I gaze in horror at the red marks all over my breasts. Hickeys! I have hickeys! I am married to one of the most respected businessmen in the United States, and he’s given me goddamn hickeys. How did I not feel him doing this to me? I flush.
The fact is I know exactly why—Mr. Orgasmic was using his fine-motor sexing skills on me.
My subconscious peers over her half-moon specs and tuts disapprovingly, while my inner goddess slumbers on her chaise longue, out for the count. I gape at my reflection. My wrists have a red welt around them from the handcuffs. No doubt they’ll bruise. I examine my ankles—more welts. Holy hell, I look like I’ve been in some sort of accident. I gaze at myself, trying to absorb how I look. My body is so different these days. It’s changed subtly since I’ve known him . . . I’ve become leaner and fitter, and my hair is glossy and well cut. My nails are manicured, my feet pedicured, my eyebrows threaded and beautifully shaped. For the first time in my life, I’m well groomed—except for these hideous love bites.
I don’t want to think about grooming at the moment. I’m too mad. How dare he mark me like this, like some teenager. In the short time we’ve been together, he’s never given me hickeys. I look like hell. I know why he’s done this. Damn control freak. Right! My subconscious folds her arms beneath her small bosom—he’s gone too far this time. I stalk out of the en suite bathroom and into the walk-in closet, carefully avoiding even a glance in his direction. Slipping out of my robe, I pull on my sweatpants and a camisole. I undo the braid, pick up a hairbrush from the small vanity unit, and brush out my tangles.
“Anastasia,” Christian calls and I hear his anxiety. “Are you okay?”
I ignore him. Am I okay? No, I am not okay. After what he’s done to me, I doubt I’ll be able to wear a swimsuit, let alone one of my ridiculously expensive bikinis, for the rest of our honeymoon. The thought is suddenly so infuriating.
How dare he? I’ll give him are you okay. I seethe as fury spikes through me. I can behave like an adolescent, too! Stepping back into the bedroom, I hurl the hairbrush at him, turn, and leave—though not before I see his shocked expression and his lightning reaction as he raises his arm to protect his head so that the brush bounces ineffectively off his forearm and onto the bed.
I storm out of our cabin, bolt upstairs and out on deck, fleeing toward the bow. I need some space to calm down. It’s dark and the air is balmy. The warm breeze carries the smell of the Mediterranean and the scent of jasmine and bou-gainvillea from the shore. The Fair Lady glides effortlessly through the calm co-balt sea as I rest my elbows on the wooden railing, gazing at the distant shore where tiny lights wink and twinkle. I take a deep, healing breath and slowly begin to calm. I’m aware of him behind me before I hear him.
“You’re mad at me,” he whispers.
“No shit, Sherlock!”
“Scale of one to ten, I think I’m at fifty. Apt, huh?”
“That mad.” He sounds surprised and impressed at once.
“Yes. Pushed to violence mad,” I say through gritted teeth.
He stays silent as I turn and scowl at him, watching me with wide and wary eyes. I know from his expression and because he’s made no move to touch me that he’s out of his depth.
“Christian, you have to stop unilaterally trying to bring me to heel. You made your point on the beach. Very effectively, as I recall.”
He shrugs minutely. “Well, you won’t take your top off again,” he murmurs petulantly.
And this justifies what he’s done to me? I glare at him. “I don’t like you leaving marks on me. Well, not this many, anyway. It’s a hard limit!” I hiss at him.
“I don’t like you taking your clothes off in public. That’s a hard limit for me,” he growls.
“I think we’ve established that,” I hiss through my teeth. “Look at me!” I pull down my camisole to reveal the top of my breasts. Christian gazes at me, his eyes not leaving my face his expression wary and uncertain. He’s not used to seeing me this mad. Can’t he see what he’s done? Can’t he see how ridiculous he is? I want to shout at him, but I refrain—I don’t want to push him too far. Heaven knows what he’d do. Eventually, he sighs and holds his palms up in a resigned, conciliatory gesture.
“Okay,” he says his voice placating. “I get it.”
He runs his hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad at me.”
Finally, he looks contrite—using my own words back at me.
