I’m restless. Christian has been holed up in the onboard study for over an hour. I have tried reading, watching TV, sunbathing—fully dressed sunbathing—but I can’t relax, and I can’t rid myself of this edgy feeling. After changing into shorts and a T-shirt, I remove the ludicrously expensive bangle and go to find Taylor.
“Mrs. Grey,” he says, startled from his Anthony Burgess novel. He’s sitting in the small salon outside Christian’s study.
“I’d like to go shopping.”
“Yes ma’am.” He stands.
“I’d like to take the Jet Ski.”
His mouth drops open. “Erm.” He frowns, lost for words.
“I don’t want to bother Christian with this.”
He represses a sigh. “Mrs. Grey . . . um . . . I don’t think Mr. Grey would be very comfortable with that, and I’d like to keep my job.”
Oh, for heaven’s sake! I want to roll my eyes at him, but I narrow them instead, sighing heavily and expressing, I think, the right amount of frustrated indignation that I am not mistress of my own destiny. Then again, I don’t want Christian mad at Taylor—or me, for that matter. Striding confidently past him, I knock on the study door and enter.
Christian is on his BlackBerry, leaning against the mahogany desk. He glances up. “Andrea, hold please,” he mutters down the phone, his expression serious. His gaze is politely expectant. Shit. Why do I feel like I’ve entered the principal’s office? This man had me in handcuffs yesterday. I refuse to be intimidated by him, he’s my husband damn it. I square my shoulders and give him a broad smile.
“I’m going shopping. I’ll take security with me.”
“Sure, take one of the twins and Taylor, too,” he says, and I know that whatever’s happening is serious because he doesn’t question me further. I stand staring at him, wondering if I can help.
“Anything else?” he asks. He wants me gone. Crap.
“Can I get you anything?” I ask. He smiles his sweet shy smile.
“No, baby, I’m good,” he says. “The crew will look after me.”
“Okay.” I want to kiss him. Hell, I can—he’s my husband. Strolling purpose-fully forward, I plant a kiss on his lips, surprising him.
“Andrea, I’ll call you back,” he mutters. He puts the BlackBerry down on the desk behind him, pulls me into his embrace, and kisses me passionately. I am breathless when he releases me. His eyes are dark and needy.
“You’re distracting me. I need to sort this, so I can get back to my honeymoon.” He runs an index finger down my face and caresses my chin, tilting my face up.
“Okay. I’m sorry.”
“Please don’t apologize, Mrs. Grey. I love your distractions.” He kisses the corner of my mouth.
“Go spend some money.” He releases me.
“Will do.” I smirk at him as I exit his study. My subconscious shakes her head and purses her lips. You didn’t tell him you were going on the Jet Ski, she chastises me in her singsong voice. I ignore her . . . Harpy.
Taylor is patiently waiting.
“That’s all cleared with high command . . . can we go?” I smile, trying to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. Taylor doesn’t hide his admiring smile.
“Mrs. Grey, after you.”
Taylor patiently talks me through the controls on the Jet Ski and how to ride it. He has a calm, gentle authority about him; he’s a good teacher. We are in the motor launch, bobbing and weaving on the calm waters of the harbor beside the Fair Lady. Gaston looks on, his expression hidden by his shades, and one of the Fair Lady’s crew is at the controls of the motor launch. Jeez—three people with me, just because I want to go shopping. It’s ridiculous.
Zipping up my life jacket, I give Taylor a beaming grin. He holds out his hand to assist me as I climb onto the Jet Ski.
“Fasten the strap of the ignition key around your wrist, Mrs. Grey. If you fall off, the engine will cut out automatically,” he explains.
I nod enthusiastically.
“Press the ignition when you’ve drifted about four feet away from the boat.
We’ll follow you.”
He pushes the Jet Ski away from the launch, and it floats gently into the main harbor. When he gives me the okay sign, I press the ignition button and the engine roars into life.
“Okay, Mrs. Grey, easy does it!” Taylor shouts. I squeeze the accelerator.
The Jet Ski lurches forward then stalls. Crap! How does Christian make it look so easy? I try again, and once again, I stall. Double crap!
