Chapter Twenty-four of the book Fifty Shades Freed

“Much as I’d like to kiss you all day, your breakfast is getting cold,” Christian murmurs against my lips. He gazes down at me, now amused, except his eyes are darker, sensual. Holy cow, he’s switched again. My Mr. Mercurial.

“Eat,” he orders, his voice soft. I swallow, a reaction to his smoldering look, and crawl back into bed, avoiding snagging my IV line. He pushes the tray in front of me. The oatmeal is cold, but the pancakes under the cover are fine—in fact, they’re mouthwatering.

“You know,” I mutter between mouthfuls, “Blip might be a girl.”

Christian runs his hand through his hair. “Two women, eh?” Alarm flashes across his face, and his dark look vanishes.

Oh crap. “Do you have a preference?”

“Preference?”

“Boy or girl.”

He frowns. “Healthy will do,” he says quietly clearly disconcerted by the question. “Eat,” he snaps, and I know he’s trying to avoid the subject.

“I’m eating, I’m eating . . . Jeez, keep your hair on, Grey.” I watch him carefully. The corners of his eyes are crinkled with worry. He’s said he’ll try, but I know he’s still freaked out by the baby. Oh, Christian, so am I. He sits down in the armchair beside me, picking up the Seattle Times.

“You made the papers again, Mrs. Grey.” His is tone bitter.

“Again?”

“The hacks are just rehashing yesterday’s story, but it seems factually accur-ate. You want to read it?”

I shake my head. “Read it to me. I’m eating.”

He smirks and proceeds to read the article aloud. It’s a report on Jack and Elizabeth, depicting them as a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. It briefly covers Mia’s kidnapping, my involvement in Mia’s rescue, and the fact that both Jack and I are in the same hospital. How does the press get all this information? I must ask Kate.

When Christian finishes, I say, “Please read something else. I like listening to you.”

He obliges and reads me a report about a booming bagel business and the fact that Boeing has had to cancel the launch of some plane. Christian frowns as he reads. But listening to his soothing voice as I eat, secure in the knowledge that I am fine, Mia is safe and my Little Blip is safe, I feel a precious moment of peace despite all that has happened over the last few days.

I understand that Christian is scared about the baby, but I don’t understand the depth of his fear. I resolve to talk to him some more about this. See if I can put his mind at ease. What puzzles me is that he hasn’t lacked for positive role models as parents. Both Grace and Carrick are exemplary parents, or so they seem.

Maybe it was the Bitch Troll’s interference that damaged him so badly. I’d like to think so. But in truth I think it goes back to his birth mom, though I’m sure Mrs.

Robinson didn’t help. I halt my thoughts as I nearly recall a whispered conversation. Damn! It hovers on the edge of my memory from when I was unconscious. Christian talking with Grace. It melts away into the shadows of my mind. Oh, it’s so frustrating.

I wonder if Christian will ever volunteer the reason he went to see her or if I’ll have to push him. I’m about to ask when there’s a knock on the door.

Detective Clark makes an apologetic entry into the room. He’s right to be apologetic—my heart sinks when I see him.

“Mr. Grey, Mrs. Grey. Am I interrupting?”

“Yes,” snaps Christian.

Clark ignores him. “Glad to see you’re awake, Mrs. Grey. I need to ask you a few questions about Thursday afternoon. Just routine. Is now a convenient time?”

“Sure,” I mumble, but I do not want to relive Thursday’s events.

“My wife should be resting.” Christian bristles.

“I’ll be brief, Mr. Grey. And it means I’ll be out of your hair sooner rather than later.”

Christian stands and offers Clark his chair, then sits down beside me on the bed, takes my hand, and squeezes it reassuringly.

Half an hour later, Clark is done. I’ve learned nothing new, but I have recounted the events of Thursday to him in a halting, quiet voice, watching Christian go pale and grimace at some parts.

“I wish you’d aimed higher,” Christian mutters.

“Might have done womankind a service if Mrs. Grey had.” Clark agrees.

What?

“Thank you, Mrs. Grey. That’s all for now.”

“You won’t let him out again, will you?”

“I don’t think he’ll make bail this time, ma’am.”

“Do we know who posted his bail?” Christian asks.

“No sir. It was confidential.”

Christian frowns, but I think he has his suspicions. Clark rises to leave just as Dr. Singh and two interns enter the room.

