Fifty shades darker, p.1
Fifty Shades Darker, p.1Part #2 of Fifty Shades series by E. L. James
Fifty Shades Darker
The second book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy series, 2011
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sarah, Kay, and Jada. Thank you for all that you have done for me.
Also HUGE thanks to Kathleen and Kristi who stepped into the breach and sorted stuff out.
Thank you too to Niall, my husband, my lover, and my best friend (most of the time).
And a big shout out to all the wonderful, wonderful women from all over the world whom I have had the pleasure of meeting since I started all this, and whom I now consider friends, including: Ale, Alex, Amy, Andrea, Angela, Azucena, Babs, Bee, Belinda, Betsy, Brandy, Britt, Caroline, Catherine, Dawn, Gwen, Hannah, Janet, Jen, Jenn, Jill, Kathy, Katie, Kellie, Kelly, Liz, Mandy, Margaret, Natalia, Nicole, Nora, Olga, Pam, Pauline, Raina, Raizie, Rajka, Rhian, Ruth, Steph, Susi, Tasha, Taylor and Una. And also to the many, many talented, funny, warm women (and men) I have met online. You know who you are.
Thanks to Morgan and Jenn for all things Heathman.
And finally, thank you to Janine, my editor. You rock. That is all.
He’s come back. Mommy’s asleep or she’s sick again.
I hide and curl up small under the table in the kitchen. Through my fingers I can see Mommy. She is asleep on the couch. Her hand is on the sticky green rug, and he’s wearing his big boots with the shiny buckle and standing over Mommy shouting.
He hits Mommy with a belt. Get up! Get up! You are one fucked-up bitch. You are one fucked-up bitch. You are one fucked-up bitch. You are one fucked-up bitch. You are one fucked-up bitch. You are one fucked-up bitch.
Mommy makes a sobbing noise. Stop. Please stop. Mommy doesn’t scream. Mommy curls up small.
I have my fingers in my ears, and I close my eyes. The sound stops.
He turns and I can see his boots as he stomps into the kitchen. He still has the belt. He is trying to find me.
He stoops down and grins. He smells nasty. Of cigarettes and drink. There you are, you little shit.
A chilling wail wakes him. Christ! He’s drenched in sweat and his heart is pounding.What the fuck? He sits bolt upright in bed and puts his head in hands.Fuck. They’re back. The noise was me.He takes a deep steadying breath, trying to rid his mind and nostrils of the smell of cheap bourbon and stale Camel cigarettes.
I have survived Day Three Post-Christian, and my first day at work. It has been a welcome distraction. The time has flown by in a haze of new faces, work to do, and Mr. Jack Hyde. Mr. Jack Hyde… he smiles down at me, his blue eyes twinkling, as he leans against my desk.
“Excellent work, Ana. I think we’re going to make a great team.”
Somehow, I manage to curl my lips upward in a semblance of a smile.
“I’ll be off, if that’s okay with you,” I murmur.
“Of course, it’s five thirty. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Collecting my bag, I shrug on my jacket and head for the door. Out in the early evening air of Seattle, I take a deep breath. It doesn’t begin to fill the void in my chest, a void that’s been present since Saturday morning, a painful hollow reminder of my loss. I walk toward the bus stop with my head down, staring at my feet and contemplating being without my beloved Wanda, my old Beetle… or the Audi.
I shut the door on that thought immediately. No. Don’t think about him. Of course, I can afford a car-a nice, new car. I suspect he has been overgenerous in his payment, and the thought leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, but I dismiss it and try to keep my mind as numb and as blank as possible. I can’t think about him. I don’t want to start crying again-not out on the street.
The apartment is empty. I miss Kate, and I imagine her lying on a beach in Barbados sipping a cool cocktail. I turn on the flat-screen television so there’s noise to fill the vacuum and provide some semblance of company, but I don’t listen or watch. I sit and stare blankly at the brick wall. I am numb. I feel nothing but the pain. How long must I endure this?
The door buzzer startles me from my anguish, and my heart skips a beat. Who could that be? I press the intercom.
“Delivery for Ms. Steele.” A bored, disembodied voice answers, and disappointment crashes through me. I listlessly make my way downstairs and find a young man noisily chewing gum, holding a large cardboard box, and leaning against the front door. I sign for the package and take it upstairs. The box is huge and surprisingly light. Inside are two dozen long-stemmed, white roses and a card.
Congratulations on your first day at work.
I hope it went well.
And thank you for the glider. That was very thoughtful.
It has pride of place on my desk.
I stare at the typed card, the hollow in my chest expanding. No doubt, his assistant sent this. Christian probably had very little to do with it. It’s too painful to think about. I examine the roses-they are beautiful, and I can’t bring myself to throw them in the trash. Dutifully, I make my way into the kitchen to hunt down a vase.
And so a pattern develops: wake, work, cry, sleep. Well, try to sleep. I can’t even escape him in my dreams. Gray burning eyes, his lost look, his hair burnished and bright all haunt me. And the music… so much music-I cannot bear to hear any music. I am careful to avoid it at all costs. Even the jingles in commercials make me shudder.
I have spoken to no one, not even my mother or Ray. I don’t have the capacity for idle talk now. No, I want none of it. I have become my own island state. A ravaged, war-torn land where nothing grows and the horizons are bleak. Yes, that’s me. I can interact impersonally at work, but that’s it. If I talk to Mom, I know I will break even further-and I have nothing left to break.
I am finding it difficult to eat. By Wednesday lunchtime, I manage a cup of yogurt, and it’s the first thing I’ve eaten since Friday. I am surviving on a newfound tolerance for lattes and Diet Coke. It’s the caffeine that keeps me going, but it’s making me anxious.
