Chapter 40

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It’s an abnormally hot summer day, even for mid-July. The bridal boutique where I’m trying on my dress now that the final alterations have been made is sweltering. Luke looks incredibly uncomfortable sitting in the chair against the wall a few feet away from me, and while Grace paces back and forth near the door, talking to the hospital so she can follow up on one of her patients, she actually has to reach up and wipe the sweat away from her brow with the back of her hand.

“How are we doing, Miss Steele?” the manager asks, coming in from the back room for what feels like the 400th time today.

“We’re fine,” I tell her. “Still waiting.”

She nods and gives me a very forced looking smile. I’ve been here, in this dress, for probably 40 minutes and while I’m sure she would have normally insisted we move along with our appointment so she could get me out of here as quickly as possible, she holds her tongue because I will be leaving this shop today with over six figures worth of wedding dresses.

Not one, two.

I twist in the mirror to admire the back of the dress again when, finally, Kate comes bustling through the archway leading in from the main store.

“I’m so sorry, Ana, traffic was terrible and there’s paparazzi outsi–” she halts in mid-sentence and the apologetic look on her face suddenly changes to confusion. “But… that’s the same dress.”

“I know,” I sigh. “No one else has seen the new one yet, and I didn’t want to do the big reveal until you got here. I just wanted to look at the first dress one last time.”

“It’s beautiful,” Kate says. “And you look amazing in it. I don’t understand why you’re changing it.”

“It doesn’t fit the venue, and the other one is the one the paper announced I would be wearing, so…” My hands brush down over the soft ivory lace that perfectly hugs the body I’ve worked so hard to get back all the way down past my hips and then sweeps out in a graceful pool around my feet. The first time I tried this dress on, I immediately fell in love with the detail in the lace and the raw, unfinished edges of the thin lace straps that circle my shoulders. It’s beautiful, elegant, and yet still a little sexy. My breasts look fantastic cupped inside the custom created bodice and the dress itself is completely backless, all the way down to the top of my behind, which is artfully contained within the dress to look high, firm, and utterly perfect. I’ve imagined myself in this gown, walking down the aisle towards Christian, a hundred times, and even in just the fantasy of it, I could see the cocktail of wonder, love, and a hint of lust in his eyes.

It’s my perfect dress, but it’s not the dress I’ll be wearing on my wedding day.

I sigh and turn away from the mirror. Since the dress I”m wearing is custom made, I can’t return it, and while I step off the pedestal so I can make my way to the back to try on the new dress, I have a passing thought that maybe one day Calliope will wear this on her wedding day and it won’t feel like such a waste.

It takes three people to help me get into the gown I’m actually going to wear on Saturday. We begin with not one, but two layers of petticoats to ensure the skirt of the gown will reach it’s full potential and then I’m strapped tightly into a kind of corset that will both keep my waist looking tiny and perfect, and act as a support for my breasts since this gown is strapless but the the bodice isn’t boned.

After ensuring I can breathe, two salesgirls lift the dress as high as they can, while the manager holds open the skirt so I can slide inside, and as they carefully ease the dress over me, I prepare myself for the weight. The gown is gorgeous. I kept the lace theme, as I really did love that from the first dress, but this lace isn’t ivory, it’s white, almost blinding white, which seems a bit presumptuous since my daughter is being carried down the aisle by my soon to be Mother-in-Law right in front of me. The bodice is intricate with a deep v sweetheart neckline, and straps similar to the first dress that drape beautifully, but uselessly, over my arms at the side. At my waist, the skirt begins to billow out in a cloud of gossamer and lace, which is woven into a floral pattern throughout the skirt to reflect the gardens where we’re saying our vows, and then continues on several feet behind me. As the sales staff lay the gargantuan train out behind me, which I’m sure will look amazing tumbling down the long staircases of Thornewood Castle, I’m once again floored by how stunning this gown really is. It’s the kind of dress you would imagine royalty would wear, but it’s also extremely heavy. Almost uncomfortably so. It feels almost as though it’s consuming me, and every time I imagine Christian trying to fight his way through all of this material to get under my dress on our wedding night, I burst into a fit of giggles.

