Main Fifty Shades Trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey; Darker; Freed)
You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me
Most frequently terms
The website is awesome. I'm gonna invite lots of people to see this
09 July 2015 (00:32)
Good book and ilike this site
14 January 2016 (15:35)
I love this site. Just what I needed. Thank you.
10 April 2018 (23:12)
Love this site.....get books that I love to have.
15 March 2020 (09:55)
Amazing website... Want to thank the creators of this website with my full heart
27 August 2020 (23:14)
I have been finding it difficult to download books,i just had few pages after downloading.
01 September 2020 (16:36)
Amazing website. Recommend this to everyone in search of eBooks. Keep uploading latest books for voracious readers like us! ????
05 October 2020 (18:16)
Amazing so far...please upload some more.
29 October 2020 (19:43)
Can a 15 yrs old read this book?
11 January 2021 (17:29)
Love the book soooo much . Can't wait to read more books from E L James love your creativity
14 February 2021 (19:17)
Awesome books are only found here
01 March 2021 (23:13)
Love the books sooooooooooooooooo much
26 March 2021 (18:03)
Monica Adriana Ritter
Cadê as versões em português???????
10 April 2021 (04:01)
I love this website am finding it difficult to download sum books I need help
01 June 2021 (14:58)
So fucking hot. Just fuck me harder. Harder.
02 June 2021 (17:10)
Am l new reader ,but l have watch the series hoping to enjoy more
16 June 2021 (22:27)
This app is what you call love.
01 August 2021 (11:26)
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE There is only pain. My head, my chest … burning pain. My side, my arm. Pain. Pain and hushed words in the gloom. Where am I? Though I try, I cannot open my eyes. The whispered words become clearer … a beacon in the darkness. “Her ribs are bruised, Mr. Grey, and she has a hairline fracture to her skull, but her vital signs are stable and strong.” “Why is she still unconscious?” “Mrs. Grey has had a major contusion to her head. But her brain activity is normal, and she has no cerebral swelling. She’ll wake when she’s ready. Just give her some time.” “And the baby?” The words are anguished, breathless. “The baby’s fine, Mr. Grey.” “Oh, thank God.” The words are a litany … a prayer. “Oh, thank God.” Oh my. He’s worried about the baby … the baby? … Little Blip. Of course. My Little Blip. I try in vain to move my hand to my belly. Nothing moves, nothing responds. “And the baby? … Oh, thank God.” Little Blip is safe. “And the baby? … Oh, thank God.” He cares about the baby. “And the baby? … Oh, thank God.” He wants the baby. Oh, thank God. I relax, and unconsciousness claims me once more, stealing me away from the pain. EVERYTHING IS HEAVY AND aching: limbs, head, eyelids, nothing will move. My eyes and mouth are resolutely shut, unwilling to open, leaving me blind and mute and aching. As I surface from the fog, consciousness hovers, a seductive siren just out of reach. Sounds become voices. “I’m not leaving her.” Christian! He’s here … I will myself to wake—his voice is strained, an agonized whisper. “Christian, you should sleep.” “No, Dad. I want to be here when she wakes up.” “I’ll sit with her. It’s the least I can do after she saved my daughter.” Mia! “How’s Mia?” “She’s groggy … scared and angry. It’ll be a few hours before the Rohypnol is completely out of her system.” “Christ.” “I know. I’m feeling seven kinds of foolish for relenting on her security. You warned me, but Mia is so stubborn. If it wasn’t for Ana here …” “We all thought Hyde was out of the ; picture. And my crazy, stupid wife—Why didn’t she tell me?” Christian’s voice is full of anguish. “Christian, calm down. Ana’s a remarkable young woman. She was incredibly brave.” “Brave and headstrong and stubborn and stupid.” His voice cracks. “Hey,” Carrick murmurs, “don’t be so hard on her, or yourself, son … I’d better get back to your mom. It’s after three in the morning, Christian. You really should try to sleep.” The fog closes in. THE FOG LIFTS BUT I have no sense of time. “If you don’t take her across your knee, I sure as hell will. What the hell was she thinking?” “Trust me, Ray, I just might do that.” Dad! He’s here. I fight the fog … fight … But I spiral down once more into oblivion. No … [image: ] “DETECTIVE, AS YOU CAN see, my wife is in no state to answer any of your questions.” Christian is angry. “She’s a headstrong young woman, Mr. Grey.” “I wish she’d killed the fucker.” “That would have meant more paperwork for me, Mr. Grey …” “Miss Morgan is singing like the proverbial canary. Hyde’s a real twisted son of a bitch. He has a serious grudge against your father and you …” The fog surrounds me once more, and I’m dragged down … down. No! “WHAT DO YOU MEAN you weren’t talking?” It’s Grace. She sounds angry. I try to move my head, but I’m met with a resounding, listless silence from my body. “What did you do?” “Mom—” “Christian! What did you do?” “I was so angry.” It’s almost a sob … No. “Hey …” The world dips and blurs and I’m gone. I HEAR SOFT GARBLED voices. “You told me you’d cut all ties.” Grace is talking. Her voice is quiet, admonishing. “I know.” Christian sounds resigned. “But seeing her finally put it all in perspective for me. You know … with the child. For the first time I felt … What we did … it was wrong.” “What she did, darling … Children will do that to you. Make you look at the world in a different light.” “She finally got the message … and so did I … I hurt Ana,” he whispers. “We always hurt the ones we love, darling. You’ll have to tell her you’re sorry. And mean it and give her time.” “She said she was leaving me.” No. No. No! “Did you believe her?” “At first, yes.” “Darling, you always believe the worst of everyone, including yourself. You always have. Ana loves you very much, and it’s obvious you love her.” “She was mad at me.” “I’m sure she was. I’m pretty mad at you right now. I think you can only be truly mad at someone you really love.” “I thought about it, and she’s shown me over and over how much she loves me … to the point of putting her own life in danger.” “Yes, she has, darling.” “Oh, Mom, why won’t she wake up?” His voice cracks. “I nearly lost her.” Christian! There are muffled sobs. No … Oh … the darkness closes in. No— “IT’S TAKEN TWENTY-FOUR YEARS for you to let me hold you like this …” “I know, Mom … I’m glad we talked.” “Me too, darling. I’m always here. I can’t believe I’m going to be a grandmother.” Grandma! Sweet oblivion beckons. HMM. HIS STUBBLE SOFTLY scrapes the back of my hand as he squeezes my fingers. “Oh, baby, please come back to me. I’m sorry. Sorry for everything. Just wake up. I miss you. I love you …” I try. I try. I want to see him. But my body disobeys me, and I fall asleep once more. I HAVE A PRESSING need to pee. I open my eyes. I’m in the clean, sterile environment of a hospital room. It’s dark except for a sidelight, and all is quiet. My head and my chest ache, but more than that, my bladder is bursting. I need to pee. I test my limbs. My right arm smarts, and I notice the IV attached to it on the inside of my elbow. I shut my eyes quickly. Turning my head—I’m pleased that it responds to my will—I open my eyes again. Christian is asleep, sitting beside me and leaning on my bed with his head on his folded arms. I reach out, grateful once more that my body responds, and run my fingers through his soft hair. He startles awake, raising his head so suddenly that my hand falls weakly back onto the bed. “Hi,” I croak. “Oh, Ana.” His voice is choked and relieved. He grasps my hand, squeezing it tightly and holding it up against his rough, stubbled cheek. “I need to use the bathroom,” I whisper. He gapes, then frowns at me for a moment. “Okay.” I struggle to sit up. “Ana, stay still. I’ll call a nurse.” He quickly stands, alarmed, and reaches for a buzzer on the bedside. “Please,” I whisper. Why do I ache everywhere? “I need to get up.” Jeez, I feel so weak. “Will you do as you’re told for once?” he snaps, exasperated. “I really need to pee,” I rasp. My throat and mouth are so dry. A nurse bustles into the room. She must be in her fifties, though her hair is jet black. She wears overlarge pearl earrings. “Mrs. Grey, welcome back. I’ll let Dr. Bartley know you’re awake.” She makes her way to my bedside. “My name is Nora. Do you know where you are?” “Yes. Hospital. I need to pee.” “You have a catheter.” What? Oh, this is gross. I glance anxiously at Christian, then back to the nurse. “Please. I want to get up.” “Mrs. Grey.” “Please.” “Ana,” Christian warns. I struggle to sit up once more. “Let me remove your catheter. Mr. Grey, I am sure Mrs. Grey would like some privacy.” She looks pointedly at Christian, dismissing him. “I’m not going anywhere.” He glares back at her. “Christian, please,” I whisper, reaching out and grasping his hand. Briefly he squeezes my hand, then gives me an exasperated look. “Please,” I beg. “Fine!” he snaps and runs his hand through his hair. “You have two minutes,” he hisses at the nurse, and he leans down and kisses my forehead before turning on his heel and leaving the room. CHRISTIAN BURSTS BACK INTO the room two minutes later as Nurse Nora is helping me out of bed. I’m dressed in a thin hospital gown. I don’t remember being stripped. “Let me take her,” he says and strides toward us. “Mr. Grey, I can manage,” Nurse Nora scolds him. He gives her a hostile glare. “Damn it, she’s my wife. I’ll take her,” he says through gritted teeth as he moves the IV stand out of his way. “Mr. Grey!” she protests. He ignores her, leans down, and gently lifts me off the bed. I wrap my arms around his neck, my body complaining. Jeez, I ache everywhere. He carries me to the en suite bathroom while Nurse Nora follows us, pushing the IV stand. “Mrs. Grey, you’re too light,” he mutters disapprovingly as he sets me gently on my feet. I sway. My legs feel like Jell-O. Christian flips the light switch, and I’m momentarily blinded by the fluorescent lamp that pings and flickers to life. “Sit before you fall,” he snaps, still holding me. Tentatively, I sit down on the toilet. “Go.” I try to wave him out. “No. Just pee, Ana.” Could this be any more embarrassing? “I can’t, not with you here.” “You might fall.” “Mr. Grey!” We both ignore the nurse. “Please,” I beg. He raises his hands in defeat. “I’ll stand outside, door open.” He takes a couple of paces back until he’s standing just outside the door with the angry nurse. “Turn around, please,” I ask. Why do I feel so ridiculously shy with this man? He rolls his eyes but complies. And when his back is turned … I let go, and savor the relief. I take stock of my injuries. My head hurts, my chest aches where Jack kicked me, and my side throbs where he pushed me to the ground. Plus I’m thirsty and hungry. Jeez, really hungry. I finish up, thankful that I don’t have to get up to wash my hands, as the sink is close. I just don’t have the strength to stand. “I’m done,” I call, drying my hands on the towel. Christian turns and comes back in and before I know it, I’m in his arms again. I have missed these arms. He pauses and buries his nose in my hair. “Oh, I’ve missed you, Mrs. Grey,” he whispers, and with Nurse Nora fussing behind him, he lays me back on the bed and releases me—reluctantly, I think. “If you’ve quite finished, Mr. Grey, I’d like to check over Mrs. Grey now.” Nurse Nora is mad. He stands back. “She’s all yours,” he says in a more measured tone. She huffs at him and then turns her attention back to me. Exasperating isn’t he? “How do you feel?” she asks me, her voice laced with sympathy and a trace of irritation, which I suspect is for Christian’s benefit. “Sore and thirsty. Very thirsty,” I whisper. “I’ll fetch you some water once I’ve checked your vitals and Dr. Bartley has examined you.” She reaches for a blood pressure cuff and wraps it around my upper arm. I glance anxiously up at Christian. He looks dreadful—haunted, even—as if he hasn’t slept for days. His hair is a mess, he hasn’t shaved for a long time, and his shirt is badly wrinkled. I frown. “How are you feeling?” Ignoring the nurse, he sits down on the bed out of arm’s reach. “Confused. Achy. Hungry.” “Hungry?” He blinks in surprise. I nod. “What do you want to eat?” “Anything. Soup.” “Mr. Grey, you’ll need the doctor’s approval before Mrs. Grey can eat.” He gazes at her impassively for a moment, then takes his BlackBerry out of his pants pocket and presses a number. “Ana wants chicken soup … Good … Thank you.” He hangs up. I glance at Nora, whose eyes narrow at Christian. “Taylor?” I ask quickly. Christian nods. “Your blood pressure is normal, Mrs. Grey. I’ll fetch the doctor.” She removes the cuff and, without so much as another word, stalks out of the room, radiating disapproval. “I