Chapter Seventeen of the book Fifty Shades Freed

“Mr. Rodriguez, what’s happened?” My voice is hoarse and thick with unshed tears. Ray. Sweet Ray. My dad.

“He’s been in a car accident.”

“Okay, I’ll come . . . I’ll come now.” Adrenaline has flooded my bloodstream, leaving panic in its wake. I’m finding it difficult to breathe.

“They’ve transferred him to Portland.”

Portland? What the hell is he doing in Portland?

“They airlifted him, Ana. I’m heading there now. OHSU. Oh, Ana, I didn’t see the car. I just didn’t see it . . .” His voice cracks.

Mr. Rodriguez—no!

“I’ll see you there.” Mr. Rodriguez chokes and the line goes dead.

A dark dread seizes me by the throat, overwhelming me. Ray. No. No. I take a deep steadying breath, pick up the phone and call Roach. He answers on the second ring.

“Ana?”

“Jerry. It’s my father.”

“Ana, what happened?”

I explain, barely pausing to breathe.

“Go. Of course, you must go. I hope your father’s okay.”

“Thank you. I’ll keep you informed.” Inadvertently I slam the phone down, but right now couldn’t care less.

“Hannah!” I call, aware of the anxiety in my voice. Moments later she pokes her head around the door to find me packing my purse and grabbing papers to stuff into my briefcase.

“Yes, Ana?” She frowns.

“My father has been in an accident. I have to go.”

“Oh dear—”

“Cancel all my appointments today. And Monday. You’ll have to finish prepping the e-book presentation—notes are in the shared file. Get Courtney to help if you have to.”

“Yes,” Hannah whispers. “I hope he’s okay. Don’t worry about anything here. We’ll muddle through.”

“I have my BlackBerry.”

The concern etched on her pinched, pale face is almost my undoing.

Daddy.

I grab my jacket, purse, and briefcase. “I’ll call you if I need anything.”

“Do, please. Good luck, Ana. Hope he’s okay.”

I give her a small tight smile, fighting to maintain my composure, and exit my office. I try hard not to run all the way to reception. Sawyer leaps to his feet when I arrive.

“Mrs. Grey?” he asks, confused by my sudden appearance.

“We’re going to Portland—now.”

“Okay, ma’am,” he says, frowning, but opens the door.

Moving is good.

“Mrs. Grey,” Sawyer asks as we race toward the parking lot. “Can I ask why we’re making this unscheduled trip?”

“It’s my dad. He’s been in an accident.”

“I see. Does Mr. Grey know?”

“I’ll call him from the car.”

Sawyer nods and opens the rear door to the Audi SUV, and I climb in. With shaking fingers, I reach for my BlackBerry, and I dial Christian’s cell.

“Mrs. Grey.” Andrea’s voice is crisp and businesslike.

“Is Christian there?” I breathe.

“Um . . . he’s somewhere in the building, ma’am. He’s left his BlackBerry charging with me.”

I groan silently with frustration.

“Can you tell him I called, and that I need to speak with him? It’s urgent.”

“I could try and track him down. He does have a habit of wandering off sometimes.”

“Just get him to call me, please,” I beg, fighting back tears.

“Certainly, Mrs. Grey.” She hesitates. “Is everything all right?”

“No,” I whisper, not trusting my voice. “Please, just get him to call me.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I hang up. I cannot contain my anguish any longer. Pulling my knees up to my chest, I curl up on the rear seat, and tears ooze, unwelcome, down my cheeks.

“Where in Portland, Mrs. Grey?” Sawyer asks gently.

“OHSU,” I choke out. “The big hospital.”

Sawyer pulls out into the street and heads for the I-5, while I keen softly in the back of the car, muttering wordless prayers. Please let him be okay. Please let him be okay.

My phone rings, “Your Love Is King” startling me from my mantra.

“Christian,” I gasp.

“Christ, Ana. What’s wrong?”

