Chapter 23

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Google Alert: Christian Grey

TMZ, June 7th 2010: Uh oh, Miss Williams! It looks like Seattle’s most famous mistress… isn’t. TMZ has exclusively obtained text messages that show Leila William’s not only admitting to lying about her affair with CEO Christian Grey but actually asking Mr. Grey’s assistant to lie as well!


What the fuck?

I click on the article and, sure enough, the first thing I see is a screenshot of the text conversation I read on Andrea’s phone last night. How did this get to TMZ? Panic overtakes me as all of the concerns that had me tied up in knots last night come crashing back over me. My stomach clenches as I remember reading something about evidence being thrown out in OJ Simpson’s trial because a witness gave testimony to the media… Can that happen if text messages leak online?

I immediately dial Carrick.

“Hello?” He answers.

“Did you see the texts?” I ask him.

“On TMZ?”

“Yes.”

“Of course I did,” He says. “I leaked them.”

“You… what?”

“Well, Kate did… Actually, it was technically Mia. Kate had the idea last night. She had Andrea send her screen shots of the conversation between her and Leila and then Mia posted them on her twitter account.”

“Oh…” I say, feeling slightly taken aback. “I was worried that having the text messages leak might ruin Christian’s case or something.”

“What case? Ana, we’re not going to court, remember? I leaked the text messages so the public would know what was really happening, and so that Miss Williams’ attorney would know what we had against them, and it’s working. Her attorney called me this morning asking if we could reach a settlement. I told her to, essentially, go to hell, and she’s called two other times since then offering different deals that I’ve also rejected. They’re desperate, they know they’ve lost. I give it 48 hours before they drop the charges.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’ve been doing this a long time, Ana. I’m sure.”

I take a deep breath and nod, before realizing that I’m on the phone and Carrick can’t see me agreeing with him. “Okay, good,” I tell him. “Has Christian seen it?”

“I talked to him about a half hour ago.”

I frown. Christian’s flight for New York left at just after 5 AM this morning and he didn’t wake me before he left. There was a note on the bedside table for me, and it was sweet and romantic, but it wasn’t a kiss goodbye. It wasn’t the chance to see him off at the airport, even if I only got to do that from the backseat of the SUV. I’d hoped he would have at least called me once he landed but apparently not. I suppose he is on a business trip though, and since he just got there, he probably doesn’t have a lot of free time to talk. The sexual harassment case is important. Calling me to tell me how much he misses me can probably wait until tonight.

There is a knock at the door, which opens without any invitation from me, and Brian steps into my office.

“Ana, they’re ready for you in conference room number three.”

Shit, is it eleven already?

“Hey, Carrick, I’ve got to go. I’ve got meetings all afternoon,” I say regretfully.

“Okay, Ana. Have a good day at work and promise me that you’re going to take some time to enjoy yourself over the next few days while Christian is away. I know that this has been stressful for you and you’ve been so focused on being there for Christian, I just want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself too. You’re 21 years old, and this is your very last summer vacation. Have some fun, Ana, and if you get into trouble, give me a call.”

I laugh. “I don’t know if I could afford your retainer fee.”

“So you are after my son’s money, then?” He asks, a teasing tone to his voice, and I laugh again.

“Damn it!” I exclaim with false chagrin. “You know, I really thought those two years away would throw you off but you’re just too astute, Mr. Grey.”

“Well, I did go to Harvard,” He brags.

“Ana,” Brian interrupts me again, giving me a what do you think you’re doing look.

“Okay, Carrick. I really have to go. Call me if anything else happens with the case.”

“Will do, Ana,” He says. “Have a good day.”

I thank him and tell him goodbye, and then set my phone on the desk to quickly begin gathering everything I’m going to need for the three back to back meetings I have all afternoon. When I finally get out of my seat and head for the door, Brian rolls his eyes and shuffles after me like a child being drug around shopping with his mother on a Saturday instead of being allowed to play with his friends.

I feel slightly achy as I walk back to my office at the end of the work day. My final meeting with the SIP literary agents, which was focused on redesigning the query process and the way that new authors are brought under the SIP, now GEH, umbrella, went hours longer than I intended it to. I know some of them are comfortable with their positions and the way things run around here and it was clear in the meeting how resistant to change they are. Fortunately, a few of the newer agents can see the same flaws that I do and are on my side. As for the others… well, Christian did tell me it’s impossible not to lose a single employee in an acquisition. My job is to make SIP successful, to make it an asset for Christian, not a liability. I just have to remember that going forward when difficult decisions have to be made.

When I finally get back into my office, I stretch a little to relax some tension in my neck and then reach down to pick up the phone I left on my desk to check the time. Crap, it’s nearly six thirty… and I’ve missed four calls, one text, and one email.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: The absent Anastasia Steele

Date: June 7th 2010 05:18 PM

To: Anastasia Steele

I’ve been gone less than fourteen hours and you’re already ignoring my phone calls? Call me or I’ll be forced to call Sawyer.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings INC

I hit reply.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Sorry!

Date: June 7th 2010 06:23 PM

To: Christian Grey

Hey, sorry… I forgot my phone before I went into my meetings and the last one went long. I’m going to head home now. I miss you.

Xx

Anastasia Steele

Implementation Director, Grey Enterprises Holdings INC

 

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Found

Date: June 7th 2010 06:25 PM

To: Anastasia Steele

I know, I called Sawyer.

I’m heading back to my hotel, call me when you get home.

I miss you too, and I love you.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings INC

There is a knock on my door that interrupts my response to Christian’s email and I look up and see Luke poke his head into my office.

“Hey, are you about ready to go?” He asks.