think you made Nurse Nora mad.” “I have that effect on women.” He smirks. I laugh, then stop suddenly as pain radiates through my chest. “Yes, you do.” “Oh, Ana, I love to hear you laugh.” Nora returns with a pitcher of water. We both fall silent, gazing at each other as she pours out a glass and hands it to me. “Small sips now,” she warns. “Yes, ma’am,” I mutter and take a welcome sip of cool water. Oh my. It tastes perfect. I take another, and Christian watches me intently. “Mia?” I ask. “She’s safe. Thanks to you.” “They did have her?” “Yes.” All the madness was for a reason. Relief spirals through my body. Thank God, thank God, thank God she’s okay. I frown. “How did they get her?” “Elizabeth Morgan,” he says simply. “No!” He nods. “She picked her up at Mia’s gym.” I frown, still not understanding. “Ana, I’ll fill you in on the details later. Mia is fine, all things considered. She was drugged. She’s groggy now and shaken up, but by some miracle she wasn’t harmed.” Christian’s jaw clenches. “What you did”—he runs his hand through his hair—“was incredibly brave and incredibly stupid. You could have been killed.” His eyes blaze a bleak, chilling gray, and I know he’s restraining his anger. “I didn’t know what else to do,” I whisper. “You could have told me!” he says vehemently, fisting his hands in his lap. “He said he’d kill her if I told anyone. I couldn’t take that risk.” Christian closes his eyes, dread etched in his face. “I have died a thousand deaths since Thursday.” Thursday? “What day is it?” “It’s almost Saturday,” he says, checking his watch. “You’ve been unconscious for more than twenty-four hours.” Oh. “And Jack and Elizabeth?” “In police custody. Although Hyde is here under guard. They had to remove the bullet you left in him,” Christian says bitterly. “I don’t know where in this hospital he is, fortunately, or I’d probably kill him myself.” His face darkens. Oh shit. Jack is here? “That’s for SIP you fucking bitch!” I pale. My empty stomach convulses, tears prick my eyes, and a deep shudder runs through me. “Hey.” Christian scoots forward, his voice filled with concern. Taking the glass from my hand, he tenderly folds me into his arms. “You’re safe now,” he murmurs against my hair, his voice hoarse. “Christian, I’m so sorry.” My tears start to fall. “Hush.” He strokes my hair, and I weep into his neck. “What I said. I was never going to leave you.” “Hush, baby, I know.” “You do?” His admission halts my tears. “I worked it out. Eventually. Honestly, Ana, what were you thinking?” His tone is strained. “You took me by surprise,” I mutter into his shirt collar. “When we spoke at the bank. Thinking I was leaving you. I thought you knew me better. I’ve said to you over and over I would never leave.” “But after the appalling way I’ve behaved—” His voice is barely audible, and his arms tighten around me. “I thought for a short time that I’d lost you.” “No, Christian. Never. I didn’t want you to interfere and put Mia’s life in danger.” He sighs, and I don’t know if it’s from anger, exasperation, or hurt. “How did you work it out?” I ask quickly to distract him from his line of thought. He tucks my hair behind my ear. “I’d just touched down in Seattle when the bank called. Last I’d heard, you were ill and going home.” “So you were in Portland when Sawyer called you from the car?” “We were just about to take off. I was worried about you,” he says softly. “You were?” He frowns. “Of course I was.” He skirts his thumb over my bottom lip. “I spend my life worrying about you. You know that.” Oh, Christian! “Jack called me at the office,” I murmur. “He gave me two hours to get the money.” I shrug. “I had to leave, and it just seemed the best excuse.” Christian’s mouth presses into a hard line. “And you gave Sawyer the slip. He’s mad at you, as well.” “As well?” “As well as me.” I tentatively touch his face, running my fingers over his stubble. He closes his eyes, leaning into my fingers. “Don’t be mad at me. Please,” I whisper. “I am so mad at you. What you did was monumentally stupid. Bordering on insane.” “I told you, I didn’t know what else to do.” “You don’t seem to have any regard for your personal safety. And it’s not just you now,” he adds angrily. My lip trembles. He’s thinking about our Little Blip. The door opens, startling us both, and a young African American woman in a white coat over gray scrubs strides in. “Good evening, Mrs. Grey. I’m Dr. Bartley.” She starts to examine me thoroughly, shining a light in my eyes, making me touch her fingers, then my nose while closing first one eye and then the other, and checking all my reflexes. But her voice is soft and her touch gentle; she has a warm bedside manner. Nurse Nora joins her, and Christian wanders to the corner of the room and makes some calls while the two of them tend to me. It’s hard to concentrate on Dr. Bartley, Nurse Nora, and Christian at the same time, but I hear him call his father, my mother, and Kate to say I’m awake. Finally, he leaves a message for Ray. Ray. Oh shit … A vague memory of his voice comes back to me. He was here—yes, while I was still unconscious. Dr. Bartley checks my ribs, her fingers probing gently but firmly. I wince. “These are bruised, not cracked or broken. You were very lucky, Mrs. Grey.” I scowl. Lucky? Not the word I would have chosen. Christian glowers at her, too. He mouths something at me. I think it’s foolhardy, but I’m not sure. “I’ll prescribe some painkillers. You’ll need them for this and for the headache you must have. But all’s looking as it should, Mrs. Grey. I suggest you get some sleep. Depending on how you feel in the morning, we may let you go home. My colleague Dr. Singh will be attending you then.” “Thank you.” There’s a knock on the door, and Taylor enters bearing a black cardboard box with Fairmont Olympic emblazoned in cream on the side. Holy cow! “Food?” Dr. Bartley says, surprised. “Mrs. Grey is hungry,” Christian says. “This is chicken soup.” Dr. Bartley smiles. “Soup will be fine, just the broth. Nothing heavy.” She looks pointedly at both of us, then exits the room with Nurse Nora. Christian pulls the wheeled tray over to me, and Taylor places the box on it. “Welcome back, Mrs. Grey.” “Hello, Taylor. Thank you.” “You’re most welcome, ma’am.” I think he wants to say more, but he holds off. Christian is unpacking the box, producing a thermos, soup bowl, side plate, linen napkin, soupspoon, a small basket of bread rolls, silver salt and pepper shakers … The Olympic has gone all-out. “This is great, Taylor.” My stomach is rumbling. I am famished. “Will that be all?” he asks. “Yes, thanks,” Christian says, dismissing him. Taylor nods. “Taylor, thank you.” “Anything else I can get you, Mrs. Grey?” I glance at Christian. “Just some clean clothes for Christian.” Taylor smiles. “Yes, ma’am.” Christian glances down at his shirt, bemused. “How long have you been wearing that shirt?” I ask. “Since Thursday morning.” He gives me a crooked smile. Taylor exits. “Taylor’s real pissed at you, too,” Christian adds grumpily, unscrewing the lid of the thermos and pouring creamy chicken soup into the bowl. Taylor, too! But I don’t dwell on that as my chicken soup distracts me. It smells delicious, and steam curls invitingly from its surface. I take a taste and it’s everything it promised to be. “Good?” Christian asks, perching on the bed again. I nod enthusiastically and don’t stop. My hunger is primal. I pause only to wipe my mouth with the linen napkin. “Tell me what happened—after you realized what was going on.” Christian runs his hand through his hair and shakes his head. “Oh, Ana, it’s good to see you eat.” “I’m hungry. Tell me.” He frowns. “Well, after the bank called and I thought my world had completely fallen apart—” He can’t hide the pain in his voice. I stop eating. Oh shit. “Don’t stop eating, or I’ll stop talking,” he whispers, his tone adamant as he glares at me. I continue with my soup. Okay, okay … Damn, it tastes good. Christian’s gaze softens and after a beat, he resumes. “Anyway, shortly after you and I had finished our conversation, Taylor informed me that Hyde had been granted bail. How, I don’t know, I thought we’d managed to thwart any attempts at bail. But that gave me a moment to think about what you’d said … and I knew something was seriously wrong.” “It was never about the money,” I snap suddenly, an unexpected surge of anger flaring in my belly. My voice rises. “How could you even think that? It’s never been about your fucking money!” My head starts to pound and I wince. Christian gapes at me for a split second, surprised by my vehemence. He narrows his eyes. “Mind your language,” he growls. “Calm down and eat.” I glare mutinously at him. “Ana,” he warns. “That hurt me more than anything, Christian,” I whisper. “Almost as much as you seeing that woman.” He inhales sharply, as if I’ve slapped him, and all of a sudden, he looks exhausted. Closing his eyes briefly, he shakes his head, resigned. “I know.” He sighs. “And I’m sorry. More than you know.” His eyes are luminous with contrition. “Please, eat. While your soup is still hot.” His voice is soft and compelling, and I do as he asks. He breathes a sigh of relief. “Go on,” I whisper, between bites of the illicit fresh white bread roll. “We didn’t know Mia was missing. I thought maybe he was blackmailing you or something. I called you back, but you didn’t answer.” He scowls. “I left you a message and then called Sawyer. Taylor started tracking your cell. I knew you were at the bank, so we headed straight there.” “I don’t know how Sawyer found me. Was he tracking my cell, too?” “The Saab is fitted with a tracking device. All our cars are. By the time we got near the bank, you were already on the move, and we followed. Why are you smiling?” “On some level I knew you’d be stalking me.” “And that is amusing because?” he asks. “Jack had instructed me to get rid of my cell. So I borrowed Whelan’s cell, and that’s the one I threw away. I put mine into one of the duffel bags so you could track your money.” Christian sighs. “Our money, Ana,” he says quietly. “Eat.” I wipe my soup bowl with the last of my bread and pop it into my mouth. For the first time in a long while, I feel replete in spite of our conversation. “Finished.” “Good girl.” There’s a knock on the door and Nurse Nora enters once more, carrying a small paper cup. Christian clears away my plate and starts putting all the items back into the box. “Pain relief.” Nora smiles, showing me the white pill in the paper cup. “Is this okay to take? You know—with the baby?” “Yes, Mrs. Grey. It’s Lortab—it’s fine; it won’t affect the baby.” I nod gratefully. My head is pounding. I swallow it down with a sip of water. “You ought to rest, Mrs. Grey.” Nurse Nora looks pointedly at Christian. He nods. No! “You’re going?” I exclaim, panic setting in. Don’t go—we’ve just started talking! Christian snorts. “If you think for one moment I’m going to let you out of my sight, Mrs. Grey, you are very much mistaken.” Nora huffs but hovers over me and readjusts my pillows so that I have to lie down. “Good night, Mrs. Grey,” she says, and with one last censorious glance at Christian, she leaves. He raises an eyebrow as she closes the door. “I don’t think Nurse Nora approves of me.” He stands by the bed, looking tired, and despite the fact that I want him to stay, I know I should try to persuade him to go home. “You need rest, too, Christian. Go home. You look exhausted.” “I’m not leaving you. I’ll doze in this armchair.” I scowl at him, then shift onto my side. “Sleep with me.” He frowns. “No. I can’t.” “Why not?” “I don’t want to hurt you.” “You won’t hurt me. Please, Christian.” “You have an IV.” “Christian. Please.” He gazes at me, and I can tell he’s tempted. “Please.” I lift up the blankets, inviting him into the bed. “Fuck it.” He slips off his shoes and socks, and gingerly climbs in beside me. Gently, he wraps his arm around me, and I lay my head on his chest. He kisses my hair. “I don’t think Nurse Nora will be very happy with this arrangement,” he whispers conspiratorially. I giggle, then stop as pain lances through my chest. “Don’t make me laugh. It hurts.” “Oh, but I love that sound,” he says a little sadly, his voice low. “I’m sorry, baby, so, so sorry.” He kisses my hair again and inhales deeply, and I don’t know what he’s apologizing for … making me laugh? Or the mess we’re in? I rest my hand over his heart, and he gently places his hand on mine. We are both silent for a moment. “Why did you go see that woman?” “Oh, Ana.” He groans. “You want to discuss that now? Can’t we drop this? I regret it, okay?” “I need to know.” “I’ll tell you tomorrow,” he mutters, irritated. “Oh, and Detective Clark wants to talk to you. Just routine. Now go to sleep.” He kisses my hair. I sigh heavily. I need to know