A week later, I wake up in my bed alone. I want to groan when the vibrations of my phone on the nightstand pull me from a deep sleep, and ignore it. Cling instead to just a few more minutes of sleep. Then I remember Calliope is in the bed with me and my eyes snap open, my hand flies out, and I roll out of bed as gently as I can, tip toeing toward the bathroom while the phone continues to buzz in my palm. I don’t have to look at the name, don’t even have to check the time. Christian’s phone calls have been so consistent over the last week that I’m pretty sure he’s set an alarm on his phone for several times throughout the day to remind himself to call me.
“Good morning.” His voice is rough, like he’s swallowed a handful of gravel and each word gets caught in the jagged carnage on its way out. He sounds worse than he did yesterday, and yesterday he’d sounded so bad, I nearly went down to GEH just to drag him back here myself. “How did you sleep?”
“You’d know if you were here.”
“I know. I will be. Soon. We’re close. So fucking close.” The strain in his words worries me. Whatever revelation he’d had the night of our anniversary had started something with his R&D department, but he hasn’t told me what it is. Every time I ask what he’s doing, the only response I get is, “saving my company.” So, I don’t even ask anymore. Instead, I find myself repeating the only question I actually do care about.
“When is soon? Tonight? Tomorrow? Next week?”
“I don’t know. Just… soon.” I hear him take a deep breath, then he changes the subject. “Are you going to work today? I had Andrea schedule some time with Flynn, if you need it.”
So he hasn’t forgotten that today is the anniversary of the Lincoln incident.
My chest tightens at the mention of it, and deep in the recesses of my gut, I feel the ghost of an urge to lock myself away with Calliope and shield her from the dangerous people in the world. But it’s not the overwhelming, uncontrollable compulsion it was a year ago.
“Yes, I’m going to work, and no, I don’t need Flynn,” I tell him. “I’ve got a full day so I don’t think I’ll have much time to think about it, and Kate’s coming over tonight.”
“Good,” he replies, though the relief I hear in his sentiment makes my stomach drop. I guess that means he won’t be home tonight after all. “I have to go, but I wanted to tell you how much I love you and that you’ve been on my mind every second I’ve been away.”
“Is that why it’s taking so long?” I ask, sarcastically. He laughs.
“Maybe.” Another pause, another breath. “Soon, baby. I’ll be home soon and then this nightmare will be over. You still believe in me?”
“Always and forever.”
He hums in satisfaction before he continues. “I love you, Ana. I’ll call you later, okay? If you need anything today, anything, Andrea is on stand-by waiting to make it happen.”
“Thank you, but I’m fine. And I love you too. Bye.”
He hangs up and I slowly pull the phone away from my ear, staring down at the blank screen for a long time. He’ll call again at 11:30, right after my meeting with the New York office. But the perfectly scheduled phone calls throughout the day don’t make up for the fact that he isn’t here. It makes me wonder if this is how he felt while I was in Cambridge, and if so, how he survived it for as long as he did. It’s only been a week and I feel like my heart has been stolen right out of my chest. I don’t think I’ve taken a good, solid breath since I last saw him.
I shake away the thoughts souring my mood and step into the shower.
Calliope sleeps much later than is normal for her. I manage to get fully dressed for work, and she’s still completely zonked out by the time I come to collect her. She wakes though, when I lift her into my arms.
“Daddy?” she whimpers, her breath already hitching with the tears she’s got on standby. I gently graze my fingers over her back and lean down to kiss the top of her head.
“Daddy’s at work, Calli-lilly.”
“No!” Her face devolves into a look of tortured misery and she picks right back up with the tantrum she’d thrown until I’d finally gotten her to sleep the night before. I groan and start to bounce her on my hip, offering soothing words as I do my best to get her ready. Ultimately, she ends up in clothes that are maybe a little too close to pajamas for daycare and her hair is ratty, even in her ponytail, but I can’t fight with her anymore, I’m too drained.
And, apparently, I’m not the only one.