“Yeah,” I say, gathering some things to work on at home, picking up my bag and smiling at him as I walk for the door. The office is fairly empty, with only of few of the agents who were in the meeting with me staying behind. Luke opens the door for me and we quickly make our way through the flash of lights from the crowd of paparazzi whose interest in me seems to have increased now that I’m not longer just Christian’s alleged office romance, but now, his confirmed girlfriend. They shout questions to me, asking about wedding dates or to confirm pregnancy rumors, but I do my best to ignore them, keeping my face pointed at the ground and shielded by my bag and gripping tightly to the back of Luke’s jacket as he leads me towards the Lincoln.

Kate is already in the apartment when I get to Escala and it seems she’s made herself right at home. Where I’ve always found it kind of weird and uncomfortable that Christian has staff that wait on us all the time, Kate seems to enjoy it. I find her curled up on the couch in front of the TV drinking a cup of tea and eating the roasted chicken and green beans that I know Mrs. Jones had planned to prepare for dinner tonight.

“Hey,” She says, turning to smile at me when she hears me enter the great room behind her. “There’s dinner if you’re hungry. Gail is awesome, this is delicious.”

“Yeah, she’s great,” I say as I walk past her. “I’m just going to change.”

“Okay, but you should know we’re going out tonight!” She calls after me, and I stop just before I make it into the hallway and turn around to look at her.

“What do you mean we’re going out tonight?” I ask her, narrowing my eyes, but she just smiles sweetly back at me.

“I mean that Elliot is having a brother/sister date with Mia tonight so I thought you and I could go down to Foundation to dance a little and have a few drinks.”

“It’s a Monday night, Kate.”

“So?”

“So, I have to work tomorrow. Maybe we can go on Friday. Besides, Christian will be back so it’ll probably be more fun anyway.”

“I doubt it,” She says. I frown at her and she continues. “It’s not that I don’t want to hang out with Christian, it’s just that when you’re with him, you’re… with him. I wanted a night with you, like back in Cambridge. A couple of girls out on the town, telling boys we’re lesbians so they don’t hit on us and then rolling our eyes at them when they start to hit on us harder. If we wait for Christian to get back, he’ll bogart you the whole night and I’ll hardly get to dance with you at all. Besides, if you and Christian showed up to a club together, there would be a swarm of paparazzi we’d have to fight our way through and Christian would probably back out and you’d go with him because he’s been gone all week and you’d want to spend time with him.”

Well, she has a point… “Then we’ll make plans for next weekend.”

“His birthday weekend?”

Shit. “You have to work tomorrow, too,” I argue. “Don’t you want to wait to go drinking until we have a day off to recuperate?”

“No, and me having to work tomorrow should encourage you to go. I’m not saying let’s go get blacked out, Ana. Let’s go dance for a few hours, have a few cocktails and get to bed at a reasonable hour. That’s all I’m asking.”

“I don’t know, Kate…”

“Kate!” Luke yells from behind me and I turn around to watch him storm angrily out of the foyer, glaring at my best friend on the couch. “You called my girlfriend and invited her to go out to a club with you and Ana tonight?”

“Wait, you invited Leah?” I interject and Kate shrugs.

“Well, I knew you wouldn’t be able to go without Luke going too or Christian would have a coronary, but that doesn’t really help the whole girls on the town thing I was going for, so I thought I would invite someone to keep him company.”

“How do you even know her?” I ask.

“I met her last weekend,” Kate says. “While you were slumming it in Montesano with Christian, Luke was at Grace and Carrick’s playing xbox and watching the Mariners with Elliot. Leah was over there with him all day Saturday. She’s nice, I think you’ll like her.”

“She won’t, because she’s not going to get to meet her,” Luke says. “I can’t have my girlfriend around when I’m working, Kate.”

“Sure you can,” I say, excited now for the opportunity Kate has given me, and a little jealous that she got to meet Leah before I did. “She’s coming to hang out with us and you have to be there too. It’s not your fault she’s friends with Kate.”

“I don’t think Mr. Grey will see it that way,” Luke says.

“I don’t think Mr. Grey has to know about it,” Kate laughs.

“I can’t lie to him about taking Ana out, Kate, and I can’t take my girlfriend out when I’m working.”

“Well, we’re going,” I tell Luke. “Kate’s right. I need a night of fun with my best friend and I need my CPO with me. So, get your dancing shoes, Luke. We’re going out.”

“And you should probably like, go pick up your girlfriend and bring her to the club,” Kate suggests. “I don’t think she’d be very happy if made her meet you there but then you showed up with two other girls.”

“I have to stay with, Ana.”

“We’ll be fine,” I say dismissively. “Kate’s right. You and I have enough problems with Christian’s jealousy. I don’t want Leah thinking I’m trying to move in on her boyfriend.”

“Ana…” Luke begins but I stop the argument by turning around and heading back into the bedroom to change. As I make my way down the hallway, I hear Kate whisper, “Best friend.” emphatically to Luke.

“Shut up, Kate,” He replies.

I eat dinner and then let Kate make me up to go out to the club. It takes a little longer than we planned since she’s decided to curl and tease my hair so when Luke leaves, we’re still getting ready.

“You better be there in twenty minutes,” He says, giving each of us disapproving looks as he gets ready to leave to pick up Leah.

“No problem,” Kate promises but when Luke disappears from the bathroom, I narrow my eyes at her in the mirror.

“Twenty minutes?” I ask.

“Or forty. Whatever,” She says, and I roll my eyes as she separates another strand of hair to wrap around the hot iron.

It takes us an hour to leave Escala and Luke is not pleased. When Kate and I finally pull up in a taxi outside of Foundation, we see him and a blonde haired girl I don’t recognize waiting in the line which I feel is too long for a Monday night. Most of the people standing outside look fairly young, definitely college aged, and it is summer vacation. I suppose if you don’t have school or an internship, weeknights don’t mean anything different than weekends.