Jack has started to hover over me, irritating me, asking me personal questions. What does he want? I’m polite, but I need to keep him at arm’s length.
I sit and begin trawling through a pile of correspondence addressed to him, and I’m pleased with the distraction of menial work. My e-mail pings, and I quickly check to see who it’s from.
Holy shit. An e-mail from Christian. Oh no, not here… not at work.
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 8, 2011 14:05
To: Anastasia Steele
Forgive this intrusion at work. I hope that it’s going well. Did you get my flowers?
I note that tomorrow is the gallery opening for your friend’s show, and I’m sure you’ve not had time to purchase a car, and it’s a long drive. I would be more than happy to take you-should you wish.
Let me know.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Tears swim in my eyes. I hastily leave my desk and bolt to the restroom to escape into one of the stalls. José’s show. Crap. I’d forgotten all about it, and I promised him I’d go. Shit, Christian is right; how am I going to get there?
I clutch my forehead. Why hasn’t José phoned? Come to think of it-why hasn’t anyone phoned? I’ve been so absentminded, I haven’t noticed that my cell phone has been silent.
Shit! I am such an idiot! I still have it on divert to the Blackberry. Holy hell. Christian’s been getting my calls-unless he’s just thrown the Blackberry away. How did he get my e-mail address?
He knows my shoe size, an e-mail address is hardly going to present him with many problems.
Can I see him again? Could I bear it? Do I want to see him? I close my eyes and tilt my head back as grief and longing lance through me. Of course I do.
Perhaps, perhaps I can tell him I’ve changed my mind… No, no, no. I cannot be with someone who takes pleasure in inflicting pain on me, someone who can’t love me.
Torturous memories flash through my mind-the gliding, holding hands, kissing, the bathtub, his gentleness, his humor, and his dark, brooding, sexy stare. I miss him. It’s been five days, five days of agony that has felt like an eternity.
I wrap my arms around my body, hugging myself tightly, holding myself together. I miss him. I really miss him… I love him. Simple.
I cry myself to sleep at night, wishing I hadn’t walked out, wishing that he could be different, wishing that we were together. How long will this hideous overwhelming feeling last? I am in purgatory.
Anastasia Steele, you are at work! I must be strong, but I want to go to José’s show, and deep down, the masochist in me wants to see Christian. Taking a deep breath, I head back to my desk.
From: Anastasia Steele
Date: June 8, 2011 14:25
To: Christian Grey
Thank you for the flowers; they are lovely.
Yes, I would appreciate a lift.
Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP
Checking my phone, I find that it is still switched to divert. Jack is in a meeting, so I quickly call José.
“Hi, José. It’s Ana.”
“Hello, stranger.” His tone is so warm and welcoming it’s almost enough to push me over the edge again.
“I can’t talk long. What time should I be there tomorrow for your show?”
“You’re still coming?” He sounds excited.
“Yes, of course.” I smile my first genuine smile in five days as I picture his broad grin.
“See you then. Good-bye, José.”
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 8, 2011 14:27
To: Anastasia Steele
What time shall I collect you?
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Anastasia Steele
Date: June 8, 2011 14:32
To: Christian Grey
José’s show starts at 7:30. What time would you suggest?
Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 8, 2011 14:34
To: Anastasia Steele
Portland is some distance away. I shall collect you at 5:45.
I look forward to seeing you.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Anastasia Steele
Date: June 8, 2011 14:38
To: Christian Grey
See you then.
Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP
Oh my. I’m going to see Christian, and for the first time in five days, my spirits lift a fraction and I allow myself to wonder how he’s been.
Has he missed me? Probably not like I’ve missed him. Has he found a new submissive from wherever they come from? The thought is so painful that I dismiss it immediately. I look at the pile of correspondence I need to sort for Jack and tackle it as I try to push Christian out of my mind once more.
That night in bed, I toss and turn, trying to sleep. It is the first time in a while I haven’t cried myself to sleep.
In my mind’s eye, I visualize Christian’s face the last time I saw him as I left his apartment. His tortured expression haunts me. I remember he didn’t want me to go, which was odd. Why would I stay when things had reached such an impasse? We were each skirting around our own issues-my fear of punishment, his fear of… what? Love?
Turning on my side, I hug my pillow, filled with an overwhelming sadness. He thinks he doesn’t deserve to be loved. Why does he feel that way? Is it something to do with his upbringing? His birth mom, the crack whore? My thoughts plague me into the early hours until eventually I fall into a fitful, exhausted sleep.
The day drags and drags and Jack is unusually attentive. I suspect it’s Kate’s plum dress and the black high-heeled boots I’ve stolen from her closet, but I don’t dwell on the thought. I resolve to go clothes shopping with my first paycheck. The dress is looser on me than it was, but I pretend not to notice.
Finally, it’s five thirty, and I collect my jacket and purse, trying to quell my nerves. I’m going to see him!
“Do you have a date tonight?” Jack asks as he strolls past my desk on his way out.
“Yes. No. Not really.”
He cocks an eyebrow at me, his interest clearly piqued. “Boyfriend?”
I flush. “No, a friend. An ex-boyfriend.”
“Maybe tomorrow you’d like to come for a drink after work. You’ve had a stellar first week, Ana. We should celebrate.” He smiles and some unknown emotion flits across his face, making me uneasy.
Putting his hands in his pockets, he saunters through the double doors. I frown at his retreating back. Drinks with the boss, is that a good idea?
I shake my head. I have an evening of Christian Grey to get through first. How am I going to do this? I hurry into the restroom to make last-minute adjustments.
