Chapter 30

Image result for seattle highway

I’m a little late leaving the office Friday afternoon as I make my way uptown into North Seattle for lunch with Luke. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going and I’ve had to make a few last second lane changes in order to be able to turn where the GPS tells me to. There is an angry honk behind me as I make another quick right turn so that I can make it over to the right freeway on-ramp and I realize that I’ve cut someone off. I turn to give an apologetic look to the driver glaring at me as they speed past and then quickly glance around for any photographers. The last thing I need with Christian right now is a Google Alert to come out blasting the headline, Anastasia Steele: World’s Worst Driver. Especially since it should be Prescott driving, not me, but I’ve, sort of… left her behind.

I feel a wave of guilt as I replay sneaking out of SIP to avoid Prescott seeing me in my head. I know that this probably isn’t the best time to be doing things like this because Christian has been more paranoid than usual following his come to Jesus moment about Elena, and he’s only added more security to everything around us as a result. The code to the elevator was changed, again, all of the security doors at GEH have been recoded and new badges have been issued to all employees, the surveillance system for all GEH properties, and even our apartment, is undergoing an in-depth overhaul, and three new employees have been hired onto Christian’s security team, none of which are Luke Sawyer.

This last issue is the reason I had to leave Prescott behind. I have to see Luke this afternoon and she would have stopped me. I need whatever information he’s been able to dig up so I feel prepared to meet with Elena later. I take a deep breath as I’m filled with simultaneous feelings of dread and satisfaction at the thought. After literally years of fighting against her, I’m finally going to get to tell her that she’s lost today, that Christian is ready to move on and leave her behind and she can go fuck off. But, I’m not naive enough to believe it’s going to be that easy. It’s never easy with Elena Lincoln, and so I want to be armed with whatever ammunition Luke could find.

As I pull off of the I-5 North, my thoughts are interrupted by the sound of an incoming call through my stereo speakers and it makes me jump as I expect to see Christian’s name flash across the screen in the dash. It isn’t Christian though, it’s my mother, so I reach for the button on the steering wheel to answer the phone.

“Hey, Mom. I’m on my way to meet a friend for lunch so I don’t have a lot of time to talk. What’s up?”

“Ana, I just don’t know about this trip…” She says hesitantly and I frown.

“Why?” I ask, my voice hard.

“I just think it’s going to be a little uncomfortable.”

“Mom, Christian is flying you out here in a private jet and you’ll be spending the weekend on a luxury yacht, I don’t think comfort is something you have to worry about.”

“You know what I mean, Ana.”

“Mom…” I groan. “You have to get over this. Look, things are different now. We’ve both grown up a little bit and we’ve moved on from what happened. I love him, he loves me, and he’s not going anywhere. Please don’t make me choose between him and you.”

She’s silent for a long moment. “I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to forgive him for what he put you through. I don’t know if I want to. Watching you go through what you did after you first broke up was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a mother. Knowing there was nothing I could do to take that pain away, knowing that he caused it… I don’t want that to happen to you again.”

“I know,” I say, quietly. “But that’s in the past now. I’ve forgiven him and you need to too. Just come out here, please? Maybe you two just need to talk. He loves me mom. He really loves me and he just wants to make me happy. He does make me happy. Just give him a chance.”

“Fine,” She agrees, finally. “I’ll give him a chance but don’t expect me to come out there and fawn all over him because he has a nice boat and all of this money now. If he wants to date my daughter, he needs to show me that he’s serious this time and that he’s not going to hurt you like he did last time.”

I sigh. “Okay, Mom,” I tell her, more to appease her than anything. “Look, I’m pulling up in front of the restaurant so I’ve got to go.”

“Okay, see you next week,” She says.

“Okay, love you. Bye,” I jab my finger into the button on the steering wheel, exhaling a long calming breath as I reach over to pick my purse up off the passenger’s seat and then quickly glance up and down the street to see if I can see anyone looking suspicious before opening the door. I think the coast is clear, so I step out of the Lincoln, feeling paranoid as I look over my shoulder while I lock the door, and then hurry across the street. I don’t know what I’m more afraid of, a photographer jumping out and snapping proof for Christian that I’ve snuck out without security to meet Luke, or Taylor pulling up in the SUV and dragging me back to GEH because Christian already knows.

