On Saturday evening, I have my hair in rollers while I skim through the manuscripts I didn’t make it through by the end of the week. It’s difficult to concentrate, and has been ever since I left Elizabeth’s office on Thursday. My eyes and ears are trained on my inbox, waiting for the Grey Publishing contract to come through. I was worried the jig was up when I hadn’t received it by this morning, but Christian hasn’t mentioned anything to me all day. And I know if he found out what I was doing, he’d definitely have something to say. Even if it was just to let me know that I’d been caught, and he was the one to do it. My fear now is that she’s just changed her mind, which would be extraordinarily frustrating after all of my hard work.
“Mr. Sawyer?” A member of the GEH security team, who Taylor is currently working on transitioning into our personal security team, steps into my office. When he finds the chair Luke’s been in all afternoon empty, his eyes dart frantically around the room.
“Smith, right?” I try, even though I know it’s pointless. He doesn’t look at me, he stands stock straight and stares ahead at nothing, like the guards at Buckingham Palace. After rolling my eyes, I nod toward the door on the wall opposite me and offer a half-hearted, “he’s in the bathroom.”
I’m not even sure he blinks back at me.
A few seconds later, Luke emerges through the bathroom door and turns a sternly curious look on Smith. “What are you doing in here?”
“Looking for you, sir. I came to ask you to let Mrs. Grey know that the chef has arrived and he’d like to go over tonight’s menu with her before his staff gets to work.”
Luke nods and turns to face me. “Mrs. Grey, the chef for tonight’s dinner is here and he’d like to speak with you.”
I glare at him, and grind my teeth at the annoying game of telephone that’s been going on all morning. “One more time, Luke. Call me Mrs. Grey one more time, and I swear to god…” I stand up in my chair and close the screen of my laptop, hoping I’ll be able to put the Greenwich Library out of my head long enough to make it through the night. Then I come around the desk and move past him, keeping my narrowed eyes trained on his. “And I heard him.”
“Yes, Mrs. Grey. Understood.”
Honest to god, my hand twitches. Tonight is an extremely important night for Christian, GEH, and Endurance, and it has my whole household in a near panic. Gail’s been banished from her own kitchen to make room for a Michelin rated chef. Every available body has been brought here to provide security. There have been delivery men coming in and out all day, and my best friend is stuck in permanent CPO mode.
And I get it.
Tonight there will be three high ranking military officials, six senators, two congressmen, and the Secretary of Energy seated around my dining room table. It honestly feels like the only important person in the entire country who won’t be here is the President of the United States, and it has everyone strung out on stress.
Well, except for Christian.
He left with Calliope early this morning as if it were any other Saturday and hasn’t come back yet. Taylor’s been updating me as he’s driven them all over the goddamn city, and it seems to me like he isn’t planning on being home any time soon. They just met Elliot and Kennedy at the zoo forty-five minutes ago.
When I step into my kitchen, there’s a woman in a white coat waiting for me with a staff of people behind her. She pulls out an elegant looking menu and shows me what she has planned: a pacific northwest inspired meal including Hamachi, locally sourced greens, a fireweed bread inspired by native recipes, and a wild huckleberry cobbler. I’m obviously not about to tell a world celebrated chef that I have any issues with the personally crafted menu she created for me, especially because I don’t, so I thank her warmly and tell her how much I’m looking forward to tasting her food. With a gracious smile, she backs into the kitchen and I hear the distant rumble of the garage behind the noise that erupts around me.
I wait for Christian to come through the kitchen, and when he does, I’m dumbfounded. Calliope is asleep in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder. She’s still clutching a plastic bag filled with pink cotton candy, and there’s a white and purple fairy painted on her cheek. The shocking part, though, is that Christian has one to match. Half his face is covered in glittery lavender paint that swoops elegantly around his eyes and lips.
“That’s quite the look, Mr. Grey,” I say, smiling. He rolls his eyes. “What happened?”
“You too, Daddy.” He takes a deep breath, but drags a loving hand softly over Calliope’s back. “What was I supposed to say? No? I’m not a monster.”
“No, I don’t think you are.” My eyes sparkle at him adoringly. “But, I don’t think it’s a look that’s going to impress Senator Blandino.”
“Good thing I’ve already impressed him.” I laugh, then place a soft kiss against his lips before turning back to my office. His hand reaches out for mine and he tugs me back. “Come help me get Callie cleaned up and put to bed.”
