Memorial Day!

Hey everyone,

I just wanted to give you all a heads up that I’m going into the mountains for the long weekend and will not have any internet access, so I will NOT be posting chapter 27 on Monday. I will have access to jet skis though, so at least we all know that Elliot would be proud.

I will also be taking the full week off so that I have extra time to make sure that I have everything set up the way I want it before we move into this next arch because, for those of you who have been waiting for the first big move, it’s coming…

(More on this in a couple of weeks)

I hope you all have a great Memorial Day weekend, and thank you to all of my new subscribers!

xoxo,

WishingMrGreyWasHere

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Chapter 26

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Despite the fact that I’ve been running for thirty minutes to an hour every day, my morning jog never gets easier. I keep trying to convince myself that it’s the cold, that once spring finally comes I’ll be able to enjoy running through the neighborhood again, but I know that, in reality, it’s only going to continue becoming more and more difficult the further into my pregnancy that I progress.

“Okay, little girl,” I pant, reaching down to rest a hand on my belly as I round the corner that will take me back to my house, “Let’s keep this belly high and tight so I can keep this up, okay?”

There’s a small movement inside of me that feels like a response and it makes me smile. It gives me the last bit of motivation I need to keep up the pace to get me home, but that determination soon vanishes when I look up again and see the bourbon eyes and brown hair of the girl waiting for me at the end of the street.

I stop instantly.

“Always watching,” she says. “Always waiting.”

Suddenly, a hand appears from behind me and closes over my mouth to muffle my scream. I feel whoever it is wrap an arm around me, too strong for me to break away from, and begin pulling me back towards the street. I try to kick, I try to struggle, but as I fight I feel another set of hands on me.

“Ana!”

I try to scream again but the sound is muffled. No one is going to hear me. No one is coming for me.

“Baby, wake up!”

I’m jolted awake by a very concerned looking Christian, but I’m not immediately comforted by him hovering over me. If anything, I’m disoriented.

My eyes move wildly around the room, taking in my surroundings, and, as the previous night slowly seeps into my consciousness, my body finally begins to relax.

I’m not in Cambridge.

I’m in a hotel in Seattle.

Leila is 3,000 miles away.

No one will get to me here.

“Are you okay?” Christian asks, sliding into bed next to me, despite the fact that he’s still wearing a suit, and wrapping me in his arms.

“It’s just a nightmare,” I tell him, and he presses his lips into my hair.

“It’s the pregnancy hormones. The books say some pregnant women experience lucid dreams…”

“I keep dreaming about Leila,” I tell him. “That she’s waiting for me. She stands there, staring at me, and then someone grabs me.”

I hear him swallow. “That’s not going to happen. You’re very well protected, no one will get to you.”

“She was outside my house when I left. It was four o’clock in the morning and she was just sitting there. They said that she’s been there every night. She’s looking for a weakness, Christian.”

“And she’s not going to find one. I promise you, Ana. I won’t let anything happen to you. It was just a dream, baby.”

I take a deep breath, inhaling his familiar and comforting scent as I nestle into him, but when my cheek rubs against one of the buttons on his jacket, reminding me that he’s still in a suit, I pull away and look up at him.

“What time is it?”

“Almost two,” he says, and I frown.

“And you’re just getting home?”

“I’m sorry, I really tried. I’ve got three new contracts out right now, two companies in transition from acquisition, eight others that I’m chasing and are waiting on a response to their RFP, and at least six board members from PixC that I have to convince to vote for a merger with GEH rather than hire Ros.”

“Wait, you’re still chasing PixC?”

“Of course I am. You think I’d let her have it after she tried to sabotage me? After she turned her back on all of the work that we’ve done together with a second thought of the damage she’d leave behind? She’s not getting anywhere near PixC. I’m going to take it and then I’m going to turn it into something astronomically successful, the way only I know how to do. She can watch GEH thrive and grow… without her.

I frown. “I just can’t believe she’d do something like this. I mean, Ros isn’t the kind of person who’s ever been shy about confronting you, so I don’t know why she’d do all this behind your back and act so shady. Besides, she’s ALWAYS been there for you. Through everything. Why would she leave now when you’re both so successful?”

“People get greedy,” he says. “No one is ever satisfied being second. Everyone wants to be on top. Everyone wants the big job. Everyone. People use you to get what they want and then they toss you aside the second they get a better offer. Elena was right all along, I shouldn’t trust anyone.”

I sit up and turn back to look at him, suddenly furious. “What did you just say?”

“No, not you,” he says quickly. “I meant in business…”

“I don’t care what you meant,” I snap. “Don’t you ever say that Elena Lincoln was right to me. About anything. The only thing that she is, is a pedophile and I don’t even want you to speak her name.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” he says, shaking his head slightly. “I’m just tired. It’s late, we should go to sleep.”

I take a deep breath, nod, and then turn my cheek to him as he leans over to kiss me. He sighs at my less than warm reaction to his kiss, but when he gets out of bed and begins stripping out of his clothes, my irritation with his mention of Elena quickly fades away. Watching each tantalizing inch of the well defined ab muscles he reveals with every button he undoes reminds me of the silk nightgown I put back on after Luke left and the pantyless surprise waiting for Christian underneath, but when I hear him groan slightly as he climbs back into bed with me, the hope I had of maybe finally getting into the plans I had for this weekend fades away. He really looks wrecked, more so than I’ve ever seen him before.

“Come here,” he says softly while settling down into the pillows. He lifts his arm and I nestle into him, resting my head on his chest and curling my arm and legs around him. His lips press into my hair, but it’s only a few more seconds before I feel his entire body relax and his breathing slows and grows more steady.

“I love you, Christian,” I whisper, then close my eyes and allow his warmth to lull me back to sleep.

I wake up the next morning to the sound of rain rapping furiously against the windows and the low rumble of thunder. Most people find a storm brewing overhead to be ominous, a sign of trouble or something to fear, but I’ve always found a certain calm to the turbulence. The muted light through the dark clouds, the smell of rain in the air, even the thunder sounds therapeutic to me. I sit up in bed to gaze through the large windows that look out over the city to the sound, but when I’m not met with any kind or resistance from the blankets, I turn and look down at the space next to me only to find it empty.

A quick glance at the clock tells me it’s just after 7:30, but, even though he was out past two, I guess Christian is already awake, and since he let me sleep, I have a bad feeling he’s thrown himself into work again. There is a vain hope though that he’s just waiting for me to wake up on my own, or that he’s already finished whatever he’d left for this morning, but with the storm roaring through the windows, I can’t hear well enough to listen for any indication of what he may be doing, so I have to crawl out of bed to investigate.

I find him pacing back and forth in front of the windows in the dining room talking on the phone, his laptop and a few files open on the table behind him.

“GEH has the ability not only to sustain what PixC is, but to make it grow,” he says. “Our servers are already capable of handling an active user volume of over four times greater than what was detailed in your most recent subscription report and since the technology is all in house, we’ll operate at less than half the cost of what you’re currently spending in overhead. My developers are some of the greatest technological minds in the country and they understand the market. I’m fully confident that we could change the game here, do to Instagram what Facebook did to MySpace, but only if you agree to come on board.” He laughs. “Believe me, I can’t run everything on my own. I need people, people who understand the business, and people who are invested in the company’s success. I have no intention of firing anyone who can prove their worth. Excellent, then we’ll talk more after the paperwork is signed. Thank you, Holland.”

He hangs up the phone and lets out a long sigh of relief before turning back for his computer, but when he sees me standing in the doorway to the bedroom, he stops.

“Good morning.”

“You’re working again today?”

“Not all day,” he assures me. “I just a have a few more things to get settled and then I’m all yours.”

“Okay, then I’m going to take a shower. Breakfast afterwards?” He gives me a closed lip smile so I cross the room, kiss him quickly on the lips, and then turn back to the bedroom. By the time I close the door behind me, I can already hear him answering another call.

When I get out of the shower, I take extra time to dry and straighten my hair so that hopefully Christian will indeed be finished by the time I make it out to the sitting room, but when I’m finished, and I emerge from the bedroom, I find him on the phone again, schmoozing what sounds like another PixC board member while his fingers move over the keys on his laptop.

“Yes, I’m very excited about what the future is going to bring to PixC,” he says. “We’re going to accomplish great things together. Thank you again for your support.” He hangs up the phone and turns his full attention to whatever he’s typing until I come up and close the screen of his laptop on his fingers.

“What would you like for breakfast?” I ask, but instead of answering he looks up at me with almost a little shame reflected in his eyes. “No,” I complain. “You said you just had a few last things.”

“I do, I’m just… going to need a few hours.”

A few hours?!”

“And then I’m yours for the rest of the weekend.”

“You mean until I leave tomorrow? I came early to spend an extra day with you’re giving me less than half of the time I get on a normal weekend.”

“Ana, do you think this is what I want?” he snaps. “Do you think I like being in my office until two o’clock in the morning when I know you’re here waiting for me? Do you think it makes me feel good to know you’re here enjoying one of the very few nights you spend in Seattle with Sawyer instead of me?”

“Well, no…”

“I want to stop working,” he interrupts me. “I want to be able to put all of this way, take you into that bedroom, and spend the rest of the weekend in bed making love to you, but I can’t. I am running this company completely on my own now and I have over 30,000 employees relying on me to keep us functioning. I’m sorry but I don’t have time to come home for dinner or go out to breakfast right now. I don’t even have time to fucking breathe…” He pauses to quell the frustration growing more and more apparent in his voice and when he speaks again, his tone is conciliatory. “Call Mia. Take her out to breakfast and go shopping. She’d love to spend the day with you and by the time you get back, hopefully I’ll be finished.”

I take a breath, weighing his words until I eventually shake my head. “No, I’m not going anywhere.”

I turn away from him and head back into the bedroom for my suitcase, looking for my laptop, and after I’ve retrieved it, I return to the sitting room and set up next to him on the dining room table.

“What can I do?” I ask him.

“What?”

“You don’t have to do this alone. You can’t do this alone. So, give me something to do and I’ll do it. Let me help you.”

He stands there, motionless, considering me for a moment, but eventually nods.

“Alright,” he says. He pulls out my chair for me at the table and waits until I’m able VPN into the GEH server through the app that is still on the desktop from my internship over the summer. Once I’m logged in, he drags several things into my secure user file and then moves his chair over next to mine to walk me through what to do.

It’s mostly contracts with changes made by his legal time that I’m supposed to review, but there are also a few requests from clients he’s currently chasing, asking for details about whichever GEH service Christian has entered in a bid to provide for them. I’m actually surprised, as I being responding to those requests, that Christian would trust me to take on this task, but once I start digging through old proposals that Ros had drafted and sent to clients, using them as examples but customizing them to the specific needs the client has listed in the RFP, I actually find that I’m not only kind of good at this, but that I’m enjoying it. Not just the feeling of accomplishment I get when I’m able to complete each request with no help from Christian, or the satisfaction of getting to write something with no academic purpose for the first time in so long, but sitting here with Christian while he’s in his element and feeling as though I’m a part of it, that we’re once again conquering something together, that’s the real gratification.

I look up at him, sitting at the head of the table next to me, and smile at the look of focused concentration on his face as his fingers fly over the keys on his laptop. Even without the suit and tie, and despite the stubble still splattered across his cheek, he looks every bit the CEO. Calm, confident, and in control, like he was born for this.

“Can I help you?” he asks, glancing up from his laptop when he realizes I’m staring at him, and giving me a sardonic look.

“No,” I reply with a smile. “You just look kinda cute over there, that’s all.”

Kind of cute?” he asks, as though the vague qualifier has hurt his feelings, and I laugh.

Very cute,” I correct myself. “Extremely cute. Handsome. Sexy. Like the man I love more than anything else in the world.”

He smiles. “Well, you’re not so bad yourself.”

I place my elbow on the table and rest my chin in the palm of my hand so that my fingers cover the grin that the playful tone in his voice elicits, and then unfold my leg out from under me and reach it under the table between us so that my foot is in his lap. He sits back in his chair and turns his focus back to his screen, but his hands come down and massage my foot under the table. When I let out a low, appreciative moan, his eyes flit back up to me and he smiles.

“How’s it going over there?”

“Good, this is my last one.”

“Already?” he asks, suddenly sounding dubious, and when I nod, he moves his hand away from my foot so that he can use the touchpad on his laptop. I deduce from the sounds of him clicking the mouse but not typing anything that he must be reading over the work I’ve done, so I shake my head before I continue reading through the document I have open. After a minute or so of silence, he leans back again, smiles, and lets out a small, unintelligible noise that sounds almost impressed.

“This is good, Ana. Very good. But where did you get these performance metrics for the technology development?”

“Oh… out of the R&D file. That client just seemed really concerned about performance guarantees in their Statement of Outcome Standards so I thought concrete numbers would help GEH stand out. Especially because they’re so good. They’re bidding for new service because the last company they contracted with had a security breach after all, and these metrics show that GEH can prevent that from happening again.”

“No, I know… this is great… I just wonder, how do you have access to the R&D file?”

“What?”

“Your profile should be set up under SIP, so you should only have access to the user folders that pertain to that division. That’s why I had to drag all these files into your personal folder… You shouldn’t be able to see anything for research and development.”

“Oh, well… it’s all here.”

He gets out of his chair and comes around the table, clicking back through the portals to each different division of his company and then frowning as every icon he clicks reveals several files, including ones that only he is supposed to have access to.

“Hold on,” he tells me, reaching across the table to pick up his phone. I watch as he selects a contact and begins pacing back towards the windows of the suite, staring out at the rain until whoever he’s calling picks up.

“Walker,” he says briskly. “I’m with Anastasia right now and she’s VPN’d into the GEH server on her company laptop. She should only be able to view the SIP portal but it seems like she has access to the entire server. Yes, thank you.” He pauses for a moment, and turns back to me. I raise an eyebrow at him and he pulls the phone away from his mouth, covering the microphone with his hand.

“He’s looking at the permissions on your profile,” he says, and then immediately turns back to the call. “What? No, why would her profile mirror mine? Well, then Welch made a mistake. Yes, remove her. If she loses her laptop, then whoever finds it will have access to confidential information in every single division of my company and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take. Who else has that access? Well, find out. I’m going to need an audit done on every profile on the GEH server. If there’s one mistake, there could be more. Yes, I understand how long that will take but if people are accessing things they shouldn’t be, I need to know. Thank you, Walker. Have a good weekend.”

He hangs up the phone and I turn around in my chair to face him. “So, Welch thought I was more important than I really was, huh?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way, but… I guess. I don’t know what he was thinking.”

“Maybe because I started out as kind of your PA? Does Andrea have the same permissions you do?”

“She shouldn’t,” he says. “But I suppose we’ll find out.” He takes a deep breath and then rejoins me at the table, only this time he takes the chair next to me.

“Do you have anything else you need me to do?” I ask.

“No, I think I actually may be caught up. Thank you for your help today, baby. You never cease to impress me.”

“I learned from the best.”

He smiles. “You want a job? I need a new number two.”

“Mmm, tempting… but no.”

He breathes out a soft laugh through his nose and I smile as I climb out of my chair and into his lap, straddling him so that my knees are on either side of his legs.

“Does that mean that we can get back to the Valentine’s Day weekend I had planned?” I ask.

“That depends,” he says. “What are your plans?”

“Oh, they’re very, very dirty, Mr. Grey.”

“How dirty?”

“Mmm,” I hum, pressing my lips into his for a quick but sensual kiss before I answer. “I want you to tell me about your most forbidden fantasies and then I want to act out each and every one with you.”

“I like the sound of that,” he says huskily, and then leans forward to kiss me again, deeper this time. His tongue invades my mouth as his hands come up and slide into the roots of my hair on either side of my head. My hips begin gyrating over him as he kisses me, and in return, I feel his erection growing inside his pants.

“So, start talking,” I tell him. “What are your fantasies, Christian?”