Luke’s standing in the kitchen over the coffee pot when I get downstairs, looking like the walking dead. The circles under his eyes are stark against his pale face, and he looks so drained that he can’t even hold his body up straight. Everything about him sags.
“You alright?” I check while I wrestle my still screaming daughter into her high chair. He looks over at me as I start moving around the kitchen to prepare her breakfast and gives me a weak smile.
“Yeah, I just… didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.” I frown, wondering if anyone should be worrying about how he’s going to handle today the way Christian worries for me. He was shot after all, surely there’s some kind of PTSD that goes along with that.
“I’m sorry. I’m trying my best not to think about it myself.”
He pulls a mug from the cupboard next to him, turning a questioning look on me as he pours himself a cup of coffee. “Not think about what?”
“Lincoln. Today’s… the… day it happened.”
“Oh, shit. It is? Fuck, Ana, I didn’t realize…. A-are you okay? Do you need me to take you to Flynn or maybe, I don’t know… take the day off and we can drive up to the lake and hang out with your dad?”
“No, I packed my day full so I won’t even have time to give it a second thought. I…” My words falter as I realize that, if it’s not Lincoln that kept him up, it’s something else. “Wait, why didn’t you sleep last night? Is everything okay?”
His cheeks pink ever so slightly, though I can’t quite figure out the emotion behind it. “Yeah, I was just… thinking about stuff.”
His whole body stiffens, and the mug he’s lifting to his lips freezes in midair. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, are you not sleeping because you’re thinking of Jade?”
“Oh.” He looks relieved. “Yeah, I guess…”
“Have you tried calling her?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t want to talk about it, Ana.”
“You never want to talk about it.”
“So you think you’d have gotten the fucking hint by now.”
I’m putting fruit and cereal on Calliope’s tray, but I stop in the middle of what I’m doing because I’m actually a little shocked by the bite in his tone. Luke’s never spoken to me that way before, and now that the words are floating in the empty space between us, the remorse is immediately apparent on his face.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m just cranky because I’m tired and apparently that turns me into a dick so… sorry. I’ll chill out, I promise.”
I nod, but while his tone suggests he’s ready for the conversation to move on, I’m not. “I hate watching you being torn apart over her and not being able to do anything for you. I wanna help you, Luke.”
“There’s nothing you can do.” He places his empty mug in the sink, and turns a hard look at Calliope, who is throwing handfuls of her breakfast onto the floor while she wails into the ether in complete and utter misery. “Just like there’s nothing you can do to stop that.”
I look over at her and drop my head, groaning in frustration. I swear to god, If Christian isn’t home soon…
Luke helps clean up the mess while I clean Calliope’s hands and wash the tears from her flushed face, then we pile in the car and make our way straight to GEH. Calliope doesn’t reach for her teacher when we walk through the door the way she normally does. She treats the woman’s smiling face and friendly words like they’re a threat and screams when her teacher tries to take her out of my arms. Prying my baby’s fingers off of my blouse is the last straw.
I march out of her daycare, straight to the elevators, and start pounding the button for Christian’s floor.
“You sure it’s a good idea to bother him?” Luke asks.
“So now it’s bothering him to spend any time with his daughter? To even see her?”
We take the elevator all the way up to the top floor, where I find Andrea and Olivia sitting behind their desk, looking bored. There’s a deck of cards between them, though it looks like they’ve abandoned whatever game they were playing. Now they’re just leaning back in their chairs, chatting casually while sipping coffee from GEH branded mugs.
“Ana!” Andrea starts when I come through the door. “You’re here. Uh… Mr. Grey said that I should… um… Can I get you anything?”
Lincoln. She thinks I’m here because of Lincoln.
I push the thought away and ignore her question while I ask one of my own. “Is he in his office?”
“No.” She cringes, like she’s afraid I’m going to yell at her or something. I stop and turn a questioning look on her.
“Then where is he?”
