Chapter 36

“Do you need more toast, Christian?” Grace asks while we’re all sitting around a long table in the hotel dining room eating breakfast. She doesn’t wait for him to answer before she turns to Elliot. “Will you please pass your brother the toast? And the strawberry jam, he doesn’t like the grape.”

“I’m fine, Mom,” Christian says for probably the 10,000th time this morning.

“Are you sure? Here, let me get you some more juice,” Grace continues.

“I’m fine, Mom,” Christian says again.

“Grace,” Carrick says gently, motioning with his eyes for her to set down the carafe of orange juice in her hand. “Let him eat his breakfast.”

“I just want to make sure he has everything he needs,” She replies defensively.

“He’s nineteen. I think he can get himself some juice,” Carrick says. Grace’s lips press together in a tight line and she glances anxiously down the table at Christian again. He eats awkwardly for a moment under his mother’s watchful gaze, trying to avoid eye contact with her, and then glances up at his nearly empty cup of juice and frowns.

“Could you… pass the juice?” He asks.

“I’ll get it, dear!” Grace says hurriedly, knocking Elliot’s hand out of the way and practically jumping out of her seat. Christian forces a smile for her as she fills his glass. Once he takes a sip, she looks around the table again, presumably for something else she can get for him, but is distracted by her cell phone ringing next to her plate.

“It’s the hospital, I need to take this,” She says, frowning, and then retreats from the dining room. Elliot does a couple fist pumps to show his jubilation at the brief reprieve from Grace’s anxious attention to Christian this morning and I frown at the generally relieved attitude of everyone around me. I feel bad for Grace. This must be extraordinarily difficult for her to deal with. I’m sure her over attentive attitude towards Christian is just her way of coping as best she can.

“Do we really have to go home today?” Mia asks, sulking as she pushes her scrambled eggs around her plate.

“Looks like it, Princess,” Carrick replies.

“But we just got here! I don’t ever get to see Christian any more. Can’t I just stay here with Elliot until Sunday?”

“Sorry, kiddo,” Carrick says. “I’m not comfortable enough with you flying all the way across the country by yourself and Elliot is going back to San Francisco on Sunday.”

“So let Mom go back and you stay here with me,” Mia suggests.

“I can’t,” Carrick says.

“Why not?” Elliot asks. “Mia gets to stay, we get to spend more time with you. Sounds like a win-win to me.”

“Linc called me this morning. He’s flying back to Seattle and he wants to file divorce papers as soon as possible. I’m going to represent him.”

“Aunt Elena and Uncle Andrew are getting a divorce?” Mia asks. Carrick just nods in response and Mia frowns with frustration. “What happened last night?”

Carrick doesn’t say anything so she turns to Elliot.

“We found out that Mrs. Lincoln isn’t the person we always thought she was. She did something really bad to Christian and so we’re not going to be friends with her anymore,” Elliot says, and I’m surprised by the gentility of his explanation.

Elliot isn’t someone I’d describe as tactful. Hilarious, yes, inappropriate, obviously, but definitely not tactful. I’ve seen a different side of him this weekend and it’s showed me just how much he loves his family, just how much his siblings mean to him. Then I remember he’s been the one flying out here every month to make sure Christian doesn’t pull away from the family. I thought that must have been Grace’s idea, but now, I think it might just be Elliot. He’s a really great brother.

“What did she do?” Mia asks.

“Don’t worry about it,” Christian says flatly.

“I’m not a kid anymore, you can tell me,” Mia says.

“You’re thirteen, you’re a kid,” Christian replies flatly and she narrows her eyes at him before turning and looking expectantly at Carrick. He sighs and places his hand gently on hers.

“Do you remember when we talked abo-“

“No!” Christian says firmly, cutting his father off. Carrick looks back at him surprised, I think, by Christian’s assertion but Christian ignores him, looking only at his sister.

“Don’t worry about it, Mia,” He says again. She glares back at him but his returning stare doesn’t soften. Eventually, she rolls her eyes and looks indignantly back down at her breakfast but she doesn’t press the issue further. Grace hurries back into the dining room, settles down in her chair and begins eating quickly.

“I’ve got to hurry and get back,” She says through mouthfuls. “The kidney I’ve been waiting for is being harvested as we speak.”

“When are you coming back?” Mia asks quietly. Grace turns to look at her but Mia is looking up at Christian. “When are you going to come home again?”