After a thorough examination, Dr. Singh declares me fit to go home. Christian sags with relief.

“Mrs. Grey, you’ll have to watch for worsening headaches and blurry vision.

If that occurs you must return to the hospital immediately.”

I nod, trying to contain my delight at going home.

As Dr. Singh leaves, Christian asks her for a quick word in the corridor. He keeps the door ajar as he asks her a question. She smiles.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, that’s fine.”

He grins and returns to the room a happier man.

“What was all that about?”

“Sex,” he says, flashing a wicked grin.

Oh. I blush. “And?”

“You’re good to go.” He smirks.

Oh, Christian!

“I have a headache.” I smirk right back.

“I know. You’ll be off limits for a while. I was just checking.”

Off limits? I frown at the momentary stab of disappointment I feel. I’m not sure I want to be off limits.

Nurse Nora joins us to remove my IV. She glares at Christian. I think she’s one of the few women I’ve met who is oblivious to his charms. I thank her when she leaves with my IV stand.

“Shall I take you home?” Christian asks.

“I’d like to see Ray first.”

“Sure.”

“Does he know about the baby?”

“I thought you’d want to be the one to tell him. I haven’t told your mom either.”

“Thank you.” I smile, grateful that he hasn’t stolen my thunder.

“My mom knows,” Christian adds. “She saw your chart. I told my dad but no one else. Mom said couples normally wait for twelve weeks or so . . . to be sure.”

He shrugs.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to tell Ray.”

“I should warn you, he’s mad as hell. Said I should spank you.”

What? Christian laughs at my appalled expression. “I told him I’d be only too willing to oblige.”

“You didn’t!” I gasp, though an echo of a whispered conversation tantalizes my memory. Yes, Ray was here while I was unconscious . . .

He winks at me. “Here, Taylor brought you some clean clothes. I’ll help you dress.”

As Christian predicted, Ray is furious. I don’t ever remember him being this mad.

Christian has wisely decided to leave us alone. For such a taciturn man, Ray fills his hospital room with his invective, berating me for my irresponsible behavior. I am twelve years old again.

Oh, Dad, please calm down. Your blood pressure is not up to this.

“And I’ve had to deal with your mother,” he grumbles, waving both of his hands in exasperation.

“Dad, I’m sorry.”

“And poor Christian! I’ve never seen him like that. He’s aged. We’ve both aged years over the last couple of days.”

“Ray, I’m sorry.”

“Your mother is waiting for your call,” he says in a more measured tone.

I kiss his cheek, and finally he relents from his tirade.

“I’ll call her. I really am sorry. But thank you for teaching me to shoot.”

For a moment, he regards me with ill-concealed paternal pride. “I’m glad you can shoot straight,” he says, his voice gruff. “Now go on home and get some rest.”

“You look well, Dad.” I try to change the subject.

“You look pale.” His fear is suddenly evident. His look mirrors Christian’s from last night, and I grasp his hand.

“I’m okay. I promise I won’t do anything like that again.”

He squeezes my hand and pulls me into a hug. “If anything happened to you,” he whispers, his voice hoarse and low. Tears prick my eyes. I am not used to displays of emotion from my stepfather.

“Dad, I’m good. Nothing that a hot shower won’t cure.”

We leave through the rear exit of the hospital to avoid the paparazzi gathered at the entrance. Taylor leads us to the waiting in the SUV.

Christian is quiet as Sawyer drives us home. I avoid Sawyer’s gaze in the rearview mirror, embarrassed that the last time I saw him was at the bank when I gave him the slip. I call my mom, who sobs and sobs. It takes most of the journey home to calm her down, but I succeed by promising that we’ll visit soon.

Throughout my conversation with her, Christian holds my hand, brushing his thumb across my knuckles. He’s nervous . . . something’s happened.

“What’s wrong?” I ask when I’m finally free from my mother.

“Welch wants to see me.”

“Welch? Why?”

“He’s found something out about that fucker Hyde.” Christian’s lip curls into a snarl, and a frisson of fear passes through me. “He didn’t want to tell me on the phone.”

“Oh.”

“He’s coming here this afternoon from Detroit.”

“You think he’s found a connection?”

Christian nods.

“What do you think it is?”

“I have no idea.” Christian’s brow furrows, perplexed.

