“Have you now?” I whisper. My mouth goes drier still, my heart pounding in my chest. Why’s he dressed like this? What does it mean? Is he still sulking?
“I have.” His voice is kitten soft, but he’s smirking as he strolls closer to me.
Holy crap he looks hot—his jeans hanging that way from his hips. Oh no, I’m not going to be distracted by Mr. Sex-on-Legs. I try to gauge his mood as he stalks toward me. Angry? Playful? Lustful? Gah! It’s impossible to tell.
“I like your jeans,” I murmur. He grins a disarming wolfish grin that doesn’t reach his eyes. Shit—he’s still mad. He’s wearing these to distract me. He halts in front of me, and I’m seared by his intensity. He gazes down, wide unreadable eyes burning into mine. I swallow.
“I understand you have issues, Mrs. Grey,” he says silkily, and he pulls something from the back pocket of his jeans. I can’t tear my gaze from his, but hear him unfold a piece of paper. He holds it up, and glancing briefly in its direction, I recognize my e-mail. My gaze returns to his, as his eyes blaze bright with anger.
“Yes, I have issues,” I whisper, feeling breathless. I need distance if we’re going to discuss this. But before I can step back, he leans down and runs his nose along mine. My eyes flutter to a close as I welcome his unexpected, gentle touch.
“So do I,” he whispers against my skin, and I open my eyes at his words. He straightens and gazes intently at me once more.
“I think I’m familiar with your issues, Christian.” My voice is wry, and he narrows his eyes, suppressing the amusement that sparks there momentarily. Are we going to fight? I take a precautionary step back. I must physically distance myself from him—from his smell, his look, his distracting body in those hot jeans.
He frowns as I move away.
“Why did you fly back from New York?” I whisper. Let’s get this over and done with.
“You know why.” His tone carries a warning ring.
“Because I went out with Kate?”
“Because you went back on your word, and you defied me, putting yourself at unnecessary risk.”
“Went back on my word? Is that how you see it?” I gasp, ignoring the rest of his sentence.
Holy crap. Talk about overreaction! I start to roll my eyes but stop when he scowls at me. “Christian, I changed my mind,” I explain slowly, patiently as if he’s a child. “I’m a woman. We’re renowned for it. That’s what we do.”
He blinks at me as if he doesn’t comprehend this.
“If I had thought for one minute that you would cancel your business trip . . .”
Words fail me. I realize I don’t know what to say. I am momentarily catapulted back to the argument over our vows. I never promised to obey you, Christian. But I hold my tongue, because deep down I’m glad he came back. In spite of his fury, I’m glad he’s here in one piece, angry and smoldering in front of me.
“You changed your mind?” He can’t hide his contemptuous disbelief.
“And you didn’t think to call me?” He glares at me, incredulous, before continuing. “What’s more, you left the security detail short here and put Ryan at risk.”
Oh. I hadn’t thought about that.
“I should have called, but I didn’t want to worry you. If I had, I’m sure you would have forbidden me to go and I’ve missed Kate. I wanted to see her.
Besides, it kept me out of the way when Jack was here. Ryan shouldn’t have let him in.” This is so confusing. If Ryan hadn’t, Jack would still be at large.
Christian’s eyes gleam wildly, then shut, his face tightening as if in pain. Oh, no. He shakes his head, and before I know it he has folded me in his arms, pulling me hard against him.
“Oh Ana,” he whispers as he tightens his hold on me so that I can barely breathe. “If something were to happen to you—” His voice is barely a whisper.
“It didn’t,” I manage to say.
“But it could have. I’ve died a thousand deaths today thinking about what might have happened. I was so mad, Ana. Mad at you. Mad at myself. Mad at everyone. I can’t remember being this angry . . . except—” He stops again.
“Except?” I prompt.
“Once in your old apartment. When Leila was there.”
Oh. I don’t want to think about that.
“You were so cold this morning,” I murmur. My voice cracks on the last word as I remember the hideous feeling of rejection in the shower. His hands move to the nape of my neck, loosening their grip on me, and I take a deep breath.
He pulls my head back.
