Christian and I spend long minutes with his parents, laughing and savoring the hope that comes with the precious news of new babies, but the senior Greys eventually get pulled away by the inevitable business that the evening is supposed to produce.
Curling his arm around my waist, he guides us back inside where we’re lucky to find an empty cocktail table in one corner of the cavernous bar. As people are meant to mingle, the small, high tables dotted about encourage the standing crush of people to network, making quick connections, then moving on, while the outside is ideal for taking a seat and getting down to the finer points of business. We move in behind the table, our backs to the join of the walls so we can watch the room. The tables are all covered with black tablecloths that skim the floor, and on top are pretty, sprawling flower arrangements with small clips that hold Elliot’s new business cards.
Conveniently, a waiter appears just then. “Can I get you a folks a drink?” he asks, a little frazzled from being run off his feet.
Without giving me a second to respond, or even looking my way, Christian gives the waiter an order. “Please. A cranberry juice for my wife and I’ll have a lime and soda.”
Bemused, I look at him when the waiter leaves to fix our order. “Cranberry juice?” I ask, a tad perplexed as it’s not a regular drink for me.
At my question, Christian looks a little taken aback before his expression turns sheepish. “Uhm… Yes,” he explains, “the pregnancy may alter the pH balance in your urinary tract, making you more susceptible to urinary infections. Cranberry juice is a good way to help you prevent that.”
Oh boy! I think. Why am I not surprised?
“Okaaay,” I say carefully, biting back a remark I know will spoil our evening.
I knew what I was getting myself into. I just need to keep reminding myself that his intentions are good.
Tenderly I lay my hand on his forearm where it rests on the table’s surface. “I want what’s best for the baby too, but making these decisions for me isn’t an option, Christian. I’m prepared to discuss any suggestions you may have, but you have to respect what I decide to do.”
He presses his lips together, looking at me in that way he has when he wants to see inside my head before nodding. “Okay,” he agrees, but it’s impossible to miss the reluctance behind his acquiescence.
Baby steps, I chant to myself. With his overbearing nature, the protective instinct that, to him, is as natural as breathing, I can only expect so much at a time.
The returning waiter’s timing is perfect when he slides our drinks onto the table with a smile. It’s the ideal antidote for the bit of tension I feel brewing between us. Christian gives the guy a tip before he leaves us to nurse our virgin refreshments.
To steer the conversation into happier waters, I change the subject. “So your folks seem really happy with our news, and I’m really relieved that Kate took it so well.”
“Yeah, they are,” he confirms, his beautiful mouth turning up as his mercurial nature easily shifts him away from our disagreement.
“I can’t believe my dad, though. He was as animated as I’ve seen him in a long time. I think you made his year!” His chuckle is half snort, half laugh, perplexed as he shakes his head in disbelief.
At this I can’t help but give Christian a full smile, thoroughly pleased. Carrick is a tough man to impress. I know he’s a loving husband and parent, but he’s also a fierce lawyer, and at times I’ve felt the sharp edge of his fatherly shielding. Winning his love and acceptance is very important to me, maybe even more so than Grace’s.
“Not me, us!” I correct, giggling at Christian’s expression.
I expect him to make some crack about the doting grandparents but instead his face turns serious. “Have I told you how much I love it when you giggle like that? How fucking sexy you are?” Christian purrs in that low, slow, seductive voice of his.
I gasp, surprised and flushing at his sudden change of tack, “You may have mentioned it before, Mr. Grey, but a pregnant wife never tires of hearing that from her handsome husband when every female eye in the room is on him.” Looking up at him I smile, my thumb lightly brushing over the stubble on his jaw, and taking a perverse pleasure in the fact that, despite the feasting female glances, my man only has eyes for me.
His mouth curves into a crooked grin, his eyes instantly affected with a slowing blink. “I love it when you’re jealous, baby,” he coos, pulling me into him with a firm hand in the small of my back.
Leaning in, he brushes my ear with his lips. “It makes me hard,” he whispers, pressing the swelling bulge in his pants into my belly, “and if you like being told how hot you make me, maybe I should spend my days telling you.” Snaking his tongue into my ear, he traces the lines, the resulting shiver teasing my skin into goose bumps.
