I arrive at our hotel much earlier than expected due to my curtailed meeting. I duck out of the taxi and walk past the news stand on the bottom of the block where our hotel is situated. My eye casually scans the rows and rows of salacious reading material and newspapers when suddenly my eyes brake, spotting something that makes me look twice.
Hey that’s me!
I’m stunned – oh no, my heart lurches and dives into a free fall. – And Christian, embracing, yesterday morning at the Conrad when I met him in the patio bar. I grab the Miami Herald newspaper with shaky hands and peer closely at the picture. The front page headline reads: “GREEN TYCOON REUNITES WITH EX WIFE”.
What the hell, I’m on the front page of a newspaper! Don’t they have anything important to write about, there are wars out there for crying out loud?!
Oh boy! Christian is going to be mad, but how did they get hold of the photo? I ask the question and get the answer at the same time: I glimpse a retreating back wearing a cheap suit in my mind’s eye and Christian’s epithet – “fucking paparazzi!” The bastard!
My anger shoves me back in the moment and I fish out the change to pay for the paper. I mumble my thanks and immediately start reading the article whilst walking to the hotel. The scandalously fluffed article starts with Christian’s history as a self-made man and goes on to detail our super short courtship and marriage followed by our sudden divorce. Then it says that we’ve been spotted together and in the process of reconciling, soon to be wed again. Twice I bump into other people on the sidewalk but I hardly notice, engrossed in the blatant fabrication.
Where do they get this crap?
As I ride the elevator up to our floor I ponder the implications of the article. I don’t particularly care what the world out there thinks of us but Christian is a very private man and my first concern is for his family. It would have been ideal to keep things under wraps while we sorted ourselves out, finding the new direction of our relationship. Only then would we consider breaking the news to his parents about their grandson – and my stupidity.
All hope for that is lost now. I dread what the Grey’s will make of this – and me.
My mom rushes to my side when she sees my face, “what’s the matter darling?” her voice brimming with concern as the back of her hand strokes gently down the side of my cheek.
“Oh mom,” I plonk my head onto her shoulder and wait for her embrace to soothe the shallow tears away. After a moment I push away and sigh deeply. I shove the paper into her hand and dump my sulky behind on the couch, my head resting in both hands – deflated.
She quickly skims the offending article and sits down on the arm rest next to me, gently rubbing my back. “Honey, this isn’t so bad,” she shrugs her shoulders, “annoying and untrue but so what?” She’s all reasonable calmness.
“What do you mean not so bad?” My pitch is rising, incredulous and I sit up on my seat, rigid with annoyance. “Can you imagine what Christian’s folks will think when they see this? All without the benefit of some hint of what’s coming, and then learn that they have a secret grandson?” I glare at her willing her to make light of this.
“Oh,” her face falls, “I see what you mean.” Her eyes drop to the floor as her mind wrestles with the possible consequences on my behalf.
I fall back against the seat again, aware that she gets the full and ugly picture now.
As we sit in our contemplative silence Chris bursts into the room. “Mommy do you have a book now? Where is it, can I see it?” his excitement is rippling off him in happy waves.
“Hi little man.” I kiss him on his forehead and give him a hug. “No buddy, not yet but you’ll be the first to see it, Okay?” I force a bright smile to hide the havoc in my mind. Fortunately he’s still too small to pick up on my distress.
“When is your special friend coming? When can we go on the plane?” He’s freed himself from my embrace and bounces on the open seat beside me.
“Soon angel boy,” I look at my watch, “his name is Christian and I want you to be extra special nice to him – okay?” I give him my best stern-mommy look.
He narrows his eyes at me while he considers my request; I guess he’s thinking about the fun things planned and what would happen if he doesn’t agree. “Okay mommy,” he grins and runs off to his room.
I was so excited about our “date” today with Christian but now….I don’t know if I want to spend the day with a brooding and irritated Fifty.
“So how did it go?” My mom’s gentle tone drags me back to her and I groan inwardly. I’ve temporarily forgotten about my truncated meeting.
I lean my head to the side, my lips are pressed into a pensive line. “Hmm, I think it went well but I got overwhelmed by the technicalities of the contract so I asked her if I could sleep on it. I might get some legal advice. Maybe I should get an agent.” I was going to ask for Christian’s help but after this piece in the paper he might not be in such a helpful mood.