why. At least he says he regrets it. That’s something, my subconscious agrees. She’s in an agreeable mood today, it seems. Ugh, Detective Clark. I shudder at the thought of reliving Thursday’s events for him. “Do we know why Jack was doing all this?” “Hmm,” Christian murmurs. I’m soothed by the slow rise and fall of his chest, gently rocking my head, lulling me to sleep as his breathing slows. And while I drift I try to make sense of the fragments of conversations I heard while I was on the edge of consciousness, but they slither through my mind, remaining steadfastly elusive, taunting me from the edges of my memory. Oh, it’s frustrating and exhausting … and … NURSE NORA’S MOUTH IS pursed and her arms folded in hostility. I hold my finger up to my lips. “Please let him sleep,” I whisper, squinting in the early morning light. “This is your bed. Not his,” she hisses sternly. “I slept better because he was here,” I insist, rushing to my husband’s defense. Besides, it’s true. Christian stirs, and Nurse Nora and I freeze. He mumbles in his sleep, “Don’t touch me. No more. Only Ana.” I frown. I have rarely heard Christian talk in his sleep. Admittedly, that might be because he sleeps less than I do. I’ve only ever heard his nightmares. His arms tighten around me, squeezing me, and I wince. “Mrs. Grey—” Nurse Nora glowers. “Please,” I beg. She shakes her head, turns on her heel, and leaves, and I snuggle up against Christian again. WHEN I WAKE, CHRISTIAN is nowhere to be seen. The sun is blazing through the windows, and I can now really appreciate the room. I have flowers! I didn’t notice them the night before. Several bouquets. I wonder idly who they’re from. A soft knock distracts me, and Carrick peeks around the door. He beams when he sees that I’m awake. “May I come in?” he asks. “Of course.” He strides into the room and over to me, his soft, gentle blue eyes assessing me shrewdly. He’s wearing a dark suit—he must be working. He surprises me by leaning down and kissing my forehead. “May I sit?” I nod, and he perches on the edge of the bed and takes my hand. “I don’t know how to thank you for my daughter, you crazy, brave, darling girl. What you did probably saved her life. I will be forever in your debt.” His voice wavers, filled with gratitude and compassion. Oh … I don’t know what to say. I squeeze his hand but remain mute. “How are you feeling?” “Better. Sore.” I say, for honesty’s sake. “Have they given you meds for the pain?” “Lor … something.” “Good. Where’s Christian?” “I don’t know. When I woke up, he was gone.” “He won’t be far away, I’m sure. He wouldn’t leave you while you were unconscious.” “I know.” “He’s a little mad at you, as he should be.” Carrick smirks. Ah, this is where Christian gets it from. “Christian is always mad at me.” “Is he?” Carrick smiles, pleased—as if this is a good thing. His smile is infectious. “How’s Mia?” His eyes cloud and his smile vanishes. “She’s better. Mad as hell. I think anger is a healthy reaction to what happened to her.” “Is she here?” “No, she’s back at home. I don’t think Grace will let her out of her sight.” “I know how that feels.” “You need watching, too,” he admonishes. “I don’t want you taking any more silly risks with your life or the life of my grandchild.” I flush. He knows! “Grace read your chart. She told me. Congratulations.” “Um … thank you.” He gazes down at me, and his eyes soften, though he frowns at my expression. “Christian will come around,” he says gently. “This will be the best thing for him. Just … give him some time.” I nod. Oh … They’ve spoken. “I’d better go. I’m due in court.” He smiles and rises. “I’ll check in on you later. Grace speaks highly of Dr. Singh and Dr. Bartley. They know what they’re doing.” He leans down and kisses me once more. “I mean it, Ana. I can never repay what you’ve done for us. Thank you.” I look up at him, blinking back tears, suddenly overwhelmed, and he strokes my cheek affectionately. Then he turns on his heel and leaves. Oh my. I’m reeling from his gratitude. Perhaps now I can let the prenup debacle go. My subconscious nods sagely in agreement with me yet again. I shake my head and gingerly get out of bed. I’m relieved to find that I am much steadier on my feet than I was yesterday. In spite of Christian sharing the bed, I have slept well and feel refreshed. My head still aches, but it’s a dull nagging pain, nothing like the pounding yesterday. I’m stiff and sore, but I just need a bath. I feel grimy. I head into the en suite. “ANA!” CHRISTIAN SHOUTS. “I’m in the bathroom,” I call as I finish brushing my teeth. That feels better. I ignore my reflection in the mirror. Crap, I look a mess. When I open the door, Christian is by the bed, holding a tray of food. He’s transformed. Dressed entirely in black, he’s shaved, showered, and looks well rested. “Good morning, Mrs. Grey,” he says brightly. “I have your breakfast.” He looks so boyish and much happier. Wow. I smile broadly as I climb back into bed. He pulls over the tray on wheels and lifts the cover to reveal my breakfast: oatmeal with dried fruits, pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, orange juice, and Twinings English breakfast tea. My mouth waters; I’m so hungry. I down the orange juice in a few gulps and dig into the oatmeal. Christian sits down on the edge of the bed to watch. He smirks. “What?” I ask with my mouth full. “I like to watch you eat,” he says. But I don’t think that’s what he’s smirking about. “How are you feeling?” “Better,” I mutter between mouthfuls. “I’ve never seen you eat like this.” I glance up at him, and my heart sinks. We have to address the very tiny elephant in the room. “It’s because I’m pregnant, Christian.” He snorts, and his mouth twists into an ironic smile. “If I knew getting you knocked up was going to make you eat, I might have done it earlier.” “Christian Grey!” I gasp and set the oatmeal down. “Don’t stop eating,” he warns. “Christian, we need to talk about this.” He stills. “What’s there to say? We’re going to be parents.” He shrugs, desperately trying to look nonchalant, but all I can see is his fear. Pushing the tray aside, I crawl down the bed to him and take his hands in mine. “You’re scared,” I whisper. “I get it.” He gazes at me, impassive, his eyes wide and all his earlier boyishness stripped away. “I am, too. That’s normal,” I whisper. “What kind of father could I possibly be?” His voice is hoarse, barely audible. “Oh, Christian.” I stifle a sob. “One that tries his best. That’s all any of us can do.” “Ana—I don’t know if I can …” “Of course you can. You’re loving, you’re fun, you’re strong, you’ll set boundaries. Our child will want for nothing.” He’s frozen, staring at me, doubt etched on his beautiful face. “Yes, it would have been ideal to have waited. To have longer, just the two of us. But we’ll be three of us, and we’ll all grow up together. We’ll be a family. Our own family. And your child will love you unconditionally, like I do.” Tears spring to my eyes. “Oh, Ana,” Christian whispers, his voice anguished and pained. “I thought I’d lost you. Then I thought I’d lost you again. Seeing you lying on the ground, pale and cold and unconscious—it was all my worst fears realized. And now here you are—brave and strong … giving me hope. Loving me after all that I’ve done.” “Yes, I do love you, Christian, desperately. I always will.” Gently taking my head between his hands, he wipes my tears away with his thumbs. He gazes into my eyes, gray to blue, and all I see is his fear and wonder and love. “I love you, too,” he breathes. And he kisses me sweetly, tenderly, like a man who adores his wife. “I’ll try to be a good father,” he whispers against my lips. “You’ll try, and you’ll succeed. And let’s face it; you don’t have much choice in the matter, because Blip and I are not going anywhere.” “Blip?” “Blip.” He raises his eyebrows. “I had the name Junior in my head.” “Junior it is, then.” “But I like Blip.” He smiles his shy smile and kisses me once more. For Niall, the master of my universe CHAPTER FOURTEEN Christian on his knees at my feet, holding me with his steady gray gaze, is the most chilling and sobering sight I have ever seen—more so than Leila and her gun. The vague alcoholic fuzziness I’m suffering from evaporates in an instant, and is replaced by a prickling scalp and a creeping sense of doom as the blood drains from my face. I inhale sharply with shock. No. No, this is wrong, so wrong and so disturbing. “Christian, please, don’t do this. I don’t want this.” He continues to regard me passively, not moving, saying nothing. Oh, fuck. My poor Fifty. My heart squeezes and twists. What the hell have I done to him? Tears prick my eyes. “Why are you doing this? Talk to me,” I whisper. He blinks once. “What would you like me to say?” he says softly, blandly, and for a moment I’m relieved that he’s talking, but not like this—no. No. Tears begin to ooze down my cheeks, and suddenly it is too much to see him in the same prostrate position as the pathetic creature that was Leila. The image of a powerful man who’s really still a little boy, who was horrifically abused and neglected, who feels unworthy of love from his perfect family and his much-less-than-perfect girlfriend … my lost boy … it’s heartbreaking. Compassion, loss, and despair all swell in my heart, and I feel a choking sense of desperation. I am going to have to fight to bring him back, to bring back my Fifty. The thought of me dominating anyone is appalling. The thought of dominating Christian is nauseating. It would make me like her—the woman who did this to him. I shudder at that thought, fighting the bile in my throat. No way can I do that. No way do I want that. As my thoughts clear, I can see only one way. Not taking my eyes off his, I sink to my knees in front of him. The wooden floor is hard against my shins, and I dash my tears away roughly with the back of my hand. Like this, we are equals. We’re on a level. This is the only way I’m going to retrieve him. His eyes widen fractionally as I stare up at him, but beyond that his expression and stance don’t change. “Christian, you don’t have to do this,” I plead. “I’m not going to run. I’ve told you and told you and told you, I won’t run. All that’s happened … it’s overwhelming. I just need some time to think … some time to myself. Why do you always assume the worst?” My heart clenches again because I know; it’s because he’s so doubting, so full of self-loathing. Elena’s words come back to haunt me. “Does she know how negative you are about yourself? About all your issues?” Oh, Christian. Fear grips my heart once more and I start babbling, “I was going to suggest going back to my apartment this evening. You never give me any time … time to just think things through,” I sob, and a ghost of a frown crosses his face. “Just time to think. We barely know each other, and all this baggage that comes with you … I need … I need time to think it through. And now that Leila is … well, whatever she is … she’s off the streets and not a threat … I thought … I thought …” My voice trails off and I stare at him. He regards me intently and I think he’s listening “Seeing you with Leila …” I close my eyes as the painful memory of his interaction with his ex-sub gnaws at me anew. “It was such a shock. I had a glimpse into how your life has been … and …” I gaze down at my knotted fingers, tears still trickling down my cheeks. “This is about me not being good enough for you. It was an insight into your life, and I am so scared you’ll get bored with me, and then you’ll go … and I’ll end up like Leila … a shadow. Because I love you, Christian, and if you leave me, it will be like a world without light. I’ll be in darkness. I don’t want to run. I’m just so frightened you’ll leave me …” I realize as I say these words to him—in the hope that he’s listening—what my real problem is. I just don’t get why he likes me. I have never understood why he likes me. “I don’t understand why you find me attractive,” I murmur. “You’re, well, you’re you … and I’m …” I shrug and gaze up at him. “I just don’t see it. You’re beautiful and sexy and successful and good and kind and caring—all those things—and I’m not. And I can’t do the things you like to do. I can’t give you what you need. How could you be happy with me? How can I possibly hold you?” My voice is a whisper as I express my darkest fears. “I have never understood what you see in me. And seeing you with her, it brought all that home.” I sniff and wipe my nose with the back of my hand, gazing at his impassive expression. Oh, he’s so exasperating. Talk to me, damn it! “Are you going to kneel here all night? Because I’ll do it, too,” I snap at him. I think his expression softens—maybe he looks vaguely amused. But it’s so hard to tell. I could reach across and touch him, but this would be a gross abuse of the position he’s put me in. I don’t want that, but I don’t know what he wants, or what he’s trying to say to me. I just don’t understand. “Christian, please, please … talk to me,” I beseech him, wringing my hands in my lap. I am uncomfortable on my knees, but I continue to kneel, staring into his serious, beautiful, gray eyes, and I wait. And wait. And wait. “Please,” I beg once more. His intense gaze darkens suddenly and he blinks. “I was so scared,” he whispers. Oh, thank the Lord! My subconscious staggers back into her armchair, sagging with relief, and takes a large swig of gin. He’s talking! Gratitude overwhelms me, and I swallow, trying to contain my emotion and the fresh bout of tears that threatens. His voice is soft and low. “When I saw Ethan arrive outside, I knew someone had let you into your apartment. Both Taylor and I leapt out of the car. We knew, and to see her there like that with you—and armed. I think I died a thousand deaths, Ana. Someone threatening you … all my worst fears realized. I was so angry, with her, with you, with Taylor, with myself.” He shakes his head revealing his agony. “I didn’t know how volatile she would be. