I can barely breathe. Do I want to hear this? Christian closes his eyes and swallows. When he opens them again, they are bright but diffident, full of disquieting memories.
“It was a hot summer day. I was working hard.” He snorts and shakes his head, suddenly amused. “It was backbreaking work shifting that rubble. I was on my own, and Ele—Mrs. Lincoln appeared out of nowhere and brought me some lemonade. We exchanged small talk, and I made some smart-ass remark . . . and she slapped me. She slapped me so hard.” Unconsciously, his hand moves to his face and he caresses his cheek, his eyes clouding at the memory. Holy shit!
“But then she kissed me. And when she finished, she slapped me again.” He blinks, seemingly still confounded even after all this time.
“I’d never been kissed before or hit like that.”
Oh. She pounced. On a kid.
“Do you want to hear this?” Christians asks.
Yes . . . No . . .
“Only if you want to tell me.” My voice is small as I lie facing him, my mind reeling.
“I’m trying to give you some context.”
I nod in what I hope is an encouraging manner. But I suspect I may look like a statue, frozen and wide-eyed with shock.
He frowns, his eyes searching mine, trying to gauge my reaction. Then he turns onto his back and stares up at the ceiling.
“Well, naturally, I was confused and angry and horny as hell. I mean, a hot older woman comes on to you like that—” He shakes his head as if he still can’t believe it.
Hot? I feel queasy.
“She went back into the house, leaving me in the backyard. She acted as if nothing had happened. I was at a total loss. So I went back to work, loading the rubble into the dumpster. When I left that evening, she asked me to come back the next day. She didn’t mention what had happened. So the next day I went back. I couldn’t wait to see her again,” he whispers as if it’s a dark confession . . . because frankly it is.
“She didn’t touch me when she kissed me,” he murmurs and turns his head to gaze at me. “You have to understand . . . my life was hell on earth. I was a walking hard-on, fifteen years old, tall for my age, hormones raging. The girls at school—” He stops, but I’ve got the picture: a scared, lonely, but attractive adolescent. My heart twists.
“I was angry, so fucking angry at everyone, at myself, my folks. I had no friends. My therapist at the time was a total asshole. My folks, they kept me on a tight leash; they didn’t understand.” He stares back up at the ceiling and runs a hand through his hair. I itch to run my fingers through his hair, too, but I stay still.
“I just couldn’t bear anyone to touch me. I couldn’t. Couldn’t bear anyone near me. I used to fight . . . fuck, did I fight. I got into some god-awful brawls. I was expelled from a couple of schools. But it was a way to let off steam. To tolerate some kind of physical contact.” He stops again. “Well, you get the idea.
And when she kissed me, she only grabbed my face. She didn’t touch me.” His voice is barely audible.
She must have known. Perhaps Grace had told her. Oh, my poor Fifty. I have to fold my hands beneath my pillow and rest my head on it in order to resist the urge to hold him.
“Well, the next day I went back to the house, not knowing what to expect.
And I’ll spare you the gory details, but there was more of the same. And that’s how our relationship started.”
Oh, fuck, this is painful to hear.
He shifts again onto his side so he’s facing me.
“And you know something, Ana? My world came into focus. Sharp and clear.
Everything. It was exactly what I needed. She was a breath of fresh air. Making the decisions, taking all that shit away from me, letting me breathe.”
“And even when it was over, my world stayed in focus because of her. And it stayed that way until I met you.”
What the hell am I supposed to say to that? Tentatively, he smoothes a stray lock of my hair behind my ear.
“You turned my world on its head.” He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, they are raw. “My world was ordered, calm and controlled, then you came into my life with your smart mouth, your innocence, your beauty, and your quiet temerity . . . and everything before you was just dull, empty, mediocre . . . it was nothing.”
“I fell in love,” he whispers.
I stop breathing. He caresses my cheek.
“So did I,” I murmur with the little breath I have left.
His eyes soften. “I know,” he mouths.
Hallelujah! I smile shyly at him. “Finally,” I whisper.
He nods. “And it’s put everything into perspective for me. When I was younger, Elena was the center of my world. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for her. And she did a lot for me. She stopped my drinking. Made me work hard at school . . . You know, she gave me a coping mechanism I hadn’t had before, allowed me to experience things that I never thought I could.”
“Touch,” I whisper.
He nods. “After a fashion.”
I frown, wondering what he means.
He hesitates at my reaction.
Tell me! I will him.
“If you grow up with a wholly negative self-image, thinking you’re some kind of reject, an unlovable savage, you think you deserve to be beaten.”
Christian . . . you are none of those things.
He pauses and runs his hand through his hair. “Ana, it’s much easier to wear your pain on the outside . . .” Again, it’s a confession.
“She channeled my anger.” His mouth presses together in a bleak line.
“Mostly inward—I realize that now. Dr. Flynn’s been on and on about this for some time. It was only recently that I saw our relationship for what it was. You know . . . on my birthday.”
I shudder as the unwelcome memory of Elena and Christian verbally eviscer-ating each other at Christian’s birthday party surfaces unwelcome in my mind.
“For her that side of our relationship was about sex and control and a lonely woman finding some kind of comfort with her boy toy.”
“But you like control,” I whisper.
“Yes. I do. I always will, Ana. It’s who I am. I surrendered it for a brief while. Let someone make all my decisions for me. I couldn’t do it myself—I wasn’t in a fit state. But through my submission to her, I found myself and found the strength to take charge of my life . . . take control and make my own decisions.”
“Become a Dom?”
“Dropping out of Harvard?”
“My decision, and it was the best decision I ever made. Until I met you.”