Thankfully, the latter doesn’t happen and I make it into the restaurant without being accosted by any flashing lights. Luke already has a table so the hostess leads me to the back of the restaurant where he’s seated, leaving menus and a glass of water behind before she leaves.

“Hey, sorry I’m late,” I say when we’re alone, but he ignores me and instead, quickly scans the restaurant before turning and narrowing his eyes at me.

“What are you doing here without security?” He asks, sternly.

“You think I could have gotten here with security?” I ask, raising an eyebrow at him. “Christian isn’t exactly president of the Luke Sawyer fan club right now.”

“Then why didn’t you just ask me to meet you at SIP? Or somewhere closer to you?”

“Because it wouldn’t have been any better had you come to my work and there’s a better chance that I could have been seen by the paparazzi in downtown Seattle. Trust me, it’s better that Christian doesn’t know about this lunch, Luke. He doesn’t know that I’ve had you looking into Elena and I’d like to keep it that way.” He frowns but nods and looks up as the waitress approaches our table to take our orders. She gives him a flirty smile, which to my surprise he returns, and when she leaves, he leans over a little bit so he can check her out as she walks away.

“Luke Sawyer!” I exclaim, reaching over and thwaping him on the head. He turns back to look at me, his eyebrows creased together in confusion.

“What?” He asks.

“You know what. You have a girlfriend, remember? Maybe you shouldn’t be staring at the waitress’s ass. That’s not something girlfriends are usually a fan of.”

“Yeah, well Leah’s not a fan of a lot of things, so…” He says, and as he reaches out for his water to take a drink, I raise an eyebrow at him.

“Uh oh, what’s going on?” I ask him and he rolls his eyes.

“She’s just a little… clingy. I don’t know. I think I’m over it.”

“You’re over it? Already? Haven’t you only been dating a few weeks?” I ask him skeptically and he nods.

“Honestly, that’s about par for me. Don’t get me wrong, Leah’s hot, and she’s great in bed, and we’ve had a good time together for the most part, but I’m not really a relationship kind of guy. It’s too hard with what I do.” He hesitates for a minute and then looks up at me again. “Besides, I think I’m going to try to get a job at Harvard, working campus security for real this time.”

“Luke… I don’t want you to uproot your life just for me. I mean, that’s a big move for only a few months. Don’t give up your girlfriend for me.”

He shrugs. “It’s not for you, not with Leah anyway. I’m just ready to move on. I’d planned to move back to Cambridge with you anyway, before Grey fired me as your CPO. I just didn’t change my plans after he did. This is what I do, and I care about you, Ana. I want to be around. You’re a public figure now, a target, and I want to make sure that you’re safe.”

I purse my lips together as I consider this. I know this is true, it’s why Luke is both the best and the worst person for this job. More than anyone else on Christian’s team, I would trust Luke with my life, not that I think it would ever come down to that. But, I trust him, not just because I know he’s good at his job, but because I know how deeply he cares about me. That’s the crux of the issue, though. He can balance our friendship with his job, but I can’t. Every time he’s done something that’s got him fired, it’s been my fault. I talked him into taking me to Vermont that weekend in Cambridge, I asked him to go with me to run errands that day when I knew I was supposed to take Prescott, I started the game of keep away with the phone that night on the couch in Christian’s apartment, and I made him go out to that club while Christian was in New York.

I’m the problem, not Luke, but there is a problem, and I’m going to have to find a way to fix it before I’m going to be able to convince Christian to bring Luke back.

“Let me see what I can do. I’ll talk to Christian tonight, and maybe…” I begin, but Luke shakes his head to cut me off.

“I don’t need you to fight for me, Ana. I think it’s better this way anyway. He can’t fire me if he’s not my boss.”

The waitress returns, sets our plates in front of us, and Luke winks at her as she turns to leave. I roll my eyes and begin to eat.

“How’re things between you and Grey going anyway? Last I talked to you, you were ready to leave and then the next thing I know, Taylor is coming downstairs to tell me and Kate to go home.”