“Alright,” the manager says brightly as she steps away from me. “What do you think, dear?”

“It really is beautiful,” I say, glancing up and down in my own private mirror.”

“Your groom is going to be absolutely floored.” She smiles and attempts to further fluff the already overfull skirt. “Oh, you look like Cinderella. Shall we show the others?”

I nod and then take her hand to help me down off the pedestal, gathering the front of the skirt in my hand so I can walk, and as I wonder how that’s going to work practically when I walk down the aisle, one hand wrapped through my father’s elbow and another clutching to the huge white bouquet Seattle’s top tier florist has personally crafted for me, I feel the weight of the dress pulling me back. It’s like an anchor, determined to keep me in place, but I trudge forward, forcing myself out of the dressing room to where my family is waiting.

“Ana,” Luke says, straightening in his chair the moment I come through the arch and gawking at me. “Oh my god, you look…” He’s at a loss for words, and when Grace turns away from the display of hairpieces she’s carefully examining to look at me, her hand immediately shoots up to her mouth and her eyes well with tears.

“Oh, Ana… that’s it. That’s the dress. My darling girl, you look absolutely beautiful.”

“Really?”

“Yes, oh, Christian is going to lose his mind when he sees you.”

I let out a sharp exhale of relief and then step on the riser so I can examine the dress once more, but as the salesgirl places the veil over my hair and I turn to look at Kate, I notice that she’s not surveying the dress with quite the same enthusiasm as Luke or Grace.

“Kate?”

She glances up at me and gives me a subtly forced smile. “It’s a beautiful dress, Ana. You look like a princess.” Her words aren’t insincere, but they aren’t overly joyous or excited either, so I frown.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” She shakes her head, but I continue to stare her down until, eventually, she sighs. “It just doesn’t really look like you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s stunning, Ana. You are going to look phenomenal on your wedding day and Christian…” She hesitates again, pursing her lips together as though she’s trying to keep herself from saying something she’ll regret.

“And Christian?” I press her.

“You look gorgeous, Ana.”

And Christian?”

She sighs again. “The other dress is so much more modern and…” she bites her lip, clearly struggling for words. “When I first saw it, I imagined his jaw hitting the floor when he saw you appear at the end of the aisle. This dress is… pretty, but you are kind of lost in it.”

I stare at her for a long time and then, out of nowhere, suddenly burst into tears. The weight of the dress seems to pull on me and, as I dissolve into the torrent of emotion that’s been building inside of me since the moment Christian told me he’d changed our wedding plans, I crumple to the floor.

“Oh my god, Ana,” Kate says, rushing to my side. “I’m so sorry. It’s beautiful, it’s so beautiful, and you’re gorgeous. Christian is going to love it. Everyone is.”

“That’s true, Ana. You are going to be the most beautiful bride anyone has ever seen,” Grace adds and she falls to her knees next to me and pulls me into her arms.

“She’s right, though,” I sob. “This dress isn’t me. It isn’t Christian… at least I didn’t think it was. None of this feels right but he’s so insistent on making everything bigger and louder… do I not know him as well as I think I do?”

“Annie, he’s just excited,” Kate says, rubbing her hand over my back comfortingly. “He loves you and he wants to shout it from the rooftops. That’s all this is. And your wedding is going to be so beautiful. Hell, the entire city is treating it like a bigger deal than Will and Kate’s wedding. You’re like, Seattle’s very own princess. Your dress is fantastic.”

Her words don’t comfort me, in fact, they only make me sob harder, and Grace tightens her hold around me.

“It’s going to ruin everything. It’s too heavy. Christian and I have been taking ballroom lessons because I can’t dance to save my life and we’re going to be in front of hundreds of people… how am I supposed to do anything in this dress if I can’t move?”