“Just steady on the gas, Mrs. Grey,” Taylor calls.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I mutter under my breath. I try once more, very gently squeezing the lever, and the Jet Ski lurches forward—but this time it keeps going.
Yes! It goes some more. Ha ha! It still keeps going! I want to shout and squeal in excitement, but I resist. I cruise gently away from the yacht into the main harbor.
Behind me, I hear the throaty roar of the motor launch. When I squeeze the gas further, the Jet Ski leaps forward, skating across the water. With the warm breeze in my hair and a fine sea spray on either side of me, I feel free. This rocks! No wonder Christian never lets me drive.
Rather than head for the shore and curtail the fun, I veer around to do a circuit of the stately Fair Lady. Wow—this is so much fun. I ignore Taylor and the crew behind me and speed around the yacht for a second time. As I complete the circuit, I spot Christian on deck. I think he’s gaping at me, though it’s difficult to tell. Bravely, I lift one hand from the handlebars and wave enthusiastically at him.
He looks like he’s made of stone, but finally he raises his hand in the semblance of a stiff wave. I can’t work out his expression, and something tells me I don’t want to, so I head to the marina, speeding across the blue water of the Mediterranean that shimmers in the late afternoon sun.
At the dock, I wait and let Taylor pull up ahead of me. His expression is bleak, and my heart sinks, though Gaston looks vaguely amused. I wonder briefly if something has happened to chill Gallic-American relations, but deep down I suspect the problem is probably me. Gaston leaps out of the motorboat and ties it to the moorings while Taylor directs me to come alongside. Very gently I ease the Jet Ski into position beside the boat and line up beside him. His expression softens a little.
“Just switch off the ignition, Mrs. Grey,” he says calmly, reaching for the handlebars and holding out a hand to help me into the motorboat. I nimbly climb aboard, impressed that I don’t fall in.
“Mrs. Grey,” Taylor blinks nervously, his cheeks pink once more. “Mr. Grey is not entirely comfortable with you riding on the Jet Ski.” He’s practically squirming with embarrassment, and I realize he’s had an irate call from Christian.
Oh, my poor, pathologically overprotective husband, what am I going to do with you?
I smile serenely at Taylor. “I see. Well, Taylor, Mr. Grey is not here, and if he’s not entirely comfortable, I’m sure he’ll give me the courtesy of telling me himself when I’m back on board.”
Taylor winces. “Very good, Mrs. Grey,” he says quietly, handing me my purse.
As I climb out of the boat, I catch a glimpse of his reluctant smile, and it makes me want to smile, too. I cannot believe how fond I am of Taylor, but I really don’t appreciate being scolded by him—he’s not my father or my husband.
Crap, Christian’s mad—and he has enough to worry about at the moment.
What was I thinking? As I stand on the dock waiting for Taylor to climb up, I feel my BlackBerry vibrate in my purse and fish it out. Sadé’s “Your Love is King” is my ring tone for Christian—only for Christian.
“Hi,” I murmur.
“Hi,” he says.
“I’ll come back on the boat. Don’t be mad.”
I hear his small gasp of surprise. “Um . . .”
“It was fun, though,” I whisper.
He sighs. “Well, far be it for me to curtail your fun, Mrs. Grey. Just be careful. Please.”
Oh my! Permission to have fun! “I will. Anything you want from town?”
“Just you, back in one piece.”
“I’ll do my best to comply, Mr. Grey.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Mrs. Grey.”
“We aim to please,” I respond with a giggle.
I hear his smile in his voice. “I have another call—laters, baby.”
He hangs up. Jet Ski crisis averted, I think. The car is waiting, and Taylor holds the door open for me. I wink at him as I climb in, and he shakes his head in amusement.
In the car, I fire up the e-mail on my BlackBerry.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Thank You
Date: August 17, 2011 16:55
To: Christian Grey
For not being too grouchy.
Your loving wife
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Trying to Stay Calm
Date: August 17, 2011 16:59
To: Anastasia Grey
Come back in one piece.
This is not a request.
CEO & Overprotective Husband, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
His response makes me smile. My control freak.
