Chapter Eight of the book Fifty Shades Freed

Gia Matteo is a good-looking woman—a tall, good-looking woman. She wears her short, salon-blond, perfectly layered and coiffed hair like a sophisticated crown. She’s dressed in a pale gray pantsuit; the slacks and fitted jacket hug her lush curves. Her clothes look expensive. At the base of her throat, a solitary diamond glints, matching the single-carat studs in her ears. She is well groomed—one of those women who grew up with money and breeding, though her breeding seems to be lacking this evening; her pale blue blouse is undone too far. Like mine. I flush.

“Christian. Ana.” She beams, showing perfect white teeth, and holds out a manicured hand to shake first Christian’s, then my hand. It means I have to release Christian’s hand to reciprocate. She’s a fraction shorter than Christian, but then she’s in killer heels.

“Gia,” Christian says politely. I smile coolly.

“You both look so well after your honeymoon,” she says smoothly, her brown eyes gazing at Christian through long mascaraed lashes. Christian puts his arm around me, holding me close.

“We had a wonderful time, thank you.” He brushes his lips against my temple, taking me by surprise.

See . . . he’s mine. Annoying—infuriating, even—but mine. I grin. Right now I really love you, Christian Grey. I slip my hand around his waist then into his rear pocket of his pants and squeeze his behind. Gia gives us a thin smile.

“Have you managed to look over the plans?”

“We have,” I murmur. I gaze up at Christian, who grins down at me, one eyebrow raised in wry amusement. Amused at what? My reaction to Gia or me squeezing his butt?

“Please,” Christian says. “The plans are here.” He gestures toward the dining table. Taking my hand, he leads me to it, Gia following in our wake. I finally remember my manners.

“Would you like something to drink?” I ask. “A glass of wine?”

“That would be lovely,” Gia says. “Dry white if you have it.”

Shit! Sauvignon blanc—that’s a dry white, isn’t it? Reluctantly leaving my husband’s side, I head over to the kitchen. I hear the iPod hiss as Christian switches off the music.

“Would you like some more wine, Christian?” I call.

“Please, baby,” he croons, grinning at me. Wow, he can be so swoonworthy at times yet so aggravating at others.

Reaching up to open the cupboard, I’m aware his eyes are on me, and I’m gripped by the uncanny feeling that Christian and I are putting on a show, playing a game together—but this time we’re on the same side pitted against Ms. Matteo.

Does he know that she’s attracted to him and is being too obvious about it? It gives me a small rush of pleasure when I realize maybe he’s trying to reassure me.

Or maybe he’s just sending a message loud and clear to this woman that he’s taken.

Mine. Yeah, bitch—mine. My inner goddess is wearing her gladiatrix outfit, and she’s taking no prisoners. Smiling to myself I collect three glasses from the cupboard, take the opened bottle of sauvignon blanc from the fridge, and place them all on the breakfast bar. Gia is leaning over the table while Christian stands beside her and points at something on the plans.

“I think Ana has some opinions on the glass wall, but generally we’re both pleased with the ideas you’ve come up with.”

“Oh, I’m glad,” Gia gushes, obviously relieved, and as she says it, she briefly touches his arm in a small, flirty gesture. Christian stiffens immediately but subtly . She doesn’t even seem to notice.

Leave him the fuck alone, lady. He doesn’t like to be touched.

Stepping casually aside so he’s out of her reach, Christian turns to me.

“Thirsty here,” he says.

“Coming right up.” He is playing the game. She makes him uncomfortable.

Why didn’t I see that before? That’s why I don’t like her. He’s used to how women react to him. I’ve seen it often enough, and usually he thinks nothing of it.

Touching is something else. Well, Mrs. Grey to the rescue.

I hastily pour the wine, gather all three glasses in my hands, and hurry back to my knight in distress. Offering a glass to Gia, I deliberately position myself between them. She smiles courteously as she accepts it. I hand the second to Christian, who takes it eagerly, his expression one of amused gratitude.

“Cheers,” Christian says to us both, but looking at me. Gia and I raise our glasses and answer in unison. I take a welcome sip of wine.

“Ana, you have some issues with the glass wall?” Gia asks.

“Yes. I love it—don’t get me wrong. But I was hoping that we could incorporate it more organically into the house. After all, I fell in love with the house as it was, and I don’t want to make any radical changes.”

“I see.”

“I just want the design to be sympathetic, you know . . . more in keeping with the original house.” I glance up at Christian, who is gazing at me thoughtfully.

“No major renovations?” he murmurs.

“No.” I shake my head to emphasize my point.

“You like it as it is?”

“Mostly, yes. I always knew it just needed some TLC.”

Christian’s eyes glow warmly.

Gia glances at the pair of us, and her cheeks pink. “Okay,” she says. “I think I get where you’re coming from, Ana. How about if we retain the glass wall, but have it open out onto a larger deck that’s in keeping with the Mediterranean style.

We have the stone terrace there already. We can put in pillars in matching stone, widely spaced so you’ll still have the view. Add a glass roof, or tile it as per the rest of the house. It’ll also make a sheltered al fresco dining and seated area.”

Got to give the woman her due . . . she’s good.

“Or instead of the deck, we could incorporate a wood color of your choice in-to the glass doors—that might help to keep the Mediterranean spirit,” she continues.

“Like the bright blue shutters in the South of France,” I murmur to Christian, who is watching me intently. He takes a sip of wine and shrugs, very noncommit-tal. Hmm. He doesn’t like that idea but he doesn’t overrule me, shoot me down, or make me feel stupid. God, this man is a mass of contradictions. His words from yesterday come to mind: “I want this house to be the way you want. Whatever you want. It’s yours.” He wants me to be happy—happy in everything I do. Deep down I think I know this. It’s just—I stop myself. Don’t think about our argument now. My subconscious glares at me.

Gia is looking at Christian, waiting for him to make the decision. I watch as her pupils dilate and her glossed lips part. Her tongue darts quickly over her top lip before she takes a sip of her wine. When I turn to Christian, he’s still looking at me—not at her at all. Yes! My inner goddess fist pumps the air. I am going to have words with Ms. Matteo.

