When the iPod switches to a new song I’m only mildly surprised that it’s in French. It’s slow and sensual, so typical of Christian’s eclectic taste. The change brings about a subtle shift in the glow our love making cocooned us in, providing an opportunity to disturb the ponderous silence that settled around us. “Can I ask you something?” Biting my lip, I hope my tone doesn’t betray the slight jitters I feel broaching an “off-limits” subject.
He nuzzles into my neck, his stubble delightfully abrasive. The shiver chasing the sensation is a delicious reminder of the dual orgasms that just rocked my world. “Mmhh,” is his sleepy reply though I know my question will probably snap him out of his lazy haze.
Wondering if I’m about to make a mistake I take a fortifying breath. As carefully as I can I think about how to phrase my next sentence so as not to give myself away. If he cottons on to my train of thought I’m almost certain he’ll shut me off. “Don’t you often do R&D on products that you end up distributing for free?”
Immediately he’s wary, I feel his whole body stiffen beside me. Damn! “What’s this about baby?”
Turning in his arm I face him, stroking my knuckles down his sharp jaw. His expression is guarded now, almost anguished. He’s forced my hand; I’ve no choice but to spill the beans. “Was the patent you sold the corporation initially earmarked as one of those free projects?”
Sighing, his lips thin into a line of displeasure, but it’s surprisingly fleeting. In a swift, practiced move he rolls on top of me. One long fingered hand captures my wrists trapping my arms above my head. “Mrs Grey, are you reneging on our deal?”
He doesn’t wait for my reply. Hooking his feet around my ankles he holds me in place even there. His torso is pushed back just enough to give his free hand ample room to tickle me. Mercilessly his fingers play over my ribs and under my arms, making me buck and wriggle, yelp and beg for mercy so hard my eyes are watering.
“No! Stop! Please! I… was just… I just wanted…” I’m laughing too hard, squirming too much to finish my sentence.
Finally he relents, playful smile slipping slowly. He’s breathing almost as hard as I am, but he doesn’t let go. His stare, like flint bores into mine, pinning me in more ways than just the physical sense. His whole demeanour turns serious, “I meant what I said baby, the less you know the better. I don’t want you to worry about it anymore. It’s over. Please, just trust me.”
There’s a plea there that I can’t ignore yet I need this last little bit of closure. “I do! I trust you implicitly but I need to square it in my own mind before I can let go completely. How can I do that if there are things that keep bugging me?”
He rests his forehead against mine, shaking his head as he does. On a resigned sigh he relents, “Ask if you must Mrs Grey but think about it carefully. This is not up for discussion. Don’t mistake my acquiescence for willingness. If I don’t like the question there’ll be no answer.”
I swallow reflexively, more than a little intimidated by the appearance of the tone he usually reserves for business dealings, and I don’t mean the fun ones. “I want to know if it was meant to be one of the products that you were going to release for free.”
His smirk tells me that it was but he doesn’t actually confirm it. I gasp at his audacity. You don’t get much bolder than that – turning a profit from a would-be non-profit patent, probably earmarked for third world countries, in a situation that was meant to bring him down in every way possible. It’s my turn to shake my head, admiration and apprehension coexisting in equal parts – if that’s the case we might still be at risk.
He narrows his eyes at me, “Why do I get the feeling that you’re not done?” As always I wear what I’m thinking on my face. To him I’m an open book.
When my teeth graze my lip he groans, nipping it away with his own gentle bite. In that instant I lose my train of thought, my body responding reflexively to the distraction of his closeness with a rush of pleasure. Grinning wickedly, knowingly he runs his free hand all along the length of my outstretched arms and down my side, revelling in the tiny raised bumps his touch just brought to the surface of my skin.
Clearing my throat I blink back to reality, “Uhm. Yes.” A rosy flush pinking my cheeks follows shortly after. My body’s slavish response to him is nothing short of cringe worthy sometimes, so utterly without volition. With a little shake I clear my head. “Could they ever find out? Brilliant as your master plan is, do you think it’s wise to risk duping them?”
