My body stiffens in its pose, bent over the flowers with his lingering mouth still at my ear. If I can hear my hammering heart, surely he can too!
How the hell did he…? But I already know – freakin’ stalker!
“Uhm…I’m not sure what you mean”. Deny, deny, deny! My inner goddess shouts in a wild panic but already the shards of my flimsy hope are crashing down around me.
The warmth of his firm grip on my shoulders connects to my core as he turns me to face him. His smug, roguish smile slides further across his luscious mouth confirming my worst fear. A quizzical eyebrow and a tilted head is giving me a second chance to retort to the question that he clearly knows the answer too.
He wants me to say it out loud; he wants his pound of flesh.
“So I sent myself some flowers.” I draw myself up to my full height and square my shoulders. I still have to look up to his tall frame but I meet his gaze with my own steely stare. Nothing gets my defiance going like these moments and I hungrily embrace the anger, it will be my only salvation.
Inspiration strikes and I lunge at the chance to turn the tables, taking the focus off me. “How did you know?” I pitch a biting tone.
A weary look replaces the smug one. “I had Welch check it out; the credit card transaction was in your name”. His mouth bends into a dismissive line while he shrugs his shoulders – like it’s the most normal thing in the world to have the head of your security follow up on your ex’s floral gifts.
I told you so – it’s my subconscious and I now deeply regret not listening to her. Sometimes I’m so daft!
“I can’t believe you did that! That’s such an invasion of my privacy!” Careful now, don’t push too hard!
“Don’t make out as if you’re surprised.” His tone is defensive and accusatory, grey slate, sparking on the verge of anger. “You know me well enough by now to know that I would investigate the fuck out of anybody who shows any interest in you. Besides, how would I know that whoever sent you flowers – if you reeaally got them” he gives me a pointed look and emphasises the words by stretching the syllables, “isn’t some crazed stalker?”
My temper hits the roof. “So what are you going to do about the crazed stalker that sent me these flowers?” I’m alarmingly close to shouting as I fling my arm out, in the direction of the arrangement in the room, pointing aggressively.
He looks slightly taken aback by my outburst so he tries to reason with me. “I’m only looking out for you Ana.” He slides a hand through his hair.
For a moment I think that this will be the end of the conversation and I begin to let my anger drain away but he surprises me and changes track again. I watch helplessly as his demeanour switches back to irate.
“What were you trying to prove Ana?” He’s breathing faster and he’s repeatedly clenching both hands, open and shut. “That you had them lining up for you, that you didn’t need me?” His voice is soft, like butter, barely keeping a lid on his simmering rage.
Oh shit! My heart melts and plummets into my shoes as I realise that even in this moment, his self-loathing isn’t allowing him to see what’s obvious. Anna 2.0 is going to make me come clean.
“I was trying to make you jealous you… you….!” I yell at him. The frustrated tears follow soon after and burn a hot path down my face as I drum my fists into his chest.
Mercurial as ever, he tricks away the rage, a wry smile tugs at his lips. “Oh baby,” he sighs. One hand has captured both my wrists and he’s holding them still, against him. With the other, he brushes his thumb across my cheek, wiping the tears away. “You know I don’t need any help in that department, especially where you’re concerned.” His fingers slip into my hair, behind my ear and I lean into his open palm.
We’re caught in our bubble – again, my desire blooming and binding in response to his calling, smouldering appraisal.
“You won’t be all – ‘take me now, take me now’, when it’s my turn to come clean.” The whisper has turned seductive and his grey watch is sparkling with humour.
What the hell?
I’m so stunned by yet another opportunity – now out of reach plus his barefaced teasing that I twist my wrists free from his grasp and push him away from me.
“Come clean about what?” Exasperation and disbelief lends an edgy tone to my voice that I fail to control even though I desperately want to.
How does he always seem so unaffected?
His serious mask appears as the shutters lock back into place, keeping me and the world at bay. He holds up both palms in a gesture of surrender. “Come, let’s have some breakfast. We can discuss it later”.
I throw my hands skyward. “Of course!” My sarcastic quip earns me a chrome glare. Only he would bring up food at a time like this. How am I supposed to eat with a ‘discussion’ looming? I shake my head and go off in a bluster to find Chris, leaving a bewildered Christian behind.