“I assume he’s in the R&D lab. He’s not exactly checking in with me right now.” She waves to the cards on her desk, signaling she has nothing to do.
I frown, feeling all the fight drain out of me. Half of it is because I actually do want to give him this space to work out his problems with GEH. Especially today, knowing that a large part of his motivation for the fusion project was the power it would afford him, power he only wanted so he could protect me from exactly the kind of thing that happened one year ago. That’s probably a big part of why he’s been constantly apologizing to me over the past few weeks, constantly seeking reassurance. He feels vulnerable, and now that he doesn’t even have the full power of his company or the vast majority of his fortune to use in order to protect what he loves, he’s wounded.
Maybe the same way I need to bury myself in work to get away from today, he does too.
The other half is that I can’t actually get into the R&D lab. There’s a code and it’s so secretive that Christian hasn’t even entrusted it to me.
“Well,” I hesitate, chewing over my words as I decide exactly how to say them. “If you see him, tell him he needs to go down and spend some time with his daughter. If he doesn’t see her today, then all of these things that he’s killing himself trying to fix right now will be the least of his problems.”
She nods, hurriedly. “Yes, Mrs. Grey.”
I look down at my watch. Shit, I’m late.
“Good,” I tell her, then offer a small smile to Olivia before I turn back to the elevator. “Have a good day, ladies.” I eye the deck of cards again. “Try not to fall asleep, huh?”
Andrea laughs then waves back to me as I follow Luke through the glass doors and back into the elevator.
We rush to GSP, but I still have to go straight into my Monday morning meeting without even stopping into my office. There isn’t much to go over since I still haven’t found the diamond in the rough I’ve been searching for, but I have loosened the reins a little on what is currently being approved. It’s just the titles that I’ve accepted so far have been sent to New York to be added to the Greenwich Library, which means they will all be talked about in the meeting I have directly following this one.
I have fifteen minutes after I’m finished with my conference call to New York to prepare for my next meeting. This time with Welch and Barney. I’ve sent them a preliminary wish list for the app design, and today I should get to see how much of that list is actually possible. When I get to my office, I start to pull up the communication we’ve sent back and forth, going over it all again even though there isn’t really anything I can do before speaking with the GEH engineers. I expect Christian to call me and take up what time I have anyway. Except that he doesn’t. I’m left completely to myself until Abby pages me to let me know that the GEH team has arrived.
I thank her and move to open my door, only to be surprised by the two men who step inside. Barney, I know. The other man, I’ve never seen before.
“Where’s Welch?” I ask.
Chagrin immediately washes across Barney’s face. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey. Welch has been reassigned to a very, high-priority project within GEH. This is my new partner, Jared Cole.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Grey.” Jared reaches out a hand to shake mine. I take it, then motion for the two men to take the chairs on the other side of my desk. As I settle down, I place my elbows on the hard, cherry surface in front of me, and rest my chin over my folded hands.
“The contract I signed with Christian said Welch.” I don’t want to sound as harsh as I think I do, but this is a point of contention for me. I agreed to Christian’s proposal because I wanted to work with Welch. He’s the best, and while I know Barney was instrumental in the app we designed together last time, he’s still not as good as his mentor.
“Can I level with you, Mrs. Grey?” Barney asks. I nod, and he continues. “I’ve been waiting for this chance for years.. Mr. Grey’s expectations are very high. He told me to make anything you asked for happen, no excuses. And if I can, if I can really impress you with what I’m able to build, I’m pretty sure he’ll promote me up to the same level as Welch. This is a huge opportunity for me, and I’d really appreciate it if you gave me a shot.”
I take a deep breath and let it out in a low sigh. “And I’d love to give it to you, Barney. Really, I would. But… this is my business. I don’t have any wiggle room here to leave anything up to chance.”
“I know, believe me. Can I just… show you some of the things we’ve been working on? I think if you can see it, if we can talk through some of the things you’ve asked for, we might be able to win you over.”