“You mean besides fucking you on this table right now?” he whispers back, but I shake my head.

“Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy. This game isn’t just about sex… it’s about intimacy and trust. I want us both to be open enough and comfortable enough to share our deepest desires with each other.”

“So you’ll be sharing too?”

“Should I start?”

“Abso-fucking-lutely.”

I smile and then place one last kiss on his lips before leaning back and looking into his eyes. He waits expectantly, but even though this was my idea and just kissing him and touching him already has me unbelievably turned on, I’m suddenly a little trigger shy. But I meant what I said about building trust between us, and in order to do that, I have to allow myself to be vulnerable with him. So, after a bracing breath, I force myself to maintain eye contact with him and begin.

“Well, lately I’ve been thinking about being with you at a party or an event, like a wedding or something. Somewhere public, but also somewhere where no one really knows who we are. Where we’re just two people in a crowd.” I bite down on my lip as the memory of this particular fantasy begins swirling around in my mind, and then reach down into his pants to begin stroking my hand softly over his erection. He moans slightly, but doesn’t break eye contact.

“And what happens at this event, Anastasia?”

“We’re dancing,” I tell him. “And you’re being a little brazen with your hands on my body for having so many people around us. Your gripping onto my ass, reaching around me to hold each of my breasts in your hands… you kiss my neck in that way that immediately gets me wet.” I moan. “You’re torturing me, getting me so hot and ready for you that we both know there’s no way that we’re going to make it home.”

“Oh, baby,” he whispers as my hand tightens around him. He reaches down to undo his fly and releases his erection, allowing me full access to pleasure him while I continue.

“When it becomes too much for either of us to take anymore, you pull me off the dance floor and into a little room off to the side. There’s only a thin wall between us and hundreds of other people, but we’re too lost to care. All we can think about it tearing into each other, and that’s exactly what we do. You rip my clothes away from my body because you’re too impatient to undress me properly and, once I’m naked, I wrap my body around you and you carry me to a couch that is the only thing in the room for us to fuck on.”

“Keep going,” he says. His hands move up my bare thighs and under the shorts I’m wearing, and his fingers start teasing me through my panties while I continue to work him over with my hand. It takes all the strength I possess, but somehow I manage to stop myself from giving in and ravaging him right here and now so that I can go on.

“You start by going down on me and, oh god, it’s amazing. In fact, now I might have to add some stubble to your face when I imagine it because it feels so incredible.” I lean forward and lightly run my tongue through the coarse hair on his chin, and he groans.

“Let me do it now,” he breathes, but I shake my head.

“Not yet.” I swallow the lust building up inside of me and continue. “Once you make me come, I can’t get you out of your pants fast enough, but while I fumble with your belt and the buttons and zipper, you start sucking my nipples. Pulling at them with your lips and your teeth, fuck!” I yell out, as the fingers on his free hand move up under my t-shirt, under my bra, and begin pinching my nipple hard. After a few panting breaths while he toys with my breast and my clit, I start again, stroking him faster now and trying to mirror what I’m describing to him with my hand.

“I finally get you out of your pants and I drop to my knees and start sucking you like my life depended on it. Your hands twist in my hair, forcing me to take you deep in my throat, even holding me in place while you fuck my mouth, until you’re just about to come.”

“Baby,” he says in a slightly shaking voice. “Let me fuck you now.”

“Not yet,” I reply. “When you pull out of my mouth, you throw me onto the couch and your hands grab each of my thighs really hard and force my legs apart. You stroke your cock against my clit for minute, bringing me right back to the edge before you plunge inside of me and the second you break through my lips, I come hard around you, but you don’t stop fucking me as hard as you can. You have me screaming for you and so, just as I start to come down from my orgasm, the door opens and several people come inside.”

“So you want be caught?” he asks, but I shake my head.

“Not just caught…” His brow furrows for a moment, so I lean forward and kiss him again, tangling my tongue with his while my thumb drags the bead of precum leaking out of him around the head of his cock. “Once they come into the room,” I continue, “You stop for a moment, but you haven’t come yet and you can’t stop now. They gape at us for a moment but, after the initial shock of finding us wears off, they just shut the door and you start fucking me again. You’re like an animal uncaged, taking me hard and rough, like you’re trying to prove something to our audience, and it makes me come again. I call out your name, making sure they all know that you’re making me come and then you explode inside of me, filling me to the brim until you’re completely spent.”

“Exhibitionism, huh?” he asks, and I nod slowly. A slow smile creeps across his lips as his finger moves through my lower lips and sinks inside of me, making me moan. “That’s kind of hot.”

“Just the tip of the iceberg,” I admit.

“Then do go on.”

“Okay, well… sometimes when I go to sleep at night when I’m in Cambridge, I’ll close my eyes and then imagine that you show up in the middle of the night. I’m asleep, but I wake up to you touching me. I try to open my eyes but you’ve blindfolded me so the only way that I know it’s you is by your breathing, your smell, and the way you touch me, the way that only you can. You take my hand in yours and try to tie it to my headboard, but I yank it out of your grip and try to struggle away from you. You’re on top of me though and your body is holding me down, pressing me into the mattress, and you lean down and whisper in my ear, telling me not to fucking move.”

“Mmm, but I’d love to have you try and resist me. To fight back. Force me to overpower you.” His voice is rough now, like gravel, as he bucks his hips up into my hand, trying to draw more friction from my fingers still gripped tightly around him.

“And I do, for as long as I can, until you have me tied to the bed. Once I’m subdued, you’re not gentle with me. You take everything you can from me and still demand more. You use my body in any and every way you find pleasurable, even if it hurts me a little. Oh, and your dirty talk… god I love it when you talk dirty to me when you’re really fucking me. You spank me, you pull my hair, your hand wraps around my throat… you do whatever you want to me, because you can.”

“Because you’re mine,” he growls.

“Because I’m yours,” I agree.

“You want me to treat you like a whore, baby?”

“Yes,” I breathe in reply, and he sinks a finger inside of me and begins swirling it around.  

“What else do you fantasize about?”

“Well…” I pause, tightening and loosening my grip around his erection while I attempt to work my way through the lust filled haze clouding my mind with his fingers hitting that important place inside of me with every tantalizing stroke. “I’ve um… I’ve never been with a girl before…”

A harsh, visceral growl erupts from deep inside his chest and suddenly we’re not in the chair anymore. He practically throws me onto the table before he begins attacking my clothes with the fervent hunger of a starving, wild animal. I lift my hips for him to remove my bottoms, and once he’s flung my shorts and panties across the room, he’s inside of me. It’s sudden and unexpected, and the lack of any kind of preamble actually makes me cry out in surprise, but the high pitched noise gives way almost immediately to a well satisfied, feral moan that comes from deep inside of me.

“That’s it, baby,” I encourage him. “Fuck me harder. Oh god!” My nails dig into his forearms, which are rock hard from the strain his putting into holding me as tightly as he can. His fingers dig into my hips while he holds me above the table and pulls me back into him with each, hard thrust. It almost feels as though he’s trying to drill through my pelvis, and in this moment I want him to. I want him to give me everything he’s got, to satisfy every one of my darkest, most forbidden desires, and to get off while he’s doing it.

“You’re so wet,” he says through his labored breathing. “God, I love you like this. I love seeing in your eyes how much you need my fucking cock.”

“Please, Christian,” I whimper. “I need to come, please make me come.”

He growls again and then flips me around on the table, more carefully this time so that I can catch myself on my hands and keep my belly from slamming into the table, but once he’s sure that I’m steady his hand disappears from my hips and comes down hard on my ass. I cry out in pain as the force of the blow reverberates through me and then whimper when I feel his tongue brush over my hot skin.

“You said you wanted it rough,” he says.

“I do.”

“Then, you’re going to get it rough. Tell me if it’s too much.” He hits me again, with the same force, and while it’s almost enough for me to stop him, I don’t have to because he thrusts inside of me again, and his hand moves back to my hips. I press my palms into the table and push back on him, greedily taking everything I can from him until I feel the stirrings of an orgasm building inside of me.

“That’s it, baby,” he groans. “Give it to me. I want you to come.”

“I’m so c-close. Don’t stop.”

I feel a sharp bite of pain as his fingers really start digging into my skin, and when his hand moves up my back, twists through my hair, and yanks roughly so that my head falls backwards, I let out a primal kind of yell and then come hard around him.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he hisses through bare teeth. “You’re so fucking tight when you’re coming, baby. Oh fuck, you’re going to make me…”

“Come for me, Christian,” I whine as the pleasure continues to overwhelm me. “Come with me.”

“Not yet. I’m not… fuck!” I hear him grunt as he moves in and out of me, keeping me flying while trying to delay his own release, but when I come down and stop convulsing around him, the increasing urgency inside of him doesn’t recede.

“Fuck, I can’t stop,” he pants. “You want to give me your mouth, baby?”

“What?”

“Get on your knees. Oh, fuck…” He pulls out of me and yanks me up off the table. I turn quickly and sink to the floor, and the second my mouth closes around him, he thrusts into the back of the throat and explodes. The warm liquid of his release fills my mouth and drips down my throat, but I don’t shy away from the bitter taste. The temporary discomfort of swallowing the thick liquid is overshadowed by the satisfaction I take from the look of complete and utter euphoria on his face. The way his mouth drops open, the way all the tension in his muscles releases at once, and the deep, gratified sound that rattles in his throat.

“Holy shit, baby,” he breathes. “Fuck, you’re incredible.”

“Mmm,” I hum in response, dragging my tongue over his length as I slowly pull him out of my mouth. “Right back at you, Grey.”

I drag my hands up his thighs, but he reaches down and entwines his fingers with mine and pulls me up to kiss me. My body presses into his as he reaches for my hips and lifts me so that my legs wrap around his waist and I have to hold myself tightly around him to keep from falling backwards.

“I’m not ready to be done with you yet,” he tells me. I smile against his lips as he turns and leads me back into the bedroom, caressing my tongue with his until we’re standing before the bed. He kneels down on the edge of the mattress and slowly lowers me onto the bedding without breaking our kiss, but once I’m flat on the bed, his hands begin to roam around my body.

“Your breasts are bigger,” he notes as he kneads them purposefully.

“Everything is starting to feel bigger,” I reply ruefully.

“I love your body, Anastasia,” he says. “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

I smile and then pull his mouth down to mine again, pushing my tongue past his lips and tangling it with his. He matches my enthusiasm, pouring his love into the connection created through our lips, until he eventually begins moving down my body. He leaves a trail of soft kisses against every inch of my skin on his way south, stopping only when his face moves between my legs and only then to admire the sight before him.

“Oh, baby,” he whispers, and then leans forward to place a gentle kiss against my clitoris. A shudder runs up my body as I feel his tongue, and then his lips again. He moves deliberately, carefully, allowing the pleasure to build slowly until it’s burning in my skin.

“You taste so sweet, Anastasia,” he says.

I moan. “Don’t stop, Christian. Oh god, you’re so, so good.”

He groans and the sound sends vibrations through me, heightening the already euphoric sensation that drags me, inch by inch, closer to the edge. My body begins writhing over the bed, moving independently of any thought or ounce of control I possess, but Christian’s strong hands hold my hips to his face so that I can’t escape his mouth. I grind against him, growing greedier and more audacious with each passing second, until eventually the heat boils over and creeps through my bloodstream with such intensity it’s like physical, molten pleasure.

“Christian!” I scream as it begins to overwhelm me.

“Yes,” he hisses. “That’s it, give it to me. Come on my tongue. Fuck, baby.”

His mouth seems to envelop me, sucking, licking, teasing, even nibbling at me, until he’s seen me all the way through. I pant harshly as I come down and then moan as I feel him brush the tip of his erection against my opening.

“Again?”

“Yes. Fuck me again, Christian.”

“No,” he says. “No, this time, I want to make love to you.”

He sinks inside of me, stretching me slowly and allowing me to feel every inch of him until he’s buried to the hilt inside of me. Once I’m filled, he lays over the top of me, takes my hand in his, and begins pulling out with the same achingly slow rhythm. It’s maddening, and bewildering, and extraordinary all at the same time. It’s not the friction or the lust that drives me towards release this time, it’s the feel of his skin against mine. It’s the heat of his breath on my neck. It’s the sweet words of love and reassurance that he whispers into my ear. And, though it takes longer to get there, the eventual promising rise of my orgasm is stronger, more intense than before, and I revel in it as the warmth unravels and begins to spread through my body.

“You feel so good, Anastasia,” he says, his voice tight as his rhythm grows less and less controlled. “Do you think you have one more in you?”  

“Yes,” I reply. “But I want you to come with me.”

He moans and his fingers tighten around mine as he begins to really move inside of me, each hard thrust punctuated by my sharp, keening cries. As the perfect metric pace of his cadence changes and his breathing grows harsher, it’s almost as though I can feel him building towards his final release and my body instinctively paces my rise with his. He stares down into my eyes, holding my gaze as the heat envelops us both and when I watch his mouth fall open again in a silent gasp of pleasure, the quivering inside of me intensifies to the full blown shudders of an orgasm. His gasps are no longer silent as he tumbles over the edge after me and for a moment we soar together, experience the pinnacle of the physical manifestation of our love together. It’s perfect, life affirming even, and the glow of our mutual indulgence surrounds us long after the final pulse of either of our orgasms fades away.

“I love you, Anastasia,” he whispers against my lips. “You are my everything.”

“I love you, too,” I tell him. “So, so much.”

He kisses me again, softly, and brushes his fingers against my cheek. I fight the smile his touch elicits so that I can relish in his mouth and his tongue, but I’m eventually pulled away from this kiss by an entirely different distraction.

“Oh,” I gasp, and then smile as I feel the rolling movement inside of me. “I think you’ve woken your daughter up.”

“Oh, really?” Christian asks. I nod, so he moves his hand down to my belly, but the moment he touches the bare skin on my bump, he immediately yanks his away as though he’s been burned.

“Oh my god,” he says.

“What?”

“I-I felt that.”

My eyes widen. “You did?”

He nods and then slowly places his hand on my belly again, and when I feel her movements shift back across my belly once more, his eyes widen and a disbelieving kind of smile slowly begins creeping across his lips.

“I can feel her,” he whispers. “I can feel her!”

I beam at him and the excitement becoming more and more obvious in his expression the more I too feel her moving inside of me. He moves so that he can place both of his hands on my bump, and we both lay there, as still as possible, while we wait for any further shift or change. When it comes, we laugh together.

“I can’t believe it,” he says, awed. “It’s like… it’s real now. She’s really in there.”

“She’s really in there.” I giggle.

He looks up at me, grinning so widely I can practically see the joy radiating off of him, and I reach down to brush my fingers through the strands of his hair just above his forehead.

“You know, you never told me YOUR fantasies,” I tell him.

“You really want to know?” he asks, and I nod.

He takes a breath. “I fantasize about having dinner with you on a Tuesday. About waking up next to you every morning and going to bed next to you every night. I like to think about introducing you to people as my wife, not my girlfriend or my fiance, and I dream about watching you holding our daughter in your arms, singing to her as you put her to bed. I love fucking you, and I love making love to you. I love that you can be so dirty between the sheets with me, and I love indulging in every one of the things we both find pleasure in, but the thing that I fantasize about, is a life with you.”

I bite down on my lip, but as I attempt to pull him up towards me, he stops me and gives me a devilish grin.

“Although, I am fully in support of watching you live out your fantasy of being with another woman…”

“Of course you are,” I giggle, and then drag his lips to mine.

“I love you,” he says.

“And I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day, Christian.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, baby.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 25

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Normally, I have packing for Seattle down to a science. I know exactly what I’m going to take, exactly where it’s at in my room, and exactly how to fit it in my suitcase. Unfortunately, this isn’t a normal trip home. I’ve been shopping all week, trying to find lingerie that looks sexy despite my now obvious baby bump, because this weekend is Valentine’s Day, and my Harvard t-shirt and sweatpants now have to make room for the various colors of lace and satin that I’m hoping will drive Christian crazy. Or rather, they would if I could find that stupid pink bag.

