“Let’s get you to bed,” Christian murmurs, scooping me up and into his arms.
“Hhhmmm,” I mewl, feeling a flicker of excitement for what I already know will be slow, sensual lovemaking. Burying my head in his wide chest, I take in his comforting scent, feeling oh-so safe as he carries me to our bedroom.
As predicted, he lays me down as if I’m made of glass before slipping in beside me, pulling me into his warm spoon and the semi-hard bulge in his groin. Tenderly he rearranges my hair, brushing it out of the way before he drops a kiss on my shoulder. “Sleep now, baby,” he whispers, still stroking my hair.
I want to argue. I can feel his desire stirring against my behind, but his relaxing caress has me asleep before I’m able to voice my protest. With my last thought verging on worry, I wonder why he’s not making love to me right now.
Still tangled in the cobwebs of sleep I open my eyes to Friday morning. I blink a few times to sharpen my focus only to find my husband staring intently at me. “Hi,” I croak, rubbing the remnants of dreams from my eyes.
“Hey, yourself,” he breathes, his voice low, his tone gentle, but his expression doleful.
There are so many things that could be going through his mind and my eternally shaded man is not famed for his emotional expressiveness, but I really don’t want to push him into sharing. It’s time for him to take that step of trust unprompted, disclosing willingly and freely. I know he’s ready; he’s made so much progress, but force of habit and his instinctual need to protect me from everything – even my own life – is a cycle from which he needs to break free.
Reaching up I cup his jaw, running my thumb over the shadow of his dark bristles. In my own head I force away my concerns and insecurities to give him a genuine smile, hopefully encouraging him. “What’s up, Mr. Grey?”
He returns my soft touch, stroking the back of his knuckles along my cheek. When he speaks, his afflicted face is replaced by the inscrutable one and my heart sinks. It’s the outside world face, the one he hides his real self behind. I hate that he feels the need to be guarded with me right now when I see his smile not quite reaching his eyes. “Nothing, baby, just looking at my beautiful wife,” he soothes, obviously trying to put me at ease.
Silently I war with myself. Do I let it slide and give him time or do I make a fuss for shutting me out? In a bold move I decide to do a little of both. Keeping my lilt friendly but decisive, I nudge rather than push. “Christian, I can see that you’re not ready to talk to me right now but I’m here, ready to listen when you feel you can trust me enough to share.”
He does a great job of hiding his surprise. I would have missed it were it not for the tiny fleck of hope it sparked in his slate-gray eyes before he suppressed it again. Oh, good! I think, mentally patting myself on the back. It was important for him to see that I know him better than he thinks, but also, I wanted to raise the trust issue. Despite reassuring me on numerous occasions that he’s over my leaving, his reluctance is proof otherwise.
With a final smile I show him that I’m not mad and roll out of bed, giving him the privacy to chew on my words as I make my way to the en suite, offering a quiet prayer that I won’t have to wait too long. I can’t help him if he’s going to hide behind his impenetrable persona.
In the silence of the bathroom I replay the previous day’s events, looking for clues to what’s bothering him and what I could possibly do to ease his fears. The obvious thing is the article, that he’s still concerned about the fallout and what that will translate to in our relationship. With a little bit of empathy I suddenly realize how very vulnerable he must feel. Jealousy aside, who wouldn’t feel insecure when your other half is shoved into the limelight as some sex symbol – albeit a reluctant one? I also have no doubt that there is still a part of him that believes that he doesn’t deserve me.
And what did you do under those very circumstances? My subconscious is quick to ask, putting my thoughts on a new track, and providing another good reason to get my husband to open up to me. The last thing we need is for him to do something as stupid as I did, I worry, feeling the clench of trepidation in my belly.
Then there’s little blip and my impromptu meltdown yesterday, making the pregnancy all too real. It’s a situation tailor-made to send his overbearingness into hyperdrive. Add to that the lurking threat of José, plus Chris’s name issue, and we have a sure-fire recipe for a melting pot of stress, leaving me surprised that we’re functioning at all.