“Ana, what do you want to do?” Christian murmurs, very clearly deferring to me.

“I like the deck idea.”

“Me, too.”

I turn back to Gia. Hey, lady, look at me, not him. I’m the one making the decisions on this. “I think I’d like to see revised drawings showing the bigger deck and pillars that are in keeping with the house.”

Reluctantly, Gia drags her greedy eyes away from my husband and smiles down at me. Does she think I’m not going to notice?

“Sure,” she acquiesces pleasantly. “Any other issues?”

Other than you eye-fucking my husband? “Christian wants to remodel the master suite,” I murmur.

There’s a discreet cough from the entrance to the great room. We three turn as one to find Taylor standing there.

“Taylor?” Christian asks.

“I need to confer with you on an urgent matter, Mr. Grey.”

Christian clasps my shoulders from behind and addresses Gia.

“Mrs. Grey is in charge of this project. She has absolute carte blanche.

Whatever she wants, it’s hers. I completely trust her instincts. She’s very shrewd.”

His voice alters subtly. In it I hear pride and a veiled warning—a warning to Gia?

He trusts my instincts? Oh, this man’s exasperating. My instincts let him run roughshod over my feelings this afternoon. I shake my head in frustration but I’m grateful that he’s telling Miss Provocative-And-Unfortunately-Good-At-Her-Job just who’s in charge. I caress his hand as it rests on my shoulder.

“If you’ll excuse me.” Christian squeezes my shoulders before following Taylor. I wonder idly what’s going on.

“So . . . the master suite?” Gia asks nervously.

I gaze up at her, pausing for a moment to ensure that Christian and Taylor are out of earshot. Then calling on all my inner strength and the fact that I’ve been seriously piqued for the last five hours, I let her have it.

“You’re right to be nervous, Gia, because right now your work on this project hangs in the balance. But I’m sure we’ll be fine as long as you keep your hands off my husband.”

She gasps.

“Otherwise, you’re fired. Understand?” I enunciate each word clearly.

She blinks rapidly, utterly stunned. She cannot believe what I’ve said . I cannot believe what I’ve just said. But I hold my ground, gazing impassively into her widening brown eyes.

Don’t back down. Don’t back down! I’ve learned this maddening impassive expression from Christian who does impassive like no one else. I know that renovating the Greys’ main residence is a prestigious project for Gia’s architectur-al firm—a resplendent feather in her cap. She can’t lose this commission. And right now I don’t give a hoot that she’s Elliot’s friend.

“Ana—Mrs. Grey . . . I-I’m so sorry. I never—” She flushes, unsure what else she can say.

“Let me be clear. My husband is not interested in you.”

“Of course,” she murmurs, the blood draining from her face.

“As I said, I just wanted to be clear.”

“Mrs. Grey, I sincerely apologize if you think . . . I have—” She stops, still floundering for something to say.

“Good. As long as we understand each other, we’ll be fine. Now, I’ll let you know what we have in mind for the master suite, then I’d like a run down on all the materials you intend to use. As you know, Christian and I are determined that this house should be ecologically sustainable, and I’d like to reassure him as to where all the materials are coming from and what they are.”

“Of c-course,” she stutters, wide-eyed and frankly a little intimidated by me.

This is a first. My inner goddess runs around the arena, waving to the frenzied crowd.

Gia pats her hair into place, and I realize this is a nervous gesture.

“The master suite?” she prompts anxiously, her voice a breathless whisper.

Now that I have the upper hand, I feel myself relax for the first time since my meeting with Christian this afternoon. I can do this. My inner goddess is celebrating her inner bitch.

Christian joins us just as we’re finishing up.

“All done?” he asks. He puts his arm around my waist and turns to Gia.

“Yes, Mr. Grey,” Gia smiles brightly, though her smile looks brittle. “I’ll have the revised plans to you in a couple of days.”

“Excellent. You’re happy?” he asks me directly, his eyes warm and probing. I nod and blush for some reason that I don’t understand.

“I’d better be going,” Gia says again too brightly. She offers her hand to me first this time, then to Christian.

“Until next time, Gia,” I murmur.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey. Mr. Grey.”

Taylor appears at the entrance of the great room.

“Taylor will see you out.” My voice is loud enough for him to hear. Patting her hair once more, she turns on her high heels and leaves the great room, followed closely by Taylor.

“She was noticeably cooler,” Christian says, looking quizzically at me.

“Was she? I didn’t notice.” I shrug, trying to remain neutral. “What did Taylor want?” I ask partly because I’m curious and partly because I want to change the subject.

Frowning, Christian releases me and begins to roll up the plans on the table.

“It was about Hyde.”

“What about Hyde?” I whisper.

“It’s nothing to worry about, Ana.” Abandoning the plans, Christian draws me into his arms. “It turns out he hasn’t been in his apartment for weeks, that’s all.” He kisses my hair, then releases me and finishes his task.

“So what did you decide on?” he asks, and I know it’s because he doesn’t want me to pursue the Hyde line of inquiry.

“Only what you and I discussed. I think she likes you,” I say quietly.

He snorts. “Did you say something to her?” he asks and I flush. How does he know? At a loss what to say, I stare down at my fingers.

“We were Christian and Ana when she arrived, and Mr. and Mrs. Grey when she left.” His tone is dry.

“I may have said something,” I mumble. When I peek up at him, he’s regarding me warmly, and for an unguarded moment he looks . . . pleased. He drops his gaze, shaking his head, and his expression changes.

“She’s only reacting to this face.” He sounds vaguely bitter, disgusted even.

Oh, Fifty, no!

“What?” He’s bemused by my perplexed expression. His eyes grow wide in alarm. “You’re not jealous, are you?” he asks, horrified.

I blush and swallow, then stare down at my knotted fingers. Am I?

“Ana, she’s a sexual predator. Not my type at all. How can you be jealous of her? Of anyone? Nothing about her interests me.” When I glance up, he’s gaping at me as if I’ve grown an additional limb. He runs a hand through his hair. “It’s only you, Ana,” he says quietly. “It will only ever be you.”