“You are such an adolescent sometimes,” I scold him, mulishly, but the fight has gone out of my voice, and he knows it. He steps closer and tentatively raises his hand to tuck my hair behind my ear.
“I know,” he acknowledges softly. “I have a lot to learn.”
Dr. Flynn’s words come back to me . . . Emotionally, Christian is an adolescent, Ana. He bypassed that phase in his life totally. He’s channeled all his energies into succeeding in the business world, and he has beyond all expectations.
His emotional world has to play catch-up.
My heart thaws a little.
“We both do.” I sigh and cautiously raise my hand, placing it over his heart.
He doesn’t flinch like he used to, but he stiffens. He rests his hand over mine and smiles his shy smile.
“I’ve just learned that you’ve a good arm and a good aim, Mrs. Grey. I would never have figured that, but then I constantly underestimate you. You always surprise me.”
I arch my eyebrow at him. “Target practice with Ray. I can throw and shoot straight, Mr. Grey, and you’d do well to remember that.”
“I will endeavor to do that, Mrs. Grey, or ensure that all potential projectile objects are nailed down and that you don’t have access to a gun.” He smirks.
I smirk back, narrowing my eyes. “I’m resourceful.”
“That you are,” he whispers and releases my hand to circle his arms around me. Pulling me into an embrace, he buries his nose in my hair. I wrap my arms around him, holding him close, and feel the tension leave his body as he nuzzles me.
“Am I forgiven?”
I feel his smile. “Yes,” he answers.
We stand holding each other, my pique forgotten. He does smell good, adolescent or not. How can I resist him?
“Hungry?” he says after a while. I have my eyes closed and my head against his chest.
“Yes. Famished. All the . . . er . . . activity has given me an appetite. But I’m not dressed for dinner.” I’m sure my sweatpants and camisole would be frowned upon in the dining room.
“You look good to me, Anastasia. Besides, it’s our boat for the week. We can dress how we like. Think of it as dress down Tuesday on the Cote D’Azur. Anyway, I thought we’d eat on deck.”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
He kisses me—an earnest forgive-me kiss—then we wander hand in hand toward the bow where our gazpacho soup awaits.
The steward serves our crème brulée and discreetly retires.
“Why do you always braid my hair?” I ask Christian out of curiosity. We’re sitting adjacent to each other at the table, my lower leg curled around his. He pauses as he’s about to pick up his dessertspoon and frowns.
“I don’t want your hair catching in anything,” he says quietly and for a moment, he’s lost in thought. “Habit, I think,” he muses. Suddenly he frowns and his eyes widen, his pupils dilating with alarm.
Holy shit! What’s he remembered? It’s something painful, some early childhood memory, I guess. I don’t want to remind him of that. Leaning over, I put my index finger over his lips.
“No, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know. I was just curious.” I give him a warm, reassuring smile. His look is wary, but after a moment he visibly relaxes, his relief evident. I lean over to kiss the corner of his mouth.
“I love you,” I murmur, and he smiles his heart-achingly shy smile, and I melt. “I will always love you, Christian.”
“And I you,” he says softly.
“In spite of my disobedience?” I raise my eyebrow.
“Because of your disobedience, Anastasia.” He grins.
I crack my spoon through the burnt sugar crust of my dessert and shake my head. Will I ever understand this man? Hmm—this crème brulée is delicious.
Once the steward has cleared our dessert plates, Christian reaches for the bottle of rosé and refills my glass. I check that we’re alone and ask, “What’s with the no going to the bathroom thing?”
“You really want to know?” He half smiles, his eyes alight with a salacious gleam.
“Do I?” I gaze at him through my lashes as I take a sip of my wine.
“The fuller your bladder, the more intense your orgasm, Ana.”
I blush. “Oh. I see.” Holy cow, that explains a lot.
He grins, looking far too knowing. Will I always be on the back foot with Mr.
“Yes. Well . . .” I desperately hunt around for a change of subject. He takes pity on me.
“What do you want to do for the rest of the evening?” He cocks his head to one side and gives me his lopsided grin.
Whatever you want, Christian. Put your theory to the test again? I shrug.