I take a deep breath, waiting for my own calm to return. Dwelling on any of this won’t do us any good. Right now I need something practical to help Christian see that I’m not going to fall into the arms of any of the clamoring hordes, and that he can trust me to share even his most vulnerable moment in the full belief that I won’t hurt him or run. Well, I muse, if they can’t find me they can’t make advances. If I stay out of the public’s eye then that should, at the very least, go some way to managing the situation.
With my mind made up I head out to find my vulnerable man, but I don’t have to look too far. I’m stunned to find him still in bed, his bare torso propped up against the headboard, and his fingers swiping at the tablet on his lap.
Taking the rare opportunity, I crawl back into bed, molding my body to his side. “I’ll be working from home today,” I quip when he offers me the crook of his arm.
“Oh?” he says, a little too casually, keeping his eyes on the screen.
“Yeah, Julie gave me a lot to do and I think I’d be better off here, without the distractions.” Dismissively I wave my hand, not specifying the distractions in an effort to be tactful, but he’s on to me, curling his arm around my shoulder. “Thank you, baby,” he acknowledges, giving me a tight squeeze.
Yep, just as I thought, I reason, it’s definitely the article that’s got him twisted inside. Pleased that I made the right decision, I hug him back with my arms banding around his waist. Now all I need is for him to be touched enough to confide in me. I know that he’d be grateful for any reassurance now, but I feel strongly that he needs to learn to express himself, his love, which he already does so well, and also his fears if he wants to continue to grow. His reactions are sometimes so unexpected, making him so hard to read that I have no other choice but to rely on his help.
Long minutes pass while he remains lost in the screen in front of him, unseeing. I keep still, not wanting to jar his thought process, afraid that if I speak, he will not. I’m pleasantly surprised when he breaks the silence with a compromise that I’m prepared to accept – for now. “I think I should start seeing Flynn again,” he says in a way that tells me he’s already made up his mind.
Again I flex my arms, tightening my hold around him in a confirming cuddle, but I stay mute. I don’t want to do or say anything that would jeopardize his timid accession, and my subconscious nods sagely, her sentiment echoing my own: self-admission is the first step in the road to recovery.
I can’t say that I’m surprised when Christian also opts to stay home, spending a leisurely breakfast with Chris and me. We seldom have time to do this during the week and being Friday, Gail is on breakfast duty, a lovely treat for me. I love this time with my little family, watching the bond between Chris and Christian develop as they get to know one another. I also can’t help giggling in my sleeve at how similar they are in their mannerisms and their way of thinking, as I watch their copper heads bent over the latest fascinating boy-thing.
When Chris runs off to find something else to do, I’m left alone with my husband. “Baby,” he purrs in his honeyed baritone, “tell me what’s happening on the book front. I haven’t had time to catch up with Julie, and quite frankly, I’d rather meet with you.” He grins, giving me a wink and squeezing my knee, making me jerk, giggle, and blush, still unused to having an audience, even if it’s Gail.
“It’s going so well,” I beam, always excited when I think about my work on a shelf in a store or a library. “Julie thinks we’ll be set for release by February. I really enjoy working with her. Her edits can be brutal,” I pull a face thinking about the crisis of faith I had in my ability the first few times, “but I’ve been impressed every time I’ve followed her advice. She knows her stuff.”
Christian’s smile is wide and sincere as he listens to me, tablet put aside, giving me his undivided attention. “February? That’s great. I’m so proud of you, baby. It’s a hell of an achievement. No formal writing training, just raw talent.” As he shakes his head in awe, pride swells in my chest.
Gail interrupts our silly grinning when she places a cup of tea in front of me, made just the way I like it. “Thank you,” I gush gratefully, feeling spoiled as I curl my hands around the warm mug. “Hhhmmm,” I hum my bliss, taking the first sip, and catching her indulgent wink along with her mother-hen smile. Her obvious pleasure in seeing mine goes a long way toward making me feel better about being served in my own home. When she turns back to the kitchen I raise the question that’s been playing on my mind. “When are we going to tell Gail and Taylor about little blip?”
Nonchalantly, Christian shrugs. “When do you want to tell them? Mom mentioned that some women don’t like to tell people until after the first trimester, so I figured I’d leave it up to you.”
