Chapter 24

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I feel a slight pounding in my head as I’m woken up the next morning by my phone vibrating on the bedside table. I want to groan because I’m sure it’s Christian calling to fight with me about last night, but because I know that I probably deserve his anger and because I don’t want to wake Kate sleeping in the bed next to me, I remain silent and roll out of bed, taking my phone with me as I shuffle off to the bathroom. When I look down to answer my phone though, I see that the vibration wasn’t an incoming call, not even a text or an email. It’s a Google Alert.


Google Alert: Christian Grey

TMZ, June 8th 2010: While Grey is Away, Ms. Steele Will Play. Remember last weekend when Seattle business owner and eternal heartthrob, Christian Grey, put the sexual harassment rumors to rest on national TV by proclaiming his love for intern and apparent girlfriend Anastasia Steele? Well, last night, Ms. Steele was spotted cozying up with a guy in a Seattle nightclub who, get this… wasn’t Mr. Grey. Was it all a lie, or does Anastasia Steele have some explaining to do?


I stare down in horror at the brief summary of the article for a minute before clicking on the headline and scanning through the text which claims to have exclusive pictures of me with another guy. Exclusive pictures? How? There weren’t any paparazzi!

I click on the photo album at the bottom of the page and then sort through the dark and somewhat grainy photos that look like they were taken from a cell phone in the club. There are a few of me in the booth with Kate which are innocent enough, but towards the end of the collection are photos of me standing outside the bathroom. In one of them, I’m wrapped in the arms of a guy whose face you can’t see, but who I know is Luke. I swipe to the next photo and feel my breath catch in my throat. I know that at this moment, he was whispering in my ear, reassuring me about Christian and his love for me after what Leila had said to me, but in the dimly lit, poor quality photo, it looks like he’s kissing me.

That’s what Christian is going to think when he sees this, and so without a second thought of recourse, I dial Christian’s number and hold the phone to my ear, feeling my stomach clench with dread at each drawn out ring. The fourth ring comes to an abrupt end and I wait through the half second of silence for his voice, preparing myself for both hurt and anger, but it’s not his voice that answers.

“You have reached the voicemail box…” The chipper robotic voice says into my ear and I pull the phone away and look down at the screen in disbelief. Four rings… definitely not enough to go to voicemail. He ignored my call.

Fuck. That isn’t a good sign.

“Hey…” I say, shakily, once I hear the beep. “It’s me, I uh… call me, okay? I miss you.” I hesitate for a minute, wondering if I should say something about the article in my message, but ultimately decide it isn’t a good idea. It’s 7:30 here, which means that it’s 10:30 in New York. There’s a good chance that I’m just being paranoid and he had to ignore my call because he’s in a meeting. If he hasn’t seen the article, I don’t want to bring it up and risk him not calling me back and giving me the chance to explain, or worse, calling Luke and firing him before he knows what really happened. After a long, awkward pause, I end the call and then glower down at the Google Alert still open on the screen of my phone. After our email exchange last night, this really isn’t how I want to start my morning with Christian.

“What time is it?” Kate moans in the bed behind me as she blindly reaches for her phone, which is charging on Christian’s nightstand.

“7:30,” I tell her. She groans and reaches over for my pillow which she pulls over her face to block out the early morning sunlight so she can go back to sleep. I walk to her side of the bed and pull the pillow away, and after she cringes away from the light, she pouts up at me.

“I need to take a shower and get ready for work,” I tell her. “Will you take my phone and, if Christian calls, tell him I’ll call him right back?”

“Sure,” She yawns, pulling the blanket up over her head. I frown and then turn the volume on the ringer all the way up before slipping the phone onto the nightstand next to her and dashing into the bathroom to take the fastest shower I’ve ever had in my life.

Thankfully, Christian doesn’t call while I’m in the shower because when I return to the bedroom, wrapped in a towel, Kate is once again dead to the world. I pick up my phone and take it back into the bathroom with me, watching it intently as I dry my hair and apply my makeup.

By the time Luke and I step into the elevator to leave for work, Christian still hasn’t called me back. I’m staring at my phone nervously as we make our descent to the parking garage, silently willing it to ring.