“Can you give her to Mackensie? I’ve got like 3 manuscripts left to get through and I still have to get ready.”
“No.” He steps forward and grips my chin between his thumb and forefinger and stares deep into my eyes. “Come help me give our baby a bath and put her to bed. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.”
“It can wait.” His voice is firm, so I nod and actually feel a sense of relief. I’ve been driving myself insane all day waiting for Elizabeth’s email, it will probably be a welcome reprieve shutting all of that out and focusing only on him and Calliope for a little while. You know, before this career deciding dinner. Oh, and did I mention my app is launching in three days?
I can feel the stress soaking deep into my muscles, so I take a deep breath to push it away and slide my hand into Christian’s. He leads me upstairs and I draw a bath for Calliope while he gently eases her out of sleep. Her face is immediately contorted with a sleepy, grumpy expression, but it melts away when Christian takes her to the mirror and lets her see the paint still lighting up the space around her eyes. She brightens instantly, pointing to his face and giggling. Then in the bath, she fights us both to keep us from washing it away. We let her keep the paint, at least until tomorrow, but otherwise wash the day off her and get her dressed in her coziest PJs. I plop down in the rocking chair and take her in my lap so I can read her a story. Christian folds himself on the floor in front of me, looking up at me with that ridiculous paint all over his face, my name proudly displayed on his forearm, and he starts to massage my feet.
I could die right then.
It doesn’t take long for Calliope to drift off, even her dad looks tired from their afternoon together. I still read the entire book, just so I can hold her in my arms a little longer. Just so I can feel Christian touching me. Once I close the hard bound cover, though, Christian gets up, gently eases our baby out of my embrace, and lays her in her crib. I sing a few, soft notes, just in case she’s still on the edge of sleep. But once Christian has the mobile swaying over her wound up, he wraps an arm around me and, together, we slowly back out of the room.
The second we hear the soft, metal clink of the door jam coming together, we’re all over each other.
Maybe it should bother me that he currently looks like a nineteen year old girl strung out on LSD at Coachella, or that the glitter fluttering off of him and on to me will be next to impossible to remove before our guests get here since I don’t have time to take a shower, but it doesn’t. Far from it. How could something that proves what a dedicated father he is do anything but turn me on?
Under the urging of his instant hands and even more aggressive tongue, I move with him back to our bedroom. The light is on in the adjoined bathroom, and it draws his attention. Christian glances up and spots Kate, perched on our bathroom counter, making a face at us through the bathroom door.
“Gross, don’t you two have an off switch?”
“No,” Christian replies, bluntly. “Get out.”
Slowly, a teasing, yet completely elated smile begins to paint her expression. “What. In. The. Hell…”
Christian rolls his eyes. “I’d be very careful about your next words, Katherine.”
She doesn’t even flinch. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Christian. I think it’s beautiful. You look like a pretty little princess.”
Christian rolls off me and storms to the door, pushing it all the way open and standing to the side to make room for her. “Get the fuck out, Kate.”
She doesn’t move.
“I’m sorry, I’m really trying to hear you right now but the only thing that I can focus on are the fairy wings delicately framing your eyes. Seriously, how did you get through an afternoon with Elliot having that shit on your face?”
His eyes narrow. “You think this is bad, you should see him.”
She laughs, nearly falling off the counter as she doubles over and tries to catch her breath. Christian shakes his head irritably. “Kate. Get out of my bathroom.”
“No, I need her,” I argue, getting out of bed gently pushing past him. He looks as though I just stole his childhood security blanket. “She’s here to finish my hair and do my makeup.”
“And to cock block you,” Kate adds, finally finding her voice through the raucous laughter. “It’s literally one of the greatest pleasures of my life.”
Christian turns a very unhappy look on me, then lets his eyes wander over my body in regret. Then he lets out a sigh. “Fine, I’ll shower downstairs.”
He leans down and softly presses his lips against mine. It’s sweet and romantic, but there’s a promise buried beneath the gentle caress of what’s in store for me later. Shivers work their way through my bloodstream so that by the time he pulls away, my entire body feels like it’s being pulled with him by some powerful magnetic force.
“I’ll be thinking of you,” I whisper. He smiles against my mouth.
“If I think of you, I’ll be coming down the shower drain. And that would be a terrible waste.”
