes her head, and now I feel I’m intruding. I want none of this. I try to retrieve my hand from Christian’s grasp, but he just tightens his hold and turns to gaze at me.

  “What?” he asks.

  “I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”

  His eyes search mine, looking forwhat? Censure? Acceptance? Hostility? I keep my expression as bland as possible.

  “Okay,” he says. “I won’t be long.”

  He releases me and I stand. Elena watches me warily. I stay tightlipped and return her gaze, giving nothing away.

  “Goodnight, Anastasia.” She gives me a small smile.

  “Goodnight,” I mutter, my voice sounds cold. I turn to leave. The tension is too much for me to bear. As I exit the room they continue their conversation.

  “I don’t think there’s a great deal I can do, Elena,” Christian says to her. “If it’s a question of money.” His voice trails off. “I could ask Welch to investigate.”

  “No, Christian, I just wanted to share,” she says.

  When I am out of the room, I hear her say, “You look very happy.”

  “I am,” Christian responds.

  “You deserve to be.”

  “I wish that were true.”

  “Christian,” she scolds.

  I freeze, listening intently. I can’t help it.

  “Does she know how negative you are about yourself? About all your issues.”

  “She knows me better than anyone.”

  “Ouch! That hurts.”

  “It’s the truth, Elena. I don’t have to play games with her. And I mean it, leave her alone.”

  “What is her problem?”

  “You… What we were. What we did. She doesn’t understand.”

  “Make her understand.”

  “It’s in the past, Elena, and why would I want to taint her with our fucked-up relationship? She’s good and sweet and innocent, and by some miracle she loves me.”

  “It’s no miracle, Christian,” Elena scoffs good-naturedly. “Have a little faith in yourself. You really are quite a catch. I’ve told you often enough. And she seems lovely, too. Strong. Someone to stand up to you.”

  I can’t hear Christian’s response. So I’m strong, am I? I certainly don’t feel that way.

  “Don’t you miss it?” Elena continues.

  “What?”

  “Your playroom.”

  I stop breathing.

  “That really is none of your fucking business,” Christian snaps.

  Oh.

  “I’msorry.” Elena snorts insincerely.

  “I think you’d better go. And please, call before you come again.”

  “Christian, I am sorry,” she says, and from her tone, this time she means it. “Since when are you so sensitive?” She’s scolding him again.

  “Elena, we have a business relationship which has profited us both immensely. Let’s keep it that way. What was between us is part of the past. Anastasia is my future, and I won’t jeopardize it in any way, so cut the fucking crap.”

  His future!

  “I see.”

  “Look, I’m sorry for your trouble. Perhaps you should ride it out and call their bluff.” His tone is softer.

  “I don’t want to lose you, Christian.”

  “I’m not yours to lose, Elena,” he snaps again.

  “That’s not what I meant.”

  “What did you mean?” He’s brusque, angry.

  “Look, I don’t want to argue with you. Your friendship means a lot to me. I’ll back off from Anastasia. But I’m here if you need me. I always will be.”

  “Anastasia thinks that you saw me last Saturday. You called, that’s all. Why did you tell her otherwise?”

  “I wanted her to know how upset you were when she left. I don’t want her to hurt you.”

  “She knows. I’ve told her. Stop interfering. Honestly, you’re like a mother hen.” Christian sounds more resigned, and Elena laughs, but there’s a sad tone to her laugh.

  “I know. I’m sorry. You know I care about you. I never thought you’d end up falling in love, Christian. It’s very gratifying to see. But I couldn’t bear it if she hurt you.”

  “I’ll take my chances,” he says dryly. “Now are you sure you don’t want Welch to sniff around?”

  She sighs heavily. “I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm.”

  “Okay. I’ll call him in the morning.”

  I listen to them bickering, trying to figure this out. They do sound like old friends, as Christian says. Just friends. And she cares about him-maybe too much. Well, who wouldn’t, if they knew him?

  “Thank you, Christian. And I am sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude. I’ll go. Next time I’ll call.”

  “Good.”