“That’s good honey, there’s no rush. As long as you like the company, waiting another couple of days to sign won’t matter in the big scheme of things.” The motherly, positive spin she puts on everything is endearing but it does little to cheer me.
Before we can discuss it any further I hear the bleep of an incoming text from my mobile. I reluctantly leave the cushy hug of the sofa and rake through my bag to find my phone.
*Anastasia, I trust your meeting went well. I will come up to your door to collect you. See you shortly. Christian*
I suppose we should get ready and have a quick snack. Then I’ll finish the last of the packing and throw together a small bag for the picnic today. I used to be able to travel light but once you have kids, you need everything and the kitchen sink when you venture out. I must remember to put in something warm to wear as well as sunscreen and hats. It wouldn’t do pissing Christian off by being careless – safety first!
The text I send him doesn’t reflect my sudden weary reluctance:
*Hi Christian, we’ll be ready, thank you.*
At precisely 12:00pm I hear his firm knock on the door, my belly and heart share a nervous, little flutter. Show time!
My inner goddess is in a sexy black corset hoping to entice the man we love and my subconscious is scowling in disapproval.
“Come on guys,” I call over my shoulder as I make my way to the door. Chris joins me in a flash – bubbling with energy but my mom hangs back in the lounge, giving us some space.
When I open the door I have a distinct urge to fan my face as my heart rate quickens. Wow! How can one man be this hot? The instant our eyes meet I feel my nipples harden and my thighs squeeze together as they do an involuntary Kegel clench. A fast blush and hitched breathing compounding my desire and annoyingly putting it on display.
Damn body, I scold myself.
He’s wearing baggy, combat-style khaki shorts that stop just above his knees and a made-to-fade, dark blue polo shirt, untucked. He has the collar slightly turned up and his hair is in its usual messy state. One elbow is above his head resting against the door frame and his slate eyes reveal their expanded pupils as he takes me in. His carnal gaze lazes a moment too long on my breasts and then languidly sweeps down before sinuously sliding up again.
It’s taken all of about three seconds and the zing is there, sparking, fizzing, jolting – binding me to him and him to me – his own desire unconcealed.
I clear my throat, “Hi,” I squeak unnaturally, “Christian, this is Chris.” I shove Chris unceremoniously towards Christian by his shoulders in the most un-maternal manner, like he’s my armour. Too late I realize that I should’ve invited him in first but my concentration is on vacation in my nether regions.
Christian’s crooked smirk tells me that he knows exactly what he’s doing to me. He breaks our eye contact and his expression changes, heat replaced with kind warmth as he drops to his haunches so that he can meet Chris on his level.
His grace makes the motion seem effortless. All of Christian’s intensity is focussed on Chris and for a beat; I worry that it will frighten him. Chris raises his arm and they shake hands, eyes drawn to each other in wonder. Strangely, I can sense their connection developing.
“Hi there champ, I’m Christian.” His veneration tempered by a sincere smile.
“Hi,” Chris’ voice is shy but he holds Christians gaze and he cocks his head to one side, unconsciously copying a typical Christian mannerism. “You look like me.” His little hand reaches out to pat Christian’s copper hair.
Christian and I both gasp, my hand flies to my heart and he glances up to catch my eye. His eyes solemn and deeply affected, mine is spilling with tears that are already halfway down my cheeks. It’s a powerful, poignant moment and again I feel the sting of my shame.
My little man is oblivious and breaks the spell, “where’s your plane?” His hands are clasped together in front of him and he’s swinging his shoulders from side to side, still coy but unable to supress his eager curiosity.
“Do you want to see it?” Christian is grinning now, excited about sharing his toy with another boy.
Chris’ eyes grow large and he bobs his head up and down, signalling a very definitive yes.
Christian laughs, “Okay, I’ll show you my plane but first we have to go and race our sail boats in the bay. Would you like that?”
This seals the deal for my son and he runs around whooping with elation. Christian is his new best friend. I release a small sigh from a nervously held breath – that went way better than I expected.
