“You think?” Christian asks, surprised.
“It’s the line of his jaw.” I point at the screen. “And the earrings and the shape of his shoulders. He’s the right build, too. He must be wearing a wig—or he’s cut and dyed his hair.”
“Barney, are you getting this?” Christian puts the phone down on his desk and switches to hands-free. “You seem to have studied your ex-boss in some detail, Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs, sounding none too pleased. I scowl at him, but I’m saved by Barney.
“Yes, sir. I heard Mrs. Grey. I’m running face recognition software on all the digitized CCTV footage right now. See where else this asshole—I’m sorry ma’am—this man has been within the organization.”
I glance anxiously at Christian, who ignores Barney’s expletive. He’s studying the CCTV picture closely.
“Why would he do this?” I ask Christian.
He shrugs. “Revenge, perhaps. I don’t know. You can’t fathom why some people behave the way they do. I’m just angry that you ever worked so closely with him.” Christian’s mouth presses into a hard, thin line and he encircles my waist with his arm.
“We have the contents of his hard drive, too, sir,” Barney adds.
“Yes, I remember. Do you have an address for Mr. Hyde?” Christian says sharply.
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Sure will. I’m also going to scan the city CCTV and see if I can track his movements.”
“Check what vehicle he owns.”
“Barney can do all this?” I whisper.
Christian nods and gives me a smug smile.
“What was on his hard drive?” I whisper.
Christian’s face hardens and he shakes his head. “Nothing much,” he says, tight-lipped, his smile forgotten.
“Was it about you, or me?”
“Me.” He sighs.
“What sort of things? About your lifestyle?”
Christian shakes his head and puts his index finger against my lips to silence me. I scowl at him. But he narrows his eyes, and it’s a clear warning that I should hold my tongue.
“It’s a 2006 Camaro. I’ll send the license details to Welch, too,” Barney says excitedly from the phone.
“Good. Let me know where else that fucker has been in my building. And check this image against the one from his SIP personnel file.” Christian gazes at me skeptically. “I want to be sure we have a match.”
“Already done, sir, and Mrs. Grey is correct. This is Jack Hyde.”
I grin. See? I can be useful. Christian rubs his hand down my back.
“Well done, Mrs. Grey.” He smiles and his earlier rancor forgotten. To Barney he says, “Let me know when you’ve tracked all his movements at HQ. Also check out any other GEH property he may have had access to, and let the security teams know so they can make another sweep of all those buildings.”
“Thanks, Barney.” Christian hangs up.
“Well, Mrs. Grey, it seems that you are not only decorative, but useful, too.”
Christian’s eyes light up with wicked amusement. I know he’s teasing.
“Decorative?” I scoff, teasing him back.
“Very,” he says quietly, pressing a soft, sweet kiss on my lips.
“You’re much more decorative than I am, Mr. Grey.”
He grins and kisses me more forcefully, winding my braid around his wrist and wrapping his arms around me. When we come up for air, my heart is racing.
“Hungry?” he asks.
“Well—food actually, Mrs. Grey.”
“I’ll make you something.” I giggle.
“I love that sound.”
“Of me offering you food?”
“You giggling.” He kisses my hair then I stand.
“So what would you like to eat, Sir?” I ask sweetly.
He narrows his eyes. “Are you being cute, Mrs. Grey?”
“Always, Mr. Grey . . . Sir.”
He smiles a sphinxlike smile. “I can still put you over my knee,” he murmurs seductively.
“I know.” I grin. Placing my hands on the arms of his office chair, I lean down and kiss him. “That’s one of the things I love about you. But stow your twitching palm—you’re hungry.”
He smiles his shy smile and my heart clenches. “Oh, Mrs. Grey, what am I going to do with you?”
“You’re going to answer my question. What would you like to eat?”
“Something light. Surprise me,” he says, mirroring my words from the playroom earlier.
“I’ll see what I can do.” I sashay out of his study and into the kitchen. My heart sinks when I see Mrs. Jones is there.
“Hello, Mrs. Jones.”
“Mrs. Grey. Are you ready for something to eat?”
“Um . . .”
She is stirring something in a pot on the stove that smells delicious.
“I was going to make subs for Mr. Grey and me.”
She pauses for a heartbeat. “Sure,” she says. “Mr. Grey likes French bread—there is some in the freezer cut to sub length. I’d be happy to make it for you, ma’am.”
“I know. But I’d like to do this.”
“I understand. I’ll give you some room.”
“What are you cooking?”
“This is a bolognaise sauce. It can be eaten anytime. I’ll freeze it.” She smiles warmly and turns the heat right down.
“Um—so what does Christian like in a, um . . . sub?” I frown, struck by what I’ve just said. Does Mrs. Jones understand the inference?
“Mrs. Grey, you could put just about anything in a sandwich, and as long as it’s on French bread, he’ll eat it.” We grin at each other.
“Okay, thank you.” I skip to the freezer and find the French bread cut to size in Ziplock bags. I place two of them on a plate, pop them into the microwave, and set it to defrost.
Mrs. Jones has disappeared. I frown as I return to the fridge to search for in-gredients. I suppose it will be up to me to set the parameters by which Mrs. Jones and I will work together. I like the idea of cooking for Christian on the weekends.
Mrs. Jones is more than welcome to do it during the week—the last thing I’ll want to do when I come home from work is cook. Hmm . . . a bit like Christian’s routine with his submissives. I shake my head. I mustn’t overthink this. I find some ham in the fridge, and in the crisper a perfectly ripe avocado.
As I am adding a touch of salt and lemon to the mashed avocado, Christian emerges from his study with the plans for the new house in his hands. He puts them on the breakfast bar, saunters toward me, and wraps his arms around me, kissing my neck.
“Barefoot and in the kitchen,” he murmurs.
“Shouldn’t that be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?” I smirk.
He stills, his whole body tensing against me. “Not yet,” he declares, apprehension clear in his voice.
“No! Not yet!”
He relaxes. “On that we can agree, Mrs. Grey.”
