After several long lingering moments of our lips pressed together, I roll over on top of him once more, not breaking our kiss, so I can feel his skin against mine. When I do finally pull away and look down into his eyes, the right corner of his mouth ticks up into a sexy, half-smile.
“What are you doing here? What about class and work?” He asks.
“My classes tomorrow were cancelled so, since you were so close, I got someone to cover for me at the library and skipped class this afternoon. I wanted to surprise you.”
“It’s a good surprise,” he replies softly.
“Mmm,” I moan back. “And it’s just the beginning, Grey. Tonight, I plan on being the surprise that keeps giving and giving and giving…” My hand trails down under the covers, brushing the well defined lines of his abs as I reach lower and lower, until my hand closes around him. He moans softly, tilting his pelvis up encouragingly, but just as I begin to move my hand up and down around him, his expression shifts very suddenly and he turns to look at the clock by the bed. When he sees what time it is, his head falls back into the pillow with dismay.
“I have a dinner meeting with a prospective client tonight,” he tells me. “I have to get ready to go.”
“Oh…” I frown. “Right. You’re here on business. Well… I can find something to do while you’re gone. Kate was going to meet up with Ainsley and Eliza and they’ve been wanting to meet me. I’ll call her and see if I can tag along with them until you’re finished.”
“Why don’t you come with me?” he suggests and I raise an eyebrow at him.
“To a business dinner?” I ask. “I don’t know…”
“Why not? We’re going to a five star restaurant close to Times Square. It won’t be exorbitantly long and when we’re finished we could see Wicked at the Gershwin. Just you and me.”
“I don’t really have anything to wear…”
“We can take care of that. There’s a Saks not too far from here, I’ll call ahead and have something ready for you to pick up on the way.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to interfere with business or piss off Ros.”
“Don’t worry about Ros,” he says, rolling his eyes.
“You don’t think it’s all a little too… Pretty Woman-ish?“
“You’re my girlfriend, not a prostitute,” he argues. “It’s nothing like Pretty Woman.” He shifts me off of him so that he can roll out of bed, but as pulls his pants back over his hips and re-zips his fly, he pauses and looks down at me. “Although, maybe you shouldn’t order escargot. They made a joke out of that scene in the movie but in real life, that would be mortifying.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about that movie…” I tease him.
“Courtesy of Grace Trevelyan-Grey,” he replies.
“Uh huh,” I say dubiously. “You know, you can admit your love for Julia Roberts movies to me, Christian, I won’t judge you. I’ll even watch Erin Brockovich with you tonight.” He shakes his head with exasperation at the wide, teasing grin that stretches across my face and then leans over to kiss my forehead before turning back for the bathroom.
Thirty minutes later, we’re pulling away from Saks Fifth Avenue and I’m in a brand new, simple, black cocktail dress that looks identical to a billion other dresses in this world but, because of the Monique Lhuillier tags, cost almost two thousand dollars. Christian’s hand is wrapped lightly around mine in the backseat of the SUV but he’s staring pensively out the window at the city. The car is silent, except for the muffled sounds of sirens and traffic around us, and his reticence makes me wonder if he’s worrying about something until we hear a beep from the dash of the rental car that draws both of our attention. Taylor looks down at the screen, pushes a button, and then glances back at us through the rear-view mirror.
“There’s an accident on Madison, sir. Traffic is being redirected to 5th Avenue.”
“Take Park,” Christian replies.
“Yes, sir. That will add several minutes to our commute and we are running late…”
Christian lets out an irritated breath. “Fine, take 5th.”
Taylor nods and then signals for the turn lane while Christian entwines his fingers with mine and tightens his grip on my hand.
“What’s wrong with 5th Avenue?” I ask. He looks over at me, his beautiful face marred with deep frown lines.
“Nothing. I just… I don’t drive past the Empire State Building,” he says quietly.
“Oh…” I bite down on my lip awkwardly as he turns away from me and then squeeze his hand, trying to be reassuring, but as we approach the iconic skyscraper, I feel my own sense of unease. I’d been so anxious to see Christian this weekend, I hadn’t really thought too much about New York, except how I’d hoped this would be the start of new memories. I didn’t really consider how the old ones would change the atmosphere between us. Now, as we approach the Empire State Building and I stare out the window at the sidewalk where I’d once made a panicked decision to run for Penn Station to get away from him, I feel as though the streets around me are suddenly filled with the ghosts of the past. Is that why he’s so quiet? Why he wanted me with him tonight instead of going to meet Kate? I glance at him once more and see that he’s staring down at the floor between his knees, doing his best to remain passive but unable to entirely conceal pain haunting his eyes.
