Chapter 12

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The long plane rides, jet lag, and the constant feeling of never being settled over the past few months has made me forget how much I really love being home. Besides being surrounded again by the familiar city and the comforting, ever present rain, having long and numerous days where Christian and I can curl up together in front of the fireplace and read a book, or even spend an afternoon out on the sound on the yacht has felt oddly indulgent. Even when he has to go into work, there’s something about just being in our apartment that makes me feel close to him, though that could be because I’ve been using the time alone to talk with Barney from his R&D department to see if he can help me on a gift I’ve planned for Christian for Christmas.

When Monday comes, and I immediately feel an overwhelming sense of relief that I don’t have to fly back to Boston, I realize that I’ve convinced myself that having three days a week at home is enough to feel like Christian and I aren’t really living apart, but even just the first few unrushed days home makes me see that isn’t true. I’m home sick, and now that I know that, I think going back to Cambridge at the end of the week is going to feel impossible. Especially because with dead week and finals just around the corner, I probably won’t be able to fly home for any of the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break. That is  if I can go home at all…

“What time is my Mom’s flight getting in?” I ask Christian as I clear away the last of our breakfast dishes Wednesday morning.

“Not until this evening,” He replies.

“Are you going to work today?”

“No,” He shakes his head. “I’m keeping my phone on, but, physically, I’m yours for the rest of the week.”

“Mmm,” I hum approvingly as I feel him come up behind me. “Well, whatever will we do until my parents arrive?”

“Actually, I have some errands to run this afternoon and I’d hoped you go with me before we go to the airport.”

“Errands?” I repeat, curious, and he wraps his arms around me, resting both his hands over my stomach.

“Yes, some… shopping.”

I turn in his arms and look at him suspiciously, but he gives me an innocent, and extremely sexy, smile, then leans down to kiss my lips. I moan softly into his mouth and pull my body close to him, repeating a silent prayer in my head that the ever present morning sickness doesn’t rear it’s ugly head and break us apart. I briefly wonder if he’s worried too, because he seems hesitant at first, but once I slip my tongue into his mouth, he reaches down for my hips and lifts me onto the counter, pulling me close to the edge so I can feel his quickly growing erection between my legs. A shiver of anticipation washes through me when he reaches down for the hem of my t-shirt, but before he’s even begun to pull it over my head, we hear the ping of the elevator and seconds later Luke steps into the great room, followed closely by Taylor.

“One of these days,” He begins, whispering against my lips. “I am going to fuck you on a kitchen counter.”

I laugh and then take his hand as he helps me back onto the floor so that we can both head back into the bedroom to change for whatever shopping Christian has planned for the day. I move to the dresser to find a pair of jeans, but stop when I see him take one of his best suits off the hanger.

“What are we doing?” I ask, unsure whether or not I should also be dressing up, but he doesn’t answer me. Instead, he moves to my side of the closet and pulls out a navy, knee length Diane von Furstenberg sweater dress, one of the many additions that has been made to my closet in my absence, and hands it to me.

“Wear this,” He says.

“So, fancy errands, then?”

“Fancy errands?” He repeats, smiling again, and I shrug before stripping out of my clothes and changing into the dress Christian picked out.

We head back out into the living room, but as I begin to slip my coat onto my arms, Taylor steps forward and pulls Christian aside. I pause, looking over at them curiously, and when I hear Taylor say, “It’s Welch, sir,” Christian immediately turns towards his office without another word.

“It might be a minute,” Luke tells me, nodding towards my coat, so I let out a long, drawn out breath, drop my coat on the couch, and then turn the news on the TV to get an update on what’s going on on the east coast.

The state of emergency still hasn’t been lifted from the storm, and the past few days has been non-stop footage of rescues, flooding, devastated houses and business, looting and crime, and pleas for donations and supplies. Today though, there seems to be some hope. The snow has stopped, and the transformers that were damaged in the initial wave of the storm have been repaired so power has been restored to a lot of the homes that have been without it since last Friday. Most of the news seems to focus on New York, where the devastation was the worst, so I have to watch the ticker at the bottom of the screen for an update on Boston. It takes a moment, but eventually, I see:

Boston: Emergency crews deployed to clear roads and free thousands of people trapped in their homes

“We would still be there, Luke,” I whisper, my voice shaking slightly as I think of all the people, even in my own neighborhood, who didn’t get out like we did.

“Well, they’re getting out now,” He says reassuringly as he comes to sit on the couch next to me. “Cambridge was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. We should at least be grateful for that.”

“Yeah,” I nod. “But, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So many people aren’t going to be able to sit down and have dinner with their families because they’re going to have to deal with the aftermath of the storm. It’s not fair.”