“Yes.” His lips quirk up in a soft smile. “The best decision I ever made was marrying you.”
Oh my. “Not starting your company?”
He shakes his head.
“Not learning to fly?”
He shakes his head. “You,” he mouths. He caresses my cheek with his knuckles. “She knew,” he whispers.
I frown. “She knew what?”
“That I was head over heels in love with you. She encouraged me to go down to Georgia to see you, and I’m glad she did. She thought you’d freak out and leave. Which you did.”
I pale. I’d rather not think about that.
“She thought I needed all the trappings of the lifestyle I enjoyed.”
“The Dom?” I whisper.
He nods. “It enabled me to keep everyone at arm’s length, gave me control, and kept me detached, or so I thought. I’m sure you’ve worked out why,” he adds softly.
“Your birth mom?”
“I didn’t want to be hurt again. And then you left me.” His words are barely audible. “And I was a mess.”
“I’ve avoided intimacy for so long—I don’t know how to do this.”
“You’re doing fine,” I murmur. I trace his lips with my index finger. He purses them into a kiss. You’re talking to me.
“Do you miss it?” I whisper.
“Yes, I do.”
“But only insofar as I miss the control it brings. And frankly, your stupid stunt”—he stops—”that saved my sister,” he whispers, his words full of relief, awe, and disbelief. “That’s how I know.”
“Really know that you love me.”
I frown. “You do?”
“Yes. Because you risked so much . . . for me, for my family.”
My frown deepens. He reaches over and traces his finger over the middle of my brow above my nose.
“You have a V here when you frown,” he murmurs. “It’s very soft to kiss. I can behave so badly . . . and yet you’re still here.”
“Why are you surprised I’m still here? I told you I wasn’t going to leave you.”
“Because of the way that I behaved when you told me you were pregnant.”
He runs his finger down my cheek. “You were right. I am an adolescent.”
Oh shit . . . I did say that. My subconscious glares at me. His doctor said that!
“Christian, I said some awful things.” He puts his index finger over my lips.
“Hush. I deserved to hear them. Besides this is my bedtime story.” He rolls onto his back again.
“When you told me you were pregnant—” He stops. “I’d thought it would be just you and me for a while. I’d considered children, but only in the abstract. I had this vague idea we’d have a child sometime in the future.”
Just one? No . . . Not an only child. Not like me. Perhaps now’s not the best time to bring that up.
“You are still so young, and I know you’re quietly ambitious.”
“Well, you pulled the rug from under me. Christ, was that unexpected. Never in a million years, when I asked you what was wrong, did I expect you to be pregnant.” He sighs. “I was so mad. Mad at you. Mad at myself. Mad at everyone.
And it took me back, that feeling of nothing being in my control. I had to get out.
I went to see Flynn, but he was at some school parents’ evening.” Christian pauses and arches an eyebrow.
“Ironic,” I whisper. Christian smirks in agreement.
“So I walked and walked and walked, and I just . . . found myself at the salon. Elena was leaving. She was surprised to see me. And, truth be told, I was surprised to find myself there. She could tell I was mad and asked me if I wanted a drink.”
Oh shit. We’ve cut to the chase. My heart doubles in speed. Do I really want to know this? My subconscious glares at me, a plucked eyebrow raised in warning.
“We went to a quiet bar I know and had a bottle of wine. She apologized for the way she behaved the last time she saw us. She’s hurt that my mom will have nothing to do with her any more—it’s narrowed her social circle—but she understands. We talked about the business, which is doing fine, in spite of the recession . . . I mentioned that you wanted kids.”
I frown. “I thought you let her know I was pregnant.”
He regards me, his face guileless. “No, I didn’t.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that?”
He shrugs. “I never got the chance.”
“Yes, you did.”
“I couldn’t find you the next morning, Ana. And when I did, you were so mad at me . . .”
Oh, yes. “I was.”
“Anyway, at some point in the evening—about halfway through the second bottle—she leaned over to touch me. And I froze,” he whispers, throwing his arm over his eyes.
My scalp tingles. What’s this?
“She saw that I recoiled from her. It shocked both of us.” His voice is low, too low.
Christian look at me! I tug at his arm and he lowers it, turning to gaze into my eyes. Shit. His face is pale, his eyes wide.
“What?” I breathe.
He frowns, and swallows.
Oh . . . what isn’t he telling me? Do I want to know?
“She made a pass at me.” He’s shocked, I can tell.
All the breath is sucked from my body. I feel winded, and I think my heart has stopped. That fucking bitch troll!
“It was a moment, suspended in time. She saw my expression, and she realized how far she’d crossed the line. I said . . . no. I haven’t thought of her like that for years, and besides”—he swallows—”I love you. I told her, I love my wife.”
I gaze at him. I don’t know what to say.
“She backed right off. Apologized again, made it seem like a joke. I mean, she said she’s happy with Isaac and with the business and she doesn’t bear either of us any ill will. She said she missed my friendship, but she could see that my life was with you now. And how awkward that was, given what happened last time we were all in the same room. I couldn’t have agreed with her more. We said our good-byes—our final good-byes. I said I wouldn’t see her again, and she went on her way.”
I swallow, fear gripping my heart. “Did you kiss?”
“No!” he snorts. “I couldn’t bear to be that close to her.”
“I was miserable. I wanted to come home to you. But . . . I knew I’d behaved badly. I stayed and finished the bottle, then started on the bourbon. While I was drinking, I remember you saying to me some time ago, ‘If that was my son . . .’
And I got to thinking about Junior and about how Elena and I started. And it made me feel . . . uncomfortable. I’d never thought of it like that before.”
