“Sorry, it’s not chocolate,” Luke says as he hands me a brightly colored paper plate with a square slice of vanilla cake sitting on top of it. I look down at the thick rainbow colored icing and smile.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I tell him, “Thank you.” I pick up my fork to take a bite and then turn to the front of the conference room where Jack is pulling everyone’s attention to Boyce Fox. He’s positively beaming, as he should be. His novel has debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and he’s the reason for the celebration this afternoon. He gives a quick, gracious, and surprisingly humble speech, thanking everyone for their hard work, and Jack makes a joke about how we’ve done all the real work, which makes everyone laugh.
“No, but seriously though,” Jack continues, waving for silence again. “The effort I have seen from everyone on this team has been outstanding. I haven’t seen this level of dedication and excellence in a long time, and I think we owe a lot of that to our very own Anastasia Steele.” He gestures to me and, as everyone in the room begins to clap, I feel my face go red. “She’s still only just an undergrad and she’s had one hell of a summer in terms of her personal life, but she was with us in the trenches every step of the way. It was her ideas and her creativity with the e-reader she developed in conjunction with Grey Enterprises Holdings that have really given this small little publishing company a voice in this crazy industry of ours.”
There is applause again and I finally swallow my bite of cake and wave for everyone to stop. “No,” I say, shaking my head a little. “The only one person in this room who deserves your praise is Boyce. The success of this novel falls to his vision, his words, and his genius. Everything else can be attributed to the gargantuan effort of every single person in this room. It really takes a village to get a project like this off the ground and you all have made my job incredibly easy.”
“Humble as ever,” Jack says, winking at me. “But unfortunately, today is her last day here at SIP and we’re all really going to miss her. Aren’t we guys?” There is a murmur of agreement until Claire pipes up.
“Don’t feel too sorry for her though. She’s leaving for Hawaii today with her hot billionaire.” She laughs and I point my fork at her while giving her a knowing smile.
“That is true,” Jack laughs, “Nonetheless, we’re going to miss you, Ana.”
Amidst a murmur of agreement around the room, I nod in agreement and smile at everyone before turning back to Luke so that I can’t hide the tears pricking my eyes at the overzealous praise. I’ve never been great at being the center of attention or the receiver of compliments and commendation, and after everything else that’s happened in the last week, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.
“Don’t do it,” Luke warns me with a teasing smile when he sees me trying to covertly dab the corners of my eyes. I glare at him and consider shoving my cake in his face. Ultimately though, I decide I’d rather not waste it. There is music that starts playing from the other side of the room as the attention is diverted away from me, and as I take a deep breath to compose myself, I hear Jack’s voice again coming from right behind me.
“We really are going to miss you around here,” He says.
“Thank you, Jack,” I tell him, turning around and returning the broad smile he gives me. He opens his arms for a hug and I hesitantly step into him and allow him to wrap his arms around me.
“Has Mr. Grey said anything about who your replacement will be?” He asks me, and I raise an eyebrow at him.
“No…” I tell him, honestly. “But I figured he just didn’t feel the need to tell me since I’ll be gone. He hasn’t said anything to you?”
“No,” Jack shakes his head.
“Well, I’ll talk to him and I’ll put in a good word for you,” I promise. “You’re really a great asset to SIP, Jack.”
“Thank you, Ana. That means a lot,” He hugs me once more. “Good luck at Harvard. We’re all rooting for you.”
“Thank you,” I say smiling again, and then someone across the room catches his attention. He nods at the person and then turns back to me so he can excuse himself.
“Speaking of that hot billionaire and Hawaii,” Luke says. “We’ve got to go if we’re going to be on time. And if you think I’m going to miss taking a private plane to paradise, you’re insane.”
I laugh, then toss my now empty plate into the wastebasket and quietly sneak out of the conference room and back towards my office to grab my purse.
It’s strange in here now. I’ve already taken everything down and brought it home, so there’s very little of me left here and I’m feeling a little melancholy about it. This job has been such a great experience and I’m actually going to miss it. I need to remember to thank Christian again for giving me this chance.
“Ana?” A hesitant voice comes just before I hear a low knock on my door. I turn around and see Bryan standing there, looking awkwardly at me.
