Soft lips brush across my temple, leaving sweet tender kisses in their wake, and part of me wants to turn and respond, but mostly I want to stay asleep. I moan and burrow into my pillow.
"Anastasia, wake up." Christian's voice is soft, cajoling.
"No," I moan.
"We have to leave in half an hour for dinner at my parents." He's amused.
I open my eyes reluctantly. It's dusk outside. Christian is leaning over, gazing at me intently.
"Come on sleepy-head. Get up." He stoops down and kisses me again.
"I've bought you a drink. I'll be downstairs. Don't go back to sleep, or you'll be in trouble," he threatens, but his tone is mild. He kisses me briefly and exits, leaving me blinking sleep from my eyes in the cool, stark room.
I'm refreshed but suddenly nervous. Holy cow, I am meeting his folks! He's just worked me over with a riding crop and tied me up using a cable tie which I sold him, for heaven's sake - and I'm going to meet his parents. It will be Kate's first time meeting them too - at least she'll be there for support. I roll my shoulders. They're stiff. His demands for a personal trainer don't seem so outlandish now, in fact, they're mandatory if I am to have any hope of keeping up with him.
I climb slowly out of bed and note that my dress is hanging outside the wardrobe and my bra is on the chair. Where are my pantiesI check beneath the chair. Nothing. Then I remember - he squirreled them away in the pocket of his jeans. I flush at the memory, after he, I can't even bring myself to think about it, he was so - barbarous. I frown. Why hasn't he given me back my panties?
I steal into the bathroom, bewildered by my lack of underwear. While drying myself after my enjoyable but far too brief shower, I realize he's done this on purpose. He wants me to be embarrassed and ask for my panties back, and he'll either say yes or no. My inner goddess grins at me. Hell... two can play that particular game. Resolving there and then not to ask him for them and not give him that satisfaction, I shall go meet his parents sans culottes. Anastasia Steele! My subconscious chides me, but I don't want to listen to her - I almost hug myself with glee because I know this will drive him crazy.
Back in the bedroom, I put on my bra, slip into my dress, and climb into my shoes. I remove the braid and hastily brush out my hair, I then glance down at the drink he's left.
It's pale pink. What's thisCranberry and sparkling water. Hmm... it tastes delicious and quenches my thirst.
Dashing back into the bathroom, I check myself in the mirror: eyes bright, cheeks slightly flushed, slightly smug look because of my panty plan, and I head downstairs. Fifteen minutes. Not bad, Ana.
Christian is standing by the panoramic window, wearing the grey flannel pants that I love, the ones that hang in that unbelievably sexy way off his hips, and of course, a white linen shirt. Doesn't he have any other colorsFrank Sinatra sings softly over the surround sound speakers.
Christian turns and smiles as I enter. He looks at me expectantly.
"Hi," I say softly, and my sphinx-like smile meets his.
"Hi," he says. "How are you feeling?" His eyes are alight with amusement.
"Good, thanks. You?"
"I feel mighty fine, Miss Steele."
He is so waiting for me to say something.
"Frank. I never figured you for a Sinatra fan."
He raises his eyebrows at me, his look speculative.
"Eclectic taste, Miss Steele," he murmurs, and he paces toward me like a panther until he's standing in front of me, his gaze so intense it takes my breath away.
Frank starts crooning... an old song, one of Ray's favorites. 'Witchcraft.' Christian leisurely traces his fingertips down my cheek, and I feel it all the way down there.
"Dance with me," he murmurs, his voice husky.
Taking the remote out of his pocket, he turns up the volume and holds his hand out to me, his gray gaze full of promise and longing and humor. He is totally beguiling, and I'm bewitched. I place my hand in his. He grins lazily down at me and pulls me into his embrace, his arm curling around my waist, and he starts to sway.
I put my free hand on his shoulder and grin up at him, caught in his infectious, playful mood. And he starts to move. Boy can he dance. We cover the floor, from the window to the kitchen and back again, whirling and turning in time to the music. And he makes it so effortless for me to follow.
We glide around the dining table, over to the piano, and backwards and forwards in front of the glass wall, Seattle twinkling outside, a dark and magical mural to our dance, and I can't help my carefree laugh. He grins down at me as the song comes to a close.