“Christian!” I scold, but my tone holds no real anger. If anything the mendacity is meant to encourage rather than dissuade.
If I planned on getting my husband’s willing submission tonight I needed to start by playing his favorite game, the slow buildup of stoking desires, an evening of titillating words and touches, but delayed gratification, skimming close to the edge of it but not giving in to the powerful lure of release.
Pressing me closer still he grins, the line of his lips turning wicked now, “I can’t wait to get you home and out of this dress.”
Again his words send my sanity scattering, his seduction skills so honed, so effective, always reducing me to a whimpering, needy mess. It’s also the principle I base my scheme on; if it works for me, maybe it can wreck my husband’s steel-hard control.
I flutter my lashes coquettishly, biting my lip in the absolute knowledge that it drives him wild. “And I can’t wait for you to take it off, Mr. Grey,” I breathe, giving my words a moment to sink in while my own hand dips below his waist, giving his fantastic man-hiney a good squeeze.
I see his lips part as he sucks in a short breath, his saucering mercury gaze gratifying enough to embolden me, “And I cannot wait to take you in my mouth and watch you unravel.”
I watch his jaw clench a few times before he speaks, obviously fighting to maintain his decorum. “Mrs. Grey, I believe I warned you about teasing me before we left the house this evening,” he growls as he turns me to face the table once more, his fingers working discreetly to pull up the side of my dress that is between our outer thighs.
Riveted I stand, utterly seduced. How does he always manage to do this? A need-seared look, a few words, and I’m lost to his devastating skill.
“Christian!” This time my rebuke holds a little more sincerity.
We are mercifully private behind the table, stuffed into the corner as we are, but we’re in public for goodness’ sake!
And this is so not part of our plan! My inner goddess reminds me, stomping her stripper shod foot.
He hisses when he feels the bare skin above my stay-ups. “Are you trying to break me, baby? Don’t think I haven’t been wondering about these legs all night.”
His sinful grin is a satisfied one when he feels the telling bumps break out on the exposed length of my thigh, and it’s all the encouragement he needs. With little effort he slips a questing finger under the elastic edge of my panties, and a second later I jolt as he connects with the nerve-loaded button peeking from between the lips of my sex.
It’s a struggle not to close my eyes. I want to throw back my head and moan my pleasure, but I can do none of that as Christian finds the split of my lips, dipping his naughty finger into my empty hole.
“Aaah,” I mewl, one part breathless, one part desperate.
“Always so wet, Mrs. Grey. Always so ready,” Christian informs me in a matter-of-fact tone that makes him sound unaffected, though I feel the thick press of his shaft against my side.
I can’t do much about the sexy turn of events but I can tease him back, maybe salvage some part of my plan.
Turning my head to find his low-lidded gaze, I try to regain a measure of my control. “That’s because I always want you,” I admit, giving him inflaming words, my lips moving slowly as I enunciate every syllable.
We both jump, me more than Christian, when we hear his name being called by a jovial voice right in front of our table. “Christian Grey? How are you, man?”
I have no choice but to hide my beety blush behind taking a sip of my juice while Christian shakes the man’s hand. “Oh, wow,” he exclaims, a small note of surprise in his voice, “Gary? Gary Duncan?”
“Yeah, man! How the hell are you? Well, I know how you are actually, I see you on the news like all the time, man,” he tells Christian with a goofy laugh, and in what I can only describe as a stoner voice.
Slowly, carefully, Christian extracts his fingers from between my legs, then surreptitiously rights my dress. His face remains perfectly poised, his features arranged with the blandness he reserves for exchanges such as this.
He turns to me, catching my eye with just a ghost of a smile playing on his full lips. “Anastasia, this is Gary Duncan. We were at college together, but he designs architectural software now,” he says per introduction, explaining Gary’s presence. “Gary, this is my lovely wife, Anastasia.”
Gary takes my hand to shake but thinks better of it, then presses an awkward kiss to the back of it. “Oh man, you’re even prettier in real life,” he gushes guilelessly, deepening the heated glow I have from Christian’s ministrations as much as from almost being caught out.
