We land smoothly at Sardy Field at 12:25 p.m. (MST). Stephan brings the plane to a halt a little way from the main terminal, and through the windows I spot a large VW minivan waiting for us.
“Good landing.” Christian grins and shakes Stephan’s hand as we get ready to file out of the jet.
“It’s all about the density altitude, sir.” Stephan smiles back. “Beighley here is good at math.”
Christian nods at Stephan’s first officer. “You nailed it, Beighley. Smooth landing.”
“Thank you, sir.” She grins smugly.
“Enjoy your weekend, Mr. Grey, Mrs. Grey. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
Stephan steps aside to let us disembark and taking my hand, Christian leads me down the aircraft steps to where Taylor is waiting by the vehicle.
“Minivan?” says Christian in surprise as Taylor slides open the door.
Taylor gives him a tight, contrite smile and a slight shrug.
“Last minute, I know,” Christian says, immediately placated. Taylor returns to the plane to retrieve our luggage.
“Want to make out in the back of the van?” Christian murmurs to me, a mischievous gleam in his eye.
I giggle. Who is this man, and what has he done with Mr. Unbelievably Angry of the last couple of days?
“Come on, you two. Get in,” Mia says from behind us, oozing impatience beside Ethan. We climb in, stagger to the double seat at the back, and sit down. I snuggle against Christian, and he puts his arm around the back of my seat. “Comfortable?” he murmurs as Mia and Ethan take the seat in front of us.
“Yes.” I smile and he kisses my forehead. And for some unfathomable reason I feel shy with him today. Why? Last night? Being with company? I can’t put my finger on it.
Elliot and Kate join us last as Taylor opens the liftgate to load the luggage.
Five minutes later, we are on our way.
I gaze out the window as we head toward Aspen. The trees are green, but a whisper of the coming fall is evident here and there in the yellowing tips of the leaves. The sky is a clear crystal blue, though there are darkening clouds to the west. All around us in the distance loom the Rockies, the highest peak directly ahead. They’re lush and green, and the highest are capped with snow and look like a child’s drawing of mountains.
We’re in the winter playground of the rich and famous. And I own a house here. I can barely believe it. And from deep within my psyche, the familiar unease that’s always present when I try to wrap my head around Christian’s wealth looms and taunts me, making me feel guilty. What have I done to deserve this lifestyle?
I’ve done nothing, nothing except fall in love.
“Have you been to Aspen before, Ana?” Ethan turns and asks, dragging me out of my reverie.
“No, first time. You?”
“Kate and I used to come here a lot when we were teens. Dad’s a keen skier.
Mom less so.”
“I’m hoping my husband will teach me how to ski.” I glance up at my man.
“Don’t bet on it,” Christian mutters.
“I won’t be that bad!”
“You might break your neck.” His grin gone.
Oh. I don’t want to argue and sour his good mood, so I change the subject.
“How long have you had this place?”
“Nearly two years. It’s yours now, too, Mrs. Grey,” he says softly.
“I know,” I whisper. But somehow I don’t feel the courage of my convictions. Leaning in, I kiss his jaw and nestle once more at his side listening to him laugh and joke with Ethan and Elliot. Mia chimes in occasionally, but Kate is quiet, and I wonder if she’s brooding about Jack Hyde or something else. Then I remember. Aspen . . . Christian’s house here was redesigned by Gia Matteo and rebuilt by Elliot. I wonder if that’s what’s preoccupying Kate. I can’t ask her in front of Elliot, given his history with Gia. Does Kate even know about Gia’s connection to the house? I frown wondering what could be bothering her and resolve to ask her when we’re on our own.
We drive through the center of Aspen and my mood brightens as I take in the town. There are squat buildings of mostly red brick, Swiss-style chalets, and nu-merous little turn of the century houses painted in fun colors. Plenty of banks and designer shops, too, betraying the affluence of the local populace. Of course Christian fits in here.
“Why did you choose Aspen?” I ask him.
“What?” He regards me quizzically.
“To buy a place.”
“Mom and Dad used to bring us here when we were kids. I learned to ski here, and I like the place. I hope you do, too—otherwise we’ll sell the house and choose somewhere else.”
Simple as that!
He tucks a loose strand of my hair behind my ear. “You look lovely today,” he murmurs.