“I don’t know how to deal with this anger. I don’t think I want to hurt you,”
he says, his eyes wide and wary. “This morning, I wanted to punish you, badly and—” He stops, lost for words I think, or too afraid to say them.
“You were worried you’d hurt me?” I finish his sentence for him, not believing that he’d hurt me for a minute, but relieved, too. A small vicious part of me feared it was because he didn’t want me anymore.
“I didn’t trust myself,” he says quietly.
“Christian, I know you’d never hurt me. Not physically, anyway.” I clasp his head between my hands.
“Do you?” he asks, and there’s skepticism in his voice.
“Yes. I knew what you said was an empty, idle threat. I know you’re not going to beat the shit out of me.”
“I wanted to.”
“No you didn’t. You just thought you did.”
“I don’t know if that’s true,” he murmurs.
“Think about it,” I urge, wrapping my arms around him once more and nuzzling his chest through the black T-shirt. “About how you felt when I left. You’ve told me often enough what that did to you. How it altered your view of the world, of me. I know what you’ve given up for me. Think about how you felt about the cuff marks on our honeymoon.”
He stills, and I know he’s processing this information. I tighten my arms around him, my hands on his back, feeling his taut toned muscles beneath his Tshirt. Gradually, he relaxes as the tension slowly ebbs away.
Is this what’s been worrying him? That he’ll hurt me? Why do I have more faith in him than he has in himself? I don’t understand, surely we’ve moved on.
He’s normally so strong, so in control, but without that, he’s lost. Oh, Fifty, Fifty, Fifty—I’m sorry. He kisses my hair, I turn my face up to his, and his lips find mine, searching, taking, giving, begging—for what, I don’t know. I just want to feel his mouth on mine, and I return his kiss passionately.
“You have such faith in me,” he whispers after he breaks away.
“I do.” He strokes my face with the back of his knuckles and the tip of his thumb, gazing intently into my eyes. His anger has gone. My Fifty is back from wherever he’s been. It’s good to see him. I glance shyly up and smirk.
“Besides,” I whisper, “you don’t have the paperwork.”
His mouth drops open in amused shock, and he clutches me to his chest again.
“You’re right. I don’t.” He laughs.
We stand in the middle of the great room, locked in our embrace, just holding each other.
“Come to bed,” he whispers, after heaven knows how long.
Oh my . . .
“Christian, we need to talk.”
“Later,” he urges softly.
“Christian, please. Talk to me.”
He sighs. “About what?”
“You know. You keep me in the dark.”
“I want to protect you.”
“I’m not a child.”
“I am fully aware of that, Mrs. Grey.” He runs his hands down my body and cups my backside. Flexing his hips, he presses his growing erection into me.
“Christian!” I scold. “Talk to me.”
He sighs once more with exasperation. “What do you want to know?” His voice is resigned as he releases me. I baulk— I didn’t mean you had to let me go.
Taking my hand, he reaches down to pick up my e-mail from the floor.
“Lots of things,” I mutter, as I let him lead me to the couch.
“Sit,” he orders. Some things never change, I muse, doing as I’m told. Christian sits beside me, and leaning forward, puts his head in his hands.
Oh no. Is this too hard for him? Then he sits up, rakes both hands through his hair, and turns to me, at once expectant and reconciled to his fate.
“Ask me,” he says simply.
Oh. Well, that was easier than I thought. “Why the additional security for your family?”
“Hyde was a threat to them.”
“How do you know?”
“From his computer. It held personal details about me and the rest of my family. Especially Carrick.”
“Carrick? Why him?”
“I don’t know yet. Let’s go to bed.”
“Christian, tell me!”
“Tell you what?”
“You are so . . . exasperating.”
“So are you.” He glares at me.
“You didn’t ramp up the security when you first found out there was information about your family on the computer. So what happened? Why now?”
Christian narrows his eyes at me.
“I didn’t know he was going to attempt to burn down my building, or—” He stops. “We thought it was an unwelcome obsession, but you know”—he shrugs—”when you’re in the public eye, people are interested. It was random stuff: news reports on me from when I was at Harvard—my rowing, my career.
Reports on Carrick—following his career, following my mom’s career—and to some extent, Elliot and Mia.
“You said or,” I prompt.
“You said, ‘attempt to burn down my building, or . . .’ like you were going to say something else.”