I step out of the back of the cab, careful to keep my legs together as I’ve become hyper aware of photographers watching my every move over the last week or so. Thankfully, but also to my surprise, there don’t seem to be any paparazzi around. Actually it’s kind of irritating. I can go to a club without worrying about photos being taken of me, but god forbid I go to work…

Kate hooks her arm through mine and pulls me towards the line and I watch Luke pull gently on the arm of the girl next to him and nod in our direction. Her long blonde hair fans out behind her as she turns to look at us and I’m actually kind of taken aback. Her eyes are a deep, cobalt blue, her lips smooth, pale pink and glossy, and her skin is flawless. She’s beautiful.

Way to go, Luke!

“Hey!” I greet them both with a wide smile. “It’s nice to finally meet you, I’m Ana.”

“Hi. Leah,” She says, reaching out to take my hand. She’s smiling at me but there’s something almost calculating about the way she’s looking at me. Like she’s sizing me up or something.

“How long have you guys been standing here?” Kate asks, standing even further onto her tiptoes to peer over the people in front of us and judge the distance to the door.

“About a half hour,” Luke says. “We haven’t moved.”

“Oh, no,” Kate says, shaking her head and then hooking her arm through mine. “We’re not waiting. Follow me.”

“Wait!” Leah says, reaching out to stop her. “I tried the hot girl thing. I even grabbed some girls from the back of the line to come in with me, but they won’t let Luke pass the line. We can go in, but he’d have to wait out here alone.”

“Oh, Leah… we’re not just hot girls. Come with me.”

Kate pulls me forward and marches confidently past the long line of people and the dirty looks they give us as we fight our way towards the doors. When we get to the front of the line, the bouncer doesn’t look up from his clipboard.

“Excuse me,” Kate says sweetly, and he looks up at her. “Hi.”

“Back of the line please,” He says dismissively and Kate smiles.

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m sorry, we’re at capacity. Back of the line please.”

“Are you sure about that?” Kate asks. “Maybe you don’t know who she is…” She pushes me forward and I look back at her like she’s crazy.

“No, I don’t know who she is,” The bouncer says and Kate sighs.

“This is Anastasia Steele. Christian Grey‘s girlfriend. This guy back here is her bodyguard and we’re her entourage. Now you could send us to the back of the line and ultimately be humiliated when Mr. Grey has to hear about how you forced his girlfriend to wait outside, in plain view of the paparazzi when they hear she’s here and inevitably show up, or you could let us in and he could hear about how accommodating you were. Your choice.”

“Uh… I-I’m sorry, Miss Steele,” The bouncer says, quickly unhooking the rope blocking off the door and pulling it back for us, “Please, have a good time.”

“Uh… thanks,” I say, and I’m ushered forward by Kate who triumphantly leads us all inside.

We’re led to a table near the back with low to the ground, black leather couches by a girl with hair colored like an aurora borealis. The hostess offers us a complimentary bottle of Patron which she brings back with four glasses, a bucket of ice, and a large bowl filled with sliced limes.

“Wow,” Leah says, looking down at the drink Kate pours with her with surprise. “This is a $250 bottle of alcohol. They’re just going to give it to you for free because you’re dating a rich guy?”

“Or they’ll probably bill, Christian,” I say rolling my eyes. “Which means I’m going to have to explain to him why I’m out at a club drinking tequila on a Monday night while he’s in New York. So, thanks, Kate.”

“Oh please, back when Christian was fun he went out with us all the time on school nights. We won’t stay too late, and you don’t have to drink too much. You’ll be fine, he’ll be fine, let’s not talk about him for the rest of the night. You’re my date tonight, remember?”

“Still… I should call him.” I say, only just now remember that I haven’t called him since I got back from work. I reach into my bag and pull out my phone, but Kate snatches it away, turns it on silent and sets it on the table face down.

“He’s fine, Ana. He’s working anyway. Come on, let’s go dance.”

“Kate…”

She pours a small amount of tequila into a glass and hands it to me, clearly not interested in arguing with me any further. I glance down at my phone nervously. I know if Christian really needs to get a hold of me, he’ll call Luke, but still, I’ve barely talked to him all day. The music changes as Kate takes the shot in her hand, and the pulsating beat is ultimately what keeps me from picking up the phone. I’m not going to be able to hear Christian if I call him anyway and I did promise Kate a night out where she had my full attention. Sighing with defeat, I lift the glass to my lips and take the shot. Once I’ve chased the burn of the tequila away with a lime, Kate grabs my hand, drags me onto the dance floor and we sway together to the overly remixed techno versions of all the songs that are currently overplayed on the radio.

Luke only steps away from the table when Kate waves him over to bring us more tequila. I catch several glimpses of him canoodling with Leah in the booth, looking at her adoringly and even, every so often, pressing his lips into hers. They’re adorable.

“What?” Kate asks, turning around to see what I’m grinning at. When she looks back at me, she laughs. “Well… sorry, Ana. Looks like he found a new body to guard tonight.”

“Good. I think she’s going to end up hating me. Luke takes his job way too seriously and I think ignores her a lot.”

“So be friends with her so that she can be around and he can be around her,” Kate suggests and I nod as the song changes.

“Oh my god, I love this song!” Kate squeals excitedly as 3 by Britney Spears starts thumping over the speakers. She grabs ahold of me and pulls me into her, dancing against me, until I feel a hand press into my lower back.

“Hey ladies,” A deep voice says behind me and I turn around to a guy dressed in a suit but with no tie grinning at us. “We have a table over here, I’d love to get you a drink.”

“We have our own table,” Kate says dismissively, but he doesn’t walk away.