My cheeks heat. I’m just wearing my travelling gear: jeans and a T-shirt with a lightweight navy blue jacket. Damn it. Why does he make me feel shy?
He kisses me, a tender, sweet, loving kiss.
Taylor drives us on out of town, and we start to climb the other side of the valley, twisting along a mountain road. The higher we go, the more excited I get, and Christian tenses beside me.
“What’s wrong?” I ask as we round a bend.
“I hope you like it,” he says quietly. “We’re here.”
Taylor slows and turns through a gateway made of gray, beige, and red stones. He heads down the driveway and finally pulls up outside the impressive house. Double fronted with high-pitched roofs and built of dark wood and the same mixed stone as the gateway. It’s stunning—modern and stark, very much Christian’s style.
“Home,” he mouths at me as our guests start piling out of the van.
“Come. See,” he says, an excited, though anxious, gleam in his eyes as if he’s about to show me his science project or something.
Mia runs up the steps to where a woman stands in the doorway. She’s tiny and her raven-colored hair is dusted with gray. Mia flings her arms around her neck and hugs her tightly.
“Who’s that?” I ask as Christian helps me out of the van.
“Mrs. Bentley. She lives here with her husband. They look after the place.”
Holy cow . . . more staff?
Mia is making introductions—Ethan, then Kate. Elliot hugs Mrs. Bentley, too. As Taylor unloads the van, Christian takes my hand and leads me to the front door.
“Welcome back, Mr. Grey.” Mrs. Bentley smiles.
“Carmella, this is my wife, Anastasia,” Christian says proudly. His tongue caresses my name, making my heart stutter.
“Mrs. Grey,” Mrs. Bentley nods a respectful greeting. I hold out my hand and we shake. It’s no surprise to me that she’s much more formal with Christian than the rest of the family.
“I hope you’ve had a pleasant flight. The weather is supposed to be fine all weekend, though I’m not sure.” She eyes the darkening gray clouds behind us.
“Lunch is ready whenever you want.” She smiles again, her dark eyes twinkling, and I warm to her immediately.
“Here.” Christian grabs me and lifts me off my feet.
“What are you doing?” I squeal.
“Carrying you over yet another threshold, Mrs. Grey.”
I grin as he carries me into the wide hallway, and after a brief kiss, he sets me gently down onto the hardwood floor. The interior décor is stark and reminds me of the great room at Escala—all white walls, dark wood, and contemporary abstract art. The hallway opens up into a large sitting area where three off-white leather couches surround a stone fireplace that dominates the room. The only color is from the soft cushions scattered on the couches. Mia grabs Ethan’s hand and drags him farther into the house. Christian narrows his eyes at their departing figures, his mouth thinning. He shakes his head then turns to me.
Kate whistles loudly. “Nice place.”
I glance around to see Elliot helping Taylor with our luggage. I wonder again if she knows that Gia had a hand in this place.
“Tour?” Christian asks me, and whatever was going through his mind about Mia and Ethan has gone. He’s radiating excitement—or is it anxiety? It’s difficult to tell.
“Sure.” Once again I’m overwhelmed by the wealth. How much did this place cost? And I have contributed nothing to it. Briefly I’m transported back to the first time Christian took me to Escala. I was overwhelmed then. You got used to it, my subconscious hisses at me.
Christian frowns but takes my hand, leading me through the various rooms.
The state-of-the-art kitchen is all pale marble countertops and black cupboards.
There’s an impressive wine cellar, and an expansive den downstairs, complete with large plasma screen, soft couches . . . and a billiard table. I gape at it and blush when Christian catches me.
“Fancy a game?” he asks, a wicked gleam in his eye. I shake my head, and his brow furrows once more. Taking my hand again, he leads me up to the first floor. There are four bedrooms upstairs, each with an en suite bathroom.
The master suite is something else. The bed is huge, bigger than the bed at home, and faces an enormous picture window looking out over Aspen and toward the verdant mountains.
“That’s Ajax Mountain . . . or Aspen Mountain, if you like,” Christian says, eyeing me warily. He’s standing in the doorway, his thumbs hooked through the belt loops on his black jeans.
“You’re very quiet,” he murmurs.
“It’s lovely, Christian.” And suddenly I’m aching to be back at Escala.
In five long strides he’s standing in front of me, tugging at my chin, and releasing my lower lip from the grip of my teeth.