I let out a nervous giggle, never sure what Fifty will do in situations like this. “Uhm… Hi, Gary. And thank you,” I say uncertainly, still disconcerted by the jarring change of pace.
Christian brushes his lips across my temple, his gesture calming me instantly. “Gary is also responsible for introducing me to Barney.”
“Barney, computer Barney?” I ask, suddenly understanding the sweet, geeky demeanor.
Gary issues another goofy laugh, “Yeah man, Barney is like the best, the king of the geeks.”
With an answering smile, I let the guys catch up, but all too soon our table is surrounded by Gary’s friends that he’s called over to meet Christian.
As the time for Mia’s arrival approaches, I excuse myself from our social circle and leave Christian’s side with a kiss on his cheek. I catch Cindy’s eye, letting her know that I’m moving on, then make my way through the crowd to where Kate will have Ethan stationed. Our plan is for him to see Mia the moment she steps through the door, looking like a tall drink of water in the desert of his love life.
It’s a two-pronged approach to getting the two of them talking. Firstly, as Mia knows when and how they’ll meet, we’ve eliminated the possibility of that embarrassing moment where you snort your drink through your nose in shock, looking your worst, and too flustered to say anything remotely charming. Secondly, doing it early on gets the awkwardness out of the way sooner rather than later, which means they have the rest of the night to reconnect.
Mia is to come in, looking radiant. Kate and I will be standing beside Ethan, giving her the perfect reason to come over and say hello. Kate will then drag her away and I will have my moment with Ethan, fresh from his reminder of what it’s like to be without the one you want.
A huge beam cracks over Ethan’s face when he spots me coming their way. “Look at you, Steele! Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes? Where the hell have you been hiding the last five years?”
There’ll be plenty of time to talk about where I’ve been, but I don’t want to engage him in a serious conversation right now, drawing his attention away from Mia’s imminent appearance.
“Oh, Ethan,” I smile back, walking into his waiting embrace, “it’s fantastic to see you!”
He gives me a big hug, lifting me off the ground, my feet kicking as I giggle. “And Kate says you have a little monster! Where is the little tiger tonight? I hope I’m his honorary uncle,” he jokes, making the time between us disappear with ease, and my heart clench with a burst of sorrow for another friendship that I’ve missed out on.
No dwelling! My subconscious reminds me, her stern look in place, and for a rare moment, backed up by my inner goddess.
“I do, and he’s just the best!” I exclaim when my feet find the floor again. “Gail is watching him tonight. I’m sure you remember Christian’s housekeeper?”
He nods, smiling and animated, “Yes, I do, but tell me what you’re up to. What are you doing with yourself, apart from being a yummy mummy?”
I snort, thinking that five years did very little to change him. He’s still as playful and flirty as ever.
“Ah, you know, a bit of this, a bit of that,” I tease back, watching Kate’s eyes round as she almost chokes on her water.
Ethan pats her on the back, bemused. “Yeah,” she grins, looking at me, her tone sarcastic, “Ana, lazy-bones here has just been signed up for a romance novel publishing deal, so don’t let Miss Coy here fool you into thinking that she’s a lady-who-lunches!”
Ethan’s head spins to me, his shock quickly turning into a warm grin, “Looky, looky little Ana Steele the author, huh?” He bumps his shoulder against mine, a look of admiration crossing his surfer-boy features.
“I always knew you’d do something big, Steele,” he says, the compliment almost warming me before he falls back onto his flippant ways. “Any characters based on your hot friend Ethan? A bodice-ripping heroine falling for a rugged, blonde hunk, dashing, debonair, and delectable?” With a quirked brow he runs a hand through his hair, looking every inch the charming romantic hero.
I giggle while Kate rolls her eyes, immune – by now – to her brother’s bantering.
“Uhm… No. But now that I know you‘re interested I’ll keep it in mind,” I say, feeling the warmth of friendship that comes from history and shared memories that only time can bring.
“So what are you up to? Any lovely ladies filling your nights?” I ask flirtatiously, knowing full well that he’s single.
I catch the briefest of flickers in his eyes, just a hint of sadness before he hides it behind a smirk. “Too many to mention!” he winks, skillfully avoiding the touchy topic of his love life. “And I’m devastated that my sister didn’t deem it worthy enough to brag about,” he gives Kate a mock pointed look, “but you are looking at one of Seattle’s finest shrinks!”