Oh! That’s new. Deferring Fifty? I like it, I think, pleasantly surprised by my man’s new tack. “Taylor and Gail are like family, and surely they must know something’s up. All the new eating rules, the nurse here at home, the trip to the gynie. We should definitely tell them, and I also think we should tell Cindy,” I add, making full use of my new power.
“Uhm, yes. Okay. Sure,” he bleats, looking a tad sheepish.
“Whaaat?” I ask, tilting my head and narrowing my eyes at my now cagey husband.
He bristles a little at my tone. “I already told Cindy. You need to understand, Ana, she’s with you all the time, it’s important for her to have all the facts in order for her to do her job properly.” Locking eyes with me, he sets his mouth in an obstinate line, effectively communicating that he’s not budging on this issue.
Fighting the urge to bash my head against the table, I take a centering breath. Just as I think he finally gets it, he proves that he still doesn’t understand. Across the table I slip my hand over his. “I don’t have a problem with you telling her, Christian, I object to not being included in the discussion. About me,” I add, pointing to myself and struggling to cover my annoyance.
His suitably contrite expression cools my jets, just as his acknowledging nod does. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” he atones, shoving an agitated hand through his hair. “It’s just, in the past, you’ve always fought me on the security front, and it’s a non-negotiable matter,” he explains, reminding me of my own stubbornness at times.
Touché, I wince internally because he’s right – of course. Much as it bothers me sometimes to be under near-constant watch, now is not the time or the place for my stubborn streak where our security is concerned. “Thank you,” I reply, acknowledging the progress of getting a quick and sincere apology from him, and offering him a sympathetic smile to admit the part I played in molding his behavior.
Serenely my inner girls look onto the scene, smiling their encouragement for my gentle approach with him. Even they have to concede that living with Fifty is challenging at times, but the rewards are so great and, looking back, we’ve come a very long way. In the past, an incident like this would have been full-out war because we’re both too headstrong to back down. At least this way, we do better coming to a mutually acceptable agreement.
I’m relieved when he returns my smile warmly, and what tension there was between us melts away. With our potential tiff averted he looks over his shoulder to where Gail is fussing over Chris in the kitchen, smiling. “Do you want to do it now?”
I watch the pair of them for a moment, enjoying the animated way in which Chris interacts with her and her corresponding playful gestures. “Sure. Why not?” I agree just as Chris is explaining something where he holds his arms out in front of himself, as if he’s clutching a big belly. Sharply, Gail’s head swings to us, looking in our direction, and even from where I sit I can see her flustered smile faltering nervously.
Christian’s brow lifts in confusion when my head falls back and I laugh, realizing that the cat is already out of the bag. “Game’s up!” I quip, nudging Christian’s shoulder.
As if he knows that I’m tittering at him, my boy comes jogging over with a slightly uncomfortable Gail following in his wake. “Mommy, Mommy! It’s true! Tell Mrs. Taylor! You have a balloon in your tummy, and when it pops, a baby will come out.”
I laugh harder. Oh dear, it’s clear that Chris’s most recent biology lessons come from another toddler.
Finally catching on Christian joins in with a snort. He pulls Chris onto his lap, giving him a tap on the nose. “Have you been spilling secrets?” he coaxes, narrowing his eyes in mock anger, making our son squeal.
“No!” he cries decisively with a tap right back on his dad’s nose. “Mommy says secwets are bad!”
Despite her evident discomfort Gail can’t help but chuckle along, but when she catches my eye her smile softens, turning warm. “Congratulations, Ana. I’m sure this is not how you wanted to break your news, but I’m so very pleased for you both,” she coos before leaning in to hug me.
Suddenly awash with gratitude, I’m overwhelmed by a rush of tears as I hug her back – fiercely. I’m taken aback by how much she’s come to mean to me. Her joy for us touches me deeply because it stands in testimony to her unconditional acceptance of me. “Thank you,” I breathe past my thickening throat.
When she pushes me back, clutching my shoulders to look into my face, I’m amazed to see wet tracks on her cheeks, but her beam is wide, assuring me that they were left by happy tears.
Just then Taylor appears, doing a double take as he clocks the emotional moment between Gail and me. Hesitantly he looks to Christian, who gives him a proud grin. Tilting his head our way he spills the beans to his right-hand man. “Ana is pregnant, Taylor,” he explains, his mouth curving into full HD.