With my free hand, I reach down to unbuckle my seatbelt and then slide into the seat between us.
“What are you doing? Put your seatbelt back on,” he says immediately, but I ignore his protests and put his arm over my shoulder so that I can cuddle into his side.
“We’re almost there. I’m perfectly safe right here,” I tell him.
“You’re not,” he argues, but the force in his voice has disappeared. After a brief moment of hesitation, he sighs, tightens his grip around me, and then rests his head against mine, leaving soft kisses in my hair until we pull up along the curb a few blocks later.
The restaurant we’re going to is inside a hotel, which is very old New York with its high arches and intricate stone architecture. I pause on the sidewalk for a moment, staring up at the details of the building, until Christian wraps his hand around mine and leads me inside.
The restaurant itself has a vintage feel to it, with crisp, white linens on the tables and silk wallpaper covering the walls. Christian gives the maitre’d his name and is told our party has already been seated. He lets out a huff of irritation before he nods and we’re led to a table near the back of the restaurant, where I immediately recognize Ros sitting with two unfamiliar men in sharp, clean suits.
“Ah, here he is,” Ros says, sounding relieved, but when her eyes shift to me, her smile falters a little. “Anastasia, what a surprise.”
“I apologize for being late,” Christian says, ignoring Ros and turning to shake the hands of the men now standing at the table. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person. May I introduce you to my girlfriend, Anastasia Steele.”
“Hello,” I say, smiling broadly as I shake each of their hands. They’re both warm to me, which puts me a little more at ease, especially after Ros’s less than enthused reaction, then they each take their seats and pick up their menus.”
“I trust Ms. Bailey has already taken care of your drinks?” Christian asks.
“I don’t have your excellent taste in wine, I’m afraid,” Ros says, as she lowers herself back into her chair. Christian turns to the waiter, mumbles an order, and then pulls out a chair for me. I sit down and prepare myself for what is sure to be a long, boring dinner, but as Christian takes the seat between Ros and I, Ros leans over to him and I’m just able to make out what she says.
“You’re late and you brought your girlfriend with you? This isn’t a vacation, Christian.”
“Later,” he replies, his voice a low warning. I glance over at her and she gives me a tight smile in return.
“I’m sorry,” I mouth at her.
She quickly shakes her head and mouths back, “It’s fine.”
A few minutes later, the waiter returns with a bottle of wine and he fills each of our glasses before taking our orders. I sit back, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible as they begin discussing business, and begin scanning the room. Thankfully, there’s plenty to look at and some interesting people to watch at the tables around us, which helps to pass the time. I reach out for my glass while I covertly stare at a couple canoodling with each other a few tables away, but when I take a drink of the wine, I immediately want to spit it back into my glass.
There’s something off about the taste, like it’s sour or maybe too bitter. The few seconds I hold the liquid in my mouth are pure torture as I try to hold back my gag so that I can swallow. Once I successfully get it down, I reach out for my glass of water, trying to calm the lurching feeling in my stomach that threatens to bring the wine and bread from the table back up, and then glance nervously at the man Christian is talking to as he takes a drink himself. Strangely though, he doesn’t have any adverse reaction to the wine and as he places his glass back on the table, he swallows without complaint. My brow furrows as I pick up my wine, swirl it around in the glass, and then breathe in the aroma. The smell makes my stomach heave again, so I set it back down on the table and lean back in my chair, covering my lips with my fingers while actively trying not to ruin Christian’s meeting by throwing up all over the table.
Unfortunately, I’m not as sneaky about it as I think I am, because each person at the table intermittently glances over at me, but thankfully, the waiter appears with our food in that moment and distracts everyone’s attention.
“Are you okay?” Christian whispers, leaning over and brushing his fingers soothingly over my exposed knee under the table.
“Yeah, fine,” I reply dismissively. “I just don’t really like the wine.”
He frowns. “Do you want me to order you something else? A Riesling maybe?”
Just the word seems to trigger my gag reflex so I quickly shake my head. “I don’t think wine is agreeing with me right now.”
Christian glances up at the waiter as he places my plate in front of me. “Can we have an iced tea, please?”
“Of course, sir,” the waiter responds, and after checking to make sure we have everything else we need, he leaves the table to replace my drink.