“It’s Ray—he’s been in an accident.”

“Shit!”

“Yes. I am on my way to Portland.”

“Portland? Please tell me Sawyer is with you.”

“Yes, he’s driving.”

“Where is Ray?”

“At OHSU.”

I hear a muffled voice in the background. “Yes, Ros,” Christian snaps angrily. “I know! Sorry, baby—I can be there in about three hours. I have business I need to finish here. I’ll fly down.”

Oh shit. Charlie Tango is back in commission and last time Christian flew her . . .

“I have a meeting with some guys over from Taiwan. I can’t blow them off.

It’s a deal we’ve been hammering out for months.”

Why do I know nothing about this?

“I’ll leave as soon as I can.”

“Okay,” I whisper. And I want to say that it’s okay, stay in Seattle, and sort out your business, but the truth is I want him with me.

“Oh, baby,” he whispers.

“I’ll be okay, Christian. Take your time. Don’t rush. I don’t want to worry about you, too. Fly safely.”

“I will.”

“Love you.”

“I love you, too, baby. I’ll be with you as soon as I can. Keep Luke close.”

“Yes, I will.”

“I’ll see you later.”

“Bye.” After hanging up, I hug my knees once more. I know nothing about Christian’s business. What the hell is he doing with the Taiwanese? I gaze out the window as we pass Boeing Field-King County Airport. He must fly safely. My stomach knots anew and nausea threatens. Ray and Christian. I don’t think my heart could take that. Leaning back, I start my mantra again: Please let him be okay. Please let him be okay.

“Mrs. Grey.” Sawyer’s voice rouses me. “We’re on the hospital grounds. I just have to find the ER.”

“I know where it is.” My mind flits back to my last visit to OHSU when, on my second day, I fell off a stepladder at Clayton’s, twisting my ankle. I recall Paul Clayton hovering over me and shudder at the memory.

Sawyer pulls up to the drop-off point and leaps out to open my door.

“I’ll go park, ma’am, and come find you. Leave your briefcase, I’ll bring it.”

“Thank you, Luke.”

He nods, and I walk briskly into the buzzing ER reception area. The recep-tionist at the desk gives me a polite smile, and within a few moments, she’s located Ray and is sending me to the OR on the third floor.

OR? Fuck! “Thank you,” I mutter, trying to focus on her directions to the elevators. My stomach lurches as I almost run toward them.

Let him be okay. Please let him be okay.

The elevator is agonizingly slow, stopping on each floor. Come on . . . Come on! I will it to move faster, scowling at the people strolling in and out and preventing me from getting to my dad.

Finally, the doors open on the third floor, and I rush to another reception desk, this one staffed by nurses in navy uniforms.

“Can I help you?” asks one officious nurse with a myopic stare.

“My father, Raymond Steele. He’s just been admitted. He’s in OR-4, I think.”

Even as I say the words, I am willing them not to be true.

“Let me check, Miss Steele.”

I nod, not bothering to correct her as she gazes intently at her computer screen.

“Yes. He’s been in for a couple of hours. If you’d like to wait, I’ll let them know that you’re here. The waiting room’s there.” She points toward a large white door helpfully labeled WAITING ROOM in bold blue lettering.

“Is he okay?” I ask, trying to keep my voice steady.

“You’ll have to wait for one of the attending doctor to brief you, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” I mutter—but inside I am screaming, I want to know now!

I open the door to reveal a functional, austere waiting room where Mr.

Rodriguez and José are seated.

“Ana!” Mr. Rodriguez gasps. His arm is in a cast, and his cheek is bruised on one side. He’s in a wheelchair with one of his legs in a cast too. I gingerly wrap my arms around him.

“Oh, Mr. Rodriguez,” I sob.

“Ana, honey.” He pats my back with his uninjured arm. “I’m so sorry,” he mumbles, his hoarse voice cracking.

Oh no.