“So we’ll get you a different dress for the reception. That’s not uncommon.”

“She has another dress…” Luke points out.

“No, like a dancing dress. Something that will look really great when you move.”

“I don’t have time to find and fit another dress, I’m getting married in two days, Kate.” Suddenly, my breath feels as though it freezes in my chest and I feel a wave of cold wash over me. “Two days. I’m getting married in two days…”

“Ana,” Grace says soothingly as my body begins to shake. “It’s okay, sweetie. Shhhh. You’re just feeling overwhelmed. This is just pre-wedding nerves, every girl gets them. You’re going to be okay.”

I shake my head. “I need out of this dress. Right now. Please, take it off.”

My hands reach desperately for the ties at the back of my dress and as Kate hurries to unfasten the bodice, the tears come more forcefully. When I’m finally free from the confines of the gown, her arms wrap around me again and she helps pull me to my feet.

“It’s okay, Ana. It’s going to be okay.”

“I’ll take care of the dress,” Grace says, looking worried. “Go get her back in her regular clothes and we’ll head home. We’ve got to be to the airport soon anyway.”

Kate nods and drags me into the changing rooms once again, and as I start to change out of the corset and petticoats and back into my jeans and loose fitting tank top, the tears stop and my body starts to relax.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, wiping the moisture away from my eyes.

“What’s going on, Ana?”

“I just feel like I’m drowning. This wedding has taken on a life of it’s own. My book was released to the critics this week and Lydia has been calling me non-stop to talk about the feedback, but I haven’t had a chance to read any of it. I’m leaving on a book tour in five days and I don’t even know where I’m going because I haven’t had any time to look at the itinerary. Everything is moving so fast… I just need a second to breathe.”

“Why don’t you have a wedding planner helping you with all of this?”

“There wasn’t time for Taylor to vet another person. He’s already got his hands full with security for the actual wedding with the staff we’ve hired and the dozens of vendors that will be going in and out… not to mention this witch hunt he’s going on throughout GEH and Grey Construction.”

“What do you mean?”

“He traced payments from that offshore account to about a hundred different people but we have no idea if they’re all involved in this plot or if the person who’s behind this uses that account to pay anyone he contracts or does business with under the table. He started with Grey Construction, because Elliot’s CCTV footage proved that Gia didn’t leave that resignation note, and he found payments to people who are working on our new house. Taylor did a sweep of the whole property and found several issues with the security system they installed, spyware mostly, to collect the codes and so someone could have remote access to the cameras. They’ve been turned over to the… uh, they’ve been arrested,  but they’ve all given names we already know. Leila. Elena. Hyun. Clearly, they’ve rehearsed this.”

“Jesus…”

“There were like fifteen low level employees at GEH too, and some students at Harvard who I had classes with but never really talked to, but then there’s payments to dry cleaners, dog walkers, delivery services, repairmen, and a satellite company. Christian thinks that’s how he’s been keeping tabs on us, paying ordinary people to watch us and track our movements, but Taylor doesn’t think tracking each and every person on this list of people down and interrogating them is worth our resources. Especially if they’re being coached on what to say if they’re caught. We need some kind of real proof.”

“What about the people at GEH?”

“They’re being monitored, quietly. All of their communication coming in and going out is seen and read by Taylor or someone on his team first. I’m not really sure what they’re doing with it, or if any progress has been made because he and Christian are both being very tight lipped about their plans to handle this, but I think they’re trying to be less aggressive and more subtle in their approach since every time we think we’re getting close to someone who has real ties to him, they disappear, and it’s hard to get information out of someone who’s dead. It feels like we’re paddling upstream, you know. Fighting like crazy but not really getting anywhere.” I sigh. “The most important thing right now is to find out who he is, so Taylor is going to use the people we know he’s been in contact with and focus on doing that.”