“Oh, come on. One drink. My friend and I have been watching you two for the last few minutes and we’d like the chance to get to know you a little better.” He turns to look at me, his eyes glancing up and down the too short dress Kate forced me into before we left the house, and his eyes glint with interest.

“No, thanks. We have boyfriends,” I say, clearly.

“But no rings…” He argues, but before I can answer, I’m moved harshly aside into Kate as someone big pushes past me.

“You need to go,” Luke says flatly and the guy raises an eyebrow at him.

“Are you the boyfriend?”

“No, and you should be glad that he isn’t here because if he was, I wouldn’t be telling you to back off, I’d be dragging your ass into the back alley and beating the shit out of you for putting your hands on her. I am her bodyguard though, so what you’re going to do is turn around, go back to your friends, and leave these two girls alone. If I see you near either of them again, I’m going to pretend her boyfriend is here and you and I can take that trip out back. Your choice.”

His jaw tightens but he unconsciously takes two steps backwards. He looks uneasily at both of us, and then turns around and disappears through the crowd without another word.

“Luke!” Kate exclaims, clearly impressed. “You’re a dick.” We both laugh but Luke just scowls.

“Let’s go back to the table.” He says, and Kate frowns.

“But… It’s Britney bitch!”

“She’s playing at the table too, I promise,” Luke tells her. He grabs my hand and begins pulling me back towards the table.

“Come on, Kate,” I say over my shoulder. “I need another drink anyway.”

“Fine!” She snaps, clearly displeased, but she follows after us all the same.

Luke doesn’t let either Kate or I back on the dance floor for the rest of the night and Leah doesn’t seem to be too pleased about it. I try several times to start a conversation with her but she isn’t interested in talking to me. Instead, she keeps shooting me pointed looks, like I’m purposefully intruding on her time with Luke, so I do my best to keep my back turned to both of them as I talk and dance with Kate in the booth.

“I have to pee!” I tell her, as I set my glass back down on the table and begin sucking on one of the lime wedges from the bowl.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Kate asks, wiping the citrus juice from her fingers and bobbing a little to the music.

“No, but pour another round. I’ll be right back.”

She nods and reaches for the bottle of Patron, while I step around Luke, who is either whispering something into Leah’s ear, or maybe kissing her neck. When I move past him though, he rubs his hand over her knee a few times, nods in my direction and then gets up to follow me.

“Where are you going?” I hear Leah yell over the music.

“I’ve got to follow her,” He says, and when I see Leah’s face tighten, I put my hand up to push Luke back a little.

“It’s okay, Luke,” I reassure him. “I’m just going to the bathroom. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

“I don’t think so,” He says.

“I’m fine! Seriously, I want you to hang out with your girlfriend. Watch my drink. Make sure nobody roofies me. Especially that blonde girl I’m with. I think she’s trouble.” He looks at me dubiously, clearly not comfortable with the idea of me walking twenty feet away from the table by myself. I want to roll my eyes at the ridiculousness of that, but refrain. “It’ll be fine, Luke. I promise. If I’m not back in five minutes you can send the National Guard out for me.”

“Hurry,” He says shortly. “If I have to send the National Guard out for you, I don’t even want to know what Mr. Grey will be sending out after me.”

I laugh and then turn around and squeeze my way through the crowd of people towards the bathrooms. It doesn’t surprise me when I find the long line winding it’s way through the door of the ladies restroom and into the hallway, but I’m pretty sure the wait is going to be longer than five minutes so I pull out my phone, snap a picture of the line in front of me, and send it to Luke.

Good News! I made it without being kidnapped. Bad news, I’m going to be here awhile.

It’s only after I send the text that I see the other notifications scattered across the apps of my screen. 7 missed calls, 2 voicemails, three text messages, and one email.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Where the fuck are you?

Date: June 7th 2010 09:38 PM

To: Anastasia Steele

Anastasia, I have called you, Kate, AND Sawyer and not one of you has answered even one of my phone calls. Gail has informed me that the three of you have gone out, but she can’t tell me where. Call me back, immediately.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings INC

Oh shit. I check the clock on my phone and my stomach churns. He sent this email almost two hours ago… Also, it’s after 11:30 on a Monday night and instead of being in bed, I’m still in a club twenty minutes away from my apartment and my head is swimming with tequila. This is not going to be good for work tomorrow. I should have known having Kate stay with me this week would lead to trouble… maybe I should have asked Elliot.

I frown back down at Christian’s email. It’s 2:30 in the morning in New York right now, which probably means he’s gone to bed, so I decide to respond to his email, rather than calling him back.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: I’m so sorry!

Date: June 7th 2010 11:41 PM

To: Christian Grey

I’m so sorry, Christian! I’m downtown getting drinks at Foundation with Kate, Luke, and his girlfriend, Leah, and I didn’t hear my phone. I’m fine. Please don’t be mad.

Anastasia Steele

Implementation Director, Grey Enterprises Holdings INC

Once the email is sent, I take the two steps forward that the line has moved and my phone buzzes silently in my hand.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: RE:

Date: June 7th 2010 11:43 PM

To: Anastasia Steele

Go home, Anastasia. I’ll speak to you in the morning.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings INC

Well, so much for not being mad. It is getting late though… I probably should go home. I decide that once I’ve gone to the bathroom, I’ll grab Kate and we’ll head back to Escala. Luke can stay if Leah isn’t ready to leave. I don’t want to do anything that could risk turning her against me more than she already seems to be.

My phone buzzes once more in my hand, and I worry for a moment that Christian is emailing me again, deciding he’d rather yell now than in the morning, but it’s a text from Luke.

It’s been five minutes…

I text back.

Still waiting in line. Reason number 786,001 girls have it harder than boys.