I begin tearing through the mess of unpacked clothes all over my room, wondering how something I just had in my hand an hour ago could have grown legs and walked away, when my door opens and Kate comes in and flops down on my bed.

“Look at you being proactive,” she says. “I thought you always put off packing until the last possible minute?”

“I do, and I have. I’m flying out of Boston tomorrow morning at six,” I tell her distractedly. “I’m skipping classes tomorrow to try and surprise Christian for Valentine’s Day by getting to Seattle early in the morning.”

“That’s adorable. Did you get him anything?”

“I booked us a suite at the Fairmont Olympic.”

“And?”

“And… Once we get there, I’m going to fuck his brains out for the rest of the weekend. Happy Valentine’s Day, Christian.”

“You’re so romantic it kills me sometimes,” she says, rolling her eyes, and I laugh.

“Well, I might not do anything if I can’t find that stupid shopping bag!” I yell with frustration. She shakes her head.

“Then we definitely need to find it because I’m going to need you to be out of the house this weekend.”

“Why’s that?”

“I had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon to get everything checked out and he says I’ve recovered very well. He thinks I can go back to school on Monday and if I’m well enough to go to school, then I think I’m well enough to make this thing with Carter… you know, official.”

“What do you mean?”

She gives me a pointed look. “I mean that I’m going to sleep with him. It’s Valentine’s Day, I think it’s very fitting.”

“I don’t understand how that makes things official. You’ve already slept with him.”

“Yeah, but not when we were together. I don’t know, it feels different, meaningful, and I’m actually… a little nervous about it. Sex hasn’t meant anything to me since… well, since Elliot.”

“Oh. Well… I think Carter’s great. He’s been amazing since you’ve had your surgery, taking care of you and everything. I can tell how much you mean to him. You two are really good together.”

“I know.” She nods. “And I really like him. He’s sweet and funny, and he makes me feel comfortable. I’m just anxious, I guess. Breaking up with Elliot was really hard, I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready to put myself out there like this again. It doesn’t seem like we’re moving too fast to you, right?”

I shrug. “You’re the only one who can know that.”

“I guess you’re not really the best person to ask anyway. Every time you and Christian have made it official, you slept with him immediately.”

“That’s not true!” I snap. “I slept with him before I got back together with him the last time.”

She laughs. “And then a week later you move in with him, and then four months later you’re having a baby with him, and then three months after that you’re getting married…”

“Okay, okay, I get it. Christian and I move fast.”

“Yeah, but I like that about you guys,” she says, more seriously now. “You’re both usually so careful and you overthink everything way too much, but when it comes to each other, you’re not too cautious or afraid to do what feels right. You truly live your life when you’re together and I love that.”

“Awwwww.” I crawl onto the bed next to her and wrap my entire body around her, making sure to be careful as she’s still just a little sore. She hugs me back for a moment, but when she tries to pull away, I don’t relinquish her.

“Ana, let me go.”

“Never.”

“Anaaaaaaaaa!” She tries to give me a tortured look, but the effect is dampened by the smile she can’t hold back, and as she attempts to struggle out of my arms, I tighten my hold on her.

“Stop fighting me! Let me love you!”

She devolves into a fit of giggles as she lets her entire body go limp and I pin her down. Now that I’m victorious though, I’m not really sure how long I’m supposed to hold onto her, but I still have packing to get done so I don’t hold her there long. When I do get up from the bed and start looking for the lingerie bag again, she rolls over on her side and looks purposefully at me.

“How’s Christian doing anyway? He left here so suddenly last weekend. I was shocked when we woke up on Saturday and he was gone.”

I frown. “I don’t really know. I’ve only talked to him twice this week and both times it was only for a couple minutes. All he’s told me is that he’s busy and he misses me. I talked to Taylor briefly and Mrs. Jones and they both told me that he’s been going into the office between six and seven every morning and staying past midnight.”

“What about Ros?” Kate asks.

“He fired her. He had the new technology guy dig into her profile on the server and found some emails between her and some of the board members at PixC. Apparently she was trying to sway them towards hiring a new CEO before Christian even got involved. She’d actually used Christian as a bargaining chip… like a threat. That they should hire her or GEH would take over the company and they’d all lose their jobs.”

“But, why? That just doesn’t seem like Ros.”

“I know. I don’t understand either.”

“What did she tell Christian?”

“He called her into his office on Monday morning and told her what they’d found and she got mad that he’d gone into her emails, but when he confronted her about the deal with PixC, she just tried deny everything. She said she’d never contacted PixC prior to their negotiations with GEH, but he had the proof in his hand. So, he told her she was done and had Taylor escort her out. He hasn’t talked to her since. I guess he’s thinking about taking legal action against her now.”

“That’s so crazy, they were like… best friends. I can’t believe she would do that to him.”

“Well, he hasn’t exactly been the best friend to her over the last few months,” I admit. “When I was there for Thanksgiving, they got into an argument and he basically told her that she wasn’t as important to GEH as she thought she was. Maybe that was enough to make her want to leave.”

“Yeah, Christian’s a dick when he gets mad, we all know that. She knows that better than even probably you do, and she’s known that since she started this with him. So, what? She just put up with that long enough for him to make her rich and powerful enough to take over a company and get the big job and now she’s just going to leave Christian to deal with the fallout at GEH by himself? That’s the real dick move, and I hope he does sue her. I don’t care how pissed you get, you don’t fuck over your friends like that.”

“I just rather they worked it out,” I tell her. “You’re right, he can’t run GEH all on his own, but he’ll try and he’ll either work himself into an early grave or he’ll fail, and he doesn’t do well with any kind of failure. He won’t admit it, but he needs her.”

She shrugs but I can tell by her face she doesn’t really agree with me. Kate’s always been a fiercely loyal friend, but she’s also not the kind of girl you’d want to get on the bad side of. I think that whole “a woman scorned” saying is actually her life’s mantra.

“Well, since you’re leaving me again, I’m going to have a sleepover in here with you tonight, cool?”

“Whatever makes you happy, my dear.”

She smiles and shifts back onto the pillows as though she’s going to crawl under the covers and settle in for the night, but the moment she leans back, she frowns and looks back at the pillow behind her.

“What in the world?” Her hand reaches under the pillow and after struggling more than she should, she pulls out a shiny, pink bag.

“There it is!” I exclaim.

“Glad I could help,” she smiles as she tosses the bag to me. “Just remember that when you’re having your first orgasm this weekend. It’s literally because of me.”

“Shut up, Kate,” I laugh, and I pull out the sheer lavender chemise and put it in my suitcase.

 

Luke wakes me up at four the next morning, being careful as he moves around the room not to wake Kate while I begrudgingly get out of bed. I do take note when I get out of bed that my pillow, which is the match to the one I bought as a Christmas gift for Christian, isn’t glowing, which either means he isn’t using it, or he hasn’t gone to bed yet. But, since I’m flying to Seattle this early to try and surprise him, I don’t want to call and find out which it is.

“Alright, is it just this bag?” Luke whispers once we’re back out in the hallway.

“Yeah, I’m ready to go,” I reply. “We’ve got to hurry. This plane won’t wait for me like Christian’s will.”

Luke nods and takes my bag with him as he heads for the stairs, but as we make our way past a very sleepy Champ in the kitchen, Anthony, the new security guy, comes in through the back door to stop us and I immediately freeze. I haven’t gotten comfortable with the new security team yet, especially Anthony. He’s very tall and bulky, with a severe jaw line and angular features. He’s bald, but there’s usually a shadow on his head that tells me that he purposefully shaves all of his hair off. He kind of reminds me of a hit man you’d see in old gangster movies and even though he took the time to introduce himself, and insisted I called him Anthony or Tony rather than Kommer, since that’s how I address Luke, part of me is a little afraid of him. I guess that’s good though. He’s intimidating and maybe that will scare off whoever he is…

“Sir, we have a problem,” he says to Luke.

“Problem?”

“Down the street, about five hundred feet, there’s a white Toyota Camry with a Massachusetts license plate number 643FW7. It’s been parked there every night this week so Harrison finally called in to have the plates run. It’s registered to Leila Williams.”

“Is she alone?” Luke asks.

“I’m not sure, sir. He’s doing a sweep of the block now, but, yes, she appears to be alone.”

“Well, let’s get Ana to the airport and call Harrison back. He should be ready to fall into pursuit in case Miss Williams follows us.”

“Yes, sir.” Anthony steps aside and lets Luke move through the back door, which has been replaced with french doors rather than the sliding glass door so that they could put deadbolts in them, but once I follow after him, they both surround me until I’m shut safely away in the back of my Lexus. It feels ridiculous and way over the top, but it’s what Christian needs to feel safe and, with as much stress as he’s under at home right now, I don’t want to do anything to make things harder for him and that means following security protocol to a T.

Anthony takes the driver’s seat while Luke slips in the front, and they both look very attentively through the windows surrounding us as we pull back down the driveway. Their attitudes make me paranoid and almost a little worried to be leaving Kate behind, but I can at least feel better knowing that, in addition to Carter and Champ, Kate will have Harrison and Cardella, my new female CPO, remaining behind with her.

 

We arrive in Seattle just after nine o’clock, which gives me time to go home, take a shower, and get ready before I head to GEH to see Christian. I’ve secretly blocked a half hour out of his schedule today, the maximum amount of time Andrea could help me secure, and as we make our way out of the parking garage under Escala and up 5th avenue, I dial the number to the front desk of Christian’s office to make sure that half hour is still on his calendar.

“Christian Grey’s office, this is Olivia speaking, how may I direct your call?”

“Hi, Olivia, it’s Anastasia. Can I speak with Andrea please?”

“One moment.” There’s a beat of silence and then Andrea’s voice comes over the phone.

“Hi, Ana.” She sounds exhausted.

“Hi, Andrea. I’m on my way in. I just wanted to make sure we’re all set.”

“Umm… yes,” she says hesitantly. “But, I have it on the calendar as an extension of the meeting he has with his brother at 10:30 and he’s asked me to cancel the extension three times. I haven’t yet, but I don’t know if he’s filled the time with something else.”

I feel my heart sink. “Well, we’ll see. I’ll be there in about five minutes.”

Once I hang up the phone, I turn and look gloomily out the side window and realize that we’re stopped at a light on the same corner where Christian’s new building is going up. I haven’t come down this way to see it since last fall and the difference between then and now is staggering. It looks… complete. No longer is there just a shell of iron beams and concrete floors on each level, the building standing before me is an architectural marvel of glass and steel. It looks like there are workers on the inside, putting up what looks like a giant screen in screen in the lobby but from the outside, Elliot’s vision has come to life, right down to the Grey House mounted proudly over the front doors. I smile to myself as we pull away and I think of all the times Elliot taunted Christian by telling him he was going to put his name on the building.

I really miss that Elliot.

When we get to GEH, Luke takes me up the elevator from the parking garage and after he’s swiped his badge against the electronic pad next to the door to let me through the security doors, I immediately feel the tension filling Christian’s office. Andrea is surrounded by boxes of files piled so high you can barely see her over them and Olivia hangs up one call and answers another in the four seconds it takes us to get from the doors to her desk.

“Anastasia,” Andrea greets us, saying my name as though it’s the first chance she’s had to take a breath all morning. “Mr. Grey is on a phone call…”

“That’s okay, I can wait. I’ll just…” I point back to Christian’s office as Olivia answers yet another phone call, and Andrea hesitates for a moment, as though she wants to stop me, but ultimately decides objecting isn’t worth the time away from her work. Luke ducks into the security office down the hall and I wave at Taylor as I pass before gently easing open the doors to Christian’s office and stepping inside.

He’s behind his desk, on the phone, and the first thing I notice is how exhausted he looks. His hair is in disarray, his face is covered in what looks to be a day or two of stubble, and even though he’s dressed in an impeccable suit, he looks a little disheveled with his tie hanging loosely around his neck.

“So, when’s the vote?” he asks, pausing for a moment and then following up with, “And how many board members are going toward GEH? Jesus… what the fuck did she sell them?” He sighs. “Give me some names, I’ll make some calls.”

He turns in his chair and the moment he sees me standing just in front of the closed door, his eyes widen and his back goes stick straight.

“No, I can handle it,” he says, talking to the person on the phone again. “This isn’t my first hostile takeover. Thank you, I’ll talk to you soon.” He hangs up the phone and looks back up at me.

“Well if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain…” I say, but the tension in his face doesn’t relax.

“Why are you here? What happened?”

“Well…” I begin, trying not to let the almost accusatory way he says why are you here get to me as I lower my voice seductively and saunter towards his desk. “Time has gone on, days have past, and now, it’s Valentine’s Day weekend. I flew here early to surprise you with an extra day and now that I’m here, I thought maybe you’d like to take a break.”

A brief flash of conflict washes over his face as he watches me reach for the top buttons on my coat, but he lets out a hard sigh and regretfully shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Ana. I don’t have time right now. I’ll see you tonight, okay? I’ll try to get out of here early.”

“Oh.” The shock of rejection I feel is more poignant than I’m prepared for. Never before has Christian turned me away or said no. He’s always made me his number one priority, at all times, but… that’s because he used to have Ros. She was always willing to step in for him when he needed her to so that he could free up his schedule to be with me and his family. Now, he’s at the helm alone, and if he’s not here, no one is. He’s an island and, as I see the fatigue and the frustration behind his eyes again, I suddenly feel the quick anger that I’d seen from Kate last night for myself. He needs Ros, she knows that, but she went and did this terrible thing anyway. Maybe Kate is right and she was just using him.

And that’s when it really hits me. It’s not just exhaustion that I see in him right now, it’s hurt. I’ve been thinking about the business perspective, that Ros saw an opportunity and jumped at it. It was a shark kind of move, but she’s learned from Christian and that’s exactly the cutthroat attitude he’s always had. Act now, apologize later. Except, that this isn’t just climbing the corporate ladder, this is using her position in GEH, the position that Christian put her in, to get what she wants with absolutely no concern for the consequences to him. In fact, it’s almost specifically to spite him. And now that she’s just so carelessly moved on, tossed everything she and Christian have built together aside as if it were nothing, one can’t help but wonder if ever meant anything to her at all. Perhaps she was using Christian, and if that’s true, their entire friendship, the friendship that was all he had for so long, has been a lie.  

Elena… Ros…

He’s once again had someone he allowed himself to be open with prove that they never cared about him, and that thought hits me like a bullet to the heart.

“Christian…” I say softly, but he cuts me off.

“I really don’t have time right now, Ana, I’m sorry. I’ll be home tonight.” The phone on his desk rings and he immediately reaches over to answer it. I stand there for a moment, watching and listening to him bark a few orders to some department head over the phone, before I turn around, but when I hear the phone slam down on the receiver behind me, there’s a brief moment of silence before his agitated voice cuts through empty space between us.

“Fuck it. Come back here.”

I turn cautiously and see him get out of his seat, pulling his unknotted tie from his collar and moving to the top buttons of his shirt as he moves around his desk and stalks towards me. He doesn’t even reach for me to pull me into him, he just lets his entire body crash into mine, his hands only reaching up to my face to keep my lips against his as I stumble backwards a few paces.

“On my desk,” he whispers against my mouth. His hand takes mine and he pulls me roughly back with him to the desk. I quickly close his laptop and move it, along with some files and stacked papers, to make some room, and when I glance over at him, a huge smile crosses my lips as he very purposefully picks up his desk phone, pulls the cable out of the back, and sets it down on the floor.