“Well, as long as you’re safe, that’s all I care about. What are they doing to your house?”

“Complete overhaul. Everything has to be replaced. So, we’re not moving in as soon as we thought.”

“That’s sucks. I’m sorry…”

I nod, then tense as my phone rings in my purse, and when I reach inside and recognize the number as the bakery who we’ve hired to construct our massive, seven-tier wedding cake, my stress levels are instantly peaked again.

“Anastasia Steele,” I answer.

“Good Afternoon, Miss Steele. I’m calling from Sugar Cake Studio, and we’ve… had a miscommunication.”

“Miscommunication?”

“Yes, we’ve just finished the construction of your cake and the order form includes seven layers of madagascar vanilla cake, white chocolate raspberry filling, and buttercream frosting underneath white fondant, but the sugar english roses… our designer did them in gold.”

“Gold? No. Nothing in our wedding is gold. Just white and silver. They’re supposed to be silver.”

“I understand, Miss Steele, and you have my sincerest apologies, but with the number of roses it takes to finish your cake, there simply isn’t enough time to start over. They have to be hand crafted and set, painted…”

“I-I…” Instead of rushing through ideas of how to fix this, my mind goes completely blank and I feel as though I might be about to hyperventilate when Kate reaches out and takes the phone from me.

“What can we do to fix this?” she asks, and then pauses. “Do it then, whatever you can. Just make sure there is a cake there at one o’clock on Saturday. Great.” She hangs up and hands the phone back to me, and while I glance questioningly between her and my phone, she sighs.

“It’s cake, Ana. We’re two days away from the wedding, if something is goes wrong, it’s going to go wrong, and there’s no point in stressing about it. Just remember that by Saturday night, you’re going to be Mrs. Christian Grey. In the end, that’s all that matters, right?”

“Right. Thank you, Kate.” I take a deep breath, exhaling slowly, and as my body relaxes and catches up to my mind, she wraps an arm around me and squeezes me tightly into her side.

“You really need to unwind, babe. Luckily for you, I’ve got you covered.” She flashes a dazzling smile at me. “Let’s go.”

 

There’s a hoard of photographers outside, waiting for the first picture of the dress, so Grace takes the two, oversized, beige garment bags in her hands and uses them to shield herself while she and two salesgirls fight their way to the SUV parked on the curb. The diversion works fairly well for the most part, I’m at least able to get out of the store without being immediately surrounded. Once the photographers realize that I’m not the one climbing into the SUV though, they quickly turn around and Luke has to wrap himself around me and practically drag me to Kate’s car a few spaces back to get me there safely.

Inside her brand new, cherry red BMW, the crowd swarms us and I make a very purposeful gesture to shield my eyes with my left hand so they get plenty of pictures of my engagement ring. Last week, I dropped it off to get it cleaned and have the stone checked before I went to a dress fitting with Kate and Ros. When we left the dress shop, some photographer got a photo of me without my ring and the next day, three different local tabloids ran stories about how the wedding was off, and Christian went off the rails. Jacqueline, his PR manager, spent the entire day on the phone trying to force them to run a redaction, but to no avail. So, hopefully, when these photos get splashed all over some awful rag, at least some of those rumors will get cleared up.

“Head straight for Escala,” Luke tells Kate, sticking his head all the way in the car to prevent the photographers from hearing him. “We’ll be right behind you. No stops.”

“You got it, boss.” She whips out a pair of dark, oversized sunglasses to protect her vision from the flashing lights of the cameras and then slowly pulls away from the curb in the wake of people that Luke is able to make. Once she’s clear, she hits the gas and we speed off as best we can through downtown until we pull into the garage under Escala.

I notice, as we get out of the car and she pulls a suitcase far too large for one night out of her trunk, that my dad, Elliot, and Carrick are already here, which means that once Luke pulls into his own place with Grace, everyone is accounted for and we should be able to leave as soon as we get upstairs.