“Ana…” a familiar voice says and I freeze. I look up from my phone and am floored by who I see staring nervously back at me only a few feet away. Her hair is dark now and some of her features are just slightly skewed by the heavy make up I’ve never seen her wear before, but the warm, bourbon color of her eyes is unmistakable.

“Leila,” I say, shortly, not knowing if the sudden wave of emotion I feel is anger, hurt, fear, or some unequal combination of all three.

“Is he…?”

“No. No, he’s in New York,” I tell her and she nods.

“I’ve thought about this a lot over the past couple days, what it would be like if I saw you again. I didn’t think it would be so soon. I thought I’d have time to know what I was going to say.”

“I don’t really have anything to say to you, Leila,” I say, coldly. “You know I’m under investigation at Harvard. I might be expelled from school because of what you did.”

She lets out a sharp huff as her eyes shoot up towards the sky and she shakes her head. “Oh, poor you. Poor little Anastasia Steele. You might lose your Ivy League education? However will the penthouse apartments, and the new cars, and the private jets, and the millions of dollars, and the love of the most beautiful man most of us will ever lay eyes on fill that Harvard sized void for you? God, you don’t even appreciate what you have. You have everything I have ever dreamed of and it isn’t enough for you,” She pauses and shakes her head again. “You don’t deserve him. I don’t even know what he sees in you.”

“Do you even know anything about him, Leila?” I ask, the anger taking over now. “Beyond the money, and the company, and his face… do you know anything about who his is?”

She stares at me blankly, almost challenging me.

“He’s not from Seattle,” I tell her, the vitriol in my voice ringing clear. “He’s from Detroit. His real mother was neglectful, abusive, and died of an overdose when he was four. Grace was the doctor whole pulled him out of that filthy house and he was so malnourished, they were surprised he was alive. He didn’t speak a word until he was six years old. He still carries that around with him, it affects him everyday. Maybe what he sees in me, is that I don’t care about the money, or the penthouse, or the private jets… I know who he is, and I love him. For the good, the bad, and the really ugly.”

Leila frowns and looks away from me for a minute. I can see in her eyes that she’s fighting with something, but whether it’s mostly hate for me, or for Christian, or both, I can’t decide.

“So… what?” She says. “You expect me to fall back into the crowd and admire this perfect romance you two are selling to the world? You know, I may not have known about his past, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know things about him. You told me you met him in college? Was that before or after Elena Lincoln?”

I stare back at her, shocked, my mouth suddenly dry. How does she know about Elena?

“I-I…”

“Is that how he met you?” She asks, a vindictive ring her her voice now as though she’s caught me in a lie.

“No,” I tell her, a little too sharply. “We met at school. He was my neighbor. Elena Lincoln has nothing to do with us.”

“But you know about her, and what she does for him? That’s why you hate her so much, right? You’re threatened by her. Or maybe that’s why you broke up? Was he cheating on you with them at school or did the brown haired girls come after he started his company?”

Brown haired girls?

“What are you talking about?”

She laughs. “So, you don’t know? Well… you’re in for a rude awakening, Anastasia.”

“Leila, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“Haven’t you noticed that nobody working at GEH has brown hair? I thought I was paranoid at first. I mean, I noticed it at my very first interview, probably because I have brown hair and I stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn’t get hired after that interview but I wanted to work at GEH so I applied for a different job. I didn’t get that either. Then my friend Andrea called me and told me Mr. Grey had fired his receptionist. I was going to get the chance to work in his office. He’s the reason I wanted to work at GEH in the first place, just for the chance to look at him. I didn’t want to take any chances so I dyed my hair blonde, like all the others, before the interview and it worked. I was hired.”

“Obviously, his hiring practices were illegal, but what did I care? I had a job in his office. I saw him every morning and after a few weeks, he even knew my name. Then, one day, he had an appointment with Mrs. Lincoln, which I thought was weird because he normally met her outside of the office, but not that day. She showed up exactly on time, but she wasn’t alone. There was a girl with her, a brown haired girl, she wasn’t included in the meeting and Taylor is very particular about who gets in and out of the executive suite so I had to take her name and issue her a guest pass. The meeting lasted about fifteen minutes, and then they left. I didn’t really think much of it until a few weeks later when Mrs. Lincoln showed up with a different girl. Different, but the same, you know? They were all the same, beautiful, obnoxiously skinny, and all of them with dark, brown hair.”

“I thought you were one of them at first, to be honest with you. Especially when you ran out of there at the end of your first day. You see, I think he thinks he’s clever having them brought to his office. He’s never seen with them in public so there’s no chance a paparazzi could snap a picture of him with one of them. Because he wasn’t public with these girls, their names never got into the paper. But I didn’t need them to. I had them, all of them, on the security sign in list. So I started digging and all it took was a quick google search to find out what was going on. They all have websites, you see.”

“Websites?” I ask, my voice shaking.

“They’re call girls,” She says and then frowns. “Well… kind of. They’re… specialized call girls.”

I can feel the involuntary twitch in my upper lip, and she smiles vindictively at me. “You know exactly what I mean by specialized, don’t you? Maybe that is how he met you. You certainly look the type. If it is, you’re better at hiding it. Nothing came up on you but a couple articles you published in the newspaper at Harvard and a few inactive social media pages. So, if you aren’t one of these girls, maybe I should warn you. He’s into some serious shit, Anastasia. The really hard stuff.”

“I may not know about his past, or his family. I may not know what his favorite color is or where he went to high school. But I know him, Anastasia, and I know that he’s not the man that was in that interview last Friday night. He didn’t forget his name staring into your eyes and he didn’t stay up late at night trying to think up ways to talk to you. He’s dark, Anastasia, and if you can’t see that, you’re an idiot.”

