Chapter 30

Bellevue Skyline and Lake Washington

“Daddy!” I throw the comforter off my body and scramble out of bed so quickly, I nearly trip over my feet in my rush to get to him. He catches me under my arms and pulls me into a lung crushing hug while I dissolve into tears and press myself against him as hard as I can, digging my fingers into jacket so that he can’t pull away from me, until the force knocks us both to the ground. I can feel his lips press in my hair and my forehead, and the side of my face, anywhere he can reach, but I can’t tell if the erratic breaths I hear him take are from laughter or tears.

“What are you… How did you get here?” I ask through the uneven sobs forcing their way out from deep inside my chest.

“I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d drop in,” he says with a laugh, and when I pull away and attempt to give him a hard, sardonic look, he smiles, wipes the tears from under my eyes with the pads of his thumbs, and continues. “Your uh… um… you know, that guy in the other room. He had his… people get ahold of my superiors and explained to them what happened. I thought they were going to give me a few days leave but they offered me early separation.”

“Early separation? Wait… so, you’re back? You’re home?”

“I have to finish out the last six or so weeks in the guard and spend a few weekends up in Everett but, yes. I’m home. I’m not going back.”

“Oh my god, Daddy!” I laugh as I launch myself at him, crying again and wrapping my arms tightly around him while he rocks me back and forth. “I can’t believe you’re here. I’ve been so worried about you, I’ve hated every second that you’ve been over there. Oh my god, you’re home, you’re home, you’re home!”

“I’m home, baby girl. I’m home.”

“I’ve missed you so much!”

“I’ve missed you too, Annie. Every single day.”

I bury my head into his jacket and inhale as deeply as I can, letting the warm familiar scent I’ve been missing for so long wash over me and drown all of the tension in my body. I can’t stop myself from instinctively pulling myself even closer to him, as tightly as possible, for as long as possible, while I turn my head to kiss him hard on the cheek. He kisses me back and when I pull away and see the tears in his eyes and the broad smile across his face, I can’t hold back the joyous giggle that forces its way out of me.

“Hi,” I laugh.

“Hi,” he replies.

“This ruins your homecoming, you know,” I tell him as I sit back and smile. “I had this whole plan where I was gonna pick you up from the airport and have this big sign that said Welcome Home and when you came through the doors I was going to drop the sign and run into your arms and you would spin me around and we would cry and everyone around us was going to start slow clapping and someone would get it all on their phone and post it on YouTube… it was going to go viral.”

“Well, I’m sorry about YouTube.” He smiles and puts both of his hands on my shoulders so he can lean me back and give me a once over. “But there’s nothing about this moment that’s ruined. God, look at you.”

“Ugh, don’t look at me,” I reply, reaching down to cover my baby bump with my arms. “I feel like a marshmallow.”

“Well, I warned you that all that sweet tooth of yours was going to catch up to you once you stopped having the metabolism of a teenager. Now look at you.”

“Dad!” I slap him playfully on the shoulder and he laughs.

“I’m just kidding, baby girl. You look so beautiful. It is weird, though, seeing you… pregnant. I just can’t believe it… May I?” He reaches his hand up in front of my stomach, pausing as he waits for permission, and I nod.

“Yeah, of course. She hasn’t moved very much today, but she’s in there.” I move my arms so he can lay his palm flat over my bump, and as if she knows her grandfather is waiting to feel her for the first time, she responds with the tiniest kick right where his hand lays on my t-shirt.

“Oh!” my dad exclaims, his eyes immediately lighting up with wonder. “She kicked.”

“Yeah! I guess she can’t wait to meet you either,” I giggle. “Don’t tell Christian, it took her weeks to finally kick for him.”

“Christian,” he says, and the moment I hear the uncertainty in his voice, my smile falters.

“Yes, Christian. You have to get along with him, Daddy. I love him very much.”

“I didn’t say a single word against him,” my dad says defensively.

“Yeah, but I know that look. And I know this is hard for you, and probably really weird because everything is so different, but you’ll really love him too if you give him a chance because he loves me, Daddy. Like really loves me, and he makes me very happy. Besides, he’s also my baby daddy so he’s not going anywhere.”

I laugh, but my dad doesn’t. Instead, he lets out a low groan before finally nodding. “Alright, I’ll give the boy a chance. One chance. He did get you pregnant out of wedlock so, strike one.”

I roll my eyes. “We’ll see if you still say that after Calliope is born.”

“Calliope?”

“That’s her name. Calliope Katherine Grey.”

“That doesn’t sound like Ray to me, which I can only assume is because of your guy out there so… strike two.”

“Daddy!”

He laughs and then shifts me off his lap so that he can get up and help me to my feet. “So what do you say, kiddo? Hungry? I could definitely use some food that doesn’t come de-hydrated in a package right about now.”

“Sure.” I smile. “Come on.”

I entwine my fingers through his and then lead him through the hallway back out towards the kitchen where we find Christian pacing in front of the windows against the far wall, talking on the phone.

“That’s great news, Ros. Bring him back on as quickly as we can, tomorrow if possible. I want him to comb through every bit of data we have and find everywhere this guy has been in our server. They’ve been using a connection through Ana’s laptop to navigate through the system so he can start with anything accessed using her permissions.”

He turns back to face us and his eyes widen slightly when he sees me standing there with my dad.

“No, that sounds perfect. Thank you, Ros. I’ll call you in the morning.” He hangs up, slips his phone in his pocket, and give us both a nervous kind of smile. “Hey, baby. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, we’re just thinking about getting something to eat. You hungry?”

Relief immediately mixes with the joy suddenly apparent on his face. “Eat? Yes, great…”

“I was thinking,” my dad says. “We should go down to Taxi’s. It’s actually a beautiful day outside and just thinking about those grilled onions on that cream cheese has my mouth watering.”

“You mean… you want to go out?” I ask. “Like, down to the market?”

“Sure, why not?”

“There’s just… there’s a lot of people down there,” I say hesitantly, and when I turn to Christian, he gives me a reassuring look before turning to smile at my father.

“My parents have actually planned a barbeque this afternoon in Bellevue for your homecoming. My family are all very excited to meet you. Perhaps we could try the market a different time.”

“Well, I never say no to good barbeque,” my dad says.

“Great, then I’ll just confirm with my mother and let security know we’ll be leaving the apartment. Excuse me.”

My eyes follow him the entire way across the great room and down the hallway to my office as he turns to leave the room, and as his words about leaving the apartment echo in my ears, I feel myself start to tremble. We’re really going to leave? Am I ready to… leave?

“Everything okay, kiddo?” my dad asks and when I turn to face him, his smile immediately fades away. “Annie, what’s wrong?”