“There isn’t really a chance for me to do that until Spring Break,” He replies and she scowls.

“Then we’ll do something really fun for Spring Break that we can all look forward to,” Carrick says happily, trying to lift the mood around the table. “Should we go somewhere incredible? Paris? Bora Bora, perhaps?”

“The beach, yes!” Mia says, suddenly excited.

“I think we should go somewhere with educational value. Just because it’s a break from school, I don’t think my learning experience should be deferred,” Elliot says. We look down at him, astonished, and his face breaks into a huge grin.

“Just kidding, I vote Bora Bora. Keep this one in a bikini, am I right?” He says, nudging Kate slightly. She glares at him.

“I think Bora Bora is exactly what we need.” Grace says. “What do you think, Ana?”

“Oh, I-uh… I appreciate the invitation, but I told my mom I would spend Spring Break with her. They just moved to Georgia.”

“Well bring them along,” Grace says as if it’s the greatest idea she’s ever had. “In fact, Kate, you should bring your parents and brother too. We’ll make it a real family vacation.”

“Really?” I ask incredulously. “Uh… yeah… I’ll call my mom and ask her.”

“Wonderful,” Grace says. “Kate, you’ll let us know what your parents say?”

“I’m sure they’ll be delighted, but yes. I’ll call you on Sunday and let you know what they say.”

“Perfect. Well, I need to get upstairs and start re-packing. Mia, you too dear. Carrick, do you want to head downtown and get Christian squared away at the courthouse and we’ll meet back here?”

“Yes,” Carrick says. He wipes his hands on the white cloth napkin he produces from his lap and stands.

“Are you coming with me?” Christian asks me.

“I really can’t,” I say looking down at the clock on my phone. “I can’t miss any classes today. I’ve got a ton of stuff due. I have to get back to campus.”

“Me too,” Kate says.

Christian nods and reaches into his pocket and pulls out the keys to the Audi. “Take my car. I’ll ride back with Elliot.”

“Thank you,” I say, taking the keys gratefully. “Good luck.”

“I’ll see you tonight,” He says. I lean over and kiss him on the cheek, then get up from the table and leave the dining room with Kate at my side. I’d already packed before breakfast this morning so all I have to do is grab my bag and wait the few minutes for Kate to pack her hair dryer and make-up and we’re ready to leave.

“What happened last night?” Kate asks, the moment we’re on the road back to Cambridge. I can tell by the way she’s practically bouncing in her seat that Elliot must not have told her much so she’s probably desperate for the inside scoop.

“Carrick and Grace had Elena arrested.” I say, trying to keep to the obvious.

“Okay, but why?” Kate presses. “I mean, it’s gross but it’s not exactly illegal for them to have sex. He’s nineteen.”

I press my lips together and she must take that as a contradiction because her eyes widen.

“He wasn’t nineteen…” She says, shocked. “How old was he then? Seventeen? Sixteen.”

“Let’s just say he was too young,” I tell her.

“Fifteen?” She continues guessing, probably assuming my evasive answer was my way of telling her she hadn’t gotten it right yet. She must know me better than I think she does because the moment she guesses correctly, my jaw involuntarily tightens as I swallow the bitter taste the reminder leaves in my mouth and she gasps, knowing this is affirmation.

“Fifteen?” She repeats, though this time with incredulity. “That’s horrible. Oh my god, poor Christian… and what the fuck is wrong with her? I’m only nineteen and I would never think of sleeping with a fifteen year old. That’s like… a child. Barely in high school… ugh. What appeal would that even have? I mean, it’s not like he could have been any good.”

“She’s disgusting, and twisted, and mentally disturbed.” I say, and Kate nods in agreement.

“How’s Christian taking all of this? I mean, if he was fifteen, he’s been living with this for a long time. Having his family find out must be overwhelming.”

“Better than expected, I think,” I say. “I mean… I really don’t know if it’s hit him, honestly. He seems… fine with it. He defends her a lot and I can’t figure out why.”

“How long have you known?” Kate asks.

“Well, I found out they were sleeping together that morning he took me to breakfast after he came home drunk back in October, but I didn’t find out when it started until I went home with him for Thanksgiving.”

“Is that why it took so long for you guys to get together?”

“Yeah. He was still technically with her until Thanksgiving.”

“Wait! He was still with her until Thanksgiving! Ana, he was perusing you for like a month before that.”