My manners finally stammer into action and I invite him in. We walk side by side through to my mom waiting in the lounge. The offending newspaper is lying on the dining room table and as he spots it, he stops then reaches for my hand to pull me back. When I turn I blanch seeing him reading it. Stupid, stupid! I should’ve chucked it, maybe he didn’t know.
Too late now – my subconscious spews her unhelpful words at me.
“Fucking press,” he spits at the paper in anger. His face softens when he turns to face me, “Anastasia, I’m sorry about this. I’ve half a mind to sue them for this crap!”
I look around for Chris to see if he’s heard the swearing and clear my throat, “uhm, language please,” I whisper and smile to let him know that I’m not cross.
“Yes, of course, I’m sorry,” he squirms and his expression bears a shadow of bewilderment.
“You know kids,” still smiling, I shrug and lightly touch his arm to reassure him.
I don’t want to miss my opportunity to apologize for the likely outcomes of the article, so I guide us back to the unpleasant topic. “About the article,” I can’t look at him and another blush pinches colour to my cheeks. I wave my hand half-heartedly to the newspaper. “I’m sorry; I didn’t want your folks to find out like this. I can’t believe that my thoughtlessness is going to hurt so many people.” When I feel the unwelcome surge of tears well up I start to chew my lip to distract myself. Don’t cry, don’t cry!
Christian’s watch is troubled when I finally manage to swallow my tears and peek up at him; he’s shaking his head, perplexed. “Anastasia, I already spoke to my parents. I would have preferred to do it face to face but this,” his jaw tenses as he searches for a word, “- situation forced my hand.”
He reaches for my chin and with his thumb and forefinger gently pinches my bottom lip away from my teeth. He tilts my head up to search my face while his fingers hold my chin to keep me in place. “I’ve already told them everything and I think they understand. They weren’t surprised when you left; I guess everything happened too fast for them too.” His mouth forms a rueful line but his gaze darkens dramatically.
Fuck, his parents already know! I cringe.
He quickly sheds his melancholy and his hand drops away from me, “anyway, I’m just grateful for the time difference, at least I saw it before they did and I could warn them. I have my lawyers on it now; they better squash it before other papers pick it up.”
“Shall we get this show on the road?” He claps his hands together; rubbing them vigorously to elicit some excitement from me, all traces of his agitation swept away in a fresh tide of enthusiasm.
Mr Mercurial at his best I marvel. I never thought I would be grateful for his sudden mood shifts but now I can only see the benefits. He doesn’t dwell on many things; he usually just gets over it, staying in the moment. Very useful indeed.
My mom joins us with Chris on her hip. “Christian, I owe you an apology, if I knew what my imprudent daughter was up to I would have mailed her behind straight back to you.” She throws me a dirty look and then smiles up at Christian. “It’s good to see you.”
He leans forward and pecks her on her check, resting his hand lightly on her shoulder. “Hello Carla, thank you. I think we’ve both been a bit foolish.” He gives her a wry smile and winks, gallantly helping to shoulder my blame.
I watch my mother melt and simper like a teenage girl with her idol crush. I roll my eyes heavenward – get a life mom! And why can’t I get a wink like that?
I gather our things for the luggage trolley and sling the day bag over my shoulder to help myself recover from my irrational jealous pique. Honestly!
Chris wriggles out of my mom’s arms and makes a mad dash for the trolley to take a ride, “let’s go!” He squeals in delight.
We all follow in his wake and I wonder if Christian is going to make him get off because it might not be safe. But he just grins indulgently and tells him to hold on tight as he pushes him out through the door.
Oh my. If it was me he’s probably roll me in cotton wool and tie me to it – just for good measure. I wonder if it’s because Chris is a boy.
After Christian and I steal some surreptitious glances at each other on the elevator ride down, we head to the waiting, customised Audi Q7. It’s another beast of a car but it’s not his usual black. This one is silver and looks brand spanking new. Hmm, Mr Control is getting adventurous in his old age – a smile kisses my lips at the thought.
Taylor jumps out and gives us all a professional nod. He takes care of the bags as Christian opens the rear door for us. He’s wearing an answering smirk, eyes light with mischief, “something amusing you Anastasia?”
Chris scrambles past me and into the car as I turn to look at Christian. “I like the colour, it’s very wild for the owner of a fleet of black cars,” I enunciate “wild” slowly, letting my tongue linger on my top teeth for a second too long to I tease him and flutter my lashes provocatively.