Taylor pulls into the garage at Escala and stops by the elevator to let us out before he parks. In the garage, we can avoid the attention of the waiting photographers. Christian ushers me out of the car. Keeping his arm around my waist, he leads me to the waiting elevator.

“Glad to be home?” he asks.

“Yes,” I whisper. But as I stand in the familiar surroundings of the elevator, the enormity of what I’ve been through crashes over me, and I start to shake.

“Hey—” Christian wraps his arms around me and pulls me close. “You’re home. You’re safe,” he says, kissing my hair.

“Oh, Christian.” A dam I didn’t even know was in place bursts, and I start to sob.

“Hush now,” Christian whispers, cradling my head against his chest.

But it’s too late. I weep, overwhelmed, into his T-shirt, recalling Jack’s vicious attack— “That’s for SIP, you fucking bitch!”— telling Christian I was leaving— “You’re leaving me?”— and my fear, my gut-wrenching fear for Mia, for myself, and for Little Blip.

When the doors of the elevator slide open, Christian picks me up like a child and carries me into the foyer. I wrap my arms around his neck and cling to him, keening quietly.

He carries me through to our bathroom and gently settles me on the chair.

“Bath?” he asks.

I shake my head. No . . . no . . . not like Leila.

“Shower?” His voice is choked with concern.

Through my tears, I nod. I want to wash away the grime of the last few days, wash away the memory of Jack’s attack. “You gold digging whore.” I sob into my hands as the sound of the water cascading from the shower echoes off the walls.

“Hey,” Christian croons. Kneeling in front of me, he pulls my hands away from my tearstained cheeks and cups my face in his hands. I gaze at him, blinking away my tears.

“You’re safe. You both are,” he whispers.

Blip and me. My eyes brim with tears again.

“Stop, now. I can’t bear it when you cry.” His voice is hoarse. His thumbs wipe my cheeks, but my tears still flow.

“I’m sorry, Christian. Just sorry for everything. For making you worry, for risking everything—for the things I said.”

“Hush, baby, please.” He kisses my forehead. “I’m sorry. It takes two to tango, Ana.” He gives me a crooked smile. “Well, that’s what my mom always says. I said things and did things I’m not proud of.” His gray eyes are bleak but penitent. “Let’s get you undressed.” His voice is soft. I wipe my nose with the back of my hand, and he kisses my forehead once more.

Briskly he strips me, taking particular care as he pulls my T-shirt over my head. But my head is not too sore. Leading me to the shower, he peels off his own clothing in record time before stepping into the welcome hot water with me. He pulls me into his arms and holds me, holds me for the longest time, as the water gushes over us, soothing us both.

He lets me cry into his chest. Occasionally he kisses my hair, but he doesn’t let go, he just rocks me gently beneath the warm water. To feel his skin against mine, his chest hair against my cheek . . . this man I love, this self-doubting, beautiful man, the man I could have lost through my own recklessness. I feel empty and aching at the thought but grateful that he’s here, still here—despite everything that’s happened.

He has some explaining to do, but right now I want to revel in the feel of his comforting, protective arms around me. And in that moment it occurs to me; any explanations on his part have to come from him. I can’t force him—he’s got to want to tell me. I won’t be cast as the nagging wife, constantly trying to wheedle information out of her husband. It’s just exhausting. I know he loves me. I know he loves me more than he’s ever loved anyone, and for now, that’s enough. The realization is liberating. I stop crying and step back.

“Better?” he asks.

I nod.

“Good. Let me look at you,” he says, and for a moment I don’t know what he means. But he takes my hand and examines the arm I fell on when Jack hit me.

There are bruises on my shoulder and scrapes at my elbow and wrist. He kisses each of them. He grabs a washcloth and shower gel from the rack, and the sweet familiar scent of jasmine fills my nostrils.

“Turn around.” Gently, he proceeds to wash my injured arm, then my neck, my shoulders, my back, and my other arm. He turns me sideways, and traces his long fingers down my side. I wince as they skate over the large bruise at my hip.

Christian’s eyes harden and his lips thin. His anger is palpable as he whistles through his teeth.

“It doesn’t hurt,” I murmur to reassure him.

Blazing gray eyes meet mine. “I want to kill him. I nearly did,” he whispers cryptically. I frown then shiver at his bleak expression. He squirts more shower gel on the washcloth and with tender, aching gentleness, he washes my side and my behind, then, kneeling, moves down my legs. He pauses to examine my knee.