  She’s going! Shit! I scamper up the hallway to Christian’s bedroom and sit down on the bed. Christian enters a few moments later.

  “She’s gone,” he says warily, gauging my reaction.

  I gaze up at him, trying to frame my question. “Will you tell me all about her? I am trying to understand why you think she helped you.” I pause, thinking carefully about my next sentence. “I loathe her, Christian. I think she did you untold damage. You have no friends. Did she keep them away from you?”

  He sighs and runs his hand through his hair.

  “Why the fuck do you want to know about her? We had a very long-standing affair, she beat the shit out of me often, and I fucked her in all sorts of ways you can’t even imagine, end of story.”

  I pale. Shit, he’s angry-with me. I blink at him. “Why are you so angry?”

  “Because all of that shit is over!” he shouts, glowering at me. He sighs in exasperation and shakes his head.

  I blanch. Shit. I look down at my hands, knotted in my lap. I just want to understand.

  He sits down beside me. “What do you want to know?” he asks wearily.

  “You don’t have to tell me. I don’t mean to intrude.”

  “Anastasia, it’s not that. I don’t like talking about this shit. I’ve lived in a bubble for years with nothing affecting me and not having to justify myself to anyone. She’s always been there as a confidante. And now my past and my future are colliding in a way I never thought possible.”

  I glance at him and he’s staring at me, his eyes wide.

  “I never thought I had a future with anyone, Anastasia. You give me hope and have me thinking about all sorts of possibilities.” He drifts off.

  “I was listening,” I whisper and stare back down at my hands.

  “What? To our conversation?”

  “Yes.”

  “Well?” He sounds resigned.

  “She cares for you.”

  “Yes, she does. And I for her in my own way, but it doesn’t come close to how I feel about you. If that’s what this is about.”
r />
  “I’m not jealous.” I’m wounded that he would think that-or am I? Shit. Maybe that’s what this is. “You don’t love her,” I murmur.

  He sighs again. He really is pissed. “A long time ago, I thought I loved her,” he says through gritted teeth.

  Oh. “When we were in Georgia… you said you didn’t love her.”

  “That’s right.”

  I frown.

  “I loved you then, Anastasia,” he whispers. “You’re the only person I’d fly three thousand miles to see.”

  Oh my. I don’t understand. He still wanted me as a sub then. My frown deepens.

  “The feelings I have for you are very different from any I ever had for Elena,” he says by way of explanation.

  “When did you know?”

  He shrugs. “Ironically, it was Elena who pointed it out to me. She encouraged me to go to Georgia.”

  I knew it! I knew it in Savannah. I gaze at him, blankly.

  What do I make of this? Maybe sheison my side and just worried that I’ll hurt him. The thought is painful. I would never want to hurt him. She’s right-he’s been hurt enough.

  Perhaps she’s not so bad. I shake my head. I don’t want to accept his relationship with her. I disapprove. Yes, that’s what this is. She’s an unsavory character who preyed on a vulnerable adolescent, robbing him of his teenage years, no matter what he says.

  “So you desired her? When you were younger.”

  “Yes.”

  Oh.

  “She taught me a great deal. She taught me to believe in myself.”

  Oh. “But she also beat the shit out of you.”

  He smiles fondly. “Yes, she did.”

  “And you liked that?”

  “At the time I did.”

  “So much that you wanted to do it to others?”

  His eyes grow wide and serious. “Yes.”

  “Did she help you with that?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did she sub for you?”

  “Yes.”

  Holy fuck. “Do you expect me to like her?” My voice sounds brittle and bitter.

  “No. Though it would make my life a hell of a lot easier,” he says wearily. “I do understand your reticence.”

  “Reticence! Jeez, Christian-if that were your son, how would you feel?”

  He blinks at me as though he doesn’t comprehend the question. He frowns. “I didn’t have to stay with her. It was my choice, too, Anastasia,” he murmurs.

  This is getting me nowhere.

  “Who’s Linc?”

  “Her ex-husband.”

  “Lincoln Timber?”

 
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