Oh my. Abandoning the plans once more, Christian moves toward me and clasps my chin between his thumb and forefinger.

“How can you think otherwise? Have I ever given you any indication that I could be remotely interested in anyone else?” His eyes blaze as he stares into mine.

“No,” I whisper. “I’m being silly. It’s just today . . . you . . .” All my conflicting emotions from earlier resurfaces. How can I tell him how confused I am? I’ve been confounded and frustrated by his behavior this afternoon in my office. One minute he wants me to stay at home, the next he’s gifting me a company. How am I supposed to keep up?

“What about me?”

“Oh, Christian”—my bottom lip trembles—”I’m trying to adapt to this new life that I had never imagined for myself. Everything is being handed to me on a plate—the job, you, my beautiful husband, who I never . . . I never knew I’d love this way, this hard, this fast, this . . . indelibly.” I take a deep steadying breath, as his mouth drops open.

“But you’re like a freight train, and I don’t want to get railroaded because the girl you fell in love with will be crushed. And what’ll be left? All that would be left is a vacuous social x-ray, flitting from charity function to charity function.” I pause once more, struggling to find the words to convey how I feel. “And now you want me to be a company CEO, which has never even been on my radar. I’m bouncing between all these ideas, struggling. You want me at home. You want me to run a company. It’s so confusing.” I stop, tears threatening, and I force back a sob.

“You’ve got to let me make my own decisions, take my own risks, and make my own mistakes, and let me learn from them. I need to walk before I can run, Christian, don’t you see. I want some independence. That’s what my name means to me.” There, that’s what I wanted to say this afternoon.

“You feel railroaded?” he whispers.

I nod.

He closes his eyes and runs his hand through his hair in agitation. “I just want to give you the world, Ana, everything and anything you want. And save you from it, too. Keep you safe. But I also want everyone to know you’re mine. I panicked today when I got your e-mail. Why didn’t you tell me about your name?”

I flush. He has a point.

“I only thought about it while we were on our honeymoon, and well, I didn’t want to burst the bubble, and I forgot about it. I only remembered yesterday evening. And then Jack . . . you know, it was distracting. I’m sorry, I should have told you or discussed it with you, but I could never seem to find the right time.”

Christian’s intense gaze is unnerving. It’s as if he’s trying to will his way into my skull, but he says nothing.

“Why did you panic?” I ask.

“I just don’t want you to slip through my fingers.”

“For heaven’s sake, I’m not going anywhere. When are you going to get that through your incredibly thick skull? I. Love. You.” I wave my hand in the air like he does sometimes to emphasize my point. “More than . . . eyesight, space, or liberty.”

His eyes widen. “A daughter’s love?” He gives me an ironic smile.

“No,” I laugh, despite myself. “It’s the only quote that came to mind.”

“Mad King Lear?”

“Dear, dear Mad King Lear.” I caress his face, and he leans into my touch, closing his eyes. “Would you change your name to Christian Steele so everyone would know that you belong to me?”

Christian’s eyes fly open, and he gazes at me as if I’ve just said the world is flat. He frowns. “Belong to you?” he murmurs, testing the words.

“Mine.”

“Yours,” he says, repeating the words we spoke in the playroom only yesterday. “Yes, I would. If it meant that much to you.”

Oh my.

“Does it mean that much to you?”

“Yes.” He is unequivocal.

“Okay.” I will do this for him. Give him the reassurance he still needs.

“I thought you’d already agreed to this.”

“Yes I have, but now we’ve discussed it further, I’m happier with my decision.”

“Oh,” he mutters, surprised. Then he smiles his beautiful, boyish yes-I-am-really-kinda-young smile, and he takes my breath away. Grabbing me by my waist, he swings me around. I squeal and start to giggle, and I don’t know if he’s just happy or relieved or . . . what?

“Mrs. Grey, do you know what this means to me?”

“I do now.”

He leans down and kisses me, his fingers moving into my hair, holding me in place.

“It means seven shades of Sunday,” he murmurs against my lips, and he runs his nose along mine.

“You think?” I lean back to gaze at him.

“Certain promises were made. An offer extended, a deal brokered,” he whispers, his eyes sparkling with wicked delight.

“Um . . .” I am still reeling, trying to follow his mood.

“You reneging on me?” he asks uncertainly, and a speculative look crosses his face. “I have an idea,” he adds.

Oh, what kinky fuckery is this?

“A really important matter to attend to,” he continues, suddenly all serious once more. “Yes, Mrs. Grey. A matter of the gravest importance.”

Hang on—he’s laughing at me.

“What?” I breathe.

“I need you to cut my hair. Apparently it’s overlong, and my wife doesn’t like it.”

“I can’t cut your hair!”

“Yes you can.” Christian grins and shakes his head so his overlong hair covers his eyes.

“Well, if Mrs. Jones has a pudding bowl.” I giggle.

He laughs. “Okay, good point well made. I’ll get Franco to do it.”

No! Franco works for her? Maybe I could give him a trim. After all, I cut Ray’s hair for years, and he never complained.

“Come.” I grab his hand. His eyes widen. I lead him all the way to our bathroom where I release him and grab the white wooden chair that stands in the corner. I place it in front of the sink. When I look at Christian, he’s gazing at me with ill-disguised amusement, thumbs tucked in the front belt loops of his pants but his eyes are smoking hot.

“Sit.” I gesture to the empty chair, trying to maintain the upper hand.

“Are you going to wash my hair?”

I nod. He arches one brow in surprise, and for a moment I think he’s going to back down. “Okay.” Slowly he begins to undo each button of his white shirt, starting with the one beneath his throat. Nimble, deft fingers move to each button in turn until his shirt hangs open.

Oh my . . . My inner goddess pauses in her celebratory jaunt around the arena.

Christian holds out a cuff with an “undo this now” gesture, and his mouth twitches in that challenging, sexy way he has.

Oh, cufflinks. I take his proffered wrist and remove the first one, a platinum disc with his initials engraved in a simple italic script—and then remove its matching twin. As I finish I glance at him, and his amused expression is gone, replaced by something hotter . . . much hotter. I reach up and push his shirt off his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor.