“What is it?” he asks, his eyes searching mine.
“You’re very rich.”
“Sometimes, it just takes me by surprise how wealthy you are.”
“We are,” I mutter automatically.
“Don’t stress about this, Ana, please. It’s just a house.”
“And what did Gia do here, exactly?”
“Gia?” He raises his eyebrows in surprise.
“Yes. She remodeled this place?”
“She did. She designed the den downstairs. Elliot did the build.” He rakes his hand through his hair and frowns at me. “Why are we talking about Gia?”
“Did you know she had a fling with Elliot?”
Christian gazes at me for a moment, gray eyes unreadable. “Elliot’s fucked most of Seattle, Ana.”
“Mainly women, I understand,” Christian jokes. I think he’s amused by my expression.
Christian nods. “It’s none of my business.” He holds his palms up.
“I don’t think Kate knows.”
“I’m not sure he broadcasts that information. Kate seems to be holding her own.”
I’m shocked. Sweet, unassuming, blond, blue-eyed Elliot? I stare in disbelief.
Christian tilts his head to one side, scrutinizing me. “This can’t just be about Gia or Elliot’s promiscuity.”
“I know. I’m sorry. After all that’s happened this week, it’s just . . .” I shrug, feeling tearful all of a sudden. Christian seems to sag with relief. Pulling me into his arms, he holds me tightly, his nose in my hair.
“I know. I’m sorry, too. Let’s relax and enjoy ourselves, okay? You can stay here and read, watch god-awful TV, shop, go hiking—fishing even. Whatever you want to do. And forget what I said about Elliot. That was indiscreet of me.”
“Goes some way to explain why he’s always teasing you,” I murmur, nuzzling his chest.
“He really has no idea about my past. I told you, my family assumed I was gay. Celibate, but gay.”
I giggle and begin to relax in his arms. “I thought you were celibate. How wrong I was.” I wrap my arms around him, marveling at the ridiculousness of Christian being gay.
“Mrs. Grey, are you smirking at me?”
“Maybe a little.” I acquiesce. “You know, what I don’t understand is why you have this place?”
“What do you mean?” He kisses my hair.
“You have the boat, which I get, you have the place in New York for business—but why here? It’s not like you shared it with anyone.”
Christian stills and is silent for several beats. “I was waiting for you,” he says softly, his eyes dark gray and luminous.
“That’s . . . that’s such a lovely thing to say.”
“It’s true. I didn’t know it at the time.” He smiles his shy smile.
“I’m glad you waited.”
“You are worth waiting for, Mrs. Grey.” He tips my chin up with his finger, leans down, and kisses me tenderly.
“So are you.” I smile. “Though I feel I like I cheated. I didn’t have to wait long for you at all.”
He grins. “Am I that much of a prize?”
“Christian, you are the state lottery, the cure for cancer, and the three wishes from Aladdin’s lamp all rolled into one.”
He raises a brow.
“When will you realize this?” I scold him. “You were a very eligible bachelor. And I don’t mean all this.” I wave dismissingly at our plush surroundings. “I mean in here.” I place my hand over his heart, and his eyes widen. My confident, sexy husband has gone, and I’m facing my lost boy. “Believe me, Christian, please,” I whisper and clasp his face, pulling his lips to mine. He groans, and I don’t know if it’s hearing what I’ve said or his usual primal response. I claim him, my lips moving against his, my tongue invading his mouth.
When we’re both breathless, he pulls away, eyeing me doubtfully.
“When are you going to get it through your exceptionally thick skull that I love you?” I ask, exasperated.
He swallows. “One day,” he says.
This is progress. I smile and am rewarded with his answering shy smile.
“Come. Let’s have some lunch—the others will be wondering where we are.
We can discuss what we all want to do.”
“Oh no!” Kate says suddenly.
All eyes turn to her.
“Look,” she says, pointing to the picture window. Outside, rain has started pouring down. We are sitting around the dark wood table in the kitchen having consumed an Italian feast of a mixed antipasto, prepared by Mrs. Bentley, and a bottle or two of Frascati. I’m replete and a little buzzed from the alcohol.
“There goes our hike,” Elliot mutters, sounding vaguely relieved. Kate scowls at him. Something is definitely up with them. They have been relaxed with all of us but not with each other.