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how she’d react.” He stops and frowns. “And then she gave me a clue; she looked so contrite. And I just knew what I had to do.” He pauses, gazing at me, trying to gauge my reaction. “Go on,” I whisper. He swallows. “Seeing her in that state, knowing that I might have something to do with her mental breakdown …” He closes his eyes once more. “She was always so mischievous and lively.” He shudders and takes a rasping breath, almost like a sob. This is torture to listen to, but I kneel, attentive, lapping up this insight. “She might have harmed you. And it would have been my fault.” His eyes drift off, filled with uncomprehending horror, and he’s silent once more. “But she didn’t,” I whisper. “And you weren’t responsible for her being in that state, Christian.” I blink up at him, encouraging him to continue. Then it dawns on me that everything he did was to keep me safe, and perhaps Leila, too, because he also cares for her. But how much does he care for her? The question lingers in my head, unwelcome. He says he loves me, but then he was so harsh, throwing me out of my own apartment. “I just wanted you gone,” he murmurs, with his uncanny ability to read my thoughts. “I wanted you away from the danger, and … You. Just. Wouldn’t. Go,” he hisses through clenched teeth and shakes his head. His exasperation is palpable. He gazes at me intently. “Anastasia Steele, you are the most stubborn woman I know.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head once more in disbelief. Oh, he’s back. I breathe a long, cleansing sigh of relief. He opens his eyes again, and his expression is forlorn—sincere. “You weren’t going to run?” he asks. “No!” He closes his eyes again and his whole body relaxes. When he opens his eyes, I can see his pain and anguish. “I thought—” He stops. “This is me, Ana. All of me … and I’m all yours. What do I have to do to make you realize that? To make you see that I want you any way I can get you. That I love you.” “I love you, too, Christian, and to see you like this is …” I choke and my tears start anew. “I thought I’d broken you.” “Broken? Me? Oh no, Ana. Just the opposite.” He reaches out and takes my hand. “You’re my lifeline,” he whispers, and he kisses my knuckles before pressing my palm against his. With his eyes wide and full of fear, he gently tugs my hand and places it on his chest over his heart—in the forbidden zone. His breathing quickens. His heart is beating a frantic, pounding tattoo beneath my fingers. He doesn’t take his eyes off mine; his jaw is tense, his teeth clenched. I gasp. Oh, my Fifty! He’s letting me touch him. And it’s like all the air in my lungs has vaporized—gone. The blood is pounding in my ears as the rhythm of my heart rises to match his. He releases my hand, leaving it in place over his heart. I flex my fingers slightly, feeling the warmth of his skin beneath the thin fabric of his shirt. He’s holding his breath. I can’t bear it. I make to move my hand. “No,” he says quickly and places his hand once more over mine, pressing my fingers against him. “Don’t.” Emboldened by these two words, I shuffle closer so our knees are touching and tentatively raise my other hand so that he knows exactly what I intend to do. His eyes grow wider but he doesn’t stop me. Gently I start to undo the buttons on his shirt. It’s tricky with one hand. I flex my fingers beneath his hand and he lets go, allowing me to use both hands to undo his shirt. My eyes don’t leave his as I pull his shirt wide open, revealing his chest. He swallows, and his lips part as his breathing increases, and I sense his rising panic, but he doesn’t pull away. Is he still in sub mode? I have no idea. Should I do this? I don’t want to hurt him, physically or mentally. The sight of him like this, offering himself to me, has been a wake-up call. I reach up, and my hand hovers over his chest, and I stare at him … asking his permission. Very subtly he tilts his head to one side, steeling himself in anticipation of my touch, and the tension radiates from him, but this time it’s not in anger—it’s in fear. I hesitate. Can I really do this to him? “Yes,” he breathes—again with the weird ability to answer my unspoken questions. I extend my fingertips into his chest hair and lightly brush them down his sternum. He closes his eyes, and his face creases as if he’s experiencing intolerable pain. It’s unbearable to witness, so I lift my fingers immediately, but he quickly grabs my hand and replaces it firmly, flat on his bare chest so that the hair tickles my palm. “No,” he says, his voice strained. “I need to.” His eyes are screwed up so tightly. This must be agony. It’s truly tormenting to watch. Carefully I let my fingers stroke across his chest to his heart, marveling at the feel of him, terrified that this is a step too far. He opens his eyes, and they are gray fire, blazing at me. Holy cow. His look is blistering, feral, beyond intense, and his breathing is rapid. It stirs my blood. I squirm under his gaze. He hasn’t stopped me, so I run my fingertips across his chest again, and his mouth goes slack. He’s panting, and I don’t know if it’s from fear, or something else. I’ve wanted to kiss him there for so long that I lean up on my knees and hold his gaze for a moment, making my intention perfectly clear. Then I bend and gently plant a soft kiss above his heart, feeling his warm, sweet-smelling skin beneath my lips. His strangled groan moves me so much that I sit back on my heels, fearful of what I’ll see on his face. His eyes are screwed tightly shut, but he hasn’t moved. “Again,” he whispers, and I lean into his chest once more, this time to kiss one of his scars. He gasps, and I kiss another and another. He groans loudly, and suddenly his arms are around me, and his hand is in my hair, pulling my head up painfully so that my lips meet his insistent mouth. And we’re kissing, my fingers knotting into his hair. “Oh, Ana,” he breathes, and he twists and pulls me down on to the floor so that I am underneath him. I bring my hands up to cup his beautiful face, and in that moment, I feel his tears. He’s crying … no. No! “Christian, please don’t cry. I meant it when I said I’d never leave you. I did. If I gave you any other impression, I’m so sorry … please, please forgive me. I love you. I will always love you.” He looms over me, gazing down into my face, and his expression is so pained. “What is it?” His eyes grow larger. “What is this secret that makes you think I’ll run for the hills? That makes you so determined to believe I’ll go?” I plead, my voice tremulous. “Tell me, Christian, please …” He sits up, though this time he crosses his legs and I follow suit, my legs outstretched. Vaguely I wonder if we can get off the floor. But I don’t want to interrupt his train of thought. He’s finally going to confide in me. He gazes down at me, and he looks utterly desolate. Oh, shit—it’s bad. “Ana …” He pauses, searching for the words, his expression pained … Where the hell is this going? He takes a deep breath and swallows. “I’m a sadist, Ana. I like to whip little brown-haired girls like you because you all look like the crack whore—my birth mother. I’m sure you can guess why.” He says it in a rush as if he’s had the sentence in his head for days and days and is desperate to be rid of it. My world stops. Oh no. This is not what I expected. This is bad. Really bad. I gaze at him, trying to understand the implication of what he’s just said. It does explain why we all look the same. My immediate thought is that Leila was right—“Master is dark.” I recall the first conversation I had with him about his tendencies when we were in the Red Room of Pain. “You said you weren’t a sadist,” I whisper, desperately trying to understand … make some excuse for him. “No, I said I was a Dominant. If I lied to you, it was a lie of omission. I’m sorry.” He looks briefly down at his manicured fingernails. I think he’s mortified. Mortified about lying to me? Or about what he is? “When you asked me that question, I had envisioned a very different relationship between us,” he murmurs. I can tell by his gaze that he’s terrified. Then it hits me like a wrecking ball. If he’s a sadist, he really needs all that whipping and caning shit. Oh, fuck. I put my head in my hands. “So it’s true,” I whisper, glancing up at him. “I can’t give you what you need.” This is it—this really does mean we are incompatible. The world starts falling away at my feet, collapsing around me as panic grips my throat. This is it. We can’t do this. He frowns. “No no no. Ana. No. You can. You do give me what I need.” He clenches his fists. “Please believe me,” he murmurs, his words an impassioned plea. “I don’t know what to believe, Christian. This is so fucked-up,” I whisper, my throat hoarse and aching as it closes in, choking me with unshed tears. His eyes are wide and luminous when he looks at me again. “Ana, believe me. After I punished you and you left me, my worldview changed. I wasn’t joking when I said I would avoid ever feeling like that again.” He gazes at me with pained entreaty. “When you said you loved me, it was a revelation. No one’s ever said it to me before, and it was as if I’d laid something to rest—or maybe you’d laid it to rest, I don’t know. Dr. Flynn and I are still in deep discussion about it.” Oh. Hope flares briefly in my heart. Perhaps we’ll be okay. I want us to be okay. Don’t I? “What does that all mean?” I whisper. “It means I don’t need it. Not now.” What? “How do you know? How can you be so sure?” “I just know. The thought of hurting you … in any real way … it’s abhorrent to me.” “I don’t understand. What about rulers and spanking and all that kinky fuckery?” He runs a hand through his hair and almost smiles but instead sighs ruefully. “I’m talking about the heavy shit, Anastasia. You should see what I can do with a cane or a cat.” My mouth drops open, stunned. “I’d rather not.” “I know. If you wanted to do that, then fine … but you don’t and I get it. I can’t do all that shit with you if you don’t want to. I told you once before, you have all the power. And now, since you came back, I don’t feel that compulsion at all.” I gape at him for a moment trying to take this all in. “When we met, that’s what you wanted, though?” “Yes, undoubtedly.” “How can your compulsion just go, Christian? Like I’m some kind of panacea, and you’re—for want of a better word—cured? I don’t get it.” He sighs once more. “I wouldn’t say ‘cured’ … You don’t believe me?” “I just find it—unbelievable. Which is different.” “If you’d never left me, then I probably wouldn’t feel this way. Your walking out on me was the best thing you ever did … for us. It made me realize how much I want you, just you, and I mean it when I say I’ll take you any way I can have you.” I gaze at him. Can I believe this? My head hurts just trying to think this all through, and deep down I feel … numb. “You’re still here. I thought you would be out of the door by now,” he whispers. “Why? Because I might think you’re a sicko for whipping and fucking women who look like your mother? Whatever would give you that impression?” I hiss, lashing out. He blanches at my harsh words. “Well, I wouldn’t have put it quite like that, but yes,” he says, his eyes wide and hurt. His expression is sobering and I regret my outburst. I frown, feeling a pang of guilt. Oh, what am I going to do? I gaze at him and he looks contrite, sincere … he looks like my Fifty. And unbidden, I recall the photograph in his childhood bedroom, and in that moment realize why the woman in it looked so familiar. She looked like him. She