Him and his damned food issues!
It takes me at least five minutes to coax Chris out of his new bedroom, the lure of food finally winning over the pull of new toys. I swing him onto my hip and I let his excited chatter calm and distract me as we walk to the kitchen.
Christian has laid out the breakfast bar with every conceivable breakfast thing that you can think of. I strain to suppress my threatening smile; it’s so like that first morning at the Heathman. Ah, happy days…
Luckily Chris’ eager face and happy, unaware babble warms the cool vibe between me and Christian and I manage to nibble on a few things without my incommodious stomach protesting too much.
Christian has selected something captivatingly lazy on the iPod and it’s helping me to mould into the lighter mood. The song is a remake from an old Abba hit but this version is much slower. The female artist’s breathy voice has a sleepy quality to it that makes the song sexy: “Gimme, gimme, gimme, a man after midnight…”
Yes please! I agree with her and have a vision of myself with smoky eyes and red lips, clad only in black lacy hold-ups and corset while I crawl slowly up Christian’s body, singing him this very song. My come-to-bed eyes making him suck in his breath as he…
My vision evaporates and instead I’m watching Christian’s hand wiper-blading in front of my face. There’s nothing I can do to hide my mortification as the rosiness of my flush burns for him to see. I squirm in my seat knowing full well that he’s watching and knowing.
I really need to get these hormones under control! Maybe I can sneak into the play room tonight and select a battery operated bed-time companion.
I clear my throat, “sorry just uhm…, thinking about something.” I flick my eyes down to my plate – taking a renewed interest in my food.
Christian throws me a salacious smirk, “I bet you were.”
Just once I wish my body wouldn’t betray me so completely.
“Anyway, I was saying that I’d like to ask Dr Shawn to come around tomorrow rather than Sunday, it’ll free up our afternoon to go sailing.”
“I knew we would go!” Chris rewards Christian with a toddler smile that would melt the polar ice caps and Christian beams unashamedly back.
“If you’re sure it’s safe,” I mutter under my breath, still annoyed at myself and him – for knowing me so intimately.
His scornful expression meets mine and I drop it, knowing that I’m confused and still spoiling for a fight. I chalk it up to a severe lack of sexual gratification – thanks to Mr Grey and his mixed messages!
“That’s fine.” The thought of Dr Shawn and Christian together brightens my outlook, I’m so curious to see Christian’s reaction to the good doc.
Christian starts to clear the plates. “It’s great that he’s taken to Chris, he’s exceptional in his field. Did you know that he was with Médecins Sans Frontières up until the beginning of this year? He wrote all his books while working under crude conditions in some of the world’s worst third world countries – The Congo, Darfur, Haiti.”
Doctors without Borders? The puzzle pieces fall into place. That’s why he looks like a Neanderthal cave man in all his photos. It would also explain the ghastly glasses; I can’t imagine that contact lens solution is high on your list of priorities amongst the emergencies of a field hospital.
It’s very rare for Christian to sing someone’s praises but I can see the he looks to him as a kindred spirit. His own philanthropy and involvement in the same famine stricken regions gives him common ground with the doc.
“No, I didn’t know. That’s amazing,” I’m genuinely impressed, more so that Dr Shawn didn’t advertise it to impress me.
“What’s a third country?” Chris asks Christian as he mops the last of his pancake through the syrup pool in his plate.
Christian and I exchange amused glances and Christian proceeds to tell him in great detail what a third world country is. I have to stifle a smile because my four-year-old’s eyes glaze over at the overload of information but he’s thankfully too polite to interrupt. Christian will have to learn to be a bit more concise with his facts.
It doesn’t take long for Christian to catch on to the fact that he’s lost his audience and he turns to me. I’ve got my lips pressed together to stop myself from giggling out loud and it makes Christian smile back. “Too much?”
I lift my hand and make a gesture explaining tiny with my thumb and forefinger only half an inch apart, “a little bit.” He’s trying so hard, it’s endearing.
He shakes his head, amused. “Thanks for telling me.” He’s leaning forward onto the counter resting on both his forearms.