“He’s probably in a meeting, right?” I ask Luke as we pass the 14th floor. “I shouldn’t call him again because he’s probably in a meeting and he’s going to call me once he’s out.”

“Sure,” Luke shrugs, but I can tell just from his tone that he’s only placating me. Fuck, Luke probably knows exactly what’s going on because he’s probably talked to Taylor this morning.

“He’s mad at me, isn’t he? He’s ignoring my calls because he’s so pissed he doesn’t even want to talk to me?”

“I don’t know, Ana,” Luke replies and I narrow my eyes at him. He sighs and then looks down at the floor as he continues, “He’s not a patient person, Ana, and he prioritizes you above everything else. If he wanted to talk to you, he would have called you, or at the very least, he would have stepped out of a meeting to answer your call…”

I feel a deep sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. If that’s true, this is more than just anger over a night out drinking with Kate. If Luke is right, he’s seen the article about Luke and I, and he’s jumped to the conclusion I worried he would.

“Luke…” I begin, not really sure how I want to ask this. “Did you see the, uh, article on TMZ this morning with the pictures of us in the club last night?”

“Yeah, I saw it,” He replies shortly, still not looking at me.

“Did Christian see it?”

The doors open, cutting off Luke’s answer, and as we both look up, we see my Lincoln idling a few feet away from the elevator. The driver’s side door opens and Prescott steps out.

“Miss Steele,” She greets me. “I’ll be taking you to work today.”

“Yeah,” Luke says. “I think he’s seen it.”

He reaches out to hold the elevator doors open for me and, as I step onto the pavement of the garage, I watch him reach out for the button to take him upstairs again.

“Wait!” I exclaim, putting my foot out to stop the doors from closing. “This is all just a misunderstanding. As soon as I can speak with Christian, it’ll all be cleared up. You don’t have to go, Luke…”

“Miss Steele,” Prescott interrupts me. “Mr. Grey made it very clear that I was to take you into work today. Alone.”

I frown and turn to Luke, who gives me a tight, closed lip smile. “Go,” He says. “Have a good day. I’ll see you later.”

I step backwards, staring at him blankly as he reaches out for the button again and the doors close. When I turn around, Prescott pulls open the door to the backseat of the Lincoln for me, and I do my best to suppress a groan as I climb inside.

As we sit silently in the usual morning traffic that congests the streets of downtown Seattle, I find myself glancing down at my phone what feels like every five seconds, waiting for it to ring. Eventually, I can’t take it anymore and I dial his number once again. It rings twice.

“You have reached the voicemail box of…”

I hang up without leaving a message this time.

When we finally pull up outside my office, I take a deep, steeling breath, step out of the car and do my best to shield myself from the ever present flashing lights from the photographers who are now actively ruining my life. Prescott isn’t as good at keeping the paparazzi away from me as Luke is, and as they close in around us, it becomes difficult to wade through the crowd to the door.

“Miss Steele!” I hear one of the photographers yell, “Is it true that Mr. Grey has offered you $1 million to help him cover up his sex scandal?”

“Over here, Miss Steele! Is it true that Mr. Grey is demanding a paternity test to determine whether or not your unborn child is his?”

“Are you cheating on Mr. Grey with your bodyguard, Miss Steele?”

I stop just before I reach the door, knowing what I’m about to do is a bad idea, but I can’t stop myself. I turn around to face the photographers, pulling my jacket away from my face and looking purposefully into each of the eyes staring intently back at me.

“No, it’s not true. Christian hasn’t offered me money, I’m not pregnant, and I have not, nor will I ever, cheat on him. I love him. Now, please, leave my office.”

They all look back at me, shocked, for only a split second, and then the flashing lights start again and more questions are thrown at me. Prescott grabs onto my arm and I sigh with exasperation, turn around, and allow her to push me into the building.

The atmosphere is very different inside the building than it is just outside the door. SIP is amping up for a new publication that has everyone involved on the project really excited, and Boyce Fox, SIP’s number one selling author, sent us word yesterday that he’s finished his sophomore novel. With all the great things coming down the pipeline, everyone’s moods seem to be elevated and it shows. People smile at me as I pass, ask me how I’m doing this morning… it’s quite the change from the usual, almost eerie silence that normally grips this office. Unfortunately, today, I would have preferred to be left alone.