“Oh, I’m starting to get butterflies,” Grace says as the elevator hums to life and begins climbing the 31 floors to the penthouse. “I’m just so excited this day is finally here.” She wraps her arms around me from behind and kisses me on top of my head.

“Me too,” I tell her, although my butterflies feel more like bats.

When the doors open, we find Andrea pacing around the foyer on her cellphone, coordinating tuxedo delivery for tomorrow, but when she sees us step out of the elevator with the dress bags, she immediately dismisses whoever she’s on the phone with and tells them she’ll call them back.

“Wait, wait, wait! Is that the dress?”

“Yes,” I tell her.

“Okay…” She picks up a clipboard off the table in the center of the room and scans through the page attached. “It needs to go into the second guest room, and the spare needs to go in the first, so they don’t get confused. De Beers delivered your jewelry this afternoon, so it’s already up there, did you stop by Manolo Blahnik and get your shoes?”

“Oh, fuck,” I groan. “No, I completely forgot. Shit, what time is it?” I look down at my phone for the time, trying to figure out how I’m going to get downtown and back before we’re supposed to leave, but Andrea quickly reaches out and places a soothing hand on my forearm.

“Don’t worry about it, Ana. I’ll take care of it. Now that you’re home, your wedding weekend has officially commenced. You don’t worry about anything else, I’ll take it from here.”

“Thank you, Andrea,” I sigh with relief.

“Don’t mention it, Miss Steele. Or should I say, Mrs. Grey?” She winks and then moves past me to help Luke carry the heavy dress bags upstairs, while I move into the apartment to find my groom. At first, the only people I see are Carrick, Elliot, and my Dad, who are gathered by the window in eager conversation, but eventually my eyes fall on Christian, who is in the living room, hovering over Calliope in a plank position, doing push ups and kissing each of her cheeks as he falls down over the top of her.

“Must be nice to have so much energy to burn,” I say teasingly as I saunter towards them, and when he looks up, he beams.

“I’m getting married in two days, gotta look my best.”

Instantly, the image of the scale from this morning, displaying the last three pounds I just can’t seem to shed, comes to mind and I frown, which makes his smile falter for a second before he gets off the ground and comes at me with his hands reached out for my face. Once my cheeks are cupped in his palms, he kisses me fiercely.

“You are the most beautiful woman in the world,” he assures me. “Make no mistake, I’m the one really making out here. I know what a lucky son of a bitch I am to be giving you my name on Saturday.”

I bite down on my lower lip to pull back the ridiculous smile that wants to come out at his sweet words and then lean forward and peck him gently on the lips again. He hums and tries to deepen the kiss once more, but I quickly pull away.

“Behave,” I chastise him, and then move around him to Calliope still laid out over the blanket behind him. “Hi, sweetheart.”

I groan as I reach beneath the blankets and scoop her into my arms. Her eyes widen when I pull  her close to me, and when she reaches her tiny little hand from the bundle of blankets to grip my face with her little fingers, I feel myself melt.

“I missed you all day,” I coo at her, and then lean down and blow raspberries against her neck before kissing her all over her face. When I pull away, her face is lights up. “Awh… Are you sure we can’t take her with us?”

“The Vegas strip is no place for an infant,” Christian says.

“It’s been pretty good to us,” I argue, but he narrows his eyes in response.

“The things that have happened between you and I in Las Vegas are never going to happen to her. Over my dead body.”

“Well, Christian,” Kate interrupts. “If you don’t learn to relax a little bit, that’s gonna be in about five years. So, wha’d’you say we get out of here and let loose a little, huh?”

“Whenever you’re ready, Kate,” he placates her. She smiles and turns back to the room.

“Alright, everyone. Let’s roll out.”

“Vegas!” Elliot yells. Christian’s mom lets out an awkward whoop and punches her fist into the air, and as everyone else in the room devolves into laughter, I look back down at the baby in my arms and frown.