I quirk up a shaped, single brow. “Sarcasm, from you? You’re not setting a very good example for our s…” I stop myself just in time and I hear his anxious draw of breath. He darts worried eyes to Chris then back to me, relieved that he didn’t seem to hear.
We both sag and exhale. We are going to have to tell him soon, I don’t see any point in waiting. I was planning on discussing the details with Christian but really, what’s there to talk about? We should just come out and say it. I have already stolen too much time from them.
Christian’s features are painted with regret and excitement and longing and fear when he looks up to find my eyes and it dawns on me that he’s desperate to tell him, to finally weave the ties that will bind them together as father and son. The force of my regrets shreds through the last of my reservations and I light my face with a shining smile, telling him yes.
His answering beam is grateful and breathtaking; it only serves to make my love for him burn deeper.
I slide off the breakfast bar chair and take a seat directly in front of Chris. He’s secured in a high chair so we’re face-to-face. Christian comes around to Chris’ other side, both of us wear reassuring smiles in an unspoken effort to soften the potential blow.
I gently lace my fingers through his, acutely aware of his trusting, tiny hand in mine and my heart whispers a silent prayer: please don’t let me break his fragile spirit.
“Baby boy, I have a secret to tell you”. I expect him to get excited at the mention of a secret but even at four, he senses the subtle change in the mood. Those blue eyes, so like mine, look expectantly at me, not for a moment imagining the depth of the history leading up to this moment.
Across the counter top Christian reaches over and clasps my free hand in his own. His quiet strength spurring me on as I feel the familiar skate of his thumb over my flesh.
I swallow back the cloying lump in my throat. “Remember when we got all those lovely things the other day and you thought it was from Santa?”
“Uh-hm” his baby teeth bite into his bottom lip while that little head bobs in assent, his own copper highlights a vivid reminder of his genetic bond.
“And do you remember when you asked it if was from your real daddy?”
His bright eyes grow larger, remembering and then anticipating what’s to come as he nods again, this time slowly and deliberately.
“You were right buddy. Your dad sent you those presents because he loves you and he wanted you to know that he was thinking about you and that he missed you.” I hear him inhale. All my focus is trained on his sweet face, my every nerve charged and braced for his reaction. The inadequacies I feel as a mother are clamping across my chest as I wrestle with just how much of this moment is of my own design – the shame bleeding like a stain through my love for him.
One more breath and one more sentence and it will all be out there, never to be taken back again. “The surprise part is that you already know him,” I pause for breath and gently tickle him under his chin. I’m eager to dispel this cloak of heaviness that’s settled around us. “Can you guess who it is baby boy?”
His look swings from me to Christian and back to me again. “Can I have him?” He rests his open hand on Christian’s head, patting him and waits for my answer. The building tension scatters away into a million directions as Christian and I both snort and splutter into giggle-fits that we try to hide. His question is so genuine and so typical of guileless little children; I wonder why I was ever afraid to tell him. It’s pure and candid and beautiful.
“Yes… yes you can buddy!” I cry and I laugh and as the strain ebbs away I lift him out of his chair and hug him close. Christian joins our embrace and Chris turns in my arms and throws his arms around Christian’s neck. I find Christian’s eyes as he kisses Chris on his head. The glimmer of his joyful tears finds even the furthest reaches of my heart. Chris rests his head on his dad’s shoulder making Christian’s turn back to me. Bravely, I push myself up onto my tippy-toes. I don’t hesitate to kiss his full mouth with a tender, lingering kiss.
I peek at him from under my lashes. A fresh blush dusts my cheeks, accompanying my shy smile.
His penetrating gaze, enquiring and surprised draws soft frown lines on his handsome face.
“Can I call you daddy?” I untangle myself from our cuddle and Christian shifts to take Chris’ full weight on his hip, our attention redirected to our son.
Chris looks like it’s his birthday and Christmas all rolled into one but still slightly stunned at his sudden dream come true. Now that we’re here, in this moment I don’t want there to be any uncertainty and I decide to clarify. “Honey, you can call him daddy because he is your dad. Do you understand?” I stroke down his face with the back of my hand to make sure that he’s listening closely.
His solemn nod is punctuated by the insight in his eyes. I’m so proud of my wise boy. Christian is euphoric and he rests his forehead on Chris’.