Brian greets me as I make my way into my office and I give him a weak smile but ultimately close the door behind me, trying to shut everyone out. I take a seat at my desk and immediately open my email, hoping there will be something there from Christian, but there isn’t. Not that I had been really all that hopeful. This same email address is synced to my iPhone. I have never been more hyper aware of my phone than I am in this minute and I haven’t had any notifications.

Why isn’t he calling me back?

Doing my best to push my concerns about Christian aside, I settle into my desk and pull up my calendar to see what I have scheduled for the day. A groan escapes my lips as I see the meeting with the heads of Christian’s Research and Development department that is scheduled for an hour from now, and that I don’t feel entirely prepared for. Now that we’ve tackled most of the operational issues at SIP, we’re moving into phase two of the implementation process, which is to create a new eBook division. I’d like to know as much as possible about the industry and trends in sales, specifically as they relate to genres, but with my packed meeting schedule over the last week and a half, I haven’t been able to do much research.

I open Google on my browser, resolved that I’m going to at least spend the next hour preparing what I can for this meeting, but as I click through different articles, my mind keeps drifting back to the completely silent phone resting a few inches away from my keyboard.

Ugh, maybe I should just email him.

I minimize the internet window open on my screen and pull up my email, but once I’ve put his address into the TO bar, I find myself staring at the blank screen at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say to him, or how to assuage his concerns because I don’t know what he’s thinking. I could send him a long explanation of what happened last night, of what was really going on in that photograph, but part of me thinks that would be a waste of time. I’m almost positive Luke has already relayed the story to Taylor in more detail that I could probably even remember after all the tequila, so I’m sure Christian knows what happened. The problem lies in whether or not he believes it and it’s hard to convey sincerity over email, especially since I have no idea if that’s even really the problem…

Besides, I want to talk to Christian. I didn’t get the chance to yesterday and he’s now been gone for more than one full day. I miss him… I hate that he’s not talking to me.

Ironic, right Steele?

Closing the pointless email open on my screen, I reach over, pick up my phone, and dial Christian’s number again.

“You have reached the voicemail box of…”

A dry ache begins to creep into my throat as I hear the robotic voice once more and so I hang up the phone and take a deep breath through my nose to compose myself. I don’t want to cry at work.

Twenty minutes later, Brian’s voice comes over the speaker of my desk phone, letting me know that Barney and Welch are here from GEH. I ask him to let them in and a minute later my door opens. They’re both very reserved and succinct, but extremely polite. It reminds me a lot of the way my father acts around people he doesn’t know and that makes me feel a little better as we move past the polite, yet forced chit chat, and onto business.

Thankfully, the lack of my usual over preparation for this meeting is moot because both Barney and Welch have done their own homework. We discuss industry trends and some of the things I’ve read about or talked about with Ros and Christian. They seem confident that we can have the technology needed for the new division programmed and in testing in only a few weeks.

“Well, GEH already has a business relationship with Amazon so I’m confident in our ability to manage and maintain cost effective distribution through Kindle, but what about Nook or iPad? Do you think it would be more beneficial for SIP to attempt to negotiate contracts with the major players in the eReader industry or is it more feasible to create our own app that can be downloaded onto any smartphone or Wi-Fi capable electronic device?” I ask.

“An app would be, I believe, most cost effective and would give us greater control over distribution and product security…” Welch says, and he glances at Barney as if he’s looking for reassurance.

“But..?” I press him.

“But, we had a better idea,” Barney finishes for him. “Currently, GEH’s technology and software development team is building a new tablet device that will be exclusive to GEH. We’re building some amazing, innovative features into the device and we were thinking that adding an eReader would really add value to the product.”

“You want to create our own eReader?” I clarify.

“Not exclusively, I do believe we’ll have to create an app that can be accessible on other devices, but by developing an eReader as a GEH product, you open yourself to the ability to do so much more than just distribution.”

“Such as?”

“Exclusive additional content from the author, perhaps. Sneak previews, early releases… plus, you can control the features. Our software development team is incredible, Miss Steele. Anything you could dream up to add, they could make happen.”

“Notes,” I say and he raises an eyebrow at me. “One of the reasons I hate Kindle is that I like to write notes in my books. I like to highlight or underline passages I think are really good or that I want to read again. You can’t do that on an eReader.”