“You do want kids though, don’t you?”
“Sure, yes. Eventually. But I’m not ready to share you yet.” He kisses my neck again.
Oh . . . share?
“What are you making? Looks good.” He kisses me behind my ear, and I know it’s to distract me. A delicious tingle travels down my spine.
“Subs.” I smirk, recovering my sense of humor.
He smiles against my neck and nips my earlobe. “My favorite.”
I poke him with my elbow.
“Mrs. Grey, you wound me.” He clutches his side as if in pain.
“Wimp,” I mutter disapprovingly.
“Wimp?” he utters in disbelief. He slaps my behind, making me yelp. “Hurry up with my food, wench. And later I’ll show you how wimpy I can be.” He slaps me playfully once more and goes to the fridge.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” he asks.
Christian spreads Gia’s plans out over the breakfast bar. She really has some spectacular ideas.
“I love her proposal to make the entire downstairs back wall glass, but . . .”
“But?” Christian prompts.
I sigh. “I don’t want to take all the character out of the house.”
“Yes. What Gia is proposing is quite radical, but . . . well . . . I fell in love with the house as it is . . . warts and all.”
Christian’s brow furrows as if this is anathema to him.
“I kind of like it the way it is,” I whisper. Is this going to make him mad?
He regards me steadily. “I want this house to be the way you want. Whatever you want. It’s yours.”
“I want you to like it, too. To be happy in it, too.”
“I’ll be happy wherever you are. It’s that simple, Ana.” His gaze holds mine.
He is utterly, utterly sincere. I blink at him as my heart expands. Holy cow, he really does love me.
“Well”—I swallow, fighting the small knot of emotion that catches in my throat—”I like the glass wall. Maybe we could ask her to incorporate it into the house a little more sympathetically.”
Christian grins. “Sure. Whatever you want. What about the plans for upstairs and the basement?”
“I’m cool with those.”
Okay . . . I steel myself to ask the million-dollar question. “Do you want to put in a playroom?” I feel the oh-so-familiar flush creep up my face as I ask.
Christian’s eyebrows shoot up.
“Do you?” he replies, surprised and amused at once.
I shrug. “Um . . . if you want.”
He regards me for a moment. “Let’s leave our options open for the moment.
After all, this will be a family home.”
I’m surprised by the stab of disappointment I feel. I guess he’s right . . . although when are we going to have a family? It could be years.
“Besides, we can improvise.” He smirks.
“I like improvising,” I whisper.
He grins. “There’s something I want to discuss.” Christian points to the master bedroom, and we start a detailed discussion on bathrooms and separate walk-in closets.
When we finish, it’s nine thirty in the evening.
“Are you going back to work?” I ask as Christian rolls up the plans.
“Not if you don’t want me to.” He smiles. “What would you like to do?”
“We could watch TV.” I don’t want to read, and I don’t want to go to bed . . . yet.
“Okay,” Christian agrees willingly, and I follow him into the TV room.
We have sat here three, maybe four times total, and Christian usually reads a book. He’s not interested in television at all. I curl up beside him on the couch, tucking my legs beneath me and resting my head against his shoulder. He switches on the flat-screen television with the remote and flicks mindlessly through the channels.
“Any specific drivel you want to see?”
“You don’t like TV much, do you?” I mutter sardonically.
He shakes his head. “Waste of time. But I’ll watch something with you.”
“I thought we could make out.”
He whips his face to mine. “Make out?” He gazes at me as if I’ve grown two heads. He stops the endless flicking, leaving the TV on an over lit Spanish soap opera.
“Yes.” Why is he so horrified?
“We could go to bed and make out.”
“We do that all the time. When was the last time you made out in front of the TV?” I ask, shy and teasing at the same time.
He shrugs and shakes his head. Pressing the remote again, he flicks through another few channels before settling on an old episode of The X-Files.
“I’ve never done that,” he says quietly.
“Not even with Mrs. Robinson?”
He snorts. “Baby, I did a lot of things with Mrs. Robinson. Making out was not one of them.” He smirks at me and then narrows his eyes with amused curiosity. “Have you?”
I flush. “Of course.” Well kind of . . .
“What! Who with?”
Oh no. I do not want to have this discussion.
“Tell me,” he persists.
I gaze down at my knotted fingers. He gently covers my hands with one of his. When I glance up at him, he’s smiling at me.
“I want to know. So I can beat whoever it was to a pulp.”
I giggle. “Well, the first time . . .”
“The first time! There’s more than one fucker?” He growls.
I giggle again. “Why so surprised, Mr. Grey?”
He frowns briefly, runs a hand through his hair, and looks at me as if seeing me in a completely different light. He shrugs. “I just am. I mean—given your lack of experience.”
I flush. “I’ve certainly made up for that since I met you.”
“You have.” He grins. “Tell me. I want to know.”
I gaze into patient gray eyes, trying to gauge his mood. Is this going to make him mad, or does he genuinely want to know? I don’t want him sulking . . . he’s impossible when he’s sulking.
“You really want me to tell you?”
He nods slowly once, and his lips twitch with an amused, arrogant smile.
“I was briefly in Vegas with Mom and Husband Number Three. I was in tenth grade. His name was Bradley, and he was my lab partner in physics.”
“How old were you?”
“And what’s he doing now?”
“I don’t know.”
“What base did he get to?”
“Christian!” I scold—and suddenly he grabs my knees, then my ankles, and tips me up so I fall back on to the couch. He slides smoothly on top of me, trapping me beneath him, one leg between mine. It’s so sudden that I cry out in surprise. He grabs my hands and raises them above my head.
“So, this Bradley—did he get to first base?” he murmurs, running his nose down the length of mine. He plants soft kisses at the corner of my mouth.
“Yes,” I murmur against his lips. He releases one of his hands so that he can clasp my chin and hold me still while his tongue invades my mouth, and I surrender to his ardent kissing.
“Like this?” Christian breathes when he comes up for air.
“No . . . nothing like that,” I manage as all the blood in my body heads south.