“We could go into town,” Mia pipes up. Ethan smirks at her.
“Perfect weather for fishing,” Christian suggests.
“I’ll go fish,” Ethan says.
“Let’s split up.” Mia claps her hands. “Girls, shopping—boys, outdoor boring stuff.”
I glance at Kate, who regards Mia indulgently. Fishing or shopping? Jeez, what a choice.
“Ana, what do you want to do?” Christian asks.
“I don’t mind,” I lie.
Kate catches my eye and mouths “shopping.” Perhaps she wants to talk.
“But I’m more than happy to go shopping.” I smile wryly at Kate and Mia.
Christian smirks. He knows I hate shopping.
“I can stay here with you, if you’d like,” he murmurs, and something dark unfurls in my belly at his tone.
“No, you go fish,” I answer. Christian needs boy time.
“Sounds like a plan,” Kate says, rising from the table.
“Taylor will accompany you,” Christian says, and it’s a given—not up for discussion.
“We don’t need babysitting,” Kate retorts bluntly, direct as ever.
I put my hand on Kate’s arm. “Kate, Taylor should come.”
She frowns, then shrugs, and for once in her life holds her tongue.
I smile timidly at Christian . His expression remains impassive. Oh, I hope he’s not mad at Kate.
Elliot frowns. “I need to pick up a battery for my watch in town.” He glances quickly at Kate, and I spot his slight blush. She doesn’t notice because she is pointedly ignoring him.
“Take the Audi, Elliot. When you come back we can go fishing,” Christian says.
“Yeah,” Elliot mutters, but he seems distracted. “Good plan.”
“In here.” Grabbing my hand, Mia hauls me into a designer boutique that’s all pink silk and faux-French distressed rustic furniture. Kate follows us while Taylor waits outside, sheltering under the awning from the rain. Aretha is belting out
“Say A Little Prayer” over the store’s hi-fi system. I love this song. I should put it on Christian’s iPod.
“This will look wonderful on you, Ana.” Mia holds up a scrap of silver material. “Here, try it on.”
“Um . . . it’s a bit short.”
“You’ll look fantastic in it. Christian will love it.”
Mia beams at me. “Ana, you have legs to die for, and if we go clubbing tonight”—she smiles, sensing an easy kill—”you’ll look hot for your husband.”
I blink at her, slightly shocked. We’re going clubbing? I don’t do clubbing.
Kate laughs at my expression. She seems more relaxed now that she’s away from Elliot. “We should throw some shapes this evening,” she says.
“Go try it on,” Mia orders, and reluctantly I head for the changing room.
While I wait for Kate and Mia to emerge from the dressing room, I stroll to the shop window and look out, unseeing, across the main street. The soul compilation continues: Dionne Warwick is singing “Walk On By.” Another great song—one of my mother’s favorites. I glance down at The Dress in my hand. Dress is perhaps an overstatement. It’s backless and very short, but Mia has declared it a winner, perfect for dancing the night away. Apparently, I need shoes, too, and a large chunky necklace, which we’ll source next. Rolling my eyes, I reflect once more on how lucky I am to have Caroline Acton, my own personal shopper.
Through the boutique window I’m distracted by the sight of Elliot. He has appeared on the other side of the leafy main street, climbing out of a large Audi.
He dives into a store as if to duck out of the rain. Looks like a jewelry store . . .
maybe he’s looking for that watch battery. He emerges a few minutes later and not alone—with a woman.
Fuck! He’s talking to Gia! What the hell is she doing here?
As I watch, they hug briefly and she holds her head back, laughing animatedly at something he says. He kisses her cheek then runs to the waiting car. She turns and heads down the street, and I gape after her. What was that about? I turn anxiously toward the dressing rooms, but there’s still no sign of Kate or Mia.
I glance at Taylor, where he’s waiting outside the store. He catches my eye then shrugs. He’s witnessed Elliot’s little encounter, too. I blush, embarrassed to have been caught snooping. Turning back, Mia and Kate emerge, both of them laughing. Kate looks at me quizzically.
“What’s wrong, Ana?” she asks. “You gone cold on the dress? You look sensational in it.”
“Are you okay?” Kate’s eyes widen.
“I’m fine. Shall we pay?” I head to the cashier joining Mia who has chosen two skirts.