"There's no nicer witch than you," he murmurs, then kisses me sweetly. "Well, that's bought some color to your cheeks, Miss Steele. Thank you for the dance. Shall we go and meet my parents?"
"You're welcome, and yes, I can't wait to meet them," I answer breathlessly.
"Do you have everything you need?"
"Oh, yes," I respond sweetly.
"Are you sure?"
I nod as nonchalantly as I can manage under his intense, amused scrutiny. His face splits into a huge grin, and he shakes his head.
"Okay. If that's the way you want to play it, Miss Steele."
He grabs my hand, collects his jacket which is hanging on one of the barstools, and leads me through the foyer to the elevator. Oh, the many faces of Christian Grey. Will I ever be able to understand this mercurial man?
I peek up at him in the elevator. He's enjoying a private joke, a trace of a smile flirting with his beautiful mouth. I fear that it may be at my expense. What was I thinking I'm going to see his parents, and I'm not wearing any underwear. My subconscious gives me an unhelpful I told you so expression. In the relative safety of his apartment, it seemed like a fun, teasing idea. Now, I'm almost outside with No Panties! He peers down at me, and it's there, the charge building between us. The amused look disappears from his face and his expression clouds, his eyes dark... oh my.
The elevator doors open on the ground floor. Christian shakes his head slightly as if to clear his thoughts and gestures for me to exit before him in a most gentlemanly manner.
Who's he kidding He's no gentleman. He has my panties.
Taylor draws up in the large Audi. Christian opens the rear door for me, and I climb inside as elegantly as I can, considering my state of wanton undress. I'm grateful that Kate's plum dress is so clingy and hangs to the top of my knees.
We speed up the I-5, both of us quiet, no doubt inhibited by Taylor's steady presence in the front. Christian's mood is almost tangible and seems to shift, the humor dissipating slowly as we head north. He's brooding, staring out of the window, and I can feel him slipping away from me. What is he thinkingI can't ask him. What can I say in front of Taylor?
"Where did you learn to dance?" I ask tentatively. He turns to gaze at me, his eyes unreadable beneath the intermittent light of the passing street lamps.
"Do you really want to know?" he replies softly.
My heart sinks, and now I don't because I can guess.
"Yes," I murmur, reluctantly.
"Mrs. Robinson was fond of dancing."
Oh, my worst suspicions confirmed. She has taught him well, and the thought depresses me - there's nothing I can teach him. I have no special skills.
"She must have been a good teacher."
"She was," he says softly.
My scalp prickles. Did she have the best of himBefore he became so closedOr did she bring him out of himselfHe has such a fun, playful side. I smile involuntarily as I recall being in his arms as he spun me around his living room, so unexpected, and he has my panties, somewhere.
And then there's the Red Room of Pain. I rub my wrists reflexively - thin strips of plastic will do that to a girl. She taught him all that too or ruined him, depending on one's point of view. Or perhaps he would have found his way there anyway in spite of Mrs. R.
I realize, in that moment, that I hate her. I hope that I never meet her because I will not be responsible for my actions if I do. I can't remember ever feeling this passionately about anyone, especially someone I've never met. Gazing unseeing out of the window, I nurse my irrational anger and jealousy.
My mind drifts back to the afternoon. Given what I understand of his preferences, I think he's been easy on me. Would I do it again I can't even pretend to put up an argument against that. Of course I would, if he asked me - as long as he didn't hurt me and if it's the only way to be with him.
That's the bottom line. I want to be with him. My inner goddess sighs with relief. I reach the conclusion that she rarely uses her brain to think but another vital part of her anatomy, and at the moment, it's a rather exposed part.
"Don't," he murmurs.
I frown and turn to look at him.
"Don't what?" I haven't touched him.
"Over-think things, Anastasia." Reaching out, he grasps my hand, draws it up to his lips, and kisses my knuckles gently. "I had a wonderful afternoon. Thank you."
And he's back with me again. I blink up at him and smile shyly. He's so confusing. I ask a question that's been bugging me.
"Why did you use a cable tie?"
He grins at me.
"It's quick, it's easy, and it's something different for you to feel and experience. I know they're quite brutal, and I do like that in a restraining device." He smiles at me mildly.