“She’s not going to think we’re abandoning her, right?”

“She’s just a baby, sweetheart, and you’re only going to be gone one night,” my dad says. “She and I are going to be just fine.”

I nod but hesitate before I pass her off to him. “Ava will be here, and so will Mrs. Jones, if you need any help. And Ryan is here for security. And you can call me if anything happens. Anything. Christian and I will get on a plane and…”

“Your lack of confidence in my parenting skills is astounding sometimes,” he says dryly, and while I try to brush his sarcasm off with a laugh, it comes out as more of a nervous whimper and I hug Calliope close to my chest again.

“Be good for Grandpa,” I whisper as I hug her. “Mommy will miss you. So, so much.”

“Ana…” Christian presses me, and slowly I shift her from my arms to my father’s. Christian steps forward and kisses Calliope softly on the head, and then reaches forward to grip my father’s arm.

“You’re sure you won’t join us?” he asks. “We have plenty of people to hold the fort down here and look after Calli, you’re more than welcome to come along.”

“Surprising, I don’t think my future son-in-law’s bachelor party is really the place for me.”

“It might help to have you along,” I joke. “God only knows what Elliot has planned.”

“Oh, you know what I have planned,” Elliot laughs from the archway that leads to the foyer. “If you think long and hard enough about it, I bet you can imagine everything I have planned.”

I grimace, and my father raises an eyebrow at me. “See? You kids have fun. Calli and I will be here when you get home.”

“I love you, Daddy.” I kiss him on the cheek and give Calliope one last guilty look before Christian hooks his hand through my elbow and pulls me gently towards the elevators where everyone else is waiting.

 

The long, stretch limo downstairs that is waiting to take us to the airport is once again surrounded by reporters, so our family makes a kind of human shield around Christian and I while Luke and Taylor hold up jackets to block our faces from the flashes. Once we’re inside though, we relax behind the darkly tinted windows, which adequately black out the photographers we know are still trying to get a photo, and join in the increasingly celebratory mood with the rest of our family. Even Christian doesn’t seem annoyed by the loud music or Kate’s obnoxious selfie taking. In fact, he and Elliot look more like best friends than I’ve ever seen them before as they joke around with each other the entire way to the airport.

When we pull onto the tarmac at SeaTac, the doors to the plane are already open, and we find that it’s because  Ros, Gwen, Mia, one of the two security guards Christian hired for his family, and a young girl I don’t know, are already aboard.

“Christian!” Ros cries as he comes around the front bulkhead and moves down the center of the plane. She leaps out of her seat and wraps her arms around the back of his head. “I can’t believe this day is finally here. I’m so happy for you! And Ana!” She moves to hug me in the same overzealous fashion. “I don’t know why, but it feels like we’re about to be family and I’m so excited about it.” She pauses, and then laughs. “We’re going to be like sister wives.”

“No, you’re not,” Christian says flatly. He looks irritated as he pushes me past her and into the pair of seats across the aisle, but before he sits down, he reaches over to knock the back of his hand against his sister’s knee. She’s huddled together in a pair of seats a row back and across from us, giggling with the girl I don’t know, so when she turns to look at Christian, she seems almost annoyed.

“What?”

“What?” Christian repeats. “How about, hi?”

“Hi.” She tries to turn back around to her friend, but Christian doesn’t let her.

“Where have you been? I’ve called you probably ten times and you’ve never answered or called me back. What are you, avoiding me?”

“No.” She’s defensive now. “I’m just busy. Summer recital is coming up and I’m a lead this year. I’ve been at rehearsal every day.”

“Well, Ana’s leaving next week on her book tour so I’ve got some free time. I’d like to take you to lunch or dinner, maybe have you come stay at Escala one night.”

“Can’t. I have several lifts in this show, so I’m eating very clean and low calorie. That doesn’t bode well for eating out.”

He narrows his eyes. “We live in Seattle, there’s plenty of restaurants that cater to clean eating. Or, Gail can cook for us.”