“Oh, yeah… I decided I didn’t want to go. We’re good. Great, really. We’re actually back to normal… almost.”

“Almost?”

I sigh. “Well he’s finally come around on Elena, so that’s made things a lot easier between us. He admits to what they were and what she did to him but, now that he sees the abuse side of it, he’s struggling to come to terms with what she did to him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s having issues with his body, like a kind of disconnect. He doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin. Flynn told me that it’s a kind of body dysmorphia that’s common for victims of physical abuse and sexual assault, but it’s… hard. That first day when it hit him, he wouldn’t let me touch him at all. He’s gotten better, I mean, he hugs me, kisses me, and we can cuddle on the couch or in bed as long as he’s the one who wraps his arms around me…”

“What about sex?” He asks.

I shake my head.

“And, he still won’t go back to see Flynn. I tried to get him to go with me yesterday but he doesn’t want to talk about it, so he doesn’t. I don’t want to push him… I mean, his mood is good. He’s generally acting pretty normal but the touch thing… It’s an issue.”

“Well, hopefully he comes around soon and goes back into therapy,” Luke says sympathetically, and I nod.

“Yeah, but watching him go through this is making me murderously angry, which is why I wanted to see you today.”

“To murder me?” He asks with a sly grin.

“No,” I reply, rolling my eyes. “Carrick and I are giving Elena the paperwork to buy the salons today. I know she’s not going to take it well, so I was hoping you’d found something, anything, that I could use to persuade her to go quietly.”

He frowns. “I’m sorry, Ana. I’ve been looking, I’ve digging everywhere I can think, but I can’t find anything that looks shady. She hasn’t gotten so much as a speeding ticket since the trial. I’ve got nothing. Even all the photographs being leaked to the press… I’ve traced the source and it’s not her.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know. Whoever it is sends the pictures from an email registered to the extremely clever pseudonym, Jane Doe. When I found the email and got into it, I found the forwards of the pictures but they all come from different phones with different numbers. The area codes on the phones and the addresses they’re all registered to are in New York, and the addresses are to different houses that are listed online as being for sale.”

“Okay, well she was in New York. How do you know she didn’t just buy them when she was there and registered them to a fake address?”

“Because it started before she went to New York, remember? I mean, maybe it is her. I don’t know, but it if is, she’s covered her trail well enough that I can’t find a definitive connection without actually catching her using the phone. I’ve looked into her personal bank accounts, the accounts for Esclava, credit card statements… I can’t find any money transfers from TMZ or even ones that look out of place. I don’t know what else to look for.”

“There has to be something,” I argue. “This is Elena Lincoln we’re talking about, I know there is something. What about Isaac? Is there a way she could be using him to cover up what she’s doing?”

“Who’s Isaac?”

“Her submissive.”

Luke’s brow furrows as he contemplates this. “Yeah, maybe. But I’d need more information on him. Do you know his last name?”

“No.”

“Well, I’ll find out. I’ll keep looking, Ana. I promise you if there’s something to find, I’ll find it.”

“Okay,” I nod, and take a calming breath, before changing the subject. Thankfully, our lunch is much lighter once we move on, but I get so lost in our easy conversation that when I look at the time, I realize I’m running a little late to meet Carrick. I apologize and leave some money on the table for the bill before booking it out of the restaurant and driving a little too quickly back into downtown Seattle.

When I pull into the parking garage at GEH, I notice that Christian’s space is empty which means that Carrick was able to get Christian out of the building before Elena got there. He’s been waffling back in forth on whether or not he wanted to be in this meeting or not, but with everything he’s struggling with right now, Carrick thought it would be better to go into this without him. Even Ros was supportive. She’d promised us that she’d create an emergency to get him out of the office if she had to. I chew on my bottom lip as I step into the elevator and press the button for the 8th floor, wondering if that ended up being necessary.

When I get to the top floor, I swipe my badge against the pad outside the double glass doors and step into the executive suite. Andrea isn’t at her desk so I’m greeted by the unfamiliar girl sitting in Leila’s old seat, and she smiles at me with a cool, professional kind of deference.

