I wake up Monday morning with Christian’s head between my thighs. His tongue caresses my clit with long, velvety strokes that send tingles down my legs. His lips close, he starts to suck, and I see stars. I make a deep, throaty sound that I wouldn’t think could ever be considered sexy, but it drives him wild. He feeds on me like I’m dripping nectar so sweet, it’s not meant for mortal man, and he’s somehow cheated the gods. I reach down and twist my fingers into his hair and push up to encourage his mouth.
“Just like that, just like that…” A finger breaks through my lower lips, massaging that perfect spot inside of me until I’m panting his name. A second finger joins the first and my legs start to shake.
“That’s right,” Christian growls against me. “Tremble for me.”
“I’m about to come for you,” I breathe back. I can feel it coming and I know it’ll hit me hard. Even the foreshock feels like enough to swallow me the way nighttime swallows dusk. My back arches high off the bed and I squirm, trying to pull back from his intensity. His hands lock down on my hips to hold me in place. He adds a third finger and starts fucking me in earnest, keeping pace with his tongue on my clit.
I half-sob when my orgasm finally overwhelms me. It rips through me so intensely, for a few moments I think the fireworks bursting before my eyes might actually be the start of the bright white light that will lead me into the afterlife. Christian continues to lap at me, kiss me, ease me down from the pleasure after drawing it out longer than should have been humanly possible. When the last shudder works its way from my system, he moves up my body and claims my mouth.
“Happy anniversary,” he says, a heady cocktail of want and adoration swimming in his eyes.
“I’ll say.” I grab his face and kiss him hard, purposefully dragging my tongue over his chin to clean away the last of my release from his skin. It’s smoother than I expect… has he already shaved?
“None of that,” he chides me, though his tone actually tells me what he wants is much much more of that. He pulls away and I notice for the first time that he’s already completely dressed.
“Where are you going?”
“I have an early meeting, remember?”
“And you didn’t plan in time for… for…” My cheeks pink and he chuckles.
“No. But I was watching you sleep while I was getting ready to leave and I decided that I just couldn’t start the day without making you come first.” He rolls off the bed and straightens his tie, looking very pleased with himself. “Have lunch with me this afternoon.”
I frown. He can’t really be leaving, can he?
“Don’t you want some kind of reciprocation?”
“Why do you think I asked you to lunch?” I can tell by his grin that he’s joking, but I’m not. He’s going to work me up like that and then leave without even giving me a taste of his cock? It’s a bum deal.
“I want you now.” My eyes lock with his and I make a big show of rubbing my thighs together under the sheets. His grin disappears, changing instead to something darker. Something hotter.
“Later,” he promises. “I’ll make you come until you can’t stand it anymore.”
“Empty promises. Actions speak louder than words, you know.”
He laughs, but the sound cuts off as his phone starts to ring. “Good luck with your presentation this morning, Ana. I knew you’d figure this out and even I’m floored by what you’ve come up with. Carmen Gallagher won’t know what hit her.”
“I hope you’re right.”
He winks as he answers the phone, then his eyes hold mine intently for a long moment, reiterating the promise he’d made me about lunch earlier. “I’m on my way, Ros. Twenty minutes.”
He disappears through the doorway, and I glare at the emptiness he leaves behind. It’s not that much earlier than when I normally wake up, so there’s not really any point in trying to go back to sleep. But I’m definitely not ready to get up, shower, and obsess over everything that could go wrong with the presentation I have to give to the entire staff today. So, instead, I reach over for my phone, call Christian’s direct line at his office, and masturbate into his voicemail. I describe every single thing I’m doing and thinking about in graphic detail until I scream his name through the phone.
Let’s see if he regrets leaving me this morning after hearing that.
Grace stops by and collects Calliope before I’ve even have a chance to blowdry my hair. My sleepy girl cuddles around her grandma when she lifts her out of the crib, and Grace practically becomes a puddle on the floor.
“If you and Chrisitan decide you need more than one night, you let me know,” she says, quietly so she doesn’t wake Calliope. My face brightens with appreciation, even though I know the offer is really a selfish one.
“Thank you, but I think tonight is just about all I’ll be able to stand to be away from her.”