“I know what I want to do,” he murmurs. Grabbing his glass of wine, he rises and holds his hand out to me. “Come.”
I take his hand and he leads me into the main salon.
His iPod is in the speaker dock on the dresser. He switches it on and selects a song.
“Dance with me.” He pulls me into his arms.
“If you insist.”
“I insist, Mrs. Grey.”
A slinky, cheesy melody starts. Is this a Latin rhythm? Christian grins down at me and starts to move, sweeping me off my feet and taking me with him round the salon.
A man with a voice like warm melted caramel croons. It’s a song I know but can’t place. Christian dips me low, and I yelp in surprise and giggle. He smiles, his eyes filled with humor. Then he scoops me up and spins me under his arm.
“You dance so well,” I say. “It’s like I can dance.”
He gives me a sphinxlike smile but says nothing, and I wonder if it’s because he’s thinking of her . . . Mrs. Robinson, the woman who taught him how to dance—and how to fuck. She hasn’t crossed my mind for a while. Christian has not mentioned her since his birthday, and as far as I’m aware, their business relationship is over. Reluctantly though, I have to admit—she was some teacher.
He dips me low again and plants a swift kiss on my lips.
“I’d miss your love,” I murmur, echoing the lyrics.
“I’d more than miss your love,” he says and spins me once more. Then he sings the words softly in my ear making me swoon.
The track ends and Christian gazes down at me, his eyes dark and luminous, all humor gone, and I’m suddenly breathless.
“Come to bed with me?” he whispers and it’s a heartfelt plea that tugs at my heart.
Christian, you had me at I do —two and half weeks ago. But I know this is his way of apologizing and making sure all is well between us after our spat.
When I wake, the sun is shining through the portholes and the water reflects shimmering patterns onto the cabin ceiling. Christian is nowhere to be seen. I stretch out and smile. Hmm . . . I’ll take a punishment fuck followed by makeup sex any day. I marvel what it is to go to bed with two different men—angry Christian and sweet let-me-make-it-up-to-you-in-any-way-I-can Christian. It’s tricky to decide which of them I like the best.
I rise and head for the bathroom. Opening the door, I find Christian inside shaving, naked except for a towel wrapped around his waist. He turns and beams, not fazed that I am interrupting him. I have discovered that Christian will never lock the door if he is the only person in the room—the reason why is sobering, and not one I want to dwell on.
“Good morning, Mrs. Grey,” he says, radiating his good mood.
“Good morning yourself.” I grin back as I watch him shave. I love watching him shave. He pulls up his chin and shaves beneath it, taking long deliberate strokes, and I find myself unconsciously mirroring his actions. Pulling my upper lip down just as he does, to shave his philtrum. He turns and smirks at me, one half of his face still covered in shaving soap.
“Enjoying the show?” he asks.
Oh, Christian, I could watch you for hours. “One of my all-time favorites,” I murmur, and he leans down and kisses me quickly, smearing shaving soap on my face.
“Shall I do this to you again?” he whispers wickedly and holds up the razor.
I purse my lips at him. “No,” I mutter, pretending to sulk. “I’ll wax next time.” I remember Christian’s joy in London when he’d discovered that during his one meeting there, I’d shaved off my pubic hair out of curiosity. Of course I hadn’t done it to Mr. Exacting’s high standards . . .
“What the hell have you done?” Christian exclaims. He cannot keep his horrified amusement to himself. He sits up in bed in our suite at Browns Hotel near Picca-dilly, switches on the bedside light and gazes down at me, his mouth a startled O.
It must be midnight. I blush the color of the sheets in the playroom and try to pull down my satin nightdress so he can’t see. He grabs my hand to stop me.
“I—err . . . shaved.”
“I can see that. Why?” He’s grinning from ear to ear.
I cover my face with my hands. Why am I so embarrassed?
“Hey,” he says softly and pulls my hand away. “Don’t hide.” He’s biting his lip so that he won’t laugh. “Tell me. Why?” His eyes dance with merriment. Why does he find this so funny?
“Stop laughing at me.”
“I’m not laughing at you. I’m sorry. I’m . . . delighted,” he says.