“I know,” Luke agrees, and after a few more seconds of watching the reporter on the TV talking in front of a Red Cross station, I decide that I’m going to ask Christian to donate to the relief effort. We can’t be there right now to help those who need it, but we can do something. I got out and I’m okay, because I had Christian. If he hadn’t come, I’d still be there, and with how dire our situation was Saturday, with no food and a quickly dwindling heat supply, I can’t imagine where we’d be now…

Christian comes back down the hallway then, looking tense and a little pissed off. He takes the his coat from Taylor and then looks expectantly at me.

“Are you ready?” He asks, his voice a little too sharp.

“Yeah,” I say quickly. I reach over for my own coat, then take his hand and allow him to lead me back to the elevator, wondering if I should ask him what’s wrong or what’s going on with Welch. When I look over at Taylor though, I see him very subtly shake his head.

So… something bad then.

I bite down on my lip, holding back the questions that desperately want to bubble out through my teeth, and then untangle my fingers from Christian’s so that I can wrap my arms around him instead. He’s still for a moment, but just before we hear the high ping that announces the elevator’s arrival, I feel his body relax a little, and his lips press softly into my hair.

When we pull out of the garage under Escala, I don’t pay much attention to where we’re going until I see Taylor signal for the I-90 towards Bellevue.

“Are we going to your parent’s house?” I ask, but Christian, who is looking down at his phone, simply shakes his head no. My lips press together as I glance out the window and at the water around the floating bridge, but my curiosity is getting the better of me.

“Are we going to Elliot’s house?” I ask hopefully.

“No,” Christian replies.

“Then where?” I ask. He looks over and smiles at me, reaches down for my fingers and brings them up to his lips, and then turns his attention back to whatever it is that has him so preoccupied on his phone. Clearly, he isn’t going to tell me.

“Sawyer, what’s the status on the Cambridge house?” Christian asks, as we pass through the long tunnels on Mercer Island and he loses cell reception.

“Emergency crews were deployed this morning,” Luke answers. “The roads are supposed to be cleared by this evening.”

“Good, then hire a crew to start work on the structural damage first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke replies. “Though, it may be difficult to get workers there in the morning with the amount of work that has to be done throughout the city and… well, the holiday.”

“That’s not my problem,” Christian says. “Find someone available and pay them whatever it takes. Unless…” He glances over at me and I give him a wry, exasperated look.

“I’m going back to Harvard, Christian.”

“And if the house isn’t fixed?” He challenges me. “If it takes me oh… three, four weeks to have the damage repaired?”

“Then I guess I’ll have to stay with Carter until finals are over,” I reply sweetly, and he immediately frowns, then looks back up at Luke.

“The house has to be livable by Sunday. Do whatever it takes to ensure it gets done.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says.

“Taylor, where are we on Leila?” Christian asks, and, suddenly, I feel my the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I have to work really hard to keep the look of panic off my face. I look up and make eye contact with Taylor in the rear-view mirror for a split second before he answers.

“Nothing to report, sir,” He says. “It appears as though she’s gone home to spend the holiday week with her family in Hartford.”

“Hmm,” Christian hums disinterestedly as we make it out of the tunnel and he has cell reception again.

“You’re…” I hesitate, unsure if I want to draw more attention to the topic or not, “You’re watching Leila?”

“Of course I am,” He says dismissively, still not looking up at me. “You’re pregnant, I’m not taking any chances anymore. Your safety is imperative to me.”

“So, only since we found out I was pregnant?” I ask, before I can stop myself, and he looks up at me suspiciously.

“I suppose… why?”

“Nothing,” I say, shaking my head quickly. “I just… I didn’t know you were worried about it.”

“You know me,” He says. “I’m worried about everything.”

“Right,” I try to smile, but I’m afraid it’s more of a grimace as I look up at Taylor again. He glances back at me, his expression unreadable, but soon looks back at the road as we pull into the parking lot in front of a luxury car dealership.

“Ready?” Christian asks, excited now as he slips his phone into his jacket pocket and reaches for the door handle.

“A car dealership?” I ask, but he simply smiles and climbs out of the car.

I’m a little shocked as I make my way around the SUV to take Christian’s hand and I glance over the cars we pass by: Mercedes, Bentley, Rolls Royce… even a few I’ve never heard of before but look like the kind of sleek sports cars you see on magazine covers or in spy movies. We head inside and are greeted by a man in an impeccable black suit, who greets Christian by name.

“Mr. Grey, welcome back.”

“Thank you, Lewis,” Christian says. “Is she ready?”

“Of course, sir. Please, follow me.”

I feel Christian’s fingers tighten around mine as we head through a side door off the main gallery room and into another room with polished white floors framed and blinding white walls. It all looks very clinical.

“I’ll have them bring it in now,” Lewis says, “Would you care for some champagne while you wait?”

“No, thank you,” Christian says, turning to me and giving me a sly half-smile. I roll my eyes as Lewis nods and turns to leave the room.