must have been his biological mother. His easy dismissal of her comes to mind: No one of consequence … She’s responsible for all this … and I look like her … Fuck! He stares at me, eyes raw, and I know he’s waiting for my next move. He seems genuine. He’s said he loves me, but I’m really confused. This is all so fucked-up. He’s reassured me about Leila, but now I know with more certainty than ever how she was able to give him his kicks. The thought is wearying and unpalatable. “Christian, I’m exhausted. Can we discuss this tomorrow? I want to go to bed.” He blinks at me in surprise. “You’re not going?” “Do you want me to go?” “No! I thought you would leave once you knew.” All the times he’s alluded to my leaving once I knew his darkest secrets flash through my mind … and now I know. Shit. Master is dark. Should I leave? I gaze at him, this crazy man that I love—yes, love. Can I leave him? I left him once before, and it nearly broke me … and him. I love him. I know that in spite of this revelation. “Don’t leave me,” he whispers. “Oh, for crying out loud—no! I am not going to go!” I shout, and it’s cathartic. There, I’ve said it. I am not leaving. “Really?” His eyes widen. “What can I do to make you understand I will not run? What can I say?” He gazes at me, revealing his fear and anguish again. He swallows. “There is one thing you can do.” “What?” I snap. “Marry me,” he whispers. What? Did he really just— For the second time in less than half an hour my world stops. Holy fuck. I stare at the deeply damaged man I love. I can’t believe what he’s just said. Marriage? He’s proposing marriage? Is he kidding? I can’t help it—a small, nervous, disbelieving giggle erupts from deep inside. I bite my lip to stop it from turning into full-scale hysterical laughter and fail miserably. I lie back flat on the floor and surrender myself to the laughter, laughing as I’ve never laughed before, huge healing cathartic howls of laughter. And for a moment I am on my own, looking down at this absurd situation, a giggling, overwhelmed girl beside a beautiful, disturbed boy. I drape my arm across my eyes, as my laughter turns to scalding tears. No, no … this is too much. As the hysteria subsides, Christian gently lifts my arm off my face. I turn and gaze up at him. He’s leaning over me. His mouth is twisted with wry amusement, but his eyes are a burning gray, maybe wounded. Oh no. He gently wipes away a stray tear with the back of his knuckles. “You find my proposal amusing, Miss Steele?” Oh, Fifty! Reaching up, I caress his cheek tenderly, enjoying the feel of the stubble beneath my fingers. Lord, I love this man. “Mr. Grey … Christian. Your sense of timing is without doubt …” I gaze up at him as words fail me. He smirks at me, but the crinkling around his eyes shows me that he’s hurt. It’s sobering. “You’re cutting me to the quick here, Ana. Will you marry me?” I sit up and lean over him, placing my hands on his knees. I stare into his lovely face. “Christian, I’ve met your psycho ex with a gun, been thrown out of my apartment, had you go thermonuclear Fifty on me—” He opens his mouth to speak, but I hold up my hand. He obediently shuts his mouth. “You’ve just revealed some quite frankly shocking information about yourself, and now you’ve asked me to marry you.” He moves his head from side to side as if considering the facts. He’s amused. Thank heavens. “Yes, I think that’s a fair and accurate summary of the situation,” he says dryly. I shake my head at him. “Whatever happened to delayed gratification?” “I got over it, and I’m now a firm advocate of instant gratification. Carpe diem, Ana,” he whispers. “Look, Christian, I’ve known you for about three minutes, and there’s so much more I need to know. I’ve had too much to drink, I’m hungry, I’m tired, and I want to go to bed. I need to consider your proposal just as I considered that contract you gave me. And”—I press my lips together to show my displeasure but also to lighten the mood between us—“that wasn’t the most romantic proposal.” He tilts his head to one side and his lips quirk up in a smile. “Fair point well made, as ever, Miss Steele,” he breathes, his voice laced with relief. “So, that’s not a no?” I sigh. “No, Mr. Grey, it’s not a no, but it’s not a yes, either. You’re only doing this because you’re scared, and you don’t trust me.” “No, I’m doing this because I’ve finally met someone I want to spend the rest of my life with.” Oh. My heart skips a beat and inside, I melt. How is it that in the middle of the most bizarre situations he can say the most romantic things? My mouth pops open in shock. “I never thought that would happen to me,” he continues, his expression radiating pure undiluted sincerity. I gape at him, searching for the right words. “Can I think about it … please? And think about everything else that’s happened today? What you’ve just told me? You asked for patience and faith. Well, back at you, Grey. I need those now.” His eyes search mine and after a beat, he leans forward and tucks my hair behind my ear. “I can live with that.” He kisses me quickly on the lips. “Not very romantic, eh?” He raises his eyebrows, and I give him an admonishing shake of my head. “Hearts and flowers?” he asks softly. I nod and he gives me a slight smile. “You’re hungry?” “Yes.” “You didn’t eat.” His eyes frost and his jaw hardens. “No, I didn’t eat.” I sit back on my heels and regard him passively. “Being thrown out of my apartment after witnessing my boyfriend interacting intimately with his ex-submissive considerably suppressed my appetite.” I glare at him and fist my hands on my hips. Christian shakes his head and rises gracefully to his feet. Oh, finally we can get off the floor. He holds his hand out to me. “Let me fix you something to eat,” he says. “Can’t I just go to bed?” I mutter wearily as I place my hand in his. He pulls me up. I am stiff. He gazes down at me, his expression soft. “No, you need to eat. Come.” Bossy Christian is back, and it’s a relief. He leads me to the kitchen area and ushers me toward a barstool as he heads to the fridge. I glance at my watch and it’s nearly eleven thirty and I have to get up for work in the morning. “Christian, I’m really not hungry.” He studiously ignores me as he ferrets through the enormous fridge. “Cheese?” he asks. “Not at this hour.” “Pretzels?” “In the fridge? No,” I snap. He turns and grins at me. “You don’t like pretzels?” “Not at eleven thirty. Christian, I’m going to bed. You can rummage around in your refrigerator for the rest of the night if you want. I’m tired, and I’ve had far too interesting a day. A day I’d like to forget.” I slide off the stool and he scowls at me, but right now I don’t care. I want to go to bed—I’m exhausted. “Macaroni and cheese?” He holds up a white bowl lidded with foil. He looks so hopeful and endearing. “You like macaroni and cheese?” I ask. He nods enthusiastically, and my heart melts. He looks so young all of a sudden. Who would have thought? Christian Grey likes nursery food. “You want some?” he asks, sounding hopeful. I can’t resist him, and I’m hungry. I nod and give him a weak smile. His answering grin is breathtaking. He takes the foil off the bowl and pops it into the microwave. I perch back on the stool and watch the beauty that is Mr. Christian Grey—the man who wants to marry me—move gracefully and with ease around his kitchen. “So you know how to use the microwave, then?” I tease softly. “If it’s in a packet, I can usually do something with it. It’s real food I have a problem with.” I cannot believe this is the same man who was on his knees in front of me not half an hour before. He’s his usual mercurial self. He sets out plates, cutlery, and place mats on the breakfast bar. “It’s very late,” I mutter. “Don’t go to work tomorrow.” “I have to go to work tomorrow. My boss is leaving for New York.” Christian frowns. “Do you want to go there this weekend?” “I checked the weather forecast, and it looks like rain,” I say, shaking my head. “Oh, so what do you want to do?” The microwave’s ping announces that our supper is warmed through. “I just want to get through one day at a time right now. All this excitement is … tiring.” I raise an eyebrow at him, which he judiciously ignores. Christian places the white bowl in between our place settings and takes his seat beside me. He looks deep in thought, distracted. I dish the macaroni onto our plates. It smells divine, and my mouth waters in anticipation. I am famished. “Sorry about Leila,” he murmurs. “Why are you sorry?” Mmm, the macaroni tastes as good as it smells. My stomach grumbles gratefully. “It must have been a terrible shock for you, finding her in your apartment. Taylor swept through it earlier himself. He’s very upset.” “I don’t blame Taylor.” “Neither do I. He’s been out looking for you.” “Really? Why?” “I didn’t know where you were. You left your purse, your phone. I couldn’t even track you. Where did you go?” he asks. His voice is soft, but there’s an ominous undercurrent to his words. “Ethan and I just went to a bar across the street. So I could watch what was happening.” “I see.” The atmosphere between us has changed subtly. It’s no longer light. Okay, well … two can play that game. Let’s just bring this back to you, Fifty. Trying to sound nonchalant, wanting to assuage my burning curiosity but dreading the answer, I ask, “So, what did you do with Leila in the apartment?” I glance up at him, and he freezes with his forkful of macaroni suspended in midair. Oh no, that’s not good. “You really want to know?” A knot tightens in my gut and my appetite vanishes. “Yes,” I whisper. Do you? Do you really? My subconscious has thrown her empty bottle of gin on the floor and is sitting up in her armchair, glaring at me in horror. Christian’s mouth flattens into a line, and he hesitates. “We talked, and I gave her a bath.” His voice is hoarse, and he continues quickly when I make no response. “And I dressed her in some of your clothes. I hope you don’t mind. But she was filthy.” Holy fuck. He bathed her? What an inappropriate thing to do. I’m reeling, staring down at my uneaten macaroni. The sight of it now makes me nauseous. Try to rationalize this, my subconscious coaches. That cool, intellectual part of my brain knows that he just did that because she was dirty, but it’s too hard. My fragile, jealous self can’t bear it. Suddenly I want to cry—not succumb to ladylike tears that trickle decorously down my cheeks, but howling-at-the-moon crying. I take a deep breath to suppress the urge, but my throat is arid and uncomfortable from my unshed tears and sobs. “It was all I could do, Ana,” he says softly. “You still have feelings for her?” “No!” he says, appalled, and closes his eyes, his expression one of anguish. I turn away, staring once more at my sickening food. I can’t bear to look at him. “To see her like that—so different, so broken. I care about her, one human being to another.” He shrugs as if to shake off an unpleasant memory. Jeez, is he expecting my sympathy? “Ana, look at me.” I can’t. I know that if I do, I will burst into tears. This is just too much to absorb. I’m like an overflowing tank of gasoline—full, beyond capacity. There is no room for any more. I simply cannot cope with any more crap. I will combust and explode, and it will be ugly if I try. Jeez! Christian caring for his ex-sub in such an intimate fashion—the image flashes through my brain. Bathing her, for fuck’s sake—naked. A harsh, painful shudder wracks my body. “Ana.” “What?” “Don’t. It doesn’t mean anything. It was like caring for a child, a broken, shattered child,” he mutters. What the hell would he know about caring for a child? This was a woman he had a very full-on, deviant sexual relationship with. Oh, this hurts. I take a deep, steadying breath. Or perhaps he’s referring to himself. He’s the broken child. That makes more sense … or maybe it makes no sense at all. Oh, this is so fucked-up, and suddenly I’m bone-crushingly tired. I need sleep. “Ana?” I stand, take my plate to the sink, and scrape the contents into the trash. “Ana, please.” I whirl around and face him. “Just stop, Christian! Just stop with the ‘Ana, please’!” I shout at him, and my tears start to trickle down my face. “I’ve had enough of all this shit today. I am going to bed. I am tired and emotional. Now let me be.” I turn on my heel and practically run to the bedroom, taking with me the memory of his wide-eyed, shocked stare. Nice to know I can shock him, too. I strip out of my clothes in double-quick time, and after rifling through his chest of drawers, drag on one of his T-shirts and head for the bathroom. I gaze at myself in the mirror, hardly recognizing the gaunt, pink-eyed, blotchy-cheeked harridan staring back at me, and it’s too much. I sink to the floor and surrender to the overwhelming