A memory blossoms in my mind—a whispered conversation from when I was half conscious—Christian’s voice: “But seeing her finally put it all in perspective for me. You know . . . with the child. For the first time I felt . . . What we did . . . it was wrong.” He’d been speaking to Grace.
“Yes. It’s been over since I laid eyes on you. I finally realized it that night and so did she.”
“I’m sorry,” I mutter.
He frowns. “What for?”
“Being so angry the next day.”
He snorts. “Baby, I understand angry.” He pauses then sighs. “You see, Ana, I want you to myself. I don’t want to share you. What we have, I’ve never had before. I want to be the center of your universe, for a while at least.”
Oh, Christian. “You are. That’s not going to change.”
He gives me an indulgent, sad, resigned smile. “Ana,” he whispers. “That’s just not true.”
Tears prick my eyes.
“How can it be?” he murmurs.
“Shit—don’t cry, Ana. Please, don’t cry.” He caresses my face.
“I’m sorry.” My lower lip trembles, and he brushes his thumb over it, soothing me.
“No, Ana, no. Don’t be sorry. You’ll have someone else to love as well. And you’re right. That’s how it should be.”
“Blip will love you, too. You’ll be the center of Blip’s—Junior’s world,” I whisper. “Children love their parents unconditionally, Christian. That’s how they come into the world. Programmed to love. All babies . . . even you. Think about that children’s book you liked when you were small. You still wanted your mom.
You loved her.”
He furrows his brow and withdraws his hand, fisting it against his chin.
“No,” he whispers.
“Yes. You did.” My tears flow freely now. “Of course you did. It wasn’t an option. That’s why you’re so hurt.”
He stares at me, his expression raw.
“That’s why you’re able to love me,” I murmur. “Forgive her. She had her own world of pain to deal with. She was a shitty mother, and you loved her.”
He gazes at me, saying nothing, eyes haunted—by memories I can’t begin to fathom.
Oh, please don’t stop talking.
Eventually he says, “I used to brush her hair. She was pretty.”
“One look at you and no one would doubt that.”
“She was a shitty mother.” His voice is barely audible.
I nod and he closes his eyes. “I’m scared I’ll be a shitty father.”
I stroke his dear face. Oh, my Fifty, Fifty, Fifty. “Christian, do you think for one minute I’d let you be a shitty father?”
He opens his eyes and gazes at me for what feels like an eternity. He smiles as relief slowly illuminates his face. “No, I don’t think you would.” He caresses my face with the back of his knuckles, gazing at me in wonder. “God, you’re strong, Mrs. Grey. I love you so much.” He kisses my forehead. “I didn’t know I could.”
“Oh, Christian,” I whisper, trying to contain my emotions.
“Now, that’s the end of your bedtime story.”
“That’s some bedside story . . . “
He smiles wistfully, but I think he’s relieved. “How’s your head?”
“My head?” Actually, it’s about to explode with all you’ve told me!
“Does it hurt?”
“Good. I think you should sleep now.”
Sleep! How can I sleep after all that?
“Sleep,” he says sternly. “You need it.”
I pout. “I have one question.”
“Oh? What?” He eyes me warily.
“Why have you suddenly become all . . . forthcoming, for want of a better word?”
“You’re telling me all this, when getting information out of you is normally a pretty harrowing and trying experience.”
“You know it is.”
“Why am I being forthcoming? I can’t say. Seeing you practically dead on the cold concrete, maybe. The fact I’m going to be a father. I don’t know. You said you wanted to know, and I don’t want Elena to come between us. She can’t.
She’s the past, and I’ve said that to you so many times.”
“If she hadn’t made a pass at you . . . would you still be friends?”
“That’s more than one question.”
“Sorry. You don’t have to tell me.” I flush. “You’ve already volunteered more than I ever thought you would.”
His gaze softens. “No, I don’t think so, but she’s felt like unfinished business since my birthday. She stepped over the line, and I’m done. Please, believe me.
I’m not going to see her again. You said she’s a hard limit for you. That’s a term I understand,” he says with quiet sincerity.
Okay. I’m going to let this go now. My subconscious sags into her armchair.
“Goodnight, Christian. Thank you for the enlightening bedtime story.” I lean over to kiss him, and our lips touch briefly, but he pulls back when I try to deepen the kiss.
“Don’t,” he whispers. “I am desperate to make love to you.”
“No, you need to rest, and it’s late. Go to sleep.” He switches off the bedside light, plunging us into darkness.
“I love you unconditionally, Christian,” I murmur as I cuddle into his side.
“I know,” he whispers, and I sense his shy smile.
I wake with a start. Light is flooding the room, and Christian is not in bed. I glance at the clock and see it’s seven fifty-three. I take a deep breath and wince as my ribs smart though not as badly as yesterday. I think I could go to work.
Work—Yes. I want to go to work.
It’s Monday, and I spent all of yesterday lounging about in bed. Christian only let me go out briefly to see Ray. Honestly, he’s still such a control freak. I smile fondly. My control freak. He’s been attentive and loving and chatty . . . and hands-off since I arrived home. I scowl. I am going to have to do something about this. My head doesn’t hurt, the pain around my ribs has eased—though, admittedly, laughing has to be undertaken with caution—but I’m frustrated. I think this is the longest I’ve gone without sex since . . . well, since the first time.
I think we’ve both recovered our equilibrium. Christian is much more relaxed; his long bedtime story seems to have laid some ghosts to rest, for him and for me. We’ll see.
I shower quickly, and once I’m dry, I browse carefully through my clothes. I want something sexy. Something that might galvanize Christian into action. Who would have thought such an insatiable man could actually exercise so much self-control? I don’t really want to dwell on how Christian learned such discipline over his body. We haven’t spoken of the Bitch Troll once since his confessional. I hope we never do. To me she’s dead and buried.