“Good afternoon, ma’am.” The young sales assistant—who has more gloss coating her lips than I have ever seen in one place—smiles at me. “That’ll be eight hundred and fifty dollars.”
What? For this scrap of material! I blink at her and meekly hand over my black Amex.
“Mrs. Grey,” Ms. Lip Gloss purrs.
I follow Kate and Mia in a daze for the next two hours, warring with myself.
Should I tell Kate? My subconscious firmly shakes her head. Yes, I should tell her. No, I shouldn’t. It could just have been an innocent meeting. Shit. What should I do?
“Well, do you like the shoes, Ana?” Mia has her fists on her hips.
“Um . . . yeah, sure.”
I end up with a pair of unfeasibly high Manolo Blahniks with straps that look like they are made from mirrors. They match the dress perfectly and set Christian back just over a thousand dollars. I’m luckier with the long silver chain that Kate insists I buy; it’s a bargain at eighty-four dollars.
“Getting used to having money?” Kate asks not unkindly as we walk back to the car. Mia has skipped ahead.
“You know this isn’t me, Kate. I’m kind of uncomfortable about all this. But I’m reliably informed it’s part of the package.” I purse my lips at her, and she puts her arm around me.
“You’ll get used to it, Ana,” she says sympathetically. “You’ll look great.”
“Kate, how are you and Elliot getting along?” I ask.
Her wide blue eyes dart to mine.
She shakes her head. “I don’t want to talk about it now.” She nods toward Mia. “But things are—” She doesn’t finish her sentence.
This is unlike my tenacious Kate. Shit. I knew something was up. Do I tell her what I saw? What did I see? Elliot and Miss Well-Groomed-Sexual-Predator talking, hugging, and that kiss on the cheek. Surely they are just old friends? No, I won’t tell her. Not right now. I give her my I-completely-understand-and-will-respect-your-privacy nod. She reaches for my hand and gives it a grateful squeeze, and there it is—a swift glimpse of pain and hurt in her eyes that she quickly stifles with a blink. I feel a sudden surge of protectiveness for my dear friend. What the hell is Elliot Manwhore Grey playing at?
Once back at the house, Kate decides we deserve cocktails after our shopping ex-travaganza and whips up some strawberry daiquiris for us. We curl up on the sitting room couches in front of the blazing log fire.
“Elliot has just been a little distant lately,” Kate murmurs, gazing into the flames. Kate and I finally have a moment to ourselves as Mia puts away her purchases.”Oh?”
“And I think I’m in trouble for getting you into trouble.”
“You heard about that?”
“Yes. Christian called Elliot; Elliot called me.”
I roll my eyes. Oh, Fifty, Fifty, Fifty.
“I’m sorry. Christian is . . . protective. You haven’t seen Elliot since cocktailgate?”
“I really like him, Ana,” she whispers. And for one dreadful minute I think she’s going to cry. This is not like Kate. Does this mean the return of the pink pajamas? She turns to me.
“I’ve fallen in love with him. At first I thought it was just the great sex. But he’s charming and kind and warm and funny. I could see us growing old together—you know . . . kids, grandkids—the works.”
“Your happily ever after,” I whisper.
She nods sadly.
“Maybe you should talk to him. Try to find some alone time here. Find out what’s eating him.”
Who’s eating him, my subconscious snarls. I slap her down, shocked at the waywardness of my own thoughts.
“Perhaps you guys could go for a walk tomorrow morning?”
“Kate, I hate seeing you like this.”
She smiles weakly, and I lean over to hug her. I resolve not to mention Gia, though I might mention it to the manwhore himself. How can he mess with my friend’s affections like this?
Mia returns, and we move on to safer territory.
The fire hisses and spits sparks on to the hearth as I feed it the last log. We’re almost out of wood. Even though it’s summer, the fire is very welcome on this wet day.
“Mia, do you know where the wood for the fire is kept?” I ask as she sips her daiquiri.
“I think it’s in the garage.”
“I’ll go find some. It’ll give me an opportunity to explore.”
The rain has eased off when I venture outside and head to the three-car garage adjoining the house. The side door is unlocked and I enter, switching on the light to fight the gloom. The fluorescent strips ping noisily to life.