Why did I want to come shopping? I hate shopping. But deep down I know why, and I walk determinedly past Chanel, Gucci, Dior, and the other designer boutiques and eventually find the antidote to what ails me in a small, overstocked, touristy store. It’s a little silver ankle bracelet with small hearts and little bells. It tinkles sweetly and it costs five euros. As soon as I’ve bought it, I put it on. This is me—this is what I like. Immediately I feel more comfortable. I don’t want to lose touch with the girl who likes this, ever. Deep down I know that I’m not only overwhelmed by Christian himself but also by his wealth. Will I ever get used to it?
Taylor and Gaston follow me dutifully through the late afternoon crowds, and I soon forget they are there. I want to buy something for Christian, something to take his mind off what’s happening in Seattle. But what do I buy for the man who has everything? I pause in a small modern square surrounded by stores and gaze at each one in turn. When I spy an electronics store, our visit to the gallery earlier today and our visit to the Louvre come back to me. We were looking at the Venus de Milo at the time . . . Christian’s words echo in my head, “We can all appreciate the female form. We love to look whether in marble or oils or satin or film.”
It gives me an idea, a daring idea. I just need help choosing the right one, and there’s only one person who can help me. I wrestle my BlackBerry out of my purse and call José.
“Who . . . ?” he mumbles sleepily.
“José, it’s Ana.”
“Ana, hi! Where are you? You okay?” He sounds more alert now, concerned.
“I’m in Cannes in the South of France, and I’m fine.”
“South of France, huh? You in some fancy hotel?”
“Um . . . no. We’re staying on a boat.”
“A big boat.” I clarify, sighing.
“I see.” His tone chills . . . Shit, I should not have called him. I don’t need this right now.
“José, I need your advice.”
“My advice?” He sounds stunned. “Sure,” he says, and this time he’s much more friendly. I tell him my plan.
Two hours later, Taylor helps me out of the motor launch onto the steps up to the deck. Gaston is helping the deckhand with the Jet Ski. Christian is nowhere to be seen, and I scurry down to our cabin to wrap his present, feeling a childish sense of delight.
“You were gone some time.” Christian startles me just as I am applying the last piece of tape. I turn to find him standing in the doorway to the cabin, watching me intently. Holy shit! Am I still in trouble over the Jet Ski? Or is it the fire at his office?
“Everything in control at your office?” I ask tentatively.
“More or less,” he says, an annoyed frown flitting across his face.
“I did a little shopping,” I murmur, hoping to lighten his mood, and praying his annoyance is not directed at me. He smiles warmly, and I know we’re okay.
“What did you buy?”
“This,” I put my foot up on the bed and show him my ankle chain.
“Very nice,” he says. He steps over to me and fondles the tiny bells so that they jingle sweetly around my ankle. He frowns again and runs his fingers lightly along the mark, sending tingles up my leg.
“And this.” I hold out the box, hoping to distract him.
“For me?” he asks in surprise. I nod shyly. He takes the box and shakes it gently. He grins his boyish, dazzling smile and sits down beside me on the bed.
Leaning over, he grasps my chin and kisses me.
“Thank you,” he says with shy delight.
“You haven’t opened it yet.”
“I’ll love it, whatever it is.” He gazes down at me, his eyes glowing. “I don’t get many presents.”
“It’s hard to buy you things. You have everything.”
“I have you.”
“You do.” I grin at him. Oh, you so do, Christian.
He makes short work of the wrapping paper. “A Nikon?” He glances up at me, puzzled.
“I know you have your compact digital camera but this is for . . . um . . . portraits and the like. It comes with two lenses.”
He blinks at me, still not understanding.
“Today in the gallery you liked the Florence D’elle photographs. And I remember what you said in the Louvre. And of course, there were those other photographs.” I swallow, trying my best not to recall the images I found in his closet.
He stops breathing, his eyes widening as realization dawns, and I continue hurriedly before I lose my nerve.
“I thought you might, um . . . like to take pictures of . . . me.”
“Pictures. Of you?” He gapes at me, ignoring the box on his lap.
I nod, desperately trying to gauge his reaction. Finally he gazes back down at the box, his fingers tracing over the illustration of the camera on the front with fascinated reverence.