“Ready?” I whisper.

“For whatever you want, Ana.”

My eyes stray from his eyes to his lips. Parted so that he can inhale more deeply. Sculptured, chiseled, whatever, it is a beautiful mouth and he knows exactly what to do with it. I find myself leaning up to kiss him.

“No,” he says and places both of his hands on my shoulders. “Don’t. If you do that, I’ll never get my hair cut.”

Oh! “I want this,” he continues. And his eyes are round and raw for some inexplicable reason. It’s disarming.

“Why?” I whisper.

He stares at me for a beat, and his eyes grow wider. “Because it’ll make me feel cherished.”

My heart practically lurches to a halt. Oh, Christian . . . my Fifty. And before I know it I’ve circled him in my arms, and I kiss his chest before nuzzling my cheek into his tickly chest hair.

“Ana. My Ana,” he whispers. He wraps his arms around me and we stand immobile, holding each other in our bathroom. Oh, how I love to be in his arms.

Even if he is an overbearing, megalomaniac arse, he’s my overbearing megalomaniac arse in need of a lifetime dose of TLC. I lean back without releasing him.

“You really want me to do this?”

He nods and gives me his shy smile. I grin back at him and step out of his embrace.

“Then sit,” I repeat.

He dutifully does, sitting with his back to the sink. I take off my shoes and kick them over to where his shirt lies crumpled on the bathroom floor. From the shower I retrieve his Chanel shampoo. We bought it in France.

“Would sir like this?” I hold it up in both hands like I’m selling it on QVC.

“Hand-delivered from the South of France. I like the smell of this . . . it smells of you,” I add in a whisper, slipping out of my television presenter mode.

“Please.” He grins.

I grab a small towel off the towel warmer. Mrs. Jones sure knows how to keep the towels super-soft.

“Lean forward,” I order and Christian complies. Draping the towel around his shoulders, I then turn on the taps and fill the sink with a mix of warm water.

“Lean back.” Oh, I like being in charge. Christian leans back, but he’s too tall. He shifts the seat forward then tilts back the entire chair until the top rests against the sink. Perfect distance. He tips back his head. Bold eyes gaze up at me, and I smile. Taking one of the drinking glasses we keep on the vanity, I dip it into the water and tip it over Christian’s head, soaking his hair. I repeat the process, leaning over him.

“You smell so good, Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs and closes his eyes.

As I methodically wet his hair, I freely gaze at him. Holy cow. Will I ever tire of this? Long dark lashes fan across his cheeks; his lips part a little, creating a small, dark diamond shape, and he inhales softly. Hmm . . . how I long to poke my tongue—

I splash water into his eyes. Shit! “Sorry!”

He grabs the corner of the towel and laughs as he wipes the water out of his eyes.

“Hey, I know I’m an arse, but don’t drown me.”

I lean down and kiss his forehead, giggling. “Don’t tempt me.”

He curls his hand behind my head and shifts so that he captures my lips with his. He kisses me briefly, making a low contented sound in his throat. The noise connects to the muscles deep in my belly. It’s a very seductive sound. He releases me and lies back obediently, gazing up at me with expectation. For a moment he looks vulnerable, like a child. It tugs at my heart.

I squirt some shampoo into my palm and massage it into his scalp, beginning at his temples and working over the top of his head and down the sides, circling my fingers rhythmically. He closes his eyes again and makes that low humming sound again.

“That feels good,” he says after a moment and relaxes beneath the firm touch of my fingers.

“Yes it does.” I kiss his forehead once more.

“I like it when you scratch my scalp with your fingernails.” His eyes are still closed, but his expression one of blissful contentment—no trace of his vulnerabil-ity remains. Jeez, how much his mood has changed, and I take comfort knowing it’s me that’s done this.

“Head up,” I command and he obeys. Hmm—a girl could get used to this. I rub the suds into the back of his hair, scraping my nails into his scalp.

“Back.”

He leans back, and I rinse off the lather, using the glass. This time I manage not to splash him.

“Once more?” I ask.

“Please.” His eyes flutter open and his serene gaze finds mine. I grin down at him.

“Coming right up, Mr. Grey.”

I turn to the sink that Christian normally uses and fill it with warm water.

“For rinsing,” I say when his look turns quizzical.

I repeat the process with the shampoo, listening to his even deep breaths.

Once he’s all lathered up, I take another moment to appreciate the fine face of my husband. I cannot resist him. Tenderly, I caress his cheek, and he opens his eyes, watching me almost sleepily through his long lashes. Leaning forward I plant a soft, chaste kiss on his lips. He smiles, closes his eyes, and breathes out a sigh of utter contentment.

Jeez. Who would have thought after our argument this afternoon he could be this relaxed? Without sex? I lean right over him.

“Hmm,” he murmurs appreciatively as my breasts brush his face. Resisting the urge to shimmy, I pull the plug so the sudsy water drains away. His hands move to my hips and around to my behind.

“No fondling the help,” I murmur, feigning disapproval.

“Don’t forget I’m deaf,” he says, keeping his eyes closed, as he runs his hands down past my behind and starts to hitch up my skirt. I swat his arm. I’m enjoying playing hairdresser. He grins, big and boyish, like I’ve caught him doing something illicit that he’s secretly proud of.

I reach for the glass again, but this time use the water from the neighboring sink to carefully rinse all the shampoo from his hair. I continue to lean over him, and he keeps his hands on my backside, thrumming his fingers back and forward, up and down . . . back and forth . . . hmm. I wiggle. He growls low in his throat.

“There. All rinsed.”

“Good,” he declares. His fingers tighten on my behind, and all at once he sits up, his soaked hair dripping all over him. He pulls me down onto his lap, his hands moving from my behind up to the nape of my neck, then to my chin, holding me in place. I gasp with surprise and his lips are on mine, his tongue hot and hard in my mouth. My fingers curl around his wet hair, and drops of water run down my arms; and as he deepens the kiss, his hair bathes my face. His hand moves from my chin down to the top button of my blouse.

“Enough of this primping. I want to fuck you seven shades of Sunday, and we can do it in here or in the bedroom. You decide.”