“Hello daddy,” Chris’ grin is delighted as he test drives the new words. Christian’s reply is a hoarse whisper, emotion spilling over. “Hello son, it’s good to see you”. He places a hand on Chris’ heart. Chris’ responds by curling his fist around his father’s fingers.
I watch them, huddled together in their precious moment. A swell of sentiments sweep though me but mostly I’m relieved. That went so well.
For the next hour the two of them are so caught up in each other, laughing and bonding that they hardly notice me. The sounds of them talking and giggling together must be the most pleasing thing I’ve ever heard.
I take the time to call Miss Dee to thank her for scaring off our would-be intruder and I text Jo-Anne to let her know that we’ve left earlier than planned. I finish with texts to my mom and dad to let them know that we arrived safely – duties done.
For a while I stand and stare out of the glass wall, lost in thought, not seeing the impressive Seattle skyline in front of me.
A piercing shriek makes me turn just in time to catch Chris launching himself at me, laughing hard. “Save me mommy, save me from the tickle monster!” He’s drawing me into the exciting game he’s playing with Christian. I pick him up and scuttle away from Christian as he gives chase with tickle fingers at the ready.
I put the dining table between us and Christian feigns left then sprints right, easily striding around the table. “I’m going to catch you!”
Chris squeals, “nooo! Run mommy, run!” I turn to make a getaway dash but with Chris’ extra weight and the high heels I’m way too slow and Christian catches us.
He tickles Chris with a hearty enthusiasm and relished glee that I’ve not seen from Fifty before. “No, no! Stop, no, no!” Chris’ words barley makes it through his hysterical giggling. Christian and I join in and the laughter is cathartic, liberating us from the stress of the worry – for now.
We end up on the floor, breathing hard as we catch our breaths, snippets of giggles still escaping as we savour the togetherness. This is exactly what I wanted, for Christian to get a taste of family life – his own family’s life.
Christian is the first to turn serious again and I instantly miss the carefree guy from a second before. Chris is sprawled in the cradle of Christian’s lap; content. “Listen champ, can you give mommy and me a bit of time to talk? Do you want to go play with your new toys?”
Charged from his rest he jumps up, already making new plans with new toys as he jogs to his room. I’m grateful that he’s happy to play by himself.
“Thank you Anastasia.” There is a reverence in his tone that I feel uncomfortable with. Surely he knows that I owed him this.
“Christian, please. Don’t.” I shake my head and push myself up; this isn’t a conversation I want to have again. The last thing I deserve is thanks.
In a fluid motion he stands and catches my wrist. “Don’t what? Thank you for a beautiful son? Thank you for telling him who I am?”
“Don’t thank me at all Christian, I screwed up so badly. I don’t even expect your forgiveness; I can’t handle you thanking me.” I look down, silently begging his understanding.
“Are we still there?” He gives an incredulous half-laugh. “Fuck Ana, you send some mixed signals! Do you know that? That last fucking e-mail of yours nearly gave me a coronary!”
“Mixed signals? Me?” I place my palm on my chest, the customary resentment fuelling my irritation. “What about you? Jeez!” With my hands on my hips and blue eyes ice, I dare him to contradict me.
“I know,” he sighs as his fight drifts away. “It’s you. You drive me nuts!” It’s pitched with just a sprinkling of admiration and wry amusement kisses his lips lightly.
“You see, that’s exactly what I mean.” I narrow my eyes at him, not quite ready to let it go. Nuts is good right? I’m glad the e-mail rattled him, that’s precisely what I wanted.
“Come, we’ve got some things to discuss.” He leaves me hanging, choosing to steer clear of the prickly issue. I let him drag me to his study by my hand. His touch it hot and bold and I relish the intimate contact with him.
He doesn’t sit behind his desk but instead, chooses a large, studded wingback chair and motions for me to take the opposite couch, just on the inside of the door. I do as I’m told and sit gracefully, crossing my legs giving him a good view of smooth, naked calves and sexy, peep-toe shoes. I’m just going to have to play this game harder.
“Will Chris be okay on his own?” Anxious Fifty is never far behind.