“Good afternoon, and welcome to Grey House,” She says, “Can I help you?”

“Uh, yeah. I’m Anastasia Steele, I have a four o’clock with Mr. Grey,” I tell her and her smile morphs into a look of shock.

“Anastasia Steele?” She repeats, like she hasn’t heard me correctly. I nod and her eyes widen even further. “I’m sorry, Miss Steele. Mr. Grey…”

“Ana!” I hear Andrea’s voice say urgently and I turn and see her coming out of the large conference room on the other side of the lobby. I nod once to the receptionist and then smile at Andrea as I walk over to meet her. “We’re all set up in here.” She tells me, shooting a nervous look towards the elevators as she gestures to the door she just walked through. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’m fine. Thank you,” I tell her, and she nods and opens the conference room door for me. Carrick is inside typing on a Macbook, but he looks up and smiles at me as I enter the room and close the door.

“Hey, Ana,” He greets me. “How was your afternoon?”

“Good. Where’d you send Christian off to?” I ask.

“Actually, Elliot took care of that for me. He told him he needed to go down to the job site to oversee something for the new building. He’s promised me that he’ll be able to keep him down there all afternoon.”

“Oh, good,” I say. “You can do this without him being here, right? You’re okay with that?”

“Oh believe me, Anastasia. Nothing will make me happier,” Carrick says with a vindictive kind of smile and it makes me laugh. I take the seat next to him, and pull out my laptop to answer some emails and read over some of the new query letters that had been pulled by the agents this afternoon. I’m about halfway through the summary of a sci-fi novel about a small colony that was sent to terraform mars for the survival of the human race, when my attention is diverted by a small knock on the door.

My stomach does a kind of back flip as my nerves peak and I quickly close the lid to my laptop and sit up straight as Carrick and I both turn our attention to the door.

“Come in,” He says, with a reserved authority that I don’t know if I’d be able to use in my current nervous state. He reaches over, grips my hand firmly, and then pulls it away as the door slowly opens and we watch Andrea motion for Elena to step inside. I stare back into her flat blue eyes which immediately harden as she looks between Carrick and I.

“Where’s Christian?” She asks.

“Have a seat, Mrs. Lincoln,” Carrick says coolly, motioning to the seat across the table from us, but she doesn’t move.

“Where is Christian?” She repeats.

Carrick’s eyes narrow and the muscle in his jaw tightens. “Mr. Grey had other obligations to see to this afternoon. He’s a very busy man. As his appointed legal counsel, I assure you I am prepared to continue this meeting without him.”

Elena sucks a sharp breath in through her nose and releases it slowly as she settles down into the chair. Her eyes shift once to me, raking over me with pointed appraisal, before turning back to Carrick.

“Mrs. Lincoln,” Carrick begins with a kind of detached, professionalism that I assume comes from years of practice at being emotionless in front of criminals. “Mr. Grey has asked you here today to inform you that it is his intention to terminate his proprietorship of Esclava Beauty Salon LTD and it’s DBA for Grey Enterprises Holdings. In thirty days’ time, the salons and all related properties, securities, inventories, merchandise, furniture, equipment, and other non-listed assets, both tangible and intangible, will be placed on the market for immediate sale. Should you wish to purchase the salons and all related licensing, Mr. Grey will allow you to do so as long as the Agreement for Sale of Business is signed on or before July 26th.” He picks up a thick stack of paper, held together by a staple in the upper right hand corner, and slides it across the table towards Elena. “Do you have any questions?”

Elena’s mouth falls open slightly as she picks up the sale agreement off the table and begins to read over it, the disbelief in her eyes growing more pronounced the more she reads. She drops the contract on the table, an irritated breath escaping her lips, and then she rolls her eyes.

“What, is this supposed to scare me?” She asks, looking back up at Carrick and he smiles and leans back in his chair.

“Oh no, I’m sorry, was I not clear? This is supposed to get rid of you. You see, Christian wants to sell his business because he wants you gone. He doesn’t want to talk to you, he doesn’t want to see you, he just wants you out of his life. So just sign the form and you can take your salons and I can take my son back.”