“No, Papa,” José says softly in admonishment as he hovers behind me. When I turn, he pulls me into his arms and holds me.

“José,” I mutter. And I’m lost—tears falling as all the tension, fear, and heartache of the last three hours surface.

“Hey, Ana, don’t cry.” José gently strokes my hair. I wrap my arms around his neck and softly weep. We stand like this for ages, and I’m so grateful that my friend is here. We pull apart when Sawyer joins us in the waiting room. Mr.

Rodriguez hands me a tissue from a conveniently placed box, and I dry my tears.

“This is Mr. Sawyer. Security,” I murmur. Sawyer nods politely to José and Mr. Rodriguez then moves to take a seat in the corner.

“Sit down, Ana.” José ushers me to one of the vinyl-covered armchairs.

“What happened? Do we know how he is? What are they doing?”

José holds up his hands to halt my barrage of questions and sits down beside me. “We don’t have any news. Ray, Dad, and I were on a fishing trip to Astoria.

We were hit by some stupid fucking drunk—”

Mr. Rodriguez tries to interrupt, stammering an apology.

“Cálmate, Papa!” José snaps. “I don’t have a mark on me, just a couple of bruised ribs and a knock on the head. Dad . . . well, Dad broke his wrist and ankle.

But the car hit the passenger side and Ray.”

Oh no, no . . . Panic swamps my limbic system again. No, no, no. My body shudders and chills as I imagine what’s happening to Ray in the OR.

“He’s in surgery. We were taken to the community hospital in Astoria, but they airlifted Ray here. We don’t know what they’re doing. We’re waiting for news.”

I start to shake.

“Hey, Ana, you cold?”

I nod. I’m in my white sleeveless shirt and black summer jacket, and neither provides warmth. Gingerly, José pulls off his leather jacket and wraps it around my shoulders.

“Shall I get you some tea, ma’am?” Sawyer is by my side. I nod gratefully, and he disappears from the room.

“Why were you fishing in Astoria?” I ask.

José shrugs. “The fishing’s supposed to be good there. We were having a boys’ get-together. Some bonding time with my old man before academia heats up for my final year.” José’s dark eyes are large and luminous with fear and regret.

“You could have been hurt, too. And Mr. Rodriguez . . . worse.” I gulp at the thought. My body temperature drops further, and I shiver once more. José takes my hand.

“Hell, Ana, you’re freezing.”

Mr. Rodriguez inches forward and takes my other hand in his good one.

“Ana, I am so sorry.”

“Mr. Rodriguez, please. It was an accident . . .” My voice fades to a whisper.

“Call me José,” he corrects me. I give him a weak smile, because that’s all I can manage. I shiver once more.

“The police took the asshole into custody. Seven in the morning and the guy was out of his skull,” José hisses in disgust.

Sawyer reenters, bearing a paper cup of hot water and a separate teabag. He knows how I take my tea! I’m surprised, and glad for the distraction. Mr. Rodriguez and José release my hands as I gratefully take the cup from Sawyer.

“Do either of you want anything?” Sawyer asks Mr. Rodriguez and José.

They both shake their heads, and Sawyer resumes his seat in the corner. I dunk my teabag in the water and, rising shakily, dispose of the used bag in a small trashcan.

“What’s taking them so long?” I mutter to no one in particular as I take a sip.

Daddy . . . Please let him be okay. Please let him be okay.

“We’ll know soon enough, Ana,” José says gently. I nod and take another sip.

I take my seat again beside him. We wait . . . and wait. Mr. Rodriguez with his eyes closed, praying I think, and José holding my hand and squeezing it every now and then. I slowly sip my tea. It’s not Twinings, but some cheap nasty brand, and it tastes disgusting.

I remember the last time I waited for news. The last time I thought all was lost when Charlie Tango went missing. Closing my eyes, I offer up a silent prayer for the safe passage of my husband. I glance at my watch: 2:15 p.m. He should be here soon. My tea is cold . . . Ugh!