“This all seems like a lot of production,” I say, once we’re alone.

“Of course it is,” Christian replies. “This is really special.”

“You’re buying another car?” I ask, thinking of the Mercedes SUV out in the parking lot and the Maybach in the parking garage back home, not to mention my Lexus back in Cambridge.

“Of course,” Christian says. “I gave my Bugatti to Elliot. The Maybach is fine but I need something with a little more… speed.”

I raise a questioning eyebrow at him, but suddenly, the room is filled with the low groan of the garage door on the wall to the left of us opening, and I turn to watch as a sleek looking sports car pulls out onto the white floor in front of us. It’s unlike any car I’ve ever seen before, low to the ground, painted a matte smoky gray, and has huge black wheels. The engine is extraordinarily loud, and, when it comes to a stop in front of us and the driver gets out, I actually gasp when the doors open vertically, instead of horizontally like I’m used to. It’s like the Delorean from Back to the Future if it had been built by Batman.

“The Lamborghini Reventon,” Lewis says, coming up behind us again. “Ordered from the manufacturer specially for you, Mr. Grey. Only twenty of these beauties exist in the entire world.”

“It’s beautiful,” Christian says, looking down at the car almost hungrily. “Tell me about it.”

He releases my hand and follows Lewis around the car, listening to the extremely detailed list of specifications and features of the car. It takes him nearly twenty minutes to tell Christian everything there is to know and after they look over every single inch of the exterior and interior, Lewis gives Christian a challenging smile.

“Do you want to take it for a test drive?”

“Yes,” Christian nods. “Ana?”

“Uh… sure,” I say, and his face breaks into a wide smile. I take a step forward towards the car and slip into the front seat after Christian pulls open the door for me. Immediately, I realize that I’m never going to be able to get into this car by myself as the door opens so high over my head, I can’t reach the handle to pull it back down. Christian doesn’t have a problem though, and for a brief moment after he’s closed me inside, I’m alone in the car, surrounded by the smell of new leather, and I can feel the vibrations from the engine in my seat.

“Alright,” Christian says excitedly, once he’s closed himself into the driver’s seat. “Fasten your seatbelt.”

“You know, there isn’t room in here for a car seat…” I say pointedly.

“I have cars that can accommodate a car seat,” He tells me. “This is for us.”

Us,” I repeat, rolling my eyes.

He wags his eyebrows at me for a moment and I shake my head with exasperation, pulling my seatbelt over me as he shifts the car into reverse and we pull backwards through the garage door and swing around the building towards the parking lot. I wave at Luke and Taylor through the window as Christian pulls onto the street, though I don’t think they can see me through the darkly tinted windows, and then settle back into the seat as Christian flirts with the speed limit all the way back to the freeway.

Once we’re back on the I-90, and he has open highway in front of him, he hits the gas, weaving through the sparse, late-morning traffic all the way back to Seattle.

He looks like a kid on Christmas as he revs the engine and glides seemingly effortlessly across the five lane highway, and his excitement is so infectious I find that even I can’t keep the smile off my face. I don’t know how far he plans on actually driving, but we make it all the way to North Seattle before he finally signals for an exit off the freeway. Once we merge off the I-5 though, he doesn’t turn to head back. Instead, he takes a right and makes his way deeper into the university district until we pass a sign that says Laurelhurst. We wind our way through the unfamiliar streets until he slides into an empty parking place on the side of the road in front of a small ice cream shop.

“Come on,” He says, and I give him a confused look.

“Ice cream?”

“It’s one of your cravings, isn’t it?” He asks, and when I nod, he leans over, kisses me softly on the lips, and then gets out of the car.

Once I’ve secured a single scoop of mint chocolate chip on a sugar cone, Christian takes me by the hand and leads me out of the shop. I’m obviously not allowed to eat ice cream in Lamborghini so, since it’s a surprisingly mild and dry day for late November, we decide to take a walk through the neighborhood.

It’s actually really beautiful here. This block is lined with interesting shops, high end stores, and carts with fresh flowers on the sidewalks, and, once we make it a few streets over into the residential area, we’re treated to magnificent views of Lake Washington and block after block of amazing houses, with children laughing and playing together in the streets. It’s winter, so it’s hard to see now, but as I look at the trees lining the road, I imagine that it’s absolutely beautiful here in the spring and the summer.

We make it to the largest house at the end of the block and, suddenly, Christian pulls gently on my hand to stop me.

“What do you think? He asks.

“About what?”

“The neighborhood,” He clarifies, and I shrug.

“It’s beautiful,” I tell him. He smiles and then turns to the gate blocking the walkway to the house in front of us and enters a code into the box above the handle. I look at him suspiciously when I hear the lock click open, and his smile only broadens as we make our way inside and up the cobbled walkway.

“What are we doing?” I ask as he reaches out to open the front door, without so much as knocking.