In the large mirror on the wall, I take a long, hard look at my face. I am my usual pale self, dark circles round my too-large eyes. I look gaunt, haunted.
Jeez, I wish I knew how to use makeup. I apply some mascara and eyeliner and pinch my cheeks, hoping to bring some color their way. Tidying my hair so that it hangs artfully down my back, I take a deep breath. This will have to do.
Nervously I walk through the foyer with a smile and a wave to Claire at reception. I think she and I could become friends. Jack is talking to Elizabeth as I head for the doors. Smiling broadly, he hurries over to open them for me.
“After you, Ana,” he murmurs.
“Thank you.” I smile, embarrassed.
Outside on the curb, Taylor is waiting. He opens the rear door of the car. I glance hesitantly at Jack who has followed me out. He’s looking toward the Audi SUV in dismay.
I turn and climb into the back, and there he sits-Christian Grey-wearing his gray suit, no tie, his white shirt open at the collar. His gray eyes are glowing.
My mouth dries. He looks glorious except he’s scowling at me. Oh no!
“When did you last eat?” he snaps as Taylor closes the door behind me.
Crap. “Hello, Christian. Yes, it’s nice to see you, too.”
“I don’t want your smart mouth now. Answer me.” His eyes blaze.
Holy shit. “Um… I had a yogurt at lunchtime. Oh-and a banana.”
“When did you last have a proper meal?” he asks acidly.
Taylor slips into the driver’s seat, starts the car, and pulls out into the traffic.
I glance up and Jack is waving at me, though how he can see me through the dark glass, I don’t know. I wave back.
“Who’s that?” Christian snaps.
“My boss.” I peek up at the beautiful man beside me, and his mouth is pressed into a hard line.
“Well? Your last meal?”
“Christian, that really is none of your concern,” I murmur, feeling extraordinarily brave.
“Whatever you do concerns me. Tell me.”
No, it doesn’t. I groan in frustration, rolling my eyes heavenward, and Christian narrows his eyes. And for the first time in a long time, I want to laugh. I try hard to stifle the giggle that threatens to bubble up. Christian’s face softens as I struggle to keep a straight face, and I see a trace of a smile kiss his beautifully sculptured lips.
“Well?” he asks, his voice softer.
“Pasta alla vongole, last Friday,” I whisper.
He closes his eyes as fury and possibly regret, sweeps across his face. “I see,” he says, his voice expressionless. “You look like you’ve lost at least five pounds, possibly more since then. Please eat, Anastasia,” he scolds.
I stare down at the knotted fingers in my lap. Why does he always make me feel like an errant child?
He shifts and turns toward me. “How are you?” he asks, his voice still soft.
Well, I’m shit really… I swallow. “If I told you I was fine, I’d be lying.”
He inhales sharply. “Me, too,” he murmurs and reaches over and clasps my hand. “I miss you,” he adds.
Oh no. Skin against skin.
“Ana, please. We need to talk.”
I’m going to cry. No. “Christian, I… please… I’ve cried so much,” I whisper, trying to keep my emotions in check
“Oh, baby, no.” He tugs my hand, and before I know it I’m on his lap. He has his arms around me, and his nose is in my hair. “I’ve missed you so much, Anastasia,” he breathes.
I want to struggle out of his hold, to maintain some distance, but his arms are wrapped around me. He’s pressing me to his chest. I melt. Oh, this is where I want to be.
I rest my head against him, and he kisses my hair repeatedly. This is home. He smells of linen, fabric softener, body wash, and my favorite smell-Christian. For a moment, I allow myself the illusion that all will be well, and it soothes my ravaged soul.
A few minutes later Taylor pulls to a stop at the curb, even though we’re still in the city.
“Come”-Christian shifts me off his lap-“we’re here.”
“Helipad-on the top of this building.” Christian glances toward the building by way of explanation.
Of course. Charlie Tango. Taylor opens the door and I slide out. He gives me a warm, avuncular smile that makes me feel safe. I smile back.
“I should give you back your handkerchief.”
“Keep it, Miss Steele, with my best wishes.”
I flush as Christian comes around the car and takes my hand. He looks quizzically at Taylor who stares impassively back at him, revealing nothing.
“Nine?” Christian says to him.
Christian nods as he turns and leads me through the double doors into the grandiose foyer. I revel in the feel of his large hand and his long, skilled fingers curled around mine. I feel the familiar pull-I am drawn, Icarus to his sun. I have been burned already, and yet here I am again.
Reaching the elevators, he presses the call button. I peek up at him, and he’s wearing his enigmatic half smile. As the doors open, he releases my hand and ushers me in.
The doors close and I risk a second peek. He glances down at me, gray eyes alive, and it’s there in the air between us, that electricity. It’s palpable. I can almost taste it, pulsing between us, drawing us together.
“Oh my,” I gasp as I bask briefly in the intensity of this visceral, primal attraction.
“I feel it, too,” he says, his eyes clouded and intense.
Desire pools dark and deadly in my groin. He clasps my hand and grazes my knuckles with his thumb, and all my muscles clench tightly, deliciously, deep inside me.
Holy cow. How can he still do this to me?
“Please don’t bite your lip, Anastasia,” he whispers.
I gaze up at him, releasing my lip. I want him. Here, now, in the elevator. How could I not?
“You know what it does to me,” he murmurs.
Oh, I still affect him. My inner goddess stirs from her five-day sulk.
Abruptly the doors open, breaking the spell, and we’re on the roof. It’s windy, and despite my black jacket, I’m cold. Christian puts his arm around me, pulling me into his side, and we hurry across to where Charlie Tango stands in the center of the helipad with its rotor blades slowly spinning.