“I know. I mean, it’s not like he was sleeping with her that whole time. He wasn’t even taking her calls… he just didn’t actually break up with her until he saw her in person and that was over Thanksgiving break.”

“Hmm…” Kate says though she still has a disapproving look on her face. “Was that what you meant when you said, don’t say anything to me until you’ve spoken to Mrs. Lincoln?”

“What?”

“That night that Carter and I caught you and him in our room and Carter got all mad and left. We ran into Christian in the hallway on our way to get ice cream and you said don’t say anything to me until you’ve spoken to Mrs. Lincoln. You told me not to repeat it to Elliot and it’s been killing me not knowing what you meant. You were telling him to break it off with her, right?”

“Yes,” I reply and she nods.

“You’re okay?” Kate asks. “I mean, this must be weird for you too. You know I’m here if you need to talk or need anything, right?”

“Thanks, but I’m okay. I’m just worried about Christian,” I tell her. She gives me a sympathetic, half-smile and turns to look out at the road ahead of us.

The rest of the car ride is fairly quiet as she seems to be satisfied by the answers I’ve given her or at least lost in thought contemplating what my answers mean. Once we’re back on campus, we head up to our dorm, grab our school bags and then set out for class.

“Do you want to get some coffee first?” Kate asks as we make our way back across campus. I look at my phone. I have about ten minutes to get to class… I think I have time.

“Sure, but we have to hurry,” I tell her. We duck into the little coffee shop on campus, which is only just bigger than our dorm room and quickly order two lattes to go. Kate looks uncomfortably at the door a few times as we stand and wait for them to call our names but I don’t know why.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Nothing,” She says quickly.

“Kate! Ana!” The barista calls, stopping me from questioning her further. We step forward and gratefully take the cardboard cups from her and move to the bar by the door to sprinkle cinnamon over the top of the foam. When we’re finished, we turn to leave but someone reaches out and clasps me by the arm to stop me. I turn and look to see who it is and Kate freezes next to me. I don’t recognize the person who has ahold of me…

“Excuse me, Miss?” He asks politely. “I think you left your purse on the bar.” He lifts up my bag for me to see and I smile gratefully.

“Oh, thank you! I swear, I’m always leaving this everywhere. You’re my lifesaver,” I say, and he smiles back and me and then at Kate. She gives him a tight smile, that’s more of a grimace than anything. I frown at her, but turn and wave at my good samaritan, and head out the door.

“What was that?” I ask Kate as we walk towards class.

“What?”

“That guy. He was doing a nice thing for me and you were… kind of rude.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just that guy kind of freaks me out. Everywhere I go, I see him. He’s at the gym when I’m there, he’s at Annenberg when I am. I even see him on campus between classes and, even though he doesn’t live in Grays he like, follows me on my way to class and on my way back.”

“Well, it’s not a very big campus,” I say, trying to assuage her paranoia.

“I know. You’re probably right. I guess he could live in like Matthews or Weld or something.”

“Probably,” I agree.

“But then the world doesn’t revolve around me and you know how uncomfortable I am with that,” She laughs, and I join her.

Sitting in my first class, I begin to feel a bit remorseful that I didn’t go to the courthouse with Christian, but as I make my way through the day, I know I’ve made the right choice. There is a surprise quiz in my Eighteenth Century Literature class, my Fiction Writing professor completely changes the assignment that is due on Monday, and, of course, the first part of my portfolio is due in Business Writing.

When I get to my last class, I take my usual seat and glance nervously at the chair next to mine. I can’t believe the whole Astor thing only happened yesterday. Well, I suppose now that the gig is up, he probably won’t sit next to me. I turn to pull my portfolio out of my bag, so when I hear the chair next to me scrape against the linoleum floor, it’s unexpected and causes me to jump.

“Hi, Ana,” Carter says, smirking at my overreaction. “Jumpy today?”

“No… you just surprised me is all,” I reply.

“What happened to Harrington?” He asks.

“What do you mean?”

He directs me to look behind him with a nod of his head and I see Astor sitting a few rows over at the back of the room. His left eye is swollen and dark purple. I cringe slightly and turn back to face the front of the class.

“Christian,” I mumble in response. Carter’s breath hisses between his teeth and his hand automatically moves up to his nose.

“Been there. That sucks,” He says.

“He deserved it,” I reply and Carter nods, though he only knows about the assault in the coffee shop. He doesn’t know anything about how twisted the situation really is.