It’s the most animated I’ve ever seen Taylor. He gasps, then grins, stretching out his arm to shake Christian’s hand. “Congratulations, sir. Well done.” Vigorously he pumps Christian’s arm before giving me an extremely chaste air-kiss on one side of my face, repeating his delight.
Wise man, I think, smiling a secret smile. He’s so aware of my husband’s current amped-up state of jealousy that he’s considerate enough to avoid even a proper congratulatory kiss. It only serves to confirm what I’ve seen between the two of them all along, that their relationship runs much deeper than the overt employer/employee one.
My ringing phone drags me away from their well wishes when I see Mia’s face flashing on the screen. “Excuse me,” I mouth, waving bye-bye as I take the call into the library. With Mia, it’s bound to be a long one.
“Hey, Mia! How are you?”
“Ana, hello! I’m good. How are you? How is my favorite nephew?”
Quietly I chuckle at her trademark thousand-miles-a-minute pace. “”All good. He’s very excited about getting a sibling, already put in an order for a baby brother.”
“Aww, cute,” she croons fondly. “That’ll be so sweet, another mini version of Christian. I hope they grow up to give my big brother hell,” she says through what I can hear is a wicked grin. “Oooh, or better yet,” she interrupts herself, “a little girl! Ha! That’ll send him around the bend! She’ll have him wrapped around her little finger, driving him crazy in no time!” she jokes, taking great delight in the idea of ruffling Christian’s carefully organized feathers.
I let out a nervous laugh, amused and terrified in equal parts, but in full agreement. A little girl would surely send my dear husband’s imperious nature into orbit. I can only hope Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.
When Mia takes a breath, I try steering the conversation back to the possible reason for her call. “So, what’s up? Any news on the Ethan front?”
“Oohh, yessss,” she hisses conspiratorially, sounding very pleased, “that’s why I’m calling. I need some advice.”
Yay! I cheer silently. It would be so great if Mia and Ethan could get their act together and produce more grandbabies. I love being part of a big family, and of course I would love to see them both happy.
“Tell me!” I command with a giggle, getting swept up in her excited babble.
“Okay,” she agrees, exhaling a whooshing breath. “So we have this mutual friend who is throwing a party next weekend, and we’re both invited, and Ethan just left a message on my phone, asking if I wanted to drive there with him, which I assume is code for it’s not a date, we would just be like, going together, but he sounded so coy asking, I can’t help thinking that he’s taking the first step. What should I do?” she asks, her voice turning to a plea at the end as her words tumble out in a long-running sentence that conveys every emotion in the book.
“Were those his exact words? He actually said let’s drive there together?” Wincing for her sake, I try wrapping my mind around his true intentions, but to me, it sounds as if his poor heart is still conflicted.
“I know, right?” she replies with a despondent sigh as she comes to the same conclusion.
“Don’t see it as a bad sign. I think your initial assessment still holds. He wants to, he’s just scared. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, just a slow one.” The last thing I want is for her to lose hope. And it’s not like we’re wondering whether Ethan loves her, we know that he does, we just have to get him to shrug off his fear.
“I don’t know, Ana. We had such a good catch-up at the launch. He seemed at ease with me after the initial shock,” she giggles, recalling his stunned face when he caught sight of how hot and happy she looked, “but now I’m not so sure.”
“Maybe we need to shock him into some real action,” I muse out loud. “This half-assed attempt is a cop-out if I’ve ever seen one.”
“I’m listening,” she urges, sounding more hopeful again.
“Right. Here’s what we do. Give him a call back, say tomorrow. Let him stew a little.”
“Keep the conversation as friendly as you can, but decline. Tell him that you would have loved to drive there with him, but that you already have a date.” We both chuckle at my sarcastic emphasis on the word drive.
I can almost hear her frown when she agrees with a perplexed, “Okaayy. And will I take a date?”
“Yes, but not just any date, the perfect date.”
Now she laughs outright, scoffing at the notion. “The perfect date? Is there such a thing?”