“Hey, Bryan,” I greet him as I sling my purse over my shoulder. “What’s up?”
“I just wanted to congratulate you on a job well done this summer. When you got the appointment to director of this implementation, I didn’t think you deserved it. Frankly, I thought I was more qualified and better suited for the position on nearly every criteria, but you proved me wrong. I’ve actually learned a lot from you over the summer, not just about business but about how to deal with people, and I just want to say, thank you and great job.”
“Thanks, Bryan,” I say smiling. “I’ve really enjoyed working with you this summer. You’ve been so much help.”
“Sure. Have a good term at USC.”
“And you at Harvard,” He says. “I’ll look you up. I have a feeling a recommendation from you may mean a lot in the coming months.”
“And I’ll only have glowing things to say,” I promise him. I give him a quick hug too as I tell him good-bye and then turn to follow Luke out the back to where my Lincoln is parked.
“Didn’t Grey promise you a new car?” Luke asks once we’re pulling onto the street.
“Yeah, we talked about it but I think he’s just going to wait until I get to Cambridge. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy me a car now when I’m about to leave for nine months. He thinks I need something while I’m at school so I’m probably going to need you to take me car shopping when we get back.”
“Excellent,” He says. “Do they have a Porsche dealership in Cambridge?”
I roll my eyes. “I doubt it, and that’s definitely not happening. I’m sure Christian will be very specific about the car I’m allowed to buy.”
“Yeah, but he’s got a soft spot for fast sports cars too,” Luke argues. I shake my head and exhale with irritation. I can’t imagine Christian being comfortable with me driving anything that focuses on speed over safety. So much in fact that I briefly wonder if he’s going to try and find me one of those cars that the president drives around in, with a reinforced armored frame and bullet proof glass. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be much point in concerning myself with what I’ll end up with so I rest my head against the back of my seat, close my eyes, and imagine crystal blue water, white sand beaches, and the most beautiful man in the world by my side as we lay out on sun loungers sipping cocktails and listening to the gentle roll of the tide.
Only a few short hours.
When we pull into the parking garage under Escala, we find Taylor and Ryan already loading mine and Christian’s luggage into the back of the SUV. Luke pulls up next to them so I can hop out of the back of the Lincoln, and I wave to both of them as I step into the elevator. Hopefully, Taylor and Ryan packing up the car means that Christian is ready to go and once I change clothes, we can be on our way. Unfortunately, once I’m upstairs, the only person I see in the great room is Gail.
“Good afternoon, Ana,” She greets me warmly. “How was your last day?”
“It was great,” I tell her, “Is Christian ready to go?”
“Mr. Grey is in his office,” She says, and I turn my head to look in that direction before thanking her and walking towards the back hallway. His office door is closed and I can hear him talking to someone inside, so I assume he’s on the phone. I still have to change so I make my way back into the bedroom, and exchange the uncomfortably stiff dress and heels I’ve been wearing at work all day for a loose fitting sundress and sandals. Next I take the book I’ve been reading off the nightstand, slip it into the tote bag I packed the night before to take on the flight with me, and then make my way back out to the living room.
Christian still hasn’t come out of his office, so I decide to let him know that I’m ready to go, hoping to push him a little, but when I head back down the hallway and open the door, I find that he isn’t alone. He’s sitting on the edge of his desk, his hands folded in his lap as he looks down at a girl with long brown hair seated in the chair facing away from me.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say quickly, trying to back out of the room.
“Ana,” He calls to me, so I hesitate for a moment until he waves me into the room.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were in here with anyone,” I tell him. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You’re never an interruption,” He tells me. “We’re just finishing up. Ana, this is Caitlyn Draper.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I say, holding out my hand, but she doesn’t take it. Instead she just looks up at me awkwardly and blushes.
“I’m sorry if I’ve kept you waiting, Mrs. Grey.”
“Oh…” I say, shaking my head slightly. I’m about to correct her, but it sort of feels unnecessary, especially since Christian doesn’t say anything, so instead I just smile down at her. “You’re perfectly fine, I haven’t been waiting at all.”
“All the same, we do need to be going,” Christian says. Immediately, Caitlyn jumps out of her seat but Christian reaches into the small plastic stand on his desk that contains his business cards and holds one out for her. “If I can ever do anything else for you, Miss Draper, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.”