I bite down on my lip with want and let out a small needy sound that has him lunging for my lips again.
“Twenty-three minutes, Ana. Oop, twenty-two,” Kate interjects, and I pull away from Christian in an instant.
“Shit! I’ve got to…”
“I know, I’m going.” With one last bitter look at Kate, he turns and leaves the room. Kate calls out her goodbye, letting the insincerity of her regret over his misfortune linger in his absence. I glare at her, but she just laughs and reaches for my hair.
Despite the fact that Christian hasn’t even started getting ready by the time Kate begins work on my makeup, he’s the one waiting for me as the end of the hour ticks closer and closer. I can feel him hovering in our bedroom and it does nothing but compound the stress building in my gut.
“I’m almost done, I’m almost done.” She purses her lips into a pouty pucker and dabs her lipstick covered finger over my bottom lip. “There, you look flawless.”
I turn in the mirror and appreciate her work. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever not be impressed with her artistry. She may have missed her calling, except that she’s actually doing exactly what she was born to do. Snoop where she doesn’t belong.
“You’re a lifesaver,” I tell her. “Help me get into my dress?”
“Sure.” She follows me into my closet, then helps me ease the custom, cobalt blue, Karl Lagerfeld that Christian surprised me with this morning over my head, careful not to ruin my hair or face. Once she’s zipped me in, she stands back to appreciate the completed project. “Honestly, you should let me dress you every day.”
“Do I look smart?” I ask, twisting in front of the mirror and smoothing the lines on the front of the perfectly constructed sheath dress. Kate raises an eyebrow at me like I’ve gone insane, but Christian comes up behind me and grabs hold of my arm, spinning me to face him before Kate can speak.
“You are a vision,” he says, his smoky eyes raking in every inch of my body. “In fact, you might be a little too beautiful for tonight. It wouldn’t be good business if I have to give the Secretary of Energy a broken nose for his wandering eyes.”
“Well, you might just have to learn to control yourself, Mr. Grey.”
“Not when it comes to you.” He lifts my hand high above my head and spins me so that he can get a look at my ass in the dress, then sucks in a sharp breath of air through his teeth. “Absolute perfection.”
I blush and then turn again so I can kiss the lips that offer such sweet words, but Kate’s hand appears between us before I can make contact.
“You’ll ruin your lipstick and I’ve put far too much effort into this masterpiece to let Christian fuck it all up because he can’t keep his dick put away for a few hours. Get moving, Steele.”
Christian glances at her, then turns a too calm look on me. “You see what you’ve brought into our home.”
“Hey, she’s your sister-in-law. You could have talked Elliot out of it.”
He snorts and shakes his head, but the doorbell sounding from downstairs cuts off any smartass remark he might have. Kate begins to gather her things, and I give her a last grateful hug before I take Christian’s hand and walk side by side with him downstairs. Senator Blandino, Senator Hadfield, and Senator Takahashi stand in the foyer waiting for us with their wives.
“Gentleman,” Christian calls in greeting as we descend the stairs. “Welcome to our home. May I offer you a drink?”
“Good show,” Senator Hadfield replies. He leans down and kisses his wife on the cheek, then turns with the other two Senators to exit the foyer. I feel a shock of disappointment when I feel Christian’s hand slip from mine, then a rush of panic when I realize he intends to leave me alone with the wives.
I’ve tried to prepare for this dinner all week. Politics isn’t exactly my strong suit when it comes to conversation, so I’ve been sure to pay extra close attention to the news and any mention of current events. Outside of that, I have no idea what I’m going to talk to these women about. But when our husbands leave, they all turn expectantly to me.
“Uh…” I begin awkwardly. “May I give you a tour?”
“That sounds heavenly, Mrs. Grey. This house is absolutely beautiful,” Senator Hadfield’s wife responds, her Alabama accent wrapped like thick molasses around her words. The woman gives me a wide smile that seems so practiced I feel like I’m standing in front of a beauty queen, and the other two wives immediately imitate her.
“Great,” I reply. “Follow me.”
Luke steps out of the security office and falls silently in place behind me as I turn and lead the women through the house. They’re over complimentary about every room I take them through, oohing and awing at Christian’s impressive art collection, and the flawless design of the rooms we use so little I hadn’t even bothered trying to decorate them and had hired someone to do it instead. Senator Seder’s wife, who joined us while I took the others out on the veranda, laughs nervously at everything I say. When we finally settle down in the formal sitting room and are handed drinks from the wait staff Christian hired, it’s like an all out brawl starts between them as they clamor for my attention.