“We can’t ever be to cautious with you, can we, Miss Steele?” he asks lasciviously as he comes around the desk, but when he reaches out for me, I move deftly out of his reach. The sudden spark of lust I see in his eyes has given me the opening I was waiting for to do what I wanted to for Valentine’s Day, namely play out every one of his fantasies. Starting with a little office role play…

“Mr. Grey,” I say firmly, reaching out to stop him, and he does, but he looks at me confused.

“What’s wro-”

“I’ve been told by my superior that I’ve broken GEH policy,” I interrupt him. “But you have to understand, I didn’t realize when I left the house this morning that my outfit didn’t adhere to the dress code.” I reach up and open the long trench I picked out specially from my closet back at Escala and when he sees the short, lacy, champagne colored babydoll lingerie I’ve been concealing underneath, his expression twists with desire for a moment before the CEO shutters come back down.

“Well, Miss Steele,” he says. “Let’s take a look shall we?”

He moves to a file cabinet on the wall next to his desk and removes a paper bound book, which he brings back and drops it on the desk in front of me. I stare down at it for a moment as he lowers himself into his chair again and gestures at the book.

“Your um… outfit does seem a little short. Why don’t you find what the handbook says about skirt length?”

“Yes, sir,” I reply. He smiles at the emphasis I put on the last word and, as I step between his legs and bend over the desk right in front of him, I hear his sharp intake of breath and the sound of his fingers tightening on the leather arms of his chair as he tries to stop himself from reaching up to touch me.

“Let’s see…” I continue, flipping through the book. “This says that skirts and dresses may fall no less than four inches above the knee.”

He clicks his tongue, and even though the lace of my lingerie isn’t even covering my behind with the way I’m bent over the desk, he says, “I suppose we’ll have to measure.”

“Whatever you say, Mr. Grey.”

He reaches around into one of his desk drawers and pulls out a metal ruler, and my breath hisses through my teeth when he presses it into my skin.

“Cold, Miss Steele?”

“A little…”

“Well, perhaps you should be covering more of your skin.” His tone is chiding as he marks the place on my thigh where the ruler ends with his finger, and then slides the metal further down my leg to continue measuring. “Sixteen inches. That’s a foot too short…”

“I’m sorry, sir,” I tell him, but he simply clicks his tongue disapprovingly. The ruler slides up my leg, catching the hem of my lingerie, and as he continues to move it higher, he begins dragging the lace along with it.

“Such a grave violation should lead to immediate termination…”

“No, please, sir!” I beg. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”

“Miss Steele, I can’t simply look the other way. You knew the rules, and you’ve chosen to break them.”

“There has to be something I could do… some other way you could reprimand me.”

“Perhaps there is,” he says huskily. “How badly do you want to keep your position here at GEH, Miss Steele?”

“I have to, sir. I need this job. I’ll do anything…”

“Then don’t move.” He flips the hem of the skirt over my behind and then smacks me with the ruler. I let out a small, surprised yelp and he stops. “Too much?”

“No,” I reply. He hesitates for a moment but then pulls the ruler back to hit me again. When I moan this time, he doesn’t pause before he brings the ruler down on me once more. The crack of the pliable metal on my skin sounds threatening, vicious even, and the sting is biting, but not so much that I can’t handle it. He hits me four more times before the final blow makes me whimper again, and this time, rather than pausing to check that I’m okay, he simply lets the ruler fall to the floor. While I listen to the metal thud against the rubber mat under his chair, his fingers curl beneath my panties and he pushes them deftly to the side, his mouth making contact with me in the next second.

The stubble on his face scratches against my lips, contrasting and heightening the sensation of his tongue swirling softly around my clitoris, and it immediately has my legs shaking. I moan and gasp as I writhe over his desk, wishing I had something to sink my fingers into rather than the hard, unrelenting surface beneath me, but he seems encouraged by the sound of my fingernails scraping desperately against the wood.

“Oh god,” I whisper as I feel the building heat inside of me. “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop!”

His lips begin pulling at me, sucking my clitoris between the long, tantalizing strokes of his tongue, and soon, the shaking in my knees seems to migrate up my thighs and between my legs, adding pressure to and ultimately unwinding the concentrated ball of pleasure inside of me waiting to explode. I cry out as my orgasm hits me and Christian pushes his face harder into me, between my legs, and it sends the shockwaves coursing through me rebounding back, intensifying my orgasm. Fuck, he’s so good at this.

“Holy fuck, Christian,” I pant as I start to come down, the roleplay I’d set up now completely pushed out of my mind. He kisses me one last time before he gets out of his chair, stands behind me, and I hear the promising jingle of his belt. Taking a deep breath to prepare myself for round two, I move so that I’m in the best position for him, higher off the desk, but he reaches down for my hips and flips me onto my back.

“I want to see you,” he says, and then he thrusts inside of me. My mouth falls open in a silent scream of delight as he pushes in and out of me, harder and more viciously with each thrust. Our harsh breathing synchronizes, filling the air around us, and as I look up in his face and see the serenity there that has replaced the uncertainty, I know he’s losing himself in me, and I want to go along.

“Kiss me,” I plead. He leans over me, pressing his body into mine as he claims my lips, and I reach up to tangle my fingers in his hair. He allows me free reign to touch him for only a moment and then reaches up for my arms and pins them to his desk, next to my head. His fingers entwine with mine and it’s more intimate than I would have supposed. A long time ago, when he used to restrain my hands to keep me from touching him, I could feel the distance in the gesture, but this feels less like he’s pushing me away and more like he’s trying to connect. There’s tenderness in the way his hands hold mine and it makes it seem that, even though he’s fucking me in a carnal, instinctual way, we’re somehow still making love.

“I love you, Christian,” I whisper, and he moans.

“And I love you. Give it up for me, baby. Come with me.”

I bite down on my lip as his mouth moves down my body to the swells of my breasts above my lingerie. His sure hands hold tightly to my sides, lifting me from the desk, holding me firm while he moves in and out of me. I can see the muscles in his jaw tensing and his eyebrows furrowing as he climbs closer and closer to release, trying to hold off for me to join him, and once again the thought of his pleasure is enough to push me off the edge and send me tumbling into the warm abyss of welcome madness. He lets out a strangled kind of groan as he feels the force of my orgasm clenching tightly around him and then he too lets go.

“Oh… fuck, I needed that,” he says when we’ve both come down and he’s pulled out of me. I smile up at him as he straightens his clothes and then moves to put the phone back on his desk. Once I too am wrapped back in my trench coat and decent to be in public again, he takes me by the hand to walk with me back out to the elevators, but I stop him before he even unlocks his office door.

“I booked a room for us this weekend. I was kind of hoping we could spend the next couple days just getting lost in every one of your fantasies.”

“Mmm,” he hums. “I want that too. I might be here a little late tonight, though.”

I want to sigh, but to try to hold it back. “That’s okay. I was going to go see your dad this afternoon and I still have to go for a run so I’ll just meet you at the Fairmont Olympic tonight?”

“I can’t wait,” he tells me, and then kisses me once more before we open the door and Luke comes out of the security office to follow us up to reception.

I remember the phone call I had with Andrea on my way into the office this afternoon, so I half expect to see Elliot waiting in the lobby, but I’m disappointed when I see that it’s Gia who practically leaps out of her seat when we come around the corner.

“Good afternoon, Christian,” she says. “And… Ana, what a surprise. You’re… early, aren’t you?”

“No, not really,” I say coolly. “There isn’t a time I’m supposed to be here so how could I be early?”

“I just thought you usually get here late on Fridays,” she says, brushing me off as she turns to look at Christian. “I assume she’s leaving, though? We have an 11 o’clock.”

“No,” Christian says irritably. “I have an 11 o’clock with Elliot.”

“Right,” she nods. “He’s just a little busy this afternoon, so he asked me to fill in. He wants to make sure everything is wrapped up at work before we take off for the weekend. He’s taking me to St. Barts for Valentine’s Day.”

Christian’s expression hardens. “Look, I know that you have a personal relationship with my family that may make it feel like the lines between us are blurred, so let me make things real clear for you. I’m the CEO of one of the largest companies in the country and I do not have meetings with salaried employees. The meeting I have scheduled is with Elliot Grey and that is the only meeting I will be taking.  You do not belong in this office and you should remember that going forward. Now get your things and go.”

“Christian…” she protests, but he cuts her off with one biting word.

“Go.”

She gives him an indignant look but she gathers the briefcase and folders she left on the chair next to her and moves towards the doors that lead to the elevator regardless.

“That was kind of harsh,” I tell him once we watch her disappear behind the elevator doors.

“Well, that’s how I would handle any subordinate employee who came into my office. No special treatment. Grey Construction is no longer a part of GEH, and I only ever meet with the executive management team of other companies. I never deal with anyone who would need to confirm with their boss before giving me a concrete answer. It’s waste of everyone’s time and time is not a luxury I have now.”

“Yeah… but he’s not just another CEO, he’s your brother.”

“I’ve been lenient on procedure for people close to me before. With Elena, with Ros… and I’ve been burned every time. Not anymore. I’m happy to do business with Elliot, but when he steps through those doors, he isn’t my brother anymore. He’s the owner of a company I have under contract and when he schedules a meeting with me, I expect him to show up, not an Interior Designer.

There’s a definite note of disdain in his voice when he says Gia’s title but I’m not sure I want to get to the bottom of that with Andrea and Olivia standing only a few feet away, so I don’t reply, and Andrea takes my silence as an opportunity to get Christian’s attention.

“Mr. Grey? Miss Bailey has called for you three times this morning…”

Miss Bailey is to be directed to my lawyer or HR,” Christian says through clenched teeth.

“Yes, sir, she has,” Andrea continues. “And the lawyer, David Kramer, has called for you as well.”

“Alright, get him on the phone. I’ll take it in my office.” He turns to me and I give him a sad kind of smile before I reach up and give him a quick kiss on the corner of his mouth.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” I promise him, and he nods.

“And I will get to you as soon as I can.” He squeezes my hand as I turn for the glass doors with Luke and when we step into the elevator, Christian stare at one another, holding eye contact, until the doors close and I can’t see him anymore.

It’s only 11:30 by the time we get back to Escala, but since I’ve technically been up since one AM local time, I’m in desperate need of a nap. It’s a good way to kill a couple hours and by the time I get up, finish my run with Luke, shower, repack, spend a little time in Bellevue with Christian’s family, and make it to the Fairmont Olympic, it’s after six, which I hope means Christian is going to be arriving soon.

There’s a menu for room service next to the hotel phone so I order dinner for Christian and I and have them set up the dining table in the suite with candles and flowers, but by 7:30, I’m still sitting at the table alone. There’s a clock in the sitting room adjacent to me that ticks away the seconds I sit there, staring at the wall across from me, until I finally pick up my phone to call him.

“Grey,” he answers quickly.

“Hey, where are you?”

“Oh… Ana. I’m sorry, I’m still in the office. I’m trying to get out of here but I’m just so buried…”

“Is something wrong?”

“No, not really. I’ve just had to take on all of Ros’s clients and it’s a lot to go along with the acquisitions I’m already working on. I’ve got a million things going on at once.”

“Oh, well… I ordered dinner.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, and at least I can hear the true regret in his voice. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, I promise.”

“Okay, I love you.”

“I love you too, bye.” He hangs up and I stare solemnly down at the phone in my hand. Not only is he not almost here or on his way, it doesn’t even sound like he’s leaving any time soon.

I look down at the food in front of me, cold now, and push it away. I know that Luke is in the room next to me, so after pacing the floor of my suite a few times and deciding that I’d rather have company than wait for Christian to get back by myself, I change out of the sexy nighty I’m wearing, throw on a pair of leggings and a t-shit, and then make my way down the hall to his room.

“Ana?” he asks curiously when he opens the door.

“Christian’s not going to be here for awhile and I’m kind of lonely. You wanna come watch a movie?”

“Uh… sure.” He picks up the keycard on the table next to the door and then follows me back to my suite. I let him order the movie while I call down to the front desk to ask them to bring popcorn and as many packages of Scooby Doo fruit snacks as they can possibly haul up here and then settle down on the couch in front of the TV with the comforter from my bed.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Sure. What bloody, gory, ridiculously implausible action movie do you have planned for us tonight?”

“The bloodiest, goriest, most implausible once I could think of, of course.”

He lifts the remote and points it at the TV and hits play, and a smile crosses my face when I see the main title card come up.

It Happened One Night.

“Awh, I knew this was your favorite movie,” I say, pushing him slightly as he reaches into the bowl of popcorn on my lap.

“I can’t help it,” he says. “That scene where she lifts up her skirt to show her knee and flag down the passing drivers, whew… it just really gets my blood boiling.”

I laugh and then reach for a pack of fruit snacks, and he shakes his head.

“I can’t believe you’re eating those again,” he says. “How many fruit snack have you consumed over the past six weeks?”

“A million,” I reply while I chew.

“You know those things are loaded with artificial flavoring and corn syrup, right? You should at least get the ones with actual fruit juice in them.”

I shrug. “The baby wants what the baby wants, and the baby likes the ones that look like Shaggy and the gang.” He rolls his eyes as I plop another opaque fruit snack in my mouth and then turn my attention back to the TV.

Next Chapter

Chapter 24

Untitled

I’d really hoped that Christian already being in Cambridge meant that he’d want to stay for the whole weekend. His unexpected arrival had been doubly exciting because not only did it mean that I’d get to spend more time with Kate and Ethan, but also that I was going to get a week off from the long, arduous flight to Seattle. When I get home from class on Friday though, all of that excitement vanishes when I walk through the sliding glass door and find my suitcase leaning against the kitchen counter, packed and ready, next to Christian’s.

I have to actually hold back a groan when I see it. I know that he’s got a lot going on at work right now and that he probably is still worried about being away from his dad for too long, but the idea of getting on a plane and flying five and a half hours when it feels like I don’t have to is about the absolute last thing on the planet I want to do today. So, even though I understand his reasons for wanting to go, I decide I’m going to try and plead my case to stay. But, when I follow the sound of his voice into the living room, I find him, Taylor, and Luke sitting around the coffee table in deep discussion.

“I mean, it’s enough for when she’s on campus…” Luke says. Taylor nods, but looks as though he’s weighing something in his mind as he turns to Christian.

“I just don’t think one more person is going to be enough.”

“That’s what I have,” Christian says. “Just you and Ryan. If she has a driver, Sawyer doesn’t have to leave her side.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Luke says. “I think we need a female. The issue is Leila getting her alone and I can’t go into public bathrooms or locker rooms with her. What if she and Kate want to go to a spa or something? That’s exactly the kind of place Leila would be able to corner her and she’ll be vulnerable.”

“She doesn’t do well with female CPOs,” Christian says, but Luke shakes his head.

“She didn’t do well with Prescott, and, honestly, I don’t blame her. That woman was awful.”

“We’ll have to go outside the GEH security team,” Taylor says. “I don’t have any female security officers on staff right now.”

Luke nods. “I know some people in Boston who could give me some names. And, l can do the vetting this time. I know which personalities she’ll gel with and which she won’t. She’s more likely to follow security protocol if she likes her CPO.”

Taylor nods. “And I think we need someone who can watch every point of entry on the house throughout the night. We don’t have the protection here that we do on Escala.”

“I also don’t think it would be a bad idea to change the locks and add a second deadbolt to the front door. I’d even go as far as replacing the sliding glass door in the kitchen with doors that can have multiple locks put in them and that aren’t made of glass.”

“I agree,” Christian says. “And that driveway is dark at night and you can’t see it from inside the house unless someone has their headlights on. We need motion sensor lights so the cameras will pick up anyone moving around the exterior.”

“That’s simple.” Taylor nods. “We can have all of the infrastructure items installed by the end of the weekend. I’ll just need to find an additional man to Kommer for the overnight detail.”

“No, two more,” Christian says, shaking his head. “I want someone assigned to Katherine as well. She’s a vulnerability. If Leila goes after Kate then Ana will put herself in danger to try and protect her.”

“Agreed,” Luke nods.