"Very effective at keeping you in your place."
I flush and glance nervously at Taylor, who remains impassive, eyes on road. What am I supposed to say to that Christian shrugs innocently.
"All part of my world, Anastasia." He squeezes my hand and lets go, staring out of the window again.
His world indeed, and I want to belong in it, but on his termsI just don't know. He hasn't mentioned that damned contract. My inner musings do nothing to cheer me. I stare out of the window and the landscape has changed. We're crossing one of the bridges, surrounded by inky darkness. The somber night reflects my introspective mood, closing in, suffocating.
I glance briefly at Christian, and he's staring at me.
"Penny for your thoughts?" he asks.
I sigh and frown.
"That bad, huh?"
"I wish I knew what you were thinking."
He smirks at me.
"Ditto, baby," he says softly as Taylor speeds into the night toward Bellevue.
It is just before eight when the Audi draws into the driveway of a colonial-style mansion.
It's breathtaking, even down to the roses around the door. Picture-book perfect.
"Are you ready for this?" Christian asks as Taylor pulls up outside the impressive front door.
I nod, and he gives my hand another reassuring squeeze.
"First for me too," he whispers, then smiles wickedly. "Bet you wish you were wearing your underwear right now," he teases.
I flush. I'd forgotten my missing panties. Fortunately, Taylor has climbed out of the car and is opening my door so he can't hear our exchange. I scowl at Christian who grins broadly as I turn and climb out of the car.
Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey is on the doorstep waiting for us. She looks elegantly sophisticated in a pale blue silk dress; behind her stands Mr. Grey, I presume, tall, blond, and as handsome in his own way as Christian.
"Anastasia, you've met my mother, Grace. This is my dad, Carrick."
"Mr. Grey, what a pleasure to meet you." I smile and shake his outstretched hand.
"The pleasure is all mine, Anastasia."
"Please call me, Ana."
His blue eyes are soft and gentle.
"Ana, how lovely to see you again." Grace wraps me in a warm hug. "Come in, my dear."
"Is she here?" I hear a screech from within the house. I glance nervously at Christian.
"That would be Mia, my little sister," he says almost irritably, but not quite.
There's an undercurrent of affection in his words, the way his voice grows softer and his eyes crinkle as he mentions her name. Christian obviously adores her. It's a revelation.
And she comes barreling down the hall, raven haired, tall, and curvaceous. She's about my age.
"Anastasia! I've heard so much about you." She hugs me hard.
Holy Cow. I can't help but smile at her boundless enthusiasm.
"Ana, please," I murmur as she drags me into the large vestibule. It's all dark wood floors and antique rugs with a sweeping staircase to the second floor.
"He's never brought a girl home before," says Mia, dark eyes bright with excitement.
I glimpse Christian rolling his eyes, and I raise an eyebrow at him. He narrows his eyes at me.
"Mia, calm down," Grace admonishes softly. "Hello, darling," she says as she kisses Christian on both cheeks. He smiles down at her warmly, and then shakes hands with his father.
We all turn and head into the living room. Mia has not let go of my hand. The room is spacious, tastefully furnished in creams, browns, and pale blue, comfortable, understated, and very stylish. Kate and Elliot are cuddled together on a couch, clutching champagne flutes. Kate bounces up to embrace me, and Mia finally releases my hand.
"Hi, Ana!" She beams. "Christian." She nods curtly to him.
"Kate." He is equally formal with her.
I frown at their exchange. Elliot grasps me in an all-embracing hug. What is this, hug Ana weekThis dazzling display of affection - I'm just not used to it. Christian stands at my side, wrapping his arm around me. Placing his hand on my hip, he spreads out his fingers and pulls me close. Everyone is staring at us. It's unnerving.
"Drinks?" Mr. Grey seems to recover himself. "Prosecco?"
"Please," Christian and I speak in unison.
Oh... this is beyond weird. Mia claps her hands.
"You're even saying the same things. I'll get them." She scoots out of the room.