“I… I don’t think I’m ready to go out there yet. I can’t leave, he’s still out there.”

“Ana…” he says, his face reflecting the pain suddenly evident in his voice. “Come here.” He pulls me over to the couch, sits me down next to him, and tucks me into his side. I push my face into his jacket, trying to keep myself from crying  again as he gently moves his hand up and down over my shoulder.

“They didn’t tell me much,” he begins. “When I was in Iraq, they told me that you’d been attacked but that you were okay, and when your boyfriend’s security guy… uh, Taylor, picked me up from the airport, he told me a little more. He said that it was someone who had been following you, someone who wanted to hurt you, but they hadn’t caught the guy. I asked him again if you were okay and he told me you were, but… are you, Annie? Are you okay?”

I look up at him and then shake my head. “I’m so scared, Daddy.”

“Of course you are,” he says. “We’re all scared. I don’t think anyone of us likes to think that we may have almost lost you, but the important thing now is to be grateful that we didn’t. You’re sitting here today with me, your baby is fine, you didn’t get hurt. Those are all miracles and you just need to keep reminding yourself of that, because the bad things are always going to be bad and dwelling on them isn’t going to help you not be scared. I know a thing or two about being scared. I spent a lot of nights over there being scared.”

“So how did you deal with it?” I ask. “How do you do what you know you have to do when you feel paralyzed?”

“You think of everything you have in your life to go on for. The thing that’s most important to you that is going to make you get up everyday and do what you have to do because whatever it is makes failure not an option. For me, that was you.”

“Daddy…”

“So, what’s it going to be for you, kid? What’s the thing that’s going to keep you going?”

I swallow. “I suppose… Calliope. I mean, she’s going to be here so soon and she needs a mom. She needs me. It’s gotta be Calliope.”

“Well that’s perfect because Calliope needs you to eat right now and that’s what we’re going out there to do. So, let’s get ready to go to dinner, huh? We can talk more later. Come up with a plan to make you feel better and get you back to school. Can you do that? For Calliope?”

I take a breath and nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I can do that.”

He smiles, leans over to kiss me on the forehead, and then takes my hands so that he can help me off the couch. I give him one last hug as tightly as I can possibly manage with my belly in the way and thank him for talking to me. Somehow, he always knows what to say to make me feel better and I hope that’s something I’ll have with my own daughter.

After he kisses me one last time, I feel his eyes watch after me until I make it down the hallway towards our bedroom, but the moment I close the door behind me, the feeling of confidence the conversation with my dad gave me seems to vanish and those nerves only intensify with every step I take toward the bathroom to get ready to leave for the Greys’. There’s not much I have to do, I’m not really interested in make-up right now or doing anything with my hair besides brushing it out and twisting it up into a messy bun, I’m still much too tired from my mostly sleepless week to worry about anything like that, but as I think more and more about leaving the apartment, even the simple task of brushing my teeth begins to feel overwhelming. The more the panic starts to build in my chest, the more I think that I’m just not ready to do this yet, but both my dad and Kate told me that moving on isn’t something that just happens, it’s a choice you make. Today is a choice to put aside my fear and spend an afternoon with my family, and my dad is right. For Calliope, I need to start making those choices.

“Are you doing okay in here?” Christian asks behind me, and I look up to make eye contact with him in the mirror.

“Fine, I’m just… I’m fine.”

“You still look so tired.”

“I’m very tired,” I agree. “But we’re going to go have a dinner with our family.”

He frowns and steps into the bathroom. “We don’t have to go if you don’t want to. I could have them come here, Gail could order in, I could even have Taylor go get those hot dogs for you and your dad. You can sleep more if that’s what you want. It’s up to you, Ana. Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

“No, I want to go,” I say quickly. “I need to go. Just give me a few minutes, okay?”

He presses his lips together, and then places his hands on each of my forearms. “You know, before he came in to see you, I asked if he could try to get you to eat something. Twenty minutes later, here you are. People have been telling me for years that no one understands you like your dad, but I didn’t want to believe them. I like to think that I know you better than anyone else does, but here you are, getting ready to leave to have dinner with my family and I’ve hardly been able to get you out of bed for days. I guess he is the best thing for you.”

“It’s not a contest,” I tell him. “And he has an advantage. It’s kind of hard to say no when this is the first chance I’ve had to spend time with him in years.” I stop and turn around to face him, looking deeply in his eyes so he can see my sincerity. “Thank you, Christian. Thank you so much for bringing him home. This means the absolute world to me.”

“Of course. You know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to see you happy, and I just thought you really needed your dad right now.”

“I do, so thank you. I love you, so very much.” I reach up to wrap my arms around his neck so that I can pull myself up to his lips and kiss him. His returning kiss is hesitant at first, but grows softer and more tender the longer my lips linger against his. When he pulls away, he brushes the back of his fingers across my cheek, and gives me a warm, half smile.

“You sure you’re ready to do this?”

“I’m sure.”

“Alright.” He nods. “Well, you should know that I’ve hired additional security for Mia and my parents, and for Gia and Elliot, so there will be a full detail at my parents tonight. They’ll all be watching you. Taylor and Sawyer are coming with us, and Cardella, Kommer, and Ryan are going to stay back here and keep an eye on the place while we’re gone. There’s a plan in place. We’re going to make sure you’re safe.”

“Good,” I tell him, glad that his reassurance actually do seem to help dampen some of the anxiety I’m feeling. “I’ll just be two more minutes, okay?”

“Okay.” He leans in to kiss me softly on the cheek and whispers, “I love you,” before he turns to leave.

“I love you too,” I tell him, and once the door is closed behind me, I take a deep breath, pick up my toothbrush and stare through my heavy lids at the dark cicles beneath my eyes.

You can do this, Anastasia. You can make it through one dinner.

 

The elevator ride down to the parking garage is crowded. Taylor has already gone to get the SUV so that we just have to step out of the elevator and into the back seat, but both Kommer and Ryan join Luke to escort us downstairs. I can feel my dad’s uncertainty as he glances between the three bulky security guards packed in around us and Christian, so I reach down and grip his fingers. He turns, smiles at me, then squeezes my hand and shifts his attention to the numbers over the door.

“So, are you a car guy, Ray? Uh… Sir? Um…” Christian says awkwardly and, for some reason, his discomfort makes me smile. He’s one of the most important men in this city, a big time CEO who has Harvard business classes being taught about him, so he’s usually the paragon of confidence. But my dad, the small town guy from Montesano Washington who has spent his entire life in the army or doing contract work as a carpenter, is currently making him nervous.

“Sure,” my dad says. “I’ve fixed up a few old muscle cars in my day.”

“It’s a shame that we’re not going up into the garage then,” Christian says. “I’ve got a new Lamborghini up there, a limited edition Reventon, and a Mercedes Maybach.”