Christian’s eyes blaze, hot and full of promise, his hair dripping water onto us both. My mouth goes dry.

“What’s it to be, Anastasia?” he asks as he holds in his lap.

“You’re wet,” I respond.

He bends his head suddenly, running his dripping hair all down the front of my blouse. I squeal and try to wriggle off him. He tightens his grip around me.

“Oh, no you don’t, baby,” he murmurs. When he raises his head he’s grinning salaciously at me, and I am Miss Wet Blouse 2011. My top is soaked and totally see-through. I’m wet . . . everywhere.

“Love the view,” he murmurs and leans down to run his nose around and around one wet nipple. I squirm.

“Answer me, Ana. Here or the bedroom?”

“Here,” I whisper frantically. To hell with the haircut—I’ll do it later. He smiles slowly, his lips curling into a sensuous smile full of licentious promise.

“Good choice, Mrs. Grey,” he murmurs against my lips. He releases my chin and his hand moves to my knee. It glides smoothly up my leg, lifting my skirt and skating over my skin, making me tingle. His lips trail soft kisses from the base of my ear along my jaw.

“Oh, what shall I do to you?” he whispers. His fingers halt at my stocking tops. “I like these,” he says. He runs a finger underneath the top and skims it around to my inner thigh. I gasp and squirm once more in his lap.

He groans, low in his throat. “If I’m going to fuck you seven shades of Sunday, I want you to keep still.”

“Make me,” I challenge, my voice soft and breathy.

Christian inhales sharply. He narrows his eyes and regards me with a hot, hooded expression.

“Oh, Mrs. Grey. You have only to ask.” His hand moves from my stocking tops up to my panties. “Let’s divest you of these.” He tugs gently and I shift to help him. His breath hisses through his teeth as I do.

“Keep still,” he grumbles.

“I’m helping,” I pout, and he seizes my lower lip gently between his teeth.

“Still,” he growls. He slides my panties down my legs and off. Tugging my skirt up so that it’s bunched around my hips, he moves both hands to my waist and lifts me. He still has my panties in his hand.

“Sit. Astride me,” he orders staring intently into my eyes. I shift, straddling him, and regard him provocatively. Bring it on, Fifty!

“Mrs. Grey,” he warns “Are you goading me?” He gazes at me, amused but aroused. It’s a seductive combination.

“Yes. What are you going to do about it?”

His eyes light up with salacious delight at my challenge, and I feel his arousal beneath me. “Clasp your hands together behind your back.”

Oh! I comply obediently and, he deftly binds my wrists together with my panties.

“My panties? Mr. Grey, you have no shame,” I admonish.

“Not where you’re concerned, Mrs. Grey, but you know that.” His look is intense and hot. Putting his hands around my waist, he shifts me so I am sitting a little further back on his lap. Water still drips down his neck and over his chest. I want to bend forward and lick the drips off, but it’s trickier now that I am restrained.

Christian caresses both of my thighs and skims his hands down to my knees.

Gently he pushes them further apart and widens his own legs, holding me in that position. His fingers move to the buttons of my blouse.

“I don’t think we need this,” he says. He starts methodically undoing each button on my clinging wet blouse, his eyes never leaving mine. They get darker and darker as he finishes the task, taking his own sweet time about it. My pulse quickens and my breathing shallows. I can’t believe it—he’s hardly touched me, and I feel like this—hot, bothered . . . ready. I want to squirm. He leaves my damp blouse hanging open and using both hands, he caresses my face with his fingers, his thumb skimming across my bottom lip. Suddenly, he thrusts his thumb into my mouth.

“Suck,” he orders in a whisper, stressing the S. I close my mouth around him and do exactly that. Oh . . . I like this game. He tastes good. What else would I like to suck? The muscles in my belly clench at the thought. His lips part when I scrape my teeth and bite the soft pad of his thumb.

He groans and slowly extracts his wet thumb from my mouth and trails it down my chin, down my throat, over my sternum. He hooks it into the cup of my bra and yanks the cup down, freeing my breast.

Christian’s gaze never leaves mine. He’s watching each reaction that his touch elicits from me, and I’m watching him. It’s hot. Consuming. Possessive. I love it. He mirrors his actions with his other hand so both my breasts are free and, cupping them gently, he skims each thumb over a nipple, circling slowly, teasing and taunting each one so that they harden and distend beneath his skillful touch. I try, I really try not to move, but my nipples are hotwired to my groin, so I moan and throw my head back, closing my eyes and surrendering to the sweet, sweet torture.

“Shh.” Christian’s soothing voice is at odds with the teasing, even-tempo rhythm of his wicked fingers. “Still, baby, still.” Releasing one breast, he reaches up behind me and splays his hand around the nape of my neck. Leaning forward, he takes my now bereft nipple into his mouth and sucks hard, his wet hair tickling me. At the same time, his thumb stops skimming across my other elongated nipple. Instead, he takes it between his thumb and forefinger and tugs and twists it gently.

“Ah! Christian!” I groan and buck forward on his lap. But he doesn’t stop. He continues the slow, leisurely, agonizing tease. And my body is burning as the pleasure takes a darker turn.

“Christian, please,” I whimper.

“Hmm,” he hums low in his chest. “I want you to come like this.” My nipple gets a brief respite as his words caress my skin, and it’s like he’s calling to a deep, dark part of my psyche that only he knows. When he resumes with his teeth this time, the pleasure is almost intolerable. Moaning loudly, I writhe on his lap, trying to find some precious friction against his pants. I pull uselessly against my restraining panties, itching to touch him, but I’m lost—lost in this treacherous sensation.

“Please,” I whisper, pleading, and pleasure flies through my body, from my neck, right down to my legs, to my toes, tightening all in its wake.

“You have such beautiful breasts, Ana.” He groans. “One day I’ll fuck them.”

What the hell does that mean? Opening my eyes, I gape down at him as he suckles me, my skin singing under his touch. I no longer feel my sodden blouse, his wet hair . . . nothing except the burn. And it burns deliciously hot and low, deep inside me, and all thought evaporates as my body tightens and clenches . . . ready, reaching . . . pining for release. And he doesn’t stop—teasing, pulling, driving me wild. I want . . . I want . . .