Releasing my chin, he runs his hand down over my body and back up to my breast.
“Did he do this? Touch you like this?” His thumb skims over my nipple, through my camisole, softly, repeatedly, and it hardens under his expert touch.
“No.” I writhe beneath him.
“Did he get to second base?” he murmurs in my ear. His hand moves down across my ribs, past my waist to my hip. He takes my earlobe between his teeth and gently tugs.
“No,” I breathe.
Mulder blurts from the television something about the FBI’s most unwanted.
Christian pauses, leans up, and presses mute on the remote. He gazes down at me.
“What about Joe Schmo number two? Did he make it past second base?”
His eyes are smoldering hot . . . angry? Turned on? It’s difficult to say which.
He shifts to my side and slides his hand beneath my sweatpants.
“No,” I whisper, trapped in his carnal gaze. Christian smiles wickedly.
“Good.” His hand cups my sex. “No underwear, Mrs. Grey. I approve.” He kisses me again as his fingers weave more magic, his thumb skimming over my clitoris, tantalizing me, as he pushes his index finger inside me with exquisite slowness.
“We’re supposed to be making out.” I groan.
Christian stills. “I thought we were?”
“No. No sex.”
“No sex . . .”
“No sex, huh?” He withdraws his hand from my sweatpants. “Here.” He traces my lips with his index finger, and I taste my slick saltiness. He pushes his finger into my mouth, mirroring what he was doing a moment earlier. Then shifts so he’s between my legs, and his erection pushes against me. He thrusts, once, twice, and again. I gasp as the material of my sweatpants rubs in just the right way. He pushes once more, grinding into me.
“This what you want?” he murmurs and moves his hips rhythmically, rocking against me.
“Yes.” I moan.
His hand moves back to concentrate on my nipple once more and his teeth scrape along my jaw. “Do you know how hot you are, Ana?” His voice is hoarse as he rocks harder against me. I open my mouth to articulate a response and fail miserably, groaning loudly. He captures my mouth once more, tugging at my bottom lip with his teeth before plunging his tongue into my mouth again. He releases my other wrist and my hands travel greedily up his shoulders and into his hair as he kisses me. When I pull on his hair, he groans and raises his eyes to mine.
“Ah . . .”
“Do you like me touching you?” I whisper.
His brow furrows briefly as if he doesn’t understand the question. He stops grinding against me. “Of course I do. I love you touching me, Ana. I’m like a starving man at a banquet when it comes to your touch.” His voice hums with passionate sincerity.
Holy cow . . .
He kneels between my legs and drags me up to haul off my top. I’m naked beneath. Grabbing the hem of his shirt, he yanks it over his head and tosses it on the floor, then pulls me onto his kneeling lap, his arms clasped just above my behind.
“Touch me,” he breathes.
Oh my . . . Tentatively I reach up and brush the tips of my fingers through the smattering of chest hair over his sternum, over his burn scars. He inhales sharply and his pupils dilate, but it’s not with fear. It’s a sensual response to my touch. He watches me intently as my fingers float delicately over his skin, first to one nipple and then the other. They pucker beneath my caress. Leaning forward, I plant soft kisses on his chest, and my hands move to his shoulders, feeling the hard, sculptured lines of sinew and muscle. Jeez . . . he’s in good shape.
“I want you,” he murmurs and it’s a green light to my libido. My fingers move into his hair, pulling his head back so I can claim his mouth, fire licking hot and high in my belly. He groans and pushes me back onto the couch. He sits up and rips off my sweatpants, undoing his fly at the same time.
“Home run,” he whispers, and swiftly he fills me.
“Ah . . .” I groan and he stills, grabbing my face between his hands.
“I love you, Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs and very slowly, very gently, he makes love to me until I come apart at the seams, calling his name and wrapping myself around him, never wanting to let him go.
I lay sprawled on his chest. We’re on the floor of the TV room.
“You know, we completely bypassed third base.” My fingers trace the line of his pectoral muscles.
He laughs. “Next time, Mrs. Grey.” He kisses the top of my head.
I look up to stare at the television screen where the end credits for The X-Files play. Christian reaches for the remote and switches the sound back on.
“You liked that show?” I ask.
“When I was a kid.”
Oh . . . Christian as a kid . . . kickboxing and X Files and no touching.
“You?” he asks.
“Before my time.”
“You’re so young.” Christian smiles fondly. “I like making out with you, Mrs. Grey.”
“Likewise, Mr. Grey.” I kiss his chest, and we lie silently watching as The X-Files finish and the commercials come on.
“It’s been a heavenly three weeks. Car chases and fires and psycho ex-bosses notwithstanding. Like being in our own private bubble,” I mutter dreamily.
“Hmm,” Christian hums deep in his throat. “I’m not sure I’m ready to share you with the rest of the world yet.”
“Back to reality tomorrow,” I murmur, trying to keep the melancholy from my voice.
Christian sighs and runs his other hand through his hair. “Security will be tight—” I put my finger over his lips. I don’t want to hear this lecture again.
“I know. I’ll be good. I promise.” Which reminds me . . . I shift, propping myself up on my elbows to see him better. “Why were you shouting at Sawyer?”
He stiffens immediately. Oh shit.
“Because we were followed.”
“That wasn’t Sawyer’s fault.”
He gazes at me levelly. “They should never have let you get so far in front.
They know that.”
I blush guiltily and resume my position, resting on his chest. It was my fault.
I wanted to get away from them.
“Enough!” Christian is suddenly curt. “This is not up for discussion, Anastasia. It’s a fact, and they won’t let it happen again.”
Anastasia! I am Anastasia when I am in trouble just like at home with my mother.
“Okay,” I mutter, placating him. I don’t want to fight. “Did Ryan catch up with the woman in the Dodge?”
“No. And I’m not convinced it was a woman.”
“Oh?” I look up again.
“Sawyer saw someone with their hair tied back, but it was a brief look. He assumed it was a woman. Now, given that you’ve identified that fucker, maybe it was him. He wore his hair like that.” The disgust in Christian’s voice is palpable.