I stand up and pace then sit down again. Why haven’t the doctors been to see me? I take José’s hand, and he gives mine another reassuring squeeze. Please let him be okay. Please let him be okay.

Time crawls so slowly.

Suddenly the door opens, and we all glance up expectantly, my stomach knotting. Is this it?

Christian strides in. His face darkens momentarily when he notices my hand in José’s.

“Christian!” I gasp and leap up, thanking God he’s arrived safely. Then I’m wrapped in his arms, his nose in my hair, and I’m inhaling his scent, his warmth, his love. A small part of me feels calmer, stronger, and more resilient because he’s here. Oh, the difference his presence makes to my peace of mind.

“Any news?”

I shake my head, unable to speak.

“José.” He nods a greeting.

“Christian, this is my father, José Senior.”

“Mr. Rodriguez—we met at the wedding. I take it you were in the accident, too?”

José briefly retells the story.

“Are you both well enough to be here?” Christian asks.

“We don’t want to be anywhere else,” Mr. Rodriguez says, his voice quiet and laced with pain. Christian nods. Taking my hand, he sits me down then takes a seat beside me.

“Have you eaten?” he asks.

I shake my head.

“Are you hungry?”

I shake my head.

“But you’re cold?” he asks, eyeing José’s jacket.

I nod. He shifts in his chair, but wisely says nothing.

The door opens again, and a young doctor in bright blue scrubs enters. He looks exhausted and harrowed.

All the blood disappears from my head as I stumble to my feet.

“Ray Steele,” I whisper as Christian stands beside me, putting his arm around my waist.

“You’re his next of kin?” the doctor asks. His bright blue eyes almost match his scrubs, and under any other circumstances I would have found him attractive.

“I’m his daughter, Ana.”

“Miss Steele—”

“Mrs. Grey,” Christian interrupts him.

“My apologies,” the doctor stammers, and for a moment I want to kick Christian. “I’m Doctor Crowe. Your father is stable, but in a critical condition.”

What does that mean? My knees buckle beneath me, and only Christian’s supporting arm prevents me from falling to the floor.

“He suffered severe internal injuries,” Dr. Crowe says, “principally to his dia-phragm, but we’ve managed to repair them, and we were able to save his spleen.

Unfortunately, he suffered a cardiac arrest during the operation because of blood loss. We managed to get his heart going again, but this remains a concern.

However, our gravest concern is that he suffered severe contusions to the head, and the MRI shows that he has swelling in his brain. We’ve induced a coma to keep him quiet and still while we monitor the brain swelling.”

Brain damage? No.

“It’s standard procedure in these cases. For now, we just have to wait and see.”

“And what’s the prognosis?” Christian asks coolly.

“Mr. Grey, it’s difficult to say at the moment. It’s possible he could make a complete recovery, but that’s in God’s hands now.”

“How long will you keep him in a coma?”

“That depends on how his brain responds. Usually seventy-two to ninety-six hours.”

Oh, so long! “Can I see him?” I whisper.

“Yes, you should be able to see him in about half an hour. He’s been taken to the ICU on the sixth floor.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

Dr. Crowe nods, turns and leaves us.

“Well, he’s alive,” I whisper to Christian. And the tears start to roll down my face once more.

“Sit down,” Christian orders gently.

“Papa, I think we should go. You need to rest. We won’t know anything for a while,” José murmurs to Mr. Rodriguez who gazes blankly at his son. “We can come back this evening, after you’ve rested. That’s okay, isn’t it, Ana?” José turns, imploring me.

“Of course.”

“Are you staying in Portland?” Christian asks. José nods.

“Do you need a ride home?”

José frowns. “I was going to order a cab.”

“Luke can take you.”

Sawyer stands, and José looks confused.

“Luke Sawyer,” I murmur in clarification.

“Oh . . . Sure. Yeah, we’d appreciate it. Thanks, Christian.”