There’s a car in the garage, and I realize it’s the Audi I saw Elliot in this afternoon. There are also two snowmobiles. But what really grabs my attention are the two trail bikes, both 125cc. Memories of Ethan bravely endeavoring to teach me how to ride last summer flash through my mind. Unconsciously, I rub my arm where I badly bruised it in a fall.
“You ride?” Elliot asks from behind me.
I whirl around. “You’re back.”
“It would appear so.” He grins, and I realize that Christian might say the same thing to me—but without the huge, heart-melting grin. “Well?” he asks.
Manwhore! “Sort of.”
“Do you want a go?”
I snort. “Um, no . . . I don’t think Christian would be very happy if I did.”
“Christian’s not here.” Elliot smirks— oh, it’s a family trait—and waves his arm to indicate we’re alone. He strolls toward the nearest bike and swings a long denim-clad leg over the saddle, sitting astride and grabbing the handlebars.
“Christian has, um . . . issues about my safety. I shouldn’t.”
“You always do what he says?” Elliot has a wicked sparkle in his baby-blue eyes, and I see a glimmer of the bad boy . . . the bad boy Kate has fallen in love with. The bad boy from Detroit.
“No.” I arch an admonishing brow at him. “But I’m trying to put that right.
He has enough to worry about without adding me to the mix. Is he back?”
“I don’t know.”
“You didn’t go fishing?”
Elliot shakes his head. “I had some business to deal with in town.”
Business! Holy shit—groomed blonde business! I inhale sharply and gape at him.
“If you don’t want to ride, what are you doing in the garage?” Elliot is intrigued.
“I’m looking for wood for the fire.”
“There you are. Oh, Elliot—you’re back.” Kate interrupts us.
“Hey, baby.” He smiles broadly.
I scrutinize Elliot’s reaction. “No. I had a few things to take care of in town.”
And for one brief moment, I see a flash of uncertainty cross his face.
“I came out to see what was keeping Ana.” Kate looks at us, confused.
“We were just shooting the breeze,” Elliot says, and the tension crackles between them.
We all pause as we hear a car pull up outside. Oh! Christian’s back. Thank heavens. The garage door opener whirrs loudly into action, startling us all, and the door slowly lifts to reveal Christian and Ethan unloading a black flatbed truck.
Christian stops when he sees us standing in the garage.
“Garage band?” he asks sardonically as he wanders in, heading straight for me.
I grin. I am relieved to see him. Beneath his wading jacket, he’s wearing the coveralls I sold him at Claytons.
“Hi,” he says looking quizzically at me, ignoring both Kate and Elliot.
“Hi. Nice coveralls.”
“Lots of pockets. Very handy for fishing.” His voice is soft and seductive, for my ears only, and when he gazes down at me, his expression is hot.
I flush, and he smiles a huge, no-holds-barred, all-for-me smile.
“You’re wet,” I murmur.
“It was raining. What are you guys doing in the garage?” Finally he acknowledges that we are not alone.
“Ana came to fetch some wood,” Elliot smirks. Somehow he manages to make that sentence sound smutty. “I tried to tempt her to take a ride.” He is master of the double entendre.
Christian’s face falls, and my heart stills.
“She said no. That you wouldn’t like it,” Elliot says kindly—and innuendo-free.
Christian’s gray gaze swings back to me. “Did she, now?” he murmurs.
“Listen, I’m all for standing around discussing what Ana did next, but shall we go back inside?” Kate snaps. She stoops down, snatches up two logs, and turns on her heel, stomping toward the door. Oh shit. Kate is mad—but I know it’s not at me. Elliot sighs and, without a word, follows her out. I gaze after them, but Christian distracts me.
“You can ride a motorcycle?” he asks, his voice laced with disbelief.
“Not very well. Ethan taught me.”
His eyes frost immediately. “You made the right decision,” he says, his voice much cooler. “The ground’s very hard at the moment, and the rain’s made it treacherous and slippery.”
“Where do you want the fishing gear?” Ethan calls from outside.
“Leave it, Ethan—Taylor will take care of it.”
“What about the fish?” Ethan continues, his voice vaguely taunting.
“You caught a fish?” I ask, surprised.
“Not me. Kavanagh did.” And Christian pouts . . . prettily.
I burst out laughing.
“Mrs. Bentley will deal with that,” he calls back. Ethan grins and heads into the house.
“Am I amusing you, Mrs. Grey?”
“Very much so. You’re wet . . . Let me run you a bath.”