I don’t know what to make of this news. Christian runs his hand down my naked back, distracting me.
“If anything happened to you . . . ,” he murmurs, his eyes wide and serious.
“I know,” I whisper. “I feel the same about you.” I shiver at the thought.
“Come. You’re getting cold,” he says, sitting up. “Let’s go to bed. We can cover third base there.” He smiles a lascivious smile, as mercurial as ever, passionate, angry, anxious, sexy—my Fifty Shades. I take his hand and he pulls me to my feet, and without a stitch on, I follow him through the great room to the bedroom.
The following morning, Christian squeezes my hand as we pull up outside SIP.
He looks very much the powerful executive in his dark navy suit and matching tie, and I smile. He’s not been this smart since the ballet in Monaco.
“You know you don’t have to do this?” Christian murmurs. I am tempted to roll my eyes at him.
“I know,” I whisper, not wanting Sawyer and Ryan to overhear me from the front of the Audi. He frowns and I smile.
“But I want to,” I continue. “You know this.” I lean up and kiss him. His frown doesn’t disappear. “What’s wrong?”He glances uncertainly at Ryan as Sawyer climbs out of the car. “I’ll miss having you to myself.”
I reach up to caress his face. “Me, too.” I kiss him. “It was a wonderful honeymoon. Thank you.”
“Go to work, Mrs. Grey.”
“You, too, Mr. Grey.”
Sawyer opens the door. I squeeze Christian’s hand once more before I climb out onto the sidewalk. As I head into the building, I give him a little wave. Sawyer holds open the door and follows me in.
“Hi, Ana.” Claire smiles from behind the reception desk.
“Claire, hello.” I smile back.
“You look wonderful. Good honeymoon?”
“The best, thank you. How’s it been here?”
“Old man Roach is the same, but security has been stepped up and our server room is being overhauled. But Hannah will tell you.”
Sure she will. I give Claire a friendly smile and head to my office.
Hannah is my assistant. She is tall, slim, and ruthlessly efficient to the point that sometimes I find her a little intimidating. But she’s sweet to me, in spite of the fact that she’s a couple of years older. She has my latte waiting—the only coffee I let her get for me.
“Hi, Hannah,” I say warmly.
“Ana, how was your honeymoon?”
“Fantastic. Here—for you.” I pop the small bottle of perfume I bought for her onto her desk, and she claps her hands with glee.
“Oh, thank you!” she says enthusiastically. “Your urgent correspondence is on your desk, and Roach would like to see you at ten. That’s all I have to report for now.”
“Good. Thank you. And thanks for the coffee.” Wandering into my office, I rest my briefcase on my desk and gaze at the piled up letters. Jeez, I have a lot to do.
Just before ten there’s a timid tap on my door.
Elizabeth looks around the door. “Hi, Ana. I just wanted to say welcome back.”
“Hey. I have to say, reading through all this correspondence, I wish I was back in the South of France.”
Elizabeth laughs, but her laughter is off, forced, and I cock my head to one side and gaze at her like Christian does to me.
“Glad you’re back safely,” she says. “I’ll see you in a few minutes at the meeting with Roach.”
“Okay,” I murmur, and she shuts the door behind her. I frown at the closed door. What was that about? I shrug it off. My e-mail pings—it’s a message from Christian.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Errant Wives
Date: August 22, 2011 09:56
To: Anastasia Steele
I sent the e-mail below and it bounced.
And it’s because you haven’t changed your name.
Something you want to tell me?
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Christian Grey
FW Subject: Bubble
Date: August 22, 2011 09:32
To: Anastasia Grey
Love covering all the bases with you.
Have a great first day back.
Miss our bubble already.
Back in the Real World CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Shit. I hit reply immediately.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Don’t Burst the Bubble
Date: August 22, 2011 09:58
To: Christian Grey
I am all for a baseball metaphor with you, Mr. Grey.
I want to keep my name here.
I’ll explain this evening.
I am going in to a meeting now.
Miss our bubble, too . . .
PS: Thought I had to use my BlackBerry?
Commissioning Editor, SIP
This is going to be such a fight. I can feel it. Sighing, I gather up my papers for the meeting.
The meeting lasts for two hours. All the commissioning editors are there, plus Roach and Elizabeth. We discuss personnel, strategy, marketing, security, and year-end. As the meeting progresses, I grow more and more uncomfortable.
There’s a subtle change in how my colleagues are treating me—a distance and deference that wasn’t there before I left for my honeymoon. And from Courtney, who heads up the non-fiction division, there’s downright hostility. Maybe I’m just being paranoid but it goes some way to explaining Elizabeth’s odd greeting this morning.
My mind drifts back to the yacht, then to the playroom, then to the R8 speeding away from the mystery Dodge on I-5. Perhaps Christian’s right . . . perhaps I can’t do this anymore. The thought is depressing—this is all I’ve ever wanted to do. If I can’t do this, what will I do? As I walk back to my office, I try to dismiss these dark thoughts.
When I sit down at my desk, I quickly check my e-mails. Nothing from Christian. I check my BlackBerry . . . Still nothing. Good. At least there’s been no adverse reaction to my e-mail. Perhaps we’ll discuss this tonight as per my request. I find that hard to believe, but ignoring my uneasy feeling, I open the marketing plan I was given at the meeting.
As is our ritual on a Monday, Hannah comes into my office with a plate for my packed lunch courtesy of Mrs. Jones, and we sit and eat our lunches together, discussing what we want to achieve during the week. She brings me up to date with the office gossip, too, which—considering I’ve been away for three weeks—is pretty thin on the ground. As we’re chatting, there’s a knock on the door.
Roach opens the door, and standing beside him is Christian. I’m momentarily struck dumb. Christian shoots me a blazing look and stalks in, before smiling politely at Hannah.
“Hello, you must be Hannah. I’m Christian Grey,” he says. Hannah scrambles to her feet and holds out her hand.
“Mr. Grey. H-how nice to meet you,” she stutters as they shake hands. “Can I fetch you a coffee?”