“And why would I do that?” She asks, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Because you don’t have a choice,” I interject, and she turns to look at me, clearly annoyed, like my mere presence is inconveniencing her. “Look, Elena. Buy the salons, or don’t. Literally, nobody cares. Either way, Christian is selling. He’s only offering you this in the first place so that he doesn’t have to waste his precious time finding a buyer for your pathetic little business. He’s done with you, whether you like it or not.”

“You think that’s the first time I’ve heard that from him?” She asks, and she actually lets out a small, amused laugh. “You don’t think he’s told me that he wants nothing to do with me a thousand times, over and over again. It’s always the same. He throws his little temper tantrum and then two weeks later he’s on the phone or at my door. That’s what this is, and I’m not playing along.”

“No, it’s different this time. He knows what you are and he wants you as far away from him as possible,” I tell her.

“Does he?” She replies, disinterestedly. She sighs, pushes her chair away from the conference table, and gets to her feet. “Well, this has all been an extraordinary waste of my time, so, if you’ll excuse me, I own a business that doesn’t run itself…”

“Actually, you don’t own a business,” Carrick interrupts her. “But you could. I’ll just need you to sign next to the blue flag.” He pulls a pen out of his jacket pocket, sets it on top of the contract and looks up at her expectantly.

“I’m not signing anything without speaking to Christian first,” She says.

“Oh, Elena,” Carrick laughs. “That’s the beauty of all of this. You don’t get to speak with Christian. Ever again. You get to deal with me now. Exclusively.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen…”

“Jesus, what don’t you get here, Elena?” I snap at her. “We’re not playing a game with you. This is done. Finished. Game over. You’ve lost. We’re not doing this with you anymore. Now, we all know you’re going to sign this contract in the end, so rather than waste thirty days, why don’t you just sign it now, bow out with a little grace, and we can all move on with our lives.”

“You see, that’s the problem, Anastasia. I’m not going to sign this. You think I’m just going to let go? Christian Grey is a very valuable asset to me and I do not take that for granted. He’s mine, and I’m not going to give him up. If you want to fight me for him, then let’s fight. Just know that it is a battle that I have no intention of losing. I will destroy him before I let you take him from me and no one knows how to do that better than I do. Push me, and I will take what he loves most and I will break it and watch him crumble.”

“And what is that, Elena?” I ask. “GEH? Me? You’re not going to out maneuver Christian when it comes to business and I know what you are and what you do. I won’t let you get to me. You can’t touch me and I won’t let you use me to get to him. If you want to fight, you’re going to be fighting on your own. We’re done.”

“We’ll see,” She says and she shoots Carrick a contemptuous glare before turning around and leaving the conference room, the door slamming closed behind her.

“Ugh, I want to break her in half like a twig,” I grumble and Carrick grabs onto my shoulder supportively as he reaches across the table for the contract and then slides it back into its folder.

“Trust me, Ana, so do I. But, I don’t think antagonizing her is the smartest move. We’ve won the battle, there’s no point in dragging out the war. I don’t want Christian to get dragged into this. Let’s just get through the next thirty days as quickly and painlessly as possible.”

“And if it’s not painless? If she makes this as difficult as we both know she will? I don’t take her threats idly Carrick, you shouldn’t either.”

Carrick frowns. “Trust me, I don’t take her threats idly either. We just need to keep her away from Christian and she won’t be able to do anything. Ana, I think it’s best that you let me handle this. I know you want to know what’s going on and I understand that, but I think you’re just a way for her to get to him. I think it’s best if you let me and my legal team deal with her until the sale is done.”

I frown. I know that he’s right. There isn’t really anything I can do to make the situation better but there is a potential for me to make this a lot worse, especially for Christian. I just don’t like the idea of being kept in the dark and not being able to anticipate what’s coming, because I know she’s not going to go quietly. I want to protect Christian from that.

“Just… keep me in the loop, okay?” I ask him. “I’ll let you deal with her and I’ll stay out of it, but I want to know what’s going on. I don’t want her to blindside me with anything.”

“Deal,” He agrees.

“Deal,” I repeat and he leans over to hug me before beginning to pack up so we can both go home.