“Oh . . .”
“Tell me. Why?”
I take a deep breath. “This morning, after you left for your meeting, I took a shower and was remembering all your rules.”
He blinks. The humor in his expression has vanished, and he regards me cautiously.
“And I was ticking them off one by one and how I felt about them, and I remembered the beauty salon, and I thought . . . this is what you’d like. I wasn’t brave enough to get a wax.” My voice disappears into a whisper.
He stares at me, his eyes glowing—this time not with mirth at my folly, but with love.
“Oh, Ana,” he breathes. He leans down and kisses me tenderly. “You beguile me,” he whispers against my lips and kisses me once more, clasping my face in both his hands.
After a breathless moment, he pulls back and leans up on one elbow. The humor is back.
“I think I should do a thorough inspection of your handiwork, Mrs. Grey.”
“What? No.” He has to be kidding! I cover myself, protecting my recently de-forested area.
“Oh, no you don’t, Anastasia.” He grasps my hands and pries them away, moving nimbly so he’s between my legs and pinning my hands to my sides. He gives me a scorching look that could light dry tinder, but before I combust, he bends and skims his lips down my naked belly directly to my sex. I squirm beneath him, reluctantly resigned to my fate.
“Well, what have we here?” Christian plants a kiss where, until this morning, I had pubic hair—then scrapes his bristly chin across me.
“Ah!” I exclaim. Wow . . . that’s sensitive.
Christian’s eyes dart to mine, full of salacious longing. “I think you missed a bit,” he mutters and tugs gently, right underneath.
“Oh . . . Damn,” I mutter, hoping this will put an end to his frankly intrusive scrutiny.
“I have an idea.” He leaps naked out of bed and heads to the bathroom.
What on earth is he doing? He returns moments later, carrying a glass of water, a mug, my razor, his shaving brush, soap, and a towel. He puts the water, brush, soap, and razor on the bedside table and gazes down at me, holding the towel.
Oh no! My subconscious slams down her Complete Works of Charles Dickens, leaps up from her armchair, and puts her hands on her hips.
“No. No. No,” I squeak.
“Mrs. Grey, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Lift your hips.” His eyes glow summer storm gray.
“Christian! You are not shaving me.”
He tilts his head to one side. “Why ever not?”
I flush . . . isn’t it obvious? “Because . . . It’s just too . . .”
“Intimate?” he whispers. “Ana, I crave intimacy with you—you know that.
Besides, after some of the things we’ve done, don’t get all squeamish on me now.
And, I know this part of your body better than you do.”
I gape at him. Of all the arrogant . . . true, he does—but still. “It’s just wrong!” My voice is prissy and whiney.
“This isn’t wrong—this is hot.”
Hot? Really? “This turns you on?” I can’t keep the astonishment out of my voice.
He snorts. “Can’t you tell?” He glances down at his arousal. “I want to shave you,” he whispers
Oh, what the hell. I lie back, throwing my arm over my face so I don’t have to watch.
“If it makes you happy, Christian, go ahead. You are so kinky,” I mutter, as I lift my hips, and he slips the towel beneath me. He kisses my inner thigh.
“Oh, baby, how right you are.”
I hear the slosh of water as he dips the shaving brush in the glass of water, then the soft swirl of the brush in the mug. He grasps my left ankle and parts my legs, and the bed dips as he sits between my legs. “I’d really like to tie you up right now,” he murmurs.
“I promise to keep still.”
I gasp as he runs the lathered brush over my pubic bone. It’s warm. The water in the glass must be hot. I squirm a little. It tickles . . . but in a good way.
“Don’t move,” Christian admonishes and applies the brush again. “Or I will tie you down,” he adds darkly, and a delicious shiver runs down my spine.
“Have you done this before?” I ask tentatively when he reaches for the razor.
“Oh. Good.” I grin.
“Another first, Mrs. Grey.”
“Hmm. I like firsts.”
“Me, too. Here goes.” And with a gentleness that surprises me, he runs the razor over my sensitive flesh. “Keep still,” he says distractedly, and I know he’s concentrating hard.
It only takes a matter of minutes before he grabs the towel and wipes all the excess lather off me.