Aiden comes and takes a seat next to us, barely making it before the professor starts class. We hand in our portfolios just as we’re dismissed and Astor books it from the room as quickly as possible. I felt my phone buzz halfway through class, but didn’t have a chance to check it until now. Christian and Elliot are back and they’re all waiting for me to go to dinner. I text Christian back and let him know I’m on my way.

Slipping my phone back into my bag as I leave the room, I’m suddenly surprised when I see Astor standing in the hallway waiting. I narrow my eyes at him and try to keep walking, but he catches up to me.

“Look, I’m sorry,” He says. “She waived 5K at me to fuck with Grey, and I took it. It wasn’t anything personal against you.”

“Don’t,” I say, my voice tight as the anger I feel from everything he was responsible for yesterday bubbles up inside of me. “Fuck off, Astor.”

“I know you’re pissed and I deserve it, I just wanted to let you know that if I had known you before this all started, I don’t think I’d have taken the money. Flirting with you wasn’t so bad, you know? But what I did in the coffee shop last night was over the line, and I’m sorry.”

I stop and glare at him, seething. “I’m literally fifteen seconds away from marching over to the Dean’s office and turning you in. Don’t ever talk to me again. I don’t want your apology or your compliments, I want nothing to do with you. You’re disgusting.”

I don’t wait for his reaction before turning around and storming from the building. I’m glad for the biting cold air outside as it helps calm me down and I really don’t want Christian to see me upset, because if he finds out that Astor confronted me after class… I don’t even know how he would react. My guess is not positively and the last thing he needs right now is another fight.

I get back to Grays where everyone is waiting and Elliot suggests we take it easy tonight, so rather than go out, we take him to Annenberg for dinner.

“This is amazing!” He says, looking around at the intricacy of the dining hall as we take a seat at our usual table. “This place looks like Hogwarts.”

“Benefits of going Ivy,” Kate says. “This place was built over a hundred years ago. Presidents have eaten here.”

“Yeah, Miss High-and-Mighty? So did Conan O’Brien,” Elliot says, unimpressed.

“Well, one day people will say that Christian Grey and Rosaline Bailey, the great American entrepreneurs, used to eat here,” Ros adds with self-indulgent admiration, and Elliot rolls his eyes.

“We get it, you go to Harvard,” He says. “You know, Stanford’s engineering program is leagues better than Harvard’s.”

“But not MIT’s,” Kate says. “And MIT is seven minutes away from here.”

“Kate…” Elliot replies uncomfortably. “I applied for MIT. I didn’t get in…”

“Try again,” Christian says. “MIT has the best program in the country. Why settle for second best?”

Elliot looks back at his brother and I can’t read the emotion on his face.

“You’re good at what you do, Elliot,” Christian continues, “You’re not the same guy you were when you applied at 17. Just based on what you’ve done at Stanford alone… I mean, how could they turn away they guy who managed to engineer a combustible engine that used Nitrogen as fuel? That’s revolutionary, next level thinking. Clean energy and sustainability is the next big frontier for American industrialism and ingenuity and your work could be the starting line. MIT would be stupid not to accept you.”

“Okay. I’ll give it a shot,” Elliot says, smiling broadly from his brother’s praise. Kate squeals excitedly and I grip Christian’s hand affectionately under the table. He raises an eyebrow at me as if he’s unsure what the gesture means but he doesn’t say anything.

Most of dinner is taken up by Ros catching Christian up on their classes from that day and telling us a colorful story about running into Astor this morning. I laugh with the others at her description of his awkward encounter with her, trying to forget about the unfortunate confrontation I had with him this afternoon, when we’re distracted by Elliot’s phone vibrating.

“It’s Dad.” Elliot says, frowning down at his phone as he reads the text. “Mrs. Lincoln has been released on bail.”

“She can’t come here though, right?” I ask, feeling a flash of panic.

“No,” Elliot says. “She can’t.”

“Mrs. Lincoln?” Ros asks, obviously not recognizing the name. Kate, Elliot, and I exchange nervous glances but it’s Christian who speaks.

“Take a walk with me,” He says, the legs of his chair groaning against the hardwood floor as he stands. “I need to prepare you for something.”

“Prepare me?”

“We’re going into business together and with that in mind… there are some things happening that you should know about. It may cause some difficulties for us later.”