emotion I can no longer contain, sobbing huge chest-wrenching sobs, finally letting my tears flow unrestrained. CHAPTER THIRTEEN The following day, I call my mom after I get home from work. It’s been a relatively peaceful day at Clayton’s, allowing me far too much time to think. I’m restless, nervous about my showdown with Mr. Control Freak tomorrow, and at the back of my mind, I’m worried that perhaps I’ve been too negative in my response to the contract. Perhaps he’ll call the whole thing off. My mom is oozing contrition, desperately sorry not to make my graduation. Bob has twisted some ligament, which means he’s hobbling all over the place. Honestly, he’s as accident-prone as I am. He’s expected to make a full recovery, but it means he’s resting up, and my mother has to wait on him hand and sore foot. “Ana, honey, I’m so sorry,” my mom whines into the phone. “Mom, it’s fine. Ray will be there.” “Ana, you sound distracted—are you okay, baby?” “Yes, Mom,” Oh, if only you knew. There’s an obscenely rich guy I’ve met and he wants some kind of strange kinky sexual relationship, in which I don’t get a say in things. “Have you met someone?” “No, Mom.” I am so not going there right now. “Well, darling, I’ll be thinking of you on Thursday. I love you … you know that, honey?” I close my eyes. Her precious words give me a warm glow inside. “Love you, too, Mom. Say hi to Bob, and I hope he gets better fast.” “Will do, honey. Bye.” “Bye.” I have strayed into my bedroom with the phone. Idly, I switch the mean machine on and fire up the e-mail program. There’s an e-mail from Christian from late last night or very early this morning, depending on your point of view. My heart rate spikes instantly, and I hear the blood pumping in my ears. Holy crap … perhaps he’s said no—that’s it—maybe he’s canceling dinner. The thought is so painful. I dismiss it quickly and open the e-mail. From: Christian Grey Subject: Your Issues Date: May 24 2011 01:27 To: Anastasia Steele Dear Miss Steele, Following my more thorough examination of your issues, may I bring to your attention the definition of submissive. submissive [suhb-mis-iv]—adjective 1. inclined or ready to submit; unresistingly or humbly obedient: submissive servants. 2. marked by or indicating submission: a submissive reply. Origin: 1580–90; submiss + -ive Synonyms: 1. tractable, compliant, pliant, amenable. 2. passive, resigned, patient, docile, tame, subdued. Antonyms: 1. rebellious, disobedient. Please bear this in mind for our meeting on Wednesday. Christian Grey CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. My initial feeling is one of relief. He’s willing to discuss my issues at least, and he still wants to meet tomorrow. After some thought, I reply. From: Anastasia Steele Subject: My Issues … What about Your Issues? Date: May 24 2011 18:29 To: Christian Grey Sir, Please note the date of origin: 1580–90. I would respectfully remind Sir that the year is 2011. We have come a long way since then. May I offer a definition for you to consider for our meeting: compromise [kom-pruh-mahyz]—noun 1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands. 2. the result of such a settlement. 3. something intermediate between different things: The split-level is a compromise between a ranch house and a multistoried house. 4. an endangering, esp. of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.: a compromise of one’s integrity. Ana From: Christian Grey Subject: What about My Issues? Date: May 24 2011 18:32 To: Anastasia Steele Good point, well made, as ever, Miss Steele. I will collect you from your apartment at 7:00 tomorrow. Christian Grey CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. From: Anastasia Steele Subject: 2011—Women Can Drive Date: May 24 2011 18:40 To: Christian Grey Sir, I have a car. I can drive. I would prefer to meet you somewhere. Where shall I meet you? At your hotel at 7:00? Ana From: Christian Grey Subject: Stubborn Young Women Date: May 24 2011 18:43 To: Anastasia Steele Dear Miss Steele, I refer to my e-mail dated May 24, 2011, sent at 1:27 and the definition contained therein. Do you ever think you’ll be able to do what you’re told? Christian Grey CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. From: Anastasia Steele Subject: Intractable Men Date: May 24 2011 18:49 To: Christian Grey Mr. Grey, I would like to drive. Please. Ana From: Christian Grey Subject: Exasperated Men Date: May 24 2011 18:52 To: Anastasia Steele Fine. My hotel at 7:00. I’ll meet you in the Marble Bar. Christian Grey CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. He’s even grumpy by e-mail. Doesn’t he understand that I may need to make a quick getaway? Not that my Beetle is quick … but still—I need a means of escape. From: Anastasia Steele Subject: Not So Intractable Men Date: May 24 2011 18:55 To: Christian Grey Thank you. Ana x From: Christian Grey Subject: Exasperating Women Date: May 24 2011 18:59 To: Anastasia Steele You’re welcome. Christian Grey CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. I call Ray, who is just about to watch the Sounders play some soccer team from Salt Lake City, so our conversation is mercifully brief. He’s driving down on Thursday for graduation. He wants to take me out afterward for a meal. My heart swells talking to Ray, and a huge lump forms in my throat. He has been my constant through all Mom’s romantic ups and downs. We have a special bond that I treasure. Even though he’s my stepdad, he’s always treated me as his own, and I can’t wait to see him. It’s been too long. His quiet fortitude is what I need now, what I miss. Maybe I can channel my inner Ray for my meeting tomorrow. Kate and I concentrate on packing, sharing a bottle of cheap red wine as we do. When I finally go to bed, having almost finished packing my room, I feel calmer. The physical activity of boxing everything up has been a welcome distraction, and I’m tired. I want a good night’s rest. I snuggle into my bed and am soon asleep. PAUL IS BACK FROM Princeton before he sets off for New York to start an internship with a financing company. He follows me around the store all day asking me for a date. It’s annoying. “Paul, for the hundredth time, I have a date this evening.” “No, you don’t, you’re just saying that to avoid me. You’re always avoiding me.” Yes … you’d think you’d take the hint. “Paul, I never thought it was a good idea to date the boss’s brother.” “You’re finishing here on Friday. You’re not working tomorrow.” “And I’ll be in Seattle as of Saturday and you’ll be in New York soon. We couldn’t get much farther apart if we tried. Besides, I do have a date this evening.” “With José?” “No.” “Who then?” “Paul … oh.” My sigh is exasperated. He’s not going to let this go. “Christian Grey.” I cannot help the annoyance in my voice. But it does the trick. Paul’s mouth falls open, and he gapes at me, struck dumb. Humph—even his name renders people speechless. “You have a date with Christian Grey?” he says finally, once he’s over the shock. Disbelief is evident in his voice. “Yes.” “I see.” Paul looks positively crestfallen, stunned even, and a very small part of me resents that he should find this a surprise. My inner goddess does, too. She makes a very vulgar and unattractive gesture at him with her fingers. After that, he ignores me, and at five I am out the door, pronto. Kate has lent me two dresses and two pairs of shoes for tonight and for graduation tomorrow. I wish I could feel more enthused about clothes and make an extra effort, but clothes are just not my thing. What is your thing, Anastasia? Christian’s softly spoken question haunts me. Shaking my head and endeavoring to quell my nerves, I decide on the plum-colored sheath dress for this evening. It’s demure and vaguely businesslike—after all, I am negotiating a contract. I shower, shave my legs and underarms, wash my hair, and then spend a good half hour drying it so that it falls in soft waves to my breasts and down my back. I slip a comb in to keep one side off my face and apply mascara and some lip gloss. I rarely wear makeup—it intimidates me. None of my literary heroines had to deal with makeup—maybe I’d know more about it if they had. I slip on the plum-colored stilettos that match the dress, and I’m ready by six thirty. “Well?” I ask Kate. She grins. “Boy, you scrub up well, Ana.” She nods with approval. “You look hot.” “Hot! I’m aiming for demure and businesslike.” “That, too, but most of all hot. The dress really suits you and your coloring. The way it clings.” She smirks. “Kate!” I scold. “Just keeping it real, Ana. The whole package—looks good. Keep the dress. You’ll have him eating out of your hand.” My mouth presses in a hard line. Oh, you so have that the wrong way around. “Wish me luck.” “You need luck for a date?” Her brow furrows, puzzled. “Yes, Kate.” “Well, then—good luck.” She hugs me, and I am out the front door. I have to drive in my bare feet—Wanda, my sea-blue Beetle, wasn’t built to be driven by stiletto-wearers. I pull up outside the Heathman at six fifty-eight precisely and hand my car keys to the valet for parking. He looks askance at my Beetle, but I ignore him. Taking a deep breath and mentally girding my loins, I head into the hotel. Christian is leaning casually against the bar, drinking a glass of white wine. He’s dressed in his customary white linen shirt, black jeans, black tie, and black jacket. His hair is as tousled as ever. I sigh. I stand for a few seconds in the entrance of the bar, gazing at him, admiring the view. He glances, nervously I think, toward the entrance and stills when he sees me. Blinking a couple of times, he then smiles a slow, lazy, sexy smile that renders me speechless and all molten inside. Making a supreme effort not to bite my lip, I move forward, aware that I, Anastasia Steele of Clumsyville, am in high stilettos. He walks gracefully over to meet me. “You look stunning,” he murmurs as he leans down to briefly kiss my cheek. “A dress, Miss Steele. I approve.” Taking my arm, he leads me to a secluded booth and signals for the waiter. “What would you like to drink?” My lips quirk up in a quick, sly smile as I sit and slide into the booth—well, at least he’s asking me. “I’ll have what you’re having, please.” See! I can play nice and behave myself. Amused, he orders another glass of Sancerre and slides in opposite me. “They have an excellent wine cellar here,” he says. Putting his elbows on the table, he steeples his fingers in front of his mouth, his eyes alive with some unreadable emotion. And there it is … that familiar pull and charge from him, it connects somewhere deep inside me. I shift uncomfortably under his scrutiny, my heart palpitating. I must keep my cool. “Are you nervous?” he asks softly. “Yes.” He leans forward. “Me, too,” he whispers conspiratorially. My eyes shoot up to meet his. Him? Nervous? Never. I blink, and he smiles his adorable lopsided smile at me. The waiter arrives with my wine, a small dish of mixed nuts, and another of olives. “So, how are we going to do this?” I ask. “Run through my points one by one?” “Impatient as ever, Miss Steele.” “Well, I could ask you what you thought of the weather today.” He smiles, and his long fingers reach down to collect an olive. He pops it in his mouth, and my eyes linger on his mouth, that mouth, that’s been on me … all parts of me. I flush. “I thought the weather was particularly unexceptional today.” He smirks. “Are you smirking at me, Mr. Grey?” “I am, Miss Steele.” “You know this contract is legally unenforceable.” “I am fully aware of that, Miss Steele.” “Were you going to tell me that at any point?” He frowns. “You’d think I’d coerce you into something you don’t want to do, and then pretend that I have a legal hold over you?” “Well … yes.” “You don’t think very highly of me, do you?” “You haven’t answered my question.” “Anastasia, it doesn’t matter if it’s legal or not. It represents an arrangement that I would like to make with you—what I would like from you and what you can expect from me. If you don’t like it, then don’t sign. If you do sign and then decide you don’t like it, there are enough get-out clauses so you can walk away. Even if it were legally binding, do you think I’d drag you through the courts if you did decide to run?” I take a long sip of my wine. My subconscious taps me hard on the shoulder. You must keep your wits about you. Don’t drink too much. “Relationships like this are built on honesty and trust,” he continues. “If you don’t trust me—trust me to know how I’m affecting you, how far I can go with you, how far I can take you—if you can’t be honest with me, then we really can’t do this.” Oh my, we’ve cut to the chase quickly. How far he can take me. Holy shit. What does that mean? “So it’s quite simple, Anastasia. Do you trust me or not?” His eyes are burning, fervent. “Did you have similar discussions with, um … the fifteen?