He lips brush over the bruise before he returns to washing my legs and my feet.

Reaching down, I caress his head, running my fingers through his wet hair. He stands, and his fingers trace the outline of the bruise on my ribs where Jack kicked me.

“Oh, baby,” he groans, his voice filled with anguish, his eyes dark with fury.

“I’m okay.” I pull his head down to mine and kiss his lips. He’s hesitant to reciprocate, but as my tongue meets his, his body stirs against me.

“No,” he whispers against my lips, and he pulls back. “Let’s get you clean.”

His face is serious. Damn . . . He means it. I pout, and the atmosphere between us lightens in an instant. He grins and kisses me briefly.

“Clean,” he emphasizes. “Not dirty.”

“I like dirty.”

“Me, too, Mrs. Grey. But not now, not here.” He grabs the shampoo, and before I can persuade him otherwise, he’s washing my hair.

I love clean, too. I feel refreshed and reinvigorated, and I don’t know if it’s from the shower, the crying, or my decision to stop hassling Christian about everything.

He wraps me in a large towel and drapes one around his hips while I gingerly dry my hair. My head aches, but it’s a dull persistent pain that is more than manage-able. I have some painkillers from Dr. Singh, but she’s asked me not to use them unless I have to.

As I dry my hair, I think about Elizabeth.

“I still don’t understand why Elizabeth was involved with Jack.”

“I do,” Christian mutters darkly.

This is news. I frown up at him, but I’m distracted. He’s drying his hair with a towel, his chest and shoulders still wet with beads of water that glint beneath the halogens. He pauses and smirks.

“Enjoying the view?”

“How do you know?” I ask, trying to ignore that I’ve been caught staring at my own husband.

“That you’re enjoying the view?” he teases.

“No,” I scold. “About Elizabeth.”

“Detective Clark hinted at it.”

I give him my tell-me-more expression, and another nagging memory from when I was unconscious resurfaces. Clark was in my room. I wish I could remember what he said.

“Hyde had videos. Videos of all of them. On several USB flash drives.”

What? I frown, my skin tightening across my forehead.

“Videos of him fucking her and fucking all his PAs.”

Oh!

“Exactly. Blackmail material. He likes it rough.” Christian frowns, and I watch confusion followed by disgust cross his face. He pales as his disgust turns to self-loathing. Of course—Christian likes it rough, too.

“Don’t.” The word is out of my mouth before I can stop it.

His frown deepens. “Don’t what?” He stills and regards me with apprehension.

“You aren’t anything like him.”

Christian’s eyes harden, but he says nothing, confirming that’s exactly what he’s thinking.

“You’re not.” My voice is adamant.

“We’re cut from the same cloth.”

“No, you’re not,” I snap, though I understand why he might think so. “His dad died in a brawl in a bar. His mother drank herself into oblivion. He was in and out of foster homes as a kid, in and out of trouble, too—mainly boosting cars.

Spent time in juvie.” I recall the information Christian revealed on the plane to Aspen.

“You both have troubled pasts, and you were both born in Detroit. That’s it, Christian.” I fist my hands on my hips.

“Ana, your faith in me is touching, especially in light of the last few days.

We’ll know more when Welch is here.” He’s dismissing the subject.

“Christian—”

He stops me with a kiss. “Enough,” he breathes, and I remember the promise I made to myself not to hound him for information.

“And don’t pout,” he adds. “Come. Let me dry your hair.”

And I know the subject is closed.

After dressing in sweatpants and a T-shirt, I sit between Christian’s legs as he dries my hair.

“So did Clark tell you anything else while I was unconscious?”

“Not that I recall.”

“I heard a few of your conversations.”

The hairbrush stills in my hair.

“Did you?” he asks, his tone nonchalant.

“Yes. My dad, your dad, Detective Clark . . . your mom.”

“And Kate?”

“Kate was there?”

“Briefly, yes. She’s mad at you, too.”

I turn in his lap. “Stop with the everyone is mad at Ana crap, okay?”

“Just telling you the truth,” Christian says, bemused by my outburst.

“Yes, it was reckless, but you know, your sister was in danger.”

His face falls. “Yes. She was.” Switching off the hairdryer, he puts it down on the bed beside him. He grasps my chin.

“Thank you,” he says, surprising me. “But no more recklessness. Because next time, I will spank the living shit out of you.”