“There—that’s more like it,” he muses, and I finally lift my arm to look at him as he sits back to admire his handiwork.
“Happy?” I ask, my voice hoarse.
“Very.” He grins wickedly and slowly eases a finger inside me.
“But that was fun,” he says his eyes gently mocking.
“For you maybe.” I try to pout—but he’s right . . . it was . . . arousing.
“I seem to recall the aftermath was very satisfying.” Christian returns to finishing his shave. I glance quickly down at my fingers. Yes, it was. I had no idea that the absence of pubic hair could make such a difference.
“Hey, I’m just teasing. Isn’t that what husbands who are hopelessly in love with their wives do?” Christian tips my chin up and gazes at me, his eyes suddenly filled with apprehension as he endeavors to read my expression.
Hmm . . . payback time.
“Sit,” I mutter.
He stares, not understanding. I push him gently toward the lone white stool in the bathroom. Perplexed, he sits down, and I take the razor from him.
“Ana,” he warns as he realizes my intention. I lean down and kiss him.
“Head back,” I whisper.
“Tit for tat, Mr. Grey.”
He stares at me with wary, amused disbelief. “You know what you’re doing?” he asks, his voice low. I shake my head slowly, deliberately, trying to look as serious as possible. He closes his eyes and shakes his head then tilts his head back in surrender.
Holy shit, he’s going to let me shave him. My inner goddess flexes and stretches her arms outward, her fingers interlocked, palms out, limbering up. Tentatively I slide my hand into the damp hair at his forehead, gripping tightly to hold him still. He clenches his eyes closed and parts his lips as he inhales. Very gently, I stroke his razor up from his neck to his chin, revealing a path of skin beneath the lather. Christian exhales.
“Did you think I was going to hurt you?”
“I never know what you’re going to do, Ana, but no—not intentionally.”
I run the razor up his neck again, clearing a wider path in the lather.
“I would never intentionally hurt you, Christian.”
He opens his eyes and circles his arms around me as I gently drag the razor down his cheek from the bottom of his sideburn.
“I know,” he says, angling his face so I can shave the rest of his cheek. Two more strokes and I’ve finished.
“All done, and not a drop of blood spilled.” I grin proudly.
He runs his hand up my leg so that my nightdress rides up my thigh and pulls me on to his lap so that I’m astride him. I steady myself with my hands on his upper arms. He’s really very muscular.
“Can I take you somewhere today?”
“No sunbathing?” I arch a caustic brow at him.
He licks his lips nervously. “No. No sunbathing today. I thought you might prefer something else.”
“Well, since you’ve covered me in hickeys and effectively put the kibosh on that, sure, why not?”
Wisely he chooses to ignore my tone. “It’s a drive, but it’s worth a visit from what I’ve read. My dad recommended we visit. It’s a hilltop village called Saint Paul de Vence. There are some galleries there. I thought we could pick out some paintings or sculptures for the new house, if we find anything we like.”
Holy crap. I lean back and gaze at him. Art . . . he wants to buy art. How can I buy art?
“What?” he asks.
“I know nothing about art, Christian.”
He shrugs and smiles at me indulgently. “We’ll only buy what we like. This isn’t about investment.”
“What?” he says again.
I shake my head.
“Look, I know we only got the architect’s drawings the other day—but there’s no harm in looking, and the town is an ancient, medieval place.”
Oh, the architect. He had to remind me of her . . . Gia Matteo, a friend of Elliot’s who worked on Christian’s place in Aspen. During our meetings, she’d been all over Christian like a rash.
“What now?” Christian exclaims. I shake my head. “Tell me,” he urges.
How can I tell him that I don’t like Gia? My dislike is irrational. I don’t want to come across as the jealous wife.
“You’re not still mad about what I did yesterday?” He sighs and nuzzles his face between my breasts.
“No. I’m hungry,” I mutter, knowing full well that this will distract him from this line of questioning.
“Why didn’t you say?” He eases me off his lap and stands.