A tall, blond, square-jawed man in a dark suit leaps out and, ducking low, runs toward us. Shaking hands with Christian, he shouts above the noise of the rotors.
“Ready to go, sir. She’s all yours!”
“All checks done?”
“You’ll collect her around eight thirty?”
“Taylor’s waiting for you out front.”
“Thank you, Mr. Grey. Safe flight to Portland. Ma’am.” He salutes me. Without releasing me, Christian nods, ducks down, and leads me to the helicopter door.
Once inside he buckles me firmly into my harness, cinching the straps tight. He gives me a knowing look and his secret smile.
“This should keep you in your place,” he murmurs. “I must say I do like this harness on you. Don’t touch anything.”
I flush a deep crimson, and he runs his index finger down my cheek before handing me the headphones. I’d like to touch you, too, but you won’t let me. I scowl at him. Besides, he’s pulled the straps so tight I can barely move.
He sits in his seat and buckles himself in, then starts running through all his preflight checks. He’s just so competent. It’s very alluring. He puts on his headphones and flips a switch and the rotors speed up, deafening me.
Turning, he gazes at me. “Ready, baby?” His voice echoes through the headphones.
He grins his boyish grin. Wow-I’ve not seen it for so long.
“Sea-Tac tower, this is Charlie Tango-Tango Echo Hotel, cleared for takeoff to Portland via PDX. Please confirm, over.”
The disembodied voice of the air traffic controller answers, issuing instructions.
“Roger, tower, Charlie Tango set, over and out.” Christian flips two switches, grasps the stick, and the helicopter rises slowly and smoothly into the evening sky.
Seattle and my stomach drop away from us, and there’s so much to see.
“We’ve chased the dawn, Anastasia, now the dusk,” his voice comes through on the headphones. I turn to gape at him in surprise.
What does this mean? How is it that he can say the most romantic things? He smiles, and I can’t help but smile shyly back at him.
“As well as the evening sun, there’s more to see this time,” he says.
The last time we flew to Seattle it was dark, but this evening the view is spectacular, literally out of this world. We’re up among the tallest buildings, going higher and higher.
“Escala’s over there.” He points toward the building. “Boeing there, and you can just see the Space Needle.”
I crane my head. “I’ve never been.”
“I’ll take you-we can eat there.”
What? “Christian, we broke up.”
“I know. I can still take you there and feed you.” He glares at me.
I shake my head and flush before taking a less confrontational approach. “It’s very beautiful up here, thank you.”
“Impressive, isn’t it?”
“Impressive that you can do this.”
“Flattery from you, Miss Steele? But I’m a man of many talents.”
“I’m fully aware of that, Mr. Grey.”
He turns and smirks at me, and for the first time in five days, I relax a little. Perhaps this won’t be so bad.
“How’s the new job?”
“Good, thank you. Interesting.”
“What’s your boss like?”
“Oh, he’s okay.” How can I tell Christian that Jack makes me uncomfortable? Christian turns and gazes at me.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“Aside from the obvious, nothing.”
“Oh, Christian, you really are very obtuse sometimes.”
“Obtuse? Me? I’m not sure I appreciate your tone, Miss Steele.”
“Well, don’t then.”
His lips twitch into a smile. “I have missed your smart mouth.”
I gasp and I want to shout, I’ve missed you-all of you-not just your mouth! But I keep quiet and gaze out the glass fishbowl that is Charlie Tango’s windshield as we continue south. The dusk is to our right, the sun low on the horizon-large, blazing fiery orange-and I am Icarus again, flying far too close.
The dusk has followed us from Seattle, and the sky is awash with opal, pinks, and aquamarines woven seamlessly together as only Mother Nature knows how. It’s a clear, crisp evening, and the lights of Portland twinkle and wink, welcoming us as Christian sets the helicopter down on the helipad. We are on top of the strange brown brick building in Portland we left less than three weeks ago.
Jeez, it’s been hardly any time at all. Yet I feel like I’ve known Christian for a lifetime. He powers down Charlie Tango, flipping various switches so the rotors stop, and eventually all I hear is my own breathing through the headphones. Hmm. Briefly it reminds me of the Thomas Tallis experience. I blanch. I so don’t want to go there right now.
Christian unbuckles his harness and leans across to undo mine.
“Good trip, Miss Steele?” he asks, his voice mild, his gray eyes glowing.
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Grey,” I reply politely.
“Well, let’s go see the boy’s photos.” He holds his hand out to me and taking it, I climb out of Charlie Tango.
A gray-haired man with a beard walks over to meet us, smiling broadly, and I recognize him as the old-timer from the last time we were here.
“Joe.” Christian smiles and releases my hand to shake Joe’s warmly.
“Keep her safe for Stephan. He’ll be along around eight or nine.”
“Will do, Mr. Grey. Ma’am,” he says, nodding at me. “Your car’s waiting downstairs, sir. Oh, and the elevator’s out of order; you’ll need to use the stairs.”
“Thank you, Joe.”
Christian takes my hand, and we head to the emergency stairs.
“Good thing for you this is only three floors, in those heels,” he mutters to me in disapproval.
“Don’t you like the boots?”
“I like them very much, Anastasia.” His gaze darkens and I think he might say something else, but he stops. “Come. We’ll take it slow. I don’t want you falling and breaking your neck.”
We sit in silence as our driver takes us to the gallery. My anxiety has returned full force, and I realize that our time in Charlie Tango has been the eye of the storm. Christian is quiet and brooding… apprehensive even; our lighter mood from earlier has dissipated. There’s so much I want to say, but this journey is too short. Christian stares pensively out the window.