“As long as you join me.” He leans down and kisses me.
I fill the large egg-shaped tub in the en suite bathroom and pour in some expensive bath oil, which starts to foam immediately. The aroma is heavenly . . . jasmine, I think. Back in the bedroom, I start to hang The Dress while the bath fills.
“Did you have a good time?” Christian asks as he enters the room. He’s just in a T-shirt and sweat pants, his feet bare. He closes the door behind him.
“Yes,” I murmur, drinking him in. I have missed him. Ridiculous—it’s only been what, a few hours?
He cocks his head to one side and gazes at me. “What is it?”
“I was thinking how much I’ve missed you.”
“You sound like you have it bad, Mrs. Grey.”
“I have, Mr. Grey.”
He strolls toward me until he’s standing in front of me. “What did you buy?”
he whispers, and I know it’s to change the topic of conversation.
“A dress, some shoes, a necklace. I spent a great deal of your money.” I glance up at him, guiltily.
He’s amused. “Good,” he murmurs and tucks a stray lock of my hair behind my ear. “And for the billionth time, our money.” He tugs my chin, releasing my lip from my teeth and runs his index finger down the front of my T-shirt, down my sternum, between my breasts, down my stomach, and over my belly to the hem.
“You won’t be needing this in the bath,” he whispers, and gripping the hem of my T-shirt in both hands, slowly pulls it up. “Lift your arms.”
I comply, not taking my eyes off his, and he drops my T-shirt on the floor.
“I thought we were just having a bath.” My pulse quickens.
“I want to make you good and dirty first. I’ve missed you, too.” He leans down and kisses me.
“Shit, the water!” I struggle to sit up, all post-orgasmic and dazed.
Christian doesn’t release me.
“Christian, the bath!” I gaze down at him from my prone position across his chest.
He laughs. “Relax—it’s a wet room.” He rolls over and kisses me quickly.
“I’ll switch off the faucet.”
He climbs gracefully off the bed and strolls into the bathroom. My eyes greedily follow him all the way. Hmm . . . my husband, naked and soon to be wet.
My inner goddess licks her lips salaciously and gives me her well-fucked grin. I bound out of bed.
We sit at opposite ends of the bath, which is very full—so full that whenever we move, water laps over the side and splashes to the floor. It’s very decadent. Even more decadent is Christian washing my feet, massaging the soles, pulling gently on my toes. He kisses each one and gently bites my little toe.
“Aaah!” I feel it— there, in my groin.
“Like that?” he breathes.
“Hmm,” I mumble incoherently.
He starts massaging again. Oh, this feels good. I close my eyes.
“I saw Gia in town,” I murmur.
“Really? I think she has a place here,” he says dismissively. He’s not interested in the slightest.
“She was with Elliot.”
Christian stops massaging. That got his attention. When I open my eyes his head is inclined to one side, like he doesn’t understand.
“What do you mean with Elliot?” he asks, perplexed rather than concerned.
I explain what I saw.
“Ana, they’re just friends. I think Elliot is pretty stuck on Kate.” He pauses then adds more quietly. “In fact I know he’s pretty stuck on her.” And he gives me his I-have-no-idea-why look.
“Kate is gorgeous.” I bristle, championing my friend.
He snorts. “Still glad it was you that fell into my office.” He kisses my big toe, releases my left foot, and picks up my right before beginning the massage process again. His fingers are so strong and supple, I relax again. I do not want to fight about Kate. I close my eyes and let his fingers work their magic on my feet.
I gape at myself in the full-length mirror, not recognizing the vixen that stares back at me. Kate has gone all out and played Barbie with me this evening, styling my hair and makeup. My hair is full and straight, my eyes ringed with kohl, my lips scarlet red. I look . . . hot. I’m all legs, especially in the high-heeled Manolos and my indecently short dress. I need Christian to approve, though I have a horrible feeling he won’t like so much of my flesh exposed. In view of our entente cordiale, I decide I should ask him. I pick up my BlackBerry.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Does My Butt Look Big In This?
Date: August 27, 2011 18:53 MST
To: Christian Grey
I need your sartorial advice.
Mrs. G x
From: Christian Grey
Date: August 27, 2011 18:55 MST
To: Anastasia Grey
I seriously doubt it.
But I will come and give your butt a thorough examination just to make sure.