“Are you hungry?”
What? I frown at him, and my stomach rumbles.
“Did you eat today?” His voice is sterner and his eyes frost.
I’m betrayed by my flush.
“As I thought.” His voice is clipped. “You know how I feel about you not eating. Come,” he says. He stands and holds out his hand. “Let me feed you.” And he shifts again . . . this time his voice full of sensual promise.
“Feed me?” I whisper as everything south of my navel liquefies. Hell. This is such a typically mercurial diversion from what we’ve been discussing. Is that it?
Is that all I’m getting out of him for now? Leading me over to the kitchen, Christian grabs a bar stool and hefts it around to the other side of the island.
“Sit,” he says.
“Where’s Mrs. Jones?” I ask, noticing her absence for the first time as I perch on the stool.
“I’ve given her and Taylor the night off.”
He gazes at me for a beat, and his arrogant amusement is back. “Because I can.”
“So you’re going to cook?” I give him an incredulous smirk.
“Oh, ye of little faith, Mrs. Grey. Close your eyes.”
Wow. I thought we were going to have a full-on fight, and here we are, playing in the kitchen.
“Close them,” he orders.
I roll them first, then oblige.
“Hmm. Not good enough,” he mutters. I open one eye and see him take a plum-colored silk scarf out of the back pocket of his jeans. It matches my dress.
Holy cow. I look quizzically at him. When did he get that?
“Close,” he orders again. “No peeking.”
“You’re going to blindfold me?” I mutter, shocked. All of a sudden I’m breathless.
“Christian—” He places a finger upon my lips, silencing me.
I want to talk.
“We’ll talk later. I want you to eat now. You said you were hungry.” He lightly kisses my lips. The silk of the scarf is soft against my eyelids as he ties it securely at the back of my head.
“Can you see?” he asks.
“No,” I mutter, figuratively rolling my eyes. He chuckles softly.
“I can tell when you’re rolling your eyes, . . . and you know how that makes me feel.”
I purse my lips. “Can we just get this over and done with?” I snap.
“Such impatience, Mrs. Grey. So eager to talk.” His tone is playful.
“I must feed you first,” he says and brushes his lips over my temple, calming me instantly.
Okay . . . have it your way. I resign myself to my fate and listen to his movements around the kitchen. The fridge door opens, and Christian places various dishes on the countertop behind me. He pads over to the microwave, pops something in, and turns it on. My curiosity is piqued. I hear the toaster lever drop, the turn of the control, and the quiet tick of the timer. Hmm—toast?
“Yes. I am eager to talk,” I murmur, distracted. An assortment of exotic, spicy aromas fills the kitchen, and I shift in my chair.
“Be still, Anastasia,” he murmurs, and he’s close to me again. “I want you to behave . . . ,” he whispers.
Oh my. My inner goddess freezes, not even blinking.
“And don’t bite your lip.” Gently he tugs my bottom lip free of my teeth, and I can’t help my smile.
Next, I hear the sharp pop of a cork being drawn from a bottle and the gentle glug of wine being poured into a glass. Then a moment of silence followed by a quiet click and the soft hiss of white noise from the surround-sound speakers as they come to life. A loud twang of a guitar begins a song I don’t know. Christian turns the volume down to background level. A man starts to sing, his voice deep, low, and sexy.
“A drink first, I think,” Christian whispers, diverting me from the song.
“Head back.” I tip my head back. “Further,” he prompts.
I oblige, and his lips are on mine. Cool crisp wine flows into my mouth. I swallow reflexively. Oh my. Memories flood back of not so long ago—me trussed up on my bed in Vancouver before I graduated with a hot, angry Christian not appreciating my e-mail. Hmm . . . have times changed? Not much. Except now I recognize the wine, Christian’s favorite—a Sancerre.
“Hmm,” I murmur in appreciation.
“You like the wine?” he whispers, his breath warm on my cheek. I’m bathed in his proximity, his vitality, the heat radiating from his body, even though he doesn’t touch me.
“Yes,” I breathe.
“I always want more, with you.”
I almost hear his grin. It makes me grin, too. “Mrs. Grey, are you flirting with me?”