I flush scarlet, and seeing Kate sitting with Elliot, it occurs to me suddenly that the only reason Christian invited me is because Kate is here
. Elliot probably freely and happily asked Kate to meet his parents. Christian was trapped - knowing that I would have found out via Kate. I frown at the thought. He's been forced into the invitation. The realization is bleak and depressing. My subconscious nods sagely, a you've-finally-worked-it-out-stupid look on her face.
"Dinner's almost ready," Grace says as she follows Mia out of the room.
Christian frowns as he gazes at me.
"Sit," he commands, pointing to the plush couch, and I do as I'm told, carefully crossing my legs. He sits down beside me but doesn't touch me.
"We were just talking about vacations, Ana," Mr. Grey says kindly. "Elliot has decided to follow Kate and her family to Barbados for a week."
I glance at Kate, and she grins, her eyes bright and wide. She's delighted. Katherine Kavanagh, show some dignity!
"Are you taking a break now you've finished your degree?" Mr. Grey asks.
"I'm thinking about going to Georgia for a few days," I reply.
Christian gapes at me, blinking a couple of times, his expression unreadable. Oh shit.
I haven't mentioned this to him.
"Georgia?" he murmurs.
"My mother lives there, and I haven't seen her for a while."
"When were you thinking of going?" His voice is low.
"Tomorrow, late evening."
Mia saunters back into the living room and hands us champagne flutes filled with pale pink Prosecco.
"Your good health!" Mr. Grey raises his glass. An appropriate toast from a doctor's husband, it makes me smile.
"For how long?" Christian asks, his voice deceptively soft.
Holy crap... he's angry.
"I don't know yet. It will depend how my interviews go tomorrow."
His jaw clenches, and Kate gets that interfering look on her face. She smiles over-sweetly.
"Ana deserves a break," she says pointedly at Christian. Why is she so antagonistic towards himWhat is her problem?
"You have interviews?" Mr. Grey asks.
"Yes, for internships at two publishers, tomorrow."
"I wish you the best of luck."
"Dinner is on the table," Grace announces.
We all stand. Kate and Elliot follow Mr. Grey and Mia out of the room. I go to follow, but Christian clutches my elbow, bringing me to an abrupt halt.
"When were you going to tell me you were leaving?" he asks urgently. His tone is soft, but he's masking his anger.
"I'm not leaving, I'm going to see my mother, and I was only thinking about it."
"What about our arrangement?"
"We don't have an arrangement yet."
He narrows his eyes, and then seems to remember himself. Releasing my hand, he takes my elbow and leads me out of the room.
"This conversation is not over," he whispers threateningly as we enter the dining room.
Oh, crapola. Don't get your panties in such a twist... and give me back mine. I glare at him.
The dining room reminds me of our private dinner at the Heathman. A crystal chandelier hangs over the dark wood table and there's a massive, ornately carved mirror on the wall. The table is laid and covered with a crisp white linen tablecloth, a bowl of pale pink peonies as the center piece. It's stunning.
We take our places. Mr. Grey is at the head of the table, while I sit at his right hand, and Christian is seated beside me. Mr. Grey reaches for the opened bottle of red wine and offers some to Kate. Mia takes her seat beside Christian, and grabbing his hand, squeezes it tightly. Christian smiles warmly at her.
"Where did you meet, Ana?" Mia asks him.
"She interviewed me for the WSU student magazine."
"Which Kate edits," I add, hoping to steer the conversation away from me.
Mia beams at Kate, seated opposite next to Elliot, and they start talking about the student magazine.
"Wine, Ana?" Mr. Grey asks.
"Please." I smile at him. Mr. Grey rises to fill the rest of the glasses.
I peek up at Christian, and he turns to look at me, his head cocked to one side.
"What?" he asks.
"Please don't be mad at me," I whisper.
"I'm not mad at you."
I stare at him. He sighs.
"Yes, I am mad at you." He closes his eyes briefly.
"Palm-twitchingly mad?" I ask nervously.
"What are you two whispering about?" Kate interjects.
I flush, and Christian glares at her in a butt-out-of-this-Kavanagh kind of way - even Kate wilts under his stare.
"Just about my trip to Georgia," I say sweetly, hoping to diffuse their mutual hostility.
Kate smiles, a wicked gleam in her eye.
"How was Jose when you went to the bar with him on Friday?"