I gasp.

“You wouldn’t!”

“I would.” He’s serious. Holy cow. Deadly serious. “I have your stepfather’s permission.” He smirks. He’s teasing me! Or is he? I launch myself at him, and he twists so that I fall onto the bed and into his arms. As I land, pain from my ribs shoots through me and I wince.

Christian pales. “Behave!” he admonishes, and for a moment he’s angry.

“Sorry,” I mumble, caressing his cheek.

He nuzzles my hand and kisses it gently. “Honestly, Ana, you really have no regard for your own safety.” He tugs up the hem of my T-shirt then rests his fingers on my belly. I stop breathing. “It’s not just you anymore,” he whispers, trailing his fingertips along the waistband of my sweats, caressing my skin. Desire explodes unexpected, hot, and heavy in my blood. I gasp and Christian tenses, halting his fingers and gazing down at me. He moves his hand up and tucks a stray lock of hair behind my ear.

“No,” he whispers.

What?

“Don’t look at me like that. I’ve seen the bruises. And the answer’s no.” His voice is firm, and he kisses my forehead.

I squirm. “Christian,” I whine.

“No. Get into bed.” He sits up.

“Bed?”

“You need rest.”

“I need you.”

He closes his eyes and shakes his head as if it’s a great effort of will. When he opens them again, his eyes are bright with his resolve. “Just do as you’re told, Ana.”

I’m tempted to take off all my clothes, but then I remember the bruises and know I won’t win that way.

Reluctantly, I nod. “Okay.” I deliberately give him an exaggerated pout.

He grins, amused. “I’ll bring you some lunch.”

“You’re going to cook?” I nearly expire.

He has the grace to laugh. “I’m going to heat something up. Mrs. Jones has been busy.”

“Christian, I’ll do it. I’m fine. Jeez, I want sex—I can certainly cook.” I sit up awkwardly, trying to hide my flinch from my smarting ribs.

“Bed!” Christian’s eyes flash, and he points to the pillow.

“Join me,” I murmur, wishing I were wearing something a little more alluring than sweatpants and a T-shirt.

“Ana, get into bed. Now.”I scowl, stand up, and let my pants drop unceremo-niously to the floor, glaring at him the whole time. His mouth twitches with humor as he pulls the duvet back.

“You heard Dr. Singh. She said rest.” His voice is gentler. I slip into bed and fold my arms in frustration. “Stay,” he says clearly enjoying himself.

My scowl deepens.

Mrs. Jones’s chicken stew is, without doubt, one of my favorite dishes. Christian eats with me, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed.

“That was very well heated.” I smirk and he grins. I’m replete and sleepy.

Was this his plan?

“You look tired.” He picks up my tray.

“I am.”

“Good. Sleep.” He kisses me. “I have some work I need to do. I’ll do it in here if that’s okay with you.”

I nod . . . fighting a losing battle with my eyelids. I had no idea chicken stew could be so exhausting.

It’s dusk when I wake. Pale pink light floods the room. Christian is sitting in the armchair, watching me, gray eyes luminous in the ambient light. He’s clutching some papers. His face is ashen.

Holy cow! “What’s wrong?” I ask immediately, sitting up and ignoring my protesting ribs.

“Welch has just left.”

Oh shit. “And?”

“I lived with the fucker,” he whispers.

“Lived? With Jack?”

He nods, eyes wide.

“You’re related?”

“No. Good God, no.”

I shuffle over and pull the duvet back, inviting him into bed beside me, and to my surprise he doesn’t hesitate. He kicks off his shoes and slides in alongside me.

Wrapping one arm around me, he curls up, resting his head in my lap. I’m stunned. What’s this?

“I don’t understand,” I murmur, running my fingers through his hair and gazing down at him. Christian closes his eyes and furrows his brow as if he’s straining to remember.

“After I was found with the crack whore, before I went to live with Carrick and Grace, I was in the care of Michigan State. I lived in a foster home. But I can’t remember anything about that time.”

My mind reels. A foster home? This is news to both of us.

“For how long?” I whisper.

“Two months or so. I have no recollection.”

“Have you spoken to your mom and dad about it?”

“No.”

“Perhaps you should. Maybe they could fill in the blanks.”