“Really? So, you’re not an American made kind of guy, huh?”

“Oh um… not necessarily. I looked into Cadillac when I was shopping around for an SUV, but I find that the European market has the corner on sports cars in speed and efficiency…”

“Everyone has their opinions,” my dad dismisses him, and Christian frowns as the doors to the elevator slide open.

“Sir,” Taylor greets us, opening the back door to the SUV as we step out into the garage. Christian takes my hand and climbs in first so that I’m in the middle of the roomy back seat and my dad slides in behind me. Once the door closes, I’m surrounded and it feels secure until Christian pulls a small, knit blanket out of the open trunk space behind the seat.

“There’s still press outside,” he explains “I think it’ll be better if no one is keeping track of when you’re leaving and returning to the apartment.”

“Okay.” I crouch down so that my head is in Christian’s lap and he tosses the blanket over the top of me, moving his hand over my arm under the blanket reassuringly as the car starts up. I would think lying down on Christian’s lap would exacerbate the exhaustion I’m battling, but I’m too hyper aware of the movement as we begin to roll out of the garage and of the muted noise of the paparazzi outside to worry about being tired. All I know is that Christian’s right, I don’t want it advertised that I’m out in the city, and the garbled noise of shouting voices and cameras clicking has my anxiety peaked until Taylor’s able to find an open lane and punches the gas so we fly down the street away from them.

“No one in pursuit, Mr. Grey,” he says.

“Thank you, Taylor. Ana?”

I take a deep breath and yank the blanket off of me, breathing in the cool, fresh air for a moment before finally sitting up and chancing a glance through the side window, but the view of the city streets does nothing for me. Everything around us feels haunted, as though every dark corner is concealing someone who wants to harm me, and that feeling is only made worse when we pass an alley with an identical entrance to the one I was attacked in. I think my dad can feel the tension radiating off of me because he immediately starts telling stories about times that he’s been here with my mom, but the nerves I feel don’t dissipate until we cross the I-5 bridge and we’re out of Seattle. Thankfully, once I see the sign for Bellevue, I feel relaxed enough that I actually almost feel normal, except that I’m completely exhausted.

When we pull into the long driveway in front of the Greys’ house, I have to hide a smile when I glance over and see my dad’s reaction, which I imagine is identical to what mine was the first time I saw the gigantic house nestled right up against the lake. Finally, I’m no longer the only fish out of water amongst the Seattle elite.

“So you… uh, you’ve always had money then?” my dad asks once we’ve stepped out of the car.

“No, not always,” Christian says. “But I’ve been very fortunate.” He reaches out for me, but before I can clasp my hand in his, my dad puts an arm over my shoulder to keep me close to him.

“Well, lead the way, Christian.”

Christian’s shoulders rise as he takes a breath and then turns to lead us up the walkway to the front door, past two security guards I’ve never seen before, but who nod at Taylor as we pass. The moment we step into the entrance hall, the low murmur of conversation in the living room stops and I notice Elliot quickly reach for the remote to switch off the TV, which I think was playing the news.

“Ana, darling,” Grace says, getting off the sectional and sweeping into the entrance hall with her arms held open for me. “How are you feeling? Have you gotten any sleep?”

“Yeah, a little today,” I tell her. “Thank you. Grace, this is my dad, Ray Steele. Dad, this is Christian’s mom, Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey.”

“Of course, Ray!” Grace chrips. “It’s so good to finally meet you. We’ve heard so many wonderful things from, Ana.”

“I’m glad to meet you as well, Dr. Grey. I have to say your oatmeal cookies made me quite the popular man last Christmas. Everyone just loved them.”

“Grace, please. We’re family!” She reaches out to pull me back into her side. “And I’m glad you enjoyed them, because we’ve enjoyed Ana so, so much.”

“Well… Thank you for giving her a family while I was away,” he says.

“It’s truly been our pleasure. We are so in love with your daughter. Now, come have a seat. The rest of the family is so excited to meet you.”

I hook my arm through my dad’s to lead him into the family room, and as we approach, Carrick places his drink on a side table and looks up at us with a smile.

“This is my husband, Carrick,” Grace begins. “He’ll be our master griller this afternoon.”

“Master is a bit of an overstatement,” Carrick says, groaning slightly as he slowly rises off the couch. “But the steaks will get grilled nonetheless.”

“That sounds great,” my dad replies, glancing wearily over the still visible scar on the side of Carrick’s head. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good steak.” He shakes hands with Carrick and then turns to follow Grace’s gesture as she moves down the line.

“And this is our youngest, Amelia, or Mia, as we call her. She’s a junior in high school this year.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Mia says, reaching out to shake my dad’s hand. “Ana is one of my favorite people in the entire world. I don’t know what we all would have done without her.”

“Me either,” my dad says. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you too. You’re quite the beautiful young lady, you must be driving all the boys school crazy?”

Elliot snorts into his drink.

“And this…” Grace continues. “Is my oldest, Elliot, and his girlfriend Gia Matteo.”

“Yes, Elliot I know,” my days says, brightening a little as he reaches out to shake Elliot’s hand. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated all those Seahawks updates. This one over here,” he gestures to me with his head, “gets so frazzled whenever she wrote me that she always left out all the important information. Like draft picks.”

Elliot laughs. “Well, never fear. If you need someone to talk football with, I’m your man. In fact, Christian has box seats, we should go to a game sometime.”

“Does he?” My dad asks, turning an examining look on Christian. “Yes, I’d like that very much.” He pauses as he glances between Christian and Elliot and then furrows his brow. “You know, if you hadn’t told me, I would not have guessed that you two were brothers.”

“I could see that,” Elliot says with a nod. “One of us got the brains, one of us got the beauty… the other is Christian.”

“We’re adopted,” Christian clarifies, rolling his eyes.

“Oh,” my dad says awkwardly. “I’m sorry… I uh…”

“It’s not a secret,” Christian reassures him. “Believe me, it’s a godsend really. The idea of actually sharing a gene pool with Elliot is…” He shakes his head with disgust and Elliot narrows his eyes at him.

“What’s the matter, Christian? Worried your kids might actually have a sense of humor?”

“Oh no, they’ll get that from their mother,” I interject.

“And hopefully that’s where it’ll end,” Christian says, teasingly. “God forbid our daughter gets your smart mouth.”

“You mean, god forbid she stick up for herself?” my dad challenges him, and Christian immediately looks slightly taken aback.

“Uh… no… I just meant…”

“Real men aren’t threatened by strong women, Christian. You should be grateful for Ana’s tenacity.”

“I am,” Christian says quickly. “Of course I am. I love absolutely everything about her. I’m inspired by her.”