His wedding ring clinks against the glass as he takes another sip of wine.
Now that is a sexy sound. This time he pulls my head right back, cradling me. He kisses me once more, and greedily I swallow the wine he gives me. He smiles as he kisses me again.
“I think we’ve already established that, Mr. Grey.”
The troubadour on the iPod is singing about wicked games. Hmm . . . How apt.
The microwave pings, and Christian releases me. I sit upright. The food smells spicy: garlic, mint, oregano, rosemary, and lamb, I think. The door to the microwave opens, and the appetizing smell grows stronger.
“Shit! Christ!” Christian curses, and a dish clatters onto the countertop.
Oh Fifty! “You okay?”
“Yes!” he snaps, his voice tight. A moment later, he’s standing beside me once more.
“I just burned myself. Here.” He eases his index finger into my mouth.
“Maybe you could suck it better.”
“Oh.” Clasping his hand, I draw his finger slowly from my mouth. “There, there,” I soothe, and leaning forward I blow, cooling his finger, then kiss it gently twice. He stops breathing. I reinsert it into my mouth and suck gently. He inhales sharply, and the sound travels straight to my groin. He tastes as delicious as ever, and I realize that this is his game—the slow seduction of his wife. I thought he was mad, and now . . . ? This man, my husband, is so confusing. But this is how I like him. Playful. Fun. Sexy as hell. He’s given me some answers, but I’m greedy.
I want more, but I want to play, too. After the anxiety and tension of today, and the nightmare of last night with Jack, this is a welcome diversion.
“What are you thinking?” Christian murmurs, stopping my thoughts in their tracks as he pulls his finger out of my mouth.
“How mercurial you are.”
He stills beside me. “Fifty Shades, baby,” he says eventually and plants a tender kiss at the corner of my mouth.
“My Fifty Shades,” I whisper. Grabbing his T-shirt, I pull him back to me.
“Oh no you don’t, Mrs. Grey. No touching . . . not yet.” He takes my hand, pries it off his T-shirt, and kisses each finger in turn.
“Sit up,” he commands.
“I will spank you if you pout. Now open wide.”
Oh shit. I open my mouth, and he pops in a forkful of spicy hot lamb covered in a cool, minty, yogurt sauce. Mmm. I chew.
He makes an appreciative noise, and I know he’s eating and enjoying, too.
I nod. He gives me another forkful, and I chew it enthusiastically. He puts the fork down and he tears . . . bread, I think.
“Open,” he orders.
This time it’s pita bread and hummus. I realize Mrs. Jones—or maybe even Christian—has been shopping at the delicatessen I discovered about five weeks ago only two blocks from Escala. I chew gratefully. Christian in a playful mood increases my appetite.
“More?” he asks.
I nod. “More of everything. Please. I’m starving.”
I hear his delighted grin. Slowly and patiently he feeds me, occasionally kissing a morsel of food from the corner of my mouth or wiping it off with his fingers. Intermittently, he offers me a sip of wine in his unique way.
“Open wide, then bite,” he murmurs. I follow his command. Hmm—one of my favorites, stuffed vine leaves. Even cold they are delicious, though I prefer them heated up, but I don’t want to risk Christian burning himself again. He feeds it to me slowly, and when I’ve finished I lick his fingers clean.
“More?” he asks, his voice low and husky.
I shake my head. I’m full.
“Good,” he whispers against my ear, “because it’s time for my favorite course. You.” He scoops me up in his arms, surprising me so much I squeal.
“Can I take the blindfold off?”
I almost pout, then remember his threat and think better of it.
“Playroom,” he murmurs.
Oh—I don’t know if that’s a good idea.
“You up for the challenge?” he asks. And because he’s used the word challenge, I can’t say no.
“Bring it on,” I murmur, desire and something that I don’t want to name thrum through my body. He carries me through the door, then up the stairs to the second floor.
“I think you’ve lost weight,” he mutters disapprovingly. I have? Good. I remember his comment when we arrived back from our honeymoon, and how much it smarted. Jeez—was that just a week ago?
Outside the playroom, he slides me down his body and sets me on my feet, but keeps his arm wrapped around my waist. Briskly he unlocks the door.