When I get back to Escala, I find Prescott anxiously pacing the floor in the foyer, waiting for me. When the doors to the elevator open and I step out onto the marble floor, her head shoots up in my direction and there is a brief flash of relief that crosses her face, followed immediately by anger.

“Miss Steele,” She says firmly. “It is entirely impossible for me to perform the duties to which I have been assigned if you refuse to inform me of your schedule. You should not have left the office this afternoon without my knowledge or without asking me to accompany you. Mr. Grey has issued strict instructions that you are not to go anywhere unattended.”

“I know. I’m sorry,” I reply. I try for contrite, but I’m not sure I succeed. I know she’s just doing her job but that doesn’t make her any more appealing to be around. Actually, knowing that it’s her job to just follow me around everywhere and watch everything I do, makes me want her around less.

“Well see that it doesn’t happen again,” She says, and she turns and storms angrily into Taylor’s office on the right side of the foyer. I sigh and walk into the apartment. As much as I don’t want to listen to her, I guess with what’s going on with Elena, and until Christian feels a little more comfortable, I need to play nice with my security. Really, I just need to stop comparing her to Luke. She’s not going to be my best friend, and that’s okay. Taylor and Christian aren’t best friends… Although, Taylor seems to be a lot more pleasant to be around than the Robocop I have assigned to me…

There are expense reports, a book tour proposal, and four different mock ups for cover art in my bag that I had intended to review once I got home, but I decide that I can put it off for a few hours. I let my bag slump to the floor and then collapse onto the couch, kick my shoes off, and use a pillow to cover my face and block out the light streaming in through the windows. It feels good to just be still and do nothing, try to clear my mind, and focus on nothing but breathing in and out, but I’m only able to lay there for a few minutes until I hear the elevator doors open and Christian comes thundering into the foyer.

“Prescott!” He yells angrily, and immediately, I pull the pillow away from my face and sit bolt upright on the couch. His gaze falls on me, silently warning me to stay put, but when Prescott comes out of Taylor’s office he turns on her.

“Yes, sir?” She asks.

“You’re fired,” He says firmly, “Get your things and go.”

“Christian!” I protest, but, without turning around to look at me, he holds up a single finger to silence me. Prescott looks slightly shocked, but overcomes it quickly. She nods and then disappears back into the office. Once she’s gone, Christian turns his anger on me.

“Do you want to tell me about your afternoon?”

Oh shit.

“What do you mean?” I ask trying to be coy and he reaches into his suit jacket, pulls out his iPhone and hands it to me. I look down at it and then feel a deep sinking feeling as I read the open Google Alert splashed across the screen and the pictures that accompany it. Who the fuck is getting these shots, and how are they doing it without me seeing them every goddamn time?


Google Alert: Anastasia Steele

X17Online, June 25th 2010: Street Style Watch. Anastasia Steele was the epitome of classic, chic style as she ran errands this afternoon in uptown Seattle. Her immaculately cut sheath dress (by Stella McCartney) retails for over $1300. Clearly, there are advantages to dating the billionaire heartthrob, Christian Grey.


Well that’s not so bad… I look up at him, confused.

“You don’t like my dress?” I ask him and he narrows his eyes at me.

“There are a lot of things I don’t like about that picture, Anastasia, but the dress is not one of them. First of all, that restaurant is almost twenty minutes away from your office, and you don’t have security with you. Second of all, that black car parked a few spaced down from the front door? That car belongs to Luke Sawyer.”

Shit. “Okay, yeah. I met him for lunch.”

“Why?” He snaps.

I take a deep breath and stare very purposefully at him. “I had lunch with him because I’m having him look into Elena Lincoln,” I explain and his brow furrows.

“What do you mean you’re having him look into Elena Lincoln?” He repeats.

“He’s been looking for a while. That’s actually how he found the plane confirmation in her email. He thought it might have been her leaking photos of me to the press.” His expression shifts as the anger slowly melts out of his face and is replaced with confusion.

“Is it?” He asks and I’m filled with surprising, but overwhelming relief to, for the first time, not hear any kind of defensiveness in his question.