What is he thinking? Oh, this is not the reaction I was expecting, and my subconscious glares at me like I’m a domesticated farm animal. Christian never reacts the way I expect. He looks back up, his eyes filled with what, pain?
“Why do you think I want this?” he asks, bemused.
No, no, no! You said you’d love it . . .
“Don’t you?” I ask, refusing to acknowledge my subconscious who is questioning why anyone would want erotic photographs of me. Christian swallows and runs a hand through his hair, and he looks so lost, so confused. He takes a deep breath.
“For me, photos like those have usually been an insurance policy, Ana. I know I’ve objectified women for so long,” he says and pauses awkwardly.
“And you think taking pictures of me is . . . um, objectifying me?” All the air leaves my body, and the blood drains from my face.
He scrunches up his eyes. “I am so confused,” he whispers. When he opens his eyes again, they are wide and wary, full of some raw emotion.
Shit. Is it me? My questions earlier about his birth mom? The fire at his office?
“Why do you say that?” I whisper, panic rising in my throat. I thought he was happy. I thought we were happy. I thought I made him happy. I don’t want to confuse him. Do I? My mind starts racing. He hasn’t seen Flynn in nearly three weeks. Is that it? Is that the reason he’s unraveling? Shit, should I call Flynn? And in a possibly unique moment of extraordinary depth and clarity, it comes to me—the fire, Charlie Tango, the Jet Ski . . . He’s scared, he’s scared for me, and seeing these marks on my skin must bring that home. He’s been fussing about them all day, confusing himself because he’s not used to feeling uncomfortable about inflicting pain. The thought chills me.
He shrugs and once more his eyes move down to my wrist where the bangle he bought me this afternoon used to be. Bingo!
“Christian, these don’t matter.” I hold up my wrist, revealing the fading welt.
“You gave me a safe word. Shit—yesterday was fun. I enjoyed it. Stop brooding about it—I like rough sex, I’ve told you that before.” I blush scarlet as I try to quash my rising panic.
He gazes at me intently, and I have no idea what he’s thinking. Maybe he’s measuring my words. I stumble on.
“Is this about the fire? Do you think it’s connected somehow to Charlie Tango? Is this why you’re worried? Talk to me, Christian—please.”
He stares at me, saying nothing and the silence expands between us again as it did this afternoon. Holy fucking crap! He’s not going to talk to me, I know.
“Don’t overthink this Christian,” I scold quietly, and the words echo, disturbing a memory from the recent past—his words to me about his stupid contract. I reach over, take the box from his lap, and open it. He watches me passively as if I’m a fascinating alien creature. Knowing that the camera is prepped by the overly helpful salesman in the store, and ready to go, I fish it out of the box and remove the lens cap. I point the camera at him so his beautiful anxious face fills the frame.
I press the button and keep it pressed, and ten pictures of Christian’s alarmed expression are captured digitally for posterity.
“I’ll objectify you then,” I murmur, pressing the shutter again. On the final still his lips twitch almost imperceptibly. I press again, and this time he smiles . . . a small smile, but a smile nevertheless. I hold down the button once more and see him physically relax in front of me and pout—a full-on, posed, ridiculous, “Blue Steel” pout, and it makes me giggle. Oh, thank heavens. Mr. Mercurial is back—and I’ve never been so pleased to see him.
“I thought it was my present,” he mutters sulkily, but I think he’s teasing.
“Well, it was supposed to be fun, but apparently it’s a symbol of women’s oppression.” I snap away, taking more pictures of him, and watch the amusement grow on his face in super close-up. Then his eyes darken, and his expression changes to predatory.
“You want to be oppressed?” he murmurs silkily.
“Not oppressed. No,” I murmur back, snapping again.
“I could oppress you big time, Mrs. Grey,” he threatens, his voice husky.
“I know you can, Mr. Grey. And you do, frequently.”
His face falls. Shit. I lower the camera and stare at him.
“What’s wrong, Christian?” My voice oozes frustration. Tell me!
He says nothing. Gah! He’s so infuriating. I lift the camera to my eye again.
“Tell me,” I insist.