“He’ll be fine Christian. Though that reminds me, where is everyone? Is Mrs Jones still with you?” I ask casually, trying my best to hide my own angst. I really liked Mrs Jones and I can’t but help wonder if things will be strained between us.
“Ah, uhm, yes, she is and it’s Mrs Taylor now.” He glances at me then away again. “I thought you would prefer to settle in without the staff around. Actually, it was her idea.”
Mmmhhh, Mrs Jones or rather Mrs Taylor suggested to Christian that he let us settle in alone this weekend? I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. Is she being insightful and considerate or just postponing the inevitable awkward first meeting?
“Wow, that’s wonderful, good for them.” I really am happy for them but my words lack the warmth I would normally apply to good news like that.
I can’t help but enquire further, I like to know what I’m getting myself into; “and Sawyer?” I straighten the skirt of my dress; striving to appear unaffected.
“No, he’s not.” I wait for him to explain, frantically hoping that I wasn’t the one that cost him his job. “Why are you so interested Anastasia?” Something in his tone prompts me peek up at him. The amused twitch of his mouth leaves no doubt in my scattered mind that he’s toying with me; he knows exactly why I’m asking.
“Boy, you don’t’ play fair.” I shake my head at his shameless badgering of my frazzled, guilty nerves.
“I’m sorry,” he says looking anything but, his grey eyes still shining with mirth, “you can rest assured that your little escape stunt wasn’t the reason. He went back to the secret service, saying something along the lines of dealing with terrorists being easier than errant wives.” He laces his fingers together, utterly smug in his little joke.
“Did he now?” I arch a fine brow. “Maybe wives wouldn’t be as errant if their husbands didn’t keep them in gilded cages.” My mouth speaks before my brain has time to edit the words and I see the colour slip from his face. Instantly regret tears a black hole through the fragile self-confidence that came with Ana 2.0.
Oh fuck! Why does he keep pushing my buttons? Why do I keep lashing out at him?
“Fair point, well made.” His softly spoken words are awash with remorse, his eyes are sober. The bite of my retort wiping all playfulness away.
“Christian, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” Contrition eclipses my hurt feelings. I yearn to swallow back my words along with my simmering frustration.
The silence weaves and spins an unbearable cocoon around us, leaving emotions too tentative to risk further damage.
His ringing desk phone breaches our pooling silence. “This won’t take long but I have to take it.” He doesn’t wait for my reply. He rounds the corner of his desk and sits on his power seat, “Barney, what do you have for me?”
My mind drifts away from the one-sided conversation and I brood over this constant hostility between us. Clearly we have some residual anger toward each other, our desires wavering between hurting and healing and with passions that run as deep as ours, we either need to fuck or fight in order to battle it out of our systems.
I know what I’d like to do but Christian seems hell bent on clashing. I watch him talking to Barney – he’s the essence of manhood – powerful and commanding. I sweep my eyes across the room and pick out all the masculine symbols that underlie who he is but I catch my breath and lose count as I turn to look at the wall behind me.
My eyes are crinkled at the corners and alight with happiness. Stray strands of hair are caught across my face, blown by the wind. I’m laughing at something very amusing and my hands are cupped together, captured on their way to cover my wide, smiling mouth. The background is hazy and in sharp contract with the focussed, black and white image of me.
Holy, holy shit! One of Jose’s photos – as I recall Christian’s favourite – sharing his office with him every day. I remember Christian saying that my photos were still mounted in his office at Grey House when he told me about the spray painting incident but seeing it like this is still a helluva shock.
When we arrived this morning I noticed that there’s been very little change in his apartment since the last time I was here but still, why would he want to look at a reminder like this? I have one photo of him, it was in my purse the day I left and I only ever allowed myself to look at it in my darkest moments, on the days when my emotions were run so ragged with longing for him, it was all I could do to keep myself sane. I couldn’t do it every day. It would’ve killed me.
More and more I see the evidence of his brokenness and it calls to me. The contract I have hidden in the depths of my laptop, my seduction plan, his son, us being here in Seattle with him, even the possible threat looming over us – all these things I need to fashion into a weapon to break down the walls that he’s built to protect himself.
Christian ends his call and his watch turns guarded as his attention finds me. “Are we fighting?”