Saint Paul de Vence is a medieval, fortified, hilltop village, one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. I stroll arm in arm with Christian through the narrow cobblestone streets with my hand in the back pocket of his shorts. Taylor and either Gaston or Philippe—I can’t tell the difference between them—trail behind us. We pass a tree-covered square where three old men, one wearing a tradi-tional beret in spite of the heat, are playing boules. It’s quite crowded with tourists, but I feel comfortable tucked under Christian’s arm. There is so much to see—little alleys and passageways leading to courtyards with intricate stone foun-tains, ancient and modern sculptures, and fascinating little boutiques and shops.
In the first gallery, Christian gazes distractedly at the erotic photographs in front of us, sucking gently on the arm of his aviator specs. They are the work of Florence D’elle—naked women in various poses.
“Not quite what I had in mind,” I mumble disapprovingly. They make me think of the box of photographs I found in his closet, our closet. I wonder if he ever did destroy them.
“Me neither,” Christian says, grinning down at me. He takes my hand, and we stroll to the next artist. Idly, I wonder if I should let him take photos of me.
My inner goddess nods frantically with approval.
The next display is by a female painter who specializes in figurative art—fruit and vegetables super close up and in rich, glorious color.
“I like those.” I point to three paintings of peppers. “They remind me of you chopping vegetables in my apartment.” I giggle. Christian’s mouth twists as he tries and fails to hide his amusement.
“I thought I managed that quite competently,” he mutters. “I was just a bit slow, and anyway”—he pulls me into an embrace—”you were distracting me.
Where would you put them?”
Christian is nuzzling my ear. “The paintings—where would you put them?”
He bites my earlobe and I feel it in my groin.
“Kitchen,” I murmur.
“Hmm. Nice idea, Mrs. Grey.”
I squint at the price. Five thousand euros each. Holy shit!
“They’re really expensive!” I gasp.
“So?” He nuzzles me again. “Get used to it, Ana.” He releases me and saunters over to the desk where a young woman dressed entirely in white is gaping at him. I want to roll my eyes, but turn my attention back to the paintings.
Five thousand euros . . . jeez.
We have finished lunch and are relaxing over coffee at the Hotel Le Saint Paul. The view of the surrounding countryside is stunning. Vineyards and fields of sunflowers form a patchwork across the plain, interspersed here and there with neat little French farmhouses. It’s such a clear, beautiful day we can see all the way to the sea, glinting faintly on the horizon. Christian interrupts my reverie.
“You asked me why I braid your hair,” he murmurs. His tone alarms me. He looks . . . guilty.
“Yes.” Oh, shit.
“The crack whore used to let me play with her hair, I think. I don’t know if it’s a memory or a dream.”
Whoa! His birth mom.
He gazes at me, his expression unreadable. My heart leaps into my mouth.
What do I say when he says things like this?
“I like you playing with my hair.” My voice is hesitant.
He regards me with uncertainty. “Do you?”
“Yes.” It’s the truth. I grasp his hand. “I think you loved your birth mother, Christian.” His eyes widen and he stares at me impassively, saying nothing.
Holy shit. Have I gone too far? Say something, Fifty—please. But he remains resolutely mute, gazing at me with fathomless gray eyes while the silence stretches between us. He looks lost.
He glances down at my hand on his and he frowns.
“Say something,” I whisper, because I cannot bear the silence any longer.
He shakes his head, exhaling deeply.
“Let’s go.” He releases my hand and stands. His expression guarded. Have I overstepped the mark? I have no idea. My heart sinks and I don’t know whether to say anything else or just let it go. I decide on the latter and follow him dutifully out of the restaurant.
In the lovely narrow street, he takes my hand.
“Where do you want to go?”
He speaks! And he’s not mad at me—thank heavens. I exhale, relieved, and shrug. “I am just glad you’re still speaking to me.”
“You know I don’t like talking about all that shit. It’s done. Finished,” he says quietly .
No, Christian, it isn’t. The thought saddens me, and for the first time I wonder if it will ever be finished. He’ll always be Fifty Shades . . . my Fifty Shades.