“So what is it that you are passionate about, Anastasia?” Cynthia Hadfield asks. She slowly lifts her drink and nine pairs of eyes turn curiously in my direction.
I have to fight my blush. “Well, I run a publishing company. So… books, mostly.”
“And that is so important,” Jamila Fox, the wife of Congressman Gerald Fox, interjects. “You know my husband just co-sponsored a bill with the good gentleman from Colorado. Educators all around the country have been saying it will have a dramatic impact on literacy rates for children under the age of ten.”
“That’s right,” Sarah Noriega, the wife of the other congressman, agrees. “My husband always says the best way to take drugs and guns out of young people’s hands is to put a book in them instead.”
“Is that so?” I take a long drink from my wine glass, nodding politely as the other wives jump in and try to impress me with the legislation their husbands have introduced, or their voting records on things they think will be important to me. It’s a strange feeling. I’ve been a nervous wreck over this dinner for days because I was worried I’d look like an idiot in front of these women, who are part of the very fabric that makes up our most important government institutions, but there’s so much ass-kissing going on in this room I’m starting to feel violated.
“And what about your foundation?” Mitzy Wehrenberg, the wife of the Secretary of Energy asks. “The Christian and Anastasia Grey Foundation, what do you do?”
“We provide resources, safe shelter, and legal assistance for women who are victims of sexual or domestic violence, and children who come from abusive homes.”
“That’s so noble,” Jamila says, placing a hand over her heart as though she’s been deeply touched. “You know, I would love to organize an event together to raise awareness for your foundation. I’m sure you know, but Gerald is a primary candidate for President of the United States. I just know that he could bring so much attention to your cause.”
“That sounds great.” I glance around the room, feeling a strange hunger suddenly directed at me that makes me want to escape. “Would you excuse me for a moment?”
I can see the argument on each and every one of their faces, but I ignore the silent pleas and scurry from the room. Luke is leaning against the wall of the foyer just outside the door, typing on the keyboard of his phone.
“Important security business?” I check, he looks up and frowns.
“I mean, I’m just coordinating with the team on the perimeter. Everything’s quiet.”
“Feel like coordinating my great escape, instead?” I ask with a dark laugh. He raises an eyebrow at me.
“Yeah.” I sigh. “I just didn’t expect the whole ‘men go one way, women go another’ thing. I don’t have Christian to shield me and they’re all so busy talking over each other and interjecting themselves into everything I say that I’m starting to feel like an animal on display at the zoo. I don’t get it, they all seem to know one another but none of them are talking to each other. Only me.”
He chuckles. “You really don’t get what your husband just did, do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s changed the entire course of the fucking future, Anastasia. It’s not just solving the energy crisis or reversing climate change. He’s made things like the kind of deep space exploration you see in Star Trek possible. He’s reached out to organizations that help developing nations to give them the infrastructure that will lift millions of people out of poverty. Billions, maybe. Historians are going to talk about him the way we talk about Edison, or DiVinci, or Galileo.” He pauses, and takes a step closer to me. “Oil prices have been in freefall since the announcement. Each and every day Endurance exists, it becomes more and more valuable. I overheard a little bit of what they’re talking about in his office, and they’re throwing out numbers in the billions, Ana. Multiple billions.”
“I know! But what does that have to do with the women acting like lost puppies in my sitting room right now?”
He rolls his eyes. “Your net worth is about to be more than a lot of entire ass countries. That’s power, Steele, and that’s what tonight is about. Those women in there are just waiting for you to tell them what you want so that they can give it to you. And, in return, they’ll expect you to donate to their husband’s re-election campaigns, dump money into their Super PACs, and fund their pet projects. This is an exchange, you just need to figure out what you want.”
I think about that for a moment. Even when we thought we were about to lose everything, I’d never worried myself too much over the amount of money spread between Christian’s bank accounts. I could live at his side just as easily as I do now if he had absolutely nothing. Power is his kink. To me it feels a little… daunting.
That is what the uncertainty brewing in my gut means, isn’t it?
“Mrs. Grey?” a waiter asks. He approaches cautiously, like he’s worried he’s interrupting something important between Luke and I.
“Dinner is being served.”