“Please,” he says warmly. With a quick puzzled glance at me, she scuttles out of the office past Roach, who stands as dumbstruck as me on the threshold of my office.
“If you’ll excuse me, Roach, I’d like a word with Ms. Steele.” Christian hisses the S sibilantly . . . sarcastically.
This is why he’s here . . . Oh shit.
“Of course, Mr. Grey. Ana,” Roach mutters, shutting the door to my office as he departs. I recover my power of speech.
“Mr. Grey, how nice to see you.” I smile, far too sweetly.
“Ms. Steele, may I sit down?”
“It’s your company.” I wave at the chair Hannah vacated.
“Yes, it is.” He smiles wolfishly at me, the smile not reaching his eyes. His tone is clipped. He’s bristling with tension—I can feel it all around me. Fuck. My heart sinks.
“Your office is very small,” he says as he sits down facing my desk.
“It suits me.”
He regards me neutrally, but I know he’s mad. I take a deep breath. This is not going to be fun.
“So what can I do for you, Christian?”
“I’m just looking over my assets.”
“Your assets? All of them?”
“All of them. Some of them need rebranding.”
“Rebranding? In what way?”
“I think you know.” His voice is menacingly quiet.
“Please—don’t tell me you have interrupted your day after three weeks away to come over here and fight with me about my name.” I am not a freaking asset!
He shifts and crosses his legs. “Not exactly fight. No.”
“Christian, I’m working.”
“Looked like you were gossiping with your assistant to me.”
My cheeks heat. “We were going through our schedules,” I snap. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
There’s a knock on the door. “Come in!” I shout, too loudly.
Hannah opens the door and brings in a small tray. Milk jug, sugar bowl, coffee in a French press—she’s gone all out. She places the tray on my desk.
“Thank you, Hannah,” I mutter, embarrassed that I have just shouted so loudly.
“Do you need anything else, Mr. Grey?” she asks all breathless. I want to roll my eyes at her.
“No, thank you. That’s all.” He smiles his dazzling, panty-dropping smile at her. She flushes and exits simpering. Christian turns his attention back to me.
“Now, Ms. Steele, where were we?”
“You were rudely interrupting my work day to fight with me about my name.”
Christian blinks once—surprised, I think, by the vehemence in my voice.
Deftly, he picks at an invisible piece of lint on his knee with long skilled fingers.
It’s distracting. He’s doing it on purpose. I narrow my eyes at him.
“I like to make the odd impromptu visit. It keeps management on their toes, wives in their place. You know.” He shrugs, his mouth set in an arrogant line.
Wives in their place! “I had no idea you could spare the time,” I snap.
His eyes frost. “Why don’t you want to change your name here?” he asks, his voice deathly quiet.
“Christian, do we have to discuss this now?”
“I’m here. I don’t see why not.”
“I have a ton of work to do, having been away for the last three weeks.”
He gazes at me, his eyes cool and assessing—distant even. I marvel that he can appear so cold after last night, after the last three weeks. Shit. He must be so mad—really mad. When will he learn not to overreact?
“Are you ashamed of me?” he asks, his voice deceptively soft.
“No! Christian, of course not.” I scowl at him. “This is about me—not you.”
Jeez, he’s exasperating sometimes. Silly overbearing megalomaniac.
“How is this not about me?” He cocks his head to one side, genuinely perplexed, some of his detachment slipping as he stares at me with wide eyes, and I realize that he’s hurt. Holy fuck. I’ve hurt his feelings. Oh no . . . he’s the last person I want to hurt. I have to make him see my logic. I have to explain my reason-ing for my decision.
“Christian, when I took this job, I’d only just met you,” I say patiently, struggling to find the right words. “I didn’t know you were going to buy the company—”
What can I say about that event in our brief history? His deranged reasons for doing so—his control freakery, his stalker tendencies gone mad, given completely free rein because he is so wealthy. I know he wants to keep me safe, but it’s his ownership of SIP that is the fundamental problem here. If he’d never interfered, I could continue as normal and not have to face the disgruntled and whispered re-criminations of my colleagues. I put my head in my hands just to break eye contact with him.
“Why is it so important to you?” I ask, desperately trying to hold on to my fraying temper. I look up at his impassive stare, his eyes luminous, giving nothing away, his earlier hurt now hidden. But even as I ask the question, deep down I know the answer before he says it.
“I want everyone to know that you’re mine.”
“I am yours—look.” I hold up my left hand, showing my wedding and engagement rings.
“It’s not enough.”
“Not enough that I married you?” My voice is barely a whisper.
He blinks, registering the horror on my face. Where can I go from here?
What else can I do?
“That’s not what I mean,” he snaps and runs a hand through his overlong hair so that it flops onto his forehead.
“What do you mean?”
He swallows. “I want your world to begin and end with me,” he says, his expression raw. His comment completely derails me. It’s like he’s punched me hard in the stomach, winding and wounding me. And the vision comes to mind of a small, frightened, copper-haired gray-eyed boy in dirty, mismatched, ill-fitting clothes.
“It does,” I say without guile, because it’s the truth. “I’m just trying to establish a career, and I don’t want to trade on your name. I have to do something, Christian. I can’t stay imprisoned at Escala or the new house with nothing to do.
I’ll go crazy. I’ll suffocate. I’ve always worked, and I enjoy this. This is my dream job; it’s all I’ve ever wanted. But doing this doesn’t mean I love you less.
You are the world to me.” My throat swells and tears prick the back of my eyes. I must not cry, not here. I repeat it over and over in my head. I must not cry. I must not cry.
He stares at me, saying nothing. Then a frown crosses his face as if he’s considering what I’ve said.
“I suffocate you?” His voice is bleak, and it’s an echo of a question he’s asked me before.
“No . . . yes . . . no.” This is such an exasperating conversation—not one that I want to have now, here. I close my eyes and rub my forehead, trying to fathom how we got to this.