He hugs me tightly. “Here.” He hands me the papers, which turn out to be two photographs. I reach over and switch on the bedside light so I can examine them in detail. The first photo is of a shabby house with a yellow front door and a large gabled window in the roof. It has a porch and a small front yard. It’s an un-remarkable house.

The second photo is of a family—at first glance, an ordinary blue-collar family—a man and his wife, I think, and their children. The adults are both dressed in dowdy, overwashed blue T-shirts. They must be in their forties. The woman has scraped-back blond hair, and the man a severe buzz-cut, but they are both smiling warmly at the camera. The man has his hand draped over the shoulders of a sullen teenage girl. I gaze at each of the children: two boys—identical twins, about twelve—both with sandy blond hair, grinning broadly at the camera; there’s another boy, who’s smaller, with reddish blond hair, scowling; and hiding behind him, a copper-haired gray-eyed little boy. Wide-eyed and scared, dressed in mismatched clothes, and clutching a child’s dirty blanket.

Fuck. “This is you,” I whisper, my heart lurching into my throat. I know Christian was four when his mother died. But this child looks much younger. He must have been severely malnourished. I stifle a sob as tears spring to my eyes.

Oh, my sweet Fifty.

Christian nods. “That’s me.”

“Welch brought these photos?”

“Yes. I don’t remember any of this.” His voice is flat and lifeless.

“Remember being with foster parents? Why should you? Christian, it was a long time ago. Is this what’s worrying you?”

“I remember other things, from before and after. When I met my mom and dad. But this . . . It’s like there’s a huge chasm.”

My heart twists and understanding dawns. My darling control freak likes everything in its place, and now he’s learned he’s missing part of the jigsaw.

“Is Jack in this picture?”

“Yes, he’s the older kid.” Christian’s eyes are still screwed shut, and he’s clinging to me as if I’m a life raft. I run my fingers through his hair while I gaze at the older boy who is glaring, defiant and arrogant, at the camera. I can see it’s Jack. But he’s just a kid, a sad eight- or nine-year-old, hiding his fear behind his hostility. A thought occurs to me.

“When Jack called to tell me he had Mia, he said if things had been different, it could have been him.”

Christian closes his eyes and shudders. “That fucker!”

“You think he did all this because the Greys adopted you instead of him?”

“Who knows?” Christian’s tone is bitter. “I don’t give a fuck about him.”

“Perhaps he knew we were seeing each other when I went for that job interview. Perhaps he planned to seduce me all along.” Bile rises in my throat.

“I don’t think so,” Christian mutters, his eyes now open. “The searches he did on my family didn’t start until a week or so after you began your job at SIP. Barney knows the exact dates. And, Ana, he fucked all his assistants and taped them.”

Christian closes his eyes and tightens his grip on me once more.

Suppressing the tremor that runs through me, I try to recall my various conversations with Jack when I first started at SIP. I knew deep down he was bad news, yet I ignored all my instincts. Christian’s right—I have no regard for my own safety. I remember the fight we had about me going to New York with Jack.

Jeez—I could have ended up on some sordid sex tape. The thought is nauseating.

And in that moment I recall the photographs Christian kept of his submissives.

Oh shit. “We’re cut from the same cloth.” No, Christian, you’re not, you’re nothing like him. He’s still curled around me like a small boy.

“Christian, I think you should talk to your mom and dad.” I am reluctant to move him, so I shift and slide back into the bed until we are eye to eye.

A bewildered gray gaze meets mine, reminding me of the child in the photograph.

“Let me call them,” I whisper. He shakes his head. “Please.” I beg. Christian stares at me, pain and self-doubt reflected in his eyes as he considers my request.

Oh, Christian, please!

“I’ll call them,” he whispers.

“Good. We can go and see them together, or you can go. Whichever you prefer.”

“No. They can come here.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want you going anywhere.”

“Christian, I’m up for a car journey.”

“No.” His voice is firm, but he gives me an ironic smile. “Anyway, it’s Saturday night, they’re probably at some function.”

“Call them. This news has obviously upset you. They might be able to shed some light.” I glance at the radio alarm. It’s almost seven in the evening. He regards me impassively for a moment.

“Okay,” he says as if I’ve issued him with a challenge. Sitting up, he picks up the bedside phone.

I wrap my arm around him and rest my head on his chest as he makes the call.