It always smells the same: polished wood and citrus. It’s actually become a comforting smell. Releasing me, Christian turns me around until I’m facing away from him. He undoes the scarf, and I blink in the soft light. Gently, he pulls the hairpins from my updo, and my braid falls free. He grasps it and tugs gently so I have to step back against him.
“I have a plan,” he whispers in my ear, sending delicious shivers down my spine.
“I thought you might,” I answer. He kisses me beneath my ear.
“Oh, Mrs. Grey, I do.” His tone is soft, mesmerizing. He tugs my braid to the side and plants a trail of soft kisses down my throat.
“First we have to get you naked.” His voice hums low in his throat and resonates through my body. I want this—whatever he has planned. I want to connect the way we know how. He turns me around to face him. I glance down at his jeans, the top button still undone, and I can’t help myself. I brush my index finger around the waistband, avoiding his T-shirt, feeling the hairs of his happy trail tickle my knuckle. He inhales sharply, and I look up to meet his eyes. I stop at the unfastened button. His eyes darken to a deeper gray . . . oh my.
“You should keep these on,” I whisper.
“I fully intend to, Anastasia.”
And he moves, grabbing me with one hand to the back of my neck and the other around my backside. He pulls me against him, then his mouth is on mine, and he’s kissing me like his life depends on it.
He walks me backward, our tongues entwined, until I feel the wooden cross behind me. He leans into me, the contours of his body pressing into mine.
“Let’s get rid of this dress,” he says, peeling my dress up my thighs, my hips, my belly . . . deliciously slowly, the material skimming over my skin, skimming over my breasts.
“Lean forward,” he says.
I comply, and he pulls my dress over my head and discards it on the floor, leaving me in my sandals, panties, and bra. His eyes blaze as he grasps both my hands and raises them over my head. He blinks once and tilts his head to one side, and I know he’s asking for my permission. What is he going to do to me? I swallow, then nod, and a trace of an admiring, almost proud, smile touches his lips. He clips my wrists into the leather cuffs on the bar above and produces the scarf once more.
“Think you’ve seen enough,” he murmurs. He wraps it around my head, blindfolding me again, and I feel a frisson run through me as all my other senses heighten; the sound of his soft breathing, my own excited response, the blood pulsing in my ears, Christian’s scent mixed with the citrus and polish in the room—all are bought into sharper focus because I can’t see. His nose touches mine.
“I’m going to drive you wild,” he whispers. His hands grasp my hips, and he moves down, removing my panties as his hands glide down my legs. Drive me wild . . . wow.
“Lift your feet, one at a time.” I oblige and he removes first my panties, then each sandal in turn. Gently grasping my ankle, he tugs my leg gently to the right.
“Step,” he says. He cuffs my right ankle to the cross then proceeds to do the same with my left. I am helpless, spread-eagled on the cross. Standing, Christian steps toward me, and my body is bathed in his warmth once more though he doesn’t touch me. After a moment he grasps my chin, tilts my head up, and kisses me chastely.
“Some music and toys, I think. You look beautiful like this, Mrs. Grey. I may take a moment to admire the view.” His voice is soft. Everything clenches deep inside.
After a moment, maybe two, I hear him pad quietly to the museum chest and open one of the drawers. The butt drawer? I have no idea. He takes something out and places it on the top, followed by something else. The speakers spring to life, and after a moment the strains of a single piano playing a soft, lilting melody fill the room. It’s familiar—Bach, I think—but I don’t know what piece it is. Something about the music makes me apprehensive. Perhaps because the music is too cool, too detached. I frown, trying to grasp why it unsettles me, but Christian grasps my chin, startling me, and tugs gently so that I release my bottom lip. I smile, trying to reassure myself. Why do feel uneasy? Is it the music?
Christian runs his hand from my chin, along my throat, and down my chest to my breast. Using his thumb he pulls on the cup, freeing my breast from the restraint of my bra. He makes a low, appreciative humming noise in his throat and kisses my neck. His lips follow the path of his fingers to my breast, kissing and sucking all the way. His fingers move to my left breast, releasing it from my bra. I moan as he skates his thumb across my left nipple, and his lips close around my right, tugging and teasing gently until both nipples are long and hard.