And he does. Everything from the art renderings to the accessibility functions are exactly how I’d pictured them. Sleek and intuitive, but warm and inviting. The app we designed for Grey Publishing was perfectly on brand for GEH, all chrome and thin, capital typeface. The images he shows me are filled with color and whimsy, like a children’s book. There’s a wholesomeness that somehow combines with the smart, cutting-edge technology in a way that makes me feel like I’m in a modernized, fantastical bookshop drinking a warm cup of really good, artisan coffee.
“This is exactly what I’m looking for,” I tell him, sitting back in my chair thoroughly impressed. He lights up.
“Really. I’m sold. I—“ I’m cut off by the paging tone through my desk phone, then Abby’s voice fills my office.
“Ana, you’ve got a call on line one.”
I shoot an astounded look down at the phone. “I’m in a meeting, Abby…”
“It’s Calliope’s daycare.”
My face goes blank and I reach for the receiver so quickly that I’m already accepting the call by the time the thought crosses my mind to at least apologize and politely excuse myself from our conversation. I try to convey exactly that with the conciliatory smile I offer to both of them.
“This is Ana,” I answer.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your day, Mrs. Grey, but I’m calling to let you know that Calliope is running a little bit of a fever.”
“She’s been unusually fussy all morning, so we decided to check her temperature and sure enough, 100.4.”
“Oh, Callie… Have you given her anything? I think I’ve already given you her pediatrician’s number but I can email it to you if you need it.”
“Mrs. Grey, the reason I called was actually because our facility has a policy that doesn’t allow us to accept any child who’s running a temperature. For the safety of the other children, you understand. I’m afraid you’re going to have to come get her.”
Shit! I don’t even have to glance at my calendar, I know it’s completely packed. Even if I could dip out and pull her out of daycare, I can’t just send her home alone.
I don’t have Kensie.
I don’t have Gail.
“Could you call her father? I don’t think I can get out of here…”
“We called Mr. Grey first, he didn’t answer. His assistant didn’t know how to reach him.”
Of course not.
“Okay.” I let out an irritable sigh into the phone. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
I hang up the phone and turn regretful eyes on the men sitting across from me. “I hate to call this short when everything you’ve shown me has been so amazing, but unfortunately, I have to go.”
“That’s fine, Mrs. Grey. We’ve got some good direction to go on. Now that we know you’re happy, we can start programming. I should have a basic beta version for you to play around with in a week? Just so you can get a feel for the functionality.”
“Perfect. How soon until I can send you the file loads with the library data?”
“Probably closer to three weeks, if everything goes according to plan.”
And with my luck, nothing will. “That’s cutting it close but I think I can work with that timeline. You’ll keep in touch, let me know how you’re progressing?”
He smiles a familiar kind of smile, like he’s dealt with this kind of hovering time and time again. When I remember that he works for my husband, I realize he probably has.
“I’ll send updates as often as you want them, Mrs. Grey.”
“Good.” I stand and wave to the door, offering them each a handshake once I’ve led them back out to reception. As soon as they’re out the door, I turn and peer through the low, glass walls separating each workspace in search of my CPO.
“Luke, I’ve got to go.” He looks up from his laptop and gives me a questioning look. “Calliope’s sick, I have to pick her up.”
With a nod, he closes the lid to his computer, slides it into a messenger bag, and starts across the room towards me. We don’t say a word to each other until we’re in the car, and I feel like I can take a second to fall apart under the stress compounding on top of me.
“What am I going to do?” I ask him. “I’m supposed to be in a meeting with marketing all afternoon, we’re launching the publicity materials for the app next week…”
“Can you call Kate or Elliot?”
“They’re at work.”
“He’s literally running the city right now, Luke.”
“Well, I can watch her,” he offers. “You can do your meeting remotely from your office at home, Calliope and I will hang out and watch some dope ass cartoons.”
“That’s not your job, Luke.”
“Not my job as your CPO, maybe. But, it might be my job as your best friend.”
I turn to him, feeling a sudden burst of gratitude that so intense it nearly leaks through my eyes. “Really?”