“José is just a friend,” I murmur.
Christian turns and gazes at me, his eyes dark and guarded, giving nothing away. His mouth-oh, his mouth is distracting, and unbidden. I remember it on me-everywhere. My skin heats. He shifts in his seat and frowns.
“Those beautiful eyes look too large in your face, Anastasia. Please tell me you’ll eat.”
“Yes, Christian, I’ll eat,” I answer automatically, a platitude.
“I mean it.”
“Do you now?” I cannot keep the disdain out of my voice. Honestly, the audacity of this man-this man who has put me through hell over the last few days. No, that’s wrong. I’ve put myself through hell. No. It’s him. I shake my head, confused.
“I don’t want to fight with you, Anastasia. I want you back, and I want you healthy,” he says softly.
What? What does that mean? “But nothing’s changed.” You’re still fifty shades.
“Let’s talk on the way back. We’re here.”
The car pulls up in front of the gallery, and Christian climbs out, leaving me speechless. He opens the car door for me, and I clamber out.
“Why do you do that?” My voice is louder than I expected.
“Do what?” Christian is taken aback.
“Say something like that and then just stop.”
“Anastasia, we’re here. Where you want to be. Let’s do this and then talk. I don’t particularly want a scene in the street.”
I flush and glance around. He’s right. It’s too public. I press my lips together as he glares down at me.
“Okay,” I mutter sulkily. Taking my hand, he leads me into the building.
We are in a converted warehouse-brick walls, dark wood floors, white ceilings, and white pipe work. It’s airy and modern, and there are several people wandering across the gallery floor, sipping wine and admiring José’s work. For a moment, my troubles melt away as I grasp that José has realized his dream. Way to go, José!
“Good evening and welcome to José Rodriguez’s show.” A young woman dressed in black with very short brown hair, bright red lipstick, and large hooped earrings greets us. She glances briefly at me, then much longer than is strictly necessary at Christian, then turns back to me, blinking as she blushes.
My brow creases. He’s mine-or was. I try hard not to scowl at her. As her eyes regain their focus, she blinks again.
“Oh, it’s you, Ana. We’ll want your take on all this, too.” Grinning, she hands me a brochure and directs me to a table laden with drinks and snacks.
How does she know my name?
“You know her?” Christian frowns.
I shake my head, equally puzzled.
He shrugs, distracted. “What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have a glass of white wine, thank you.”
His brow furrows, but he holds his tongue and heads for the open bar.
José comes barreling through a throng of people.
Holy cow! He’s wearing a suit. He looks good and he’s beaming at me. He enfolds me in his arms, hugging me hard. And it’s all I can do not to burst into tears. My friend, my only friend while Kate is away. Tears pool in my eyes.
“Ana, I’m so glad you made it,” he whispers in my ear, then pauses and abruptly holds me at arm’s length, staring at me.
“Hey are you okay? You look, well, odd. Dios mio, have you lost weight?”
I blink back my tears. “José, I’m fine. I’m just so happy for you.” Crap-not him, too. “Congratulations on the show.” My voice wavers as I see his concern etched on his oh-so-familiar face, but I have to hold myself together.
“How did you get here?” he asks.
“Christian brought me,” I say, suddenly apprehensive.
“Oh.” José’s face falls and he releases me. “Where is he?” His expression darkens.
“Over there, fetching drinks.” I nod in Christian’s direction and see he’s exchanging pleasantries with someone waiting in line. Christian glances up when I look his way and our eyes lock. And in that brief moment, I’m paralyzed, staring at the impossibly handsome man who gazes at me with some unfathomable emotion. His gaze hot, burning into me, and we’re lost for a moment staring at each other.
Holy cow… This beautiful man wants me back, and deep down inside me sweet joy slowly unfurls like a morning glory in the early dawn.
“Ana!” José distracts me, and I’m dragged back to the here and now. “I am so glad you came-listen, I should warn you-”
Suddenly, Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick cuts him off. “José, the journalist from the Portland Printz is here to see you. Come on.” She gives me a polite smile.
“How cool is this? The fame.” He grins, and I can’t help but grin back-he’s so happy. “Catch you later, Ana.” He kisses my cheek, and I watch him stroll over to a young woman standing by a tall lanky photographer.
José’s photographs are everywhere, and in some cases, blown up onto huge canvases. There are both monochromes and colors. There’s an ethereal beauty to many of the landscapes. In one taken out near the lake at Vancouver, it’s early evening and pink clouds are reflected in the stillness of the water. Briefly, I’m transported by the tranquility and the peace. It’s stunning.
Christian joins me, and I take a deep breath and swallow, trying to recover some of my earlier equilibrium. He hands me my glass of white wine.
“Does it come up to scratch?” My voice sounds more normal.
He looks quizzically at me.
“No. Rarely does at these kinds of events. The boy’s quite talented, isn’t he?” Christian is admiring the lake photo.
“Why else do you think I asked him to take your portrait?” I can’t help the pride in my voice. His eyes glide impassively from the photograph to me.
“Christian Grey?” The photographer from the Portland Printz approaches Christian. “Can I have a picture, sir?”
“Sure.” Christian hides his scowl. I step back, but he grabs my hand and pulls me to his side. The photographer looks at both of us and can’t hide his surprise.
“Mr. Grey, thank you.” He snaps a couple of photos. “Miss…?” he asks.
“Steele,” I reply.
“Thank you, Miss Steele.” He scurries off.
“I looked for pictures of you with dates on the Internet. There aren’t any. That’s why Kate thought you were gay.”