Again he smirks, “Brilliant huh?” he drops a kiss on my mouth, lingering a little too long to call it chaste. “Are you worried about me Mrs Grey?”
Exasperated I huff, “Of course I’m worried about you! Not to mention our son.” My eyes dart briefly to the patch of bandage on his upper arm, the scar that lies beneath physical as much as mental – at least for me. It will forever remain as a reminder of how badly things could have turned out.
Finally my words hit home, his face turning solemn. He lets go of my arms, sensing my seriousness. “No,” he states, unequivocally. “Firstly the project was classified, David never got near anything remotely related to it. In fact, we’ve managed to find out that he was employed on a rumour. Granted it was speculation that threatened their company’s entire existence but, until I handed over the patent, they never had any concrete evidence that it existed. Even if the few involved in the plot did, I never share my plans for these developments before we can gauge the full impact it will have on the environment.”
No matter how well I get to know him there’ll always be a part of me that’s awed by his intellect. His ability to think outside the box, approach things from such extraordinary angles that it’s impossible to replicate or predict. I should just go with it and learn to trust his instincts, be content to bask in its brilliance. “You really did think of everything,” I breathe, eyes wide.
“I had a lot to lose.” His quiet reply speaks volumes. It’s stark, laden with his feelings for us and I can’t help feeling it tug on my swelling heart. Lifting my head I run my nose along his, copying his trademark nuzzle to show him I share his sentiment.
I feel his mouth broaden as his lips brush over mine in a smile. Resting his upper body on his forearms, right beside my shoulders, his hands have access to my spread locks. Tenderly he sifts the strands through his fingers before he cups my head, both thumbs resting on my temples. “You saved me again,” he whispers, avoiding eye contact as he stares at the tangle of his hands in my hair.
I frown, confused, my pulse leaping nervously at the two thoughts that bleed into my consciousness with his cryptic words. As always my guilt is at the forefront but I dread, more than anything, his self-loathing and doubt. I was banking on the promise of another baby to smooth our way forward.
When I open my mouth to speak his sombre tone halts my words in its path with another one of those explanations that steals my breath. “You coming into my life so unexpectedly was probably the game changer for us in this fiasco.”
Once he feathered a row of butterfly kisses along my hairline he turns his earnest gaze to me, the slate of his fusing our stares. “The moment I ran into you in Miami my whole routine altered. Everything David thought he knew about me, my whereabouts and my daily pattern changed. That coupled with my unforseen trip to Seoul and our impromptu wedding – the fact that it was away from home – was what really sent David’s plans and timing to hell. It forced his hand. He became desperate enough to make the mistakes that led to his downfall.”
“If it wasn’t for you and your contract, Kate chewing my ear off for leaving you hanging, your date,” rounding his eyes he spits out the word date, giving me a dubious glare, no doubt questioning my judgement where every other male on the planet is concerned, “and your confession to Shawn we wouldn’t have gotten married so soon and we would’ve continued to underestimate the threat against us.”
Holy hell! My widening eyes blink up at him, astounded.
This time he kisses the tip of my nose, “So you see Mrs Grey, saved by you again.”
I don’t know what to say, there’s no way I can take credit for what happened, but I can’t fault his logic even though I didn’t plan any of it that way. I say the only thing I can under the overwhelming circumstances, “I think we saved each other Mr Grey.”
His watch darkens, the intensity burning deeper. Stroking my hair away from my face he breathes, “I’m so fucking grateful you and Chris are both safe and here with me. If I think about what could have happened if he got into your apartment in Savannah…” His words fade out with a despairing shake of his head.
Gentle as he’s being with his carefully chosen words I understand what he’s trying to say even though he’s doing his best not to. Either Chris or I could have become disposable pawns in a dangerous game of greed and blackmail. I can never allow myself to think about that alternate ending and I don’t want him to dwell on it either. He doesn’t need any help in the overprotective department.
Returning his caress I slide my fingers through his hair, searching for something meaningful enough to stop him from getting stuck in the emotional quicksand of perpetual what-ifs. “But it didn’t. You kept us safe, you kept your promise.”