“Let go,” he breathes—and I do, loudly, my orgasm convulsing through my body, and he stops his sweet torture and wraps his arms around me, clutching me to him as my body spirals down from my climax. When I open my eyes, he is gazing down at me where I rest against his chest.

“God, I love to watch you come, Ana.” His voice is full of wonder.

“That was . . .” Words fail me.

“I know.” He leans forward and kisses me, his hand still at the nape of my neck, holding me just so, angling my head so he can kiss me deeply—with love, with reverence.

I am lost in his kiss.

He pulls away to draw breath, his eyes the color of a tropical storm.

“Now I’m going to fuck you, hard,” he murmurs.

Holy cow. Grabbing me around the waist, he lifts me from his thighs down to the edge of his knees and reaches with his right hand for the button on the waistband of his navy pants. He runs the fingers of his left hand up and down my thigh, stopping at my stocking tops each time. He’s watching me intently. We’re face to face and I’m helpless, trussed up in my bra and by my panties, and this has to be one of the most intimate times we’ve had—me sitting on his lap, staring into his beautiful gray eyes. It makes me feel wanton, but also so connected to him—I am not embarrassed or shy. This is Christian, my husband, my lover, my overbearing megalomaniac, my Fifty—the love of my life. He reaches for his zipper, and my mouth goes dry as his erection springs free.

He smirks. “You like?” he whispers.

“Hmm,” I murmur appreciatively. He wraps his hand around himself and moves it up and down . . . Oh my. I gaze up at him through my lashes. Fuck, he’s so sexy.

“You’re biting your lip, Mrs. Grey.”

“That’s because I’m hungry.”

“Hungry?” His mouth opens in surprise, and his eyes widen a fraction.

“Hmm . . .” I agree and lick my lips.

He gives me his enigmatic smile and bites his lower lip as he continues to stroke himself. Why is the sight of my husband pleasuring himself such a turn-on?

“I see. You should have eaten your dinner.” His tone is mocking and censorious at once. “But maybe I can oblige.” He puts his hands on my waist. “Stand,”

he says softly, and I know what he’s going to do. I get to my feet, my legs no longer shaking.

“Kneel.”

I do as I’m told and kneel down on the cool tiled floor of the bathroom. He slides forward on the seat of the chair.

“Kiss me,” he utters holding his erection. I glance up at him, and he runs his tongue over his top teeth. It’s arousing, very arousing, to see his desire, his naked desire for me and my mouth. Leaning forward, my eyes on his, I kiss the tip of his erection. I watch him inhale sharply and clench his teeth. Christian cups the side of my head, and I run my tongue over the tip, tasting the small bead of dew on the end. Hmm . . . he tastes good. His mouth drops open further as he gasps and I pounce, pulling him into my mouth and sucking hard.

“Ah—” The air hisses through his teeth, and he flexes his hips forward, thrusting into my mouth. But I don’t stop. Sheathing my teeth behind my lips, I push down and then pull up on him. He moves both hands so that he fully cups my head, burying his fingers in my hair and slowly eases himself in and out of my mouth, his breathing quickening, growing harsher. I twirl my tongue around his tip and push down again in perfect counterpoint to him.

“Jesus, Ana.” He sighs and screws his eyes tightly. He’s lost and it’s heady, his response to me. Me. My inner goddess could light up Escala, she’s so thrilled.

And very slowly I draw my lips back, so it’s just my teeth.

“Ah!” Christian stops moving. Leaning forward he grabs me and pulls me up onto his lap.

“Enough!” he growls. Reaching behind me, he frees my hands with one tug on my panties. I flex my wrists and stare from under my lashes into scorching eyes that gaze back at me with love and longing and lust. And I realize it’s me that wants to fuck him seven shades of Sunday. I want him badly. I want to watch him come apart beneath me. I grab his erection and scoot over him. Placing my other hand on his shoulder, very gently and slowly, I ease myself onto him. He makes a guttural, feral noise deep in his throat and, reaching up, pulls off my blouse letting it fall to the floor. His hands move to my hips.

“Still,” he rasps, his hands digging into my flesh. “Please, let me savor this. Savor you.”

I stop. Oh my . . . he feels so good inside me. He caresses my face, his eyes wide and wild, his lips parted as he breathes. He flexes beneath me and I moan, closing my eyes.

“This is my favorite place,” he whispers. “Inside you. Inside my wife.”

Oh fuck. Christian. I cannot hold back. My fingers glide into his wet hair, my lips seek his, and I start to move. Up and down on my toes, savoring him, savoring me. He groans loudly, and his hands are in my hair and around my back, and his tongue invades my mouth greedily, taking all that I willingly give. After all our arguing today, my frustration with him, his with me—we still have this. We will always have this. I love him so much, it’s almost overwhelming. His hands move to my backside and he controls me, moving me up and down, again and again, at his pace—his hot, slick tempo.

“Ah,” I groan helplessly into his mouth as I’m carried away.

“Yes. Yes, Ana,” he hisses, and I rain kisses on his face, his chin, his jaw, his neck. “Baby,” he breathes, capturing my mouth once more.

“Oh, Christian, I love you. I will always love you.” I’m breathless, wanting him to know, wanting him to be sure of me after our battle of wills today.

He moans loudly and wraps his arms around me tightly as he climaxes with a mournful sob, and it’s enough—enough to push me over the brink once more. I clutch my arms around his head and let go, and I come around him, tears springing to my eyes because I love him so.

“Hey,” he whispers, tipping my chin back and gazing at me with quiet concern.

“Why are you crying? Did I hurt you?”

“No,” I mutter reassuringly. He smoothes my hair off my face, wipes away a lone tear with this thumb and tenderly kisses my lips. He is still inside me. He shifts, and I wince as he pulls out of me.

“What’s wrong, Ana? Tell me.”

I sniff. “It’s just . . . it’s just sometimes I’m overwhelmed by how much I love you,” I whisper.