Standing, I hug Mr. Rodriguez and José in quick succession.

“Stay strong, Ana,” José whispers in my ear. “He’s a fit and healthy man.

The odds are in his favor.”

“I hope so.” I hug him hard. Then, releasing him, I shrug off his jacket hand it back to him.

“Keep it, if you’re still cold.”

“No, I’m okay. Thanks.” Glancing nervously up at Christian, I see that he’s regarding us impassively. Christian takes my hand.

“If there’s any change, I’ll let you know right away,” I say as José pushes his father’s wheelchair toward the door Sawyer is holding open.

Mr. Rodriguez raises his hand, and they pause in the doorway. “He’ll be in my prayers, Ana.” His voice wavers. “It’s been so good to reconnect with him after all these years. He’s become a good friend.”

“I know.”

And with that they leave. Christian and I are alone. He caresses my cheek.

“You’re pale. Come here.” He sits down on the chair and pulls me on to his lap, folding me into his arms again, and I go willingly. I snuggle up against him, feeling oppressed by my stepfather’s misfortune, but grateful that my husband is here to comfort me. He gently strokes my hair and holds my hand.

“How was Charlie Tango?” I ask.

He grins. “Oh, she was yar,” he says, quiet pride in his voice. It makes me smile properly for the first time in several hours, and I glance at him, puzzled.

“Yar?”

“It’s a line from The Philadelphia Story. Grace’s favorite film.”

“I don’t know it.”

“I think I have it on Blu-Ray at home. We can watch it and make out.” He kisses my hair and I smile once more.

“Can I persuade you to eat something?” he asks.

My smile disappears. “Not now. I want to see Ray first.”

His shoulders slump, but he doesn’t push me.

“How were the Taiwanese?”

“Amenable,” he says.

“Amenable how?”

“They let my buy their shipyard for less than the price I was willing to pay.”

He’s bought a shipyard? “That’s good?”

“Yes. That’s good.”

“But I thought you had a shipyard, over here.”

“I do. We’re going to use that to do the fitting-out. Build the hulls in the Far East. It’s cheaper.”

Oh. “What about the workforce at the shipyard here?”

“We’ll redeploy. We should be able to keep redundancies to a minimum.” He kisses my hair. “Shall we check on Ray?” he asks, his voice soft.

The ICU on the sixth floor is a stark, sterile, functional ward with whispered voices and bleeping machinery. Four patients are each housed in their own separate hi-tech area. Ray is at the far end.

Daddy.

He looks so small in his large bed, surrounded by all this technology. It’s a shock. My dad has never been so diminished. There’s a tube in his mouth, and various lines pass through drips into a needle in each arm. A small clamp is attached to his finger. I wonder vaguely what that’s for. His leg is on top of the sheets, encased in a blue cast. A monitor displays his heart rate: beep, beep, beep.

It’s beating strong and steady. This I know. I move slowly toward him. His chest is covered in a large, pristine bandage that disappears beneath the thin sheet that protects his modesty.

Daddy.

I realize that the tube pulling at the right corner of his mouth leads to a ventilator. Its noise is weaving with the beep, beep, beep of his heart monitor into a per-cussive rhythmic beat. Sucking, expelling, sucking, expelling, sucking, expelling in time with the beeps. There are four lines on the screen of his heart monitor, each moving steadily across, demonstrating clearly that Ray is still with us.

Oh, Daddy.

Even though his mouth is distorted by the ventilator tube, he looks peaceful, lying there fast asleep.

A petite young nurse stands to one side, checking his monitors.

“Can I touch him?” I ask her, tentatively reaching for his hand.

“Yes.” She smiles kindly. Her badge says KELLIE RN , and she must be in her twenties. She’s blonde with dark, dark eyes.

Christian stands at the end of the bed, watching me carefully as I clasp Ray’s hand. It’s surprisingly warm, and that’s my undoing. I sink on to the chair by the bed, place my head gently against Ray’s arm, and start to sob.