He inclines his head to the side and regards me with a smug look and I can instantly tell that whatever he’s so smug about is going to put my little dig to shame.
“Thank you Anastasia, I think so,” he keeps me hanging for a moment before he continues; I just got it this morning. I’m sure you remember that I like to keep my precious cargo safe and black isn’t suitable for that particular and delicate job.”
Hhmm, precious cargo? Chris or me or both of us I wonder hopefully. Suddenly realization hits me like a wrecking ball. He’s bought this car especially for today.
Holy freaking cow! My jaw drops and his face is a picture as he revels in my stunned expression – I’ve obviously given him the exact reaction he was hoping for.
I blush beet red. “Urg!” I huff and shake my head in disgust. I duck into the car to hide only to be confronted by the next over-the-top extravagance. Chris is strapped into a booster seat that looks like something from the NASA engineers. Taylor must’ve clipped him in – I’m sure it must come with an instruction video, never mind the obligatory booklet.
Christian slides into the front seat with his usual grace and catches my eye in the rear view mirror, still looking awfully pleased with himself. “Like I said Anastasia, precious cargo.” I get my own wink from him leaving me confused and not a little bit hot.
My heart flutters, why is he flirting with me? Maybe it won’t be so hard to bring him around.
We head east for the short drive to the Barnacle Park. “Have you had something to eat?” Christian directs his question to me, the spark of disapproval in his eyes waiting to ignite.
I groan inwardly. Oh yes, the eating. How could I forget? “We had a light lunch just before you came.” I’m so grateful that I had the foresight to feed us.
Fifty is pleased and he nods his approval then shifts in his seat so that he’s angled towards Chris in the back seat. They chat animatedly about school and sports. I listen absentmindedly, happy to lose myself in the breathtaking sea view as we drive along the coast.
At the park Taylor lets us out and then disappears. When Christian pays our entrance fees the teenage girl at the counter practically hyperventilates when she gets and eye-full of Mr Gorgeous. He renders her a stuttering, nervous mess and I sympathise with her, I so know what that feels like.
Yes, it’s all coming back to me. His life is a blur of compliant woman ogling him. I remember how jealous and insecure it used to make me feel. I always questioned why he wanted me and not any number of the willing females he left in his wake. Do I feel that now? I find that I don’t and again I find it surprising – especially in the light of his reticence – I’m confident in his love for me. I feel certain that he cares for me; It’s liberating to feel secure for a change.
Chris has hauled my mom into the park, well ahead of us. “Care to share your happy thoughts?” Christian’s question drags me out of my reverie, responding to what I’m sure must be a goofy smile. His grey eyes are trained on mine; seeking to see secrets they hold.
I keep my smile to myself; I’m not quite ready to share that specific piece of information yet. “Just happy to be here.” I say with a soft and casual tone. When I glimpse him through my fluttering lashes I graze my lip and watch the puzzled crease form on his brow.
His eyes widen and hear his forced inhalation, grey turns to slate as he assesses me and what I’m trying to do – I could never hide anything from him. Then, just like that, he shuts it down – he grabs my hand and pulls me through the entrance gates; “come!” he commands, back in full control.
We catch up with my mom and Chris and find an idyllic, shady spot next to the bay. It’s so beautiful. The trees are lush and green and the grass is thick and spongy to step on. Christian lays out a picnic blanket and from the picnic basket, produces two toy replicas of his sail boat, the Grace.
The one has a red spinnaker and the other is blue. He waves Chris over and shows him the boats. I think my little boy might expire with excitement and they race to the water’s edge. I watch Christian sink onto the grass next to Chris, he takes long, calm moments to show him to all the little details and features, it’s clear that he’s relaxed and most importantly, patient.
I wonder when he had time to arrange that, I seriously doubt that he just happened to have them on hand. It’s very touching – the lengths he would go to, to ensure a special day with my son. Our son, I correct myself – a wistful shadow creeping into my mind.
I push off my shoes and make myself comfortable on the blanket, wriggling into the spongy, grassy mattress. My mom joins me and we watch them together in a contemplative silence. My heart swells with love for them both; my mom senses my imminent breakdown and intuitively hugs me around the shoulders. I have no defence against the emotions overcoming me and there’s no need for words. The picture of them, two peas in a pod, says it all. The shadow becomes regret, twisting and twining painfully through my soul.