“Yeah. To be honest, after the night I had, I can’t think of anything better than having your husband pay me to lay on the couch for the rest of the day and watch Darkwing Duck with my favorite little munchkin.”
I laugh. “Good luck with that. I bet she gives you two minutes of the duck before she starts screaming for Dora.”
“Gross.” We laugh together this time, but as the sound dies off, I start to feel a nagging sense of guilt eating at the inside of my stomach. Then, when I realize that I’m only feeling it now because I’ve figured out how I’m going to meet all of my other obligations, that guilt intensifies.
“Do you think I’m a bad mom, Luke?”
His head spins so fast, part of me worries if he’s going to experience whiplash. “No! Why would you even say that?”
“Because it never even occurred to me that she could be sick. She slept in late, she was crabby all morning, she didn’t eat any of her breakfast, and she was extra clingy to me when we took her to daycare. All the signs were there. I just thought she missed Christian.”
“So did I.”
“But I should have noticed something, right? I’m her mom.”
“And you’re doing a lot right now, all on your own. It’s okay that you made a mistake. We’ve fixed it. She’s going to get to come home and get some rest and once you’re finished with your meetings, you’ll get to love up on her for the rest of the night.”
I nod, even though I’m still not fully convinced.
After we pick up Calliope from daycare, we make our way back to the house. I sit in the backseat with her for the ride, gently stroking her hair and leaning into her as much as I can while still confined by my seatbelt. Now that she’s not throwing a tantrum like she was this morning, it’s easy to see the difference in her behavior. She’s quiet, and she’s slumped in her car seat as though every part of her is miserable. It makes handing her over to Luke once we’re home feel like a cinch tightening around my heart, but somehow, just barely, I manage to let her go.
My thought’s never stray far from her, though. Not even as I spend the next three hours pouring over dozens of different types of promotional materials, obsessing over everything from what’s written in context, to the font it’s written in. I feel brain dead once I finally do end the call, but that doesn’t stop me from bolting out of my seat and rushing for Calliope.
Unsurprisingly, she’s laying across Luke’s chest on the couch, staring at Dora the Explorer on the TV. I grin at him.
“How’s Darkwing Duck?”
He lifts a finger to his lips. “That fox is back. If we don’t say the thing then he’s gonna steal the map and she’s never gonna find the magical rainforest.”
“Oh, this is actually kind of a good one.” I crawl onto the couch, nestling between his feet and contorting the rest of me around his legs since he’s taking up the whole couch. As Luke and I talk, my eyes move down to Calliope and I watch her snuggle against him every so often, rubbing her cheek against his shirt or pushing her fingers into his chest. I don’t know if he even notices, but it makes me feel like the gentle, summer rain that has started outside has swept through the house and washed away all the shame and worry I’ve felt all afternoon. She loves him just as much as he loves her. I didn’t actually abandon my sick baby for my work. I just left her in very good hands.
“Can I get you anything?” I ask, smiling down at him.
I laugh, then reach out for Calliope, pulling her into my lap and wrapping as much of myself around her as possible. Luke rolls off the couch and moves down the hall to the bathroom. She sniffles, but simply cuddles into my embrace and starts playing with my hair, her eyes still glued to the TV. She really must be sick because I’ve never seen anything hold her attention this long.
Luke and I trade off with Calliope until around six, when Kate shows up with tacos and tequila. The tacos we dig into right away, the tequila we decide can wait until after Calliope goes to bed.
“It’s probably good that she gets a little extra sleep,” I tell them after I’ve gotten her dinner cleaned up. “I’ll go put her down now.”
“And I’ll get the blender,” Kate says. She reaches into a bag and pulls out another bottle, margarita mix this time, and starts doing her own, goofy celebration dance. I nod enthusiastically and tell Luke where he can find the salt for the rims in the pantry, then scoop my daughter into my arms to carry her off to bed.
