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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“I can’t do this,” she says.
“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.”
“He’s watching you. He’s always watching you, waiting…”
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.”
“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.
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“This is not a discussion, Anastasia. Go pack your fucking bags, or Taylor can do it for you.”
“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.