“We could solve that,” Barney says. “We could even add a specialized stylus that can be housed in the device.”

“What about a feature that could read a book aloud?” I ask. “Is that possible?”

“You mean, having the device read the book aloud for you?”

“Yes.”

Barney looks to Welch who looks as though he’s thinking through all the possibilities in his mind as he decides how to answer. “I think we could do it…” He says. “In fact, we might even be able to do a read along function with audio and visual effects for children’s books. Like a sing along or a karaoke program. The words could be highlighted as the text is read aloud.”

“Like a tool to help kids learn how to read,” I say, smiling at the idea.

We talk for another thirty minutes, coming up with ideas for different features and I scribble each of them down so that I can send a proposal to Ros and Christian this afternoon. I’m not only extremely impressed by what the technology division of Christian’s company seems to be able to do, but also, excited by what we’ve come up with. By the time the meeting is over, I actually can’t wait to get my hands on this new device, and I hate eReaders.

When we’ve finished with the meeting, I thank them both for their time, shake each of their hands and promise to let them know when we have the go ahead. Brian sees them out of the office and once I’m alone again, I pull up my email once more and send the details of what we had discussed in a proposal to both Ros and Christian. I wait impatiently for a response, clicking refresh on my email every ten minutes as I try and tackle the mountain of other work I have for today, but nothing comes through. Hours pass, and still… nothing. I know that they’re both away on business so they’re probably working on other things, but because I also know Christian is also just not talking to me right now, I’m taking the silence very personally.

By five o’clock, I’ve given up hope that he’s going to respond to me, but as I pack up my things to leave for the day, I hear the sweet, overly-welcome ping from my email and a mixture of joy, elation, and relief grips me as I see Christian’s name.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: eReader

Date: June 8th 2010 05:03 PM

To: Anastasia Steele

I approve.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings INC

That’s it? That’s all I get. My hopes are crushed again as I look down at the two words that make up the entirety of his email. The only words I’ve heard from him all day…

This is ridiculous. With new determination, I reach down, pick up my phone and for the fourth time today, dial his number.

“You have reached the voicemail box…”

“Ah!” I yell in frustration as I end the call and stop myself from throwing my iPhone across the room.

When I make it back to Escala, I peek into the security office to see if Luke is there, but he isn’t. I wonder where Christian has sent him… My stomach tightens at the idea that maybe Christian called Luke himself to have him reassigned. I know it wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation, but at least he would get to talk to him. I haven’t even gotten that courtesy.

It’s not a good sign that I’m jealous of people getting yelled at by Christian.

I sigh and make my way into the great room where Kate is lounging on the sofa watching a rerun of Friends and sipping a Diet Coke through a straw.

“Hey,” She greets me, smiling. “You ready to go or do you want to eat dinner first? Elliot’s coming over tonight so I’d prefer it if we went sooner, rather than later.”

“Go?” I ask.

“Yeah… remember? You wanted to go and buy some tools for Christian’s trade.” She laughs but I’m not in the mood to joke about Christian right now. I’m not in the mood to do anything with Christian except figure out what I can do to make him answer my motherfucking phone calls.

“I don’t know, Kate…” I tell her. “I don’t think I’m in the mood to do that tonight.”

“Why?” She asks. “Did something happen at work?”

“No. It’s Christian… he’s not talking to me because of that TMZ article this morning. I think he might actually believe that I cheated on him…”

“But that’s ridiculous. Did you tell him what happened?”

“Oh, you’re right! Why didn’t I think of that?” I say, sarcastically. “He’s not answering my phone calls, Kate.”

She narrows her eyes at me. “Well… did you call Ros or Taylor?”

“Oh… no,” I reply guiltily and she gives me a well-there-you-go kind of look. “I’m sure he knows what happened though. I can almost guarantee Taylor has talked to Luke.”

“Well, maybe he’s embarrassed, then,” Kate suggests.

“Christian? Why would Christian be embarrassed?”

“Because he overreacted. He got pissed off and then found out what happened and now he’s embarrassed about it. Or maybe he’s just pouting. Or maybe he’s just really busy. Whatever it is, he’ll get over it. He’s not going to be mad forever, but he is coming home tomorrow. So, if you want to go shopping without him being around it has to be tonight.”