I choose an almost indecently short black skirt and a white silk blouse with a frill. I slide on thigh-highs with lacy tops and my black Louboutin pumps. A little mascara and lip gloss for a natural look, and after a ferocious brushing, I leave my hair loose. Yes. This should do it.
Christian is eating at the breakfast bar. His forkful of omelet stops in midair when he sees me. He frowns.
“Good morning, Mrs. Grey. Going somewhere?”
“Work.” I smile sweetly.
“I don’t think so.” Christian snorts with amused derision. “Dr. Singh said a week off.”
“Christian, I am not spending the day lounging in bed on my own. So I may as well go to work. Good morning, Gail.”
“Mrs. Grey.” Mrs. Jones tries to hide a smile. “Would you like some breakfast?”
“I’d prefer scrambled eggs with whole wheat toast.”
Mrs. Jones grins and Christian registers his surprise.
“Very good, Mrs. Grey,” Mrs. Jones says.
“Ana, you are not going to work.”
“No. It’s simple. Don’t argue.” Christian is adamant. I glare at him, and only then do I notice that he’s in the same pajama bottoms and T-shirt he was wearing last night.
“Are you going to work?” I ask.
Am I going crazy? “It is Monday, right?”
He smiles. “Last time I looked.”
I narrow my eyes. “Are you playing hooky?”
“I’m not leaving you here on your own to get into trouble. And Dr. Singh said it would be a week before you could go back to work. Remember?”
I slide onto a bar stool beside him and hoist my skirt up a little. Mrs. Jones places a cup of tea in front of me.”You look good,” Christian says. I cross my legs. “Very good. Especially here.” He traces a finger over the bare flesh that shows above my thigh-highs. My pulse quickens as his finger runs across my skin. “This skirt is very short,” he murmurs, vague disapproval in his voice as his eyes follow his finger.
“Is it? I hadn’t noticed.”
Christian gazes at me, mouth twisted in an amused yet exasperated smirk.
“Really, Mrs. Grey?”
“I’m not sure this look is suitable for the workplace,” he murmurs.
“Well, since I’m not going to work, that’s a moot point.”
“Moot,” I mouth.
Christian smirks again and resumes eating his omelet. “I have a better idea.”
He glances at me through long lashes, gray eyes darkening. I inhale sharply.
Oh, my. About time.
“We can go see how Elliot’s getting on with the house.”
What? Oh! Tease! I vaguely remember we were supposed to do that before Ray was injured.
“I’d love to.”
“Good.” He grins.
“Don’t you have to work?”
“No. Ros is back from Taiwan. That all went well. Today, everything’s fine.”
“I thought you were going to Taiwan.”
He snorts again. “Ana, you were in the hospital.”
“Yeah—oh. So today I’m spending some quality time with my wife.” He smacks his lips together as he takes a sip of coffee.
“Quality time?” I can’t disguise the hope in my voice.
Mrs. Jones places my scrambled eggs in front of me, again failing to hide her smile.
Christian smirks. “Quality time.” He nods.
I am too hungry to flirt anymore with my husband.
“It’s good to see you eat,” he murmurs. Rising, he leans over and kisses my hair. “I’m going to shower.”
“Um . . . can I come and scrub your back?” I mumble through a mouth full of toast and scrambled egg.
Leaving the breakfast bar, he tugs his T-shirt over his head, treating me to the sight of his finely sculptured shoulders and naked back as he saunters out of the great room. I stop mid-chew. He’s doing this on purpose. Why?
Christian is relaxed on the drive north. We’ve just left Ray and Mr. Rodriguez watching soccer on the new flat-screen television that I suspect Christian has bought for Ray’s hospital room.
Christian has been laid back ever since “the talk.” It’s as if a weight has been lifted; Mrs. Robinson’s shadow no longer looms so large over us, maybe because I’ve decided to let it go—or because he has, I don’t know. But I feel closer to him now than I ever have before. Perhaps because he’s finally confided in me. I hope he continues to do so. And he’s more accepting of the baby, too. He hasn’t gone out and bought a crib yet, but I have high hopes.
I gaze at him, drinking him in as he drives. He looks casual, cool . . . sexy with his tousled hair, Ray-Bans, pinstripe jacket, white linen shirt, and jeans.
He glances at me and clasps my leg above the knee, his fingers stroking gently. “I’m glad you didn’t change.”
I did slip on a denim jacket and change to flats, but I’m still wearing the short skirt. His hand lingers above my knee. I put my hand on his.
“Are you going to continue to tease me?”
“Maybe.” Christian smiles.
“Because I can.” He grins, boyish as ever.
“Two can play at that game,” I whisper.
His fingers move tantalizingly up my thigh. “Bring it on, Mrs. Grey.” His grin broadens.
I pick up his hand and put it back on his knee. “Well, you can keep your hands to yourself.”
He smirks. “As you wish, Mrs. Grey.”
Dammit. This game is going to backfire on me.
Christian turns into the driveway of our new house. He stops at the keypad and punches in a number, and the ornate white metal gates swing open. We roar up the tree-lined lane under leaves that are a blend of green, yellow, and burnished copper. The tall grass in the meadow is turning gold, but there are still a few yellow wildflowers dotted among the grass. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, and the salty tang of the Sound is in the air mixed with the scent of the coming fall.
This is such a tranquil and beautiful place. And to think we’re going to make our home here.