He doesn’t stop. With exquisite care, he slowly increases the intensity on each. I pull fruitlessly against my restraints as sharp pleasure spikes from my nipples to my groin. I try to squirm but I can hardly move, and it makes the torture all the more intense.
“Christian,” I plead.
“I know,” he murmurs his voice hoarse. “This is what you make me feel.”
What? I groan, and he begins again, subjecting my nipples to his sweet agonizing touch over and over—taking me closer.
“Please,” I mewl.
He makes a low primal sound in his throat, then stands, leaving me bereft, breathless, and squirming against my restraints. He runs his hands down my sides, one pausing on my hip while the other travels down my belly.
“Let’s see how you’re doing,” he croons softly. Gently, he cups my sex, brushing his thumb across my clitoris and making me cry out. Slowly, he inserts one, then two fingers inside me. I groan and thrust my hips forward, eager to meet his fingers and the palm of his hand.
“Oh, Anastasia, you’re so ready,” he says.
He circles his fingers inside me, around and around, while his thumb strokes my clitoris, back and forth, once more. It’s the only point on my body where he’s touching me, and all the tension, all the anxiety of the day, is concentrated on this one part of my anatomy.
Holy shit . . . it’s intense . . . and strange . . . the music . . . I begin to build . . .
Christian shifts, his hand still moving against and in me, and I hear a low buzzing noise.
“What?” I gasp.
“Hush,” he soothes, and his lips are on mine, effectively silencing me. I welcome the warmer, more intimate contact, kissing him voraciously. He breaks the contact and the buzzing noise gets nearer.
“This is a wand, baby. It vibrates.”
He holds it against my chest, and it feels like a large ball-like object vibrating against me. I shiver as it moves across my skin, down between my breasts, across to first one, then the other nipple, and I’m awash with sensation, tingling everywhere, synapses firing as dark, dark need pools at the base of my belly.
“Ah,” I groan while Christian’s fingers continue to move inside me . I’m close . . . all this stimulation . . . Tilting my head back, I moan loudly and Christian stills his fingers. All sensation stops.
“No! Christian,” I plead, trying to thrust my hips forward for some friction.
“Still, baby,” he says while my impending orgasm melts away. He leans forward once more and kisses me.
“Frustrating, isn’t it?” he murmurs.
Oh no! Suddenly I understand his game.
“Hush,” he says and kisses me. And he starts to move again—wand, fingers, thumb—a lethal combination of sensual torture. He shifts so his body brushes against mine. He’s still dressed, and the soft denim of his jeans brushes against my leg, his erection at my hip. So tantalizingly close. He brings me to the brink again, my body singing with need, and stops.
“No,” I mewl loudly.
He plants soft wet kisses on my shoulder as he withdraws his fingers from me, and moves the wand down. It oscillates over my stomach, my belly, onto my sex, against my clitoris. Fuck, it’s intense.
“Ah!” I cry out, pulling hard on the restraints.
My body is so sensitized I feel I am going to explode, and just as I am, Christian stops again.
“Christian!” I cry out.
“Frustrating, yes?” he murmurs against my throat. “Just like you. Promising one thing and then . . .” His voice trails off.
“Christian, please!” I beg.
He pushes the wand against me again and again, stopping just at the vital moment each time. Ah!
“Each time I stop, it feels more intense when I start again. Right?”
“Please,” I whimper. My nerve endings are screaming for release.
The buzzing stops and Christian kisses me. He runs his nose down mine.
“You are the most frustrating woman I have ever met.”
No, No, No.
“Christian, I never promised to obey you. Please, please—”
He moves in front of me, grabs my behind and pushes his hips against me, making me gasp—his groin rubbing into mine, the buttons of his jeans pressing into me, barely containing his erection. With one hand he pulls off the blindfold and grasps my chin, and I blink up into his scorching eyes.
“You drive me crazy,” he whispers, flexing his hips against me once, twice, three times more, causing my body to spark—ready to burn. And again he denies me. I want him so badly. I need him so badly. I close my eyes and mutter a prayer. I can’t help but feel I’m being punished. I’m helpless and he’s ruthless. Tears spring to my eyes. I don’t know how far he’s going to take this.