Because otherwise I’ll just be alone.
I think Grace sees the thought flash through my eyes, because she shakes her head and places a gentle hand on my arm. “You’re both working too hard.”
That isn’t true. Okay, so I spend nearly every waking second obsessing over whether or not my latest idea will be enough to float the entire company long enough for me to find the best-seller The Black Rose was supposed to be, and I’ve taken to reading manuscripts in the car, and trolling online writing forums on my phone while I’m in the bathroom… Maybe I’ve wished more than one time that I could dream my way through my work while I slept so I wouldn’t lose so much time out of every day…
But Christian spends more time at GEH nowadays than he does at home.
I don’t want to argue about any of that with Grace, though, so I simply accept her words with a chastened nod and walk her out.
“When are we headed out, boss?” Luke asks, stepping out of the security office the moment I’ve closed the door behind Grace. His eyes look at my still damp hair and the robe tied at my waist. “I’m going to guess it’s gonna be awhile.”
“I’ll be fast. Do you want breakfast before we go or do you wanna get a bagel and coffee on the way?”
He rolls his eyes. “As if you have any say in what’s going to happen to you for the rest of the day.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I put my hands on my hips, planning to fight him if he’s going to go full CPO-mode on me. He gives me a look in return that tells me I’m missing something that should be obvious.
“It’s your anniversary, Ana. Your first one. I know both you and Grey are dealing with some serious shit at work, bad enough that he didn’t even take the day to be with you. But if you think he hasn’t set up an entire day’s worth of stuff for you to melt and fawn over until he can get to you, then I feel like you don’t actually know your husband at all, and your entire marriage is a sham.”
I ignore that last part because now that he’s mentioned it, it’s ridiculous that I would expect anything less from the amazing man I should have fought harder to keep in my bed this morning. Instead, I zero in on two specific words.
“Melt and fawn, huh?” My smile stretches to its limits when he nods.
“You wouldn’t believe the amount of sappy, romantic shit waiting for you. Honestly, it’s nauseating.”
My breath catches in surprise at his statement and then my gut clenches painfully as I realize the reason why. He’s going to have to follow me around all day, having the love Chrisitan and I feel for one another shoved in his face over and over again, all while he’s still nursing a broken heart.
“If you’re uncomfortable, Luke, I can manage without you for a day. I know you’re still hurting over Jade.”
He grimaces. “You’re not going into the city without security. Absolutely not.”
Well, duh. “No, but I can call Taylor.”
“Ouch.” He pulls his hand up to his chest and takes a step back. “Am I really so easily replaced for you, Anastasia?”
I shove him in exasperation, but laugh when he starts to. “I think we’ve proved over and over again that you are irreplaceable, Luke Sawyer. But I care about your feelings and I don’t want to see you in pain.”
“Then you should know that there is no place I’d rather be than with you.” He gives me a yeah-that’s-right-now-don’t-you-feel-terrible-for-trying-to-send-me-away look and takes a step out of my reach. “Because making fun of you every single time you cry is going to be the highlight of my day.”
He expects a huffy reaction, but I simply shrug. “Have at it. Knowing Christian, I’ll be too busy glowing to notice.”
“Ugh, you’re already gross.”
I flash him another smile. “Twenty minutes and I’ll be ready to go.”
My first surprise is a playlist of songs Christian has made for me to listen to on my way to work. The note Luke hands me tells me that each song is one that makes him think of me. As we pull out of the driveway and the car fills with music, a smile sets on my face and doesn’t move for the entire drive. Some of the songs I know the meaning of the second I hear them. Like, At Last, the song we danced to at our wedding. Others, I can only guess at their significance by listening carefully to the lyrics. There are even a few songs in French that are a mystery to me altogether, except that I can hear the intent behind the sweet lilt in each artist’s voice.
We are welcomed into the parking garage next to GSP by the final bars of Journey’s, Faithfully, and I’m swimming in tears.
“Don’t break now, Steele,” Luke teases me. “You’re not even inside yet.” I reach up and dab the corners of my eyes, still unable to wipe the smile from my face.
“Ugh, he would do this to me on the day I have to give a career making presentation to make.”
“Romance or corporate sabotage? Christian Grey can do both.” We both laugh and it continues all the way into my office.