“You’ll see,” He says.

My eyes widen as we step into the grand entrance hall. There are two staircases curving down towards us from the second floor and between them, a hallway punctuated by a floor to ceiling length window that gives us an amazing view of the lake behind the house.

“Mr. Grey?” A woman’s voice asks, and I turn to the left to see a woman with black hair tied back in a bun on top of her head looking at us expectantly.

“Miss Kelley,” Christian greets her. “I hope we’re not too early.”

“Not at all,” She says, smiling broadly at the two of us. “You must be Anastasia?”

“Uh… yes,” I reply, only just remembering myself as she reaches out to shake my hand.

“Olga Kelley,” She introduces herself. “I’m the real estate manager for this property. Shall we take a look?”

“Please,” Christian says, motioning her forward, and as she takes the steps through the entrance hall into the main room, I stop Christian so that we fall behind out of earshot.

“Real estate manager?” I ask him, and he smiles down at me before wrapping his hand around mine and leading me after Ms. Kelley.

The house is enormous with five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and over 8,000 square feet of living space. Though Ms. Kelley tells us the house was built in 1928, it looks newly renovated on the inside, with the exception of a few rooms that are covered in wood panelling. It’s three stories, if you include the finished basement, and comes complete with a full gym, movie theater, a garage that has multiple levels, and an enormous wine cellar. The master bedroom is the only bedroom on the first floor, but is bigger than the entire downstairs of my house back in Cambridge, with his and hers closets and a bathroom that has a tub big enough to swim laps in.

Once we make our way through the house, Ms. Kelley takes us through the backdoor to view the rest of the property and immediately, my mouth pops open. I’m standing on a terrace high over the back yard, but it isn’t just a backyard, it’s a park. The expansive lawn slopes right down to the water’s edge and includes a tennis court, a pool, and a professionally manicured garden. The terrace I’m standing on is enormous, more than large enough for us to fit everyone we know comfortably, and comes complete with a full outdoor kitchen on the other side of the covered sitting area.

I walk to the railing next to the first set of stairs that leads down to the lawn, and stare out over the water, simply amazed by how stunning the view is.

“There’s a private dock down on the water there,” Christian says, coming up behind me. “We could get a sailboat and spend summer afternoons out on the lake. My parents’ house is just across the water. We could sail back and forth when the weather is nice.”

“You really want to buy this house?” I ask, turning to look at him.

“I do,” He nods. “But only if you love it.”

“I thought you liked the penthouse and being in the middle of the city?”

“I do. I did,” He says. “But we’re having a family, Ana. I don’t want to raise a baby in Escala. It’s thirty stories in the sky and is covered in marble with sharp corners. That place is a death trap. Besides, our child should have a yard and neighbors with children to play with. We could have a life here.”

I look up into his eyes and feel warmth wash over me as I begin to imagine our future here together. Summer barbeques with the entire family out on this very terrace, teaching our children to swim from the dock in our own back yard, Christmases around the giant fireplace in the family room, movie nights in the home theater in the basement. It’s so perfect it feels like a fantasy, and as I feel his hands slide down to my belly, I know we wouldn’t just have a life here, we would be truly happy here.

“I love it,” I tell him. “I love everything about it.”

“So you want to take it?”

“I do.”

He smiles down at me and then presses his lips into mine. It’s hard to kiss him since I can’t control my smile as I continue to imagine the future in this house with him, and when he pulls away, I feel as though I must be beaming.

“Stay here,” He tells me. “I’ll let Ms. Kelley know that we’ll take it.”

“Okay,” I nod, but before he turns away, he reaches up to cup my cheek, again looking adoringly into my eyes.

“Welcome home, baby.”

It takes a while for Christian to work through the initial details with Ms. Kelley and get her the right contact information with his people to start the process of buying the house, and after I’ve recovered from my near heart attack from hearing the $14.5 million dollar price tag, he leads me from the house and back up the street towards the Lamborghini.

“A new car and a new house,” I say as we start back towards the dealership. “This has been quite the productive day for you, Mr. Grey.”

“The house is for the baby,” He clarifies. “But the car is for me, and before I decide to buy, I need to make sure of one thing first…”

I look at him curiously as he turns, not towards the freeway, but deeper into North Seattle. He winds through streets, which are are lined with houses not nearly as nice as the one we just came from, until he reaches the deserted University of Washington campus a few blocks away.

“What are you doing?” I ask, when he pulls into a parking garage in a remote corner of campus.

“Test driving,” He says mysteriously, but, as he winds around the corners, climbing higher and higher into the garage, he reaches over and brushes his hand over my knee. Oh…

The moment we’re stopped in a parking stall on the third level, he reaches over to me, brushing his hand through my hair and pulling me into him so that he can kiss me. I lean across leather armrest between us, eagerly matching the passion he pours into me as our tongues entwine together.