“Please,” I whisper once more.
But he gazes down at me, implacable. He’s just going to continue. For how long? Can I play this game? No. No. No—I can’t do this. I know he’s not going to stop. He’s going to continue to torture me. His hand travels down my body once more. No . . . And the dam bursts—all the apprehension, the anxiety, and the fear from the last couple of days overwhelming me anew as tears spring to my eyes. I turn away from him. This is not love. It’s revenge.
“Red,” I whimper. “Red. Red.” The tears course down my face.
He stills. “No!” He gasps, stunned. “Jesus Christ, no.”
He moves quickly, unclipping my hands, clasping me around my waist and leaning down to unclip my ankles, while I put my head in my hands and weep.
“No, no, no. Ana, please. No.”
Picking me up, he moves to the bed, sitting down and cradling me in his lap while I sob inconsolably. I’m overwhelmed . . . my body wound up to breaking point, my mind a blank, and my emotions scattered to the wind. He reaches behind him, drags the satin sheet off the four-poster bed, and drapes it around me.
The cool sheets feel alien and unwelcome against my sensitized skin. He wraps his arms around me, hugging me close, rocking me gently backward and forward.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Christian murmurs, his voice raw. He kisses my hair over and over again. “Ana, forgive me, please.”
Turning my face into his neck, I continue to cry, and it’s a cathartic release.
So much has happened over the last few days—fires in computer rooms, car chases, careers planned out for me, slutty architects, armed lunatics in the apartment, arguments, his anger—and Christian has been away. I hate Christian going away . . . I use the corner of the sheet to wipe my nose and gradually become aware that the clinical tones of Bach are still echoing around the room.
“Please switch the music off.” I sniff.
“Yes, of course.” Christian shifts, not letting me go, and pulls the remote out of his back pocket. He presses a button and the piano music ceases, to be replaced by my shuddering breaths. “Better?” he asks.
I nod, my sobs easing. Christian wipes my tears away gently with his thumb.
“Not a fan of Bach’s Goldberg Variations?” he asks.
“Not that piece.”
He gazes down at me, trying and failing to hide the shame in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he says again.
“Why did you do that?” My voice is barely audible as I try to process my scrambled thoughts and feelings.
He shakes his head sadly and closes his eyes. “I got lost in the moment,” he says unconvincingly.
I frown at him, and he sighs. “Ana, orgasm denial is a standard tool in—You never—” He stops. I shift in his lap, and he winces.
Oh. I flush. “Sorry,” I mutter.
He rolls his eyes, then leans back suddenly, taking me with him, so that we’re both lying on the bed, me in his arms. My bra is uncomfortable, and I adjust it.
“Need a hand?” he asks quietly.
I shake my head. I don’t want him to touch my breasts. He shifts so he’s looking down at me, and tentatively raising his hand, he strokes his fingers gently down my face. Tears pool in my eyes again. How can he be so callous one minute and so tender the next?
“Please don’t cry,” he whispers.
I’m dazed and confused by this man. My anger has deserted me in my hour of need . . . I feel numb. I want to curl up in a ball and withdraw. I blink, trying to hold back my tears as I gaze into his harrowed eyes. I take a shuddering breath, my eyes not leaving his. What am I going to do with this controlling man? Learn to be controlled? I don’t think so . . .
“I never what?” I ask
“Do as you’re told. You changed your mind; you didn’t tell me where you were. Ana, I was in New York, powerless and livid. If I’d been in Seattle I’d have brought you home.”
“So you are punishing me?”
He swallows, then closes his eyes. He doesn’t have to answer, and I know that punishing me was his exact intention.
“You have to stop doing this,” I murmur.
His brow furrows.
“For a start, you only end up feeling shittier about yourself.”
He snorts. “That’s true,” he mutters. “I don’t like to see you like this.”
“And I don’t like feeling like this. You said on the Fair Lady that you hadn’t married a submissive.”
“I know. I know.” His voice is soft and raw.
“Well stop treating me like one. I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I won’t be so selfish again. I know you worry about me.”
He gazes at me, scrutinizing me closely, his eyes bleak and anxious. “Okay.