“Hm,” my dad hums dismissively, and then turns back to Carrick. “You mind if I help you with the grilling? It’s been awhile since I’ve had a beer over the grill.”

“Uh… absolutely, Ray,” Carrick says with a smile. “Grace, do you want to grab the steaks out of the fridge and we’ll head out back and start up the grill?”

“Of course.” She gets out of her seat and places a tender hand against Christian’s cheek before she moves around the couch to the kitchen, while my dad follows Carrick out the back door. Once the door is closed behind him, Christian moves over to me, pulls me into him, and sighs.

“I don’t think your dad likes me very much…”

“He’s just protective,” I assure him. “He’ll warm up once he gets to know you, then he’ll love you just the way that I do.”

“Well, I hope not just the way you do,” he says with a smile, and I roll my eyes and lean up to place a soft kiss on his lips.

“Are you doing okay?” he checks.

“Yeah, I’m doing great. This is good, being around everyone. It feels normal.” I pause as I feel a pressure in my lower abdomen. “But Calliope just moved and is now sitting on my bladder so if you’ll excuse me…” He kisses my forehead and then releases me so I can scurry across the entrance hall to the closest downstairs bathroom. I notice, when I turn into the hallway, that Luke appears seemingly out of nowhere from the formal living room, and then follows me into the hallway, stopping at the door and waiting while I go inside. Clearly, he isn’t taking any kind of chances leaving me alone for even a second anymore and it reminds me of what Leila said about how he watches me closer than anyone else on the security team. Having him around does give me a certain degree of comfort, makes me calmer, at least until I dry my hands on the plush towel hanging on the rack by the sink and hear his voice coming through the bathroom door and realize that he’s trying to stop someone from coming in.

“I don’t think so,” he says sternly.

“Sawyer, please,” Gia’s voice responds. “I just… I just want to talk to her for a second.”

“Well, I can almost guarantee she doesn’t talk to you, so why don’t you make your way back out to the living room, and we don’t have to make a scene here.”

“Look, I know I’m not at the top of her christmas card list, and I deserve that but…”

I open the bathroom door, and both Gia and Luke look at me. I take a deep breath and then turn to Luke, who looks beyond irritated.

“I tried to get rid of her,” he says.

“It’s okay, Luke.”

“Alright…” he says, turning back to Gia. “Talk.”

“Can we have some pri…”

“Nope.”

She takes a deep breath, nods, and turns back to me. “I just… I know that we’re not close, and I know that’s my fault and that I’ve behaved inappropriately, but I want you to know that, when I heard what had happened to you, my heart truly hurt. I was so scared for you.”

“Yeah, I guess being the billionaire’s girlfriend doesn’t sound like much fun anymore does it?” I say, my voice an accusation, and I watch her pout shift as she swallows.

“I’m so sorry, Ana. I’m sorry for everything. I really want you to know that I care for you, even though I’m not very good at showing it. I need to work on that. I love this family and you’re apart of that, and I’m glad that you’re okay. I was devastated when I heard.”

“Were you?”

“Ana, please. I’m trying to make this right between us.”

“You want to make this right?” I ask, dubiously.

“Yes, I do.”

“Then admit it. Admit that you were trying to steal Christian from me. Admit that you tried take a man who had a pregnant girlfriend while you were dating his brother.”

She takes another deep breath and breaks eye contact with me. “I don’t know what I was doing. Christian is hard to ignore and he was the only one who was nice to me. I got caught up in something that wasn’t there, but he made it very clear to me that it was only you, that he had no interest in anyone but you. I accept that. I’m happy that you two are so in love because you’re so good together. And… I really do love Elliot.”

“Do you love him? Or do you love his trust fund? Or the fact that he’s a Grey?”

“It’s him,” she says quickly. “It’s only him. Elliot is everything I’ve ever wanted. He makes me laugh and I love the way he is with his family. He’s truly kind and I think… I think he’s making me a better person. I’m in love with him and, even though things aren’t really good right now, I hope I’m going to spend the rest of my life with him. That’ll make us sisters one day and I want us to be close. Really. I see the way you are with… Kate, the way you are with Mia, and I want that kind of relationship with you. I want to be your sister, Ana. So, can we start over?”

She opens her arms like she wants to hug me, but I cross my arms over my chest. “Kate’s not going anywhere. She’s my best friend and the godmother of my daughter so she is going to be in our lives, in the Greys’ lives, and if you want any kind of relationship with me, that’s something you need to accept.”

“I know. I was just… It’s hard. It’s obvious Elliot still has some feelings for her and it makes me feel inadequate sometimes. Like I’m not enough. I’m sure you can at least understand that, even if she is your best friend.”

“I do, and I’m sorry that you feel that way but it doesn’t change the situation. She’s in this family too, and if you want to be a part of all of this, you have to be okay with that.”

“I will,” she agrees. “I promise, no more fighting, no more drama. I’m over it.”

“Then, okay,” I agree. “But only because of Elliot. I don’t tolerate people who talk to my best friend the way you did. I won’t be forgiving the next time.”

“Thank you, Ana.” She takes a step forward and wraps her arms around me, and after taking a surrendering breath, I hug her back.

“So, how are you doing?” she asks when she pulls away. “Elliot and I are… well, we got into a fight so I only heard kind of the basics, just what Christian told him after it first happened… but I can’t even imagine. I mean thank god that girl was there to save you. What was her name?”

“Leila.”

“So scary. And to think your security team thought she was one them the whole time. That she was going to hurt you.”

“I think she was. She just had a change of heart.”

“Did she say anything to you? Who’s behind it? What they want?”

“No, she said she couldn’t. She just… she just got me out of there.”

“Well, thank god she did. I’m so happy you’re okay, Ana. I don’t know what Christian would do if anything happened to you. It would wound this family forever. You’re very, very loved.”

“Thank-you, Gia.”

“Of course. Now, should we join the others?” she asks. “Try to get your mind off everything for the rest of the afternoon?”

“Yeah, but… sorry, I actually have to pee again. Pregnancy life, you know? I’ll be out in a second.”

“Okay.” She smiles at Luke then turns back down the hallway, and once she’s rounded the corner back into the entrance hall, Luke turns a suspicious look on me.

“You really bought that?” he asks, and I shrug. “Ana, you know that Grey is having her looked into right? She could be one of them.”

“Yeah, and she could also just be a superficial girl who could one day be my sister-in-law, and if that’s where this is headed, she’s right. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting with her.”

“And if she is one of them? If she gave whoever is after you the codes to Escala or is keeping tabs on you for him while you’re in Seattle?”

I take a breath. “If she’s one of them, then I want to make a personal connection with her. I want to be close to her. That way, if I ever get into a situation like this again, she’ll hopefully make the same choice that Leila did. Enemies don’t do me any good right now, Luke.”