“Come here,” He says, reaching down to grip onto me so that he can pull me over the console between us.

“Christian, we’re in a parking garage!” I protest.

“I know,” He says. “But there’s no one here.” I bite down on my lip, hesitating for a second, but then climb out of my seat and into his lap so that I’m straddling him in the driver’s seat. It’s a tight fit, so he reaches down and pushes the seat back as far as it will go to give me enough room, and once I’m settled over him, I lean down to take his lips again. His hands slide down and begin tugging at my dress so that he can pull it up around my waist and he’s free to grab onto my ass. I feel him starting to get hard beneath me and if fuels the fevered lust running through me.

I gently nip his lower lip and tug it slightly with my teeth, and as I do he groans and presses his pelvis up into me, his hands gripping my ass more tightly. I reach up to hold each side of his face, my fingers running up into his hair, and digging into him as our kiss becomes more fervent. I begin grinding back and forth in his lap and he groans a deep, low sound into my mouth that makes my entire body tighten with desire.

“Is this what you had in mind when you told me to wear this dress?” I ask as I pull away from his mouth and move down to his chin, nibbling my way up his jawline.

“A man can dream,” He says, and when my teeth capture his earlobe, he groans again. “Oh, fuck, baby.”

His hands move to the side of my face, turning me so that he can kiss me again, and as my fingers begin exploring his body, gripping tightly to his suit jacket, he pulls away, and does one last scan of the parking garage.

“No one’s here,” He says, “We’re all alone, and I want you.”

“I want you,” I whisper back.

“Good,” He says. “Then start with my belt.”

I move my hands down to Christian’s waist, clumsily fumbling with the buckle in my over anticipation to get his pants open. As I do, he lifts me slightly off his lap so that I’m hovering over him on my knees, and then reaches around to touch me through my panties. I whimper slightly as I feel his finger flick softly back and forth over my clitoris, heightening my arousal.

“Perhaps I should have asked you to be naked under this dress,” He says, his fingers continuing to tease me. “Of course, this is our first time truly attempting something this public. If that isn’t memorable, I don’t know what is…”

“Don’t you dare, these are my favorite pair,” I tell him firmly, and before he can argue, I finally am able to release him from his pants and wrap my hand around his erection. His breath hisses through his teeth as I grip him tightly and then move my hand up and down over him.

“Then take them off,” He says, his voice husky with need. “You’re ready for me, and I for you.”

I release him so that I can reach down to slide my panties off, but the moment I touch the band beneath my dress, I see the conundrum I’ve gotten myself into for the first time. There isn’t a lot of room for me to move with me settled on his lap, how am I supposed to…

“I need to get off of you,” I say, moving his hands away from me and shifting slightly so that I can climb back into the passenger’s seat, but he grabs me again, holding me firmly in place before reaching beneath me and, in one fluid motion, tugging my panties to the side and thrusting up into me. I cry out as I feel myself stretching around him and then move back so that I can sink fully onto him.

“Yes,” He hisses. His hands grab onto my hips while he slides down into his seat, taking me with him, and then thrusts up into me again. I begin to move with him, rising and falling as best I can under the low roof of the car until my legs begin to burn. Soon the windows begin to fog over, but something about it makes everything hotter and Christian’s animalistic instincts take over. His hands are everywhere, pulling desperately at my dress, yanking my hair to expose my neck to him, reaching around to grab my ass… When I lean back against the steering wheel, using the dash and the door to steady myself so that I can help him hit that place inside of me that will cause me to unravel, he even slides his hand up my body and around my throat, his fingers gripping tightly to my jaw and just under my chin as he pushes into me again and again.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I whimper in time with each of his movements and he lets out a low growl.

“Almost there, baby?” He asks.

“Yes,” I reply, my response reduced to only a harsh sounding breath as my body begins to heat and I feel sweat beading over my skin. With his free hand, he reaches between my legs, finding my clitoris with his thumb and masages me in time with his thrusts.

“Christian,” I whimper. “Fuck, I’m going to… I’m going to…”

“Scream for me, baby,” He commands me. “There’s no else to hear you. Scream my name.”

I gasp again, my entire body now reduced to an erotic cocktail of heat and sensation. I’m close, only seconds away, and when he presses his thumb against me harder and begins moving it faster over my clitoris, the dam breaks and I explode, shouting his name as I spiral off into oblivion.

“Fuck, Ana!” He cries out. His hands move to my hips, forcing me down on him until he is as deep inside of me as possible, and he stills, pouring his release into me. I collapse on top of him, panting heavily as I revel in the post-sex haze that relaxes my entire body.

“Yes, I’m definitely buying this car,” He says softly into my ear, and I giggle.

“I think you have to now.”