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because they were all established submissives. They knew what they wanted out of a relationship with me and generally what I expected. With them, it was just a question of fine-tuning the soft limits, details like that.” “Is there a store you go to? Submissives ’Я’ Us?” He laughs. “Not exactly.” “Then how?” “Is that what you want to discuss? Or shall we get down to the nitty-gritty? Your issues, as you say.” I swallow. Do I trust him? Is that what this all comes down to—trust? Surely that should be a two-way thing. I remember his snit when I phoned José. “Are you hungry?” he asks, distracting me from my thoughts. Oh no … food. “No.” “Have you eaten today?” I stare at him. Honesty … Holy crap, he’s not going to like my answer. “No.” My voice is small. He narrows his eyes. “You have to eat, Anastasia. We can eat down here or in my suite. What would you prefer?” “I think we should stay in public, on neutral ground.” He smiles sardonically. “Do you think that would stop me?” he says softly, a sensual warning. My eyes widen, and I swallow again. “I hope so.” “Come, I have a private dining room booked. No public.” He smiles at me enigmatically and climbs out of the booth, holding his hand out to me. “Bring your wine,” he murmurs. Placing my hand in his, I slide out and stand up beside him. He releases me, and his hand reaches for my elbow. He leads me back through the bar and up the grand stairs to a mezzanine floor. A young man in full Heathman livery approaches us. “Mr. Grey, this way, sir.” We follow him through a plush seating area to an intimate dining room. Just one secluded table. The room is small but sumptuous. Beneath a shimmering chandelier, the table is all starched linen, crystal glasses, silver cutlery, and white rose bouquet. An old-world, sophisticated charm pervades the wood-paneled room. The waiter pulls out my chair, and I sit. He places my napkin in my lap. Christian sits opposite me. I peek up at him. “Don’t bite your lip,” he whispers. I frown. Damn it. I don’t even know that I’m doing it. “I’ve ordered already. I hope you don’t mind.” Frankly, I’m relieved. I’m not sure I can make any further decisions. “No, that’s fine,” I acquiesce. “It’s good to know that you can be amenable. Now, where were we?” “The nitty-gritty.” I take another large sip of wine. It really is delicious. Christian Grey does wine well. I remember the last sip of wine he gave me, in my bed. I blush at the intrusive thought. “Yes, your issues.” He fishes into his inside jacket pocket and pulls out a piece of paper. My e-mail. “Clause 2. Agreed. This is for the benefit of us both. I shall redraft.” I blink at him. Holy shit … we are going to go through each of these points one at a time. I just don’t feel so brave face-to-face. He looks so earnest. I steel myself with another sip of my wine. Christian continues. “My sexual health. Well, all of my previous partners have had blood tests, and I have regular tests every six months for all the health risks you mention. All my recent tests are clear. I have never taken drugs. In fact, I’m vehemently antidrug. I have a strict no-tolerance policy with regards to drugs for all my employees, and I insist on random drug testing.” Wow … control freakery gone mad. I blink at him, shocked. “I have never had any blood transfusions. Does that answer your question?” I nod, impassive. “Your next point I mentioned earlier. You can walk away any time, Anastasia. I won’t stop you. If you go, however—that’s it. Just so you know.” “Okay,” I answer softly. If I go, that’s it. The thought is surprisingly painful. The waiter arrives with our first course. How can I possibly eat? Holy Moses—he’s ordered oysters on a bed of ice. “I hope you like oysters.” Christian’s voice is soft. “I’ve never had one.” Ever. “Really? Well.” He reaches for one. “All you do is tip and swallow. I think you can manage that.” He gazes at me, and I know what he’s referring to. I blush scarlet. He grins at me, squirts some lemon juice onto his oyster, and then tips it into his mouth. “Hmm, delicious. Tastes of the sea.” He grins at me. “Go on,” he encourages. “So, I don’t chew it?” “No, Anastasia, you don’t.” His eyes are alight with humor. He looks so young like this. I bite my lip and his expression changes instantly. He looks sternly at me. I reach across and pick up my first-ever oyster. Okay … here goes nothing. I squirt some lemon juice on it and tip it up. It slips down my throat, all sea water, salt, the sharp tang of citrus, and fleshiness … ooh. I lick my lips, and he’s watching me intently, his eyes hooded. “Well?” “I’ll have another,” I say dryly. “Good girl,” he says proudly. “Did you choose these deliberately? Aren’t they known for their aphrodisiac qualities?” “No, they are the first item on the menu. I don’t need an aphrodisiac near you. I think you know that, and I think you react the same way near me,” he says simply. “So where were we?” He glances at my e-mail as I reach for another oyster. He reacts the same way. I affect him … wow. “Obey me in all things. Yes, I want you to do that. I need you to do that. Think of it as role-play, Anastasia.” “But I’m worried you’ll hurt me.” “Hurt you how?” “Physically.” And emotionally. “Do you really think I would do that? Go beyond any limit you can’t take?” “You’ve said you’ve hurt someone before.” “Yes, I have. It was a long time ago.” “How did you hurt her?” “I suspended her from my playroom ceiling. In fact, that’s one of your questions. Suspension—that’s what the carabiners are for in the playroom. Rope play. One of the ropes was tied too tightly.” I hold my hand up, begging him to stop. “I don’t need to know any more. So you won’t suspend me then?” “Not if you really don’t want to. You can make that a hard limit.” “Okay.” “So obeying, do you think you can manage that?” He stares at me, his gaze intense. The seconds tick by. “I could try,” I whisper. “Good.” He smiles. “Now term. One month instead of three is no time at all, especially if you want a weekend away from me each month. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from you for that length of time. I can barely manage it now.” He pauses. He can’t stay away from me? What? “How about one day over one weekend per month you get to yourself—but I get a midweek night that week?” “Okay.” “And please, let’s try it for three months. If it’s not for you, then you can walk away anytime.” “Three months?” I’m feeling railroaded. I take another large sip of wine and treat myself to another oyster. I could learn to like these. “The ownership thing, that’s just terminology and goes back to the principle of obeying. It’s to get you into the right frame of mind, to understand where I’m coming from. And I want you to know that as soon as you cross my threshold as my submissive, I will do what I like to you. You have to accept that and willingly. That’s why you have to trust me. I will fuck you, any time, any way I want—anywhere I want. I will discipline you, because you will screw up. I will train you to please me. “But I know you’ve not done this before. Initially, we’ll take it slowly, and I will help you. We’ll build up to various scenarios. I want you to trust me, but I know I have to earn your trust, and I will. The ‘or otherwise’—again it’s to help you get into the mindset; it means anything goes.” He’s so passionate, mesmerizing. This is obviously his obsession, the way he is … I can’t take my eyes off him. He really, really wants this. He stops talking and gazes at me. “Still with me?” he whispers, his voice rich, warm, and seductive. He takes a sip of his wine, his penetrating stare holding mine. The waiter comes to the door, and Christian subtly nods, permitting the waiter to clear our table. “Would you like some more wine?” “I have to drive.” “Some water then?” I nod. “Still or sparkling?” “Sparkling, please.” The waiter leaves. “You’re very quiet,” Christian whispers. “You’re very verbose.” He smiles. “Discipline. There’s a very fine line between pleasure and pain, Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how pleasurable pain can be. You don’t believe me now, but this is what I mean about trust. There will be pain, but nothing that you can’t handle. Again, it comes down to trust. Do you trust me, Ana?” Ana! “Yes, I do.” I respond spontaneously, not thinking … because it’s true—I do trust him. “Well, then,” he looks relieved. “The rest of this stuff is just details.” “Important details.” “Okay, let’s talk through those.” My head is swimming with all his words. I should have brought Kate’s digital recorder so I can listen to this again later. There is so much information, so much to process. The waiter re-emerges with our entrees: black cod, asparagus, and crushed potatoes with a hollandaise sauce. I have never felt less like food. “I hope you like fish,” Christian says mildly. I make a stab at my food and take a long drink of my sparkling water. I vehemently wish it was wine. “The rules. Let’s talk about them. The food is a deal breaker?” “Yes.” “Can I modify to say that you will eat at least three meals a day?” “No.” I am so not backing down on this. No one is going to dictate to me what I eat. How I fuck, yes, but eat … no, no way. He purses his lips. “I need to know that you’re not hungry.” I frown. Why? “You’ll have to trust me.” He gazes at me for a moment, and he relaxes. “Touché, Miss Steele,” he says quietly. “I concede the food and the sleep.” “Why can’t I look at you?” “That’s a Dom/sub thing. You’ll get used to it.” Will I? “Why can’t I touch you?” “Because you can’t.” His mouth sets in a mulish line. “Is it because of Mrs. Robinson?” He looks quizzically at me. “Why would you think that?” And immediately he understands. “You think she traumatized me?” I nod. “No, Anastasia. She’s not the reason. Besides, Mrs. Robinson wouldn’t take any of that shit from me.” Oh … but I have to. I pout. “So nothing to do with her.” “No. And I don’t want you touching yourself, either.” What? Ah yes, the no masturbation clause. “Out of curiosity … why?” “Because I want all your pleasure.” His voice is husky but determined. Oh … I have no answer for that. On one level it’s up there with “I want to bite that lip”; on another, it’s so selfish. I frown and take a bite of cod, trying to assess mentally what concessions I’ve gained. The food, the sleep. He’s going to take it slow, and we haven’t discussed soft limits. But I’m not sure I can face that over food. “I’ve given you a great deal to think about, haven’t I?” “Yes.” “Do you want to go through the soft limits now, too?” “Not over dinner.” He smiles. “Squeamish?” “Something like that.” “You’ve not eaten very much.” “I’ve had enough.” “Three oysters, four bites of cod, and one asparagus stalk, no potatoes, no nuts, no olives, and you’ve not eaten all day. You said I could trust you.” Jeez. He’s kept an inventory. “Christian, please, it’s not every day I sit through conversations like this.” “I need you fit and healthy, Anastasia.” “I know.” “And right now, I want to peel you out of that dress.” I swallow. Peel me out of Kate’s dress. I feel the pull deep in my belly. Muscles that I’m now more acquainted with clench at his words. But I can’t have this. His most potent weapon, used against me again. He’s so good at sex—even I’ve figured this out. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I murmur quietly. “We haven’t had dessert.” “You want dessert?” he snorts. “Yes.” “You could be dessert,” he murmurs suggestively. “I’m not sure I’m sweet enough.” “Anastasia, you’re deliciously sweet. I know.” “Christian. You use sex as a weapon. It really isn’t fair,” I whisper, staring down at my hands, and then looking directly at him. He raises his eyebrows, surprised, and I see he’s considering my words. He strokes his chin thoughtfully. “You’re right. I do. In life you use what you know, Anastasia. Doesn’t change how much I want you. Here. Now.” How can he seduce me solely with his voice? I’m panting already—my heated blood rushing through my veins, my nerves tingling. “I’d like to try something,” he breathes. I frown. He’s just given me a shitload of ideas to process and now this. “If you were my sub, you wouldn’t have to think about this. It would be easy.” His voice is soft, seductive. “All those decisions—all the wearying thought processes behind them. The ‘is this the right thing to do? Should this happen here? Can it happen now?’ You wouldn’t have to worry about any of that detail. That’s what I’d do as your Dom. And right now, I know you want me, Anastasia.” My frown deepens. How can he tell? “I can tell because …” Holy shit, he’s answering my unspoken question. Is he psychic as well? “… your body gives you away. You’re pressing your thighs together, you’re flushed, and your breathing has changed.” Okay, this is too much. “How do you know about my thighs?” My voice is low, disbelieving. They’re under the table, for heaven’s sake. “I felt the tablecloth move, and it’s a calculated guess based on years of experience. I’m right, aren’t I?” I flush and stare down at my hands. That’s what I’m hindered by in this game of seduction. He’s the only one who knows and understands the rules. I’m just too naïve and inexperienced. My only sphere of reference is Kate, and she doesn’t take any shit from men. My other references are all fictional: Elizabeth Bennet would be outraged, Jane Eyre too frightened, and Tess would succumb, just as I have. “I haven’t finished my cod.” “You’d prefer cold cod to me?” My head jerks up to glare at him, and his eyes burn molten silver with compelling need. “I thought you liked me to clear my plate.” “Right now, Miss Steele, I couldn’t give a fuck about your food.” “Christian. You just don’t fight fair.” “I know. I never have.” My inner goddess frowns at me. You can do this, she coaxes—play this sex god at his own game. Can I? Okay. What to do? My inexperience is an albatross around my neck. Picking up a spear of asparagus, I gaze at him and bite my lip. Then very slowly put the tip of my cold asparagus in my mouth and suck it. Christian’s eyes widen infinitesimally, but I notice. “Anastasia. What are you doing?” I bite off the tip. “Eating my asparagus.” Christian shifts in his seat. “I think you’re toying with me, Miss Steele.” I feign innocence. “I’m just finishing my food, Mr. Grey.” The waiter chooses this moment to knock and, unbidden, enter. He glances briefly at Christian, who frowns at him but then nods, so the waiter clears our plates. The waiter’s arrival has broken the spell. And I grasp this precious moment of clarity. I have to go. Our meeting will only end one way if I stay, and I need some boundaries after such an intense conversation. As much as my body craves his touch, my mind is rebelling. I need some distance to think about all he’s said. I still haven’t made a decision, and his sexual allure and prowess doesn’t make it any easier. “Would you like some dessert?” Christian asks, ever the gentleman, but his eyes still blaze. “No thank you. I think I should go.” I stare down at my hands. “Go?” He can’t hide his surprise. The waiter leaves hastily. “Yes.” It’s the right decision. If I stay here, in this room with him, he will fuck me. I stand, purposefully. “We both have the graduation ceremony tomorrow.” Christian stands automatically, revealing years of ingrained civility. “I don’t want you to go.” “Please … I have to.” “Why?” “Because you’ve given me so much to consider … and I need some distance.” “I could make you stay,” he threatens. “Yes, you could easily, but I don’t want you to.” He runs his hand through his hair, regarding me carefully. “You know, when you fell into my office to interview me, you were all ‘yes, sir,’ ‘no, sir.’ I thought you were a natural-born submissive. But quite frankly, Anastasia, I’m not sure you have a submissive bone in your delectable body.” He moves slowly toward me as his speaks, his voice tense. “You may be right,” I breathe. “I want the chance to explore the possibility that you do,” he murmurs, staring down at me. He reaches up and caresses my face, his thumb tracing my lower lip. “I don’t know any other way, Anastasia. This is who I am.” “I know.” He leans down to kiss me but pauses before his lips touch mine, his eyes searching mine, wanting, asking permission. I raise my lips to his, and he kisses me, and because I don’t know if I’ll ever kiss him again, I let go—my hands moving of their own accord and twisting into his hair, pulling him to me, my mouth opening, my tongue stroking his. His hand grasps the nape of my neck as he deepens the kiss, responding to my ardor. His other hand slides down my back and flattens at the base of my spine as he pushes me against his body. “I can’t persuade you to stay?” he breathes between kisses. “No.” “Spend the night with me.” “And not touch you? No.” He groans. “You impossible girl.” He pulls back, gazing down at me. “Why do I think you’re telling me good-bye?” “Because I’m leaving now.” “That’s not what I mean, and you know it.” “Christian, I have to think about this. I don’t know if I can have the kind of relationship you want.” He closes his eyes and presses his forehead against mine, giving us both the opportunity to slow our breathing. After a moment, he kisses my forehead, inhales deeply, his nose in my hair, and then he releases me, stepping back. “As you wish, Miss Steele,” he says, his face impassive. “I’ll escort you to the lobby.” He holds out his hand. Leaning down, I grab my purse and place my hand in his. Holy crap, this could be it. I follow him meekly down the grand stairs and into the lobby, my scalp prickling, my blood pumping. This could be the last good-bye if I decide to say no. My heart contracts painfully in my chest. What a turnaround. What a difference a moment of clarity can make to a girl. “Do you have your valet ticket?” I fish into my clutch purse and hand him the ticket, which he gives to the doorman. I peek up at him as we stand waiting. “Thank you for dinner,” I murmur. “It’s a pleasure as always, Miss Steele,” he says politely, though he looks deep in thought, completely distracted. As I peer up at him, I commit his beautiful profile to memory. The idea that I might not see him again haunts me, unwelcome and too painful to contemplate. He turns suddenly, staring down at me, his expression intense. “You’re moving this weekend to Seattle. If you make the right decision, can I see you on Sunday?” He sounds hesitant. “We’ll see. Maybe,” I breathe. Momentarily, he looks relieved, and then he frowns. “It’s cooler now, don’t you have a jacket?” “No.” He shakes his head in irritation and takes off his jacket. “Here. I don’t want you catching cold.” I blink up at him as he holds it open, and as I hold my arms out behind me, I’m reminded of the time in his office when he slipped my coat onto my shoulders—the first time I met him—and the effect he had on me then. Nothing’s changed; in fact, it’s more intense. His jacket is warm, far too big, and it smells of him. … delicious. My car pulls up outside. Christian’s mouth drops open. “That’s what you drive?” He’s appalled. Taking my hand, he leads me outside. The valet jumps out and hands me my keys, and Christian coolly palms him some money. “Is this roadworthy?” He’s glaring at me now. “Yes.” “Will it make it to Seattle?” “Yes. She will.” “Safely?” “Yes,” I snap, exasperated. “Okay, she’s old. But she’s mine, and she’s roadworthy. My stepdad bought it for me.” “Oh, Anastasia, I think we can do better than this.” “What do you mean?” Realization dawns. “You are not buying me a car.” He glowers at me, his jaw tense. “We’ll see,” he says tightly. He grimaces as he opens the driver’s-side door and helps me in. I take my shoes off and roll down the window. He’s gazing at me, his expression unfathomable, eyes dark. “Drive safely,” he says quietly. “Good-bye, Christian.” My voice is hoarse from unbidden, unshed tears—jeez, I’m not going to cry. I give him a small smile. As I drive away, my chest constricts, my tears start to fall, and I choke back a sob. Soon tears are streaming down my face, and I really don’t understand why I’m crying. I was holding my own. He explained everything. He was clear. He wants me, but the truth is I need more. I need him to want me like I want and need him, and deep down I know that’s not possible. I am just overwhelmed. I don’t even know how to categorize him. If I do this thing … will he be my boyfriend? Will I be able to introduce him to my friends? Go out to bars, the cinema, bowling even, with him? The truth is I don’t think I will. He won’t let me touch him and he won’t let me sleep with him. I know I’ve not had these things in my past, but I want them in my future. And that’s not the future he envisages. What if I do say yes, and in three months’ time he says no, he’s had enough of trying to mold me into something I’m not? How will I feel? I’ll have emotionally invested three months, doing things that I’m not sure I want to do. And if he then says no, agreement over, how could I cope with that level of rejection? Perhaps it’s best to back away now with what self-esteem I have reasonably intact. But the thought of not seeing him again is agonizing. How has he gotten under my skin so quickly? It can’t just be the sex … can it? I dash the tears from my eyes. I don’t want to examine my feelings for him. I’m frightened what I’ll uncover if I do. What am I going to do? I park outside our duplex. No lights on. Kate must be out. I’m relieved. I don’t want her to catch me crying again. As I undress, I wake up the mean machine and sitting in my inbox is a message from Christian. From: Christian Grey Subject: Tonight Date: May 25 2011 22:01 To: Anastasia Steele I don’t understand why you ran this evening. I sincerely hope I answered all your questions to your satisfaction. I know I have given you a great deal to contemplate, and I fervently hope that you will give my proposal your serious consideration. I really want to make this work. We will take it slow. Trust me. Christian Grey CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. His e-mail makes me weep more. I am not a merger. I am not an acquisition. Reading this, I might as well be. I don’t reply. I just don’t know what to say to him. I fumble into my PJs and, wrapping his jacket around me, I climb into bed. As I lie staring into the darkness, I think of all the times he warned me to stay away. Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you. I don’t do the girlfriend thing. I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of guy. I don’t make love. This is all I know. And as I weep into my pillow silently, it’s this last idea I cling to. This is all I know, too. Perhaps together we can chart a new course. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO All the color drains from my face as my blood turns to ice and fear lances through my body. Instinctively I step between her and Christian. “What is it?” Christian murmurs, his tone wary. I ignore him. I cannot believe Kate is doing this. “Kate! This has nothing to do with you.” I glare venomously at her, anger replacing my fear. How dare she do this? Not now, not today. Not on Christian’s birthday. Surprised by my response, she blinks at me, green eyes wide. “Ana, what is it?” Christian says again, his tone more menacing. “Christian, would you just go, please?” I ask him. “No. Show me.” He holds out his hand, and I know he’s not to be argued with—his voice is cold and hard. Reluctantly I give him the e-mail. “What’s he done to you?” Kate asks, ignoring Christian. She looks so apprehensive. I flush as myriad erotic images flit quickly across my mind. “That’s none of your business, Kate.” I can’t keep the exasperation out of my voice. “Where did you get this?” Christian asks, his head cocked to one side, his face expressionless, but his voice … so menacingly soft. Kate flushes. “That’s irrelevant.” At his stony glare, she hastily continues. “It was in the pocket of a jacket—which I assume is yours—that I found on the back of Ana’s bedroom door.” Faced with Christian’s burning gray gaze, Kate’s steeliness slips a little, but she seems to recover and scowls at him. She’s a beacon of hostility in a slinky, bright red dress. She looks magnificent. But why the hell is she going through my clothes? It’s usually the other way around. “Have you told anyone?” Christian’s voice is like a silk glove. “No! Of course not,” Kate snaps, affronted. Christian nods and appears to relax. He turns and heads toward the fireplace. Wordlessly Kate and I watch as he picks up a lighter from the mantelpiece, sets fire to the e-mail, and releases it, letting it float afire slowly into the grate until it is no more. The silence in the room is oppressive. “Not even Elliot?” I ask, turning my attention back to Kate. “No one,” Kate says emphatically, and for the first time she looks puzzled and hurt. “I just want to know you’re okay, Ana,” she whispers. “I’m fine, Kate. More than fine. Please, Christian and I are good, really good—this is old news. Please ignore it.” “Ignore it?” she says. “How can I ignore that? What’s he done to you?” And her green eyes are so full of heartfelt concern. “He hasn’t done anything to me, Kate. Honestly—I’m good.” She blinks at me. “Really?” she asks. Christian wraps an arm around me and draws me close, not taking his eyes off Kate. “Ana has consented to be my wife, Katherine,” he says quietly. “Wife!” Kate squeaks, her eyes widening in disbelief. “We’re getting married. We’re going to announce