“Oh, great.” I turn back to Luke and gesture back to the room I just vacated with a nod of my head. “Will you let them know and I’ll go get Christian?”
“Sure thing, Mrs. Grey.”
This time, I don’t even hesitate. I reach back and, with as much force I can muster while I’m balancing on my heels, I punch him right in the bicep. He lets out a sharp yell and reaches up to cup the sore muscle.
“Owe! What the hell, Ana?”
“I told you if you called me Mrs. Grey one more time…”
He glares at me, then shakes his head. “Oh, you just wait, I’m going to get you so bad later.”
“I’ll look forward to watching you try.” I give him a simpering smile, then turn for Christian’s office. I can hear him still muttering threats under his breath as I round the corner.
“Christian?” I knock softly on the half-opened door and take a step inside. The men all turn to look at me, though Christian is the only one who doesn’t seem angered by my interruption.
“Dinner is being served, if you’d like to join us in the dining room.”
“Impeccable timing,” he says, smiling. Then he rises from his seat and motions for the other men in the room to do the same. Surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly after what Luke just told me, the men do exactly as he says, as though they’re a pack of trained German Shepherds.
I take the hand Christian offers me and walk with him from his office, falling into the background as their conversation picks up where I’d interrupted them. We emerge in the dining room to find the wives already seated, finally chatting amongst themselves. The men file into the empty seats dotted between them.
“Would you look at that?” Cynthia says, when she looks up and sees Christian pull my chair out for me. She turns and smacks her husband lightly across his sport coat. “You see, that is chivalry. How come you never dote on me like that?”
Her husband ignores her.
“It’s like I was saying, Grey,” he begins instead. “Your vision is noble, but you’re never going to achieve it without the intervention of the United States government.”
“Hence why I’ve invited you here this evening.”
“So, we have a deal?”
“We’ve always had a deal. At $70 billion.”
The Senator shakes his head. “I can’t get that without going through Congress.”
“Then I suggest you go to Congress.”
“The Senate is controlled by conservatives,” Senator Blandino interjects. “We won’t get $70 billion for anything but war.”
“Perhaps they’ll change their minds when the United States starts dramatically falling behind the rest of the world in energy production. My company has already been contacted by the leaders of several foreign governments who seem much less hesitant to give me what I’m asking for…”
That makes several of the officials around the table straighten nervously. “Which governments?” the Army officer with three stars displayed across his chest asks from across the table.
Christian shrugs and takes a very lazy drink of wine. “Why don’t you go pull up a list of every member of the United Nations. That ought to give you a good idea.”
Anxious looks fly around me, and Senator Hadfield clears his throat. “I think we’d all agree that it is in all of our best interest as Americans to see our country and our economy thrive. You seem to be the one with your thumb on that pulse right now, Grey. Perhaps you should think of it as service to your country.”
“You see, that’s the problem, Senator. I don’t much care about service to my country, and what you’re asking for is practically welfare.”
“That’s interesting,” Senator Hadfield says, then he turns to me. “Mrs. Grey, your father served in the military, isn’t that right?”
I nod. “Yes, he was a Captain in the Army.”
“An impressive one,” the Army officer speaks up. “I checked his service records and they’re exemplary. He fought in Desert Storm, deployed to Afghanistan three days after September 11th, and two tours in Iraq. He received a Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery fighting along the Syrian border. You should be proud.”
“I am. Very.”
“He was in an insurgent attack a few months before his discharge,” the man continues. “Eight men were lost under heavy artillery and airstrikes. That must have been extremely traumatic for him.”
The man’s brow crinkles. “Surely you know he received a medal of valor?”
“Yes, for saving a man’s life…”
“Three men’s lives. He pulled them out of a burning building after it had sustained several minutes of bombing.”
My face goes blank, and Christian moves his hand to my knee under the table. “General, Captain Steele has chosen to keep much of the experiences he endured during his time in Iraq private. I wish you would respect his wishes. There’s no reason to worry my wife over things that have already happened and are now in the past.”
“My apologies, Mr. Grey. I wasn’t aware… but it brings me back to my point. That building was merely a casualty alongside the insurgents’ real target. A petroleum reserve. Had we had Endurance, there would have been no target. No fuel for the flames that ignited that structure. It’s possible Captain Steele would have never been in that building.”
I feel a heavy thud in my chest, then turn wearily to Christian. He’s already staring at me.