“I don’t know. He can’t trace it back to her but, who else it could be? It’s not like pictures of me are worth enough for the paparazzi to be following me around 24/7 and in every instance that these pictures are taken, there aren’t any photographers around. Someone is following me and whoever it is seems to have a vested interest in causing trouble for us. Besides Elena, I don’t know who that could be.”

He takes a breath and his mouth moves a little as he mulls over what I’ve just said. It takes a second or two but eventually, he nods. “Okay, I’ll look into it.”

“Already taken care of,” I tell him. “Besides, Luke has a lot of free time on his hands to fill these days.”

Christian rolls his eyes. “I have people better suited than Sawyer to take care of these kinds of things, Ana.”

“Maybe,” I shrug. “But I’d rather you didn’t have to think about her. I don’t want you to have anything to do with her. It’s better if you stay as separated as possible.”

He doesn’t say anything to that. He just stares back at me skeptically so I take two hesitant steps towards him.

“Can I touch you?” I ask and his expression shifts but he eventually opens his arms for me, enveloping me as I step into him and rest my cheek against his chest. We stand there silently for a minute holding on to one another, and while I want desperately to lean up and kiss him, I refrain. Flynn told me that it’s important to let him take the lead with our physical intimacy right now.

“This won’t last forever, Ana,” He says, turning his head so that his lips move against my hair as he speaks. “I want to touch you, I want to hold you, I want to make love to you. I just need to be able to stop replaying all of this in my head before I can. I don’t want to be thinking about her while I’m with you.”

“I know, and I don’t want to rush you…” I reassure him. “But you don’t have to go through the alone. What you’re experiencing is normal. Flynn said…”

“I don’t particularly care to hear what Flynn said,” Christian interrupts me and I frown.

“He can help you, Christian. This is his job. He can help you deal with this.”

“Like he helped me the last time I went and saw him?” He replies darkly.

“Yes. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but he did help you. I don’t think that you’d have ever let her go if you hadn’t gotten to this point, and if you didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.” He doesn’t say anything but I feel his chest expand as he takes a deep breath and then hear his drawn out sigh. “You don’t have to feel like this, you don’t have to work this out on your own. Talking helps, and he could have, I don’t know, some exercises or maybe I could do with you that could help you move on. I’ll go with you if you want.”

I pull away so that I can look up at him, and his gray eyes are swimming with the conflict of his irresolution. His eyebrows pull together and slowly he leans down and presses his lips softly into mine. I kiss him back, trying to pour all of the love and support that I want him to feel into him, but after only a few seconds, his lips tense and he pulls away. I give him a weak smile, trying not to take the sting of his discomfort with me personally. He reaches down and cups my face with his hand but as I lean into his touch, he groans and reaches into his pocket.

I watch him pull out his phone, look down at Elena Lincoln’s name on the screen, and his whole body tenses. He ignores the call, grips it tightly for a second, and then puts it back into his jacket.

“I’ll make an appointment with Flynn,” He says in a tight whisper and I give him an encouraging smile.

“I’m glad,” He leans down to kiss me again, but just before his lips touch mine, we’re interrupted.

“Mr. Grey?” a voice says behind me and I turn to see Gail staring awkwardly at us from the kitchen. “Would you like me to start something for you and Miss Steele for dinner?”

“Please,” He says, and when she turns to busy herself in the kitchen he looks back down at me and smirks. “I see what you mean about the lack of privacy.”

“Told you,” I laugh. “And speaking of the lack of privacy, are you going to go un-fire Prescott now?”

“No,” He shakes his head. “You’ve made your feelings on her very clear and it doesn’t ease my concerns for your safety if I have to constantly worry about you giving your security the slip. So, I’m going to assign someone else to you.”

“Oh, well if you’re open to suggestions, I happen to know a very well qualified CPO who has recently found himself without a job.”

“Oh no, Anastasia,” Christian says with a sharp laugh. “I already have the perfect man to keep you in line.”

My eyes narrow at him. “Who? Ryan?”

“No, Ryan will be with me for the next few weeks. You, Anastasia, are going to be spending some time with Taylor.” My smile falters and the shocked expression on my face makes Christian laugh. “That’s right. Good luck getting anything past him, Miss Steele.”

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