His smile is grateful but unconvincing, the possibility of something like this happening again thick and unspoken between us.
Sunday morning brings with it the intimacy of family, of being together, and hopefully the start of settling into a life together. Waking up I find my tousled self in an empty bed, listening to the beautiful strains of Christian’s piano. Once I’ve slipped on a pair of yoga pants and a strappy Tee I go in search of my family.
What I find is surprising as it is touching. Chris, seated on Christian’s knee behind the tinkling instrument, is spellbound. His rapt attention glued to his father’s nimble fingers as they dance over the white and black keys. Christian’s song choice is obviously a winner; I’ve never seen Chris sit so still.
Looking up Christian gifts me with a panty melting smile and a wink that shouldn’t make me tingle in so many places, but my son, at least for now, is lost in the music. I love that they’ve found something to share. It feels so normal, so right to head for the kitchen and start breakfast with the two of them in my line of sight and so obviously happy. I can’t help imagining how a fourth little life would fit into the picture.
Fully aware that I’m getting ahead of myself I imagine the different scenarios – will it be another brother or maybe a little girl? Standing here, fantasising about our lives, our future, I can’t for the life of me think why I was resistant to the idea at first.
Over breakfast Chris is animated, so excited about his dad’s musical skills that we end up discussing the possibility of lessons. You’d have to be blind not to notice Christian’s beam of pride. I get the feeling that we’ll be seeing a piano tutor here by the end of the week.
After breakfast we move to the great room. Father and son throw themselves into building a model train set that used to be Christian’s when he was a boy. The low coffee table is soon criss-crossed with tracks, tiny trees, little grassy hills and small stations dotted along the rails while I’m ordered to the couch with the laptop to look through schools that Christian has already shortlisted for Chris.
The first four schools leave me deflated. I can understand that Christian would only want the best for our son but they seem so impersonal, almost clinical in their approach to learning. Browsing through these inappropriate choices it starts to dawn on me what Christian meant all the times he said that he never had to justify himself to anyone. For so long I’ve been solely responsible for all the parenting decisions concerning Chris. To suddenly have to share them, even defend them if for some reason we don’t agree is a little daunting. I hope this won’t be the first instance where we’ll be at odds with our preferences.
In the final one I find something that seems to have the things I value in a school – a good mix of discipline, a caring learning environment and the state of the art facilities that obviously impress my overachiever husband. I fill out the electronic form, expressing our interest in being invited to the school for an interview. For a moment I worry about the very late application but when I mention it to Christian his arrogantly quirked brow teamed with his crooked grin puts an end to my fretting.
Of course, the Grey name will open doors regardless. As always the immense power that I’m privy to just by being attached to him leaves me feeling uneasy, undeserving of the privilege that I’ve done nothing to earn. Reminding myself of the promise I made to embrace every aspect of his life I fight down my feelings of inadequacy. His power and wealth is certainly a very large part of who he is, at least to the outside world.
I work through my e-mails, easily keeping up with the banter between Chris and Christian as they race their trains. I whoop with Chris when team mommy & son win the first race, winking at Christian’s pouty face. Even when we discuss our work week schedule, in-between the racing trains, Christian surprises me by being very amenable.
“Why don’t you go into the office and have a face-to-face meeting with Julie? I’m sure the two of you have lots to discuss. If you want we can set up an office for you at Grey Publishing,” he suggests casually, seemingly unperturbed by an idea that used to drive him to distraction. Despite our resolved threat I realise I was fully prepared for a serious negotiation about how and where I’ll be working from. His suddenly easy-going compliance on a previously prickly matter piques my interest.
“Okay,” I agree carefully, looking at him through slitted eyes. “And Chris? Can I take him along?”
Not meeting my suspicious frown he focusses instead on adjusting a wheel on one of the tiny trains with a screwdriver. “You can but he might get bored. Why don’t you leave him at our new day care centre? I believe they run an excellent preschool programme.”
My gasp betrays my surprise, “You have day care at Grey Publishing?”