Ros’s brow creases with confusion and she looks to each of us for a clue. I look purposefully down at my plate, avoiding eye contact with her, and eventually she gets up and leaves the hall with Christian. We finish up with our food and head back to Grays, deciding to watch a movie in the downstairs common area until Christian gets back. Kate and Elliot argue over what to watch, Cleopatra or Superbad, and until they figure it out, I stare out the window through the falling snow, waiting for Christian to return.

It takes a while for him to get back and I wonder if it’s just because Ros isn’t taking the news well, or if I should be worried. While Kate and Elliot focus on Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor making out on the TV screen, my mind is absorbed with disturbing thoughts of Elena. Sure, she’s not allowed to see him because of the restraining order and no contact order, but what’s physically stopping her from coming here? What if she’s intercepted him on his way back?

I almost jump off the couch and fly for the door as my wild imagination of Elena seeking revenge against Christian becomes more and more plausible, but before I do, I see him coming up the walk alongside the Old Yard. The relief I feel seeing him is immediate and I can feel my body physically relax from the tension. Guilt washes over me about thinking Kate was paranoid earlier about that guy when we went and got coffee. Apparently, we’re all feeling a little uneasy. Maybe tomorrow we should go and do something fun to relax a little.

“How did she take it?” I ask as Christian settles down on the couch next to me.

“She has concerns,” He says, taking off his jacket and cuddling up with me under the blanket Kate brought down for me when she went up to the room to get the movie. “But so do I. If my name is attached to this, it has the potential to be a PR nightmare.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” I assure him. He takes a deep breath and looks at me as if he isn’t sure, but he turns his attention to the movie rather than refute what I’ve said.

When the movie is over, Kate takes my blanket back and Christian holds my hand as we follow Kate and Elliot up the stairs to our rooms. They wave good-bye to us as they head into the room I share with Kate but, when I reach into my bag for my keys to unlock Christian’s door, I come up empty handed.

“I don’t have my keys,” I say, searching frantically through my bag. Where are they? I’m pretty sure I used them to lock up when Kate and I left this morning. Crap, did I lose them?

“You’re sure they were in your bag?” Christian asks, pulling out his own set to open his door. I give my bag a rigorous shake to shuffle the contents and start digging again but to no avail.

“I don’t know where else I would have left them,” I say. “Hold on, let me look in my room.”

“Do you need them right now?” Christian asks.

“I might need to get in my room in the morning and I don’t know what time Kate will go to the gym,” I explain. “I don’t want to get locked out.”

Christian sighs, then nods and disappears through his door while I turn around for my own room. I have to knock as Kate has locked the door behind her, but that’s probably a good thing. God only knows what I could have walked in on.

She opens the door and looks at me confused.

“What’s up? Why did you knock?” She asks.

“I don’t have my keys,” I tell her. “I guess they must have fallen out this morning. I’m just going to look around really quick.”

As she settles down into her bed next to Elliot, I pull back the blankets on my own bed, shake out some clothes laying over my comforter, check the pocket of my jeans, and crawl around on the floor looking and reaching under the furniture for my lost keys, but I come up empty handed.

“Are they in Christian’s car?” Kate asks.

“I don’t think so,” I say with a frown. “I could have sworn I had them this morning when we got back.”

“Well, I’m sure they’re somewhere. If you want though, we can go make a copy of mine tomorrow until you find yours.”

“Okay,” I say, disappointed that I’m going to have to admit defeat for now. “Let me know when you leave in the morning so I don’t get locked out.” I tell Kate.

“Will do,” She replies.

“And don’t have sex on my bed,” I add.

“No promises,” Elliot sneers.

“I hate you,” I say, giving him a warning glare as I slip out the door and across the hall.

“Did you find them?” Christian asks through a mouthful of toothpaste. He peeks around bathroom door to look at me and I shake my head.

“No. I might need to have you make me another copy of your key. If they’re not in my bag and not in my room, they’re probably lost on campus somewhere.”

“Okay,” He says. He turns to spit into the sink and rinse his mouth and I strip out of my clothes and slip on one of his t-shirts that I retrieve from his dresser drawer. I’m in bed when he comes out of the bathroom, but he doesn’t join me. Instead, he sits at his desk and turns on his laptop, telling me he needs to check his email.

“How did this morning go at the courthouse?” I ask while he starts cleaning out his inbox.

“Fine,” He says, and I frown at his short reply.