“That’s okay. Thanks, though.”

“Mia.” He sounds almost wounded. “You’re my sister, and I miss you. I want to spend some time with you. Besides, I thought you wanted to talk to me?”

She quickly shakes her head. “No. Nothing. I just… I just wanted to tell you to be careful. You know, with everything going on.” Her eyes shift up for a half second to the rest of our family filling in the seats at the front of the plane and then back to her friend. Her friend though doesn’t seem to be paying attention to her anymore. Instead, her gaze is fixed on her brother.

“Hi, Christian,” she says, waving her fingers at him in a very shy manner.

“Hello, Tabitha,” Christian replies. The girl starts to giggle and turns back to whisper to Mia and after a few seconds, Mia pulls away, rolls her eyes, and shakes her head.

“You’re so stupid, Tibby. He’s getting married.”

Christian lets out a sigh as he slumps down into the seat next to me, and I give him a teasing smile.

“So, you and Tibby, huh?”

His eyes narrow. “No.”

“She’s a little young for you,” I continue, ignoring his dismissive tone. “But she’s cute in an underage child kind of way…”

“Ana…”

“Do I have to go beat her up?”

Finally, he cracks a smile. “Stop.”

I giggle and pull up the armrest between us so I can cuddle against him until we take off and I have to put a seatbelt on. Natalia comes up the aisles while the pilot does the final pre-flight checks and passes out glasses of champagne, which both Mia and Tabitha very unsubtly sneak off her tray, but before we take our first sip, Carrick stands at the front of the plane and gives a toast.

“To my son, Christian, and his beautiful bride, Anastasia. We all love you, so much, and we’re so proud to be here to support you on this joyous day. I wish you both nothing but happiness and a lifetime worth of love. To Christian and Ana.”

“Christian and Ana!”

Christian leans over and places a gentle kiss against my lips before we raise our glasses and toast with the rest of our family, but as the plane begins taxing over the airfield, Kate and Elliot start digging through their bags to pass out the very first of their party favors. My guests receive bright pink lei’s that have tiny plastic penises between each flower, while Elliot’s all get a bottle of craft beer.

My first impression, Elliot- 1 Kate- 0.

“You’re not putting a penis on me,” I say firmly as Kate approaches Christian and I.

“Funny…” she muses. “That doesn’t sound like you.”

Christian glares at her as she laughs but instead of pulling out a Lei, she slips a glittery, pink pageant sash over my head that has the words “Future Mrs. Grey” screen printed across the front. Once I slide it in place, she puts a tiara in my hair and then leans over to kiss me on the forehead.

“Get ready for the ride of your life, Anastasia.” With a wink, she turns back for the front of the plane, and Christian raises an eyebrow at me.

“The ride of your life, huh? Clearly she doesn’t get what goes on behind closed doors.” I giggle under his hungry gaze and then take a sip of champagne, letting the upbeat mood of everyone around us and the warmth of Christian’s arm holding me tightly against him wash away all of my anxiety and uncertainty over the impending circus of a wedding taking place on Saturday as we gently rise into the sky.

 

It’s fairly late in the afternoon when we finally touch down in Vegas, and waiting for us on the tarmac are two separate stretch limousines. The driver with the sign that says “Grey” stands before a classic sleek, black limo, much like the one we took from Escala to the airport, while the driver holding the “Steele” sign, opens the door to a stretch, pink Escalade.

“Oh my god, Kate!” Mia shrieks excitedly. She hooks her arms through Tibby’s and streaks for the Escalade, and after Grace and Gwen have hugged and kissed their partners good-bye, they follow after the girls with Luke, Kommer, and Harrison.

“Where are you staying?” Kate checks with Elliot.

“The Venetian. You?”

“Aria. And you get 1Oak, we get Hyde.”