“Oh, Daddy. Please get better,” I whisper. “Please.”

Christian puts his hand on my shoulder and gives it a reassuring squeeze.

“All Mr. Steele’s vitals are good,” Nurse Kellie says quietly.

“Thank you,” Christian murmurs. I glance up in time to see her gape. She’s finally gotten a good look at my husband. I don’t care. She can gape at Christian all she likes as long as she makes my father well again.

“Can he hear me?” I ask.

“He’s in a deep sleep. But who knows?”

“Can I sit for a while?”

“Sure thing.” She smiles at me, her cheeks pink from a telltale blush. Incongruously, I find myself thinking blond is not her true color.

Christian gazes down at me, ignoring her. “I need to make a call. I’ll be outside. I’ll give you some alone time with your dad.”I nod. He kisses my hair and walks out of the room. I hold Ray’s hand, marveling at the irony that it’s only now when he’s unconscious and can’t hear me that I really want to tell him how much I love him. This man has been my constant. My rock. And I’ve never thought about it until now. I’m not flesh of his flesh, but he’s my dad, and I love him so very much. My tears trail down my cheeks. Please, please get better.

Very quietly, so as not to disturb anyone, I tell him about our weekend in Aspen and about last weekend when we were soaring and sailing aboard The Grace. I tell him about our new house, our plans, about how we hope to make it ecologically sustainable. I promise to take him with us to Aspen so he can go fishing with Christian and assure him that Mr. Rodriguez and José will both be welcome, too . Please be here to do that, Daddy. Please.

Ray remains immobile, the ventilator sucking and expelling and the monotonous but reassuring beep, beep, beep of his heart monitor his only response.

When I look up, Christian is sitting quietly at the end of the bed. I don’t know how long he’s been there.

“Hi,” he says, his eyes glowing with compassion and concern.

“Hi.”

“So, I’m going fishing with your dad, Mr. Rodriguez, and José?” he asks.

I nod.

“Okay. Let’s go eat. Let him sleep.”

I frown. I don’t want to leave him.

“Ana, he’s in a coma. I’ve given our cell numbers to the nurses here. If there’s any change, they’ll call us. We’ll eat, check into a hotel, rest up, then come back this evening.”

The suite at the Heathman looks just as I remember it. How often have I thought about that first night and morning I spent with Christian Grey? I stand in the entrance to the suite, paralyzed. Jeez, it all started here.

“Home away from home,” says Christian, his voice soft, putting my briefcase down beside one of the overstuffed couches.

“Do you want a shower? A bath? What do you need, Ana?” Christian gazes at me, and I know he’s rudderless—my lost boy dealing with events beyond his control. He’s been withdrawn and contemplative all afternoon. This is a situation he cannot manipulate and predict. This is real life in the raw, and he’s kept himself from that for so long, he’s exposed and helpless now. My sweet, sheltered Fifty Shades.

“A bath. I’d like a bath.” I murmur, aware that keeping him busy will make him feel better, useful even. Oh, Christian—I’m numb and I’m cold and I’m scared, but I’m so glad you’re here with me.

“Bath. Good. Yes.” He strides into the bedroom and out of sight into the pala-tial bathroom. A few moments later, the roar of water gushing to fill the tub echoes from the room.

Finally, I galvanize myself to follow him into the bedroom. I’m dismayed to see several bags from Nordstrom on the bed. Christian reenters, sleeves rolled up, tie and jacket discarded.

“I sent Taylor to get some things. Nightwear. You know,” he says, eyeing me warily.

Of course he did. I nod my approval to make him feel better. Where is Taylor?

“Oh, Ana,” Christian murmurs. “I’ve not seen you like this. You’re normally so brave and strong.”

I don’t know what to say. I merely gaze wide-eyed at him. I have nothing to give right now. I think I’m in shock. I wrap my arms around myself, trying to keep the pervading cold at bay, even though I know it’s a fruitless task as this cold comes from within. Christian pulls me into his arms.