“Two, then, and the female officer Luke will find in Boston,” Taylor says. “I’ll let Kommer know he’s being transferred to Cambridge tonight and then go through the names I’ve already vetted to fill the other spots. It shouldn’t take more than a week to find someone suitable but we’ll need to get them set up with apartments and transportation here. Do we all agree that Luke should move in here and take the guest room?”

“Absolutely,” Christian says. “She shouldn’t ever be alone with only Kate in this house.”

“Alright,” Luke agrees. “Then I’ll make some calls to have the locks changed and the lights installed while everything else is being done. I can stay behind to keep on eye on things while you’re gone if Taylor wants to stay on duty tonight.”

“Of course.” He nods. When it’s clear no one has anything else to add, they all rise from their seats but stop when they turn and see me lurking in the archway between the living room and the kitchen.

“Hey, baby,” Christian says awkwardly. “How was class?”

“Fine. Can I talk to you for a minute?” Christian nods to both Taylor and Luke, dismissing them, and once they’ve left the room I step forward and wrap my arms around him. “So, it’s really about to get tighter around here, huh?”

“That was the deal.”

“I know. Thank you for thinking about Kate. It would destroy me if something happened to her because of me.”

“Then you understand how I feel. Part of me still wishes you would just come home. Leaving you here now, knowing what we know… I think I’m going to go out of my mind.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior,” I promise. “And Luke won’t let anything happen to me.”

He nods and then leans down to kiss me. “I’ve missed you all day,” he whispers. “I can’t wait to have you alone tonight.”

“About that… Do we really have to fly back to Seattle?”

“Why would we fly back to Seattle?”

I look up at him with confusion. “But… my bag is packed. Our suitcases are by the door. I thought…”

“They’re coming to put in the security system this weekend and in order to get it done by the time Taylor and I leave on Sunday, they need us to vacate the house. We’re staying in a hotel for the rest of the weekend and Kate will go stay at Reed’s house with her brother.”  

“Wait, you’re making Kate leave?”

“I hardly think asking her to spend the weekend with her boyfriend is the same thing as making her leave.”

“Yeah, but she shouldn’t…” I stop and begin chewing on the inside of my cheek. I want to tell him that she’s supposed to be on bedrest and moving her to another house might be a little too much strain on her, especially with the amount of pain she experiences just going down the stairs some mornings. Unfortunately, I can’t say any of that and since Kate has managed to keep her surgery a secret from Christian this far, I doubt she’s going to say anything either. Still, she only has one more week before she’s supposed to be able to get back to school and move around again and I don’t want to set her back because we tried too much too soon. I suppose though that they did move her from Seattle to Cambridge much earlier in her recovery and she seemed to do fine…

“What’s wrong?” Christian asks, clearly seeing my hesitance, but I shake my head and smile up at him.

“Nothing’s wrong. I’m just going to go talk to Kate real quick, okay?”

“Alright. I have just a few more things to see to for work and then we can go. I have dinner reservations for us tonight.”

“Can’t wait.” I kiss him softly and then hurry up the stairs, pausing to rap my knuckles against Kate’s door, but not actually waiting for her response before I open it.

“What are you doing?” I snap when I see her standing in front of her closet going through a bin full of scarves, tossing the few she likes over her shoulder into the duffle bag open on the bed.

“Hey, Ana,” she replies casually. “Do you think this pattern is too much to go with that black sweater I got in New York a couple months ago?”

I shake my head with exasperation. “Why are you out of bed?”

“I’m packing. Christian asked if we could stay at Carter’s for the rest of the weekend while he installs security cameras in the house. You don’t think he’s going to put cameras in here do you? Because if he is, I’m going to need the names of everyone who will have access to that footage…”

“Kate, you’re supposed to be resting!” I walk forward, take the bin out of her hands, and set in back on the shelf in her closet, but when I turn to help her get back into bed, she stops me.

“I’m fine, Ana. I’m feeling really good today. The painkillers are doing their job and it’s nice to be up and around. I’m actually excited to spend the weekend at Carter’s. I’ve been in this house around the clock for over a month and I’m going a little stir crazy.”

“You have one more week,” I tell her. “The doctor said you needed to be on bed rest for six weeks and then you could ease back into regular routine. I don’t want you to strain yourself now and end up making it more.”

“I feel fine,” she assures me. “And I’m only going a couple blocks. Once I get to Carter’s house, I’ll get straight back into bed, I promise.”

I take a deep breath, not wanting to give in but knowing I don’t have a choice. Kate isn’t the kind of girl you can talk out of something once she’s decided on it, and if I try to fight her too hard, Christian will notice. “Alright, at least let me help you pack then.”

“Fine.” She turns back and sits on the end of her bed while I remove the scarf she’s thrown in the bag.

“And yes, I do think this is too much to go with that black sweater,” I tell her. “I think it’s too much to go with anything. This scarf is hideous, Kate.”

“How dare you, that’s Gucci.”

I laugh and toss the folded scarf back into the bin, then begin following her instructions around the room to get the things she wants to take with her. It’s like she’s packing for an extended three week getaway when in actuality, she’s only going to be gone two nights, but it’s nice to have the time alone with her. We talk and fold as we try and cram as much as possible into her duffel bag and soon we’re laughing so hard together that we almost don’t hear Champ’s barks coming from downstairs.

“Well, Carter and Ethan are back with the dog,” Kate says, and the moment the words are out of my mouth, I hear Champ’s barks turn to snarling growls.

“Champ, no! Bad dog! Knock it off!” Carter yells, and Kate giggles.

“Why does my dog hate Christian so much?”

“Probably because he took his place in my bed last night” I say. “Hopefully Christian takes that as him being a good guard dog and doesn’t say we have to get rid of him.”

“Luke would be so devastated,” she says. “It would be like that scene in Homeward Bound when they’re driving away and the little boy is waving through the back window of the car… except, Champ is kind of dumb so I don’t think he’d make it back to us. He’d just find the first family that would take him and call it good.”  

We both laugh.

Once we’re finished packing, I heave Kate’s bag up onto my shoulder and then help her out of bed. She grimaces slightly as she stands, but once she’s upright, the pain in her expression fades and she’s able to keep it away as she moves slowly down the stairs. Christian looks at her suspiciously as I hand her bag to Carter but he doesn’t say anything. I wonder though, if I’m going to have to come up with some excuse later for why she’s being so reclusive. Or making me carry her bags…

“So, what’s the plan for tonight?” Kate asks.

“I don’t know,” Carter shrugs. “Hang out, maybe play some games. My roommate went home this weekend so we should have the house to ourselves.”

“Oh my god, we should have a Mario Kart tournament!” Kate says.

“I’m into that,” Ethan agrees, but Carter shrugs.

“With just the three of us?”

“No, the five of us. Christian and Ana are coming for tonight, aren’t you?” Kate asks. The three of them turn to look at us, and I frown, feeling a deep stab of regret in the pit of my stomach.

“Sorry. I think… I think we’re just going to go to the hotel, Kate.”

“Aw, come on, Ana!” she pouts. “You’re never here on weekends. Come hang out! It won’t be nearly as fun if you’re not there.”

“Sorry, Katie,” I tell her. “We’ll do something, just the two of us, next week, okay?”

She frowns, but, after glancing at Christian, nods. “Alright, have a good night.”

I lean over and very tenderly hug her before turning to Christian and following him out the back door where Taylor has already started warming up my Lexus.

Christian stops to open my door so that I can climb into the back seat and out of the cold while he stows our luggage in the trunk. Once he’s slid into the seat next to me, Taylor looks up in the mirror.

“Where to, sir?”

“Oleana,” he says, and Taylor nods before shifting the car into reverse and backing down the driveway. Before we can turn to continue down the road, I look back up at the house and see Carter and Ethan come through the sliding glass door, wrestling with Champ, who doesn’t seem eager to get back into Carter’s car after having just got home. Kate is laughing at them as she steps out of the house, but when our headlights turn off the driveway, she turns to look at our car. The humor on her face fades slightly as she lifts her hand to wave goodbye, and even though I know she can’t see me through the dark. I curl my fingers at her and then slump back into my seat.

“You okay?” Christian asks.

“Yeah. Part of me just wishes we were staying home so we could hang out with Kate and Ethan, but it’s probably better this way anyway.” I sigh. “You packed my laptop, right? I need to work some more on the article I’m writing for the Crimson next week.”

“Yeah, it’s in your bag,” he says. I nod and turn to stare out the window again, feeling the lingering sense of guilt that plagues me every time I leave Kate now, because it makes me replay Ainsley’s words from that boutique in Seattle in my mind.

Your best friend is moving on without you.

This weekend could have been the perfect way to include her without sacrificing time with Christian, but I guess that’s just one more thing Leila is taking away from me. Security. Freedom. Time with my best friend.

And all because Christian chose me, not her.

When we pull up outside the restaurant a few minutes later, Christian wraps his hand around mine and takes me with him through his side of the car. The early February air really is biting cold, so he pulls me in tight under his arm as he leads me inside and doesn’t release me until we’re led to a secluded table near the back. I’ve been here with Christian before, a long time ago when he still went to school here, and it looks the same now as it did all those years ago. The dim light is interrupted by a single votive in the middle of the small table, casting soft, flickering candlelight over the white tablecloth. It’s very romantic and I smile at him as he pulls out my chair out for me and then leans down to kiss the top of my hair.

Once we begin to glance over our menus though, it’s quiet between us, almost uncomfortably so, so once the waitress has taken our orders and left us alone again, Christian reaches across the table and takes my hands in his.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Mmm,” I hum. “Of course I am, I’m with you. I’m just… thinking about Kate. I need to find a way to make time for her during the week, but there never seems to be enough hours in a day anymore. Especially now that she has a boyfriend again. I wish I was more like you and could manage my time a little better.”

“You two should start running together again,” he says. “That’s an easy way to spend time together and get to talk. I think you need that. You’re happier when you and Kate are in a good place.” I give him a tight smile and take a drink of my water as I once again have to pretend there isn’t a reason Kate’s behavior has suddenly and inexplicably changed. I hate that I can’t just tell him, especially because I know that he’d want to show her his gratitude, but I made a promise. So, to prevent an accidental slip, I change the subject.

“How’s work going? Ros seemed a little anxious when I was talking to you on the phone after my appointment the other day. Everything alright?”

“Yeah,” he nods. “She always gets that way when we’re on the verge of something big and this looks as though it could be one of the most lucrative deals we’ve ever had.”

“Ten million dollars,” I repeat, remembering Ros’s panicked pleas to get Christian off the phone.

“And that’s just to start,” he says. “Have you ever heard of PixC?”

“You mean like the website? It’s like Instagram, right?”

“Yeah, it’s the second largest photo sharing application in the social media world. Their CEO was in a plane crash a little over a month ago.”

“Oh my god! Is he okay?”

“No, Ana. He died.”

“Oh… Did you know him?”

He shakes his head. “I knew of him, but, no, I didn’t know him personally. Anyway, their company is bleeding because they’re not equipped to go on without him and so they’re quietly looking to sell.”

“So, you’re going to buy it?”

“Their financial advisor used to work for a company I acquired and he’s really good. I had tried to bring him into GEH before, but he want to PixC instead. Anyway, he called me and told me their situation, so I looked into it. The name is recognizable, they have seven million active monthly users, and now that their stocks have plummeted, they’re cheap. With my technology division, I think we can not only save the company, but we can make a run at becoming a social media giant. That could mean two to five billion dollars in annual revenue, and from only one division of my company.”

“Every year?” I ask, astonished. He smiles and I give him an accusatory look. “Are you secretly trying to take over the world?”

“It’s a secret?” he replies, and I laugh.

When we’re finished with dinner, I snuggle again into Christian’s side to try and avoid the cold as we make our way to the Lexus parked a little ways down from the door. Once we’re inside, Taylor turns back to us and asks if Christian intends to go straight back to the hotel, but he shakes his head.

“I think we’re going to be spending the rest of the evening at number four Merrill Street,” he says and I furrow my brow at his sudden change of plans until I recognize the address.

“Carter’s house?” I ask.

“I hear they’re having a Mario Kart tournament,” he says. “How could we possibly miss that?”

“Thank you,” I say, and then lean over to kiss him in a way that is probably a little inappropriate with Taylor being only a few feet away in the driver’s seat.

When we get to Carter’s house, we’re immediately greeted by Champ’s loud barks that don’t stop after Carter opens the door to let us in. He growls and snarls at Christian as he worms his way between us but, while Ethan grabs Champ by the collar to drag him into the back room and Kate begins apologizing from the couch, Christian waves them off.

“I’m perfectly fine with that dog acting aggressively towards men he doesn’t know being around Anastasia.”

“Oh, he knows you,” Kate says. “He just doesn’t like you. Champ is an excellent judge of character.”

“Is that why he sleeps in Ana’s bed?” Christian retorts. Kate’s mouth pops open, but quickly changes into a broad smile.

“Solid burn, Grey.”

I laugh and lean up on my tip toes to kiss Christian on the cheek before I move over to the couch to sit with Kate.

“You want a beer, Christian?” Carter asks hesitantly, and to everyone’s surprise, Christian nods. He even follows Carter into the kitchen and when they come back several minutes later, they’re talking to each other. Pleasantly.

Kate gives me a shocked look as they sit down at the table in Carter’s dining room together, but, as we sit and eavesdrop on them talking about Christian’s new Lamborghini and a few other expensive sports cars that are expected to be released later this year, her look of disbelief turns to smug satisfaction.

“I told you he just needed to get to know him. Look, you’d think they were best friends.”

“I honestly don’t believe it,” I say. “It feels like we’ve entered some kind of bizzaro world and now I don’t know what to do with my hands.”

“Grab a WiiMote,” Kate says. “The boys are occupied and, now that I’ve got you all to myself, you’re going down, Steele.”

It ends up being one of the best nights I’ve had in a really long time. Ethan puts on some music while Kate and I race each other on Mario Kart and the guys hang out in kitchen behind us. I’m almost floored by how long Christian willingly sits at the table with Carter, and not even just keeping up polite, shallow conversation either. He listens to Carter going over some of the things they’re currently talking about in his business classes and gives his take things, offered him some career advice for once he graduates, and when Carter asks him the question I didn’t even dare at the beginning of the year, about him possibly coming into guest lecture, he doesn’t immediately turn him down.

Maybe Kate and Elliot were right and it is a good idea to have some kind of secret handshake to ensure neither of us gets taken over by aliens. As it is, hearing him laugh at one of Carter’s jokes, I’m going through my mind to think of three questions only Christian Grey could answer, just to be sure.

After about an hour, the boys have started drinking and playing Quarters on the dining room table, which Christian doesn’t seem to be very good at and results in him taking several shots. The more he drinks, the more lascivious his glances across the room at me become. At one point, when we make eye contact, I see his tongue swipe tantalizingly over his lower lip and, along with the look he’s giving me, it actually makes me blush. I remember very clearly what happens to Christian when he’s intoxicated… and so does my behind.

“Good lord, how much alcohol are they giving him?” I ask, and Kate laughs.

“Don’t worry, not enough that he won’t be able to perform later.”

“That’s not a concern,” I tell her. “Although, if he keeps drinking I might need to be concerned about how sore I’ll be tomorrow.”

“I bet I’ll still win that contest,” she says, wincing slightly as she readjusts her position on the couch.

“Are you feeling okay?” I check.

“I’m fine, sorry. I think the painkillers I took this afternoon are wearing off, but I don’t want to take anymore until I’m ready to go to bed. It’s late and they’ll knock me out, but I’m having a really good time with you tonight, Ana.”

“Me too,” I tell her, but she winces again and I frown.

I glance over my shoulder at Christian, who is watching Ethan take a turn at getting the coin into the shot glass between them, and I wonder if part of the reason that she doesn’t want to take more painkillers is that she doesn’t want to risk Christian seeing her with a pill bottle.