I laugh, pleased for him and so happy to be part of their sibling-ribbing company again. “Oh, wow! That’s wonderful, Ethan. Any specific area of expertise?”
He turns serious, his brow forming an imprint of a light V on his forehead as his mind turns to something that he’s obviously passionate about. “Thanks, Ana, and yes. I work with teenagers. Mostly fresh from rehab progr…”
His words stop short as his jaw literally drops. His azure gaze turns cloudy as it gets pinned to some place behind me. It’s hard to peg the expression on his face. It seems more like a whole reel of emotions: joy, hope, pain, fear, anger – all crossing his face in a scant moment.
Both Kate and I look back over our shoulders to see what’s caused the abrupt loss of his thoughts, but I suspect a certain raven-haired beauty. Almost instantly we spot her, looking like a dazzling pink light amidst a sea of gray and black suits.
Mia looks both playful and sophisticated in a flirty pink dress, without looking like she went to too much effort. The color of the short dress is bright and bold, and would draw your eye under almost all circumstances. It is certainly doing its job at this very moment, producing a wave of turning heads as she goes by and of course, Ethan’s riveted stare. She looks fantastic.
The smile on her lips turns to a full beam when she spots us, her hand following, playfully giving us a friendly finger-wave. Her friend Theo is by her side, skillfully navigating them through the crowd towards us.
Like the girls we are, we squeal when she reaches the circle of our bodies that we’ve opened now to accommodate the pair of them, hugging and kissing and complimenting, making Ethan wait his turn with her. From the corner of my eye I see him greet Theo warmly, if not a little distractedly, his gaze drifting our way as if he just cannot help it.
Kate and I share a knowing smile at his obvious signals when Mia drags Theo closer to introduce him to us. When Kate and I engage him in conversation it gives Mia the first opportunity to properly say hello to Ethan.
It’s hard to concentrate on Theo, charming as he is, when all I want to do is listen to Ethan and Mia’s exchange. At best, I hear snippets that are at least encouraging in that the lilt is light and sprinkled with the occasional giggle from Mia. It bodes well. With all my heart I hope they find their way back into each other’s arms.
When Kate sweeps Mia and Theo away like we planned, I’m left alone with a wistful Ethan, following Mia’s retreating back with a look of longing so clear I wonder how he’s able to deny the feelings he so blatantly still has for her.
“Doesn’t she look gorgeous?” I probe, eager to get my foot in the door of this conversation.
“Hhhmm,” Ethan muses dreamily for a moment before snapping back to the present, “uhm, yes. She looks good.”
It’s the understatement of the year and delivered so poorly, he cringes when I lift a questioning brow at him as if to say really?
“Aw shit, Steele, don’t you start with me. Between my mother and Kate, I get enough crap about women,” he whines.
I give him a long look, deciding on the direction I need to go with him. “I’m not going to hassle you about Mia, but I do want to tell you my story and what it cost me.”
“No Mia propaganda?” he presses, making it clear that the subject is off the table.
I laugh at his choice of words. “Sure. No Mia,” I agree readily, giving him a conspiring wink.
He leans forward, resting the length of his forearms on the surface of the cocktail table, resigned. “Then feel free to spill away, Steele, let’s hear your story.”
Starting at the beginning, I give Ethan the full version of my sorry tale, but lay heavy emphasis on the emotions that guided my choices back then.
He listens intently, putting his best shrink tools to use, nodding and groaning in dismay as the details of my misguided thought patterns begin to unfold.
At the end of it he whistles, visibly stunned by my confession. “Jeez, Steele, you sure made a mess of that!” he blurts, speaking as a friend rather than a therapist.
Playfully I smack him on the arm, affronted on my younger self’s behalf.
“The point I’m trying to make, Mr. Hot-shot Shrink,” I say pointedly, “is that when you’re that close to a situation you act on the perception of your emotions. I honestly believed that Christian would wake up from his first romance and run screaming in the opposite direction from a family that was holding him back. And that perception, wrong as it was, guided me into doing what I did because I could not see past the barrier of it. In the process, I made the biggest mistake of my life.”