The rest of the dinner goes well, I think. Ros definitely seems to perk up by the end and Christian shakes each of the men’s hands enthusiastically before they step into their town car once we leave.
“And that is how it’s done,” Ros says happily, watching their car drive away.
“I want to get this implementation off the ground as soon as possible,” Christian says, suddenly very serious. “Assemble the team and have Andrea schedule a meeting first thing Monday morning. I want only the best on this: Welch, Simmons, and Connor. Get ahold of the lawyers and have the contracts sent over no later than Wednesday. I’ll need a meeting with finance Monday afternoon. I want the business account set up beforehand so I can immediately allocate funds. This timeline is going to be quick, I want fast turnarounds and no excuses.”
“What about the developers? Welch isn’t going to…” Ros begins, but Christian cuts her off.
“I’ll handle Welch,” he says, a little too sharply. “Just do what I ask and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“If you say so,” Ros says, and she turns to me. “It was lovely to see you tonight, Anastasia. I hope we can get together soon when we can really catch up.”
“Me too,” I reply, stepping forward to hug her goodbye. Apparently, the meeting going well has erased her misgivings about my presence at dinner tonight. Christian steps out into the street to hail a cab, which Ros climbs into, and then comes back to me.
“Are you feeling okay?” He asks, brushing his fingers over my face as he searches my eyes. “Do you still want to go to the Gershwin or should we head back to the hotel?”
“No, I’m fine now,” I tell him. “Are we really just going to be able to show up and get tickets? I thought Wicked was a popular show?”
“I have connections,” He says, with a quick wink. “Come on, we’re going to be late.” He reaches his arm around me and then he leads me through the busy streets to the theater a few blocks away, holding me close against him to shield me from the chilly autumn night.
The next morning, I wake up and blindly reach over to pull myself against Christian, but he isn’t in the bed next to me. I lean up and turn to the bathroom, thinking he might be in the shower, but the bathroom is dark. My body deflates with disappointment and I briefly consider just going back to sleep for a while, and then maybe calling Luke and making him entertain me for the day, but when I turn back around, I see a note on Christian’s pillow.
I’m sorry I didn’t wake you, but you looked so peaceful I didn’t have the heart to disturb you. I rearranged my schedule today so that we can leave for Cambridge by 2 o’clock. Please get ahold of Kate and make sure she’s ready to fly out by then. Taylor and Luke are driving your car back to Boston now and will pick us up from the airport. There’s a gym downstairs and a spa, feel free to charge whatever you want to the room.
I love you.
I re-read the note three times, and while I’m happy that we’ll be heading home sooner than I anticipated, I am a little disappointed that Luke isn’t here. I was looking forward to walking through the Met this afternoon, and I actually thought he’d enjoy that. Despite the lack of sophistication in most of his interests, he did seem to have a good time at the art museums we’ve visited in Boston a few times. I decide that maybe I’ll ask Kate to join me instead, and since I need to make sure she’s ready to leave when Christian is anyway, I pick up my phone and dial her number.
“Morning, sunshine,” She answers almost immediately.
“How was Whisper?” I ask. “I’m actually surprised you’re up this early. Aren’t you wrecked?”
“I haven’t been to bed, actually.”
“Oh,” I reply, disappointed because I assume she’s probably going to want to come back to the hotel and sleep. “Well, I was going to ask you if you wanted to go to the Met with me this morning since Luke and Taylor are driving the car back to Cambridge right now. Christian wants to fly home by two.”
“Oh… sorry, babe. I’m going shopping with Ainsley and Eliza this morning.”
“Yeah, you want to come? I had to change from what I was wearing last night, so I just left the hotel. We’re getting coffee at this cute little café up the block from you and then we’re going to take Eliza’s town car up to Midtown. We can wait if you want to join us, they’re dying to meet you.”
“I don’t think I can…” I say hesitantly. “Not that I don’t want to, but I don’t have security with me.”
“Ainsley does!” Kate says happily. “Her sister was mugged a few weeks ago so her father hired security for their whole family. We’re perfectly safe, come out with us!”
I bite down on my lip. I have been wanting to meet Kate’s new friends for weeks, but it’s been impossible with my trips to Seattle and their refusal to leave Manhattan. I don’t know if I’ll get another chance…
“Where’s the coffee shop?” I ask.
“Murray and Greenwich.”