Do I want him to change? No, not really—only insofar as I want him to feel loved. Peeking up at him, I take a moment to admire his captivating beauty . . .
and he’s mine. And it’s not just the allure of his fine, fine face and his body that has me spellbound. It’s what’s behind the perfection that draws me, that calls to me . . . his fragile, damaged soul.
He gives me that look, down his nose, half amused, half wary, wholly sexy then tucks me under his arm, and we make our way through the tourists toward the spot where Philippe/Gaston has parked the roomy Mercedes. I slip my hand back into the back pocket of Christian’s shorts, grateful that he isn’t mad. But, honestly, what four-year-old child doesn’t love his mom, no matter how bad a mom she is? I sigh heavily and hug him closer. I know behind us the security team lurks, and I wonder idly if they’ve eaten.
Christian stops outside a small boutique selling fine jewelry and gazes in the window, then down at me. He grasps my free hand and runs his thumb across the faded red line of the handcuff mark, inspecting it.
“It’s not sore.” I reassure him. He twists so that my other hand is freed from his pocket. He clasps that hand, too, turning it gently over to examine my wrist.
The platinum Omega watch he gave me at breakfast on our first morning in London obscures the red line. The inscription still makes me swoon.
You are my More
My Love, My Life
In spite of everything, all his Fiftyness, my husband can be so romantic. I gaze down at the faint marks on my wrist. Then again, he can be savage sometimes.
Releasing my left hand, he tilts my chin up with his fingers and scrutinizes my expression, his eyes troubled.
“They don’t hurt,” I repeat. He pulls my hand to his lips and plants a soft apologetic kiss on the inside of my wrist.
“Come,” he says and leads me into the shop.
“Here,” Christian holds open the platinum bracelet he’s just purchased. It’s exquisite, so delicately crafted, the filigree in the shape of small abstract flowers with small diamonds at their heart. He fastens it around my wrist. It’s wide and cuff-like and hides the red marks. It also cost around thirty thousand euros, I think, though I couldn’t really follow the conversation in French with the sales assistant. I have never worn anything so expensive.
“There, that’s better,” he murmurs.
“Better?” I whisper, gazing into luminous gray eyes, conscious that the stick-thin sales assistant is staring at us with a jealous and disapproving look.
“You know why,” Christian says uncertainly.
“I don’t need this.” I shake my wrist and the cuff moves. It catches the afternoon light streaming through the boutique window and small sparkling rainbows dance off the diamonds all over the walls of the store.
“I do,” he says with utter sincerity.
Why? Why does he need this? Does he feel guilty? About what? The marks?
His birth mother? Not confiding in me? Oh, Fifty.
“No, Christian, you don’t. You’ve given me so much already. A magical honeymoon, London, Paris, the Cote D’Azur . . . and you. I’m a very lucky girl,” I whisper and his eyes soften.
“No, Anastasia, I’m a very lucky man.”
“Thank you.” Stretching up on tiptoes, I put my arms around his neck and kiss him . . . not for giving me the bracelet but for being mine.
Back in the car he’s introspective, gazing out at the fields of bright sunflowers, their heads following and basking in the afternoon sun. One of the twins—I think it’s Gaston—is driving and Taylor is beside him up front. Christian is brooding about something. I clasp his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. He glances at me before releasing my hand and caressing my knee. I’m wearing a short, full, blue and white skirt, and a blue, fitted, sleeveless shirt. Christian hesitates, and I don’t know if his hand is going to travel up my thigh or down my leg. I tense with anticipation at the gentle touch of his fingers and my breath catches. What’s he going to do? He chooses down, suddenly grasps my ankle and pulls my foot on to his lap. I swivel my backside so I am facing him in the back of the car.
“I want the other one, too.”
I glance nervously toward Taylor and Gaston, whose eyes are resolutely on the road ahead, and place my other foot on his lap. His eyes cool, he reaches over and presses a button located in his door. In front of us, a lightly tinted privacy screen slides out of a panel, and ten seconds later we are effectively on our own.
Wow . . . no wonder the back of this car has so much legroom.
“I want to look at your ankles,” Christian offers his quiet explanation. His gaze is anxious. The cuff marks? Jeez . . . I thought we’d dealt with this. If there are marks, they are hidden by the sandal straps. I don’t recall seeing any this morning. Gently, he strokes his thumb up my right instep, making me wriggle. A smile plays on his lips and deftly he undoes one strap, and his smile fades as he’s confronted with the darker red marks.