Christian’s mouth twitches with a smile. “That explains your inappropriate question. No, I don’t do dates, Anastasia-only with you. But you know that.” His eyes burn with sincerity.
“So you never took your”-I glance around nervously to check no one can overhear us-“subs out?”
“Sometimes. Not on dates. Shopping, you know.” He shrugs, his eyes not leaving mine.
Oh, so just in the playroom-his Red Room of Pain and his apartment. I don’t know what to feel about that.
“Just you, Anastasia,” he whispers.
I blush and stare down at my fingers. In his own way, he does care about me.
“Your friend here seems more of a landscape man, not portraits. Let’s look round.” He holds his hand out to me, and I take it.
We wander past a few more prints, and I notice a couple nodding at me, smiling broadly as if they know me. It must be because I’m with Christian, but one young man is blatantly staring. Odd.
We turn the corner, and I can see why I’ve been getting strange looks. Hanging on the far wall are seven huge portraits-of me.
I stare blankly at them, stupefied, the blood draining from my face. Me: pouting, laughing, scowling, serious, amused. All in super close up, all in black and white.
Holy crap! I remember José messing with the camera on a couple of occasions when he was visiting and when I’d been out with him as driver and photographer’s assistant. He took snapshots, or so I thought. Not these invasive candids.
I glance up at Christian, who is staring, transfixed, at each of the pictures in turn.
“Seems I’m not the only one,” he mutters cryptically, his mouth settling into a hard line.
I think he’s angry. Oh no.
“Excuse me,” he says, pinning me with his bright gray gaze for a moment. He turns and heads to the reception desk.
What’s his problem now? I watch mesmerized as he talks animatedly with Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick. He fishes out his wallet and produces his credit card.
Shit. He must have bought one of them.
“Hey. You’re the muse. These photographs are terrific.” A young man with a shock of bright blond hair startles me. I feel a hand at my elbow and Christian is back.
“You’re a lucky guy.” Blond Shock smirks at Christian, who gives him a cold stare.
“That I am,” he mutters darkly, as he pulls me over to one side.
“Did you just buy one of these?”
“One of these?” he snorts, not taking his eyes off them.
“You bought more than one?”
He rolls his eyes. “I bought them all, Anastasia. I don’t want some stranger ogling you in the privacy of their home.”
My first inclination is to laugh. “You’d rather it was you?” I scoff.
He glares down at me, caught off guard by my audacity, I think, but he’s trying to hide his amusement.
“Pervert,” I mouth at him and bite my lower lip to prevent my smile.
His mouth drops open, and now his amusement is obvious. He strokes his chin thoughtfully.
“Can’t argue with that assessment, Anastasia.” He shakes his head, and his eyes soften with humor.
“I’d discuss it further with you, but I’ve signed an NDA.”
He sighs, gazing at me, and his eyes darken. “What I’d like to do to your smart mouth,” he murmurs.
I gasp, knowing full well what he means. “You’re very rude.” I try to sound shocked and succeed. Does he have no boundaries?
He smirks at me, amused, and then he frowns.
“You look very relaxed in these photographs, Anastasia. I don’t see you like that very often.”
What? Whoa! Change of subject-talk about non sequitur-from playful to serious.
I flush and glance down at my fingers. He tilts my head back, and I inhale sharply at the contact with his long fingers.
“I want you that relaxed with me,” he whispers. All trace of humor has gone.
Deep inside me that joy stirs again. But how can this be? We have issues.
“You have to stop intimidating me if you want that,” I snap.
“You have to learn to communicate and tell me how you feel,” he snaps back, eyes blazing.
I take a deep breath. “Christian, you wanted me as a submissive. That’s where the problem lies. It’s in the definition of a submissive-you e-mailed it to me once.” I pause, trying to recall the wording. “I think the synonyms were, and I quote, ‘compliant, pliant, amenable, passive, tractable, resigned, patient, docile, tame, subdued.’ I wasn’t supposed to look at you. Not talk to you unless you gave me permission to do so. What do you expect?” I hiss at him.
He blinks, and his frown deepens as I continue.
“It’s very confusing being with you. You don’t want me to defy you, but then you like my ‘smart mouth.’ You want obedience, except when you don’t, so you can punish me. I just don’t know which way is up when I’m with you.”
He narrows his eyes. “Good point well made, as usual, Miss Steele.” His voice is frigid. “Come, let’s go eat.”
“We’ve only been here for half an hour.”
“You’ve seen the photos; you’ve spoken to the boy.”
“His name is José.”
“You’ve spoken to José-the man who, the last time I met him, was trying to push his tongue into your reluctant mouth while you were drunk and ill,” he snarls.
“He’s never hit me,” I spit at him.
Christian scowls at me, fury emanating from every pore. “That’s a low blow, Anastasia,” he whispers menacingly.
I flush, and Christian runs his hands through his hair, bristling with barely contained anger. I glare back at him.
“I’m taking you for something to eat. You’re fading away in front of me. Find the boy, say good-bye.”
“Please, can we stay longer?”
“No. Go. Now. Say good-bye.”
I glare at him, my blood boiling. Mr. Damned Control Freak. Angry is good. Angry is better than tearful.
I drag my gaze away from him and scan the room for José. He’s talking to a group of young women. I stalk off toward him and away from Fifty. Just because he brought me here, I have to do as he says? Who the hell does he think he is?
The girls are hanging on José’s every word. One of them gasps as I approach, no doubt recognizing me from the portraits.
“Ana. Excuse me, girls.” José grins at them and puts his arm around me, and on some level I’m amused-José all smooth, impressing the ladies.