“Dad?” I register his surprise that Carrick has answered the phone. “Ana’s good. We’re home. Welch has just left. He found out the connection . . . the foster home in Detroit . . . I don’t remember any of that.” Christian’s voice is almost inaudible as he mutters the last sentence. My heart constricts once more. I hug him, and he squeezes my shoulder.

“Yeah . . . You will? . . . Great.” He hangs up. “They’re on their way.” He sounds surprised, and I realize that he’s probably never asked them for help.

“Good. I should get dressed.”

Christian’s arm tightens around me. “Don’t go.”

“Okay.” I snuggle into his side again, stunned by the fact that he’s just told me a great deal about himself—entirely voluntarily.

As we stand at the threshold to the great room, Grace wraps me gently in her arms.

“Ana, Ana, darling Ana,” she whispers. “Saving two of my children. How can I ever thank you?”

I blush, touched and embarrassed in equal measure by her words. Carrick hugs me, too, kissing my forehead.

Then Mia grabs me, squashing my ribs. I wince and gasp, but she doesn’t notice. “Thank you for saving me from those assholes.”

Christian scowls at her. “Mia! Careful! She’s in pain.”

“Oh! Sorry.”

“I’m good,” I mutter, relieved when she releases me.

She looks fine. Impeccably dressed in tight black jeans and a pale pink frilly blouse. I’m glad I’m wearing my comfortable wrap dress and flats. At least I look reasonably presentable.

Racing over to Christian, Mia curls her arm around his waist.

Wordlessly, he hands Grace the photo. She gasps, her hand flying to her mouth to contain her emotion as she instantly recognizes Christian. Carrick wraps his arm around her shoulder as he, too, examines it.

“Oh, darling.” Grace caresses Christian’s cheek.

Taylor appears. “Mr. Grey? Miss Kavanagh, her brother, and your brother are coming up, sir.”

Christian frowns. “Thank you, Taylor,” he mutters, bemused.

“I called Elliot and told him we were coming over.” Mia grins. “It’s a welcome-home party.”

I sneak a sympathetic glance at my poor husband as both Grace and Carrick glare at Mia in exasperation.

“We’d better get some food together,” I declare. “Mia, will you give me a hand?”

“Oh, I’d love to.”

I usher her toward the kitchen area as Christian leads his parents into his study.

Kate is apoplectic with righteous indignation that’s aimed at me, Christian, but most of all Jack and Elizabeth.

“What were you thinking, Ana?” she shouts as she confronts me in the kitchen, causing all eyes in the room to turn and stare.

“Kate, please. I’ve had the same lecture from everyone!” I snap back. She glares at me, and for one minute I think I’m going to be subjected to a Katherine Kavanagh how-not-to-succumb-to-kidnappers lecture, but instead she folds me in her arms.

“Jeez—sometimes you don’t have the brains you were born with, Steele,” she whispers. As she kisses my cheek, there are tears in her eyes . Kate! “I’ve been so worried about you.”

“Don’t cry. You’ll set me off.”

She stands back and wipes her eyes, embarrassed, then takes a deep breath and composes herself. “On a more positive note, we’ve set a date for our wedding.

We thought next May? And of course I want you to be my matron of honor.”

“Oh . . . Kate . . . Wow. Congratulations!” Crap—Little Blip . . . Junior!

“What is it?” she asks, misinterpreting my alarm.

“Um . . . I’m just so happy for you. Some good news for a change.” I wrap my arms around her and pull her into a hug. Shit, shit, shit. When is Blip due?

Mentally I calculate my due date. Dr. Greene said I was four or five weeks.

So—sometime in May? Shit.

Elliot hands me a glass of champagne.

Oh. Shit.

Christian emerges from his study, looking ashen, and follows his parents into the great room. His eyes widen when he sees the glass in my hand.

“Kate,” he greets her coolly.

“Christian.” She is equally cool. I sigh.

“Your meds, Mrs. Grey.” He eyes the glass in my hand.

I narrow my eyes. Dammit. I want a drink. Grace smiles as she joins me in the kitchen, collecting a glass from Elliot on the way.

“A sip will be fine,” she whispers with a conspiratorial wink at me, and lifts her glass to clink mine. Christian scowls at both of us, until Elliot distracts him with news of the latest match between the Mariners and the Rangers.

Carrick joins us, putting his arms around us both, and Grace kisses his cheek before joining Mia on the sofa.