“Baby, he’s alive. His vital signs are good. We just have to be patient,” he murmurs. “Come.” He takes my hand and leads me into the bathroom. Gently, he slips my jacket off my shoulders and places it on the bathroom chair, then turning back, he undoes the buttons on my shirt.

The water is deliciously warm and fragrant, the smell of lotus blossom heavy in the warm, sultry air of the bathroom. I lie between Christian’s legs, my back to his front, my feet resting on top of his. We’re both quiet and introspective, and I’m finally feeling warm. Intermittently Christian kisses my hair as I absentmindedly pop the bubbles in the foam. His arm is wrapped around my shoulders.

“You didn’t get into the bath with Leila, did you? That time you bathed her?”

I ask.

He stiffens and snorts, his hand tightening on my shoulder where it rests.

“Um . . . no.” He sounds astounded.

“I thought so. Good.”

He tugs gently at my hair knotted in a crude bun, tilting my head around so he can see my face. “Why do you ask?”

I shrug. “Morbid curiosity. I don’t know . . . seeing her this week.”

His face hardens. “I see. Less of the morbid.” His tone is reproachful.

“How long are you going to support her?

“Until she’s on her feet. I don’t know.” He shrugs. “Why?”

“Are there others?”

“Others?”

“Exes who you support.”

“There was one, yes. No longer though.”

“Oh?”

“She was studying to be a doctor. She’s qualified now and has someone else.”

“Another Dominant?”

“Yes.”

“Leila says you have two of her paintings,” I whisper.

“I used to. I didn’t really care for them. They had technical merit, but they were too colorful for me. I think Elliot has them. As we know, he has no taste.”

I giggle, and he wraps his other arm around me, sloshing water over the side of the bath.

“That’s better,” he whispers and kisses my temple.

“He’s marrying my best friend.”

“Then I’d better shut my mouth,” he says.

I feel more relaxed after our bath. Wrapped in my soft Heathman robe, I gaze at the various bags on the bed. Jeez, this must be more than nightwear. Tentatively, I peek into one. A pair of jeans and a pale blue hooded sweatshirt, my size. Holy cow . . . Taylor’s bought a whole weekend’s worth of clothes, and he knows what I like. I smile, remembering this is not the first time he’s shopped for clothes for me when I was at the Heathman.

“Apart from harassing me at Clayton’s, have you ever actually gone into a store and just bought stuff?”

“Harassing you?”

“Yes. Harassing me.”

“You were flustered, if I recall. And that young boy was all over you. What was his name?”

“Paul.”

“One of your many admirers.”

I roll my eyes, and he smiles a relieved, genuine smile and kisses me.

“There’s my girl,” he whispers. “Get dressed. I don’t want you getting cold again.”

“Ready,” I murmur. Christian is working on the Mac in the study area of the suite.

He’s dressed in black jeans and a gray cable-knit sweater, and I’m wearing the jeans, the hoodie, and a white T-shirt.

“You look so young,” Christian says softly, glancing up, his eyes glowing.

“And to think you’ll be a whole year older tomorrow.” His voice is wistful. I give him a sad smile.

“I don’t feel much like celebrating. Can we go see Ray now?”

“Sure. I wish you’d eat something. You barely touched your food.”

“Christian, please. I’m just not hungry. Maybe after we’ve seen Ray. I want to wish him goodnight.”

As we arrive at the ICU, we meet José leaving. He’s alone.

“Ana, Christian, hi.”

“Where’s your dad?”

“He was too tired to come back. He was in a car accident this morning,” José grins ruefully. “And his painkillers have kicked in. He was out for the count. I had to fight to get in to see Ray since I’m not next of kin.”

“And?” I ask anxiously.

“He’s good, Ana. Same . . . but all good.”

Relief floods my system. No news is good news.

“See you tomorrow, birthday girl?”