He chuckles too and then helps me off his lap and back into the passenger’s seat. After rolling down the windows and turning on the defroster to clear the fog away, we take a moment to readjust our clothes and then, with one final kiss, Christian puts the car in reverse and turns us back towards Bellevue.

It’s nearly dinner time by the time my mom and Bob land at SeaTac. It takes awhile after the flight touches down for the crew to the get everything ready for my parents to be able to disembark, and as Christian and I wait in the front seats of the Maybach, I see him glance down at the leather on the steering wheel forlornly every few minutes. I know he wants to be driving his new Lamborghini, but there isn’t room in the two-seated car for my parents.

When the doors finally open and my mother appears on the staircase that leads out of the plane, I open my own door to step out onto the tarmac and she immediately bolts to me.

“Oh, Anastasia!” She cries, her voice laced with overwhelming relief as she wraps her arms around me. “I was so terrified watching the news. Thank god you’re okay.”

“I’m fine, Mom,” I tell her, attempting to covertly push her away as whatever perfume she’s wearing hits me like a wrecking ball. We’re not announcing my pregnancy until tomorrow, but it’ll be pretty obvious if I throw up all over her.

“Christian,” Bob says, reaching out his hand.

Christian shakes it firmly and nods toward the plane. “Welcome to Seattle,” He says. “Did you have a good flight?”

“Wonderful,” Bob says. “Although Carla spent most of it snooping…”

“I wasn’t snooping,” My mother says defensively. “My daughter is on that plane twice a week. I just wanted to make sure she has everything she needs.”

“I assure you, it’s well stocked,” Christian says, and my mother nods and then holds her arms open for him. I glance up at Christian, wondering how he’s going to react since I know he’s not great with people touching him, but, to my surprise, he steps forward and allows my mother to hug him.

“It’s very good to see you, dear,” My mom says when she finally releases him.

“Likewise, Carla,” He replies. “Shall we get home? My housekeeper is preparing dinner as we speak.”

“Sounds good,” She smiles. “We’re starving.”

Christian smiles, nods, and then helps Bob load their bags into the trunk of the car, and as we make our way home, Mom and I listen to Bob and Christian talk about the Maybach and then Christian’s subsequent excited descriptions about the Lamborghini in the parking garage back at Escala. They’re so lost in their car talk that when we get home, Christian drops my mother and I off at the elevator, but ignores Taylor’s offer to go park the car, deciding instead to park himself so he can show off his new toy to my step dad.

My mother has been here before, over the Fourth of July weekend last summer, so I don’t have to give her a tour, but I do take her up to the guest room and sit with her while she unpacks and we wait for Christian and Bob to come upstairs. It’s awkward being in this room with her, sitting on the bed and listening to her give me a play by play of life in Savannah. Especially when I glance over at the chair next to the door and remember the last time I was in that chair, Christian had me tied up with leg restraints and handcuffs…

Thankfully, Mom doesn’t have much for the weekend, so it doesn’t take her long to unpack, and just as she tucks her suitcase into the closet, Christian knocks on the door.

“Dinner is ready,” He tells us.

“Perfect,” My mom smiles back. We let her walk ahead of us so that I can hold Christian’s hand as we make our way down the hallway, and while we go, I feel a sense of surprised happiness at my mother’s attitude. Even after her heart to heart with Christian last summer, she still hasn’t been the most accepting of Christian and I being back together, and I know she doesn’t approve of me travelling home nearly every weekend from school. It’s one of the things that has me most nervous to announce my pregnancy tomorrow, and I think it has Christian nervous too because, when we get downstairs and I see the dining room, I can tell he’s clearly trying to impress her.

The table is beautiful, set with what must be new china and Christian’s Baccarat wine glasses. There are long tapers in the center of the table, illuminating the fall themed floral centerpiece with soft, flickering candlelight. We’re having Filet Mignon for dinner with salad and spiced pears, which both my mother and stepfather seemed over joyed with. Everything is perfect, that is until Christian brings out the wine…

“This is one of my favorites,” He explains as he fills my mother’s glass. “It’s from my special reserve collection.”

“Delicious,” She replies with delighted approval after taking a sip. He smiles down at her and moves to put the bottle in the bucket at the end of the counter but my mother reaches out to stop him.

“Oh, Christian, Ana hasn’t gotten any.”

“Oh…” He says awkwardly, holding the bottle over the bucket and looking down at me like he isn’t sure what to do.

“That’s fine,” I say quickly. “I uh… I actually haven’t really been loving wine over the past few months. I think I had a bad glass a little while ago and it’s kind of put me off it for a while.”

“Oh,” My mother replies, furrowing her brow, but before she gets to ask any follow up questions, Bob unwittingly comes to my rescue.

“You know that’s going to happen to you with tequila,” He says. “I got sicker than I’ve ever been off tequila one night and now I can’t even stand the smell of the stuff. It seems like everyone I know has a similar story.”

“Right, I’ll keep that in mind,” I reply.