I frown. Maybe she’s right… I mean, this is all just a huge misunderstanding. I know him and I know that him being so far away while all of this is happening is probably playing a huge role in what’s going on between us right now. It’s probably also doing a number on his control issues and so he’s latching onto everything around him that he can control, including the decision to not answer his phone. He will be home tomorrow, so even if I don’t hear from him for the rest of the night, I’ll get to talk to him about it when he gets back and we’ll move past it, just like we always do. It would really bother me if I missed my opportunity for his birthday surprise because of a stupid fight we were having over nothing…

“Okay,” I tell her. “Let me change and we can go.”

Kate smiles at me and I disappear into the bedroom, trading my black pencil skirt for a pair of jeans, and my button down, silk blouse for a slightly oversized t-shirt. When I’ve laced up my shoes and put my heels back in their place in Christian’s closet, I head back out to the living room and Kate and make our way down to the garage.

I’m very careful once we arrive outside the seedy looking storefront to look for any photographers lingering around, waiting for a shot of me walking into a sex shop. Thankfully though, the parking lot is mostly deserted, except for a few other shoppers who don’t look like they want to be recognized here anymore than I do. I stay close to Kate, holding onto her so I can keep my face down as we walk across the asphalt lot and into store, and once the doors close behind us, I feel a welcome sense of ease. It’s uncomfortable how much my fear of having photographers jumping out and snapping pictures of me to upload all over the internet reminds me of what it felt like when we were dealing with Kate’s stalker back in our freshman year of college…

“Uh… let’s try back here,” Kate says, standing on her tiptoes so she can see over the displays at the front of the store, which are overloaded with pink sashes with the word bachelorette scrawled across them in glitter, and other assorted penis themed memorabilia. I’m actually surprised by how big the store is. I had kind of imagined a dark, dingy room filled with all kinds of weird sex things on display. In reality, it’s set up kind of like a cleaner, better organized thrift store. There is lingerie on display to our right, aisles and aisles of different kinds of sex toys in the center, and against the left wall there are dozens of bulk bins, which are slightly reminiscent of the kind you find in a candy store, filled with different colors and flavors of condoms.

Kate takes my hand and leads me past a room filled with porn DVDs to a section made up of a lot of items I don’t really recognize, and several I’m not sure I want to…

“Okay… What are we looking for?” Kate asks, and I shrug.

“I honestly have no idea,” I reply.

“Well then, let’s just get everything that doesn’t look terrifying,” She says, and I laugh. I’m glad I brought her with me. I would have never had the courage to do this on my own. We start looking through the different items displayed on the shelf, and it isn’t long before we have to pull out our phones to google what some of the instruments are used for. I find myself cringing at a lot of the pictures and videos that come up, but not all of them. There is a small section of floggers hanging from hooks on the wall, and so I pull one down to examine, running my finger through the leather straps and trying to decide how much it would hurt to get hit with something like this.

“What do you think this is?” Kate asks, and I turn to look at the wide metal ring in her hands that has, what looks like, six clothespins hanging from short black strings in a star like pattern in the center.

“I have no idea…” I reply, wrinkling my nose as I try to imagine what you would do with the clothespins. “But it looks gnarly.”

“It’s a vaginal spreader. Quite effective but also, quite painful,” A very unwelcome voice says behind me and when Kate looks over her shoulder and immediately tenses, she confirms my fear as to who it is and I feel my blood run cold. I turn to face her and when I see the young, blonde haired man standing at her side, I feel a wave of nausea.

“What are you doing here?” Kate asks, her voice cold and almost vicious as she glares at Elena.

“Oh, there were just a few things I needed to pick up,” Elena replies with a smile. “I was actually wondering the same about you but… well, I suppose I could probably guess.” She turns to look at me, her eyes almost twinkling with her satisfaction to have caught me here, but I can’t bring myself to respond or to even look back at her. The only thing I can focus on is the young man standing next to her, staring silently down at the ground, the thought that this was once Christian replaying in my mind over and over again.

“I’m sorry, where are my manners?” Elena says when she notices me staring. “Ana, this is Isaac, Isaac, this is Anastasia Steele.”