“Sure. We’ll be here.”

José eyes Christian quickly then pulls me into a brief hug. “Ma?ana. “

“Goodnight, José.”

“Good-bye, José,” Christian says. José nods and walks down the corridor.

“He’s still nuts about you,” Christian says quietly.

“No he’s not. And even if he is . . .” I shrug because right now I just don’t care.

Christian gives me a tight smile, and my heart melts.

“Well done,” I murmur.

He frowns.

“For not frothing at the mouth.”

He gapes at me, wounded—but amused, too. “I’ve never frothed. Let’s see your dad. I have a surprise for you.”

“Surprise?” My eyes widen in alarm.

“Come.” Christian takes my hand, and we push open the double doors of the ICU.

Standing at the end of Ray’s bed is Grace, deep in discussion with Crowe and a second doctor, a woman I’ve not seen before. Seeing us, Grace grins.

Oh, thank heavens.

“Christian.” She kisses his cheek, then turns to me and folds me in her warm embrace.

“Ana. How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine. It’s my father I’m worried about.”

“He’s in good hands. Doctor Sluder is an expert in her field. We trained together at Yale.”

Oh . . .

“Mrs. Grey,” Dr. Sluder greets me very formally. She’s short-haired and elfin with a shy smile and a soft southern accent. “As the lead physician for your father, I’m pleased to tell you that all is on track. His vital signs are stable and strong. We have every faith that he’ll make a complete recovery. The brain swelling has stopped, and shows signs of decreasing. This is very encouraging after such a short time.”

“That’s good news,” I murmur.

She smiles warmly at me. “It is, Mrs. Grey. We’re taking real good care of him.”

“Great to see you again, Grace.”

Grace smiles. “Likewise, Lorraina.”

“Dr. Crowe, let’s leave these good people to visit with Mr. Steele.” Crowe follows in Dr. Sluder’s wake to the exit.

I glance over at Ray, and for the first time since his accident, I feel more hopeful. Dr. Sluder and Grace’s kind words have rekindled my hope.

Grace takes my hand and squeezes gently. “Ana, sweetheart, sit with him.

Talk to him. It’s all good. I’ll visit with Christian in the waiting room.”

I nod. Christian smiles his reassurance, and he and his mother leave me with my beloved father sleeping peacefully to the gentle lullaby of his ventilator and heart monitor.

I slip Christian’s white T-shirt on and get into bed.

“You seem brighter,” Christian says cautiously as he pulls on his pajamas.

“Yes. I think talking to Dr. Sluder and your mom made a big difference. Did you ask Grace to come here?”

Christian slides into bed and pulls me into his arms, turning me to face away from him.

“No. She wanted to come and check on your dad herself.”

“How did she know?”

“I called her this morning.”

Oh.

“Baby, you’re exhausted. You should sleep.”

“Hmm,” I murmur in agreement. He’s right. I’m so tired. It’s been an emotional day. I crane my head around and gaze at him a beat. We’re not going to make love? And I’m relieved. In fact, he’s had a totally hands-off approach with me all day. I wonder if I should be alarmed by this turn of events, but since my inner goddess has left the building and taken my libido with her, I’ll think about it in the morning. I turn over and snuggle against Christian, wrapping my leg over his.

“Promise me something,” he says softly.

“Hmm?” It’s a question that I am too tired to articulate.

“Promise me you’ll eat something tomorrow. I can just about tolerate you wearing another man’s jacket without frothing at the mouth, but, Ana . . . you must eat. Please.”

“Hmm,” I acquiesce. He kisses my hair. “Thank you for being here,” I mumble and sleepily kiss his chest.

“Where else would I be? I want to be wherever you are, Ana. Being here makes me think of how far we’ve come. And the night I first slept with you. What a night that was. I watched you for hours. You were just . . . yar,” he breathes. I smile against his chest.

“Sleep,” he murmurs, and it’s a command. I close my eyes and drift.

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