So really just around the corner. “Okay,” I agree. “I’ll get dressed and meet you there in twenty.”
“Sounds good! See you soon, Ana!”
I hang up the phone and then scramble out of bed, dialing Christian’s number as I pull clothes out of my suitcase.
“I can’t really talk now, baby…” He answers.
“I know, I just wanted to let you know that I’m going shopping in Midtown with Kate but I’ll be back before two.”
“You don’t have security,” He argues.
“I know, but Ainsley Callaway does.”
“I don’t feel any better about you spending the afternoon with socialites, either,” He says. “I just saw a magazine cover this morning that claimed a bag of cocaine had fallen out of Callaway’s purse on her way into a club last weekend.”
“Well, we can both be sympathetic to false stories printed in magazines…”
“And if it’s not false? I don’t want your name associated with stories like that.”
“We’re just going shopping, Christian. I’ll be on my best behavior and if the paparazzi show up, I’ll grab Kate and we’ll take a cab to the hotel.”
“I know, Ros, I’m coming,” Christian hisses on the other end of the phone. “Alright, if you want to go, then go. Just, stay close to their hired security, and keep away from nightclubs and sex shops this time, please.”
“I’ll do my best. Love you!”
“I love you too, I’ll see you this afternoon.”
It takes a little longer for me to get dressed after I hang up the phone than I intended as Christian’s comment about the paparazzi has reminded me that Ainsley and Eliza are famous for their impeccable fashion sense and I don’t want to be photographed looking frumpy or poorly dressed next to either of them or flawless Kate. Thankfully, I have the Chanel jacket and purse that Christian bought me for my birthday and it adds just enough to my skinny jeans to make it look like I didn’t throw an outfit together out of a suitcase on short notice.
Once I’ve run a brush through my hair and applied some basic make up, I throw on a pair of sunglasses and then head downstairs. I’m running a little bit later than I told Kate, so I thought I would hail a cab, but the streets of the business district of lower Manhattan are congested at 9:30 in the morning and I ultimately decide it’s faster to walk.
When I get to the coffee shop, I find Kate sitting in the corner with two girls, who are both dressed like they’ve just walked off a runway somewhere. I know from previous conversations I’ve had with Kate, and the few magazine stories that I actually remember, that the stick thin girl with platinum hair is Ainsley Callaway and the girl with very full, dark brown hair on her right is Eliza Whitney. Kate looks up and smiles at me, waving her arm excitedly as she gestures me towards the table. Neither Ainsley nor Eliza turn around.
“Ana!” Kate chirps when I reach their table. “I’m so happy you made it, this is Ainsley and Eliza.”
Ainsley looks up at me, giving me an overly sweet smile before getting out of her chair and wrapping me in a limp hug. Eliza on the other hand, is much more reserved.
“It’s so wonderful to finally meet you, Anastasia,” Ainsley says, in a strange baby-talk kind of voice. “Katie has told us so much about you.”
“All good things, I hope,” I smile back at her, and then take the empty seat next to Kate. There’s a hot latte waiting for me and as I take a sip, I shoot Kate a grateful smile.
“So, you’re dating Christian Grey?” Eliza asks.
“Uh… yeah,” I reply, a little taken aback by the immediate question. I’m sure there’s some kind of decorum about getting to know people that we’ve skipped over.
“How long have you been together?” Ainsley asks.
“Off and on for a couple years.”
“How off?” Eliza replies, and I furrow my brow at her. I’ve literally never spoken to this person in my life, and she’s going to start off with when are you going to break up with your boyfriend?
“Lizzie, don’t be rude!” Ainsley exclaims, before turning back to me. “Ignore her, she’s jealous.”
Eliza turns a cold look on her, but rather than get defensive, Ainsley just shrugs. “What? You are. About a year ago, Lizzie tried to corner Grey at a gallery opening on the West Side but he barely said two words to her. It’s become pretty par the course for her. She’s been trying to rope in a billionaire for her very own for some time now, but some girls just aren’t pretty enough, right Lizzie?”
“You’re such a bitch,” Eliza says under her breath and, even though we’re talking about her trying to move in on my boyfriend, listening to Ainsley just opening insult her like that and watching her cheeks flush with humiliation while she takes a drink from her coffee, makes me feel horrible for her.
“If that’s what happened, I don’t think it was personal. Christian’s not like that, he just… I mean, even when we weren’t together, neither one of us were really interested in seeing other people.”