He frowns. “Just… be careful what you tell her, Ana. I don’t think it’s smart to put a lot of your trust in Gia Matteo right now.”

I let out an incredulous huff. “Do you really think I trust anyone anymore?”

His shoulders rise as he takes a deep breath, and his lips tighten, but he doesn’t say anything. He simply turns so that his back is against the wall once again, while I turn around and move back into the bathroom.

 

The conversation is light once we sit down around the table and it’s refreshing. No one asks me any questions about what happened, no one is watching me as though they’re waiting for me to have a breakdown. In fact, Christian, who is sitting directly across from me because my father took the empty chair at my right, is the only person I ever find truly staring at me, but there’s no worry or concern in his eyes right now. Only warmth and affection. The eye contact between us is merely a private expression of love, meant just for me and him. For the first time, in what strangely feels like a very long time, everything feels perfectly normal.

“So, Mia…” Grace says in an almost mysterious kind of way. “Have you told your brothers about your prom date?”

“Mom!” Mia exclaims.

“Prom date?” Elliot asks. “You mean, someone asked you out?”

“As a matter of fact, they did,” she replies smartly.

“Why?”

She rolls her eyes. “He’s in my ballet company. We’re friends.”

“Wait…” Christian says. “You didn’t meet him at school?”

“No.”

“How old his he?”

“Nineteen,” she says, and the gray in Christian’s eyes immediately hardens.

“I don’t think so. There’s only one thing nineteen year old boys are after and he’s not getting if from my little sister.”

“I’m sorry, Christian, remind me. How old were you when you and Ana started dating? It wasn’t eighteen and it wasn’t twenty…” She waits, as though she’s actually expecting him to answer, but when he doesn’t, her expression hardens and she gives him an accusatory look. “You have no room to say anything. Don’t act like I didn’t share a wall with you and Ana on basically every family vacation we’ve ever gone on. You two aren’t exactly quiet.”

“Amelia!” Grace exclaims, and, as I feel my dad’s eyes dart over to me, I immediately begin to feel my face burn.

“Oh god,” I groan, burying my face in my hands.

“What?” Mia asks innocently. “She’s pregnant, it’s not like it’s a secret.”

“Regardless,” Christian says tersely. “You are seventeen and I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to be dating anyone who isn’t in high school. Or anyone else for that matter.”

“Oh really, Christian? Did you wait til you graduated high school to have sex? And did you do it with someone who was still in high school?”

“Alright, alright, alright,” Elliot interjects, clearly understanding the direction the conversation is going in and coming in to stop it like my own personal superhero. “First of all, Mia, you are too young to be having sex, so if you are, stop it, and if you’re not, don’t. I’m still your big brother and I don’t want to have to murder anyone, even though I think I’d be really good at it and I have all of the tools to dispose of a body. Second of all, Christian, I don’t really think you need to worry.” A smile slowly creeps across his lips. “She’s going with a ballet dancer.”

He laughs and Mia throws a crouton at him. “You’re such a dick, Elliot.”

“Amelia Trevelyan-Grey!”

“Sorry, Mom.”

She falls silent, just as everyone else around the table does, but I can still feel my dad glancing between Christian and I until Grace finally says something to break the tension.

“So, Christian, where are you and Ana at on wedding planning? Please tell me you’ve at least decided on a date.”

“We haven’t talked much about it actually. We were waiting until Ray got home. Ana wanted him to be here.”

“Well, he’s home!” she exclaims happily. “So, let’s talk dates. I think Carla is picturing a fall wedding, but fall in Seattle is such question mark with the weather. Honestly, I think Ana would be just beautiful as a June bride.”

“June?” I repeat, and then immediately shake my head. “No, I… I definitely want to wait until after the baby is born. There’s just too much going on right now to add the stress of wedding planning on top of everything. I think I could probably wait another year before we start planning…”

“I think that’s smart, kid,” my dad says, clapping his hand on my knee. “It’s better that you don’t rush this.”

“I hardly think we’re rushing anything,” Christian interjects, perhaps a little too sharply, and my dad looks up and raises an eyebrow at him.

“Is that so?”

“Yes. Ana and I have known this was what we wanted for some time now. She’s pregnant with my child, I think it’s only fitting that we make our family official sooner rather than later.”

“Maybe. I guess it’s hard for me to judge how fast all of this is moving because there’s so much about you and your relationship with my daughter that I still don’t know.”

“Well, she’s happy, and she’s in love. I don’t know what more you need to know than that.”

“Excuse me?”

“Daddy…” I interrupt, giving him a pleading look to try and head off any argument that may be about to start. If there’s one thing I know Christian won’t tolerate, it’s any insinuation that us being together, or getting married, isn’t a good idea, and I’d rather not watch my father and my fiancé get into a power struggle over the Greys’ dinner table.

“I’m just saying kid, there’s no need to rush.”

Christian opens his mouth, but Grace cuts him off. “Well, I don’t think it would be a bad idea if we at least looked into wedding planners. You know it can take a year to find somewhere suitable to have the ceremony. It can’t hurt to start looking.”

“Sure,” I agree.

She nods and turns back to my father. “Carla and I have shared so many phone calls about this wedding, she’s so excited.”

“Yeah, Carla always did love weddings,” he says. “We never really had one. Maybe that’s part of the reason it didn’t work out.”

“You didn’t have a wedding?” Mia asks.

“Well, we had a wedding, but it was just a small ceremony. We got married in her parents’ back yard and had turkey sandwiches and cheap wine afterwards. We were young and didn’t have a lot of money, but I know she always wanted a white wedding, with the church and the flowers and everything. I guess Bob was the guy who finally gave her what she wanted.”

“It’s always like that though, right?” Elliot says. “It’s about the wedding. You can be with someone forever and never get married. I mean having one party doesn’t mean you’re going to stay together any longer than you would have if you skipped the whole wedding thing.”

“I don’t know,” Grace says. “I think there’s something to exchanging vows with the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. That declaration of love and commitment in front of God and all of your friends and family really makes the union between the two of you feel like family.”

“And yet, 1 in 2 marriages now end in divorce…” Elliot argues.

“That’s because marriage is work,” Carrick interjects. “You’re spending the rest of your life with another imperfect person and it can be difficult sometimes. Some people aren’t prepared to put in the effort required to make it through the tough times or they chose the wrong person to spend their life with. But if it’s the right person, it’s worth it a hundred times over.”

“That makes it nice to know that you’ve found the right person, right?” Gia says, reaching under the table to grasp his leg. Elliot frowns and pushes his salad around his plate for a second before looking back up at my dad.

“What do you think, Ray? Would you ever get married again?”