Swallowing, I gather my thoughts, still feeling the rawness of the wounds I unwittingly caused. “I withheld father and son from each other, broke up the best relationship a girl could ever want, and shattered the love of my life’s heart. And I hurt a lot of friends, not least of which were José and you guys.” With a final sigh I let my story go, hoping that the lesson in it can be a good thing for others to learn.
“You’ve given me some things to think about, which I’m sure was your plan,” he smirks, easily seeing through my scheme, “but there’s been a lot of water under the bridge, you know?”
“Ethan, whatever it is, it can’t be worse than what I did and look where I am today. Right back in the arms of the man I could never deserve if my actions counted against me.”
Just then I look up, finding Christian’s heated gaze on me as he listens to a man who has his back turned to us. I smile, thrilling in the knowledge that he’s mine, before turning my attention back to Ethan.
“I hear you, Steele,” he murmurs before falling into a thoughtful silence.
Not wanting to push Ethan, I lapse into my own silent musings, happy to give him the space to ponder my words, but I can’t concentrate on my thoughts. I can only feel Christian’s sharp focus on me, searing in its laser intensity.
Again I find my husband’s eyes, locking with them almost instantly. I love the shiver that slides through me, the anticipation that’s been simmering all night. I hold my breath, watching my stunning husband across the room as the corner of his lip tugs into a sexy half smile.
Holy moly, he’s hot! I think to myself, still sometimes unable to believe that a man like him wants me.
I catch the movement of his hand as it casually travels to his chin. In a pensive pose he rests his thumb under his chin, folding his hand in a loose fist in front of his mouth. In another small move he lifts his middle finger to his nose, his eyes boring into me, ablaze with hunger. I see the swell of his chest, the obvious rise indicating that he’s taking a deep breath. When his half smile turns full tilt, naughty with his tiny sinful act, I nearly choke when the realization hits me. He’s enjoying a whiff of the finger that was buried inside me not an hour ago.
My spluttering has Ethan patting me on the back, laughing lightly. “What happened, Steele?” he asks, amused. “Only you can choke on something when you’re not even eating or drinking anything!”
“I’m okay,” I croak, trying to gather my wits, but now close to being mindless with want for my seducing husband.
I cannot wait to subject him to the same torture, I think, eager now to go home and have my way with him.
As if he heard my thoughts, Christian appears next to me. “Ethan. How are you?” he smiles smoothly, extending a hand to shake.
For a few moments they engage in a brief catch-up before he announces our departure, all the while holding me close to his side. When we’ve made the rounds to bid our family members goodnight, Christian and I slide into the back of the Audi while our security detail takes up the front seats.
Gently he brushes my hair away from the side of my face, pushing it all behind my back to expose my ear. “I’m going to fuck you into next week tonight, Mrs. Grey. That rain check is well overdue,” he tells me confidently, and I can hear the smirk in his voice.
I bask in the delicious rush of the wanton aura that surrounds us at the moment, the heady promise of pleasure where your whole world converges on the sense-robbing chase to release, my anticipation only inching higher at the thought of what I have in store for my overly-confident husband.
When we arrive at Escala I take the precious minutes I have, when Christian goes in to check on a sleeping Chris, to steal into the Red Room. With a fevered zeal I shrug out of my dress, then set out the things I’m going to need before sending Christian a text message. I leave the door slightly ajar, the warm light from the tantalizing room spilling invitingly into the darkened passageway, like a guiding beacon. I wait behind the door to give Christian time to walk into the room before I will allow him to see me.
When I hear the fall of his feet mere yards away, my heart starts to bounce wildly in my chest. I tug at my corset, adjust my stay-ups, and smooth my hair. I will only get one chance to make an impression big enough to hold him here.
Finally he steps into the room, his hesitation clear from his stance, but I can tell that he senses me behind him when he stills, his shoulders taking on that stubborn line.
I step out of my shadowy spot behind the door, mustering every ounce of my confidence, my heels clicking on the polished floor. “I’ve been waiting for you, Mr. Grey,” I say in a smoky, seductive voice while I hit the play button on the remote to pipe my specially selected playlist into the room….
Be kind and review, please.