“So he’s like, totally obsessed with you then?’ Ainsley asks, her demeanor brightening again.
“Obsessed is a strong word,” I reply awkwardly. “We love each other.”
“Oh, come on, Anastasia! Own it! When Katie told me you were dating the hottest bachelor on the west coast, I went and read some stories about the two of you, and I saw your Elizabeth Vargas interview. He’s obsessed with you, and why shouldn’t he be? You’re gorgeous!”
Eliza’s jaw tightens and I watch her knuckles turn white as she grips her coffee cup. Kate nudges me a little under the table, so I turn back to Ainsley, who is looking at me expectantly, like she’s actually waiting for me to respond to that after what she just said to her own best friend.
“Thank you?” I reply uncertainly, and she quickly turns to Eliza.
“You hear that, Lizzie? She thinks she’s prettier than you are.”
“I didn’t say that!” I exclaim defensively, but Ainsley simply turns her saccharine smile back on me, ignoring my protest, and changes the subject.
“What do your parents do?” She asks.
“Your parents,” She repeats. “I’ve never heard of a Steele before.”
“You probably wouldn’t have,” I tell her, clearly irritated now. “My father is in the military and my mother is a housewife. Her husband manages a golf course in Savannah.”
Her lips creep slowly creep upwards into an almost vindictive smile. “So you’re no one?”
“She’s not no one,” Kate interjects. “She’s my best friend and one of my favorite people in the world. You would do well to remember that, Ainsley.”
Ainsley looks over at her, but when Kate’s ice cold gaze doesn’t falter under her haughty, superiority, she lifts her fingers to her lips and looks over at me with remorse.
“Oh my god, that came out so rude. I’m so sorry, Anastasia. I didn’t mean like you’re no one, I just meant that like, you didn’t come from money, and that’s incredible. Especially since you go to Harvard with Katie. You must be so smart.”
“Uh huh,” I say, openly disgusted now. I’ve been around privileged little princesses like Ainsley at Harvard enough to know exactly what’s going on here, and it’s like I can taste the power struggle. She’s asserting dominance. Clearly, she’s the authoritarian in her little pack of beautiful rich girls and she wants to make that very clear to me before she invites me in. She tries to hide it behind a sweet, overly girly facade, but this girl is vicious and not only do I want nothing to do with her, I’m not sure I want Kate around her either. But unfortunately, that’s not my choice.
Ainsley winks at me and then places her cup on the table, tossing her long, perfect hair over her shoulder and beaming around at us. “Well girls, 5th Avenue is not going to clean itself out. Let’s get to it.”
Kate and Eliza push their chairs back and slowly get up from the table, but I don’t budge. I’d rather spend an afternoon alone than having Ainsley Callaway metaphorically humping my leg all day.
“Coming, Ana?” Kate asks, but I shake my head.
“I think I’m just going to head back to the hotel,” I tell her. “I’m not really in the mood to shop anymore.”
“You’re sure?” She asks, and I nod.
“Yeah, have fun. And be back by two, please. Christian will freak out if you’re late.”
“I’ll get her back, safe and sound,” Ainsley says. I give her a tight, closed lip smile and then wave good-bye to Kate as they leave the coffee shop, followed by a large man with dark sunglasses I hadn’t noticed standing in the corner behind us. Unfortunately, I’m not actually in a rush to get back to the hotel and sit around, and I briefly consider going to the Met alone, but I know that Christian won’t be happy if he finds out that I wandered around New York all afternoon by myself without security. I take my time to finish my coffee and even linger a while to watch the people passing through the window next to me, but eventually, I have no choice but to get up and gather my things to leave.
I’m just pulling my Chanel jacket over my shoulders when I turn around and immediately feel my stomach drop. A familiar set of bourbon eyes are starting intently at me from across the café. It’s Leila, and she’s not alone. She’s sitting across from a man in a black leather jacket, who has his back to me, but she isn’t looking at him. She’s focused so intently at me that it actually makes a shiver of fear crawl up my spine. What is she doing here?
Immediately, I begin digging in my purse, searching for my phone, but it isn’t there. I look again, shuffling the same things around and even shaking my bag slightly, but I can’t find it. Fuck, did I leave it in the hotel room?
My stomach drops as I remember that I set it on the bedside table after I got off the phone with Kate, but never went back to retrieve it. I don’t have a way to call anyone to come and get me, and suddenly, I find myself wishing I would have left with Kate and her friends. I wish Luke was here with me. I wish Christian, or Taylor, or even Ros would walk through the door and take me safely back to the hotel, but I know that’s not going to happen. I’m alone.