The rest of the dinner goes off without a hitch and we actually end up sitting at the table for a few hours, having a really great time. I can tell that my mother is really trying with Christian again, and, when she asks about GEH, she actually seems genuinely interested to hear him talk about it.

“What about you, Ana?” She asks, turning to me. “Anything new and exciting going on in your life?”

Christian almost chokes over the sip of wine he takes and I have to use every ounce of self control I have not to glare at him.

“Yeah, actually,” I begin. “Christian and I just bought a house this morning.”

“What?” She asks, looking between us with surprise.

“Yes,” Christian nods. “Up in Laurelhurst.”

“Laurelhurst?” My mom repeats, with something close to shock echoing in her voice. She didn’t live here with Ray long, but apparently it was long enough for her to get acquainted with the best neighborhoods in Seattle. “Doesn’t Bill Gates live there?”

Christian shakes his head. “No, he grew up there, but he lives in Medina now. Actually, not too far from my parents’ house in Bellevue. Paul Allen lives on our street though.”

“WHAT?!” I exclaim, turning a quick, sharp glance on him. “Are you telling me that the owner of the Seattle Seahawks is going to be our neighbor?”

Christian laughs, “Yes, but I don’t think team practices are held in his backyard.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean John Schneider, or Pete Carroll, or Matt Hasselbeck won’t get invited to a dinner party at his house. A dinner party that we could also be invited to as his new best friends. Seriously, Christian, woo him.”

He laughs again. “I actually do need to get in touch with him. I’ve heard that he petitioned to have a helicopter pad put on his property but it was blocked by the HOA. I’m going to have to help him find a solution to that problem.”

“I feel like you’re not focusing on the Seahawks right now…” I accuse him.

“Those damn Seahawks.” Bob says, rolling his eyes, but as I turn to glare at him, we’re all surprised to hear the ping of the elevator come from the foyer.

“Who in the world…” Christian begins, but before he even finishes the sentence Ros comes storming into the living room looking livid.

“Christian Grey!” She shouts. “You fired Welch?”

Immediately, Christian stiffens and sits up straighter in his chair. “Yes, I did,” He replies calmly.

“And you didn’t think to talk to me about that first?”

I look over the table and see my mother and Bob exchange awkward glances with one another, and I think Christian sees it too, because he gestures over to them.

“Ros, this is Mr. and Mrs. Adams, Anastasia’s parents. Bob, Carla, this is my COO and partner, Rosaline Bailey.”

Partner?” Ros repeats in an incredulous sounding breath. “Can I talk to you alone for a moment, please?”

“Of course,” Christian says, taking our interlocked hands from under the table and pulling them up to his lips so that he can kiss the back of my fingers. “Excuse me for a moment, please.”

Mom, Bob, and I all turn to watch them walk out of the living room, but even after hearing the door to his office slam close, we can hear them yelling at each other, and each sharp barb makes me flinch. I’ve heard Christian and Ros get into it before, but I’ve never heard them yell. I’d always thought they’d had that rare, perfect working relationship where somehow they just meshed really well together and were always on the same page. I’ve even made jokes in the past with Christian about how Ros is his work wife, because she’s the only one at GEH that really gets him, and who can talk him down when he gets angry… Apparently, he doesn’t have that same skill set with her.

“Welch was a key member of our executive team, someone who has been with us since the very beginning, Christian. You didn’t even think to consult me before you just let him go?” Ros practically screams.

“Consult you?” Christian shouts back at her.

“Yes, consult me. We’re in this together, remember? You and me. These past few months, it’s like I’m not even here, or you don’t care what I have to say or what direction I think we should be going in. You bought SIP without telling me and then just gave it to me with no warning, I had no idea you were even chasing Lincoln Timber until I got the email with the rest of the team saying it had been acquired, and you didn’t tell me you were going to sell Grey Construction to your brother. Now, you’re firing key members of our executive team and I have to find out from HR? What the hell is going on?”

“I’m the CEO, Ros. I made those decisions, this decision, as the CEO, for the best interests of my company. Welch was toxic and I wanted him gone immediately. Had I been in the office today, yes, I would have informed you of my decision, but regardless, it was my decision. I didn’t know Menke would speak to you before I did. I would have told you Monday.”

Told me?” She repeats. “Christian, we’re partners! We have to make important decisions like this together, but instead, I’m just left to play catch up while you do everything on your own. Just like you do everything else.”

“Yes, I do make decisions on my own, and we’re going to break profit records again this year.”

“I’m not saying that you’re not good at your job, Christian.  I am the Chief Operations Officer. You have to discuss things with me that are going to affect the operations of our company. I am your partner, not your subordinate. We built this company together, we are supposed to run it together.”

“Together?” Christian spits at her. “Tell me, if we’re supposed to run this company together, why is it GREY Enterprises Holdings? Why is it MY name over the door? I don’t see Bailey anywhere in the letterhead.”