The lane curves around, and our house comes into view. Several large trucks, sides emblazoned with GREY CONSTRUCTION, are parked out front. The house is decked in scaffolding, and several workmen in hard hats are busy on the roof.
Christian pulls up outside the portico and switches off the engine. I can sense his excitement.
“Let’s go find Elliot.”
“Is he here?”
“I hope so. I’m paying him enough.”
I snort, and Christian grins as we get out of the car.
“Yo, Bro!” Elliot shouts from somewhere. We both glance around.
“Up here!” He’s up on the roof, waving down at us and beaming from ear to ear. “About time we saw you here. Stay where you are. I’ll be right down.”
I glance at Christian, who shrugs. A few minutes later, Elliot appears at the front door.
“Hey, bro.” He shakes Christian’s hand. “And how are you, little lady?” He picks me up and swings me around.
“Better, thanks,” I giggle breathlessly, my ribs protesting. Christian frowns at him, but Elliot ignores him.
“Let’s head over to the site office. You’ll need one of these.” He taps his hard hat.
The house is a shell. The floors are covered in a hard fibrous material that looks like burlap; some of the original walls have disappeared and new ones have taken their place. Elliot leads us through, explaining what’s happening, while men—and a few women—work everywhere around us. I’m relieved to see the stone staircase with its intricate iron balustrade is still in place and draped completely in white dustsheets.
In the main living area, the back wall has been removed to make way for Gia’s glass wall, and work is beginning on the terrace. In spite of the mess, the view is still stunning. The new work is sympathetic and in keeping with the old-world charm of the house . . . Gia’s done well. Elliot patiently explains the processes and gives us a rough timeframe for each. He’s hoping we can be in by Christmas, although Christian thinks this is optimistic.
Holy cow—Christmas overlooking the Sound. I can’t wait. A bubble of excitement blooms inside me. I have visions of us trimming an enormous tree while a copper-haired little boy looks on in wonder.
Elliot finishes our tour in the kitchen. “I’ll leave you two to roam. Be careful.
This is a building site.”
“Sure. Thanks, Elliot,” Christian murmurs, taking my hand. “Happy?” he asks once Elliot has left us alone. I am gazing at this empty shell of a room and wondering where I will hang the pepper pictures that we bought in France.
“Very. I love it. You?”
“Ditto.” He grins.
“Good. I was thinking of the pepper pictures in here.”
Christian nods. “I want to put up José’s portraits of you in this house. You need to decide where they should go.”
I blush. “Somewhere I won’t see them often.”
“Don’t be like that.” He scolds me, brushing his thumb across my bottom lip.
“They’re my favorite pictures. I love the one in my office.”
“I have no idea why,” I murmur and kiss the pad of his thumb.
“Worse things to do than look at your beautiful smiling face all day.
Hungry?” he asks.
“Hungry for what?” I whisper.
He smirks, his eyes darkening. Hope and desire unfurl in my veins.
“Food, Mrs. Grey.” And he plants a swift kiss on my lips.
I give him my faux pout and sigh. “Yes. These days I’m always hungry.”
“The three of us can have a picnic.”
“Three of us? Is someone joining us?”
Christian cocks his head to one side. “In about seven or eight months.”
Oh . . . Blip. I grin goofily at him.
“I thought you might like to eat al fresco.”
“In the meadow?” I ask.
“Sure.” I grin.
“This will be a great place to raise a family,” he murmurs, gazing down at me.
Family! More than one? Dare I mention this now?
He spreads his fingers over my belly. Holy shit. I hold my breath and place my hand over his.
“It’s hard to believe,” he whispers, and for the first time I hear wonder in his voice.
“I know. Oh—here, I have evidence. A picture.”
“You do? Baby’s first smile?”
I pull out the ultrasound of Blip from my wallet.
Christian examines it closely, staring for several seconds. “Oh . . . Blip.
Yeah, I see.” He sounds distracted, awed.
“Your child,” I whisper.
“Our child.” He counters.
“First of many.”
“Many?” Christian’s eyes widen with alarm.
“At least two.”
“Two?” He tests the word. “Can we just take this one child at a time?”
I grin. “Sure.”
We head back outside into the warm fall afternoon.
“When are you going to tell your folks?” Christian asks.
“Soon,” I murmur. “I thought about telling Ray this morning, but Mr. Rodriguez was there.” I shrug.
Christian nods and opens the hood of the R8. Inside are a wicker picnic basket and the tartan blanket we bought in London.
“Come,” he says, taking the basket and blanket in one hand and holding the other out to me. Together we walk into the meadow.
“Sure, Ros, go for it.” Christian hangs up. That’s the third call he’s taken during our picnic. He’s kicked off his shoes and socks, and is watching me, arms on his raised knees. His jacket lies discarded on top of mine, as we’re warm in the sun. I lie beside him, stretched out on the picnic blanket, both of us surrounded by tall golden and green grass far from the noise at the house and hidden from the prying eyes of the construction workers. We are in our own bucolic haven. He feeds me another strawberry, and I chew and suck it gratefully, gazing at his darkening eyes.
“Tasty?” he whispers.
“Of strawberries, yes.”
His eyes glitter dangerously, and he grins. “Mrs. Jones packs a mighty fine picnic,” he says.
“That she does,” I whisper.
Shifting suddenly, he lies down so his head is resting on my belly. He closes his eyes and seems content. I tangle my fingers in his hair.
He sighs heavily, then scowls and checks the number on the screen of his buzzing BlackBerry. He rolls his eyes and takes the call.
“Welch,” he snaps. He tenses, listens for a second or two, then suddenly bolts upright.