The only thing I can do now is get out of here and get back to the hotel as quickly as possible, so I throw my purse over my shoulder and make a beeline for the door. My eyes are trained on Leila as I make my way out of the cafe and, since she doesn’t move when I do, I almost think I’m overreacting to her being there, until I get to the door and the guy sitting across from her reaches beneath the back collar of his jacket, pulls a black hoodie over his head, and then slowly gets up from the table.
Panic seizes every muscle in my body and as my fight or flight response kicks in, I choose flight and make a run for it. Shoving against the heavy glass door that is hindered by the wind funneling through the tightly packed buildings, I make my way out into the street and walk briskly through the crowded sidewalk towards my hotel. Seconds later, the hooded man from the café appears and he follows after me, his strides longer and quicker than mine. I move faster, actually running now as I try to push through the crowds, but when I turn around to find him again, I see that he’s still keeping pace with me.
Tears prick in my eyes as my mind begins to race with the wild, terrifying nightmares of what could be about to happen, especially since Christian thinks I’m out with Kate and will have no reason to contact me until he comes back later this afternoon and finds that Kate has returned to the hotel without me. What if this stranger grabs me? How far would he get before anyone even realizes I’m gone?
The possibilities make my stomach roil and the tears come faster, blurring my vision, as the fear overcomes me. I round the corner, praying I can just make it one more block to the hotel, that he doesn’t turn the corner after me, that I’m just being paranoid, but the second I turn onto the adjoining street, I suddenly run into something solid, and feel fingers grip tightly around my arms.
“No!” I scream, fighting against the strong hands that now have a hold of me.
“Ana, stop!” A familiar voice commands, and the sound of my name makes me freeze. I turn, look up, and see Luke looking down at me, clearly alarmed, and as I feel the relief of safety wash over me, I break down into tears. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?” He asks.
“I… I think I’m being followed,” I tell him. His head snaps up immediately so that he can scan the sidewalk behind me. I turn too, but I no longer see the man who was behind me. Dozens of people in business suits are moving quickly around us, shouting into their cellphones or hurrying by without giving a second glance to anyone else, but I can no longer see the tell-tale black hood.
“Who?” He asks.
“I…” I hesitate again, scanning the faces around me more insistently. “He was just there. He was behind me. But I don’t see him…”
“What did he look like?”
“Uh, tall. Bulky. He had a black leather jacket and a hoodie.”
Luke reaches down for my hand, holding it tightly as he maneuvers to the corner, keeping me shielded against the building while he peers down the conjoining street. I’m silent, still shaking as my eyes dart between the faces of each person who passes, but after maybe a full minute, Luke turns back to me.
“I don’t see anyone. Ana, you’re shaking. Are you okay?”
“No,” I shake my head.
“Let’s get you back to the hotel,” He says, pulling against my forearm. I go willingly, wanting nothing more than to get as far away from here as possible, to lock myself in my hotel room with Luke sitting right beside me. Even knowing that I’m safe now with my CPO gripping tightly to my arm, I still feel the residual fear of what could have almost just happened, what I’m sure was about to happen, had Luke not miraculously appeared out of nowhere. He was right behind me, he was keeping up with me, he was following me with his eyes. I know it’s not a coincidence that he left when I did, especially since he was with Leila. But where did he go?
When we get to the hotel, Luke leads me straight to the elevator and hits the number for our floor. The doors close and he rounds on me.
“What happened?” He demands.
“I saw Leila,” I tell him, still not fully in control of my breathing. “I was leaving the coffee shop and I saw Leila. She was staring at me, like she knew something was about to happen. I got up to leave and the guy she was sitting with pulled a hood over his head and followed after me. I ran, and he was coming after me, and then I ran into you.” The moment the words come out of my mouth, I suddenly remember that this should have been impossible. There’s a reason I didn’t take Luke to the coffee shop with me this morning, he isn’t supposed to be here. “What are you doing here anyway? Christian said you and Taylor were driving my car back to Cambridge.”
“I knew you wouldn’t stay in the hotel,” He says. “When Grey called us this morning, I thought it was ridiculous that he actually thought you would wait around for him all day, especially since Kate is in town. I asked Taylor if he would be okay taking the car back on his own and he agreed. But, when I came up here to check on you this morning, you were already gone. I found your phone in the bedroom and saw that you’d called Kate, so I called her and she told me she left you at the coffee shop on the corner.”