“Good morning, Ana,” Abby greets me. “Happy Anniversary!”
“Thank you. Any messages?”
“Yes, your husband’s office called to schedule a 12:30 lunch and Ms. Gallagher confirmed she will be on today’s call with the New York team.”
I suck in a sharp breath through my nose. It’s good news, necessary actually, but that doesn’t alleviate any of my nerves.
She wanted something radical…
“Confirm lunch with Christian,” I tell her. “I’ve got a few things left to finish before our meeting later this morning. Hold my calls until then. Unless it’s Carmen… or Christian.”
“Sure thing, Ana.” She smiles, then turns on her heel and walks back to reception while I continue on to my office. There’s a giant bouquet waiting for me on my desk. I saunter towards it, searching through the deep red petals for a card. As I pluck it out, I bury my nose into the fragrant petals. They smell incredible.
I don’t know what you’re wearing, but I know you look absolutely beautiful this morning.
I love you
I smile down at the words, my heart fluttering wildly. I wish desperately that he was close enough right then for me to kiss, or maybe even to drag to the nearest flat surface where I could take from him what he denied me this morning.
My eyes move to the clock on the wall. 08:56, a long way off from 12:30. But not long enough until my meeting. With one last deep inhale of the flowers, I settle down in my chair. As has become usual since I’ve taken on the New York branch, my inbox is overflowing with manuscripts from my editors looking for approval. I ignore all of them.
There are a few emails that need my attention right away, but it doesn’t take me long to work through everything that’s important. I’m just about to close out of my email altogether when I notice one from Christian buried in between two from the New York office, early this morning.
From: Christian Grey
Date: July 23rd 2012 07:58 AM
Subject: Lewd Voicemails
To: Anastasia Grey
I am going into a meeting and I’m hard. You should expect to be spending a good amount of time this afternoon over my knee to make up for it. And once I’m finished with that gorgeous ass of yours, I’m going to lay you over my desk and fucking worship you.
Sexually Frustrated and Painfully Erect CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: July 23rd 2012
Subject: Unexpected Wonders
To: Christian Grey
Well, I’ve spent the morning crying over all the amazingly sweet things you’ve done for me. And I think the roses on my desk are very closely verging on a gift, despite a very specific agreement between you and I that we wouldn’t be doing that this year…
Completely Wooed Editor-In-Chief, Greenwich Small Press
“Hey, Ana,” Abby says, poking her head in the door. “You’ve got a delivery.”
“Oh?” She opens the door further and holds up another absolutely stunning bouquet of flowers. Peonies this time, in my favorite shade of soft pink. Abby places them next to the roses on my desk and beams.
“The roses got here at eight, same time as me. I bet you’re going to get a new delivery every hour, on the hour!”
“Sounds like something he would do.” I can’t help but smile, even as I shake my head at the absolutely ridiculousness of the man I married exactly one year ago today. Abby backs out of my office again, leaving me punch drunk and floating.
I need to focus, but when I look back at my email, there’s a response from Christian waiting.
From: Christian Grey
Date: July 23rd 2012 09:04 AM
Subject: Reparations, choose your own adventure.
To: Anastasia Grey
Let’s agree to call it even. Or better yet, let me make it up to you over, and over, and over…
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings
I want to rejoice in his good mood, spend my morning bantering with him and basking in his attention since he’s been so distracted lately. But he’s busy and I’ve got a lot of work to get done in the next hour. As much as it kills me, I don’t reply to the email. Instead, I turn my attention to the documents I’d been working on the night before and let myself completely check out of everything else.
When it’s finally time for me to make my way to the conference room, I find my team has already assembled there. I haven’t had the chance to see any of them yet this morning, so we start off with a few pleasantries and share details of our weekends. I’m just about to dial in to the New York office when I’m stopped by an unexpected knock on the door.
I look up and see Olivia, Christian’s receptionist, standing there.
“I’m looking for a…” She looks at a piece of paper in her hand. “Anastasia Grey?”
I tilt my head as I blink back at her, confused by how unnatural my name sounds rolling off her tongue. Like she’s never said it before. “Yes?”