He scrubs the back of his neck, failing to hide his sheepish expression. Grinning that lopsided grin he finally meets my astounded blue gaze. “Uhm. Yes. I thought it would be convenient for you.”
He started a day care centre just so I could leave Chris there? Just as the astonished question pops into my head I berate myself for thinking anything less. Of course he did!
“Oh. Okay, I will. Thank you. That’s incredibly thoughtful of you. Will you keep it going next year when he goes to school full time?”
His head jerks back, almost doing a double take, “Absolutely. You might need it during school holidays and when… uhm,” he cuts his gaze to Chris, uncertain for a beat. Meaningfully he widens his eyes, staring at my belly before finding my gaze again. “You know… when the other one comes, plus the staff like the idea so…”
I sink my teeth into my lip to hold back my giggle but I can’t stop the corners of my mouth inching upward. I place my hand over my heart in a grateful gesture. After mouthing him a silent thank you I blow him a kiss.
Christian responds with a beaming smile, as though he just received the highest praise, almost glowing with joy at my response. I get a fleeting impression of him as a little boy, eager for my approval.
Encouraged by his mood I try to push my luck, “So do I get to drive to work or will you drop us on your way?”
I swear I can see a red tinge around his ears when he darts his look back to the carriage in his hand. “Uhm… No. You’ll come with me. Taylor will drive us.”
I suspected as much and find that it doesn’t faze me in the least but I can tell there’s more to the story. Looking up when I don’t reply he clocks my perplexed look. He breathes in – deeply – then faces me squarely, “I’ve moved Grey Publishing to the GEH building.” Drilling me with his deep grey stare he searches my face for a reaction.
Easy compliance my ass! Chris and I will be close to him all day, in his domain where he’s in full command and able to watch our every move. I issue a nervous giggle, shaking my stunned head, “You’ve started a whole day care centre and moved an entire company just so you can keep tabs on us? When did you decide to do this, when did you have time?” the rising staccato of my voice is well beyond my control, shock amping it into a squeak.
“Yes I started the day care and moved the publishing division but not to keep tabs on you. I just want to keep you safe,” he acknowledges, a tad defensively. “I did it when I decided that Grey Publishing would be taking you on and I hired Julie. And that’s the beauty of well paid staff, you tell them to do something and they do it.”
How could I forget? It didn’t matter that I had a deal with another company, Grey wanted me and Grey got me, in every way. None of this was ever up to me. No wonder he was so agreeable on me returning to work. Talk about overbearing!
Truthfully I don’t actually mind but what I do object to – again – is not being told and it coming out in this roundabout way. What’s at the heart of this matter troubles me most. Is it concern for our physical safety or does Christian still have lingering doubts about the endurance of my commitment?
Before I can open my mouth to start arguing I shut it. Even if it’s a bit of both, I reason with myself, would it kill me to just accept it? If he needs to keep an eye on us to feel in control can I simply accede and give him the peace of mind he obviously hankers after? And maybe if I stop complaining about not being told he’ll be more willing to share if he didn’t have to risk facing my ire every time.
With a deep, steeling breath and self-satisfied smirks from my inner girls I offer him a smile, sincere and wide. “Okay. That’s fine and yes, I would love an office to work from. Thank you.”
It doesn’t happen often but when I render him speechless it’s exceptionally satisfying. I supress a giggle at his astonished expression before he schools it back into passivity. “Okay,” he agrees, nodding as though he fully expected me to comply so readily. “An office on my floor?” the hopeful gleam in his expectant eyes almost have me caving but in an effort to maintain what little independence I’ll have from him at work I decide to distance myself from him, at least physically.
Smirking to let him know I’m onto his game and to soften the blow of my refusal, I reply tartly, “No thank you Mr Grey. With the other minions will be fine thank you.”
Pleased with how accommodating I’ve been I ponder our growth as a couple while I sift through the rest of my e-mails. If I think back to how I always met his unreasonable demands with harsh and brutal refusal I can see how I only made matters worse.
Both Chris and Christian’s heads swing my way when I squeal in response to a new mail in my inbox. Clapping my hands together I bounce on the couch, “Yay! Kate and Elliot will be here by next week!”