“You look mad,” he says.
“I have to go,” I mutter mulishly.
“You just got here.”
“I know but Christian needs to get back. The pictures are fantastic, José-you’re very talented.”
He beams. “It was so cool seeing you.”
Jose sweeps me into a big bear hug, spinning me so I can see Christian across the gallery. He’s scowling, and I realize it’s because I’m in José’s arms. So in a very calculating move, I wrap my arms around José’s neck. I think Christian is going to expire. His glare darkens to something quite sinister, and slowly he makes his way toward us.
“Thanks for the warning about the portraits of me,” I mumble.
“Shit. Sorry, Ana. I should have told you. D’you like them?”
“Um… I don’t know,” I answer truthfully, momentarily knocked off balance by his question.
“Well, they’re all sold, so somebody likes them. How cool is that? You’re a poster girl.” He hugs me tighter still as Christian reaches us, glowering at me now, though fortunately José doesn’t see.
José releases me. “Don’t be a stranger, Ana. Oh, Mr. Grey, good evening.”
“Mr. Rodriguez, very impressive.” Christian sounds icily polite. “I’m sorry we can’t stay longer, but we need to head back to Seattle. Anastasia?” He subtly stresses we and takes my hand as he does so.
“Bye, José. Congratulations again.” I give him a quick kiss on the cheek, and before I know it Christian is dragging me out of the building. I know he’s boiling with silent wrath, but so am I.
He looks quickly up and down the street then heads left and suddenly sweeps me into a side alley, abruptly pushing me up against a wall. He grabs my face between his hands, forcing me to look up into his ardent determined eyes.
I gasp, and his mouth swoops down. He’s kissing me, violently. Briefly our teeth clash, then his tongue is in my mouth.
Desire explodes like the Fourth of July throughout my body, and I’m kissing him back, matching his fervor, my hands knotting in his hair, pulling it, hard. He groans, a low sexy sound in the back of his throat that reverberates through me, and his hand moves down my body to the top of my thigh, his fingers digging into my flesh through the plum dress.
I pour all the angst and heartbreak of the last few days into our kiss, binding him to me, and it hits me-in this moment of blinding passion-he’s doing the same, he feels the same.
He breaks off the kiss, panting. His eyes are luminous with desire, firing the already heated blood that is pounding through my body. My mouth is slack as I try to drag precious air into my lungs.
“You. Are. Mine,” he snarls, emphasizing each word. He pushes away from me and bends, hands on his knees as if he’s run a marathon. “For the love of God, Ana.”
I lean against the wall, panting, trying to control the riotous reaction in my body, trying to find my equilibrium again.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper once my breath has returned.
“You should be. I know what you were doing. Do you want the photographer, Anastasia? He obviously has feelings for you.”
I flush and shake my head.
“No. He’s just a friend.”
“I have spent all my adult life trying to avoid any extreme emotion. Yet you… you bring out feelings in me that are completely alien. It’s very…” He frowns, grasping for the word. “Unsettling.
“I like control, Ana, and around you that just”-he stands, his gaze intense-“evaporates.” He waves his hand vaguely, then runs it through his hair and takes a deep breath. He clasps my hand.
“Come, we need to talk, and you need to eat.”
He leads me into a small, intimate restaurant.
“This place will have to do,” Christian grumbles. “We don’t have much time.”
The restaurant looks fine to me. Wooden chairs, linen tablecloths, and walls the same color as Christian’s playroom-deep blood red-with small gilt mirrors randomly placed, white candles, and small vases of white roses. Ella Fitzgerald croons softly in the background about this thing called love. It’s very romantic.
The waiter leads us to a table for two in a small alcove, and I sit, apprehensive and wondering what he’s going to say.
“We don’t have long,” Christian says to the waiter as we sit. “So we’ll each have sirloin steak cooked medium, béarnaise sauce if you have it, fries, and green vegetables, whatever the chef has; and bring me the wine list.”
“Certainly, sir.” The waiter, taken aback by Christian’s cool, calm efficiency, scuttles off. Christian places his Blackberry on the table. Jeez, don’t I get a choice?
“And if I don’t like steak?”
He sighs. “Don’t start, Anastasia.”
“I am not a child, Christian.”
“Well, stop acting like one.”
It’s as if he’s slapped me. I blink at him. So this is how it will be, an agitated, fraught conversation, albeit in a very romantic setting but certainly no hearts and flowers.
“I’m a child because I don’t like steak?” I mutter trying to conceal my hurt.
“For deliberately making me jealous. It’s a childish thing to do. Have you no regard for your friend’s feelings, leading him on like that?” Christian presses his lips together in a thin line and scowls as the waiter returns with the wine list.
I blush-I hadn’t thought of that. Poor José-I certainly don’t want to encourage him. Suddenly, I’m mortified. Christian has a point; it was a thoughtless thing to do. He glances at the wine list.
“Would you like to choose the wine?” he asks, raising his eyebrows at me expectantly, arrogance personified. He knows I know nothing about wine.
“You choose,” I answer, sullen but chastened.
“Two glasses of the Barossa Valley Shiraz, please.”
“Er… we only sell that wine by the bottle, sir.”
“A bottle then,” Christian snaps.
“Sir.” He retreats, subdued, and I don’t blame him. I frown at Fifty. What’s eating him? Oh, me probably, and somewhere in the depths of my psyche, my inner goddess rises sleepily, stretches, and smiles. She’s been asleep for a while.
“You’re very grumpy.”
He gazes at me impassively. “I wonder why that is?”
“Well, it’s good to set the right tone for an intimate and honest discussion about the future, wouldn’t you say?” I smile at him sweetly.