“With Endurance,” another of the military officials continues, “ Our armed forces will be more prepared to face siege under enemy fire than we’ve ever been. No more will our boys be put in danger by a cargo truck in a caravan transporting gasoline, or have their lives put in jeopardy because they have to refuel in enemy territory. Think of the airmen who won’t be lost in a mission because they won’t run out of fuel somewhere over the ocean. Think of all the military men, like Captain Steele, whose lives could be saved by this technology.”
Christian glances at the man in uniform across from him, then back at me. There’s a conflict in his eyes, but I can’t read what it is. Before I figure it out, he squeezes my hand under the table and turns back to Congressman Fox.
“Do you know why I started this project, Congressman?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“During my wife’s final year at Harvard, she was relentlessly stalked and threatened by a man who had a vendetta against me. She was terrified, and I did everything I was supposed to do. I went to the police. Several times, in fact. But they never did anything to help her. To protect her. By the end, it became glaringly obvious that the police were actually helping the man terrorizing my family.”
“I uh… I’m very sorry, Mr. Grey. That must have been a terribly uncomfortable situation…”
“Uncomfortable? That man sent people into my home who murdered my nanny and held a gun to the head of my two month old daughter. That man fired on my security team, on his own people, and on me. He tried to take my wife so he could rape her, and it was not the police who stopped him. It was the police who created the diversion that almost let him get away with it. Does that sound uncomfortable to you?”
A fork drops on a plate, and I briefly glance at Mitzy to find she’s suddenly gone as pale as a ghost. Christian squeezes my knee under the table, checking on me. I have a vague idea where he may be going with this, so I take a breath to calm my pounding heart, reach down, and squeeze back.
I’m okay. Keep going.
“The officers who helped that man come after the people I love are still hiding in the Seattle Police Department,” Christian continues. “The city’s revenue shortfalls this year mean there isn’t money for an investigation and without one we’ll never get justice. I’ve tried to give them the money myself, but apparently… there’s a conflict of interest. Can you get me the names of those officers, Senator?”
He blinks for a moment, then his eyes shift to the government officials around the table. One by one, they start to nod. “Uh, yeah. Yes, I could pull some strings and reallocate some funds for an investigation. We’ll call it a routine examination of police misconduct.”
“Then I might just be willing to make a deal,” Christian adds. “In the interest of serving my country.”
Every single person around the table perks up. “You would?”
“As long as the contract is very clear that any Endurance technology will remain entirely under GEH control.”
“Well now, let’s not be unreasonable, Grey. Do you know the kind of clearance you’d have to get to have access to the things Endurance will be integrated with?”
“I assume it’ll probably be fairly high.”
The Congressman starts to grind his teeth, so I turn to him with a clueless kind of smile. “You know, Jamilla and I were just talking earlier this evening about how wonderful it would be to have this deal made by tonight. It would give us such a wonderful opportunity to stay connected and work closely together, possibly on a fundraising event for your presidential campaign. How much am I allowed to donate to your super pac, Jamilla?”
“No limit,” she squeaks.
Jamilla starts to glow and turns excited eyes on her husband. The muscles in his face go tight as he turns to Senator Blandino. “Technically, he’s the only fusion energy expert in the world. We might need him and his company regardless. I say we make the deal, and we get him the clearance.”
There’s a murmur of agreement around the table that eventually reaches Senator Blandino.
“Then, I think we have a deal.” He reaches across the table to shake Christian’s hand, which Christian takes with a firm grip and a triumphant grin.
“Well, I don’t think we need to intrude on your evening any more,” Senator Takahashi says, getting to his feet. The elegant dinner laid out in front of us has only been half eaten and there hasn’t even been mention yet of the cobbler waiting for dessert, but that doesn’t phase any of them. It’s clear, as they file out, that they came for that handshake. Now that they have it, they’re done with us. It makes me nervous about the promise that was just made to me.
“Thank you for an excellent evening, Grey,” Congressman Fox says, reaching out to shake Christian’s hand one last time. “You might be just about to become the richest man in the world, my good friend.”
Christian puts an arm around me. “I already am.”
With a nod, our guests turn to file out of the foyer, but Christian calls out to stop the imposing one near the back.
“Yes, Mr. Grey?” Senator Blandino asks, turning back to face us.