“No!” she protests after the very first step. She turns her body in my arms and searches for Luke, reaching out for him to take her the second her eyes find him. “Daddy!”
“No, that’s not Daddy, silly girl,” I say, taking the hand she’s holding out for Luke and tucking it back into me. Luke, meanwhile, starts blinking wildly and looking into the corners of the room.
“What are you doing, spaz?” Kate asks.
He blinks again, then looks between us. “I swear to god I just heard Grey tell me I’m fired.”
Kate devolves into a fit of laughter. I roll my eyes.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes and there’d better be a margarita waiting for me.”
“Sure thing!” Kate says. I wink, then turn to carry Calliope up the stairs and to her bedroom.
She goes down easy. In fact, I don’t even get all the way through her favorite bedtime story before she’s completely out. But even only being away for a few minutes wasn’t enough to get in the way of Kate delivering on her promise. I descend the stairs and the moment I cross the threshold into the living room, she pushes an ice cold margarita into my hands.
“You’re my hero,” I tell her, taking a welcome sip. Mmm.
“Well there’s plenty more where that came from. Christian’s not gonna be here, I get a night off from being a mom, it’s only the three of us–just like the good old days… I’m getting you drunk, Steele.”
“Here, here!” I clink my glass against hers and follow her to the couch. Luke eyes us both with interest.
“You’re not going to want to go anywhere tonight, right?” he checks.
I give him a look like he’s insane. “God, no.”
“Then fuck it, let’s get wasted.”
“Oh my god, you’re actually going to drink with us?” Kate asks, her eyes go wide in astonishment. Not once in the entire time we were in college would Luke even take a sip of alcohol while Kate and I were drinking. She looks now like someone just told her Christmas was coming early. Luke just shrugs.
“It’s been a rough few weeks.”
“Well then let’s get you something to make you feel better!” She smiles at me excitedly as she gets off the couch to make another margarita. I turn to make eye contact with Luke.
“Drinking while on duty is breaking the rules and you’re not a rule breaker. Wouldn’t have anything to do with Jade, would it?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Ana,” he says, his tone teasing. I grin back, then get off the couch and pull him into the kitchen after Kate.
“Maybe you will after you have a bunch of tequila.”
The night is everything I didn’t know I needed. Not only do I manage to go the entire night without once devolving into tears over Lincoln, I don’t even think about him. Not once. I don’t think about work and the deadlines I have to meet, and the still crushing weight of what I have left to accomplish hanging over me. I don’t even spend much time worrying about why Christian hasn’t called me one time since this morning, despite the fact that his phone calls have been eerily regular every other day this week. The only things I concern myself with are the drinks Kate keeps pouring, and the music we’re singing, and dancing to together.
It’s freeing, like all this time I’d been holding my breath, and getting the chance to blow off steam with Kate and Luke is the first time I’ve been able to release it.
“Take it, Luke!” Kate says drunkenly, pointing across the kitchen at him dramatically while she sways to the smooth sounds of the Beach Boys. Luke picks up the broom leaning against the wall and pulls it to him as though it were a microphone.
“Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya.”
He points back to Kate and she starts to sing, “Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama.”
I take over. “Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t go?”
Luke sweeps through the kitchen, between Kate and I, pulling the broom with him. He sways with it like a Latin crooner while he sings along with Mike Love. “Off the Florida Keeeeeeeeys, there’s a place called Kokomo…”
Kate and I let him take the lead vocals and start dancing around him, trying to keep up the island theme despite the fact that it means we’re just doing a very uncoordinated hula dance around my kitchen island. Luke belts the song out perfectly though, so none it feels stupid or embarrassing. It’s all just fun, like old times.
“Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya…”
“To Bermuda, Bahama, come on, pretty mama.”
“Key Largo, Monetego, baby, why don’t we go…”
“Down to Kokomo…” The three of us freeze and turn to the doorway that leads into the kitchen from the garage. Christian is standing there and he’s… grinning. He sways into the kitchen toward me. “We’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow.”