“If you so sure what he is,” I spit at her, “Why isn’t that what you told the world? Why lie about him forcing you to have sex with him when you could have destroyed him with what you apparently think is true?”

“I needed the security list and I couldn’t get it. I thought if I came forward, at least one of those girls that came through his office would too. Apparently, he’s paid them well enough to keep their silence.”

“Or they didn’t because there’s nothing to tell. Because there’s nothing for them to come forward and admit to.”

“Whatever you have to tell yourself, Anastasia,” She shrugs. “But I think we both know the truth.”

“I don’t get it, Leila. If you think you’re right and that’s he’s dark and that this is what he’s into, then why do you want him? Why throw yourself at him if all he wants to do is beat you?”

“I would do that for him,” She replies, and I’m a little off put by the undoubtable sincerity in her voice. “I would be anything, give him anything, whatever he wanted. That’s how much I want him, Ana, and I’m not the only one. If you won’t give him what he wants, there are thousands of girls out there who will.”

“Are we done here?” I ask, and she gives me one last tight smile.

“Unfortunately, yes. Turns out I overestimated Andrea and her friendship. I trusted her and she turned me in to Grey, so my lawyer says there’s really nothing else we can do. I asked for a settlement, but at this point there’s no reason for him to offer me one, so my lawyer is just going to drop the charges in the morning. He wins again, the way he always does. He always gets what he wants, Anastasia. Remember that. If you’re going to stick around, I hope you want the same things he does. Otherwise, if I were you, I would run and never look back.”

She walks forward, bumping into me as she passes and stalks back out towards the over packed dance floor behind me. I turn to watch her go but it isn’t long before I lose her in the crowd of people jumping up and down to the music. I hope neither Kate or Luke see her, especially Kate, because I know she’d cause a scene.

“You’re up,” Some girl says behind me, pushing me a little as the next stall in the bathroom opens and I take one more second to examine the crowd, searching for the tight turquoise dress Leila was wearing, but I don’t see her, so I do my best to push her out of my thoughts and head into the bathroom.

It’s not easy not to think about what she said to me though. Actually… it’s impossible. Christian’s reassurances in Montesano had put me at ease. I could accept that, despite everything wrong with his relationship with Elena, there had to have been enough good (at least sexually) for him to justify the things she was doing to him. That fit into the cycle Flynn was always talking about, always using to reassure me that Christian wasn’t taking too many steps backward every time Elena came up and he started to defend her or got angry with me for calling her a child molester. She used sexual pleasure and gratification to hide what she was really doing to him so that when she hurt him, he could hold onto the good and ignore the bad. It stands to reason then that he had to find enjoyment in the actual sex and that’s where the lingering interest in BDSM comes from.

I could accept that. I had even hoped that exploring this type of sex together in a way that was actually safe and that came from a place of love, would open his eyes to what she’d really done to him.

I hadn’t imagined that he’d already explored this type of sex with someone else, someone who wasn’t Elena Lincoln, because he’d told me he hadn’t. As I stare at the words written in different colors of sharpie on the inside of the stall all around me, I think back to what he said to me that first morning after we’d got back together.

Ana, it’s only you. It’s only ever going to be you. You’re the love of my life, how could I ever want anyone else?”

I believed that. I mean, the man called me everyday for two years knowing I wasn’t going to answer the phone. He paid for my school and paid for a personal security officer to keep me safe when he couldn’t… That doesn’t sound like a man who is trying to move on.

He loves me, I know that he loves me.

But even knowing that as absolutely as I do, I can’t deny that I’ve actually heard Elena trying to set him up. The morning of the operations meeting, I heard her in his office.

I met a girl that I think you’d really like. She younger than you are, nineteen, but she’s in the lifestyle and she’s experienced.

He said he wasn’t interested but now I have to wonder if that’s because he was telling me the truth before and he really hadn’t wanted to sleep with anyone else, or if it was because we were back together and he was getting sex from me so he didn’t need these other girls anymore. I want to believe it’s the former, but that would be a lot easier to convince myself was true if what he did with me the other night hadn’t happened…

I’m uncomfortable with the amount of doubt I feel as I step away from the sink and make my way out of the bathroom. It’s palpable enough that I think I might feel the slight sting of tears behind my eyes, which I unconsciously try and wipe away.

“Ana?” Luke asks as I step out of the bathroom, and I look up to see him standing a few feet away from the door, looking at me with concern. “What’s wrong?”

“I ran into Leila…” I tell him and his expression immediately hardens.

“Where is she?” He asks.

I shake my head. “I don’t know. Can we go home?”

“Yeah, actually that’s why I came to find you. I just got off the phone with Mr. Grey and I am supposed to take you back to the apartment.”

“He called you?”

“Yeah…” he hesitates. “He’s not very happy that we’re out and he wants you home immediately. I think I’m fired when he gets back, but you know, what else is new?”

“I’ll talk to him,” I promise, and he frowns, probably because I didn’t laugh at his joke.

“What did she say to you?” He asks.

“You work security, right?” I begin, “You haven’t seen any, uh… girls going in and out of Christian’s office have you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I- you know what, nevermind.”

“Do you think he’s cheating on you?”

“No,” I shake my head quickly and he sighs.

“Come here.”

I step forward and he hugs me close to him, turning to speak directly into my ear so that I can hear him over the music.

“He loves you, Anastasia. Trust me. You didn’t give the guy any hope for almost two years and he still didn’t let go. He’s got you back and believe me, he’s not going to throw that away for anyone or anything. He’s not cheating on you, I promise.”

I nod and he pulls away, wrapping his hand around my arm and pulling me, protectively, through the crowd towards the table where Kate and Leah are waiting.