“Do you want to do something else?” I ask. “This game makes you move around a lot, maybe that’s making it worse.”

“Yeah,” Kate nods. “Let’s play something with the boys. I’ve let your guy boggart my guy’s attention long enough.”

She calls out to Carter and asks them to come join us in the living room, and they tell us they will once they finish their game. Ethan goes through the movies to find something for us to watch while Carter and Christian come take their places next to Kate and me. The moment Christian’s pulled the blanket in my lap over him so that it’s covering both of us, his hand moves down over my thigh. I glance quickly over at Kate and Carter, worried they may have noticed something, but they’re currently arguing with Ethan over whatever DVD he’s pulled out of the cabinet.

“You’re so beautiful, baby,” Christian whispers as his hand moves between my legs. “God, I can’t wait to get you alone tonight.”

“Alone being the key word,” I whisper back as I clench my thighs together.

“Don’t,” he groans. Carter gets up to turn the lights out and once it’s dark and the movie starts, Christian’s hand becomes slightly more aggressive under the blanket. He presses against my thighs, opening my legs for him again, and then his fingers get to work once more. I bite down on my lip, nervous to be caught fooling around at first, but eventually giving in as the feel of him touching me overwhelms my good judgement.

“That’s it, baby,” he whispers softly. “Just don’t give me away.”

His hands begin to roam my body, becoming bolder the further into the movie we get. I let out several silent gasps as his fingers clamp tightly around my nipples beneath my bra or his teeth graze softly against the lobe of my ear. My eyes shift to Kate and Carter again, and then to Ethan lying on the floor in front of the TV, but they’re all far too engrossed in the movie to be paying any attention to Christian and I. The longer he touches me, the more I want from him, and so, when I’m sure we’re not going to be caught, I slowly move my hand over into his lap until I find the bulge in his trousers. His body stiffens when I wrap my fingers tightly around it and I begin moving my hand back and forth, but when I move to open his zipper, he reaches down to stop me.

“I don’t want your hand,” he whispers to me. “I want to fuck you. Right now.”

I react immediately to the feel of his breath against my skin and the raw need I can hear in his tone. I turn slightly towards him, moving as little as possible to avoid the off chance that we may attract someone’s attention and give him a coy smile.

“Should we leave?”

“No,” he says. “Right now. I don’t want to wait to get you back to the hotel.”

“But…”

“Excuse yourself. You’re pregnant. Pretend you’re going to be sick and go into the bathroom. I’ll come check on you in a minute.”

The shiver returns as he squeezes my leg tightly once, and then leans away from me. I take a deep breath and settle back into the couch, waiting a few seconds before reaching forward for the glass of water in front of me, bringing it up to my lips, and then letting my face shift with sudden urgency.

“Oh god,” I moan, brushing Christian’s hand off my leg and bolting out of my seat for the bathroom.

“Ana?” Kate says, looking worried as she turns away from the movie.

“I’ve got it,” Christian says.

I duck into the bathroom, which is coincidentally the first bathroom I actually ever did get sick in because of my pregnancy, and then wait three or four seconds before Christian slips inside behind me, closes the door, and then twists the lock on the handle. His arms are around me immediately, bringing me into him so that his lips can find mine with a hungered, fervent kind of urgency. I moan into his mouth and he pulls away.

“You have to be very, very quiet,” he warns me. “Which is going to be difficult as I intend on being very rough with you.”

He turns me back towards the vanity and simultaneously bends me over the counter while he kicks my feet apart. His hands hook under the band on my leggings and begin pulling them off of me, all the way off rather than just far enough for him to get between my legs, and as he separates my pale pink panties from the black fabric he tosses carelessly to the floor and tucks them into the pocket of his pants, a smile crosses my lips. Apparently, he intends for this to be memorable.

I glance up into the mirror and watch as he pulls a silk tie from the back pocket of his jeans, and then raise an eyebrow at him.

“Why do you have…”

“A man has to be prepared, Anastasia,” he says as he curls the fabric around his hands and then moves it in front of my face like he wants to tie it around my head. “Open,” he commands.

“What?”

“I said you were going to have to be quiet,” he says. “I’m going to ensure you are. Open your mouth, Anastasia.” I do as he asks and he slides the silk of his tie between my lips, then quickly wraps each end around my head, over my hair, and secures them together in a tight knot. I move my neck, testing the freedom I have with his makeshift gag, and then let out a muffled, anticipation filled moan into the fabric as I hear the low jingle of his belt.

He leans over me again. “We don’t have a lot of time. You’re going to come quickly.”

I nod and then grip tightly to the countertop as I feel his erection brush against my lips. He thrusts forward in one hard motion that rockets me forward so violently that I would have crashed face first into the mirror had his hand on my shoulder not been simultaneously pulling me back into him. I readjust my grip on the countertop as he moves forward again and again, pistoning in and out of me as quick and as hard as possible. His hand moves from my shoulder to tangle in the roots of my hair and he pulls harshly, eliciting a sharp cry of pain that is lost in the fabric set firmly in my mouth.

Without breaking his relentless pace, he makes eye contact with me in the mirror to make sure I’m okay, but since I can’t respond to him, I simply move my hands further up the counter, gripping tightly to the inside of the sink for better leverage, and push back on him. A smile crosses his lips as he gets the message and his hand tightens even more around my hair as he continues to pummel in and out of me.

He wasn’t wrong before. We’ve only just begun but it’s not long before I feel heat blossoming inside of me like the bloom of a lotus flower, quickly spreading through my heated blood and reaching to the very tips of my fingers. My toes curl over the tile floor as my body forces me to surrender to the rapidly unravelling pleasure, my fingernails scrape against the porcelain on the sink, and my insides begin to shudder. All of it together tells Christian that I’m getting close, and he leans over me, pressing into me, until his lips brush against my ear again.

“That’s it, baby. Let go. I want you to come,” he whispers. I whimper in response and his hand slips down between my legs, his fingers finding my clitoris and moving in time with each of his strokes.

“Like that?” he asks, huskily. I nod and whimper as my  body begins to writhe and I hear him groan. “Fuck, I want to spank you. Really let you fucking have it.”

His hand moves down from my hair and grips tightly to my ass. His fingers sink into my flesh so hard, I imagine he’ll leave behind five dime sized bruises, but that thought doesn’t deter me. In fact, I hope he does. I want the reminder, the proof of where he’s been, and as his hands open me further, allowing him to stroke deeper into me, the pressure twisting tighter and tighter inside of me collapses in on itself like a supernova and sends shockwaves of warm pleasure rolling through my entire body.

“Fuck, Ana,” Christian hisses as my orgasm forces me to clench tightly around him. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

His hand disappears from my ass and wraps around mine on the counter as he tries to hold himself up while the force of his own orgasm hits him. I can feel his release filling me as he continues to move in and out of me, and when I look up into the mirror and see the cocktail of pleasure and strain in his face as he struggles to stay as quiet as he’s kept me, I feel a new wave of heat wash through me. Not another orgasm, simply deep, genuine satisfaction. The uninhibited pleasure he’s experiencing right now is because of me, because of my body, and I love that I do that to him. I love that he does this to me. I love that having this with him proves over and over again how perfect we are for each other.

It takes him a moment to regain control of his breathing, but once he does, he removes the tie from around my head, pulls out, and crouches down behind me. I feel a small pang of embarrassment as I feel the shift of his release, but as it begins to drip out of me, he groans.

“So fucking hot.” His lips connect with my inner thigh, leaving a small, gentle kiss against my skin, before he stands up, picks up a towel off the rack behind us, and uses it to clean me up.

“I’m sure Carter is really going to appreciate that,” I tell him wryly as he tosses the towel into a hamper a few feet away from us.

“I care very little about what Carter does and does not appreciate,” he says, and I frown.

“I thought you were starting to come around with Carter. You two have been getting along so well tonight.”

“You think I got where I did in business by not being able to fake pleasant conversation with people I can’t stand?”

“But, why would you do that? If you hate him so much…”

“He’s important to Kate, and Kate is important to me.”

I smile, taken off guard for a moment by his sweet confession about my best friend, and then turn to wrap my arms around him. “She is?”

“Of course she is. She’s the person closest to the love of my life, the godmother of my daughter… and she donated part of her liver to my father.”

My face falls. “What?”

“You don’t have to pretend anymore, Ana,” he says. “I know you know that she was the donor who saved my father’s life.”

“But… but how do you know?”

“She’s not drinking, she winces every time she moves, and she hasn’t got up to dance with you once tonight even though her eyes have lit up a dozen times at different songs that have been played. She didn’t go to school today but she’s been hiding from me, which is not something that is usual for her, and when she moves too quickly, she holds her side, the same way my father does. I’ve known her for three years, you don’t think I can tell when something’s off with her?”  

I press my lips together, unsure if it’s still breaking my promise to Kate to talk to him about this now that he actually does know. But there really is no sense in denying it anymore and he’s expecting me to answer him, so I take a deep breath and nod.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because she didn’t want you to know. She doesn’t want anyone in your family to know.”

“Why?” he asks, and I narrow my eyes at him. “Elliot?”

I nod again. “She loves your family, but she’s moving on. You know what would happen if everyone found out. You know what Elliot would do. She doesn’t want him showing up here and making things awkward with Carter… or Gia.”

Gia,” he huffs irritably, but when his eyes meet my pleading gaze, he nods. “Fine. I won’t say anything.”

I lean up and kiss him, but he only allows my lips to linger against his for a second before he pushes me away.

‘I love you, but we’ve been in here too long. They’re going to wonder what we’re doing. Get dressed.”

“Okay.” I turn to pick up my leggings from the floor, aware of the fact that he hasn’t given me my panties back, but as we begin to put ourselves back together, Christian’s phone begins vibrating loudly.

“Who’s that?” I ask as he reaches into his pocket to pull out his iPhone. “Isn’t it a little late for work calls?”

“Ros, probably,” he replies, but when he looks down at the screen of his phone, he frowns. “Or it’s California…” He looks confused for half a second, but that quickly vanishes and is replaced immediately by alarm. “Fuck, PixC.”

I glance nervously to the door as we can both still hear the faint sounds of gunshots and explosions coming through the door from the movie, but Christian doesn’t seem to be deterred enough by the noise not to answer.

“Grey. No, that’s alright. What can I do for you, Hausman?” He’s quiet for a moment, having to concentrate very hard on listening to what the person he’s talking to is saying because he’s still a little inebriated, but the longer the other person speaks, the deeper the crease in Christian’s forehead gets. “What do you mean? Their stock is in free fall. They know they won’t survive fourth quarter, what makes them…?” He pauses again, presumably as the other person answers his panicked questions, and while he waits, the confusion in his expression turns to anger. “Who are they going to find in the next thirty days? Very motivated? Who is it?”

The tension in his face relaxes, but it isn’t replaced with relief. If anything, it’s shock, and it takes him a moment to speak again.

“Thank you, Hausman. I’ll be in touch.” He hangs up the phone, staring at it in disbelief for a moment, before finally looking back up at me.

“What was that?”

“That was… that was Richard Hausman, the financial advisor on the board of PixC that I was telling you about earlier. They’re backing out of our deal, out of our ten million dollar deal.”

“What? Why?”

“They think they can reclaim the company if they get the right leadership, so they’re going to try and replace their CEO rather than merge with GEH. They’ve already got an interview lined up.”

“Who is it? Would I know them?” I ask, and he nods.

“It’s Ros.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 23

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Dr. Baker’s office feels much more empty without Christian’s family huddled around me, anxiously waiting to find out the gender of the baby. It’s only me and Luke now and since this appointment is just a regular check up, I’m anxious to get out of here and get on with everything else I have to do today. Kate being fully committed to school again and having hours and hours of nothing to do while she recovers at home means that she’s invested a great deal of time into The Crimson again, and she’s asked me to replace one of the paper’s regular contributors, whose bi-weekly column has been suffering lately. I was ecstatic at the time and enthusiastically accepted, and it has been nice having something to write for again, but it’s made my workload a little heavier than I would like.

On top of everything else, the only opening Dr. Baker had for me this week was smack dab in the middle of a Thursday, and between my meeting with Dr. Ralston early this morning and the three classes I have to attend today, I barely have time to eat, let alone spend an hour in a waiting room 30 minutes from campus. Thankfully, I at least had the foresight to bring some homework along with me to my appointment to keep me preoccupied while I wait.

“Oooh,” I say, dropping the pen in my hand and sitting up straighter. I lay my hand over my belly and Luke gives me a questioning look.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Fine.” I nod. “She’s definitely getting more active. We may have another Mia on our hands with the way she’s been dancing around all morning.”

He smiles at me. “Can I feel?”

“Sure.” I open my coat a little wider and lean back so Luke can place the palms of his hands over my t-shirt, but after a few seconds of staying absolutely still, he leans back and frowns.

“I don’t feel anything.”

“Sorry,” I sigh. “Christian hasn’t felt anything yet either and he tried for over an hour last weekend.”

“Soon though, right? I mean, you’re getting pretty far along.”

“Hopefully.” I place my hands over my stomach again, no longer just a small protrusion, but a fully fledged baby bump. I popped very suddenly in the middle of last week and when I went home to spend the weekend with Christian, he couldn’t get enough of it. Every time we had a spare moment to be alone together, his fingers immediately went down to my belly and began tracing a line back and forth across it. I’d giggle and try to struggle away from him when the tickling sensation became too much, but that only seemed to encourage him. He thought for sure it would wake the baby up and he’s been desperate to feel her move ever since that night in Paris on the love lock bridge.  

“How did your meeting go this morning?” Luke asks. “Did you make a decision on what you’re going to do about your book?”

“Mhmm,” I mumble as I pick up my pen and start working again. “I’m not going to use a pen name.”

“You’re not?”

“No. It’s important to me that the dust jacket say Anastasia Steele, so I’m not compromising on that.”

“But I thought that was the deal? Either you agree to write about Grey or you publish under a pseudonym?”

I shake my head. “I’m not making any deals. I have the head of the English Department of Harvard University behind me, that should be enough. He’s got connections in the publishing world and if he can’t find a way to use them to get me a deal, then I’ll find someone else who can. My book is going to be published the way I want it to be published, and when it’s in print, I’ll be very clear in my acknowledgements about who made that happen and who didn’t. With that knowledge, Dr. Ralston can decide how hard he wants to fight for me.”

Luke smiles, though he’s trying to hide it, so I raise an eyebrow at him. “What?”

“You sound just like Grey,” he says.

“Yeah, well, he’s very influential. Wwe talked about it last weekend and he told me not to settle. He said I should never accept less than I deserve and I deserve greatness. We’ve always got SIP as a backup, so I don’t need to compromise where I don’t want to.”

“No, you don’t, and I’m glad you took his advice to heart. There’s a reason he’s so successful, he doesn’t take no for an answer. You shouldn’t either. You’re too talented for that.”

“Thanks, Luke.”

“Anastasia Steele?”

I look up to see Dr. Baker’s nurse standing at the door that leads to the back offices, so I wave and then squeeze Luke’s hand as I get out of my seat to follow her. She asks me to step on the scale so she can take my weight and, as she moves the slide over the measure, I look away, unwilling to see just how much all of this extra belly has increased the number.

After taking my vitals and asking the now expected pre-check up questions, the nurse leaves me alone in the examination room for several minutes and, while I stare at the pictures on the wall of the different stages of pregnancy and one landscape photograph with a corny inspirational quote scrawled across it, I feel a wash of regret over leaving my homework in the waiting room with Luke. Right now, ten minutes feels like an hour and I’ve got a lot to finish before I leave for Seattle this weekend.

“Good afternoon, Anastasia,” Dr. Baker greets me when she finally enters the room. “How have the last couple weeks been?”

“Better, actually. My breasts are pretty sore and I’ve had some heartburn, but I think my body is finally adjusting to the pregnancy. I haven’t been as tired.”