Holy f**k, Kate. I widen my eyes at her. What is she doingShe widens her eyes back at me, and I realize she's trying to make Christian jealous. How little she knows. I thought I'd got away with this.
"He was fine," I murmur.
Christian leans over.
"Palm-twitchingly mad," he whispers. "Especially now." His tone is quiet and deadly.
Oh no. I squirm.
Grace reappears carrying two plates, followed by a pretty young woman with blonde pigtails, dressed smartly in pale blue, carrying a tray of plates. Her eyes immediately find Christian in the room. She blushes and gazes at him from under her long mascara'd lashes.
Somewhere in the house the phone starts ringing.
"Excuse me," Mr. Grey rises again and exits.
"Thank you, Gretchen," Grace says gently, frowning as Mr. Grey exits. "Just leave the tray on the console." Gretchen nods, and with another furtive glance at Christian, she leaves.
So the Greys have staff, and the staff are eyeing up my would-be Dominant. Can this evening get any worseI scowl at my hands in my lap.
Mr. Grey returns.
"Call for you, darling. It's the hospital," he says to Grace.
"Please start, everyone." Grace smiles as she hands me a plate and leaves.
It smells delicious - chorizo and scallops with roasted red peppers and shallots, sprinkled with flat leafed parsley. And in spite of the fact that my stomach is churning from Christian's veiled threats, the surreptitious glances from pretty little Miss Pigtails, and the debacle of my missing underwear, I am starving. I flush as I realize it's the physical effort of this afternoon that's given me such an appetite.
Moments later Grace returns, her brow furrowed. Mr. Grey cocks his head to one side... like Christian.
"Another measles case," Grace sighs.
"Yes, a child. The fourth case this month. If only people would get their kids vacci-nated." She shakes her head sadly, and then smiles. "I'm so glad our children never went through that. They never caught anything worse than chicken pox, thank goodness. Poor Elliot," she says as she sits down, smiling indulgently at her son. Elliot frowns mid chew and squirms uncomfortably. "Christian and Mia were lucky. They got it so mildly, only a spot to share between them."
Mia giggles, and Christian rolls his eyes.
"So, did you catch the Mariners game, Dad?" Elliot's clearly keen to move the conversation on.
The hors d'oeuvres are delicious, and I concentrate on eating while Elliot, Mr. Grey, and Christian talk baseball. Christian seems relaxed and calm talking to his family. My mind is working furiously. Damn Kate, what game is she playingWill he punish me I quail at the thought. I haven't signed that contract yet. Perhaps I won't. Perhaps I'll stay in Georgia where he can't reach me.
"How are you settling into your new apartment dear?" Grace asks politely.
I'm grateful for her question, distracting me from my discordant thoughts, and I tell her about our move.
As we finish our starters, Gretchen appears, and not for the first time, I wish I felt able to put my hands freely on Christian just to let her know - he may be fifty shades of f**ked-up, but he's mine. She proceeds to clear the table, brushing rather too closely to Christian for my liking. Fortunately, he seems oblivious to her, but my inner goddess is smoldering and not in a good way.
Kate and Mia are waxing lyrical about Paris.
"Have you been to Paris, Ana?" Mia asks innocently, distracting me from my jealous reverie.
"No, but I'd love to go." I know I'm the only one at the table who has never left mainland USA.
"We honeymooned in Paris." Grace smiles at Mr. Grey who grins back at her.
It's almost embarrassing to witness. They obviously love each other deeply, and I wonder for a brief moment what it must be like to grow up with both one's parents in situ.
"It's a beautiful city," Mia agrees. "In spite of the Parisians. Christian, you should take Ana to Paris," Mia states firmly.
"I think Anastasia would prefer London," Christian says softly.
Oh... he remembered. He places his hand on my knee - his fingers traveling up my thigh. My whole body tightens in response. No... not here, not now. I flush and shift, trying to pull away from him. His hand clamps down on my thigh, stilling me. I reach for my wine, in desperation.
Little Miss European Pigtails returns, all coy glances and swaying hips, with our en-tree, a Beef Wellington, I think. Fortunately, she gives us our plates and then leaves, although she lingers handing Christian his. He looks quizzically at me as I watch her close the dining room door.