Good,” he says eventually. He leans down, but pauses before his lips touch mine, silently asking if it’s allowed. I raise my face to his, and he kisses me tenderly.
“Your lips are always so soft when you’ve been crying,” he murmurs.
“I never promised to obey you, Christian,” I whisper.
“Deal with it, please. For both our sakes. And I will try and be more considerate of your . . . controlling tendencies.”
He looks lost and vulnerable, completely at sea.
“I’ll try,” he murmurs, his voice burning with sincerity.
I sigh, a long shuddering sigh. “Please do. Besides, if I had been here . . .”
“I know,” he says and blanches. Lying back, he puts his free arm over his face. I curl around him and lay my head on his chest. We both lie silent for a few moments. His hand moves to the end of my braid. He pulls the tie from it, freeing my hair, and gently, rhythmically combs his fingers through it. This is what this is really about—his fear . . . his irrational fear for my safety. An image of Jack Hyde slumped on the floor in my apartment with a Glock comes to mind . . . well, maybe not so irrational, which reminds me . . .
“What did you mean earlier, when you said or?” I ask.
“Something about Jack.”
He peers down at me. “You don’t give up, do you?”
I rest my chin on his sternum, enjoying the soothing caress of his fingers in my hair.
“Give up? Never. Tell me. I don’t like being kept in the dark. You seem to have some overblown idea that I need protecting. You don’t even know how to shoot—I do. Do you think I can’t handle whatever it is you won’t tell me, Christian? I’ve had your stalker ex-sub pull a gun on me, your pedophile ex-lover harass me—and don’t look at me like that,” I snap when he scowls at me. “Your mother feels the same way about her.”
“You talked to my mother about Elena?” Christian’s voice raises a few octaves.
“Yes, Grace and I talked about her.”
He gapes at me.
“She’s very upset about it. Blames herself.”
“I can’t believe you spoke to my mother. Shit!” He lies down and puts his arm over his face again.
“I didn’t go into any specifics.”
“I should hope not. Grace doesn’t need all the gory details. Christ, Ana. My dad, too?”
“No!” I shake my head vehemently. I don’t have that kind of relationship with Carrick. His comments about the prenup still sting. “Anyway, you’re trying to distract me—again. Jack. What about him?”
Christian lifts his arm briefly and gazes at me, his expression unreadable.
Sighing, he puts his arm back over his face.
“Hyde is implicated in Charlie Tango’s sabotage. The investigators found a partial print—just partial, so they couldn’t make a match. But then you recognized Hyde in the server room. He has convictions as a minor in Detroit, and the prints matched his.”
My mind reels as I try to absorb this information. Jack brought down Charlie Tango? But Christian is on a roll. “This morning, a cargo van was found in the garage here. Hyde was the driver. Yesterday, he delivered some shit to that new guy who’s moved in. The guy we met in the elevator.”
“I don’t remember his name.”
“Me neither.” Christian says. “But that’s how Hyde managed to get into the building legitimately. He was working for a delivery company—”
“And? What’s so important about the van?”
Christian says nothing.
“Christian, tell me.”
“The cops found . . . things in the van.” He stops again and tightens his hold around me.
He’s quiet for several moments, and I open my mouth to prompt him again, but he speaks. “A mattress, enough horse tranquilizer to take down a dozen horses, and a note.” His voice has softened to barely a whisper while horror and revulsion roll off him.
“Note?” My voice mirrors his.
“Addressed to me.”
“What did it say?”
Christian shakes his head, indicating he doesn’t know or that he won’t divulge its contents.
“Hyde came here last night with the intention of kidnapping you.” Christian freezes, his face taut with tension. As he says those words, I recall the duct tape, and a shudder runs through me, though deep down this is not news to me.
“Shit,” I mutter.
“Quite,” Christian says tightly.
I try to remember Jack in the office. Was he always insane? How did he think he could get away with this? I mean he was pretty creepy, but this unhinged?
“I don’t understand why,” I murmur. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I know. The police are digging further, and so is Welch. But we think Detroit is the connection.”
“Detroit?” I gaze at him, confused.
“Yeah. There’s something there.”
“I still don’t understand.”
Christian lifts his face and gazes at me, his expression unreadable. “Ana, I was born in Detroit.”