The elevator doors open and Luke leads me into the hallway and down to the room. I feel immeasurably better once we’re locked inside, but now that the panic has subsided, I don’t know what we do from here.
“Luke, I don’t feel safe with Leila around. I believed her when she said that she was just here for school, but she’s not. She’s following me. I saw her on campus with Christian, then at that party, and now here. She followed me here and I think… after what just happened, I think she wants to hurt me.”
Luke reaches out and pulls me into him, holding me closely against his chest as I continue to shake. “I won’t let her,” He promises. “I’ll look into her. If she’s planning something, I’ll find out what it is and I’ll stop her. I’ll keep you safe, but you have to help me, Ana.”
“No more going out on your own,” He says firmly. “I don’t care if you’re going to the coffee shop on the corner, or to class, or to the store to pick up a gallon of milk, you don’t go anywhere alone.”
“Okay,” I agree hurriedly, and honestly after what just happened down on the street, that doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice. I don’t want to be alone. I never want to be in that situation again.
“Good,” He nods, but as he stares down at me, I can see the tension building behind his eyes.
“I just… I don’t know what I’m going to say to Grey.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s already uncomfortable having Leila living in the same city as you. If I tell him that we perceive her to be a real threat to your safety, he’s going to try and pull you out of school and bring you back to Seattle.”
“Oh,” I hesitate, and then look away because I know he’s right. I’d honestly expected him to ask me to come home when I’d told him she had moved to Cambridge in the first place. If he knows that she’s following me…
“I can’t leave Harvard,” I argue as I look back up at him. “My dad…”
“I know,” He cuts me off, and then takes a deep breath. “But you said yourself you don’t feel safe. I don’t want to put you at risk, maybe… maybe you should go home.”
I stare back at him, feeling almost a little betrayed by his suggestion, but when the imploring nature of his gaze doesn’t diminish, I let out a defeated sigh and drop my head, covering my face with my hands.
“Ana…” Luke says after a few moments, and when I turn to look up at him again, there are tears in my eyes.
“What did I do to deserve this, Luke?” I ask him. “I’m a good person. I’m nice to people, I do whatever I can to help people when they need me. I worked hard to get into Harvard. I didn’t get in because I’m a legacy or my parents have a lot of money. I sacrificed, my father sacrificed. It means everything to me.”
“I know,” He agrees.
“So why do I have to lose it?” I demand, the tears more insistent now. “What did I do? All I did was fall in love and now it’s like everyone around me is trying to ruin everything I’ve worked so hard for. People fall in love everyday, all over the world, and they don’t have to lose anything. So, why do I?”
“I don’t know, Ana.”
“It’s constant, Luke. Ever since we’ve been back together, it’s just one thing after another. Like the universe is trying to force me to choose between Christian or Harvard. I don’t want to choose. If I choose Harvard, I hurt Christian. If I choose Christian, I hurt my father. If I give up either one, I hurt myself. Why is it like this?”
He moves to sit next to me on the couch, wrapping me in his arms and pulling me into his chest, letting me cry into his shirt while he gently rocks me back and forth.
“I can’t choose, Luke.”
“You don’t have to choose,” He says at last. “I’ll talk to Taylor. We’ll come up with a plan to keep you safe, and to keep you in Cambridge. I don’t know how, but we’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I won’t tell Grey about Leila.”
“No. But Ana, you have to help me here. We have to be smart about this. If I don’t tell Grey that I know Leila is a threat, and I keep you here, and then something happens to you…”
“Okay,” I nod, and then I let out a long, breath to try and relieve some of the anxiety of this morning. “I’ll be perfect, I promise.”
“Good,” He says. We’re quiet for another few minutes, while I try and sort through everything that’s happened and attempt to relax the tension still gripping tightly to every muscle in my body. After reading Christian’s note when I woke up, I thought I was going to be bored all day, but that has certainly not been the case. Boredom actually sounds really good right now.
“You’re still shaking,” He tells, me, rubbing his hands comfortingly over my arms. “Why don’t you go lay down for awhile?”
“Yeah,” I agree. “Thanks, Luke.” He nods as I turn and head back for the bedroom. Once I’m inside, I shrug out of my jacket and then climb into the bed, hugging a pillow tightly and taking deep, calming breaths to try and regain my full composure before Christian gets back.