“Thank you, sir,” She says, gratefully, as she takes the card. “I’ll uh… I’ll just see myself out.”
Christian nods and once the girl has left the room and closed the door behind her, he wraps his arms around me.
“Mrs. Grey, huh?” He says, clearly pleased by the idea. I let out a small breathy laugh and kiss him softly on the lips.
“Is that the last one?” I ask and he nods.
“She wants to go to veterinary school,” He tells me. “That’s one of the more ambitious ones I’ve heard.”
“And you’re going to pay for it?”
He nods again. “If that’s what she wants to do.”
I frown but don’t argue the point. Despite getting everything we wanted with the trial, Christian still hasn’t been able to shake the guilt he feels over what those girls working in the club went through. He’s met with each of them individually, apologized to each of them for what they were forced to endure, and then offered them financial help in whatever they wanted to do to get them out of the lifestyle. A few weren’t interested, and he was okay with that in the end as long as that’s really what they wanted, but he’s paying for all kinds of technical and vocational schools for a few of the others. He’s also arranged for therapists to meet with any of the girls who feel like they need it, but so far, only two or three of the twenty have taken him up on that.
“Are you ready to go?” He asks me and I take a deep breath and nod.
“Then let’s go,” His hand reaches down for mine as he leads me out of his office and back out towards the great room. As I collect my things from the sofa, we both say goodbye to Gail and wish her a safe trip to Portland since she’s taking advantage of our week away to visit her sister. She returns the wish for safe travels to us, and I turn to wave goodbye to her as I follow Christian into the elevator.
When we get to the airport, we’re greeted by the sleek jet with the GREY logo on the tail, ready to go on the tarmac. Ryan, the only member of Christian’s security team who won’t be joining us on the trip, pulls up next to the staircase leading into the fuselage and as I step out of the back of the SUV, I notice Elliot pacing back and forth.
Initially, Christian had planned for this trip to be just for the two of us, but when he told me we’d be missing Elliot’s birthday, we decided that it would be nice to bring the family along. He’s found a compound on the beach in Kauai to rent where we’ll all have separate accommodations, so even though we’ll have plenty of opportunity to socialize and do things as a family, we’ll have our privacy too.
“‘Bout time you got here,” Elliot grumbles impatiently. “You said two o’clock.”
I look down at my phone and roll my eyes. “It’s 2:07 Elliot, relax.”
“Punctuality is important, Anastasia,” He argues. “Time waits for no man.”
“I’m not a man,” I spit back at him and he narrows his eyes at me as I swing my tote over my shoulder and begin climbing up the stairs into the plane.
It’s bigger than it looks from the outside. Carrick, Grace, Mia, and Kate are already seated in the wide, leather seats, but there’s still plenty of room. While the captain does his final pre-flight safety checks, Christian shows me around the plane, reminding me that I’ll be spending a lot of time here once the fall semester begins and I start flying back and forth from Cambridge to Seattle what he assumes will be every weekend. I want to argue that last part, but right before a family vacation doesn’t seem to be the appropriate time to start that fight.
“There are blankets in here if you get cold,” He says, opening a cabinet to show me a stockpile of thin cotton blankets, “And books and magazines over here if you get bored and need something to do.”
He leads me back further into the plane and points out the bathroom before showing me a small bedroom in the back that is largely taken up by a perfectly made bed.
“In case I get tired?” I ask, looking up at him innocently.
“In case I decide to fly back with you,” He replies, raising a suggestive eyebrow. I roll my eyes and then playfully slap him across the chest before maneuvering around him to rejoin the rest of the Greys.
We take a seat across from Mia as the plane begins to move, and a woman with platinum blonde hair and striking blue eyes comes up beside us.
“Can I get you anything, Mr. Grey?” She asks. But Christian, who has already pulled out a book to read for the fight, shakes his head.
“We’re fine, thank you,” He tells her, not looking up, and she nods before disappearing towards the front of the plane.
“Who was that?” I ask him.
“Natalia,” He replies. “She’s part of the staff. She’ll be the one taking care of you when you fly home to be with me. There’s a full kitchen and a bar so if you ever need anything, she can get it for you.”
“And she’s the one who waits on you when you go on business trips and stuff?” I ask.