“They do call the second trimester the honeymoon period,” she says. “You should be normalizing a bit, getting into a groove. Have you felt the baby move at all?”

“Yeah, she moves all the time, but Christian hasn’t been able to feel anything yet.”

“Well, you’re…” she looks down at her chart. “Twenty one weeks? It shouldn’t be too much longer. She’s still pretty weak so her movements are fairly light, but she’s going to hit a growth spurt here over the next few weeks, so he should feel something soon.”

“Good,” I nod. “I think he’s feeling left out.”

She smiles and then looks down at her chart again. “How are things at home? You said your father-in-law has cancer, didn’t you?”

“Well, he’s not my… uh.” I stop, realizing the clarification is unnecessary. “Yeah, he does.”

“How is his treatment going?”

“Good. He had transplant surgery about five weeks ago and the doctors say he should be ready to start chemo by the end of February.”

“That’s wonderful to hear. How’s school?”

“Great. My best friend also just had surgery so she’s on a temporary disability program through the university that’s allowing her to take classes from home until she’s able to get to school on her own, but she’s going out of her mind with boredom. It’s been smooth sailing for me though. Just kind of busy.”

“Mmm,” she hums as she makes a note on her chart. “You live on the west coast, right? Are you still travelling back and forth?”

“Yeah. I mean it’s only been one weekend so far but I’ve flown home once and I’ll fly home again tomorrow. I actually wanted to talk to you about painting… Christian and I recently bought a house and we’re just about to start renovation. I wanted to paint the nursery myself but he’s concerned about fumes.”

“Unfortunately, the jury is still out on that one,” she says. “There hasn’t been any definitive research as to whether or not painting a room is enough exposure to the chemicals and solvents found in most commercial paint brands to warrant concern. Personally, I’d recommend having someone else do the painting if you can, but if you need to do it, make sure the room is well ventilated, don’t eat or drink, wear a respiratory mask, and stop immediately if you feel dizzy or nauseated.”

“So, no,” I sigh, and she nods.

“I think that’s a good idea. Your chart shows that your blood pressure is still elevated, higher in fact than it was the last time I saw you. Have you eaten anything today?”

“Uh, I had some toast and avocado this morning. And some orange juice.”

“Do you mind if I take it one more time?”

“Of course not.” I quickly yank up the sleeve on my shirt and stick out my arm for her. She wraps the velcro cuff around my bicep and then quickly begins pumping the round ball on the end of the plastic tubing running down my arm. When the pressure in the cuff gets to it’s tightest point, she looks carefully at the reading and then frowns.

“150/100.”

“Is that bad?”

“It’s… high. Normally, we’d like to see something below 140/90. Have you been experiencing headaches or problems with your vision?”  

“Um… no. I don’t think so.”

“How about pain?” She reaches forward and gently presses her fingers into my upper abdomen, just below my ribs. “Anything here?”

“Not pain,” I say hesitantly. “Maybe some pressure. Especially when you push down right there.”

“Okay.” She gets off her stool, takes my hand in hers, and starts examining my wrist, then reaches down for my foot and does the same thing to my ankle. Once she’s finished she moves over to the cabinet where all the supplies are stored and pulls out a plastic cup to hand to me. “I’m going to call a phlebotomist in here to take some blood and have you take this cup into the bathroom and give me a urine sample.”

“Is something wrong?”

“I just want to take some labs,” she says, holding the cup out further for me. I nod and hop off the examination table.

It’s worse waiting in the room after the phlebotomist has left because, aside from the anxiety over what Dr. Baker is running labs for, my appointment is now going much longer than I had anticipated. It looks like I’m going to miss my Kaleidoscopic Romanticism class, for which I have an exam coming up in the next week. I decide it’s best to email my professor now, before I miss class, to explain my situation so that hopefully he’ll take pity on me and send me his lecture notes, but I’m only about halfway through typing out the email on my iPhone when Dr. Baker re-enters the room.

“How’d it go?” I ask immediately.

“Well, Ana, your blood looks good, but you urine did show some slightly elevated protein levels.  I think you’re showing early warning signs of pre-eclampsia.”

“Pre-e… what? I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a complication. It causes high blood pressure, damage to your kidneys and liver, and it can be dangerous for you and your baby.”

The curiosity in my expression vanishes, replaced instantly by blank dread as I feel my entire body go cold.

“So… you’re saying that I have it or that I might get it?”

“Generally we see pre-eclampsia developing in your last trimester but if we don’t start a course of treatment now, at the onset of your symptoms, it can become very severe, very quickly.”

“What’s the treatment?”

“Mostly lifestyle changes. I’d like you to start taking a low dose aspirin before bed to try and help lower your blood pressure. It’s important that you are very careful going forward with your diet, particularly with salt. I’d like for you to try and limit your daily sodium to less than 1500 mg a day and increase your water intake to somewhere between 64 and 72 ounces. Are you still exercising?”

“Yeah, I run three times a week. Outside, not on the treadmill.”

“You should bump that up to between five and seven days a week. The further into your pregnancy you get, the more rest you’re going to require, but for now, 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise everyday can help your symptoms from progressing.”

“Okay,” I agree. “30 minutes a day, every day.”

“Good. And when you are at home, it’s a good idea to keep your feet elevated and find time to relax. It sounds like you have a lot going on at home so I really want you to focus on reducing your stress levels over the next few months.”

“Okay.”

She gives me some pamphlets and tells me that she wants to see me once every two weeks now, rather than the once a month we’d previously scheduled. I agree and then thank her as I leave the room, stopping at the desk to schedule the additional appointments before returning to Luke in the waiting room.

“So, how’d it go?” he asks the moment he sees me come through the door, but when I don’t respond right away, his face falls. “Ana? What’s wrong?”

“She thinks I might be developing a complication.”

“What complication?” he asks wearily.

“Pre-eclampsia. She said that it normally won’t develop until the third trimester and we can try to prevent it, but if I do get it, it can be bad for me and the baby.”

“How bad?”

“I don’t know.”

He presses his lips together, clearly choosing his words carefully before he speaks. “Are you going to call Grey or wait until tomorrow?”

“I’m gonna call him, he’ll be mad if I wait. I just need to think of a way to tell him without freaking him out too much. As if 3,000 miles of distance wasn’t hard enough, right? Let’s add high risk pregnancy on top of that.”  

“You two are never easy,” he agrees. “Come on, we can still get you to your last class if we hurry. You can call him from the car.”

When we pull out of the parking lot of Dr. Baker’s office and start making our way back to Cambridge, I take out my phone, find Christian’s name in my recent calls, and dial, feeling guilty for adding this on top of his already too full plate, but the phone rings twice and then goes straight to voicemail.

“What time is?” I ask aloud, realizing too late that my phone is literally in my hand.

“01:30,” Luke answers.

“He’s probably just working then. I’ll call him tonight.”

“With how distracted you get? I don’t think so.” He presses his thumb into the button on the steering wheel and prompts the car to dial the front desk at GEH. Two rings later, Andrea’s voice comes through the phone.

“Christian Grey’s office, this is Andrea Parker speaking. How may I assist you?”

“Hi, Andrea, it’s Luke. I have Anastasia on the line.”

“Hi, Luke. Mr. Grey and Miss Bailey are in a client meeting right now, can I…”

“It’s urgent,” Luke interrupts her. “Ana just got back from the doctor’s office.”

“Oh, hold on just a minute. I’ll let him know.” There’s a click followed immediately by generic sounding hold music, and I turn an annoyed look on Luke.

“You didn’t have to pull him out of a meeting. It’s not urgent and saying it is isn’t going to help the whole don’t freak him out thing I’m going for.”

“We’ll let him decide if it’s urgent or not.”

I roll my eyes and then wait a few more seconds until Christian’s voice breaks through the hold music. Predictably, he doesn’t take the news well but I don’t really get the chance to talk him down before I hear Ros desperately trying to coax him off the phone.

“Christian, I’m begging you. This is a ten million dollar merger. Please. Please go back into that room. “

“I’ll be there in a minute, Ros,” Christian hisses at her.

“No, not in a minute. Now. They’re going to walk away, please!

“Ros, I’m not-” I yells, but I cut him off.

“Christian, it’s fine. I’m about to go into class anyway. Call me this afternoon when you’re available and we can talk more.”

He sighs in frustration. “I’ll be done soon, I promise. I love you.”

“I love you, too. Bye.” I hang up the phone and glance out the window as we pull into the parking lot closest to the English building on campus, trying to help Luke spot an open parking space, which has become an elusive concept since the cold really took hold of Cambridge. As we’ve come to expect, there isn’t one, so, after checking that campus security isn’t trolling around, looking for tickets to dish out, he pulls into a loading zone, shifts into park, and leaves the car idling as he gets out to hurriedly walk me to class.

“Alright, you got everything?” he asks as we approach the main doors.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’m going to go move the car, but I’ll be right here when you get out.”

“Thanks, Luke.” I lean in to give him a quick hug as I turn and climb the steps that lead to the front doors of the building and then make my way to the classroom. There’s still a few minutes before the lecture starts so I take the opportunity to drop off my things, strip out of my too bulky winter coat, and make a beeline for the bathroom. It’s getting more and more difficult to sit through a whole lecture with my daughter snuggling against my bladder all the time so, hopefully, a preemptive bathroom trip will get me through the next hour.

Unfortunately, the bathroom next to the lecture hall I’m in is closed for cleaning, so I have to hurry awkwardly to the one all the way on the other side of the building, which means by the time I’ve washed my hands and started back, I’m officially late for class. Dr. Chelli is notoriously difficult with people walking in after his lecture has started so I find myself rushing through the deserted hallways so fast that I almost run straight into the girl standing in the middle of the hallway when I come around the corner. I manage to stop in time though and the moment I realize who it is, I stumble backwards so quickly I nearly fall over.

“What are you doing here?” I ask cautiously as I regain my balance, but she doesn’t respond. Her bourbon colored eyes focus in on the very visible bump beneath my t-shirt, and then widen with realization. Instinctively, I place a protective hand over my stomach and take several steps backwards.

“Leila?”

The sound of her name seems to bring her out of the almost trance like daze she’s staring at me with, and as she makes eye contact with me, her bottom lip begins to tremble.

“You’re pregnant?”

I swallow, knowing I can’t deny what’s obviously right in front of her, and try to summon whatever courage I can muster. “Yeah. So, you just stay away from me, okay?” It comes out weak, more like a plea than a command, because seeing her for the first time since New York has the all too clear memories of the fear I felt being chased from that coffee shop washing back over me, magnified now that it’s not just me I have to be scared for.

“Oh my god,” she whispers. “That’s why you… and why he…” She shakes her head as she struggles to get a full sentence through her increasingly choppy breathing and then glances up and down the hallway before turning wide, glassy eyes back on me. She looks lost, helpless, and it almost makes me want to grab ahold of her and lead her to a chair.

“Leila?”

“I can’t do this,” she says.

“Do what?”

“I can’t…” Her fingers reach up to cover her lips as she turns away from me and hurries down the hall, but before she turns the corner, she stops, shakes her head again, and then comes back towards me. I stumble backwards into the wall, debating whether or not I should scream, but as she approaches me, I don’t see any degree of malice in her eyes. In fact, there’s almost genuine concern reflected there.

“Ana, you need to be careful,” she says quickly. “He’s crazy.

“What?”

“He’s watching you. He’s always watching you, waiting…”

“Who?”

She shakes her head. “It’s already begun.”

I stare blankly at her as I start to wonder for a moment if she’s actually gone off the deep end, but before I can get anymore out of her, she begins backing away from me and then runs down the hallway once more and out of sight. I wait for a second, frozen in place as I worry that she may come back again, but she doesn’t. She’s left me alone and the adrenaline I feel from her sudden appearance doesn’t crash after she’s gone. In fact, it almost seems heightened now. I don’t know where she is or if she’s alone, and her ramblings, incoherent as they may have been, make the silence of the empty hallway feel menacing. Like there’s someone here with me who I can’t see. Suddenly, every classroom, every alcove, every garbage can becomes a possible hiding place and as my eyes shift wildly through the open space, I can feel my heart beating so hard it feels as though it’s going to pound right out of my chest.

I need Luke, now, so I reach into my pocket, pull out my phone, and dial his number.

“Ana?” he answers on the first ring.

“Where are you? I need you to take me home.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now. Right now. Come inside and get me. I want to leave. I want to go home”

“What happened?” he asks.

“I just saw Leila.”

There’s half a beat of silence before he responds, and when he does his voice is flat and deadly serious. “I’ll be there in four minutes.”

The phone clicks off and I take a deep breath to try and calm the nerves running through me as I turn back for the classroom. Twenty pairs of eyes shift to me when I open the door and Dr. Chelli makes a point to stop his lecture to shame me for being late, but I’m so wrapped up in the anxiety Leila’s words have left me with that I don’t even feel embarrassed as I gather my things and leave again.

Luke is coming through the main doors when I step back out into the hallway. The moment I’m within arms reach, he grips tightly to my shoulders and looks me dead in the eye.

“What happened?”

“She knows I’m pregnant,” I tell him. “She saw and it made her upset and then she said that I needed to be careful. She said that somebody’s watching me.” I glance around the hall again, and so does Luke.

“Come on, let’s get you out of here,” he says urgently. I nod and then allow him to wrap a protective arm over my shoulder as he leads me out of the building.

***

“Still no answer,” Luke says, hanging up his phone with frustration while he paces the floor behind the couch. I take another drink of tea and lay my head back against the arm of the sofa. Now that I’m home, wrapped in a blanket on the couch with Kate next to me and a slobbery, sleeping dog curled up with his head in my lap, I’m feeling less exposed and therefore, much calmer. Luke on the other hand has been furiously dialing Christian’s cell phone every fifteen minutes for the last hour.

“He’s in a meeting,” I remind him. “I’ve left a message, you’ve left a message, he’ll call when he’s done.”

“I’m calling, Andrea,” he says, shaking his head.

“Luke, we’re fine. If you pull him out of this meeting again, he’s going to have a heart attack. We can wait a couple hours. It’s not like he’s not going to call me back.”

Your job’s not on the line, Anastasia.”

“Neither is yours. I’m fine.”

“Yeah, thank god. But Leila still managed to get you alone. Again. She shouldn’t be able to get to you, but somehow, she manages, and now you’re telling me that there’s some mystery lunatic out there keeping tabs on you? I’m not equipped to deal with this, Ana. I’m alone here, there’s no team, and we have no remote surveillance on this house. Hell, I don’t even have a license to carry a firearm in the state of Massachusetts. Grey isn’t the only one who wants to protect you!” He begins pacing again. “I knew something like this was going to happen. I should have never kept what happened in New York from him.”

“Okay, let’s take a second to breathe,” Kate insists. “I do seem to recall hearing something about how stress is something we’re supposed to be avoiding.”

Luke takes a deep breath through his nose while his jaw clenches shut and then crosses the living room to slump down into the easy chair across from us.

“Good,” Kate says. “Now, we’re all home and we’re all safe, so what’s important right now is to take care of Ana and get her comfortable and relaxed. We can deal with what just happened when Christian calls you back, but until then, our priority is to follow doctor’s orders and keep Ana calm.”

“Thank you, Kate,” I say.

“You’re welcome.” Her phone buzzes on the coffee table and she sighs before holding tightly onto her stomach where her scar is and bending over to get it. The pain is obvious on her face when she moves so I quickly push Champ off my lap to help her, and he snorts indignantly as he jumps off the couch and saunters over to Luke.

“Thank you,” Kate says when I hand her phone to her, and while she reads the text message open on the screen, I glance back over at a much more relaxed Luke, who is now leaning out of the chair to scratch Champ lovingly behind the ears. I swear, this dog is has him wrapped around his adorable little paw.

“Who’s a good boy?” he asks while Champ licks his face.