Christian let’s Chris win both races, his unflappability and playfulness with Chris is so beautiful. He’s never that patient with me! Of course he’ll be a good father, there’s very little he isn’t great at. I still don’t believe that he would’ve taken to fatherhood straight away but I know now, with the clear vision of hindsight that he would have come around to the idea eventually.
But he’s lost four years thanks to you. The unwelcome words from my harpy subconscious rings in my ears but I don’t need her to remind me, the guilt is a slow red-hot burn, always searing, ever present. How can I ever make it up to him?
I sit up to watch as they amble back to us, animated. Christian is holding Chris’ hand and their heads are turned towards one another, Chris looking up to Christian in reverence and wonder. The sun is behind the pair, outlining them with a golden glow – they’re poster boys for the cherished bond between a father and a son. A snapshot of a special shared moment, captured forever in my mind’s eye.
Closer to us Chris breaks free of Christian’s clasp and dives into me, almost knocking me back down. “Mommy, I won, I won!” He’s excitement makes us giggle and we oohh, and aahh appropriately. I have a feeling that we will be hearing this story many times more as they day wears on, Chris delighting in the pride of his victory.
Christian reaches for the basket and produces what looks like the makings of a magnificent, late lunch. The rustling of wrappers and opening tubs grab Chris’ attention and he eyes everything hungrily. I hide my smile, pleased that he eats almost anything. Idly I ponder Christian handling a fussy eater, especially a child that you naturally worry about. I haven’t forgotten how he responds to people forgetting to eat, the harsh stipulations of his sub contract regarding food flashing in my memory. Yes, I think, good thing he eats well!
We share a delicious lunch and listen contentedly as Chris recites all the nautical terms he’s just learned from Christian and again recounts his savoured, sailing victory. He really has taken to Christian and I catch Christian watching him – the love clear as day, adoration written large. He’s glowing with paternal affection.
After lunch my mom takes Chris for a walk around the park grounds to explore leaving Christian alone with me. He’s lying on his back, strong torso propped up on his elbows beside me. He’s kicked off his shoes and he looks relaxed.
“You’ve done a great job with him Anastasia.” The deferential note strums at the strings of my heart. “You never fail to amaze me.”
Heat rushes to my face at the unexpected compliment, how can he still be so kind? “Thank you,” I breathe, “he’s a good boy.” I’d like to be gracious but I sound choked-up instead.
A silence brews around us, neither one sure where we stand. We gaze at the beautiful view, the sun’s rays bouncing off the water, a shimmer of gold flashes as the breeze move the little, choppy waves.
Christian is the one daring enough to break into our distant thoughts. “How was your meeting?” His voice is quiet, measured and I get the impression that he’s taking care to hide his curiosity but none the less eager to know.
I hesitate but only for a moment, I’m ready to spill my news but unsure how to tell him. Should I go for broke and tell the whole truth or should I phrase it so that he offers his help? “It went well, thank you.”
When I don’t immediately launch into an explanation he raises an irritated eyebrow, deftly sweeping the last of my hesitation away – he obviously wants to know. “I’ve written some things – novels.” I clarify, my eyes cast down in uncertainty, still not used to the idea. Automatically my teeth gnaw my lip as anxiety trips in my belly.
When I’m brave enough to peek at him I find a carefully cultivated and unrevealing look in place. He’s quiet, waiting almost patiently for me to continue. “I went to see a publishing house that is interested in publishing it.” Now that the truth is out the shy blush follows, parading the sorry fact that I don’t trust the value of my work.
He sits bolt upright, “you haven’t signed anything yet, have you? Do you have an agent? Which house?” I shrink a little under the full force of his undivided attention; he’s in full hotshot, CEO mode – interrogating, intimidating and just an inch away from aggressive.
“Uhm.., no…, I thought I would discuss it with you first.” His tone has left me a stuttering, timid mess. My pulse is thumping unevenly.
He breathes out a sigh of relief and nods his head decisively, “you made the right decision.” His clear eyes regard me with a shrewd slant, suddenly seeing me in a different light.