“Nothing,” he says and abruptly disappears from the viewfinder. In one swift, smooth move, he sweeps the camera box onto the cabin floor, grabs me and pushes me down onto the bed. He sits astride me.
“Hey!” I exclaim and take more photographs of him, smiling down at me with dark intent. He grabs the camera by the lens, and the photographer becomes the subject as he points the Nikon at me and presses the shutter down.
“So, you want me to take pictures of you, Mrs. Grey?” he says, amused. All I can see of his face is his unruly hair and a broad grin on his sculptured mouth.
“Well, for a start, I think you should be laughing,” he says, and he tickles me ruthlessly under my ribs, making me squeal and giggle and squirm beneath him until I grasp his wrist in a vain attempt to make him stop. His grin widens, and he renews his efforts while snapping pictures.
“No! Stop!” I scream.
“Are you kidding?” he growls and puts the camera down beside us so that he can torture me with both hands.
“Christian!” I splutter and gasp my laughing protest. He has never ever tickled me before. Fuck—stop! I thrash my head from side to side, trying to wiggle out from under him, giggling and pushing both of his hands away, but he’s unrelenting—grinning down at me, enjoying my torment.
“Christian, stop!” I plead and he stops suddenly. Grabbing both of my hands, he holds them down on either side of my head while looming over me. I am panting and breathless with laughter. His breathing mirrors mine, and he gazes down at me with . . . what? My lungs stop functioning. Wonder? Love? Reverence?
Holy cow. That look!
“You. Are. So. Beautiful,” he breathes.
I stare up at his dear, dear face bathed in the intensity of his gaze, and it’s as if he’s seeing me for the first time. Leaning down, he closes his eyes and kisses me, enraptured. His response is a wake-up call to my libido . . . seeing him like this, undone, by me. Oh my. He releases my hands and curls his fingers around my head and into my hair, holding me gently in place, and my body rises and fills with my arousal, responding to his kiss. And suddenly the nature of his kiss alters, no longer sweet, reverential and admiring, but carnal, deep and devouring—his tongue invading my mouth, taking not giving, his kiss possessing a desperate needy edge. As desire courses through my blood, awakening every muscle and sinew in its wake, I feel a frisson of alarm.
Oh, Fifty, what’s wrong?
He inhales sharply and groans. “Oh, what you do to me,” he murmurs, lost and raw. He moves suddenly, lying down on top of me, pressing me into the mattress—one hand cupping my chin, the other skimming over my body, my breast, my waist, my hip, and around my behind. He kisses me again, pushing his leg between mine, raising my knee, and grinding against me, his erection straining against our clothes and my sex. I gasp and moan against his lips, losing myself to his fervent passion. I dismiss the distant alarm bells in the back of my mind, knowing that he wants me, that he needs me, and that when it comes to communicating with me, this is his favorite form of self-expression. I kiss him with renewed abandon, running my fingers through his hair, fisting my hands, holding tight. He tastes so good and smells of Christian, my Christian.
Abruptly, he stops, stands up, and pulls me off the bed so that I am standing in front of him, dazed. He undoes the button on my shorts and kneels quickly, yanking them and my panties down, and before I can breathe again, I am back on the bed beneath him and he’s unbuttoning his fly. Holy cow, he’s not taking off his clothes or my T-shirt. He holds my head and with no preamble whatsoever he thrusts himself inside me, making me cry out—more in surprise than anything else—but I can still hear the hiss of his breath forced through his clenched teeth.
“Yessss,” he hisses close to my ear. He stills, then swivels his hips once, pushing deeper, making me groan.
“I need you,” he growls, his voice low and husky. He runs his teeth along my jaw, nipping and sucking, and then he’s kissing me again, hard. I wrap my legs and arms around him, cradling and holding him hard against me, determined to wipe out whatever’s worrying him, and he starts to move . . . move like he’s trying to climb inside me. Over and over, frantic, primal, desperate, and before I lose myself in the insane rhythm and pace he’s setting, I briefly wonder once more what’s driving him, worrying him. But my body takes over, obliterating the thought, climbing and building so I am awash with sensation, meeting him thrust for thrust. Listening to his harsh breathing, labored and fierce at my ear. Knowing that he’s lost in me . . . I groan loudly, panting. It’s so erotic—his need for me. I am reaching . . . reaching . . . and he’s driving me higher, overwhelming me, taking me, and I want this. I want this so much . . . for him and for me.