“Yes,” He nods, but when he looks up at me and sees my expression, he frowns. “Do you have a problem with that?”
I frown. “No. I mean… Does she have to be so leggy?”
“What do you mean?” He asks and I roll my eyes.
“I mean, you couldn’t find a flight attendant who didn’t also moonlight as a supermodel?”
He laughs and reaches down to pick up my hand so he can press my fingers into my lips. “There’s no need to be jealous, Anastasia,” He reassures me. “I don’t have eyes for anyone but you.”
I let out an exasperated huff but decide to let it go as I reach for my own book and settle in for the long flight.
The sun is setting by the time we start to descend over the clear turquoise water and lush green landscape surrounding Lihue airport. When we’re let off the plane, we’re met by a line of woman in identical floral wrap dresses, each holding purple orchid leis over their arms.
“Welcome to Kauai, Mr. Grey,” The woman closest to us greets Christian. She reaches up to place the circlet of fragrant flowers over his head and although he doesn’t seem over pleased by the adornment, he doesn’t say anything about it. The rest of the women step forward, placing a lei around each of our necks in turn before we’re escorted through the airport to two large SUVs waiting to take us to our beach rental. Christian thanks the women who greeted us and then climbs into the SUV after me. Once the door closes, he immediately removes the orchids from around his neck and tosses them over Mia’s head. She giggles and turns to bury her nose in the flowers.
The road that takes us to our compound is flanked on either side by tall, overgrown trees that make it feel as though we’re driving through a tunnel, but once we make it to our rental, we’re met with an unbelievably gorgeous ocean view. Kate’s arms reach up and around me from the seat behind us as she lets out a small excited squeal. I laugh, and rest my hand over her wrists, wishing I could turn around and hug her back. For the first time in a long time, I’m able to relish in the feeling of not having anything to worry about, and can look forward to a blissful, relaxing week with the people I love.
Once we’re stopped, Luke and Taylor begin unloading everyone’s bags as we walk up the manicured trails towards the individual bungalows scattered throughout the property. Everything here is so beautiful: the oceanfront views, the palm trees gently swaying in the breeze overhead, even the lawn, which is peppered with small gardens overflowing with exotic plants and flowers. Christian leads me to the largest bungalow near the back of the compound, and I’m intrigued by the curious and yet somehow fantastic dichotomy of the shabby, beachy exterior of the little cottage compared to the ultra modern interior. It’s chic and cozy, and most importantly, it has a gigantic bed in the center of the room, which is surrounded by billowy mosquito netting hanging from the long post in each of the four corners, and I immediately think about how perfect they are for restraints…
“What do you think?” Christian asks, coming up behind me and wrapping his arms around my waist as Taylor and Luke set our bags by the door and quickly hurry back outside.
“I was just thinking about the possibilities these bedposts present,” I say slyly, turning in his arms and pressing into him.
“Mmm,” He hums. “I have a few ideas myself…” He leans down, kissing me deeply. His tongue invades my mouth, moving firmly but languidly against mine as we lose ourselves in the kiss.
“Baby, we’ve got to go meet my family for dinner,” He whispers, the regret clear in his voice as he pulls away from the kiss.
“Okay…” I say, pouting. I reach down for my suitcase, plopping it down on the chair for something I can change into but as I pull my dress over my head, I hear Christian groan.
“Oh, fuck dinner,” He says, and suddenly I’m swept up into his arms and his lips are on mine again. He pushes me back towards the bed, roughly yanking back the mosquito bedding and practically throwing me as he lifts me onto the bed. His fingers move with quick dexterity as he unbuttons the fly of his jeans and then reaches back to the collar of his t-shirt and yanks it over his head. I hook my thumbs under the band of my panties, pulling them quickly over my hips and legs, but the moment I toss them aside and place my legs down on the bed, Christian is on me, wrenching my legs apart as he lowers his mouth to me.
“Oh fuck!” I gasp at the unexpected yet wholly welcome contact. His tongue swirls around my clitoris just long enough for him to heighten my arousal and then he moves up, kissing every inch of my skin from my navel to my neck.