“My head of security, Jason Taylor, will be reaching out to your office this week regarding the investigation. I expect it will be done extremely timely.”
“Right. Yes. Very good.” He gives us an awkward smile, then turns to leave. I don’t even get to watch the door close before Christian sweeps me up into his arms.
“I can’t believe you did that,” I say, breathlessly. “I’d given up on that. I didn’t think…”
He pulls back and grabs my chin, holding my face so that he can hold my gaze. “I told you that I would protect you. I told you that no one would come for us ever again. I’m going to take over the world, Anastasia. And I’m going to rule it for you.”
He leans down and kisses me, but I’m smiling so broadly that it’s difficult for him to find any kind of real purchase. He doesn’t seem bothered. In fact, it makes him grin too.
“And the way you came in at the end to set the stakes. To seal the deal. I knew we were a good team but you… you were magnificent. I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, but you have me rock-fucking-hard.”
He reaches down and sweeps me into his arms, and I let out an elated shriek as he starts up the stairs. He dumps me on the bed the moment we’re in the bedroom and then towers over me. The look in his eyes instantly makes me wet.
“I’m going to make you safe word,” he says, and the desperate need on my face instantly goes cold.
“What? What did I do?”
He shakes his head. “It’s not a punishment, Ana. This is a reward. I’m going to make you come until you say ‘red.’”
He gives me a crooked smile, then crawls onto the bed, over the top of me. His mouth sinks into mine, pushing deep into me. I’m just getting lost in his kiss, when he pulls back.
“Just for tonight,” he says, so softly I can barely hear him. “You may come for my fingers.”
I shudder with pleasure at the thought, then moan as his lips start moving down my body. He peels my dress off me slowly, kissing each new inch of skin he exposes until he slips the fabric completely off of me. When he removes my panties, he purposefully holds my gaze, then he slowly lowers them into his back pocket.
His lips wrap around my big toe, and his hands massage the arches of my feet. His tongue begins the journey up my ankle, then my calf, my knee, my thigh… all the way up until he’s hovering over my clit with his lips.
“I love you, Anastasia. And I am incredibly proud to have you by my side. I want you to think about that while you scream for me.” Then his mouth is on me. He’s slow at first, taking his time as he licks the arousal around my lips and sucks gently at my clit. The closer I get to orgasm, the more aggressive he becomes. His tongue flicks against me so intensely, I try to pull away from him. His hands lock down on my hips, pulling me back to his mouth, and he starts to suck again. The warmth comes in pulses, with every pull of his lips. It starts between my legs, then works its way up my stomach, through my arms, down to my toes, and eventually out my mouth.
“Fuck, Christian! I’m coming!”
“Don’t hold back, baby.” I writhe under his tongue, the pleasure intensifying to a degree that has my back arched so high off the bed I almost feel like I’m floating. A small voice in the back of my head wonders why he isn’t more concerned about keeping me quiet. Calliope is asleep just down the hall, after all. But he never moves to silence me. He seems to revel in the sound of his name echoing around the room.
“One,” he pants, lifting up just enough to free his erection and plunge it inside of me. I scream again, then push back on his cock until I erupt for the second time. He rides me hard through two more orgasms before he loses himself. With a sharp hiss, he pulls out of me and strokes his cock until ropes of come fly out across my stomach. The moment his hand stops moving, he moves his face back between my legs.
“Oh my god! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“God isn’t about to make you come, baby,” he growls against me. “Say my name.”
“Christian!” With his fingers plunging in and out of me, it’s not long before he pulls another orgasm out, and by the time I come down, I’m starting to understand how you could be forced to safe word with too many orgasms.
“Wait,” I pant, pushing against him as he positions his once again fully stiff cock at my entrance. His hands wrap around my wrists and force them over my head as he drives in.
“That’s not a safe word.”
I pant with exertion, whimpering slightly with each thrust. It’s heaven, it’s hell. It’s too much, it’s too little. He’s suffocating me, he’s not holding me close enough. I can feel his come slipping messily between our bodies while he pounds into me, and that in itself is enough to set me off again. Tears pour from my eyes as I unravel for the sixth time.
“Christian…” I whine in protest. He pauses, but his hands keep their death grip on my body.
“Do you want to say something to me, Anastasia?”