“Look, we were talking about my name. I want to keep my name here because I want to put some distance between you and me . . . but only here, that’s all. You know everyone thinks I got the job because of you, when the reality is—”
I stop, when his eyes widen. Oh no . . . it is because of him?
“Do you want to know why you got the job, Anastasia?”
Anastasia? Shit. “What? What do you mean?”
He shifts in his chair as if steeling himself. Do I want to know?
“The management here gave you Hyde’s job to babysit. They didn’t want the expense of hiring a senior executive when the company was mid-sale. They had no idea what the new owner would do with it once it passed into his ownership, and wisely, they didn’t want an expensive redundancy. So they gave you Hyde’s job to caretake until the new owner” —he pauses, and his lips twitch in an ironic smile—”namely me, took over.”
Holy crap! “What are you saying?” So it was because of him. Fuck! I’m horrified.
He smiles and shakes his head at my alarm. “Relax. You’ve more than risen to the challenge. You’ve done very well.” There’s the tiniest hint of pride in his voice, and it’s almost my undoing.
“Oh,” I murmur incoherently, reeling from this news. I sit right back in my chair, open-mouthed, staring at him. He shifts again.
“I don’t want to suffocate you, Ana. I don’t want to put you in a gilded cage.
Well . . .” He pauses, his face darkening. “Well, the rational part of me doesn’t.”
He strokes his chin thoughtfully as his mind concocts some plan.
Oh, where is he going with this? Christian looks up suddenly, as if he’s had a eureka moment. “So one of the reasons I’m here—apart from dealing with my errant wife,” he says, narrowing his eyes, “is to discuss what I am going to do with this company.”
Errant wife! I am not errant, and I’m not an asset! I scowl at Christian again and the threat of tears subsides.
“So what are your plans?” I incline my head to one side, mirroring him, and I can’t help my sarcastic tone. His lips twitch with the hint of a smile.
Jeez—change of mood, again! How can I ever keep up with Mr. Mercurial?
“I’m renaming the company—to Grey Publishing.”
“And in a year’s time, it will be yours.”
My mouth drops open once more—wider this time.
“This is my wedding present to you.”
I shut my mouth then open it, trying to articulate something—but there’s nothing there. My mind is blank.
“So, do I need to change the name to Steele Publishing?”
He’s serious. Holy fuck.
“Christian,” I whisper when my brain finally reconnects with my mouth.
“You gave me a watch . . . I can’t run a business.”
He tilts his head to one side again and gives me a censorious frown. “I ran my own business from the age of twenty-one.”
“But you’re . . . you. Control freak and whiz-kid extraordinaire. Jeez Christian, you majored in economics at Harvard before you dropped out. At least you have some idea. I sold paint and cable ties for three years on a part-time basis, for heaven’s sake. I’ve seen so little of the world, and I know next to nothing!” My voice rises, growing louder and higher, as I complete my tirade.
“You’re also the most well-read person I know,” he counters earnestly. “You love a good book. You couldn’t leave your job while we were on our honeymoon.
You read how many manuscripts? Four?”
“Five,” I whisper.
“And you wrote full reports on all of them. You’re a very bright woman, Anastasia. I’m sure you’ll manage.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Crazy for you,” he whispers.
And I snort because it’s the only expression my body can make. He narrows his eyes.
“You’ll be a laughing stock. Buying a company for the little woman, who has only had a full time job for a few months of her adult life.”
“Do you think I give a fuck what people think? Besides, you won’t be on your own.”
I gape at him. He really has lost his marbles this time. “Christian, I . . .” I put my head in my hands—my emotions have been through a wringer. Is he crazy?
And from somewhere dark and deep inside I have the sudden, inappropriate need to laugh. When I look up at him again, his eyes widen.
“Something amusing you, Ms. Steele?”
His eyes widen further, shocked but also amused. “Laughing at your husband? That will never do. And you’re biting your lip.” His eyes darken . . . in that way. Oh no—I know that look. Sultry, seductive, salacious . . . No, no, no! Not here.
“Don’t even think about it,” I warn, alarm clear in my voice.
“Think about what, Anastasia?”
“I know that look. We’re at work.”
He leans forward, his eyes glued to mine, molten gray and hungry. Holy shit!
I swallow instinctively. “We’re in a small, reasonably sound-proofed office with a lockable door.”
“Gross moral turpitude.” I enunciate each word carefully.
“Not with your husband.”
“With my boss’s boss’s boss,” I hiss.
“You’re my wife.”
“Christian, no. I mean it. You can fuck me seven shades of Sunday this evening. But not now. Not here!”
He blinks and narrows his eyes once more. Then unexpectedly he laughs.
“Seven shades of Sunday?” He arches an eyebrow, intrigued. “I may hold you to that, Ms. Steele.”
“Oh, stop with the Ms. Steele!” I snap and thump the desk, startling us both.
“For heaven’s sake, Christian. If it means so much to you, I’ll change my name!”
His mouth pops open as he inhales sharply. And then he grins, a radiant, all-teeth-showing, joyous grin. Wow . . .
“Good.” He claps his hands, and all of a sudden he stands.
“Mission accomplished. Now, I have work to do. If you’ll excuse me, Mrs.
Gah—this man is so maddening! “But—”
“But what, Mrs. Grey?”
I sag. “Just go.”
“I intend to. I’ll see you this evening. I’m looking forward to seven shades of Sunday.”
“Oh, and I have a stack of business-related social engagements coming up, and I’d like you to accompany me.”
I gape at him. Will you just go?
“I’ll have Andrea call Hannah to put the dates in your calendar. There are some people you need to meet. You should get Hannah to handle your schedule from now on.”
“Okay,” I mumble, completely bemused, bewildered and shell-shocked.
He leans over my desk. What now? I am caught in his hypnotic gaze.
“Love doing business with you, Mrs. Grey.” He leans in closer as I sit paralyzed, and he plants a soft tender kiss on my lips. “Laters, baby,” he murmurs. He stands abruptly, winks at me, and leaves.