“How is he?” I whisper to Carrick as he and I stand in the kitchen watching the family lounge on the sofa. I note with surprise that Mia and Ethan are holding hands.

“Shaken,” Carrick murmurs to me, his brow furrowing, his face serious. “He remembers so much of his life with his birth mother; many things I wish he didn’t. But this—” He stops. “I hope we’ve helped. I’m glad he called us. He said you told him to.” Carrick’s gaze softens. I shrug and take a hasty sip of champagne.

“You’re very good for him. He doesn’t listen to anyone else.”

I frown. I don’t think that’s true. The unwelcome specter of the Bitch Troll looms large in my mind. I know Christian talks to Grace, too. I heard him. Again I feel a moment’s frustration as I try to fathom their conversation in the hospital, but it still eludes me.

“Come and sit down, Ana. You look tired. I’m sure you weren’t expecting all of us here this evening.”

“It’s great to see everyone.” I smile. Because it’s true, it is great. I’m an only child who has married into a large and gregarious family, and I love it. I snuggle up next to Christian.

“One sip,” he hisses at me and takes my glass from my hand.

“Yes, Sir.” I bat my lashes, disarming him completely. He puts his arm around my shoulders and returns to his baseball conversation with Elliot and Ethan.

“My parents think you walk on water,” Christian mutters as he drags off his Tshirt.

I’m curled up in bed watching the floorshow. “Good thing you know differently.” I snort.

“Oh, I don’t know.” He slips out of his jeans.

“Did they fill in the gaps for you?”

“Some. I lived with the Colliers for two months while Mom and Dad waited for the paperwork. They were already approved for adoption because of Elliot, but the wait’s required by law to see if I had any living relatives who wanted to claim me.”

“How do you feel about that?” I whisper.

He frowns. “About having no living relatives? Fuck that. If they were anything like the crack whore . . .” He shakes his head in disgust.

Oh, Christian! You were a child, and you loved your mom.

He slides on his pajamas, climbs into bed, and gently pulls me into his arms.

“It’s coming back to me. I remember the food. Mrs. Collier could cook. And at least we know now why that fucker is so hung up on my family.” He runs his free hand through his hair. “Fuck!” he says suddenly turning to gape at me.

“What?”

“It makes sense now!” His eyes are full of recognizance.

“What?”

“Baby Bird. Mrs. Collier used to call me Baby Bird.”

I frown. “That makes sense?”

“The note,” he says gazing at me. “The ransom note that fucker left. It went something like ‘Do you know who I am? Because I know who you are, Baby Bird.’ “

This makes no sense to me at all.

“It’s from a kid’s book. Christ. The Colliers had it. It was called . . . ‘Are You My Mother?’ Shit.” His eyes widen. “I loved that book.”

Oh. I know that book. My heart lurches— Fifty!

“Mrs. Collier used to read it to me.”

I am at a loss what to say.

“Christ. He knew . . . that fucker knew.”

“Will you tell the police?”

“Yes. I will. Christ knows what Clark will do with that information.” Christian shakes his head as if trying to clear his thoughts. “Anyway, thank you for this evening.”

Whoa. Gear change. “For what?”

“Catering for my family at a moment’s notice.”

“Don’t thank me, thank Mia and Mrs. Jones. She keeps the pantry well stocked.”

He shakes his head as if in exasperation. At me? Why?

“How are you feeling, Mrs. Grey?”

“Good. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine.” He frowns . . . not understanding my concern.

Oh . . . in that case. I trail my fingers down his stomach to his oh-so-happy trail.

He laughs and grabs my hand. “Oh no. Don’t get any ideas.”

I pout, and he sighs. “Ana, Ana, Ana, what am I going to do with you?” He kisses my hair.

“I have some ideas.” I squirm beside him and wince as pain radiates through my upper body from my bruised ribs.

“Baby, you’ve been through enough. Besides, I have a bedtime story for you.”

Oh?

“You wanted to know . . .” He trails off, closes his eyes and swallows.

All of the hair on my body stands on end . Shit.

He begins in a soft voice. “Picture this, an adolescent boy looking to earn some extra money so he can continue his secret drinking habit.” He shifts onto his side so that we’re lying facing each other and he’s gazing into my eyes.

“So I was in the backyard at the Lincolns’, clearing some rubble and trash from the extension Mr. Lincoln had just added to their place . . .”

Holy fuck . . . he’s talking.

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