“Me? I don’t know, maybe. If I met the right person.”

“So… you don’t regret getting married to Ana’s mom? Even though you got divorced?”

“Regret? No. Carla and I were married for 16 years and 15 of them were the happiest years of my life. Besides, I got this little girl out of it and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

He leans over to nudge me and I smile back at him.

“I don’t know if that’s true,” I tell him with a yawn. “The best thing that’s ever happened to you? What about Sunday Night Football?”

“Well, Annie, Sunday Night Football is the reason you have children. So that you have someone to go get you a cold beer when the game’s on the line and you’re past the two minute warning so there aren’t any commercial breaks left.”

“You screwed up then,” I laugh. “Because there’s no way I’d get up for anything under the two minute warning.”

“Or I did everything right,” he says with a smile. “Sounds to me like I’ve instilled the right priorities in you, kid.”

“Looks like it,” I reply.

He reaches over and wraps his arm around me, pulling me into his side and kissing me hard on the top of the head, and for a moment, it feels like no time has passed at all since the last time we sat at the table having dinner together. Christian glances between us, the look of uncertainty from my father’s comments still clear on his face, but he doesn’t say anything. In fact, he’s mostly quiet for the rest of the dinner, despite the fact that the general conversation between my dad and his family is light and enjoyable. Elliot even takes a few opportunities to talk Christian up a little, which I’m quick to agree with each and every time.

“Yeah, we’ve been sailing since we were real little,” Elliot says, “but Christian’s always been the better of the two of us. He’s more patient than I am, and he’s better at the meticulous stuff, tying knots, making sure the cunningham stays tight, not drinking eight or twelve beers when we’re out at sea. You know, the little things.”

“Is that so?” my dad replies, and he actually looks a little impressed. Definitely more so than when Carrick was talking about GEH. “I’ve never really learned to sail. Montesano is landlocked so we’re mostly limited to lakes and rivers, but I do love to fish though.”

“Christian likes to fish,” I jump in. “He and Carrick and Elliot go all the time. You should join them sometime. He has the most amazing yacht, I think you’d really love it, Dad.”

“Well, if we’re going fishing out on the yacht, we probably won’t take Elliot,” Christian says, and my dad frowns.

“Why not?”

“Jet skis,” Christian’s entire family says in unison, and a broad smile creeps across Elliot’s face as he lifts his hands and rubs them together excitedly.

“It’s almost summer,” he says. “Once Kate gets back from Harvard, we’re going to lift two jet skis off Christian’s yacht, take off into the sound, and never return. Well, until we get low on gas, and then I guess we’ll have to come back or risk a horrible death at sea…”

He laughs but everyone around the table falls quiet and looks over to Gia, specifically me who just had a conversation with her about how she reacts whenever Kate is brought up. Her shoulders rise and fall as she takes a deep breath and then turns to look at Elliot.

“You know, I would go jet skiing with you,” she says calmly, but Elliot just turns to face her with a raised eyebrow.

“You’d get your hair wet,” he argues.

“So?”

“And the life jacket would give you a weird tan line.”

“I’d be spending time with you, Elliot. That’s what matters.”

“Spending time with me? Are you sure? Because it seems to me like your schedule is packed.”

“That was… I already told you…”

“Yeah, I know what you fucking told me,” he says, angry now.

“Elliot,” Gia replies, her voice almost a warning. “Can we talk about this later, please?”

“Why? I thought it was just a business lunch? You have nothing to hide right? I mean, it was a business lunch that I, as your boss, had no idea about and it was with a man my company has never done business with, but it’s completely innocent, right?”

“We talked about this,” she says, her face reddening, “His company his doing a remodel and they were looking for interior designers. They’d already contracted a construction company, this was an independent contract for me, not for Grey Construction.”

“And he just happened to get your name?” Elliot presses her.

“He knows Christian. We met at the GEH New Year’s Eve Charity Ball and I gave him my card. I promise you, it was just a business lunch. I’m not even going to take the contract.”

“Why? If it’s so innocent, why wouldn’t you take the contract?”

“Because obviously you can’t handle it!” she snaps.

Elliot narrows his eyes at her and then turns to look at Christian. “His name is Charles Gresham, you know him?”

“Uh…” Christian stutters, obviously extremely uncomfortable being put in the middle of Gia and Elliot’s sudden and highly inappropriate argument. “Gresham? Yeah, he… he’s an investment banker at Seattle Metropolitan Investing. He manages about 40% of my liquid investments.”

“See?” Gia says. “Baby, it’s just work!”

“An investment banker for a billionaire,” Elliot says ruefully. “Sounds like someone with a lot of money. A lot more money than me.”

“Why would that matter at all?” Gia asks, the frustration finally building enough that I can see tears welling in her eyes. “Elliot, can we please talk about this at home?” His jaw tightens, as do his fingers around his utensils, until eventually he shakes his head, pulls the napkin from his lap, and tosses it onto the table.

“Excuse me.” We all watch, slightly dazed, as he pushes away from the table and storms out of the room. Christian looks, for a second, as though he may get up too, but he stops when Gia practically leaps out of her seat and quickly scurries after him.

“Well, it wouldn’t be a family dinner if at least one of our kids didn’t storm out,” Carrick says with a small laugh, trying to keep the mood light.

“I’m sorry, Ray,” Grace says. “They’re… still figuring things out I think. Are you still hungry? There’s dessert. We have peach cobbler.”

“Uh… that sounds delicious.” my dad answers awkwardly.

“Mia, will you please bring the cobbler in from the kitchen? Mia? Hello, Mia?”

Mia looks up, jerking slightly as she seemingly comes out of her own secluded stupor and stares blankly back at her mother. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Will you bring the cobbler in from the kitchen.”

“Oh… uh… no. I gotta go. I’ve got ballet rehearsal.” She too puts her napkin on the table and slowly gets out of her chair, walking towards the exit of the dining room as though she’s been stunned.

“Take security with you!” Christian calls after her, but she doesn’t respond. She simply shuffles from the room and disappears.

“Make that two kids,” Carrick says.

“Well, I will get the cobbler then,” Grace says, but my dad reaches out to stop her.

“You know, Grace, you’ve been so wonderful tonight, and I can’t tell you when I last had a meal this delicious, but it looks like Ana might be about to fall asleep in her potatoes, so it might be a good idea if we head home.”

“What? No, I’m fine,” I say, shaking my head slightly to try and push some of the exhaustion away, but even as I turn to face my dad, my eyelids suddenly feel so heavy that I’m struggling to keep them open. My mind goes a little foggy and I can feel my body start to sway as I struggle to maintain my balance in my chair.

“Taylor,” Christian calls, waiting only half a second before he steps into the room. “Bring the car around. We’re ready to go.”