“I was worried when it took you so long to come back from Ros’s. I know Elena’s not supposed to see you or call you or anything, but she wouldn’t come here, would she?”

“No,” He says, again keeping his answer succinct. It’s frustrating to say the least. Why doesn’t he want to tell me?

I sit quietly for a few more moments, staring at him expectantly as I try to think of how to push him for more information, or even if I should, but he doesn’t say anything more. He doesn’t even look at me. He stares at his computer screen, reading emails until he comes across something that requires his attention and he begins typing furiously on the keyboard.

“Is everything okay?” I ask when he finally closes the screen to his computer.

“Fine,” He says again.

“Why don’t you want to talk to me?”

“I just don’t,” He says, and his voice is sharp this time, rather than simply concise. I feel myself blanch and I think he sees it too because his stoic expression breaks and he frowns back at me guiltily.

Slowly, and purposefully, he moves across the room, climbs into the bed and wraps his arms around me. I nestle myself into his chest, wondering if his change in attitude is guilt for turning Elena in. I hope Ros didn’t say anything about their business arrangement that would make him regret his decision to come clean to Grace and Carrick.

“She was going to give me money,” He says quietly, interrupting my thoughts. I look up to him with confusion and he continues. “I told you my parents wouldn’t give me money to start my company until I graduated. I’m trying to get the funds on my own with these investor meetings but Elena said that if I couldn’t get the money myself and if I didn’t change my mind about college by the end of my sophomore year, she’d loan me the money. All of these setbacks Ros and I have been experiencing were only tolerable because I thought that if I couldn’t make it work with these investment deals, I had a plan B. I’d only have to wait two years. But now… since everything else has fallen through, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

“Is that really so bad?” I ask.

“What do you mean?”

“Well… so you have to wait a few more years. Maybe actually getting your degrees will help you get investors. They’ll take you more seriously. Isn’t that what you told me? That the reason things keep falling through is because people aren’t willing to take a chance on two students without degrees and no experience?”

“It isn’t that easy. Successful businesses are about timing, Anastasia. For what we want to do… I mean, this recession is creating prime conditions. There is a presidential election this year that could change all of that. Waiting is too risky.”

I lay against him, silently contemplating his words. He really does want out of this whole college deal. I mean, I knew he was actively seeking investment opportunities but part of me always thought that would take enough time to develop that we’d be graduated by the time he was actually able to start up. The thought of him leaving and me having to stay behind is painful.

“I don’t want you to drop out,” I say quietly.

“You have to think of it less as dropping out and more doing what is best for my career. College isn’t necessarily a prerequisite of success. Look at Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, both left Harvard before they graduated and they’re both billionaires now.”

“But what will happen to us if you go?”

“Why would anything happen to us?”

“I don’t know… anything could happen. You’ll be back in Seattle, I’ll be here. What if you meet someone else?”

“Someone else,” He scoffs as if the very notion is ridiculous.

“It could happen. People in long distance relationships grow apart.”

“Kate and Elliot make long distance work.”

“Is that what you really want? One weekend a month?”

“No, that’s not what I want. But what I do want is you, and I want to do whatever I can to build a life for us that you deserve. I told you before, Anastasia. I want to give you the world and I can. I will. Last night I told you forever, that’s not going to change whether I’m here in this bed next to you or across the country. I love you.”

“I love you too,” I say, still feeling a painful sense of sadness as I contemplate him leaving, and he sighs.

“Look, it’s not something you have to worry about anyway. I told you, we have no more investment prospects and without Elena’s contribution, I can’t go anywhere. Looks like I’m stuck here with you for the long haul, Miss Steele. Put me in shackles, I’m your willing prisoner.”

“Put you in shackles?” I reply with a laugh as I look up at his beautiful face. “I would have thought you’d prefer that that other way around?”

“Don’t give me any ideas,” He says, raising his eyebrows suggestively. I laugh again at his villainous expression until he silences me with a soft kiss. When he pulls away, I reach up and hold his face with my hands so that he can’t look away from me.

“You don’t need her,” I tell him seriously. “You’re going to be great, and she doesn’t have to have any part of that. I believe in you. You can do this all on your own.”

He smiles, a sexy half smile and then pulls his arm out from under my back and rolls on top of me.

“Let me show you what else I can do on my own,” He says in a quiet, heady voice. Our lips touch and as his hands begin peeling my clothes away from me, the world disappears and it’s just the two of us and the feel of our bodies moving together.

Next Chapter

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