When he gets to my collar bones, I fist my hands into his hair and yank him up so that I can kiss him again. Our teeth clink together as we dive into one another, but we’re so lost in this sudden desperate need that neither of us care. I feel his fingers reach back for the clasp in my bra, but he’s having difficulty reaching it with me on my back, so I reach up and shove against his chest, pushing him off of me so that he rolls onto the bed next to me and then quickly climb on top of him, straddling his waist. I lean down over him, pushing my breasts into his chest as he reaches up from my bra clasp again and I take his mouth once more. There is a small thought in the back of my brain that wonders if I should show a little restraint instead of just shamelessly throwing myself at him like this, but I’m so desperate for his touch right now, I just don’t care.
“Fuck, Ana,” He whispers. “God, this is so hot. Show me how much you want me baby.”
I moan into his lips, kissing him deeply one last time before suddenly pulling away and sitting up straight. Slowly, I begin rocking my hips back and forth over his erection, coating him with my arousal as I move. He groans, thrusting his hips upward as I continue to move against him.
“You like that, baby?” I ask him, looking down at him through hooded eyes and very purposefully sinking my teeth into my bottom lip.
“Yes. Oh fuck, yes,” He says. His fingers move to my hips as I continue to gyrate around and around. I lift my hands up into my hair, gently pulling it off my neck to give him the best view of my breasts, and his eyes darken.
“Okay, enough of the preamble,” He says, and his hands grip more tightly onto my hips as he lifts me just enough that he can slide his erection into me. I groan as I sink down onto him, feeling him fill me to the brim.
“Ride me, baby,” He says, huskily. I give him a mischievous smile and then lift myself up a few inches before sinking back down. I’m slow at first, reveling in the feeling of him, but the more I move, the more I need the friction and the hard pounding rhythm that never fails to bring me right to the edge, so I increase my pace. My thighs begin to burn, but I ignore it. I want this. I need this.
His hands reach up to cup each one of my breasts, my nipples peaking through his index and middle fingers, and when he pushes them together, pinching my nipples tightly between his fingers, I let out a small, deeply satisfied yelp and begin grinding down on him.
I’m unprepared for how amazing it feels, having him fully buried inside of me while I move my hips around and back and forth. I don’t often just get to feel him inside of me, filling me completely, without him disappearing almost instantly as pulls out and plunges in again, and it’s so rewarding. Soon, the familiar sensation of heat begins billowing out from deep inside me and my body starts to tremble.
“Oh fuck, Christian!” I groan. “I’m going to come.”
“Good,” He growls. His hands move away from my breasts and back down to my hips as he holds me in place and begins thrusting up into me. I’m panting as I feel myself inching closer and closer to release. Almost there….
“Lean back,” He says, and the second I follow his command, he hits that place inside of me that electrifies my entire body and I unravel.
“Fuck, Christian! Oh fuck!” I scream, hardly able to hold myself upright as my orgasm rips through me. He doesn’t stop his relentless pace as he continues to thrust into me. When at last I feel coherent again, I look down at his beautiful face and the pure pleasure reflected there, and it brings a new, carnal need out of me.
“Come for me, Christian,” I beg him. “Please, come for me. I want to feel you come inside of me.”
“Oh god, Ana,” He growls, his face screwing up slightly as I know he’s just about there. I start moving again, pushing back down on him, meeting him thrust for thrust and soon he groans.
“Fuck, here it comes, baby,” He warns me and after one last, deep thrust, he stills and I feel the slight rippling sensation of his release pouring into me.
I move around him, grinding over him as I wait for him to come all the way back down to earth with me and once he does, he immediately sits up, still buried inside of me, holding me against him as he begins to kiss my breasts. I twist my fingers through his hair, encouraging his mouth on me, until he tilts his head up towards mine and we kiss again.
“Should we still go to dinner?” I ask, after several minutes of being lost in him and his mouth against mine.
“I suppose,” He says. “You’ll need your energy if we’re going to test these bed posts.”
I laugh, and then climb off of him to retrieve my dress again. He grins widely at me as he watches me get dressed and when I’m finished, he takes my hand with his and then slowly lifts my fingers to his lips.
“I love you so much, Ana,” He tells me. “I can’t wait to spend this week with you.”
“Me either,” I reply, and I lean up on my tip toes once more, before we head for the door, walking hand and hand as we make our way down to towards the beach to meet his family.