“We’ve got to go,” He calls to Kate and she nods as she hands me another shot and a lime. I look at it dubiously for a second but eventually think, fuck it, and reach out and slam it back. Luke shakes his head disapprovingly, and then turns to kiss Leah goodbye.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” He tells her and her mouth falls open with resentful shock.

“What do you mean, where are you going?”

“I have to get the girls back.”

“Uh… they’re adults. I think they can call a cab. Stay with me longer,” She pouts at him, but Luke shakes his head.

“I can’t, I’m working.”

“You’re always working,” She says, her voice hard now as she shoots a quick, angry look towards me.

“You’re right, Leah. I am. This is my job and if you can’t handle it, you need to know it’s not going to change.”

Her mouth tightens into a thin line as he reaches out to help Kate out of the booth. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” He tells her again and then he gently pushes against my lower back so that I walk forward for the door.

There is already a line of taxis waiting outside the club, so Luke grabs the one closest to the door and ushers us into the back seat. Once he gives the driver the address for Escala and we pull onto the street, I turn to him, feeling slightly guilty for his little squabble with Leah.

“She’s right you know… Kate and I could have gotten home on our own. You don’t have to fight with your girlfriend over me, Luke.”

“Stop it, Ana.”

“No, I’m serious…”

“So am I. Look, I’m not just your friend, I’m your bodyguard. That means I have to be around your body to guard it. I knew what this job was and what it meant when I accepted it. I lived in Cambridge for two years, for christ sake. I like my job, Ana. I promise. You don’t have to worry about my personal life.”

“Okay,” I acquiesce as I settle back into the seat.

“So, what did she say to you?” He asks and I look at him confused.

“Leah?”

“No, Leila.”

“Leila?” Kate asks, leaning over to look at me. “You saw Leila?”

“Yeah, she was coming out of the bathroom as I was going in…” I tell her.

“Well, what happened?”

I take a deep breath and recount everything Leila said to me, which takes not only the entire rest of the cab ride home, but also the elevator ride up to the apartment. When we step out in the foyer Luke is shaking his head with disbelief.

“Honestly… I mean, that girl’s got some nerve. She’s about to lose and she’s still talking shit? What the fuck?”

“She’s just trying to hurt you, Ana,” Kate adds. “I mean, think about the source this information is coming from. It’s not like we don’t know that she’s willing to lie.”

“Also, she’s a bitch,” Luke says. “Seriously, fuck her.”

“That’s not helping, Luke,” Kate admonishes him as I collapse onto the couch. She sits next to me, pulling me onto her so that my head is resting on her chest and her arm is wrapped around me, and Luke glares at her.

“No, what’s not helping is letting her feel any kind of hurt or doubt because of something Leila Williams said.”

“It’s not that easy. Look, she and Christian have been through some hard stuff and this kind of thing is little personal. It’s okay for her to be upset.”

“I know what they’ve been through, Kate. I get it.”

“No you don’t. You weren’t there.”

“So, what? That means I couldn’t possibly understand what she went through? You don’t think I feel for her on a very real level for the crap she’s had to endure over the past couple years? You know, Kate, you’re not going to win the best friend argument just because you’ve been around longer.”

“No, I’m going to win the best friend argument because I’m her best friend,” Kate says.

“Okay, guys. Stop,” I tell them firmly, but the silence that falls between them only lasts a few seconds before Luke starts again.

“You know, it’s not like you didn’t move away when you were a kid. You two had spent most of your lives apart before you went to Harvard. You basically have one year on me.”

“I have way more than one year on you,” Kate says, rolling her eyes. “We grew up together and when I did move, I only moved two hours away. We still spent every school vacation together. Not mention all our free time talking on the phone. You’re not going to win.”

“Alright, Ana. Settle it once and for all and just tell Kate that I’m your best friend,” Luke says.

“Why do you want her to lie to you, Luke?” Kate asks. “Look, you may get to hang out with her more that I do, but I’ve been with this girl since birth. I have bracelet from kindergarten that says BFF. Best. Friend. Forever. It’s still forever.”

“So? Ana probably had a different favorite drink before she met tequila. Doesn’t change the fact that tequila is now her favorite.”

“Ana, will you please set him straight?” Kate asks, turning to me.

“Why is this a competition with you?” I ask, looking at them both sternly. “You two are both my best friend.”

“No,” Kate argues. “You can’t have two best friends, that’s not how language works, Miss English Major. Best is a superlative adjective, meaning greater than all the others. There can be only one. Like Highlander.”

“Fine, then… Kate, you’re my best girl friend, and Luke, you’re my best guy friend.”

“Fine,” Luke agrees.

“But who’s your best friend?” Kate asks, pushing me. “Overall.”

I glare at her. “Christian,” I say firmly. “Christian is my best friend.”

Kate’s mouth tightens into a firm line as she glances over at Luke and then back at me. “Damn him and his penis. Sex is such an unfair advantage.”

“Alright,” Luke says, rolling his eyes. “You girls have a good night. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“You know that means Christian is actually her best guy friend too!” Kate calls after him and he holds up his middle finger at her over his shoulder as he continues into the foyer and disappears from view. She looks after him with a smug, self-satisfied smirk and then turns back to me.

“Really though, are you okay?” She asks.

“Yeah, but…” I stop, not sure if I want to tell her why what Leila said to me is affecting me so much.

“But what?”

I glance at her uncertainly, trying to decide if I think she can be trusted with what I want to tell her, or if Christian is going to get a call from Elliot about it later.

“Okay. I want to tell you something. But I’m telling you as my best friend, not as someone looking for a story and not as Elliot’s girlfriend. You can’t say anything to anyone, and I mean anyone.” I tell her seriously.

“You mean, you need to tell me something in confidence because I’m your best friend and try as he may Luke Sawyer could never take that place?”

I roll my eyes.

“Yes, Kate,” I say flatly and she lights up.