“Come with me,” he gasps, and he rears up over me so I have to break my hold around him.
“Open your eyes,” he orders. “I need to see you.” His voice is urgent, implacable. My eyes flicker open momentarily, and the sight of him above me—his face taut with ardor, his eyes raw and glowing. His passion and his love is my undoing, and on cue I come, throwing my head back as my body pulses around him.
“Oh, Ana,” he cries and he joins my climax, driving into me, then stilling and collapsing onto me. He rolls over so that I’m sprawled on top of him, and he’s still inside me. As I surface from my orgasm and my body steadies and calms, I want to make some quip about being objectified and oppressed, but hold my tongue, uncertain of his mood. I glance up from Christian’s chest to examine his face. His eyes are closed and his arms are wrapped around me, clinging tight. I kiss his chest through the thin fabric of his linen shirt.
“Tell me, Christian, what’s wrong?” I ask softly and wait anxiously to see if even now, sated by sex, he’ll tell me. I feel his arms tighten around me further, but it’s his only response. He’s not going to talk. Inspiration hits me.
“I give you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health, to stand by your side in good times and in bad, to share your joy as well as your sorrow,” I murmur.
He freezes. His only movement is to open wide his fathomless eyes and gaze at me as I continue my wedding vows.
“I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals and dreams, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, to share my hopes and dreams with you, and bring you solace in times of need.” I pause, willing him to talk to me. He watches me, his lips parted, but says nothing.
“And to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.” I sigh.
“Oh, Ana,” he whispers and moves again, breaking our precious contact so that we’re lying side by side. He strokes my face with the back of his knuckles.
“I solemnly vow that I will safeguard and hold dear and deep in my heart our union and you,” he whispers, his voice hoarse . “I promise to love you faithfully, forsaking all others, through the good times and the bad, in sickness or in health, regardless of where life takes us. I will protect you, trust you, and respect you. I will share your joys and sorrows and comfort you in times of need. I promise to cherish you and uphold your hopes and dreams and keep you safe at my side. All that is mine is now yours. I give you my hand, my heart, and my love from this moment on for as long as we both shall live.”
Tears spring to my eyes. His face softens as he gazes at me.
“Don’t cry,” he murmurs, his thumb catching and dispatching a stray tear.
“Why won’t you talk to me? Please, Christian.”
He closes his eyes as if in pain.
“I vowed I would bring you solace in times of need. Please don’t make me break my vows.”
He sighs and opens his eyes, his expression bleak. “It’s arson,” he says simply, and he looks suddenly so young and vulnerable.
“And my biggest worry is that they are after me. And if they are after me—”
He stops, unable to continue.
“. . . They might get me,” I whisper. He blanches, and I know that I have finally uncovered the root of his anxiety. I caress his face.
“Thank you,” I murmur.
He frowns. “What for?”
“For telling me.”
He shakes his head and a ghost of a smile touches his lips. “You can be very persuasive, Mrs. Grey.”
“And you can brood and internalize all your feelings and worry yourself to death. You’ll probably die of a heart attack before you’re forty, and I want you around far longer than that.”
“Mrs. Grey, you’ll be the death of me. The sight of you on the Jet Ski—I nearly had a coronary.” He flops back on the bed and puts his hand over his eyes, and I feel him shudder.
“Christian, it’s a Jet Ski. Even kids ride Jet Skis. Can you imagine what you’ll be like when we visit your place in Aspen and I go skiing for the first time?”
He gasps and turns to face me, and I want to laugh at the horror on his face.
“Our place,” he says eventually.
I ignore him. “I’m a grown-up, Christian, and much tougher than I look.
When are you going to learn this?”
He shrugs and his mouth thins. I decide to change the subject.
“So, the fire. Do the police know about the arson?”
“Yes.” His expression is serious.
“Security is going to get tighter,” he says matter-of-factly.