“Yes, sir.” Taylor replies. My dad helps me up from the table and I give half-hearted, exhausted hugs goodbye to both Grace and Carrick before we make our way through the dining room towards the entrance hall. As we walk, the fatigue really starts to overwhelm me and soon Christian is half carrying me with the arm he has wrapped around my waist.

“Come here, Ana,” Grace says, pulling me away from Christian for one last hug. “We love you so much, Darling. I’m so happy that you’re safe and back with us.”

“I love you too, Grace,” I reply, trying and failing not to mumble. She squeezes me tightly and passes me back to Christian, and his arms wrapping around me is the last thing I remember until I’m suddenly jolted awake by the sound of my phone vibrating against something hard in the darkness next to me. The sudden change in my surroundings is disorienting because, not only do I have no idea how I got here, I don’t even know where I am. The room is dark and I’m alone, but as I bolt upright and glance down on my phone on the bedside table, I realize I’m in my bed. Christian must have carried me here from the car.

How long have I been asleep?

The vibrating catches my attention again so I reach down for my phone, read Kate’s name flashing across the screen, and take a quick second to note that it’s nearly 10 when I answer, which means that it’s past midnight her time.

“Hello?” I croak.

“Ana Marie,” she slurs over the loud thumping music in the background.

“Rose, Kate. My middle name is Rose.”

“No, I changed it,” she says, and then laughs. “Anaaaaaa, I miss you!”

“I know, Katie. I miss you too.”

“Carter and I have been slaying at beer pong all night and I don’t even have anyone to brag to because my best friend is so far away. You should be here, why aren’t you here?”

“You sound awfully drunk to have been slaying,” I say wryly. “Is Carter having another party?”

“Mhm. We’re celebrating.”

“Celebrating what?”

“I got a letter from the Dean today saying that I’ve been selected as our graduating class valedictorian. I’m going to graduate at the top of our class, Ana! I did it!”

“Oh my god, Kate, that’s amazing! Congratulations!”

“Thank you. I honestly can’t believe it’s really happening.”

“I can. You’ve worked so hard for this. Congratulations, Katie. I’m so proud of you!”

“Ana! Come back here!” she says, pleading now. “Walk with me at graduation. You promised! Start together, finish together, right?”

“Right, but…”

“Oh shit, I’m up. I gotta go, but think about it, okay? No, don’t think about it. Just get your ass to Cambridge. I love you and I want my last eight weeks before I turn you over to Christian and Calliope forever.”

“I love you too, Kate,” I tell her, and then I hear some muffled noises through the phone followed by her yelling Carter’s name and then the long drawn out sound of silence. I pull my phone away and see that the call has ended so I sigh and toss it back onto the nightstand.

The aftermath of the conversation leaves me with a palpable ache in my chest, and it doesn’t take me long to identify that the ache is a little bit of jealousy. Not because she’s been selected for Valedictorian, I really am proud of her for accomplishing that because I know better than anyone how hard she’s worked to earn it. The jealousy is simply that she’s there. She’s out and she’s having a great time and she’s wringing every last experience out of college that she possibly can.

I want that. I want to get back to that, and from what everyone tells me, I can. I just have to make the choice. I could get on a plane, tonight if I wanted to, go back to Cambridge and finish what I’ve been striving for for three years. I could walk with Kate. I could see the look on my dad’s face when they announce my name at graduation. All of my dreams are within the reach of my fingertips and all I have to do is make the choice to go get them. I’m the only thing standing in my way right now. Maybe my problem is that I just need a swift kick in the ass to get me to make the choice to go.

Suddenly, I feel a solid kick right in the center of my belly and it’s hard enough that I actually let out an audible gasp. My hand automatically reaches down to the place where Calliope has kicked me, subconsciously hoping to feel more movement, but there’s nothing. Just a single, encouraging kick, as though she can read my thoughts.

Great, Christian’s right. My daughter is going to get my smart mouth.

A smile creeps across my lips and I take a deep breath and pull back the covers to get out of bed, determined to find wherever Christian is in the apartment and tell him that I’m going to go back to Cambridge tomorrow. But, as I make my way out to the great room,  I pause and duck back in the hallway to stay out of view when I hear him talking to my father.

“She’s not ready.”

“Look, I get that this has been traumatic for everyone,” my dad says. “I don’t like it any more than you do, believe me, but I’m not letting her drop out of school. Our top priority right now needs to be getting her back to Cambridge to finish up these last eight weeks and get her degree. I will not allow this son of a bitch to take that away from her, I’ll go with her if I have to.”

“She needs more time,” Christian argues.

“No, I agree with Captain Steele,” Luke says. “She only has eight weeks, less than that because she’s already missed part of this week and two of those eight weeks are dead week and finals. If she misses much more school, she’s not going to be able to catch up, at least not in a way where she’ll do well on her finals and end her college career the way she wants to. If we don’t do something to get her back there, she’s never going to, and it’ll be the biggest regret of her life. She just needs to be pushed a little, reassured.”

“But can we reassure her?” Christian asks. “How do we know she’s any safer there than she is here? She’ll be exposed on campus…”

“She has a full security detail,” my dad interrupts him, and then under his breath adds, “a little ridiculous if you ask me.”

“She also has a full security detail here, and here we are. I’m not going to put three thousand miles of distance between us when I can’t absolutely guarantee her safety.”

“Can you ever guarantee her safety?” my dad asks. “You don’t think I worried about her every day I was in Iraq, even before any of this happened?”

“Mr. Grey, I know the idea of her being so far away is uncomfortable for you,” Luke interjects. “But you have to understand the circumstances that fell into place for this to happen in the first place. She was alone. She didn’t have her team with her, and that’s not going to happen again. I won’t leave her by herself, not even for a second, I swear to you. We’re going to keep her safe and we have the ability to do that in Cambridge.”

There’s a pause as I imagine Christian mulling over Luke’s promise. “Shouldn’t she have a say in this?” he asks at last. “What if she doesn’t even want to go back to school?”

“I do!” I call, and then immediately curse myself. With a bracing breath, I step out of the hallway and into the great room where the three of them look up at me, clearly surprised. “I do want to go back to school, Christian. Tomorrow, if I can.”

My dad smiles. “Well, there you have it! Don’t you worry, Sweetheart. We’ll have you on the first plane out of here tomorrow morning.”

“Mr. Grey has a plane,” Luke chimes in. “It’s the safest way for her to travel. The staff have been vetted and we have complete control over the flight plan.”

“Well… great,” my dad says. “When can she take off?”

“Wait,” Christian says. “I don’t… Ana…”

“Mr. Grey?” Taylor’s voice interrupts him and we all turn to look at the entryway to the foyer where he’s standing with a manilla envelope in his hand. Christian’s eyes narrow in on it, and then widen with sudden understanding.