“Doesn’t hurt,” I murmur. He glances at me and his expression is sad, his mouth a thin line. He nods once as if he’s taking me at my word while I shake my sandal loose so it falls to the floor, but I know I’ve lost him. He’s distracted and brooding again, mechanically caressing my foot while he turns away to gaze out the car window once more.
“Hey. What did you expect?” I ask softly. He glances at me and shrugs.
“I didn’t expect to feel like I do looking at these marks,” he says.
Oh! Reticent one minute and forthcoming the next? How . . . Fifty! How can I keep up with him?
“How do you feel?”
Bleak eyes gaze at me. “Uncomfortable,” he murmurs.
Oh, no. I unbuckle my seatbelt and scoot closer to him, leaving my feet in his lap. I want to crawl into his lap and hold him, and I would, if it were just Taylor in the front. But knowing Gaston is there cramps my style despite the glass. If only it were darker. I clutch his hands.
“It’s the hickeys I don’t like,” I whisper. “Everything else . . . what you did”—I lower my voice even further—”with the handcuffs, I enjoyed that. Well, more than enjoyed. It was mind-blowing. You can do that to me again anytime.”
He shifts in his seat. “Mind-blowing?” My inner goddess looks up startled from her Jackie Collins.
“Yes.” I grin. I flex my toes into his hardening crotch and see rather than hear his sharp intake of breath, his lips parting.
“You should really be wearing your seat belt, Mrs. Grey.” His voice is low, and I curl my toes around him once more. He inhales and his eyes darken, and he clasps my ankle in warning. Does he want me stop? Continue? He pauses, scowls then fishes his ever-present BlackBerry out of his pocket to take an incoming call while glancing at his watch. His frown deepens.
“Barney,” he snaps.
Crap. Work interrupting us again. I try to remove my feet, but he tightens his fingers around my ankle.
“In the server room?” he says in disbelief. “Did it activate the fire suppression system?”
Fire! I take my feet off his lap and this time he lets me. I sit back in my seat, buckle my seat belt, and fiddle nervously with the fifteen-thousand-euro bracelet.
Christian presses the button in his door armrest again and the privacy glass slides down.
“Anyone injured? Damage? I see . . . When?” Christian glances at his watch again then runs his hand through his hair. “No. Not the fire department or the police. Not yet anyway.”
Holy crap! A fire? At Christian’s office? I gape at him, my mind racing.
Taylor shifts so he can hear Christian’s conversation.
“Has he? Good . . . Okay. I want a detailed damage report. And a complete rundown of everyone who had access over the last five days, including the cleaning staff . . . Get hold of Andrea and get her to call me . . . Yeah, sounds like the argon is just as effective, worth its weight in gold.”
Damage report? Argon? It rings a distant bell from chemistry class—an element, I think.
“I realize it’s early . . . E-mail me in two hours . . . No, I need to know. Thank you for calling me.” Christian hangs up, then immediately punches a number into the BlackBerry.
“Welch . . . Good . . . When?” Christian glances at his watch yet again. “An hour then . . . yes . . . Twenty-four-seven at the off-site data store . . . good.” He hangs up.
“Philippe, I need to be onboard within the hour.”
Shit, it’s Philippe, not Gaston. The car surges forward.
Christian glances at me, his expression unreadable.
“Anyone hurt?” I ask quietly.
Christian shakes his head. “Very little damage.” He reaches over and clasps my hand, squeezing it reassuringly. “Don’t worry about this. My team is on it.”
And there he is, the CEO, in command, in control and not flustered at all.
“Where was the fire?”
His responses are clipped, so I know he doesn’t want to talk about it.
“Why so little damage?”
“The server room is fitted with a state-of-the-art fire suppression system.”
Of course it is.
“Ana, please . . . don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried,” I lie.
“We don’t know for sure that it was arson,” he says, cutting to the heart of my anxiety. My hand clutches my throat in fear. Charlie Tango and now this?