After a beat, he smiles his special shy smile—reserved for me, I think. “You have the same effect on me,” he whispers, and kisses me once more. I smile, and inside my joy unfurls and stretches lazily.

“Do I?”

He smirks. “You know you do.”

“Sometimes I know. Not all the time.”

“Back at you, Mrs. Grey,” he whispers.

I grin and gently place feather-light kisses over his chest. I nuzzle his chest hair. Christian caresses my hair and runs a hand down my back. He unclasps my bra and pulls the strap down one arm. I shift, and he tugs the strap down the other arm and drops my bra on the floor.

“Hmm. Skin on skin,” he murmurs appreciatively and folds me in his arms again. He kisses my shoulder and runs his nose up to my ear. “You smell like heaven, Mrs. Grey.”

“So do you, Mr. Grey.” I nuzzle him again and inhale his Christian smell, which is now mixed with the heady scent of sex. I could stay wrapped in his arms like this, sated and happy, forever. It’s just what I need after a full day of back-to-work, arguing, and bitch slapping. This is where I want to be, and in spite of his control freakery, his megalomania, this is where I belong. Christian buries his nose in my hair and inhales deeply. I let out a contented sigh, and I feel his smile.

And we sit, arms clasped around each other, saying nothing.

Eventually reality intrudes.

“It’s late,” Christian says, his fingers methodically stroking my back.

“Your hair still needs cutting.”

He chuckles. “That it does, Mrs. Grey. Do you have the energy to finish the job you started?”

“For you, Mr. Grey, anything.” I kiss his chest once more and reluctantly stand.

“Don’t go.” Grabbing my hips, he turns me around. He straightens then undoes my skirt, letting it drop to the floor. He holds his hand out to me. I take it and step out of my skirt. Now I am dressed solely in stockings and garter belt.

“You are a mighty fine sight, Mrs. Grey.” He sits back in the chair and crosses his arms, giving me a full and frank appraisal.

I hold out my hands and twirl for him.

“God, I’m a lucky son of a bitch,” he says admiringly.

“Yes, you are.”

He grins. “Put my shirt on and you can cut my hair. Like this, you’ll distract me, and we’ll never get to bed.”

I can’t help my answering smile. Knowing that he’s watching my every move, I sashay over to where we left my shoes and his shirt. Bending slowly, I reach down, pick up his shirt, smell it— hmm—then shrug it on.

Christian’s eyes are round. He’s redone his fly and is watching me intently.

“That’s quite a floor show, Mrs. Grey.”

“Do we have any scissors?” I ask innocently, batting my eyelashes.

“My study,” he croaks.

“I’ll go search.” Leaving him, I walk into our bedroom and grab my comb from the dressing table before heading to his study. As I enter the main corridor, I notice the door to Taylor’s office is open. Mrs. Jones is standing just beyond the door. I stop, rooted to the spot.

Taylor is running his fingers down her face and smiling sweetly at her. Then he leans down and kisses her.

Holy shit! Taylor and Mrs. Jones? I gape in astonishment—I mean, I thought . . . well, I kind of suspected. But obviously they are together! I flush, feeling like a voyeur, and manage to get my feet to move. I scamper across the great room and into Christian’s study. Switching on the light, I walk to his desk.

Taylor and Mrs. Jones . . . Wow! I’m reeling. I always thought Mrs. Jones was older than Taylor. Oh, I have to get my head around this. I open the top drawer and am immediately distracted when I find a gun. Christian has a gun!

A revolver. Holy fuck! I had no idea Christian owned a gun. I take it out, slip the release and check the cylinder. It’s fully loaded, but light . . . too light. It must be carbon fiber. What does Christian want with a gun? Jeez, I hope he knows how to use it. Ray’s perpetual warnings about handguns run quickly through my mind.

His army training was never lost. These will kill you, Ana. You need to know what you’re doing when you’re handling a firearm. I put the gun back and find the scissors. Retrieving them quickly, I bolt back to Christian, my head buzzing. Taylor and Mrs. Jones . . . the revolver . . .

At the entrance to the great room, I run into Taylor.

“Mrs. Grey, excuse me.” His face reddens as he quickly takes in my attire.

“Um, Taylor, hi . . . um. I’m cutting Christian’s hair!” I blurt out, embarrassed. Taylor is as mortified as I am. He opens his mouth to say something then closes it quickly and stands aside.

“After you, ma’am,” he says formally. I think I’m the color of my old Audi, the submissive special. Jeez. Could this be more embarrassing?

“Thank you,” I mutter and dash down the hallway. Crap! Will I ever get used to the fact that we’re not alone? I dash into the bathroom, breathless.

“What’s wrong?” Christian is standing in front of the mirror, holding my shoes. All of my scattered clothes are now neatly piled beside the sink.

“I just ran into Taylor.”

“Oh.” Christian frowns. “Dressed like that.”

Oh shit! “That’s not Taylor’s fault.”

Christian’s frown deepens. “No. But still.”

“I’m dressed.”

“Barely.”

“I don’t know who was more embarrassed, me or him.” I try my distraction technique. “Did you know he and Gail are . . . well, together?”

Christian laughs. “Yes, of course I knew.”

“And you never told me?”

“I thought you knew, too.”

“No.”

“Ana, they’re adults. They live under the same roof. Both unattached. Both attractive.”

I flush, feeling foolish for not having noticed.

“Well, if you put it like that . . . I just thought Gail was older than Taylor.”

“She is, but not by much.” He gazes at me, perplexed. “Some men like older women—” He stops abruptly and his eyes widen.

I scowl at him. “I know that,” I snap.

Christian looks contrite. He smiles fondly at me. Yes! My distraction technique successful! My subconscious rolls her eyes at me—but at what cost? Now the unmentionable Mrs. Robinson is looming over us.

“That reminds me,” he says, brightly.

“What?” I mutter petulantly. Grabbing the chair, I turn it to face the mirror above the sinks. “Sit,” I order. Christian regards me with indulgent amusement, but does as he’s told and sits back down in the chair. I start to comb through his now merely damp hair.