Christian does a double take, “Really? That’s great!” he confirms, looking genuinely pleased. “How long are they coming for?”
“She doesn’t say. Seems like they just want to touch base with us after everything that’s happened.”
Christian nods, understanding that I can’t elaborate with little ears around. “I’ll get in touch with Elliot. Maybe we can all take The Grace out over the weekend.” Careful not to disappoint Chris in case we can’t go I don’t miss the fact that he says The Grace instead of sailing. He had to cancel that trip once before, clearly he doesn’t want to let his son down again.
“Is she, uhm, well again?” I ask, referring to the vandalism she endured, probably at the hands of David.
“Uh-huh,” he chirps, “good as new!” I can’t help grinning at his obvious joy – boys and their toys.
Though I love Gail and Taylor I’m grateful that we’ve had the morning to ourselves to bond as a family, even more so now that we’ve slipped into life at Escala without too much upheaval. I can’t deny that I was apprehensive about living in the apartment after what happened.
I’m adding the finishing touches to a large salad when Christian comes up behind me. Wrapping his arms around my waist he kisses my temple before his lips brush past my ear, “Six more days baby,” he whispers as he splays his large palm over my belly.
I giggle, enjoying the delicious tingles darting down my spine. A bubble of sheer joy bursts through me, his excitement about the prospect of another baby thrilling and infectious. “You have to manage your expectations Mr Grey. I might not fall pregnant right away. It may take months before it happens.”
He snorts, “The last time you fell pregnant on a birth control shot. I’m confident that I’ll nail it the first time.”
He winks at me when I turn in his arms, his self-assured grin cocky. “You’ll nail it?” I say laughing. “You do know it’s not entirely up to you right? Mother Nature plays a fairly large part in all of this.” I make a general, sweeping motion with my hand then slip them into the back pockets of his perfectly fitting jeans. With a little squeeze I nudge him closer.
“Pfft Mother Nature,” he dismisses, still smiling. Over my shoulder he looks to find Chris. Ensured of our privacy he bends his knees just enough to grind his hips into mine. My eyes close as I gulp a large breath, sensation flooding and tantalising me. Just as he leans in to kiss me the intercom buzzes.
Chris jumps up at the sound, racing to the foyer he whoops as he goes, “They’re here! Come on daddy!”
The kiss I end up getting is way too brief. He runs his nose along mine, “Later,” he breathes, coming away from me with a wry smile. Turning he follows his excited son to the door to meet his parents and sister.
After a round of emotional hugs Grace and Carrick follow us to the kitchen while Mia skips away with Chris to the great room and the train set. I smile at his non-stop chatter as he regales his favourite aunt with the news of his adventures since the last time she saw him.
“Would you like some coffee?” Christian asks loud enough to include Mia.
I join Grace and Carrick at the breakfast bar as they convey their various coffee preferences to Christian. Again I feel him behind me as he wraps his hands around my upper arms. “And some tea for you Mrs Grey?” he offers before dropping a kiss on my head.
I turn my head to catch his gaze, offering him a grateful beam, “Please Mr Grey. That would be lovely.”
With Chris out of earshot Carrick wastes no time to delve into the happenings of the past few days. “The news has been very thin on your event son. I guess the UN really does have the reach to contain something like this.”
I know that both Christian and Taylor have been monitoring news about the inauguration drama closely. So far the information surrounding the event remained sketchy, only mentioning that an attempt to disrupt proceedings was thwarted. From what Christian explained to me I understood that if the story didn’t break today, in the Sunday papers with their high circulation, it wasn’t likely that it would at all.
Christian meets his earnest watch, “Yeah dad,” he agrees thoughtfully. “Frankly it’s been a relief to have it managed so well. The press fallout alone would have been a helluva’ pain to handle.”
Carrick nods, his eyes falling to the counter in front of him. When I spot Grace’s hand covering his with a firm squeeze I realise that he’s fighting to control his emotions. His gaze cuts back to Christian, a shiny film of sentiment glazing the normally sharp blue hue of his stare. “Jeez son, this idiot came way too close for my liking.” His raspy tone only serves to underscore the heavy investment of his feelings.