He doesn’t move and Elena lets out a low approving sound, her smile widening as she continues. “You may speak, Isaac,” She says. His head shoots up immediately and he reaches his hand out for mine.

“Pleased to meet you,” He says politely. I hesitate for a minute, looking down at his outstretched hand, but I can’t bring myself to shake it.

“H-how old are you?” I stutter and he frowns.

“Twenty-one,” He responds, and I know that I should feel at least a small amount of relief that, this one at least, isn’t underage, but I don’t, and the reason I don’t comes unbidden out of my mouth.

“The same age as Christian,” I whisper and he raises an eyebrow at me.

“Mr. Grey?” He asks, “Are you one of his?”

I freeze, and I feel Kate have the same reaction next to me. Suddenly, my concern with his age falls completely out of my mind. “What?” I ask. “What do you mean, one of his?”

“Isaac,” Elena says sharply and his head immediately shoots down towards the ground again. “Anastasia is Mr. Grey’s… girlfriend. ” She says the word with disdain. “But that is none of your business.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” Isaac replies, and I don’t know what is more overpowering for me at the moment… to say something to try and save this boy from whatever punishment or abuse his little slip has earned him, or what his actual slip implies. One of his… One of Christian’s. Does that mean that Leila was telling the truth?

“You need to leave,” Kate spits at Elena, but she just smiles back at her before turning to Isaac.

“Go wait in the car for me,” She instructs him. He turns and immediately begins walking for the front door. Elena turns back to face Kate and I, her eyes skimming the leather flogger I’m still gripping tightly in my hands, and she smirks, reaches for the wall behind me and pulls down a different flogger with wider, thicker straps.

“You should try this one, Anastasia,” She says with a smirk. “It’s Christian’s favorite.”

My whole body gets hot as I feel Kate grip me by the upper arms and push me away from Elena, dragging me to a different part of the store so that we’re no longer in her line of sight.

“Ana, ignore her,” Kate tells me. “She’s just trying to get a rise out of you. Remember, she wants to drive you and Christian apart.”

“You heard what he said…” I say quietly. My mind is flooded with images of Christian standing in a room like the one I remember seeing in the photos that Mr. Lincoln had taken to be used as evidence in the trial, and whipping a girl I picture as looking almost exactly like Leila, with the flogger in my hands. I can see her face twisting with agony as he rains it over her again and again, and as the horrible image morphs, and the girl becomes Christian and it’s Elena holding the whip, the flogger falls out of my hands, onto the floor, and my breath turns to gasps full of fear and pain.

“Come on, let’s get you out of here,” Kate says, not bothering to pick the flogger up off the ground as she steers me through the aisles towards the exit. I try and pull myself together, once again knowing I have to be conscious of my surroundings once we’re outside of the building. Thankfully, it doesn’t look as though any photographers have shown up since we entered the store, so we’re able to make it to the car and back to Escala without incident.

When we step out of the elevator and into the foyer back at the apartment, I tell Kate I’m going to bed, and she doesn’t protest or do anything to stop me. In my room, I draw the curtains on the windows closed to block out the sunlight and then crawl into bed without taking my clothes off. I honestly don’t know what I’m feeling right now. I mean, I can justify Leila lying, that’s not even difficult, but what Isaac said was completely unprovoked. Why would he lie? Because of Elena? But then… does that mean that Elena and Leila are scheming together? That seems like a lot of work for a stupid story that only works if they’re able to get me alone, in public, away from Christian… Although, it has happened… twice. Maybe it’s not a coincidence. Are they following me?

Jesus, I sound like a crazy person. I take a few deep breaths and try to clear my mind. I’m so confused, I can’t even get a gut reaction for what I believe is true anymore… I need to talk to Christian. I feel blindly over the comforter of the bed for the phone I know I left abandoned somewhere here, but before I find it, Kate knocks on the door and then eases it open to let herself in.

“Are you okay?” She asks.

“I don’t know…” I tell her honestly. “I’m so confused, Kate.”

She sits on the bed next to me and takes my hand in hers. “Well, we talked about this last night and you didn’t believe it when it came from Leila. Is it more credible coming from Elena?”

“It didn’t come from Elena,” I say emphatically, but she shakes her head.