Kate and Luke look at each other and at the same time, they practically shout, “That’s where we wanna go!” at each other.
Christian laughs as I dance into his arms and finishes, “Way down to Kokomo.”
“You came home,” I say ecstatically once the song has ended, my smile somehow managing to find a way to widen even further.
“Welcome to Kokomo!” Kate adds. She throws her hands in the air and starts to spin, losing her balance halfway through and toppling over onto the kitchen counter. She laughs as she looks back up at Christian. “Wanna drink? We have plenty.”
“I can see that,” Christian replies. There’s an easy humor in his voice, but there’s also a finality that even I recognize as dismissal. Kate blinks back unwittingly, but Luke goes to her and picks her up off the counter.
“Come on, let’s go to bed.” He guides her out of the kitchen, but even he stumbles on the way out, and Kate’s giggles echo at back to us from the hallway.
“You’re so drunk, Luke.”
“Snitches get stitches, Kate.”
I laugh once more, then turn back to Christian. I don’t have time to register the kiss that hits me before I’ve even turned my head. I let out a surprised yelp that he quickly swallows as he pushes me back into the wall.
“I’ve missed you,” he says into my mouth, too desperate for the contact to even break away from the kiss for a second. “So fucking much.”
I moan and he picks up my hands, securing them over my head against the wall. Briefly, I get a peek of my name emblazoned across his forearm in blue ink, peeking out from under the rolled up sleeves of his wrinkled white shirt. It’s exactly the reason why I picked that spot and desire begins to bloom hot and urgent inside of me while I eye it.
“Are you home?” I whisper, needing to know before I fully give myself to the lust I know will wipe all questions from my mind.
“It would appear so,” he laughs. His erection grinds into me and I moan.
“I mean for good. Whatever you have going on at work, are you finished?”
That makes him pull back and when he does I see something powerful burning in his eyes. Not lust. Not love. Victory.
“I did it, Ana.”
“The fusion project, the prototype. It works. I did it.”
All thoughts of getting this gorgeous man naked drain out of me like someone pulling the plug on a bathtub. My mouth drops open, my eyes go wide in shock. I actually wonder for a second if I heard him correctly.
“The fusion project? That’s what you were doing? You went back to the fusion project?!”
“And I did it.”
“You… Christian! That project is unstable! It blew up! Twice!”
“Not this time.”
“You put yourself—“
“It works, Anastasia,” he says, placing a hand over my mouth to silence my protests. “I figured it out. Well, me and a team of very specialized experts. It works. I broke the laws of fucking physics and I created perpetual motion. Unlimited energy. I. Did. It.”
That breaks through the angry fear filling my heart, but I’m left speechless in its absence. “What?”
He kisses me again. Harder this time, maybe. A thousand emotions are released into me at once, overwhelming me until I just surrender to him and let him unload everything that’s been boiling inside of him since this all started. He takes everything I give him and demands more. His tongue commands the kiss, his lips tell me where to go, his hands keep me there. When he finally pulls away, I’m breathless and his eyes are wild.
“It’s because of you. Because you believed in me. Because I knew that I’d have you. Because you gave me ‘no matter what.’ You have no idea what that means to me, Anastasia. I don’t know if I could ever make you understand just how much that carried me through everything I’ve had to deal with these past few months.”
His lips move to mine again, and he uses his body to tell me what words can’t. The connection between us has never felt stronger or more imperative than it does in that moment and I wonder if it’s because, while he consumes me so absolutely, I can feel that bond from his side too. I can feel the way he wants me. I can feel the way he needs me. I can feel the way he loves me. All in that one kiss.
I can’t get enough of it.
I wrap myself around him, clinging to him, trying to convey my pride and my happiness for his accomplishments just as much as I give him the joy I feel having him back again and the love that has always been his. I can’t be certain he feels it the way I can feel what he’s giving to me, but I hope so.
When he makes love to me in our bed that night and he shouts my name with near religious devotion as he comes deep inside of me, that hope changes to certainty.