“Carter’s on his way back from the airport,” Kate says. “He’s got Ethan with him.”

“Ethan!” I exclaim. “Oh my god, I totally forgot he was coming this weekend.”

“He’s coming to snoop,” Kate says wryly. “He fed me this whole long story about how he wanted to check up on me and see how I was recovering but I know he’s here to check out Carter. My mom has been berating me about him for the past couple weeks, she’s probably behind it.”

“Or he just loves his little sister.”

“Highly unlikely,” she says, and I laugh.

“What are we going to do about sleeping arrangements tonight?” Luke asks. “If Carter is staying the night here, I have to stay in the guest room.”

“Why?” Kate asks.

“Christian,” I sigh. “It’s one of the new rules. Carter’s not allowed to be in the house if Luke’s not here.”

“Are you serious?” Kate asks, clearly annoyed.

I nod. “Of all the guys in this town you could have chosen, you had to pick Christian’s mortal enemy.”

“I think that’s extreme,” she replies. “Christian just needs to get the chance to know Carter.”

“Yeah? Good luck with that.”

About half an hour later, we hear the back door slide open and Carter and Ethan’s voices float in from the kitchen, which makes Champ jump off the floor and sprint to the door to attack whichever intruder has entered his domain. The barks give way to excited scratching on the tile floor though, when he sees who it is.

“Hey, Champ!” Carter says, jingling his collar as, I assume, he leans down to pet him and calm him down.  

“Katie?” Ethan calls.

“In here,” she shouts back, and, a second later, he rounds the corner into the living room.

“Oh man, it’s so good to see you!” he says excitedly. Kate holds open her arms for him but he makes a very obvious show of pivoting around her and pulls me up off the couch into a tight hug. “Banana, I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you!”

“Ha ha,” Kate says, clearly not amused, and Ethan turns back to his sister. “I’m just kidding. How you feeling, Sis?”

“Oh you know, like someone cut open my body and ripped out half of one of my vital organs.”

“Sounds terrible,” he says, leaning down to give her a gentle hug.

“Ethan!” Carter calls from the kitchen. “You want a beer, man?”

“Please.”

“How about you, Ana?”

He can’t see me, but I roll my eyes. “Sure, I’ll take two. One for me and one for the baby.”

“Ah, fuck,” he says, coming into the living room to hand an open bottle to Ethan. “I keep forgetting. It’s so weird. You have like… a person inside of you.”

“Trust me,” Kate interjects. “If you knew Ana and Christian, you wouldn’t think that was weird.”

“Katherine Kavanagh!” I exclaim, shocked, but she just gives me a satisfied smile in response.

“You want a beer, Luke?” Carter asks.

“No, I’m on duty.”

“You’re always on duty. Come on, man. Live a little.”

“That’s not how it works. I’m on duty,  and I don’t drink on duty.” His voice is cold, more so than is necessary, and Carter frowns. He’s been trying to bond with Luke ever since we came back from Christmas break, but he’s not gained any ground and I have a feeling that might have something to do with Christian.  

“Here,” I say, hoping to break the tension as I untangle myself from my blanket and get up off the couch. “You can sit next to your girlfriend.”

“You don’t have to get up, Ana,” Carter says.  

“Actually she does,” Ethan says. “You get to sit next to your girlfriend. I’m gonna sit next to mine.”

“You can’t say stuff like that anymore, Ethan!” I exclaim as I plop down on the couch next to him. “I have a fiancé now who I literally just got in a fight with about letting girls flirt with him.”

“Yeah, he may be your fiancé, but I’m your husband, remember? We took vows, Anastasia.”

“We were six and seven and that marriage only lasted as long as my ring pop, which I’m pretty sure you stole from me after the ceremony.”

“To be fair, I only went through with the marriage because Kate promised me the ring pop. It was a dowry.”

I laugh and shove against him before taking a long drink from my mug of tea.

It’s nice with the boys here with us, much more relaxed, and it feels good. We spend the next few hours talking and laughing, telling stories about some of our most memorable college experiences. Kate has more stories over the past few months than I have for my entire four years, and, as she details some of her more risque escapades with Ainsley and Eliza in New York, I actually find my mouth dropping open with shock several times.

“Okay, okay,” Ethan says finally. “You have to stop now. God, my little sister! Ana, was supposed to be a better influence on you than this.”

“Hey, don’t let her sweet little face fool you,” Kate says defensively. “Ana’s had her fair share of wild nights.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I reply innocently.

“Well, shall we refer to exhibit A?” she asks, gesturing to my belly. I narrow my eyes at her and pull the blanket in my lap up over my shoulders, but before she can detail anymore of the scandalous things she knows about me, we hear Champ’s deep bark echo out to us from the kitchen, followed by the sound of his claws scratching against the sliding glass door. Luke immediately sits up straighter while Kate and I turn to look through the window in the kitchen. It’s dark out, so we can’t make out much, except there seems to be a light outside that goes out once we all turn to the window.

“What was that?” Kate asks, nervously.

“Ana…” Luke gets out of his seat and walks over to me, and I get up to stand behind him.

“What’s going on?” Ethan asks, but Kate quickly shushes him. Luke’s eyes move between the front door and both the living room and the kitchen windows as he edges me to the stairs, Champ’s loud barks continuing to reverberate back at us. The confusion in both Carter’s and Ethan’s faces is obvious, but it’s Kate who I turn to look back at, and I feel my stomach drop as I see how pale she’s gone in a matter of seconds. I want to grab her, take her with me upstairs while Luke deals with whatever or whoever is outside, but it takes so much to move her right now. I can’t just pull her after me without seriously hurting her.

As the nervousness between Kate, Luke, and I grows more and more palpable, I see both Carter and Ethan unconsciously inch closer to Kate, which makes me feel a little better, until Luke pushes me gently against the wall between the stairs and the kitchen and then slips around the corner.

“Champ, NO!” he yells as I hear the low groan of the wheels on the sliding glass door opening. I take a deep breath, preparing for some kind of confrontation, but instead, feel my entire body relax as I hear Christian’s voice.

“Jesus, fuck!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Luke says. “Champ, get down. Get down!”

“Where’s Ana?” Christian asks, and I push off the wall to move as quickly as possible into the kitchen. Luke is holding tightly to Champ’s collar while he growls and struggles to get back at Christian, Taylor is hovering protectively in the way, but Christian isn’t paying attention to any of them. His eyes move only to me.

“Hey,” he breathes. I move quickly across the room and launch myself into him, finally feeling truly safe for the first time since this morning as his arms wrap around me.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

“What do you mean? You can’t just call me and tell me that you’re developing a pregnancy complication and not expect me to get to you as quickly as possible.”

“Christian,” I whisper gratefully, and then lean up on my toes to kiss him. His fingers brush softly against my cheeks, and when I pull away, he looks purposefully into my eyes.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” I tell him. “This whole thing… it’s just a possibility, something I have a chance of getting, but I’m fine right now. The doctor gave me all kind of things I have to do to prevent it.”

“Like what?”

I repeat the long list of things Dr. Baker told me this afternoon, trying to explain everything in the same comforting way she was able to. “Really, it’s the same kinds of things she told me last time.”

“Well, you need to take it seriously now,” he says. “I read through a dozen different articles and medical journals on my flight here, and they said this can damage your kidneys and your liver… I can’t handle anymore liver complications.”

“I know.” I nod. “I will.”

His arms tighten around me again. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too.”

“Sir,” Luke interrupts. “I think there’s something more pressing we need to discuss.”

“What do you mean?” Christian asks. Luke turns to me, giving me the chance to tell him myself, and I take a deep breath before looking up at him.

“I saw Leila today.”

“What? Where?”

“She was in the building where I had class. She was waiting there for me.”

“Waiting for you?” He turns an angry glare on Luke. “Where the fuck were you?”

“He was parking the car,” I say quickly in Luke’s defense. “I was supposed to be in class but I left to pee and she was in the hallway when I came out.”

The muscle in Christian’s jaw twitches. “Anastasia…”

“I’m sorry! I haven’t seen her in months, it didn’t occur to me that she would be on campus. She’s supposed to be in school too.”

He turns an angry glare back on Luke. “If Ana’s on that campus, I don’t want her alone. Not for a second.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke agrees. “I absolutely think it’s necessary to increase our resources here in Cambridge. As soon as possible.”

“Increase?”

“She…” I hesitate, knowing the reaction to what I’m about to say isn’t going to be good. “She said that someone is… watching me.”

The red already coloring Christian’s face deepens and I watch him take a few deep calming breaths before he responds. When he speaks again, the careful calmness he’s working to keep in his voice is extremely obvious.

“What do you mean, someone is watching you?”

“I don’t know, she wasn’t very coherent. She just said, ‘he’s watching you’,” I tell him.

“Pack your bags,” he says, without a second thought.

“What?”

“If I can’t absolutely guarantee your safety, you’re not staying here. If someone is watching you, they’re doing it for a reason, and I’m not interested in finding out what that reason is. Pack your bags, you’re coming home.”

“Christian!”

“This is not a discussion, Anastasia. Go pack your fucking bags, or Taylor can do it for you.”

“Christian, please…”

“Goddamn it, will you please just do what you’re fucking told?”

I take a step back from the anger radiating off of him, which is enough that Luke actually takes a step forward like he’s going to move between us.

“Is everything okay in here?”

I turn and see Ethan hovering in the archway between the kitchen and living room, looking between Christian and I as though he’s debating how involved he wants to get.

“We’re fine, Ethan,” I tell him.

He doesn’t look like he believes me. “You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Alright,” he says. “But, I’m just in the other room. If you need me…”

“We’re fine,” I assure him again. He nods, but gives Christian a warning look before he turns back into the living room.

“I can’t come home, Christian,” I say calmly as I face him again. “Leaving school isn’t an option, remember?”

“You can finish school from Seattle. I’ll call the University.”

“That’s not what I want,” I argue. “Sure, I could write papers from Seattle and do my homework, but that’s not what this experience is for me. I’m not finished here yet. Dr. Ralston and I are working on my book again, I just started writing full time for the paper, and I want these last four months with Kate. Four months, that’s all I’ve got left. So, I need you to find a way to give them to me. That may be asking the world, but you promised me the world before. So give it to me, Christian. Find a way to give me the world.”

“Ana, you know that I want to. More than anything, I want to give you everything you’ve worked for, everything you deserve, everything you want, but more than that, I have to keep you safe. I have to protect you.”

“Then protect me,” I challenge him. “Protect me here. You have the resources to do that. I know that’s uncomfortable, but that’s what I need from you. Keep me safe, keep whoever is out there away from me, do whatever you have to do, but keep me here.”

He stares at me for a very long, uncomfortable minute until he eventually turns to face Luke.

“What would it take?” he asks.

“Cameras,” he says immediately. “I need every inch of this house under 24 hour surveillance. I need a license to open carry in Massachusetts, and I need back up. At least one more body to have around when I can’t be.”

“I don’t like guns…” Christian says, but after glancing back at me, he nods. “Taylor, Sawyer has my full approval, whatever he needs, he gets. Spare no cost and don’t cut any corners. If Ana is staying in Cambridge, I want her security to make the Secret Service look like a joke. And, if either of you even get wind of a threat, I want her back on a plane to Seattle, immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” Taylor says.

“Thank you,” I say, wrapping my arms around his middle. He exhales and then presses his lips into my hair.

“Please don’t make me regret this.”

“I won’t,” I promise. His finger moves to my chin, tilting my face up to his, and as he presses his lips into mine, I hear the refrigerator door open behind me.

“Well, aren’t you two adorable?” Carter interjects.

“Why are you here?” Christian asks, annoyed.

“My girlfriend lives here,” he says. “We’re about to start a movie, you two lovebirds want to join us?”

“No,” Christian says shortly, but I place a gentle hand on his arm and step in front of him before he can say anything else.

“I think we’re just going to go to bed. Enjoy your movie.”

“Alright,” he says as he closes the refrigerator with two more beers in hand. “You two have a… good night.” He gives us a knowing smile and the suggestion in his voice makes Christian’s muscles tense, so I take his hand and lead him out of the room and pull him towards the stairs.

“Good night, Christian!” Kate calls after us, but he doesn’t respond. Instead, he lets out a disgusted kind of scoff and moves more quickly up the steps.  

“It just had to be fucking Reed,” he says, once we’re in my bedroom. “100,000 people in this town and that’s the one she picks. What did I ever do to her?”

“She likes him,” I tell him. “And she’s happy. More so than I’ve seen her in months. Carter’s been really good to her.”

“He could be good to her at his house.”

“But I like her here.” He rolls his eyes, and I frown. “It’s okay though, right? Carter being here, I mean. I know that I freaked out about Gia so, if you’re uncomfortable…”

“I trust you, Ana,” he assures me.

“I trust you,” I argue. “That doesn’t mean I liked her being around you.”

“Look, if you want to send Reed away, I will gladly help you throw him out of this house, but I know how important Kate is to you. I don’t want to start something between the two of you and I know that’s what getting rid of Reed will do. Believe me.”

“Believe you? What does that mean?”

“Nothing, Elliot just..” He stops and shakes his head. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

I furrow my brow at him as he reaches for the back collar of his t-shirt but am distracted by the tantalizing view of his abs stretching and contracting as he pulls it over his head. I decide we can talk more when we get into bed so I move to my dresser to find my Harvard t-shirt to sleep in, but as I strip down, he comes up behind me and places his hands on my hips.

“I really have missed you. Having you for so long over Christmas break almost made me forget how hard this is.”

“I know,” I agree. “It’s taken some adjustment getting used to sleeping alone again. Well, not alone…”

“What?” he snaps, and his hands drop from my hips. I smile and turn back to face him.

“Yeah… I didn’t know how to tell you this, but I’ve been sleeping with a very handsome boy for the past couple weeks.” His expression goes blank, his eyes widen, and the color drains from his face.

“He’s a real Champ,” I giggle, and Christian frowns.

“That’s not funny.”

“Then why am I laughing?” I ask, pulling myself into him and reaching up on my tip toes to gently graze my nose against his.

“Because you’re mean.” His voice is softer now that he has me in his arms, warmer, and I use my advantageous position to kiss him. He immediately deepens the kiss, keeping his lips gentle against mine as he languidly slips his tongue into my mouth. I wrap my arms tighter around him, enjoying every second of this contact between us, until he very suddenly lifts me into the air and walks backwards towards the bed. I squeal as he drops me onto the comforter and then crawls over the top of me like a predatory animal to take my lips again.

The warmth I feel radiating off of him as his body completely envelops mine soothes away any residual tension I’m feeling and I moan in pleasure as I reach up and tangle my fingers into his hair, holding him to me, refusing to let him go. This is one of the things I love most about him. No matter what we’re going through, no matter what the outside world throws at us, the feel of his lips against mine is all I need to feel at peace.

He kisses me for a long time and I’m perfectly content to let him. Eventually though, he begins to move down my body and, just as I think he’s going to reach for the band of my yoga pants, he stops, grips the bottom hem of my t-shirt, and pulls it up just over my belly. His lips touch my skin again and his hands move to either side of my bump.

“She’s growing,” he says.

“Mmm,” I hum back. “The doctor said you should be able to feel her any day.”

He glances up at me, then flattens his palms on my stomach and waits. I try not to move, try not to even breathe so that hopefully the he’ll be able to feel even the smallest movement inside of me, but there’s nothing.

“She’s sleeping,” I say, conciliatory.

“She’s stubborn,” he corrects me. “Just like her mother.”

“Oh, I’m stubborn? I’m sorry, I forgot that you’re widely known for being so flexible and accommodating.”

He lets out a low, breathy laugh, and then waits again for any movement under his hands. Still, there’s nothing.

“Well, if she’s sleeping,” he says, giving me a mischievous look, “perhaps we need to wake her up.”

“What do you-” I begin, but my words cut off as his fingers hook under my panties and he eases them down my legs.

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