With a giggle I continue. “No, probably not, but he just has to be the perfect date in Ethan’s eyes. A man who seems to be able to get any woman he wants because he’s successful, good-looking, well-bred…”
“A pompous ass,” she interrupts, her tone turning dour, telling me she knows exactly the type of guy I mean.
“You have someone in mind?”
“Sadly, yes,” she says with an exasperated sigh. “And he’s also dull, and self-important and smarmy, and…”
“Yep!” I quip, pleased that we have a target. “I take it you’ve had some overtures from this enticing specimen,” I tease, amused at the thought of super bubbly Mia dating a bore.
“Ugh! Yes, and it was awful. On paper he’s like the perfect guy, but in real life…”
“I can imagine that it was less than fun,” I bleat dryly, “but he sounds ideal. Do you think you can get him to take you?”
“It’s not the getting him to take me that’s the problem, it’s the getting rid of him again afterwards that I’m worried about! Another one of his stellar qualities,” she explains, clearly riled, “is dogged determination. No is not a word that exists in this guy’s vocabulary, and for some reason, he’s completely taken by me. He’s even tried buddying up to Dad in an effort to get to see me.”
I gasp, still chortling. “Oh, no! That bad, huh?”
Gloomily she answers, “You have no idea.”
“Oh well, we’ll just have to come up with something else. I just thought that if Ethan saw you with what he would perceive as a real threat, and if you weren’t automatically available to him, he would snap out of his relationship coma and come around.”
“Do you really think that could work? Because I’ll do it, Ana. Being without Ethan is no way to live. He’s the love of my life.”
My heart squeezes with a painful ache. It’s so sad, especially as they both want the same thing. “Yeah, I think if he sees you in an alternate future as Mrs. Pompous Ass, it would help him realize that he doesn’t have till (For future reference: I just looked this up and it was news to me, too. I took the apostrophe off of till. It is its own word and my dictionary specifically states that it is not a shortened form of until and there is no apostrophe. Also, ‘til is always considered to be an error. Who knew?) the end of time to decide to get over it, but I’m not keen on you taking this on if you feel the price is too great to pay. This guy sounds like a jerk.”
“He is a jerk, but a harmless one, and if that’s what it takes, I’ll make it happen. Besides,” she reasons, “if it all works out, I’ll have a very good excuse not to see him again, or else I’ll just stick Taylor on his ass.”
The rest of our Friday is uneventful, the peace allowing me to me get a good chunk of work done. Stretching in my chair, feeling good about what I’ve accomplished, I decide to call it a day. I get the feeling I’m going to be very productive, staying at home like this. I may be doing this mostly out of consideration for Christian, but truth be told, I’m not keen to fit into the celebrity shoes the media wants me to fill.
With my mind on other things, and my back to the hallway as I close the library door, I don’t see Taylor as he rounds the corner, running from the direction of his office and only narrowly avoiding me. Just in time I step out of the way. He doesn’t acknowledge me, and his face is set with grim determination. It takes me only a moment to realize that something must be very wrong, the sinking feeling stealing my breath from my body, just as I hear Christian’s home-office door slam shut.
Without volition my legs set off, following in Taylor’s path. Before I can start processing anything I need to know that my son is okay. I vaguely register the harshly gritted swearing that comes from behind my husband’s door as I pass it, anxiously looking for my boy. I all but crash through Chris’s bedroom door, feeling as though I’m moving through molasses, not able to get to him fast enough. My heart rate slows, only adding to the sensation of time standing still before I let out a huge breath, seeing my son, safe on his bed. Relieved beyond measure I scoop him up, pressing his little body to mine, planting frantic kisses on his copper head.
“Mommy!” he admonishes, utterly oblivious to my previous minute of hell. “You’re squishing me!” I would laugh if I wasn’t still flushed with adrenaline, my body taking longer than my mind to catch up to my respite. It only lasts a minute before I’m forced to admit that while Chris is mercifully unharmed, some other dark thing is brewing, and I’ll be damned if my husband is keeping a single detail from me – pregnancy or not.
Keeping Chris in my arms, I go to find Gail. I’ll be much more at ease if I know he’s being watched when I join Christian and Taylor to hear about the latest drama that’s collided with our lives.
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