“Did you find her?” he asks.

“Miss Williams?” Taylor clarifies, and then shakes his head. “No, I haven’t been able to locate her yet, but I did find Hyun Son.”

“Good, that’s a place to start,” Christian says. “Where is he?”

Taylor’s jaw tightens, then he walks into the great room to stand before Christian on the sofa and tosses the envelope on the coffee table in front of him.

“What’s this?” Christian asks.

“A coroner’s report.”

Christian’s expression shifts as he reaches out of the envelope, and while he flips through the pages inside, Taylor explains what the report contains.

“He was found in the trunk of his car down by an abandoned fish house on the docks with a bullet hole in the back of his head.”

“He was shot?” Luke asks.

“Yes,” Taylor confirms. “Execution style.”

“In Boston?” Luke clarifies, but Taylor shakes his head.

“No, in Seattle.”

Christian grimaces as he looks at the last item in the file, which judging by his expression must be a photo, and then closes the folder. It falls into his lap and he places his forehead in his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.

“Taylor call Boeing, have my plane ready for an 8 AM departure,” he says. “Ana is leaving for Boston in the morning.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Taylor? Find Leila Williams.”

“Yes, sir.”

Christian scrubs his hands over his face and tosses the folder onto the coffee table before slowly getting off the couch to walk towards me.

“Come with me. If you’re going to leave in the morning, then this is our last night together for awhile.”

I nod and reach out for his hand, but stop to look back at my dad. “Do you have everything you need? Did Christian show you the guest room upstairs?”

“I’m fine, Annie. Besides, I want to talk to Luke here about a few things. Have a good…” he pauses and his face wrinkles with conflict before he finally settles on. “Sweet dreams, babygirl.”

“Good night, Daddy.”

Christian’s hand tugs against mine and I follow him into our bedroom. Once we’re alone though, he releases me and sits on the edge of the bed, placing his face in his hands again.

“I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do this, Ana. I don’t know if I can let you go.”

“You’re not letting me go,” I tell him. “Nothing is changing. It’s just going back to normal. I need a little normal right now.”

“Ana…”

I move across the room and drop to my knees in front of him so that I can look him in the eye when I speak.

“I love you, Christian, but I can’t be here right now. Everything here reminds me about what happened and as long as I’m here that’s all I’m going to be able to think about. I need to get away from that, take a break… and I need to get back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and that’s going to school. I want to be at school and I think getting back to that and having something purposeful to keep my mind distracted is going to be good for me.”

He looks down at me, staring into my eyes for a long time, until he eventually reaches down to cup either side of my face with his hands and pulls me up to his lips. I return his kiss with eager fervor, basking in the warmth of his lips and letting it wash away everything inside of me except for the love I feel for him and the comfort I find in his touch. I force myself to surrender to the passion of his tongue and his lips until I can’t form coherent thought, and when he pulls away, I immediately climb off the floor and into his lap for more.

“I love you, Ana,” he whispers.

“And I love you.” I reply. He shifts me so that I can lie back on the bed and then moves to my side so that I’m nestled in his arms. I can feel his lips brush softly against the skin on my neck and shoulders, the tip of his nose moving tenderly against my hair while he nuzzles me. Every gentle touch sends a shiver of warm pleasure over me and makes me want more, to be closer to him, despite the fact that my entire body is flush against his.

I moan slightly and arch my back when I feel his fingers trace a soft line up my arm, and as I do, I feel him pressing hard and ready into my backside.

“Oh…”

“I’m sorry, just ignore it,” he says quickly, but I turn around and frown.

“Ignore it?”

He takes a breath. “I know that you need some time. I don’t want to pressure you…” I turn in his arms so that I can cut off his words with my lips. He kisses me back, though not in a way that makes me feel as though this could progress beyond a kiss, so I slowly reach down and grip his erection thorugh his pants.

“Ana…”

“I just want to be close to you, Christian,” I reply. “Please. Love me.”

His eyes search mine, looking for any kind of hesitance, so I try and assuage his concerns by kissing him again. He doesn’t stop me and I press my luck again by moving as though I’m going to climb over the top of him.

“Wait,” he says, holding my hips firm with his hands. “Just… lie back.”

“It’s okay, Christian. I want you.”

“I know. Lie back.”

I glance up into his eyes once more, trying to judge the meaning behind the conflict I see warring there, and then turn once more so that he’s spooning me. His hands reach for the hem of my t-shirt and he slowly inches it up so that his hands can explore my body. Once again, he begins kissing my neck, only this time his fingers slip beneath the cup of my bra and close tightly around my nipple. I gasp and grind into him, desperately seeking friction as the heat begins to bloom between my legs, until I can’t take it anymore, and I yank down the band of my yoga pants and pull them down my legs. He sits up so that he can kiss me while he undoes his fly and while our tongues and harsh breathing all mingle together in a kind of synchronized dance, I feel him slowly slip inside of me.

“Is that okay?” he checks.

“Yes,” I breathe. “Just keep me quiet. I don’t want my dad to hear…”

He turns my face back towards him and thrusts forward again, muffling my cry of pleasure with his lips. Euphoria begins to cloud my mind as he moves in and out of me, slowly, meticulously, building me to the kind of orgasm that goes on and on and burns through my entire body until I feel like I’m flying. I pant through the molten pleasure rolling over every inch of my skin as I finally fall over the precipice into release. His name breaks through my lips and he groans as I continue to cry out my pleasure into his mouth and soon, I feel his thrusts grow sharper until eventually he finds his own release inside of me.

Once the pulsing pleasure dies down, leaving us to bask in the post orgasm haze that is completely absent of all hurt and fear, he turns me back towards him, brushes my hair away from my face, and looks down into my eyes once again.

“I’m coming with you,” he says.

“What?”

“To Cambridge. I’m coming with you. If you need to go, I’m not going to stop you. But being apart from you right now… I can’t handle that. So, I’m coming with you.”

“But GEH…”

“Fuck GEH. You think I care about my company right now? Don’t you understand, Ana? I thought I was going to lose you. I’ve done this without you before and I won’t do it again. None of this means anything without you. ”

“Christian…”

He presses his fingers into my lips to silence me. “It’s only eight weeks. I can work remotely from Cambridge, travel from Boston if I absolutely have to. I can find a way to make it work, but I can’t make 3,000 miles of distance between us work. Not until we know who’s behind this and we’ve done something about it. So I’m coming with you.”

My lips slowly creep into a wide smile. “Okay.”

“Good, then it’s settled.” I nod and after he takes another breath, he smiles too and then leans down to kiss me once more.

“I love you, Anastasia.”

“I love you too, Christian.”

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