She nods, turns around, and disappears for a few seconds, then returns with boxes of doughnuts and coffee. The good kind, from the fancy bakery up the street. My confusion deepens, so Olivia holds the sheet of paper she’d read my name off of earlier.
“Your receipt, Mrs. Grey.”
Except it isn’t a receipt at all. It’s a note written in an immediately recognizable handwriting.
It never hurts to get them on your side before proposing something big. Well fed people are generally more amenable people.
Now go knock ‘em fucking dead.
I believe in you, too.
My heartbeat quickens with yet another dose of love as I glance around the table and get several grateful looks from my employees diving into the doughnuts. Even Stevens looks not-irritated with me as he takes a welcome sip of coffee.
Well, fuck. If I knew it would be this easy to win them over, I would have brought breakfast with me every morning.
Touche, Mr. Grey.
“Thank you,” I tell Olivia, and she winks at me before hurrying out of the room. I reach down and dial the conference call number for New York. The other team pops up on the TV screen mounted to the wall, and, again, we’re met with warm greetings of welcome. It’s strange because the two branches have very little interaction with one another, so no one is really familiar enough with each other for me to expect such openly friendly attitudes in a professional setting. But Carmen is on the call, and I think several of my employees might be a little overzealous in their attempts to impress her.
“Alright, let’s get any outstanding items from the frontlist out of the way. We’ll start with Seattle.”
It’s a short discussion since the only titles we currently have to talk about are the ones that were already in production before Carmen gave me one last big release. Even after working through a marketing issue with one of my employees in New York, only the first twenty minutes of our hour long meeting have passed. It gives me plenty of time to present my idea to the team, and talk it out with them once the questions and doubts start. Unfortunately, the butterflies in my stomach have turned to bats.
“Our next item for discussion is a big one, and I don’t want any of you to panic when I say what I’m about to say.” Eight people shift uncomfortably in their seats around me. I take a breath and brace myself. “I want to shut down the New York printing press.”
“What!” The roar comes from the TV speakers. The only reaction I get from the people in the room with me are blank stares and open mouths.
“I said don’t panic,” I repeat, keeping my voice light and confident. Not like I’ve said something that probably has half my team thinking they’re losing their jobs. I clear that up first. “No one is losing their job. New York will simply be stopping all production on print media.”
The idea came to me over the weekend when Luke and I were hanging out, scrolling through Netflix, and he’d noticed a show he liked had a new season come out and he’d missed it. I listened to him grumble about how they should have some kind of subscription service to follow certain shows, like a YouTube channel. Once I reminded him that Netflix was a subscription service, it hit me. I didn’t need to move 50,000 units with one title, I needed to come up with something that would continuously bring in revenue that was equivalent to 50,000 units. Netflix only releases a few titles a year, only updates their library once a month, and yet they float because their customers pay a monthly subscription fee. They don’t purchase the product directly.
From there, my mind immediately went to the technology I’d developed for Grey Publishing two years earlier. A lot of their success has been their ability to cut overhead costs and reach a wider audience by pushing ebook sales through their tablet. Greenwich has an app of their own, a weak attempt by Carmen to respond to GP’s success, but it’s clunky and doesn’t have half the features or functionality that the Grey device does.
Carmen doesn’t have Welch.
The two ideas combined into one massive undertaking. “The Greenwich Library,” I tell my team, clicking the button on the remote to pop a presentation out from the faces of the New York office on the monitor.
“It would be its own entity under the Greenwich Small Press umbrella, contained entirely within the New York office. Contracts would be different, royalties would pay differently, standards for publication would be… relaxed, but the consumer would have access to all of it, at all times, for the price of little more than a single ebook purchase. The library would update monthly at first, then weekly. It would be the New York office’s responsibility to publish that content.”
I move through the slides of my presentation that show data on ebook sales, and how those projected sales would affect our bottom line if even 3% of our customer base signed up for the service. “We’d have the ability to add classic titles that are no longer protected under copyright. In the future, there’s the possibility of specific sub-subscriptions. Book clubs, themed collection releases, textbooks… This gives us the opportunity to grow in a way we would never be able to if we stay tethered to the printing press.”