Christian drops his coffee-making duties. In two strides he reaches the edge of the counter, facing his father. “I know dad. Trust me when I say it’s sorted.” He rests his hand on his dad’s shoulder and Carrick doesn’t hesitate to pat it. Nodding again he lets go of a slow breath, looking intently at his son. “Okay. I trust you to know what’s at stake.” The slight jerk of his head in my direction makes my cheeks sting with the heat of a blush.
Before I have time to wonder if it’s a veiled reference to my past mistakes Grace interjects, “Christian would never forgive himself if something happened to you or to Chris,” she explains, effectively quelling my rising guilt.
I give her a weak smile, all too familiar with these anxious feelings of late – we couldn’t live without him either.
Carrick scrubs his large hands over his face, exhaling loudly again. With a renewed smile he looks to me, “Sooo, good to be home again huh? How is the little champ holding up?”
I make every effort to return his jovial tone, relieved at the switch in mood, “It is good to be back and Chris is a real trooper! I suspect he’ll be starting piano lessons shortly.” I know the smile I throw Christian is doting, but I can’t help myself.
“That’s fantastic Ana. A martial art, an instrument and a language – that’s what I insisted on for my three,” Grace quips, obviously proud. “Well until one of them got to the age where she refused.” With mock anger she pins Mia with a playful glare over her shoulder.
Mia giggles, “If you can’t wear heels doing it, it ain’t worth doing!” she teases, referring to her lack of interest in the martial arts.
We all chuckle at the image of Mia in a Judo outfit, teamed with a towering pair of Louboutin’s when Grace interrupts with an excited “Oh! I have news!” clasping her hands together she gives me a broad smile. “Ana, you remember Shawn O’Reily?”
I risk a quick glance at Christian where he’s still bent over the café-style coffee machine making froths for the Lattes. With his back turned to us his face is hidden, but I see a distinct stiffening in his demeanour as he straightens his spine. “Dr O’Reily? Yes, I remember him,” I answer carefully, keeping an eye on my husband.
“Well, I know he approached Christian about his plans in the past so I’m not sure if he ever mentioned it to you but Shawn had this wonderful vision for a centralised warehouse to hold the resources that the various aid agencies collect in order to cut the bureaucracy that goes hand-in-hand with distributing these things but he’s always lacked the funds.”
Still wary of Christian’s reaction I only nod, recalling his moving speech at the gala dinner and afterwards, on the balcony, when he shared his idea with a little too much passion.
“I’m pleased to say that he got full funding for his project! Apparently from a very generous donor – anonymous of course so, he left for Africa last week. For good I would imagine!”
“Wow that’s great,” I muse, not overly excited because my mind is working at a hundred miles a minute processing this bit of information. “That’s a big chunk of change for a single donor or was it from a corporation?” I ask casually, noting the absence of Christian’s commentary on all of this. His silence is especially unusual considering he has a deep and passionate commitment to the third world and its plights.
“That’s what makes it so special. Not only was it a single donor but it was a private donation!” she’s practically gushing, eyes bright with excitement.
“Wow,” I affirmed again, “that is very generous.”
Just then Christian turns with two coffees in hand and a tight smile in place. “That’s great news mom. Please pass on our congratulations.”
Even Grace looks at him quizzically, surprised by his disinterest as he slides her cup across the counter. I, on the other hand, have a very good idea why he’s acting so indifferent. I’m almost certain that Christian is the generous donor, conveniently killing a few birds with one stone. He would be helping a cause that’s very dear to him, get rid of what he might perceive as a romantic threat and smooth the way with Shawn if he considered laying charges for the punch Christian threw at him.
No wonder Christian refused to tell me why he wasn’t a threat when I brought it up, absolutely dismissing him as a candidate for our list of perps. I must admit that it’s a pretty solid plan but I’m burning with curiosity – what on earth did it cost him?
Be kind and review, please.