“24-7 . . . Thanks,” he says through gritted teeth and hangs up. The change in his mood is instant. Gone is my teasing, flirtatious husband, replaced by a cold, calculating master of the universe. He narrows his eyes for a moment then gives me a cool, chilling smile. A shiver runs down my back. He picks up his BlackBerry and presses a speed dial.
“Ros, how much stock do we own in Lincoln Timber?” He kneels up.
My scalp prickles. Oh no, what’s this?
“So, consolidate the shares into GEH, then fire the board . . . except the CEO . . . I don’t give a fuck . . . I hear you, just do it . . . thank you . . . keep me informed.” He hangs up, and gazes at me impassively for a moment.
Holy shit! Christian is mad.
“Linc,” he murmurs.
“Linc? Elena’s ex?”
“The same. He’s the one who posted Hyde’s bail.”
I gape at Christian in shock. His mouth is pressed in a hard line.
“Well—he’ll look like an idiot,” I murmur, dismayed. “I mean, Hyde com-mitted another crime while out on bail.”
Christian’s eyes narrow and he smirks. “Fair point well made, Mrs. Grey.”
“What did you just do?” I kneel, facing him.
“I fucked him over.”
Oh! “Um . . . that seems a little impulsive,” I murmur.
“I’m an in-the-moment kind of guy.”
“I’m aware of that.”
His eyes narrow and his lips thin. “I’ve had this plan in my back pocket for a while,” he says dryly.
I frown. “Oh?”
He pauses, seeming to weigh something in his mind, then takes a deep breath.
“Several years back, when I was twenty-one, Linc beat his wife to a pulp. He broke her jaw, her left arm, and four of her ribs because she was fucking me.” His eyes harden. “And now I learn he posted bail for a man who tried to kill me, kidnapped my sister, and fractured my wife’s skull. I’ve had enough. I think it’s payback time.”
I blanch. Holy shit. “Fair point well made, Mr. Grey,” I whisper.
“Ana, this is what I do. I’m not usually motivated by revenge, but I cannot let him get away with this. What he did to Elena . . . well, she should have pressed charges, but she didn’t. That was her prerogative.
“But he’s seriously crossed the line with Hyde. Linc’s made this personal by going after my family. I’m going to crush him, break up his company right under his nose, and sell the pieces to the highest bidder. I am going to bankrupt him.”
Oh . . .
“Besides.” Christian smirks. “We’ll make good money out of the deal.”
I stare into blazing gray eyes that soften suddenly.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he whispers.
“You didn’t,” I lie.
He arches a brow, amused.
“You just took me by surprise,” I whisper, then swallow. Christian is really quite scary sometimes.
He brushes his lips against mine. “I will do anything to keep you safe. Keep my family safe. Keep this little one safe,” he murmurs and splays his hand out over my belly in a gentle caress.
Oh . . . I stop breathing. Christian gazes down at me, his eyes darkening. His lips part as he inhales and, in a deliberate move, the tips of his fingers brush against my sex.
Holy shit. Desire detonates like an incendiary device igniting my bloodstream. I grasp his head, my fingers weaving into his hair, and tug hard so my lips find his. He gasps, surprised by my assault, giving my tongue free passage into his mouth. He groans and kisses me back, his lips and tongue hungry for mine, and for a moment we consume each other, lost in tongues and lips and breaths and sweet, sweet sensation as we rediscover each other.
Oh, I want this man. It’s been too long. I want him here, now, in the open air, in our meadow.
“Ana,” he breathes, entranced, and his hand skims over my backside to the hem of my skirt. I scramble to unbutton his shirt, all fingers and thumbs.
“Whoa, Ana—stop.” He pulls back, his jaw clenched, and grabs my hands.
“No.” My teeth clamp gently around his lower lip and I tug. “No,” I murmur again, gazing at him. I release him. “I want you.”
He inhales sharply. He’s torn, his indecision writ large in luminous gray eyes.
“Please, I need you.” Every pore of my being is begging. This is what we do.
He groans in defeat as his mouth finds mine, molding my lips to his. One hand cradles my head while the other skims down my body to my waist, and he eases me onto my back and stretches out beside me, never breaking contact with my mouth.
He pulls back, hovering over me and gazing down. “You are so beautiful, Mrs. Grey.”
I caress his lovely face. “So are you, Mr. Grey. Inside and out.”
He frowns, and my fingers trace the furrow in his brow.
“Don’t frown. You are to me, even when you’re angry,” I whisper.
He groans once more, and his mouth captures mine, pushing me into the soft grass beneath the blanket.
“I’ve missed you,” he whispers, and his teeth graze my jaw. My heart soars.
“I’ve missed you, too. Oh, Christian.” I fist one hand in his hair and clutch his shoulder with the other.
His lips move to my throat, leaving tender kisses in their wake, and his fingers follow, deftly undoing each button of my blouse. Tugging my blouse apart, he kisses the soft swell of my breasts. He murmurs appreciatively, low in his throat, and the sound echoes through my body to my deep dark places.
“Your body’s changing,” he whispers. His thumb teases my nipple until it’s erect and straining against my bra. “I like,” he adds. I watch his tongue taste and trace the line between my bra and my breast, tantalizing and teasing me. Taking my bra cup delicately between his teeth, he pulls it down, freeing my breast and nuzzling my nipple with his nose in the process. It puckers at his touch and from the chill of the gentle fall breeze. His lips close around me, and he sucks long and hard.
“Ah!” I groan, inhaling sharply then wincing as pain radiates outward from my bruised ribs.
“Ana!” Christian exclaims and glares down at me, concern etched on his face. “This is what I’m talking about,” he admonishes. “Your lack of self-preser-vation. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“No . . . don’t stop,” I whimper. He stares at me, warring with himself.