"So what was wrong with the Parisians?" Elliot asks his sister. "Didn't they take to your winsome ways?"
"Ugh, no they didn't. And Monsieur Floubert, the ogre I was working for, he was such a domineering tyrant."
I splutter into my wine.
"Anastasia, are you okay?" Christian asks solicitously, taking his hand off my thigh.
Humor has returned to his voice. Oh thank heavens. When I nod, he pats my back gently, and only removes his hand when he knows I've recovered.
The beef is delicious and served with roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and green beans. It is even more palatable since Christian manages to retain his good-humor for the rest of the meal. I suspect that it's because I'm eating so heartily. The conversation flows freely among the Greys, warm and caring, gently teasing each other. Over our dessert of lemon syllabub, Mia regales us with her exploits in Paris, lapsing at one point into fluent French. We all stare at her, and she stares back puzzled, until Christian tells her in equally fluent French what she's done, whereupon she bursts into a fit of giggles. She has a very infectious laugh and soon we're all in stitches.
Elliot holds forth about his latest building project, a new eco-friendly community to the north of Seattle. I glance up at Kate, and she's hanging on every word Elliot says, her eyes glowing with lust or love. I haven't quite worked out which yet. He grins down at her, and it's as if an unspoken promise passes between them. Laters, baby, he's saying, and it's hot, freaking hot. I flush just watching them.
I sigh and peek up at Fifty Shades. He's so beautiful, I could stare at him forever. He has light stubble over his chin, and my fingers itch to scratch it and feel it against my face, against my br**sts... between my thighs. I blush at the direction of my thoughts. He peers down at me and raises his hand to pull at my chin.
"Don't bite your lip," he murmurs huskily. "I want to do that."
Grace and Mia clear our dessert glasses and head to the kitchen, while Mr. Grey, Kate, and Elliot discuss the merits of solar panels in Washington State. Christian, feigning interest in their conversation, puts his hand once more on my knee, and his fingers travel up my thigh. My breathing hitches, and I press my thighs together in a bid to halt his progress. I can see him smirk.
"Shall I give you a tour of the grounds?" he asks me quite openly.
I know I'm meant to say yes, but I don't trust him. Before I can answer however, he's on his feet and holding his hand out to me. I place my hand in his, and I feel all the muscles clench deep in my belly, responding to his dark, hungry gray gaze.
"Excuse me," I say to Mr. Grey and follow Christian out of the dining room.
He leads me through the hallway and into the kitchen where Mia and Grace are stack-ing the dishwasher. European Pigtails is nowhere to be seen.
"I'm going to show Anastasia the backyard," Christian says innocently to his mother.
She waves us out with a smile as Mia heads back to the dining room.
We step out onto a grey flagstone patio area lit by recessed lights in the flagstones.
There are shrubs in grey stone tubs and a chic metal table and chairs set up in one corner.
Christian walks past those, up some steps, and onto a vast lawn that leads down to the bay... oh my - it's beautiful. Seattle twinkles on the horizon, and the cool, bright, May moon etches a sparkling silver path across the water toward a jetty where two boats are moored. Beside the jetty stands a boathouse. It is so picturesque, so peaceful. I stand and gape for a moment.
Christian pulls me behind him, and my heels sink into the soft grass.
"Stop, please." I am stumbling in his wake.
He stops and gazes at me, his expression unfathomable.
"My heels. I need to take my shoes off."
"Don't bother," he says, and he bends down and scoops me over his shoulder. I squeal loudly with shocked surprise, and he gives me a ringing slap on my behind.
"Keep your voice down," he growls.
Oh no... this is not good, my subconscious is quaking at the knees. He's mad about something - could be Jose, Georgia, no panties, biting my lip. Jeez, he's easy to rile.
"Where are we going?" I breathe.
"Boathouse," he snaps.
I hang on to his hips as I'm tipped upside-down, and he strides purposefully in the moonlight across the lawn.
"Why?" I sound breathless, bouncing on this shoulder.
"I need to be alone with you."
"Because I'm going to spank and then f**k you."
"Why?" I whimper softly.
"You know why," he hisses.
"I thought you were an in-the-moment guy?" I plead breathlessly.
"Anastasia, I'm in the moment, trust me."