I let go of the tension drawing my shoulders up, that’s good right?
“So?” He presses me for more information, I’m grateful that his voice has modulated with a softer timbre.
“No, I don’t have an agent and the publishing company is called Buy the Book, I’m dealing with Julie Logan.”
“Julie Logan? I know her, she’d be a good fit for you.” he ponders for a moment, his brow knitting in thought. “Why didn’t you come to me? You know that Grey Publishing will always look after you, if you like her,” he shrugs his shoulders, “I’ll hire her for you.” He doesn’t even realise that he’s being overbearing; looking directly at me his question is an honest one.
This is exactly why! How can he not know?
I splutter, stumbling over my words in shock, “uhm, we weren’t exactly on speaking terms and you know that I like to be…, independent.” I am desperately trying to be tactful but the red bloom on my face gives me away.
His slate gaze turns dark, emotions warring on his lovely face as his mouth draws a rigid line. “Yes, I do remember, only too well.” It’s an accusation he’s levelling at me with a look of distaste. Mercifully he drops it, relief rushing through me when he changes track, “what are you going to do?”
I’m stunned that he’s asking and not telling me, processing this unexpected twist buys me a bit of time to think. I recall how his honesty always used to floor me and I decide to come clean. “I don’t know, I thought that I had enough experience in the publishing industry to do this on my own but once we discussed the contract I got… overwhelmed.” I look away into the distance, disgraced by my own incompetence. I pull my knees up, tucking my dress between my thighs as my fingers find and fiddle with a dry leaf.
He rocks toward me, lightly bumping his shoulder against mine in an effort to see my eyes and I reluctantly turn to face him. I have to swallow hard at the dryness in my throat and the show of his tender kindness. “It can be tricky, obviously the company want’s you for as little as they can get away with and inevitably the writer feels a great deal of ownership for his work. It doesn’t make for an easy negotiation.” His lilt is gentle and reassuring, making my swallows even harder.
“The usual mistakes that authors make is to sign away their subsidiary rights or they joint-account their books. They also often don’t understand that the advance is paid back to the publishing house through the royalties they earn.” His watch is earnest but probing, I sense him trying to bore into my head.
When I don’t respond he continues, uncannily diving straight to the heart of the matter, “don’t be so hard on yourself Anastasia, getting someone interested in your work is the hardest part and you’ve managed to attract a decent company.”
A kernel of pride blooms unexpectedly in my chest and I give him a coy smile, I can’t help to boast a little, “three companies.” I breathe.
He whistles through his teeth, “well then, there you go.” He throws his hands in the air and shakes his head in disbelief; an admiring smile tugging at his mouth.
Bolder now I return his smile with a cheeky one of my own. “So, will you help me?” I flutter my lashes at him, giving him my best helpless female act.
He snorts before his face turns incredulous and finally victorious. “Are you asking me for help Anastasia?” I squirm at his sceptical and very unsubtle joy.
“Don’t gloat Grey, it doesn’t suit you.” I try to sound affronted but my mouth joins his in a goofy grin – contradicting me entirely.
“Never thought I’d see the day.” His still shaking his head, eyes alight with good humour. He’s having way too much fun teasing me, milking it further by stroking his chin thoughtfully as if he’s weighing his options.
My fierce blush comes in mortified waves as he continues to smirk at me, thoroughly pleased with himself and I get an irrepressible urge to wipe that mocking grin off his smug face. I pick up a nearby tea towel and swat it in his direction to flick his arm but he’s lightning quick, catching it before he rolls over and pins me down beneath him, stretching both my arms above my head.
Our eyes lock and I feel my body mould to his. He dips his head and runs his nose along mine. So many memories of intimate moments between us flood my mind and I buck my pelvis against him, craving the release that I know only he can give. He lifts his head again and shakes his head in tender admonishment, amusement still lingering in his stormy gaze. He gathers his composure and rolls off me with that easy grace, releasing my hands at the same time.
We both lay breathless, staring at the sky with our hearts knocking wildly in our chests. My hormones are flushing through my veins bringing heat to my skin and an unwelcome ache in my belly.
What an unfair reminder of our zinging connection! How is he able to walk away from what we both want so desperately?
Be kind and review, please.