“No Christian. I don’t want to argue with you.” I meet his gaze, radiating sincerity. “I think we fight because this…, this fire between us needs an outlet, when we were married we used to….” I stop short. I can see that he knows what I was going to say.
We used to make love – angry, happy, sad, mad – we always had that.
Eternally honest his answer is rueful, “you may be onto something there.” He sighs and grabs a pen off his desk to toy with. He holds it between two fingers and taps it rapidly against the jotter then flicks it away and rises to join me at the seating area once more. “I better tell you the rest of my news before you change your mind.” I’m relieved to see his wit return but now I fear for mine – again.
He leans forward and rests his elbows on his spread knees. His hands are joined together and he seems contemplative. “Mom and dad are desperate to meet Chris, I was hoping we could do it tomorrow.” He regards me carefully, but I sense his body’s tension, braced for my reaction.
“Of course they do Christian; I would never withhold him from them.” It comes as a jolt that that’s exactly what I’ve been doing and I blush one of those fierce fires that rage across my face. Instantly the tears spill from nowhere.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” My voice is on repeat and both hands splay over my shamed face. Hacking, heaving sobs shudder thorough me and become completely uncontrollable when his arms wrap around me, pressing me into his chest.
He holds me for long moments before he speaks. “You’ve got to stop doing this.” His hand is stroking my hair as the other holds me in place. “We were too young, we hardly knew each other, I’m not sure how we ever thought it could work.”
I know he’s reciting the words of others who’ve tried to help him deal with the grief of his loss – the loss of me. It suddenly becomes vital for me to remind him of the truth. We may have been young and we may have rushed into things but there is no doubt in my mind that we belonged together!
“You and I both know that that‘s not the truth.” I cradle his face in both my hands, my palms comfortable against the stubble on his cheeks. I search his eyes, waiting for him to relent. I sense the moment he wants to look away and I turn his head in anticipation, making sure that we keep our eye contact.
“Christian whatever mistakes we made there’s no denying what’s between us. Even the pain we’re in now – after all this time – is proof of that.” He closes his eyes and leans into my touch. I watch him through the veil of my quiet crying as he struggles to digest my words.
He gently places one hand over mine and wraps his grip around my fingers. He lifts it to his mouth where he tenderly kisses the back. “You’re right. I still love you.” The defeated whisper worries me but at the same time I literally hear the sound of an angel choir fill the room.
“I know, and I love you – I’ve never stopped loving you.” A bewildered expression betrays how uncomfortable he is, hearing those words from me.
I change the subject to help him not to dwell too long on that bomb shell. I’m happy for him to take his time and get used to the idea again.
“So tomorrow Grace and Carrick meet Chris, it’s going to be a big day. I hope they can forgive me.” I let out a long, juddering breath.
“They don’t blame you Anastasia.” I wish I could believe him.
“So is that it? Is that your news?” My head is tilted in question.
“Uhm, no.” He clears his throat and seamlessly, CEO Christian takes over.
“I want to talk about your manuscripts.” His expression is that particular brand of Christian Grey impassive. I swallow against the gathering nervous flutter.
“Grey Publishing would like to take you on. I would be crazy to let you slip through my corporate fingers.” He makes little air commas when he says corporate. “We are/ would be prepared to sign you on for a multi book deal.”
He takes my stunned silence as encouragement and continues: “the public is tired of being dumbed down, the demographic that you’ve targeted is ready to deal with the strong, realistic emotional rawness that you portray.”
He checks to make sure that I’m following and I nod, not sure what to think. “You learnt a lot more from your short time in publishing than you think. Everything about your work is highly sellable and marketable.”
It is? I thought he was going to help me hash out the deal, not take it over; in fact I’m sure that was what we decided on.
He detects my hesitation and pounces like the true professional he is, mercilessly using flattery and my personal self-doubt in my work’s worth. “You must know how rare it is for a writer to be offered a multi book deal on their first effort and I wouldn’t be offering you this if I didn’t believe that it was great business”.
His look is supremely confident, he’s in his element. The chase of the deal brings a gleaming light to his grey eyes. “Besides, I have an Ace up my sleeve.”
Again he regards me with a cool collectedness that unnerves me – what Ace??
“I’ve hired Julie Logan, she starts on Monday.”
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