“I was thinking we could convert the rooms over the garages for them at the new place,” Christian continues. “Make it a home. Then maybe Taylor’s daughter could stay with him more often.” He watches me carefully in the mirror.

“Why doesn’t she stay here?”

“Taylor’s never asked me.”

“Perhaps you should offer. But we’d have to behave ourselves.”

Christian’s brow furrows. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Perhaps that’s why Taylor hasn’t asked. Have you met her?”

“Yes. She’s a sweet thing. Shy. Very pretty. I pay for her schooling.”

Oh! I stop combing and stare at him in the mirror.

“I had no idea.”

He shrugs. “Seemed the least I could do. Also, it means he won’t quit.”

“I’m sure he likes working for you.”

Christian stares at me blankly then shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“I think he’s very fond of you, Christian.” I resume combing and glance at him. His eyes don’t leave mine.

“You think?”

“Yes. I do.”

He snorts a dismissive yet content sound as if he’s secretly pleased that his staff may like him.

“Good. Will you talk to Gia about the rooms over the garage?”

“Yes, of course.” I don’t feel the same irritation I did before at the mention of her name. My subconscious nods sagely at me. Yes . . . we done good today. My inner goddess gloats. Now she’ll leave my husband alone and not make him uncomfortable.

I am ready to cut Christian’s hair. “You sure about this? Your last chance to bail.”

“Do your worst, Mrs. Grey. I don’t have to look at me, you do.”

I grin. “Christian, I could look at you all day.”

He shakes his head exasperated. “It’s just a pretty face, baby.”

“And behind it is a very pretty man.” I kiss his temple. “My man.”

He grins shyly.

Lifting the first lock, I comb it upward and snare it between my index and middle finger. I put the comb in my mouth, take the scissors and make the first snip, cutting an inch off the length. Christian closes his eyes and sits like a statue, sighing contentedly as I continue. Occasionally he opens his eyes, and I catch him watching me intently. He doesn’t touch me while I work, and I’m grateful. His touch is . . . distracting.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m done.

“Finished.” I’m pleased with the result. He looks as hot as ever, his hair still floppy and sexy . . . just a bit shorter.

Christian gazes at himself in the mirror, looking pleasantly surprised. He grins. “Great job, Mrs. Grey.” He turns his head from side to side and snakes his arm around me. Pulling me to him, he kisses and nuzzles my belly.

“Thank you,” he says.

“My pleasure.” I bend and kiss him briefly.

“It’s late. Bed.” He gives my behind a playful slap.

“Ah! I should clean up in here.” There is hair all over the floor.

Christian frowns, as if the thought would never have occurred to him. “Okay, I’ll get the broom,” he says wryly. “I don’t want you embarrassing the staff with your lack of appropriate attire.”

“Do you know where the broom is?” I ask innocently.

This stops Christian in his tracks. “Um . . . no.”

I laugh. “I’ll go.”

As I climb into bed and wait for Christian to join me, I reflect on how differently this day could have ended. I was so mad at him earlier, and he with me. How am I going to deal with this running-a-company nonsense? I have no desire to run my own company. I am not him. I need to head this off at the pass. Perhaps I should have a safe word for when he’s being overbearing and domineering, for when he’s being an arse. I giggle. Perhaps the safe word should be arse. I find the thought very appealing.

“What?” he says as he climbs into bed beside me wearing only his pajama pants.

“Nothing. Just an idea.”

“What idea?” He stretches out beside me.

Here goes nothing. “Christian, I don’t think I want to run a company.”

He props himself up on his elbow and gazes down at me. “Why do you say that?”

“Because it’s not something that has ever appealed to me.”

“You’re more than capable, Anastasia.”

“I like to read books, Christian. Running a company will take me away from that.”

“You could be the creative head.”

I frown.

“You see,” he continues, “running a successful company is all about embracing the talent of the individuals you have at your disposal. If that’s where your talents and your interests lie, then you structure the company to enable that. Don’t dismiss it out of hand, Anastasia. You’re a very capable woman. I think you could do anything you wanted if you put your mind to it.”

Whoa! How can he possibly know that I’d be any good at this?

“I’m also worried it will take up too much of my time.”

Christian frowns.

“Time I could devote to you.” I deploy my secret weapon.

His gaze darkens. “I know what you’re doing,” he murmurs, amused.

Damn it!

“What?” I feign innocence.

“You’re trying to distract me from the issue at hand. You always do that. Just don’t dismiss the idea, Ana. Think about it. That’s all I ask.” He leans down and kisses me chastely, then skims his thumb down my cheek. This argument is going to run and run. I smile up at him—and something he said earlier today pops unbidden into my mind.

“Can I ask you something?” My voice is soft, tentative.

“Of course.”

“Earlier today you said if I was angry with you, I should take it out on you in bed. What did you mean?”

He stills. “What did you think I meant?”

Holy shit! I should just say it. “That you wanted me to tie you up.”

His eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Um . . . no. That’s not what I meant at all.”

“Oh.” I’m surprised by my slight twinge of disappointment.

“You want to tie me up?” he asks, obviously reading my expression correctly. He sounds shocked. I blush.

“Well . . .”

“Ana, I—” he stops, and something dark crosses his face.

“Christian,” I whisper, alarmed. I move so that I am lying on my side, propped up on my elbow like him. I caress his face. His eyes are large and fearful.

He shakes his head sadly.

Shit! “Christian, stop. It doesn’t matter. I thought that’s what you meant.”

He takes my hand and places it on his pounding heart. Fuck! What is it?

“Ana, I don’t know how I’d feel about you touching me if I were restrained.”

My scalp prickles. It’s like he’s confessing something deep and dark.

“This is still too new.” His voice is low and raw.

Fuck. It was just a question, and I realize that he’s come a long way, but he still has a long way to go. Oh, Fifty, Fifty, Fifty. Anxiety grips my heart. I lean over and he freezes, but I plant a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth.

“Christian, I got the wrong idea. Please don’t worry about it. Please don’t think about it.” I kiss him. He closes his eyes, groans and reciprocates, pushing me down into the mattress, his hands clasping my chin. And soon we’re lost . . . lost in each other again.

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