“He’s a submissive, Ana. He only does what he’s told. I think that it’s safe to assume that anything that comes out of his mouth, comes from Elena.”

“I don’t know, Kate. After he said it, he looked at her like he made a mistake, I don’t think he was supposed to say that.”

“Okay…” Kate agrees. “Maybe she didn’t tell him to say it. But, I still don’t believe it. I mean, Ana, if he was getting submissives from her, why would she hide that from you? She wants you to leave him and she knows that if you found out, that’s exactly what you would do. I think that if it were true, she’d tell you, flat out. She’d paint it on a billboard outside your window or hire a skywriter. Christian’s not even in town, this would have been the perfect opportunity to expose him and have you slip quietly away without him being able to do anything to stop you.”

I ponder her words for a moment… I mean, she does make a good point. Why would Elena bother covering for him, even if it was only a lie of omission? She doesn’t gain anything from not telling me because the only way she can win is if I leave him. Sure, he might get mad at her if he finds out that I found out from her, but that’s happened before and it didn’t stop her from worming her way back into his life last time. And she knows that something like that would hurt me, and she wants to hurt me. No, I don’t think she would cover something like this up. Not to me.

“But… then why would Isaac say it?” I ask aloud.

“I mean, you were in a BDSM sex shop, holding a flogger… and you did say Christian’s name. He’s a submissive, maybe he just assumed.”

“Maybe,” I say, nodding.

“Are you still worried about this because of what you two did last weekend?” She asks and I shrug.

“Kind of. Look, I enjoyed it, and I’m fine with the fact that I enjoyed it, but I keep thinking about how… good he was at it.”

“And that’s a problem?”

“Practice makes perfect, Kate.”

“That’s ridiculous, Ana. Him being good at having sex with you has nothing to do with anyone else.” Kate says and I look at her skeptically, so she takes a deep breath and continues. “Okay, do you remember Craig?”

“The guy you dated before Elliot?”

“Yeah. Well, there was this thing that he liked to have me to do him while we were having sex, and I mean, he really liked it. It was kind of my go to move for a long time.”

“So?”

“So, then I started dating Elliot and when I tried to do it to him, he hated it. He freaked out and made me swear I would never do it ever again. Just because you do something that works with one person, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone. You have to find out what the partner you’re with likes, what they don’t like… From what you’ve told me, Christian knows what you like and he’s very aware of you when you’re together. Even if he ties you up or whatever, it doesn’t mean that he’s having sex with you the way he had sex with Elena. You’re a different person, with different desires and you do something completely different with him than what he did with Elena, even if parts of it look the same. He’s good at this because he knows you, not because he knows… how to tie knots.”

“How to tie knots?” I repeat with a short laugh.

“I don’t know… all you’ve told me is that he tied you up. There’s not really much to know about that. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t be convinced that all of that knowledge came from Elena. You two were apart for two years. I bet if you got a hold of his browser history, you’d see that he’d done plenty of “research” in that time.” She says, putting air quotes around the word research. “Internet videos can be very educational,” She laughs and I smack her on the arm, but can’t stop myself from laughing too.

Again, I have to admit that she’s right. What Christian and I have has nothing to do with anyone else. I mean, it’s not like I can kiss him well because I used to kiss Carter… We’re good together because we love each other and we care about each other and about pleasing each other. He loves me. I know that he does, so I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to believe him when he tells me there hasn’t been anyone else. He’s the person I should trust, not Leila Williams and certainly not Elena Lincoln.

“Thanks, Kate. You’re a really good friend,” I say gratefully.

“Uh uh…” She says with a broad smile. “The best friend.”

I laugh as her phone buzzes and she reaches down to pick it up. When she looks down at the screen, she frowns. “What, is Elliot not coming over after all?” I ask.

“It’s not Elliot…” She says and immediately, I’m on my guard again.

“What?” I ask, dread coursing through me. She holds out her phone.

Google Alert: Anastasia Steele

TMZ, June 8th 2010: The Wild Side of Anastasia Steele. Check out the exclusive pictures of Christian Grey’s girlfriend leaving a Seattle sex shop this afternoon. The question is, was she purchasing something for her hot, CEO boyfriend, or the new mystery man she was photographed with the other night?