“I understand.” I glance down his body. He’s still wearing his shorts and his shirt, and I still have my T-shirt on. Jeez—talk about wham, bam, thank you ma’am. The thought makes me giggle.
“What?” Christian asks, bemused.
“Yes. You. Still dressed.”
“Oh.” He glances down at himself, then back at me, and his face erupts into an enormous smile.
“Well, you know how hard it is for me to keep my hands off you, Mrs.
Grey—especially when you’re giggling like a schoolgirl.”
Oh yes—the tickling. Gah! The tickling. I move quickly so that I’m straddling him, but immediately understanding my evil intent, he grabs both of my wrists.
“No,” he says and he means it.
I pout at him but decide that he’s not ready for this.
“Please don’t,” he whispers. “I couldn’t bear it. I was never tickled as a child.” He pauses and I relax my hands so he doesn’t have to restrain me.
“I used to watch Carrick with Elliot and Mia, tickling them, and it looked like such fun, but I . . . I . . .”
I place my index finger on his lips.
“Hush, I know,” I murmur and plant a soft kiss on his lips where my finger has just been, then curl up on his chest. The familiar painful ache swells inside me, and the profound sadness that I hold in my heart for Christian as a little boy seizes me once more. I know I would do anything for this man because I love him so.
He puts his arms around me and presses his nose into my hair, inhaling deeply as he gently strokes my back. I don’t know how long we lie there, but eventually I break the comfortable silence between us.
“What is the longest you’ve gone without seeing Dr. Flynn?”
“Two weeks. Why? Do you have an incorrigible urge to tickle me?”
“No.” I chuckle. “I think he helps you.”
Christian snorts. “He should; I pay him enough.” He pulls my hair gently, turning my face to look up at him. I lift my head and meet his gaze.
“Are you concerned for my well-being, Mrs. Grey?” he asks softly.
“Every good wife is concerned for her beloved husband’s well-being, Mr.
Grey,” I admonish him teasingly.
“Beloved?” he whispers, and it’s a poignant question hanging between us.
“Very much beloved.” I scoot up to kiss him, and he smiles his shy smile.
“Do you want to go ashore to eat, Mrs. Grey?”
“I want to eat wherever you’re happiest.”
“Good.” He grins. “Aboard it is where I can keep you safe. Thank you for my present.” He reaches over and grabs the camera, and holding it at arm’s length, he snaps the two of us in our post tickling, postcoital, post confessional embrace.
“The pleasure is all mine,” I smile and his eyes light up.
We wander through the opulent, gilt splendor of the eighteenth century Palace of Versailles. Once a humble hunting lodge, it was transformed by the Roi Soleil in-to a magnificent, lavish seat of power, but even before the eighteenth century ended it saw the last of those absolute monarchs.
The most stunning room by far is the Hall of Mirrors. The early afternoon light floods through windows to the west, lighting up the mirrors that line the east wall and illuminating the gold leaf décor and the enormous crystal chandeliers.
“Interesting to see what becomes of a despotic megalomaniac who isolates himself in such splendor,” I murmur to Christian as he stands at my side. He gazes down and cocks his head to one side, regarding me with humor.
“Your point, Mrs. Grey?”
“Oh, merely an observation, Mr. Grey.” I wave my hand airily at the surroundings. Smirking, he follows me to the center of the room where I stand and gawk at the view—the spectacular gardens reflected in the looking glass and the spectacular Christian Grey, my husband, reflected back at me, his gaze bright and bold.
“I would build this for you,” he whispers. “Just to see the way the light burnishes your hair, right here, right now.” He tucks a strand of hair behind my ear.
“You look like an angel.” He kisses me just below my earlobe, takes my hand in his, and murmurs, “We despots do that for the women we love.”
I flush at his compliment, smiling shyly, and follow him through the vast room.
“What are you thinking about?” Christian asks softly, taking a sip of his after-dinner coffee.
“Ostentatious, wasn’t it?” He grins. I glance around the more understated grandeur of the Fair Lady’s dining room and purse my lips.
“This is hardly ostentatious,” Christian says, a tad defensively.
“I know. It’s lovely. The best honeymoon a girl could want.”
“Really?” he says, genuinely surprised. And he smiles his shy smile.