Carmen cringes slightly when I pull up the financial plan, which breaks down how much it will cost to make this a reality and market it well enough to make it a success. But she doesn’t get up and walk out. That has to count for something, right?
The question phase of the meeting is brutal. I’ve prepared, knowing how much this was going to scare everyone, but there’s only so much I can give them. I don’t have concrete data because this is unchartered territory.
“Then how do you even know it will work?” a disgruntled woman from New York asks. I think her name is Margaret.
“I don’t. I’ve just…” I pause, trying to explain why I am so certain this is the way forward. I end up quoting Christian. “It’s a feeling.”
No one else says anything, so every pair of eyes, both here in Seattle with me, and in the room in New York, move to Carmen.
“I want to hear more from the team,” she says. “Will it work?”
Someone was going to have to come forward and express faith in me, and that made my heart heavy. Every step of the way my staff has fought my methods. I wasn’t going to hold my breath that any of them believed I could successfully change our entire business model.
“I think it’s brilliant,” a voice in the room with me says. “It’s a good compromise between the volume our reader base has come to expect and the limitations of our press that make that model impossible. Honestly, it sounds to me like Ana has solved the problem that Scott never could.”
It’s Stevens, the last person in the world I would ever expect to say something. And he’s only the first.
“Ana was dead-on last time when she said we needed to change,” Jacki adds. “She was the only one who said The Black Rose wasn’t the best-seller we were looking for, and it was only because of her foresight that we survived that disaster. I trust her judgement.”
The sentiment is repeated around the room like an outloud game of telephone that leaves me speechless.
Thankfully, Carmen is the next to speak, so I don’t have to. “Then it sounds like this team has a lot of work ahead of them.” She gets up, straightening her skirt. “Ana, you’ll let me know what support you need from me, and we’ll come up with some timelines once you have everything ready?”
“Yeah,” I manage to say without completely losing my professional demeanor. “Thank-you, Carmen.”
“I don’t want thanks, I want results. And don’t think this changes my expectations for a 50,000 copy release, Anastasia. That wasn’t a test for GSP, that was a test for you.” She opens the door and leaves me alone with my team. I try to ignore the dazed shock I feel at her parting words, and instead spend the next hour and a half brainstorming and assigning team roles. There are vendors I need to contact before we can get any further, so once everyone has a place to start, I end the meeting and walk back into the main office feeling ten feet tall. A feeling that is only made stronger when I see the two bouquet deliveries I’d missed during our meeting.
“These wildflowers are incredible,” Abby says, twisting the cerulean colored vase in her hands while I pick up the Calla Lilies.
“Keep them here,” I offer, looking at the counter in front of her desk.
“Sure. I’m running low on space in my office anyway. “ She smiles and starts rearranging the reception desk to make room for the vase just as Luke starts towards me.
“Your ride’s downstairs,” he says. I raise a confused eyebrow at him, but it doesn’t make him elaborate. In fact, he places his hand on my elbow and steers me to the door without saying another word.
“I’ll be back in an hour, Abby. I need the number for that developer by the time I get back.”
I’m out the door and almost in the elevator by the time I get my instructions out, so I don’t hear her confirmation. Faith is what carries me out of the building, where Taylor is waiting on the curb with the Maybach.
“Mrs. Grey,” he greets me warmly, and the elation I feel from everything that’s happened today is apparent in every syllable of my response.
“Good afternoon, Taylor.” I slide into the back of the Maybach and find a note on the seat with a single red rose.
Enjoy the show.
I frown down at it, wondering if I’m not actually going to get to spend any time with him this afternoon. But as the car pulls away, the screen mounted on the back of the driver’s seat comes on and starts to play a video. My smile widens past the point that makes my cheeks ache when I see that it’s pictures and video clips from our wedding, set to the song I’d walked down the aisle to. Most of this must have come from Mia, because I haven’t seen any of it before. The song ends while we pull into the garage at GEH, and the video changes again. This time, to Christian standing with his father near the cliffside we were married on. Elliot’s voice is the first I hear, so he must be behind the camera.
“She’s about to walk down here. You nervous there, bigshot?”
Christian turns to the camera with that smile he has that makes him the most beautiful man in the world. “What’s there to be nervous about? Happily ever after?”