“Here.” Abruptly he moves, and I’m sitting astride him, my short skirt now bunched up around my hips. His hands glide over the top of my thigh-highs.
“There. That’s better, and I can enjoy the view.” He reaches up and hooks his long index finger into my other bra cup, freeing that breast, too. He grasps both of my breasts, and I throw my head back, pushing them into his welcome, expert hands. He teases me, tugging and rolling my nipples until I cry out, then sits up so we’re nose to nose, his greedy gray eyes on mine. He kisses me, his fingers still teasing me. I scramble for his shirt, undoing the first two buttons, and it’s like sensory overload—I want to be kissing him everywhere, undressing him, making love with him all at once.
“Hey—” He gently grasps my head and pulls back, eyes dark and full of sensual promise. “There’s no rush. Take it slow. I want to savor you.”
“Christian, it’s been so long.” I’m panting.
“Slow,” he whispers, and it’s a command. He kisses the right corner of my mouth. “Slow.” He kisses the left corner. “Slow, baby.” He tugs my bottom lip with his teeth. “Let’s take this slow.” He unfurls his fingers in my hair, keeping me in place as his tongue invades my mouth, seeking, tasting, calming . . . inflam-ing. Oh, my man can kiss.
I caress his face, my fingers moving tentatively down to his chin then to his throat, and I start again on the buttons of his shirt, taking my time, as he continues to kiss me. Slowly I pull his shirt apart, my fingers trailing over his clavicles, feeling their way across his warm, silky skin. I push him gently back until he’s lying beneath me. Sitting up, I gaze down at him, aware that I’m squirming against his growing erection. Hmm. I trace my fingers across his lips to his jaw then down his neck, over his Adam’s apple to that little dip at the base of his throat. My beautiful man. I lean down, and my kisses follow the tips of my fingers. My teeth graze his jaw and kiss his throat. He closes his eyes.
“Ah.” He groans and tilts his head back, giving me easier access to the base of his throat, his mouth slack and open in silent veneration. Christian lost and aroused is just so exhilarating . . . and so arousing to me.
My tongue trails down his sternum, twirling through his chest hair. Hmm. He tastes so good. He smells so good. Intoxicating. I kiss first one, then two of his small round scars, and he grasps my hips, so my fingers halt on his chest as I gaze down at him. His breathing is harsh.
“You want this? Here?” he breathes, his eyes hooded with a heady combination of love and lust.
“Yes,” I murmur, and my lips and tongue graze across his chest to his nipple.
I pull and roll it gently with my teeth.
“Oh, Ana,” he whispers and circling my waist he lifts me, tugging at his button and fly so he springs free. He sits me down again, and I push against him, delighting in the feel of him hot and hard beneath me. He runs his hands up my thighs, pausing where my thigh-highs stop and my flesh begins, his hands running small teasing circles at the top of my thighs so that the tips of his thumbs touch me . . . touch me where I want to be touched. I gasp.
“I hope you’re not attached to your underwear,” he murmurs, his eyes wild and bright. His fingers trace the elastic along my belly then slide inside, teasing me, before grabbing my panties tightly and pushing his thumbs through the delicate material. My panties disintegrate. His hands splay out on my thighs, and his thumbs brush against my sex once more. He flexes his hips so his erection rubs against me.
“I can feel how wet you are.” His voice is tinged with carnal appreciation, and he suddenly sits up, his arm around my waist again, so we’re nose to nose. He rubs his nose against mine.
“We’re going to take this slow, Mrs. Grey. I want to feel all of you.” He lifts me, and with exquisite, frustrating, slow ease, lowers me onto him. I feel each blessed inch of him fill me.
“Ah—” I moan incoherently as I reach out to clasp his arms. I try to lift myself off him for some welcome friction, but he holds me in place.
“All of me,” he whispers and tilts his pelvis, pushing himself into me all the way. I throw my head back and let out a strangled cry of pure pleasure.
“Let me hear you,” he murmurs. “No—don’t move, just feel.”
I open my eyes, my mouth frozen in a silent Ah! And he’s gazing at me, hooded, licentious gray eyes into dazed blue. He shifts, rolling his hips, but holds me in place.
I groan. His lips are at my throat, kissing me.
“This is my favorite place. Buried in you,” he murmurs against my skin.
“Please, move,” I plead.
“Slow, Mrs. Grey.” He flexes his hips again and pleasure radiates through me. I cup his face and kiss him, consuming him.
“Love me. Please, Christian.”
His teeth skim my jaw up to my ear. “Go,” he whispers, and he lifts me up and down. My inner goddess is unleashed, and I push him down on the ground and start to move, savoring the feeling of him inside me . . . riding him . . . riding him hard. With his hands around my waist he matches my rhythm. I have missed this . . . the heady feeling of him beneath me, inside me . . . the sun on my back, the sweet smell of fall in the air, the gentle autumnal breeze. It’s a heady fusion of senses: touch, taste, smell, and the sight of my beloved husband beneath me.
“Oh, Ana.” He groans, eyes closed, head back, mouth open.
Ah . . . I love this. And inside, I’m building . . . building . . . climbing . . .
higher. Christian’s hands move to my thighs, and delicately his thumbs press at their apex, and I explode around him over and over and over and over, and I collapse, sprawled on his chest as he cries out in turn, letting go and calling out my name with love and joy.
He cuddles me against his chest, cradling my head. Hmm. Closing my eyes, I savor the feel of his arms around me. My hand is on his chest, feeling the steady beat of his heart as it slows and calms. I kiss and nuzzle him, and marvel briefly that not long ago he would not have let me do this.