I lay my head on my desk, feeling like I’ve been run over by a freight train—the freight train that is my beloved husband. He has to be the most frustrating, annoying, contrary man on the planet. I sit up and frantically rub my eyes.
What have I just agreed to? Okay, Ana Grey running SIP—I mean, Grey Publishing. The man is insane. There’s a knock on the door, and Hannah pokes her head around.
“You okay?” she asks.
I just stare at her. She frowns.
“I know you don’t like me doing this—but can I make you some tea?”
“Twinings English Breakfast, weak and black?”
“Coming right up, Ana.”
I stare blankly at my computer screen, still in shock. How can I make him understand? E-mail!
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: NOT AN ASSET!
Date: August 22, 2011 14:23
To: Christian Grey
Next time you come and see me, make an appointment, so I can at least have some prior warning of your adolescent overbearing megalomania.
Anastasia Grey <—–please note name.
Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Seven Shades of Sunday
Date: August 22, 2011 14:34
To: Anastasia Steele
My Dear Mrs. Grey (emphasis on My)
What can I say in my defense? I was in the neighborhood.
And no, you are not an asset, you are my beloved wife.
As ever, you make my day.
CEO & Overbearing Megalomaniac, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
He’s trying to be funny, but I am in no mood to laugh. I take a deep breath and go back to my correspondence.
Christian is quiet when I climb into the car that evening.
“Hi,” I murmur.
“Hi,” he responds, warily—as he should.
“Disrupt anyone else’s work today?” I ask too sweetly.
A ghost of a smile crosses his face. “Only Flynn’s.”
“Next time you go to see him, I’ll give you a list of topics I want covered,” I hiss at him.
“You seem out of sorts, Mrs. Grey.”
I glare steadily at the backs of Ryan and Sawyer’s heads in front of me.
Christian shifts beside me.
“Hey,” he says softly and reaches for my hand. All afternoon, when I should have been concentrating on work, I was trying to figure out what to say to him.
But I became angrier and angrier with each passing hour. I’ve had enough of his cavalier, petulant, and frankly childish behavior. I snatch my hand out of his—in a cavalier, petulant, and childish manner.
“You’re mad at me?” he whispers.
“Yes,” I hiss. Folding my arms protectively across my body, I gaze out my window. He shifts beside me once more, but I will myself not to look at him. I don’t understand why I’m so mad at him—but I am. Really fucking mad.
As soon as we pull up outside Escala, I break protocol and leap out of the car with my briefcase. I stomp into the building, not checking to see who is following.
Ryan scuttles into the foyer behind me and dashes to the elevator to press the call button.
“What?” I snap when I’m alongside him. His cheeks redden.
“Apologies, ma’am,” he mutters.
Christian comes and stands beside me to wait for the elevator, and Ryan retreats.
“So it’s not just me you’re mad at?” Christian murmurs dryly. I glare up at him and see a trace of a smile on his face.
“Are you laughing at me?” I narrow my eyes.
“I wouldn’t dare,” he says, holding his hands up like I’m threatening him at gunpoint. He’s in his navy suit, looking crisp and clean with floppy sex-hair and a guileless expression.
“You need a haircut,” I mutter. Turning away from him, I step into the elevator.
“Do I?” he says while brushing his hair off his forehead. He follows me in.
“Yes.” I tap the code for our apartment into the keypad.
“So you’re talking to me now?”
“What exactly are you mad about? I need an indication,” he asks cautiously.
I turn and gape at him.
“Do you really have no idea? Surely, for someone so bright, you must have an inkling? I can’t believe you’re that obtuse.”
He takes an alarmed step back. “You really are mad. I thought we had sorted all this in your office,” he murmurs, perplexed.
“Christian, I just capitulated to your petulant demands. That’s all.”
The elevator doors open and I storm out. Taylor is standing in the hallway.
He takes a step back and quickly shuts his mouth as I steam past him.
“Hi, Taylor,” I mutter.
“Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs.
Dropping my briefcase in the hallway, I head into the great room. Mrs. Jones is at the stove.
“Good evening, Mrs. Grey.”
“Hi, Mrs. Jones,” I mutter once more. I head straight to the fridge and pull out a bottle of white wine. Christian follows me into the kitchen and watches me like a hawk as I take a glass down from the cupboard. He removes his jacket and casually places it on the countertop.
“Do you want a drink?” I ask super sweetly.
“No thanks,” he says, not taking his eyes off me, and I know that he’s helpless. He does not know what to do with me. It’s comical on one level and tragic on another. Well, screw him! I am having trouble locating my compassionate self since our meeting this afternoon. Slowly, he removes his tie then opens the top button of his shirt. I pour myself a large glass of sauvignon blanc, and Christian runs a hand through his hair. When I turn around, Mrs. Jones has disappeared .
Shit! She’s my human shield. I take a slug of wine. Hmm. It tastes good.
“Stop this,” Christian whispers. He takes the two steps between us so he’s standing in front of me. Gently he tucks my hair behind my ear and caresses my earlobe with his fingertips, sending a shiver through me. Is this what I’ve missed all day? His touch? I shake my head, causing him to release my ear and gaze up at him.
“Talk to me,” he murmurs.
“What’s the point? You don’t listen to me.”
“Yes I do. You’re one of the few people I do listen to.”
I take another swig of wine.
“Is this about your name?”
“Yes and no. It’s how you dealt with the fact that I disagreed with you.” I glare up at him, expecting him to be angered.
His brow furrows. “Ana, you know I have . . . issues. It’s hard for me to let go where you’re concerned. You know that.”
“But I’m not a child, and I’m not an asset.”
“I know.” He sighs.
“Then stop treating me as though I am,” I whisper, imploring him.
He brushes the back of his fingers down my cheek and runs the tip of his thumb across my bottom lip.
“Don’t be mad. You’re so precious to me. Like a priceless asset, like a child,”
he whispers, a somber reverent expression on his face. His words distract me . Like a child. Precious like a child . . . a child would be precious to him!
“I’m neither of those things, Christian. I’m your wife. If you were hurt that I wasn’t going to take your name, you should have said.”