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I groan as I throw the phone back down on the bed. “How did this happen? There weren’t any photographers around. We checked!”

“I don’t know…” Kate replies. “Maybe it wasn’t a photographer. I mean, everyone has camera phones. There weren’t paparazzi at the club the other night either and someone still got a picture of you then.”

“So what, I have to worry about every human being around me selling pictures of me now?” I ask and Kate looks down at her phone again, unwilling to make eye contact with me, probably because there is nothing she can say to make it better.

“How long have you had that Google Alert set?” I ask her. “I didn’t even know I had one.”

“Since your name leaked to the press during the whole Leila thing,” Kate says. “Don’t worry, it’s usually just pictures of you outside your office or in your car. You’re really not that exciting.”

“Except for when you’re around,” I roll my eyes. “Don’t be surprised if Christian doesn’t want me hanging out with you anymore. You’re the one who keeps coming up with all these ideas that get me into trouble.”

“Maybe I’m the one selling the photos,” Kate says, with a joking smile but I glare at her.

“That’s not funny,” I snap, and because now she’s put it out there, I stare at her expectantly, waiting for her to deny it.

“Ana, it’s not me,” She says, exasperatedly. “I’m in half of these photos with you, how could I take them?”

I let out a frustrated sigh and then feel my body tense as I hear my ringtone sound from my phone lost somewhere in the bed. My hands begin to frantically dig through the comforter until they grip onto the hard, cold glass around my iPhone. I look down and see Christian’s name displayed in bold, illuminated typeface across the screen.

Fuck, of course he would call me now…

“Hello?” I answer.

“A sex shop?” He responds, his voice tight with anger as he practically growls at me over the phone.

“It’s not what you think, Christian,” I say defensively.

“You mean you weren’t at a sex shop, because you’ll have to understand why I’d have difficulty believing that, Anastasia.”

“No, I was there but…”

“But nothing, Anastasia,” He interrupts me. “I am on a business trip right now, I am meeting with very important business contacts and potential clients. We are on the tail end of a sex scandal, how do you think it looks having my name all over the internet right now accompanying pictures of the woman we announced on national television as my girlfriend to put allegations of sexual harassment to bed in clubs with other men and leaving sex shops?”

“So what, I’m embarrassing you?” I ask, my own anger flaring now.

“Quite frankly, yes. You are.” His words are hard, and icy, and they hit me like a slap to the face.

“Well, I’m sorry that I can’t be perfect for you, Christian Grey.”

“Oh please, Anastasia. Don’t try to turn this around on me. You’re an adult, I shouldn’t have to be around all the time to babysit you and keep you from making stupid fucking decisions.”

“Stupid?” I repeat.

“Stupid,” He reaffirms. “I will be home tomorrow and until I return, you are not to leave the apartment. You can work from home tomorrow.”

“You can’t ground me, Christian. I’m not a child.”

“Then stop acting like one.”

The phone goes dead and I look down at it incredulously. He hung up on me? Is he serious right now?

“What happened?” Kate asks.

“He…” I stop, not even knowing to articulate what just occurred. I throw the phone down onto the mattress and bury my face in my hands. He’s acting like I’m purposefully being negligent. I was careful, I did everything I knew to do to protect him and myself, but none of it seems to work. The answer can’t be to keep me locked in this apartment… I can’t stay here, hidden away from the world forever.

“Kate! Ana!” I hear Elliot’s voice echo from the living room and Kate looks nervously over her shoulder at the door, and then back at me.

“Go, I’m fine,” I tell her. “I’m probably going to go to bed early tonight. This has all been exhausting.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.”

She wraps her arms around me in a tight hug and then leans back to look at me, testing me one last time before she gets up and heads out the door. I reach under the blanket and pull my jeans off, throwing them carelessly across the room, and then stare up at the dark ceiling. Christian has never talked to me like that before and I really don’t like it. Maybe I should call him back and see if we can have a rational conversation… one without the yelling and the hurtful words.

I pick up my phone and dial his number, but once again the phone rings twice and I’m greeted with, You have reached the voicemail box of…

I heave a sigh of frustration and throw my phone back onto the bed, almost wishing I could throw it against the wall because I think that watching it shatter on impact would be oddly satisfying right now.

Next Chapter

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