I let my mouth fall open, but no words come out. I can’t tell him to stop. I never want him to stop. Even if it’s too much, even if it’s overwhelming, even if it’s gone past pleasure and leaves me writhing in pain, I don’t ever want him to stop. I want his hands and his lips on me. I want him as close as is physically possible, and he can’t get there without being inside of me.
“I’m waiting,” he says. A finger slides into me, then another, and he starts to pump them in and out. “Ana…”
“I don’t have anything to say,” I moan, and he grins.
“Good. Give me your phone.”
“My pho—“ His fingers pull out and he slaps me hard over the clit, making me cry out with pain. I squirm away from it, but the shocks from the impact shooting down my legs from the contact aren’t tormenting. They’re electrifying.
“I didn’t ask for backtalk, I asked for your fucking phone.”
I turn for the nightstand and take my iPhone off the charger. He opens the camera and points it directly between my legs, shooting a video of his fingers fucking me all the way to orgasm. Then he makes me watch it while he goes down on me again.
“I can’t… oh, FUCK!” I scream as the orgasm I’ve lost count of swallows me. I’m limp, my body covered in sweat. My insides are throbbing. When he flips me over, I can barely hold my hips up high enough for him to thrust in again, and I’m so swollen from his assault that he has to force his way through my tight walls.
“You’re not going to keep me out, Ana. You. Belong. To. Me.” He grunts with the effort of each thrust and it drives me into something deep and savage. As he hammers his way in and out, the things he says to me are so filthy and depraved that I know he’s beyond rational thought himself. We’re animals, lost in a carnality that has the power to erase us both as we blow each other’s minds over and over again. I don’t even know if I’m screaming anymore. If I’m making any noise at all. The only thing I can think of or feel is every inch of his cock sliding against my slick, sensitive lips. I couldn’t even tell you how many times he makes me come before finally emptying himself inside of me.
“Red,” I sob when he turns me back on my back and moves to plunge his fingers in me again. “Red, red, red.”
“Shhh.” His entire demeanor changes in an instant. His hands disappear from my skin, and his weight lifts from my body. He moves to the side of me, hovering next to me until I give him permission to touch me again. But I can’t. I don’t even think I can speak.
“Ana? Are you okay?”
I let my head roll over the pillow to face him. “Who’s Ana?”
He laughs, then scoots as close as he can without pressing himself against me. His eyes shine down on me with pride and love. “I want to kiss you, but you safeworded. I won’t touch you again until you tell me you want me to.”
I nod and his lips lower to mine. None of the libidinous fire that existed between us just a minute ago lingers in his kiss. It’s soft, deep, and filled with a thousand confessions of his feelings for me. I soak it all in, bathe in the feeling, until he pulls away.
“I have to go to China at the end of next week,” he says at last. “I’d like you to go with me.”
I blink. “Excuse me?”
“I’ve been invited to the Grand Palace in Beijing to discuss Endurance with the Chinese government.”
“That’s very fancy, Mr. Grey.”
“It is. And, I’m told, a great honor. One I’d like to share with you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’d like you to come with me. In fact, from now on, I always want you to come with me. I’ve spent enough time away from you, I’ve missed enough of Calliope’s milestones. I don’t want to do that anymore. I amassed this power so that I can do whatever I want, and what I want is to be with you. All the time.”
“That’s very sweet, but I can’t go to China next week. I’m flying to New York on Monday for my app release.”
“So, I’ll go with you. We’ll spend a few days in New York, then we’ll come home to refuel and pick up Calliope, and be on our way.”
“It’s not that easy, Christian. Don’t you realize how much work I’m going to have to do after the app launches.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to work overseas, and you can work on the flight. Besides, it might be good for you to not see the numbers from your release right away. It would be… healthy if you gave yourself a few days to be successful before you start thinking you’re a failure.”
“That’s not a bad point…”
“No, it’s not. Come to China with me.”
I take a deep breath, mulling it over. “But Carmen—”
“Don’t worry about Carmen Gallagher. If necessary, I will deal with her.”
I laugh, then shake my head. “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me.”
“I know. You’re a Grey.” He grins, then kisses me once more. “Come to China with me, Ana.”
It takes several seconds to mull it over, but it’s him that makes up my mind. Not just the words he’s given me, but the way he looks at me. The way his hands absentmindedly brush over my skin and leave goose bumps behind. Why the hell would I want to spend any time away from him either?
“Okay,” I agree.
He grins in victory, then lowers his lips to mine again.