“Of course it is.”
“We’ve only got two more days. Is there anything you’d like to see or do?”
“Just be with you,” I murmur. He rises from the table, comes around, and kisses me on the forehead.
“Well, can you do without me for about an hour? I need to check my e-mails, find out what’s happening at home.”
“Sure,” I say brightly, trying to hide my disappointment that I’ll be without him for an hour. Is it freaky that I want to be with him all the time? My subconscious presses her lips into a narrow, unattractive line and nods vigorously.
“Thank you for the camera,” he murmurs and heads for the study.
Ana:Hey are you there?
Kate:YES,Ana! How are you? How’s the honeymoon? Did you see my e-mail? Does Christian know about the fire?
Ana:I’m good. Honeymoon’s great. Yes, I saw your e-mail. Yes, Christian knows.
Kate: I thought he would. News is sketchy on what happened. And Elliot won’t tell me anything.
Ana: Are you fishing for a story?
Kate: You know me too well.
Ana: Christian hasn’t told me much.
Back in our cabin I decide to catch up on my correspondence and open my laptop.
There are e-mails from my mom and from Kate, giving me the latest gossip from home and asking how the honeymoon is going. Well, great, until someone decided to burn down GEH Inc. . . . As I finish my response to my mom, an e-mail from Kate hits my inbox.
From: Katherine L. Kavanagh
Date: August 17, 2011 11:45 PST
To: Anastasia Grey
Ana, just heard about the fire at Christian’s office.
Do you think it’s arson?
Kate is online! I jump on to my newfound toy—Skype messaging—and see that she’s available. I quickly type a message.
Kate: Elliont heard from Grace!
Ana:How are Ellion and Ethan?
Kate:Ethan has been accepted into the psych course at Seattle for his master’s degree. Elliot is adorable.
Ana: Way to go, Ethan.
Kate: How’s our favorite ex-dom?
Ana: YOU KNOW WHAT!
Ana: He’s fine. More than fine.
Kate:Well, as long as you’ar happy, I’m happy.
Ana: I’m blissfully happy.
Kate: I have to run. Can we talk later?
Ana:Not sure. See if I am online. Time zones suck!
Kate:They do. Love you, Ana.
Ana:Love you, too. Laters.x
Oh no—I’m sure Christian doesn’t want this broadcast all over Seattle. I try my patented distract-tenacious-Kavanagh technique.
Trust Kate to be on the trail of this story. I roll my eyes and shut Skype down before Christian sees the chat. He wouldn’t appreciate the ex-Dom comment, and I’m not sure he’s entirely ex . . .
I sigh loudly. Kate knows everything, since our tipsy evening three weeks before the wedding when I finally succumbed to the Kavanagh inquisition. It was a relief to finally talk to someone.
I glance at my watch. It’s been about an hour since dinner, and I am missing my husband. I head back on deck to see if he’s finished his work.
I am in the Hall of Mirrors and Christian is standing beside me, smiling down at me with love and affection. You look like an angel. I beam back at him, but when I glance into the looking glass, I’m standing on my own and the room is gray and drab. No! My head whips back to his face, to find his smile is sad and wistful. He tucks my hair behind my ear. Then he turns wordlessly and walks away slowly, the sound of his footsteps echoing off the mirrors as he paces the enormous room to the ornate double doors at the end . . . a man on his own, a man with no reflection . . . and I wake, gasping for air, as panic seizes me.
“Hey,” he whispers from beside me in the darkness, his voice filled with concern.
Oh, he’s here. He’s safe. Relief courses through me.
“Oh, Christian,” I mumble, trying to bring my pounding heartbeat under control. He wraps me in his arms, and it’s only then that I realize I have tears streaming down my face.
“Ana, what is it?” He strokes my cheek, wiping away my tears, and I can hear his anguish.
“Nothing. A silly nightmare.”
He kisses my forehead and my tearstained cheeks, comforting me. “Just a bad dream, baby,” he murmurs. “I’ve got you. I’ll keep you safe.”
Drinking in his scent, I curl around him, trying to ignore the loss and devasta-tion I felt in my dream, and in that moment, I know that my deepest, darkest fear would be losing him.