“Better?” he whispers. I raise my head. He’s grinning broadly.
“Much. You?” My answering grin reflects his.
“I’ve missed you, Mrs. Grey.” He’s serious for a moment.
“No more heroics, eh?”
“No,” I promise.
“You should always talk to me,” he whispers.
“Back at you, Grey.”
He smirks. “Fair point well made. I’ll try.” He kisses my hair.
“I think we’re going to be happy here,” I whisper, closing my eyes again.
“Yep. You, me and . . . Blip. How do you feel, incidentally?”
“Fine. Relaxed. Happy.”
“Yeah, all those things,” he murmurs.
I look up at him, trying to gauge his expression.
“What?” he asks.
“You know, you’re very bossy when we have sex.”
“Are you complaining?”
“No. I’m just wondering . . . you said you missed it.”
He stills, gazing at me. “Sometimes,” he whispers.
Oh. “Well, we’ll have to see what we can do about that,” I murmur and kiss him lightly on his lips, curling around him like a vine. Images of us together, in the playroom; the Tallis, the table, on the cross, shackled to the bed . . . I love his kinky fuckery—our kinky fuckery. Yes. I can do that stuff. I can do that for him, with him. I can do that for me. My skin tingles as I remember the riding crop.
“I like to play, too,” I murmur, and glancing up, I’m treated to his shy smile.
“You know, I’d really like to test your limits,” he whispers.
“My limits for what?”
“Oh, I think I’d like that.” My inner goddess drops into a dead faint.
“Well, maybe when we get home,” he whispers, leaving that promise hanging between us.
I nuzzle him once more. I love him so.
It’s been two days since our picnic. Two days since the promise of well, maybe when we get home was made. Christian is still treating me like I’m made of glass.
He still won’t let me go to work, so I have been working from home. I put the stack of query letters I’ve been reading aside on my desk and sigh. Christian and I haven’t been back in the playroom since I safe worded. And he’s said he misses it.
Well, so do I . . . especially now that he wants to explore my limits. I flush, thinking what that could possibly entail. I glance at the billiard table . . . Yes I can’t wait to explore those.
My thoughts are interrupted by soft, lyrical music that fills the apartment.
Christian is playing the piano; not one of his usual laments but a sweet melody, a hopeful melody—one that I recognize, but have never heard him play.
I tiptoe to the archway of the great room and watch Christian at the piano. It’s dusk. The sky is an opulent pink, and the light is reflected off his burnished copper hair. He looks his beautiful breathtaking self, concentrating as he plays, un-aware of my presence. He’s been so forthcoming over the last few days, so attentive—offering small insights into his day, his thoughts, his plans. It’s as if he’s breached a dam and started talking.
I know he’ll come to check on me in a few minutes, and it gives me an idea.
Excited, I steal away, hoping that he still hasn’t noticed me, and race to our room, stripping off my clothes as I go, until I’m wearing nothing but pale blue lace panties. I find a pale blue camisole and slip into it quickly. It will hide my bruise.
Diving into the closet, I pull out Christian’s faded jeans—his playroom jeans, my favorite jeans—from the drawer. From my bedside table I pick up my BlackBerry, fold the jeans neatly, and kneel by the bedroom door. The door is ajar, and I can hear the strains of another piece, one I don’t know. But it’s another hopeful tune; it’s lovely. Quickly I type an email.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: My Husband’s Pleasure
Date: September 21, 2011 20:45
To: Christian Grey
I await your instructions.
Mrs. G x
I press send.
A few moments later the music stops abruptly. My heart lurches and starts pounding. I wait and wait and eventually my BlackBerry buzzes.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: My Husband’s Pleasure <— love this title baby Date: September 21, 2011 20:48
To: Anastasia Grey
I’m intrigued. I’ll come find you.
Anticipative CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Be ready! My heart starts to pound and I begin to count. Thirty-seven seconds later the door opens. I’m looking down at his bare feet as they pause on the threshold. Hmm. He says nothing. For ages he says nothing. Oh shit. I resist the urge to look up at him and keep my eyes downcast.
Finally, he reaches down and picks up his jeans. He stays silent but heads in-to the walk-in closet while I remain stock-still. Oh my . . . this is it. My heart is thundering, and I relish the rush of adrenaline that spikes through my body. I squirm as my excitement builds. What will he do to me? A few moments later he’s back, wearing the jeans.
“So you want to play?” he murmurs.
He says nothing, and I risk a quick glance . . . up his jeans, his denim clad thighs, the soft bulge at his fly, the open button at the waist, his happy trail, his navel, his chiseled abdomen, his chest hair, his gray eyes blazing, and his head cocked to one side. He’s arching an eyebrow. Oh shit.
“Yes what?” he whispers.
His eyes soften. “Good girl,” he murmurs, and he caresses my head. “I think we’d better get you upstairs now,” he adds. My insides liquefy, and my belly clenches in that delicious way.
He takes my hand and I follow him through the apartment and up the stairs.
Outside the playroom door, he halts and bends and kisses me gently before grasping my hair hard.
“You know, you’re topping from the bottom,” he murmurs against my lips.
“What?” I don’t understand what he’s talking about.
“Don’t worry. I’ll live with it,” he whispers, amused, and he runs his nose along my jaw and gently bites my ear. “Once inside, kneel, like I’ve shown you.”
“Yes . . . Sir.”
He gazes down at me, eyes shining with love, wonder, and wicked thoughts.
Jeez . . . Life is never going to be boring with Christian, and I’m in this for the long haul. I love this man: my husband, my lover, father of my child, my sometimes Dominant . . . my Fifty Shades.