“Hurt?” He frowns deeply, and I know that he’s exploring the possibility in his mind. He straightens suddenly, still frowning, and glances quickly at his wrist-watch. “The architect will be here in just under an hour. We should eat.”
Oh no. I groan inwardly. He hasn’t answered me, and now I have to deal with Gia Matteo. My shitty day just got shittier. I scowl at Christian.
“This discussion isn’t finished,” I mutter.
“What else is there to discuss?”
“You could sell the company.”
Christian snorts. “Sell it?”
“You think I’d find a buyer in today’s market?”
“How much did it cost you?”
“It was relatively cheap.” His tone is guarded.
“So if it folds?”
He smirks. “We’ll survive. But I won’t let it fold, Anastasia. Not while you’re there.”
“And if I leave?”
“And do what?”
“I don’t know. Something else.”
“You’ve already said this is your dream job. And forgive me if I’m wrong, but I promised before God, Reverend Walsh, and a congregation of our nearest and dearest to cherish you, uphold your hopes and dreams, and keep you safe at my side.”
“Quoting your wedding vows to me is not playing fair.”
“I’ve never promised to play fair where you’re concerned. Besides,” he adds,
“you’ve wielded your vows at me like a weapon before.”
I scowl at him. This is true.
“Anastasia, if you’re still angry with me, take it out on me in bed later.” His voice is suddenly low and full of sensual longing, his eyes heated.
What? Bed? How?
He smiles indulgently down at my expression. Is he expecting me to tie him up? Holy crap! My inner goddess removes her iPod earbuds and starts listening with rapt attention.
“Seven shades of Sunday,” he whispers. “Looking forward to it.”
“Gail!” he shouts abruptly, and four seconds later, Mrs. Jones appears. Where was she? Taylor’s office? Listening? Oh jeez.
“We’d like to eat now, please.”
“Very good, sir.”
Christian doesn’t take his eyes off me. He watches me vigilantly as if I’m some exotic creature about to bolt. I take a sip of my wine.
“I think I’ll join you in a glass,” he says, sighing, and runs a hand through his hair again.
“You’re not going to finish?”
“No.” I gaze down at my barely touched plate of fettuccini to avoid Christian’s darkening expression. Before he can say anything, I stand and clear our plates from the dining table.
“Gia will be with us shortly,” I mutter. Christian’s mouth twists in an un-happy scowl, but he says nothing.
“I’ll take those, Mrs. Grey,” says Mrs. Jones as I walk into the kitchen.
“You didn’t like it?” she asks, concerned.
“It was fine. I’m just not hungry.”
Giving me a small sympathetic smile, she turns to clear my plate and put everything in the dishwasher.
“I’m going to make a couple of calls,” Christian announces, giving me an assessing look before he disappears into his study.
I let out a sigh of relief and head to our bedroom. Dinner was awkward. I’m still mad at Christian, and he doesn’t seem to think he’s done anything wrong.
Has he? My subconscious cocks an eyebrow at me and gazes benignly over her half-moon glasses. Yes, he has. He’s made it even more awkward for me at work.
He didn’t wait to discuss this issue with me when we were in the relative privacy of our own home. How would he feel if I came barging into his office, laying down the law? And to cap it all, he wants to give me SIP! How the hell could I run a company? I know next to nothing about business.
I gaze out at the Seattle skyline bathed in the pearly pink light of dusk. And as usual, he wants to solve our differences in the bedroom . . . um . . . foyer . . . playroom . . . TV room . . . kitchen countertop . . . Stop! It always comes back to sex with him. Sex is his coping mechanism.
I wander into the bathroom and scowl at my reflection in the mirror. Coming back to the real world is hard. We managed to skate over all our differences while we were in our bubble because we were so wrapped up in each other. But now?
Briefly I am dragged back to my wedding, remembering my concerns that day—marry in haste . . . No, I mustn’t think like this. I knew he was Fifty Shades when I married him. I just have to hang in there and try to talk this through with him.
I squint at myself in the mirror. I look pale, and now I have that woman to deal with.
I’m wearing my gray pencil skirt and a sleeveless blouse. Right! My inner goddess gets out her harlot-red nail polish. I undo two buttons, exposing a little cleavage. I wash my face then carefully redo my makeup, applying more mascara than usual and putting extra gloss on my lips. Bending down, I then brush my hair vigorously from root to tip. When I stand, my hair is a chestnut haze around me that tumbles to my breasts. I tuck it artfully behind my ears and go in search of my pumps, rather than my flats.
When I reemerge into the great room, Christian has the house plans spread out on the dining table. He has music playing through the sound system. It stops me in my tracks.
“Mrs. Grey,” he says warmly then looks quizzically at me.
“What’s this?” I ask. The music is stunning.
“Fauré’s Requiem. You look different,” he says, distracted.
“Oh. I’ve not heard it before.”
“It’s very calming, relaxing,” he says and raises an eyebrow. “Have you done something to your hair?”
“Brushed it,” I mutter. I’m transported by the haunting voices. Abandoning the plans on the table, he walks toward me, a slow saunter in time to the music.
“Dance with me?” he murmurs.
“To this? It’s a requiem.” I squeak, shocked.
“Yes.” He pulls me into his arms and holds me, burying his nose in my hair and swaying gently from side to side. He smells his heavenly self.
Oh . . . I’ve missed him. I wrap my arms around him and fight the urge to cry.
Why are you so infuriating?
“I hate fighting with you,” he whispers.
“Well, stop being such an arse.”
He chuckles and the captivating sound reverberates through his chest. He tightens his hold on me. “Arse?”
“I prefer arse.”
“You should. It suits you.”
He laughs once more and kisses the top of my head.
“A requiem?” I murmur a little shocked that we are dancing to it.
He shrugs. “It’s just a lovely piece of music, Ana.”
Taylor coughs discreetly at the entranceway, and Christian releases me.
“Miss Matteo is here,” he says.
“Show her in,” Christian says. He reaches over and clasps my hand as Miss Gia Matteo enters the room.