His mouth presses into a hard line, but then, almost reluctantly, his lips lift, and I know he’s trying to stifle his smile.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Apology accepted, and I’m pleased to inform you I haven’t decided to become a vegetarian since we last ate.”
“Since that was the last time you ate, I think that’s a moot point.”
“There’s that word again, moot.”
“Moot,” he mouths and his eyes soften with humor. He runs his hand through his hair, and he’s serious again. “Ana, the last time we spoke, you left me. I’m a little nervous. I’ve told you I want you back, and you’ve said… nothing.” His gaze is intense and expectant while his candor is totally disarming. What the hell do I say to this?
“I’ve missed you… really missed you, Christian. The past few days have been… difficult.” I swallow, and a lump in my throat swells as I recall my desperate anguish since I left him.
This last week has been the worst in my life, the pain almost indescribable. Nothing has come close. But reality hits home, winding me.
“Nothing’s changed. I can’t be what you want me to be.” I squeeze the words out past the lump in my throat.
“You are what I want you to be,” he says, his soft voice emphatic.
“No, Christian, I’m not.”
“You’re upset because of what happened last time. I behaved stupidly, and you… So did you. Why didn’t you safe word, Anastasia?” His tone changes, becoming accusatory.
What? Whoa-change of direction. I flush, blinking at him.
“I don’t know. I was overwhelmed. I was trying to be what you wanted me to be, trying to deal with the pain, and it went out of my mind. You know… I forgot,” I whisper ashamed, and I shrug apologetically.
Jeez, perhaps we could have avoided all this heartache.
“You forgot!” he gasps with horror, grabbing the sides of the table and glaring at me. I wither under his stare.
Shit! He’s furious again. My inner goddess glares at me, too. See, you brought all this on yourself!
“How can I trust you?” he says, his voice low. “Ever?”
The waiter arrives with our wine as we sit staring at each other, blue eyes to gray. Both of us filled with unspoken recriminations, while the waiter removes the cork with an unnecessary flourish and pours a little wine into Christian’s glass. Automatically Christian reaches out and takes a sip.
“That’s fine.” His voice is curt.
Gingerly the waiter fills our glasses, placing the bottle on the table before beating a hasty retreat. Christian has not taken his eyes off me the whole time. I am the first to crack, breaking eye contact, picking up my glass and taking a large gulp. I barely taste it.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, suddenly feeling stupid. I left because I thought we were incompatible, but he’s saying I could have stopped him?
“Sorry for what?” he says alarmed.
“Not using the safe word.”
He closes his eyes, as if in relief.
“We might have avoided all this suffering,” he mutters.
“You look fine.” More than fine. You look like you.
“Appearances can be deceptive,” he says quietly. “I’m anything but fine. I feel like the sun has set and not risen for five days, Ana. I’m in perpetual night here.”
I’m winded by his admission. Oh my, like me.
“You said you’d never leave, yet the going gets tough and you’re out the door.”
“When did I say I’d never leave?”
“In your sleep. It was the most comforting thing I’d heard in so long, Anastasia. It made me relax.”
My heart constricts and I reach for my wine.
“You said you loved me,” he whispers. “Is that now in the past tense?” His voice is low, laced with anxiety.
“No, Christian, it’s not.”
He gazes at me, and he looks so vulnerable as he exhales. “Good,” he murmurs.
I’m shocked by his admission. He’s had a change of heart. When I told him I loved him before, he was horrified. The waiter is back. Briskly he places our plates in front of us and scuttles away.
Holy hell. Food.
“Eat,” Christian commands.
Deep down I know I’m hungry, but right now, my stomach is in knots. Sitting across from the only man I have ever loved and debating our uncertain future does not promote a healthy appetite. I look dubiously at my food.
“So help me God, Anastasia, if you don’t eat, I will take you across my knee here in this restaurant, and it will have nothing to do with my sexual gratification. Eat!”
Jeez, keep your hair on, Grey. My subconscious stares at me over her half-moon specs. She is wholeheartedly in agreement with Fifty Shades.
“Okay, I’ll eat. Stow your twitching palm, please.”
He doesn’t smile but continues to glare at me. Reluctantly I lift my knife and fork and slice into my steak. Oh, it’s mouthwateringly good. I am hungry, really hungry. I chew and he visibly relaxes.
We eat our supper in silence. The music’s changed. A soft-voiced woman sings in the background, her words echoing my thoughts.
I glance at Fifty. He’s eating and watching me. Hunger, longing, anxiety combined in one hot look.
“Do you know who’s singing?” I try for some normal conversation.
Christian pauses and listens. “No… but she’s good, whoever she is.”
“I like her, too.”
Finally he smiles his private enigmatic smile. What’s he planning?
“What?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Eat up,” he says mildly.
I have eaten half the food on my plate. I cannot eat any more. How can I negotiate this?
“I can’t manage any more. Have I eaten enough for Sir?”
He stares at me impassively, not answering, then glances at his watch.
“I am really full,” I add, taking a sip of the delicious wine.
“We have to go shortly. Taylor’s here, and you have to be up for work in the morning.”
“So do you.”
“I function on a lot less sleep than you do, Anastasia. At least you’ve eaten something.”
“Aren’t we going back via Charlie Tango?”
“No, I thought I might have a drink. Taylor will collect us. Besides, this way I have you in the car all to myself for a few hours, at least. What can we do but talk?”
Oh, that’s his plan.
Christian summons the waiter to ask for the check, then picks up his Blackberry and makes a call.
Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James / Romance & Love have rating 3.9 out of 5 / Based on113 votes