Yours in anticipation
Mr. G x
CEO Grey Enterprises Holdings and Butt Inspectorate Inc.
As I read his e-mail, the bedroom door opens, and Christian freezes on the threshold. His mouth pops open and his eyes widen.
Holy crap . . . this could go either way.
“Well?” I whisper.
“Ana, you look . . . Wow.”
“You like it?”
“Yes, I guess so.” He’s a little hoarse. Slowly he steps into the room and closes the door. He’s wearing black jeans and a white shirt, but with a black jacket. He looks divine. He stalks slowly toward me, but as soon as he reaches me, he puts his hands on my shoulders and turns me around to face the full-length mirror, while he stands behind me. My gaze finds his in the glass, then he glances down, fascinated by my naked back. His finger glides down my spine and reaches the edge of my dress at the small of my back, where pale flesh meets silver cloth.
“This is very revealing,” he murmurs.
His hand skims lower, over my backside and down to my naked thigh. He pauses, gray eyes burning intently into blue. Then slowly he trails his fingers back up to the hem of my skirt.
Watching his long fingers move lightly, teasingly across my skin, feeling the tingles they leave in their wake, my mouth forms a perfect O.
“It’s not far from here.” He touches the hem, then moves his fingers higher.
“To here,” he whispers. I gasp as his fingers stroke my sex, moving tantalizingly over my panties, feeling me, teasing me.
“And your point is?” I whisper.
“My point is . . . it’s not far from here”—his fingers glide over my panties, then one is inside, against my soft dampened flesh—”to here. And then . . . to here.” He slips a finger inside me.
I gasp and make a soft mewling sound.
“This is mine,” he murmurs in my ear. Closing his eyes, he moves his finger slowly in and out of me. “I don’t want anyone else to see this.”
My breath stutters, my panting matching the rhythm of his finger. Watching him in the mirror, doing this . . . it’s beyond erotic.
“So be a good girl and don’t bend down, and you should be fine.”
“You approve?” I whisper.
“No, but I’m not going to stop you wearing it. You look stunning, Anastasia.”
Abruptly he withdraws his finger, leaving me wanting more, and he moves around to face me. He places the tip of his invading finger on my lower lip. Instinctively, I pucker my lips and kiss it, and I’m rewarded with a wicked grin. He puts his finger in his mouth and his expression informs me that I taste good . . . real good. I flush. Will it always shock me when he does that?
He grasps my hand.
“Come,” he orders softly. I want to retort that I was about to, but in light of what happened in the playroom yesterday, I decide against it.
We are waiting for dessert in a plush, exclusive restaurant in town. It’s been a lively evening so far, and Mia is determined it should continue and that we must go clubbing. Right now she’s sitting silently for once, hanging on Ethan’s every word as he and Christian talk. Mia is obviously infatuated with Ethan, and Ethan is . . . well it’s difficult to tell. I don’t know if they are just friends or if there’s something more.
Christian seems at ease. He’s been talking animatedly with Ethan. They obviously bonded over the fly-fishing. They’re talking about psychology, mainly.
Ironically, Christian sounds the more knowledgeable. I snort softly as I half listen to their conversation, sadly acknowledging that his expertise is the result of his experience with so many shrinks.
You’re the best therapy. His words, whispered while we were making love once, echo in my head. Am I? Oh, Christian, I hope so.
I glance over at Kate. She looks beautiful, but then she always does. She and Elliot are less lively. He seems nervous, his jokes a little too loud, and his laugh a little off. Have they had a fight? What’s eating him? Is it that woman? My heart sinks at the thought that he might hurt my best friend. I glance at the entrance, half expecting to see Gia calmly saunter her well-groomed ass across the restaurant to us. My mind is playing tricks, I suspect it’s the amount of alcohol I’ve had.
My head is beginning to ache.
Abruptly, Elliot startles us all by standing and pulling his chair back so it scrapes across the tile floor. All eyes turn to him. He gazes down at Kate for one moment then drops to one knee beside her.
Oh. My. God.
He reaches for her hand, and silence settles like a blanket over the entire restaurant as everyone stops eating, stops talking, stops walking, and stares.
“My beautiful Kate, I love you. Your grace, your beauty, and your fiery spirit have no equal, and you have captured my heart. Spend your life with me. Marry me.”