“Great, what can I do for you?”

“I’m a little freaked out by what Leila said,” I admit, and she gives me a sympathetic smile.

“I thought you said Christian told you that he hadn’t slept anyone while you were broken up?”

“He said that…” I reply hesitantly.

“But you don’t believe him?”

I take a deep breath and look Kate in the eye as I continue. “I just… I know he’s still into it.”

“Into what?”

“The uh… kinky things that he was into before we started dating.”

She narrows her eyes at me. “You mean like… the things he did with Elena?”

“Yeah,” I reply, breaking eye contact with her as that is the one part of this I don’t like to focus on. Thinking about him with Elena, especially doing some of the the things to me that he may have done to her, or worse that she did to him, makes me extremely uncomfortable.

“Okay… ” She says hesitantly, encouraging me to continue.

“So, the other night when we were in Montesano, Christian and I had a few drinks and then we had sex. I didn’t really think much about it as it was happening because Christian isn’t usually what I would describe as gentle when we have sex. I mean, don’t get me wrong. He’s made love to me and it’s sweet, and caring, and amazing, but he usually, you know, if we’re just having sex, he’s… rough.”

“Oh my god,” Kate says, holding up her hands to stop me. “Do I need to be prepared for some serious shit? Because, I swear to god, Ana, if he hurt, you…”

“No, he didn’t hurt me, Kate,” I say to assuage her and she relaxes and then takes a deep, calming breath before nodding for me to continue.

“Well, the other night. He, uh, pushed me a little farther than he has before…” I say awkwardly, almost wondering now if it was a mistake to bring this up.

“What do you mean, he pushed you?” She asks.

“He tied me up,” I say, feeling my cheeks pink. “He, uh… he restrained me and he blindfolded me, and he um… he spanked me.”

“So, are you worried that because he did those things to you he’s done them to someone else?”

“I just worry that what happened between us last weekend kind of confirms her story a little…”

She stares at me for a minute and I sit back and wait for her to speak, wait for some kind of reassurance that I’m being crazy and that just because he’s expressed an interest in BDSM sex again doesn’t mean that he’s been secretly fucking a slew of submissives personally picked for him by Elena Bitch Troll Lincoln.

“I don’t know what to say, Ana,” Kate says eventually. “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Personally, knowing how he feels about you and after seeing what he was like when you two weren’t together, I don’t believe it. But it doesn’t matter what I believe, it matters what you believe and what you can live with. I think Luke is right and you should really consider the source of this information. Leila is trying to hurt you. She didn’t get her way with the allegations she made against Christian and so she’s lashing out at you.”

“Really?”

“Really. Ana, he loves you, and I mean, he really, really loves you. I think when you were gone his sole focus was GEH and not a bunch of random hook-ups. You couldn’t sleep with anyone else, I don’t think he could either.”

I smile gratefully at her. “You’re sure not just saying this because Christian said that he wants to marry me and you have hope again that we’ll be sisters one day?”

“Partially,” She says with a laugh. “And partially because I want to move past the sad part so you can tell me about the drunk, kinky sex you had.” She lifts her hands in a gesture for me to continue and I laugh and shake my head at her.

“Oh come on, Ana! You can’t drop we had BDSM sex on me and then stop. Give me the deets!”

“What do you want me to give you a blow by blow?” I ask and she shakes her head.

“No, you can spare me the gory details…” She says, “I just want to know, I mean, was it good?”

I bite down on my lip, feeling my cheeks heat with my blush, and nod. “It was… incredible.”

“Incredible?”

“I came three times.”

“What! Jesus Christ, Ana, what are you worried about?” She laughs and I feel a welcome wave of relief cross over me. As I think back over that night and how amazing it really was, I don’t know why I’m so ready to turn it into something bad. Christian and I talked about it, and he was open and honest with me about what he wanted and what he liked. This is a huge step for us and I’m taking this moment of his vulnerability with me and trying to turn it into something negative. Because of what? Something Leila said? She’s proved to me that she’s a liar, that she’s trying to hurt me. Why would I believe her over Christian?

Apparently, even though I’ve accepted his apology for what happened before and I’ve forgiven him, I’m still struggling with some trust issues. That needs to be addressed. I resolve then that I’m going to make an appointment with Flynn in the morning to talk more about this, and in the meantime, I think I’m going to double down on what I said to Christian last weekend. I want him to know that can open up to me. That Elena isn’t the only one who can accept him for who he is and what he wants.

“Kate…” I begin hesitantly and she looks up from her phone at me with interest. “You know how next week is Christian’s birthday?”

“Yeah.”

“I think I know what I want to get for him but I don’t really know where to start. If this is crossing the line of best friend duties, you can say no… but since Christian is going to be gone for the next few days, I think it might be a good opportunity to pick up some things…”

“Like what?” She asks and I give her a you-know-what look. “Oh…” She says, as she realizes what I’m asking. “You want me to go with you to help you pick out sex toys?”

“If you’re comfortable with that… I really don’t know what I’m doing and I would feel better not going by myself.”

“Awh, Ana,” Kate says sentimentally. “I’m honored and as your best friend, I accept. I’d be delighted to help you pick out your very first pair of handcuffs.”

“Thanks, Kate,” I say with a small laugh and then I get up off the couch. “Now, I’m going to bed before I can humiliate myself any further.”

“Alright,” Kate agrees, and she too gets up but she looks dubiously over at the stairs. “The guest rooms are all upstairs, right?”

“Yes.”

“There isn’t one down here, closer to you?”

I give her a pointed look. “Kate, do you want to sleep with me tonight?” I ask.

“Yes,” She says, relieved, and I roll my eyes as I grasp her hand and drag her back towards mine and Christian’s bedroom with me.

Next Chapter

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