I cringe as Christian’s words echo down the hallway towards us followed by a silence so poignant it’s nearly deafening. It seems to go on forever, but when Ros finally does speak again, her voice is full of venom.

“Fuck you, Christian,” She says, and a second later, we hear the door slam again. She comes back into the great room, her face flushed, and she’s clearly fighting back tears.

“Ros,” I say, getting up from the table as she hurries for the foyer.

“I’m sorry if I ruined your dinner, Ana,” She says, dismissing me. “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.” She turns and walks into the foyer, and I get up from the table to go after her, but the elevator is there waiting and she’s able to disappear before I catch up with her. Christian is already back to his seat by the time I make it back to the dining room, and as he looks up at me, I put my hands on my hips and give him a stern look.

“What?” He asks.

“What?” I repeat, incredulously. “What was that?”

“You know,” Bob begins awkwardly as he gets out of his seat, “We’ve had a long day with the flight, and it’s almost 11:30 our time. I think we’ll head to bed.”

“Yes,” My mother says, getting up eagerly behind him, “We’ll see you in the morning.”

Mom walks over to me and gives me a quick hug and kiss on the cheek and after we watch them walk up the stairs and hear their door close behind them, I turn back to Christian, waiting for him to explain what’s going on. He stares at me for a minute, clearly hesitant to have this discussion with me and possibly challenging my resolve, but when I don’t break eye contact, he sighs.

“Gail,” He calls, breaking eye contact with me and looking towards the kitchen.

“Yes, sir?” She responds. I turn and see her peeking through the archway between the dining room and kitchen, glancing nervously between us as the tension in the room is now tangible.

“Dinner was delicious, thank you, but we’re finished now.”

“Yes, sir.”

He nods and then crosses the room towards me, taking my hand and then pulling me with him into the bedroom. Once we’re inside, I move to sit on the bed and then stare at him expectantly again.

“Okay, maybe I was a little hard on her…” He admits finally.

“Hard on her?” I repeat. “Christian, she left here in tears. Why would you say that to her?”

“Look, Ros is good at her job, excellent even. She shares my vision, I can count on her, and she’s loyal, almost to a fault. But that loyalty is a double edged sword. I didn’t tell her about Welch because I didn’t want to fight with her about it. I’m just… I’m tired of fighting with her, with everyone. I needed him gone and she would have tried to stop me. It’s my decision, my company, and I don’t need Ros or anyone else telling me how to run it.”

“Why did you need him gone so suddenly?” I ask, “I’ve worked with Welch before, on the eReader we designed. He’s good. I mean, you’ve said that yourself…”

“He’s an instigator,” Christian says, and I raise an eyebrow at him.

“What?”

“Remember what I told you on Halloween? The developers in my R&D and Technology department are becoming more and more insistent  that I hand over control to a board. They’re collectivizing, threatening walk-outs… and that sentiment is starting to spread through the company. I’m starting to hear noise from my manufacturing division, fiber optics, hell even SIP has thrown their support behind the idea.”

“So what does that have to do with Welch?”

“He’s behind it. He’s uniting everyone, pushing them to follow his lead. Taylor found a few emails on his server, he’s been talking with everyone, even Jack Hyde.”

“Oh,“ I say. “Well, what are you going to do then? I mean, if he’s already got everyone pushing for a board…”

“I’m going to find someone who understands my vision and will keep their team on track. I’ve said it before, no one is irreplaceable and Welch is no exception. He’s good, but a lot of people are good, and firing him is going to send a message. I’m not going to tolerate insubordination. This is my company and I will not relinquish control. Not after what I had to sacrifice to get it.”

I bite down on my lip and break eye contact with him for a split second, but nod. “Okay. If that’s what you think is best, then I won’t argue with you about it. Just… just don’t alienate Ros. You need her. You need people you can trust and people who have your best interests at heart around you, and that’s Ros. She’s always been there for you, and she wants the same things as you. Don’t push her away.”

“Okay,” He nods in conceit. “She’s taking the jet to San Francisco tomorrow morning to spend Thanksgiving with her family. I will have flowers and a handwritten apology waiting for her.”

“Good,” I nod, and then cross the room to wrap my arms around him. He holds me for a minute and then tilts my chin up so that he can kiss me. I melt into him, smiling a little when I feel his tongue begin to play against my lips, and when I open my mouth for him and push my entire body flush against him, he moans.

“It’s been a stressful night,” He says.

“Yeah, what else is new?” I reply, but he gives me a mischievous look.

“Nothing, which I why I know the best way to relieve this stress.” He reaches down and lifts me by the back of my legs, forcing me to tighten my hold around him so that I don’t fall, and I giggle as he makes his way across the room and then tosses me onto our bed.

Next Chapter

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