“That was the deal,” Elliot agrees. Kate nods and turns away from him, but he reaches out, grabs her arm, and pulls her back to him. “Hey… have fun tonight, okay?”

“Oh… yeah, you too.”

His tongue brushes swiftly over his bottom lip, but after a heated moment of pause between them, he eventually takes a deep breath, releases her arm, and nods. “Make sure my sister-in-law gets home safe, okay?”

“I will.” Kate leans up on her toes and kisses him on the cheek before she turns for the Escalade, and Elliot watches her forlornly as she disappears inside, before finally nodding to Christian and following Carrick, Taylor, Ros, and his own CPO into the other car.

Christian sighs. “Don’t drink too much, okay?”

“I won’t,” I promise, and then I give him a worried look before I lean in and very purposefully kiss him. “This is mine,” I whisper against his lips, kissing him again. “And this is mine.” My hand curls around his groin. “Anything else… I don’t want to hear about.”

“You have nothing to worry about, baby. I love you very much.”

“I love you too. Have fun.”

He kisses me one last time, but as the jeering and cat calls start pouring out of our respective rides, we finally part and go our separate ways.

The flow of alcohol begins in the limo and continues the moment we arrive at our resort. We’re greeted in the main lobby with another tray of champagne and then escorted up to the executive penthouse suite, where all the bars have been unlocked and an array of cocktail mixers have been laid over the table.

“James,” Grace says nervously to the bodyguard that came along with Mia to the airport. “You’ll keep an eye on all of this tonight… with the girls?” She waves her arms at all the alcohol, and her CPO nods.

“Of course, Ma’am.”

“We’re not even going to be here, Mom,” Mia says. “After dinner, Tibby and I are going shopping in the Forum Shops and then coming back here and hanging out at the pool.”

“Alright, dear.” She leans down and kisses the top of Mia’s hair just as Kate calls everyone’s attention by clanging a fork against a bottle of Grey Goose.

“Ladies, make yourselves a cocktail and then go get ready for an amazing night out. Dinner at Ra in an hour!” She squeals with excitement and then pulls my arm to lead me into the largest bedroom in the suite.

The proficiency in which Kate gets the both of us ready is almost terrifying, especially when she shoves me into the cavernous shower in the bathroom and then immediately climbs in after me. Her hands fly like lightning as she adds product to my hair and face over the bathroom sink and I’m amazed at how she does one thing to me, then something completely different to herself, without ever missing a beat.

“Aaaaaaand, done,” she says with pride, and then smiles. “You look hot, Ana.”

She’s right. As I glance around her to the mirror, I’m almost taken aback. The contour she applied is flawless and my hair is perfectly silky, straight, and so shiny it looks like I just walked off the set of a Pantene commercial. Though the rose gold, sequined dress she slips me into has ¾ sleeves and a high neckline, it’s probably tighter and shorter than I think Christian would be comfortable with, but it actually looks really great on me. It’s exactly the confidence boost I need, not only for tonight, but for this entire weekend, so, as I hop off the stool in front of the mirror, I grin at her, finally ready for my last fling before the ring.

Surprisingly, Grace is the one who takes the longest to get ready, so Kate, Gwen, and I wait around the counter with Mia and Tabitha, working our way through our third cocktail. I can already feel my head begin to swim and we haven’t even left the hotel room yet, but as I reach for one of the water bottles on the counter to try and slow down the effect of the alcohol, I’m distracted by Kate and Ros suddenly whooping. When I turn to look, I see Grace coming out of her bedroom and my mouth nearly drops to the floor. She looks phenomenal.

“Damn, Mom!” Mia exclaims.

“Don’t say damn, dear… but thank you.” She twirls to show off her sparkling black cocktail dress, her face lit up with bashful, but very pleased, embarrassment.

“You don’t think it’s too much?”

“Definitely not. You’ve still got it, Mama Grey,” I tell her.  

She winks. “That’s right. You girls may have nabbed my boys, but let’s not forget who landed the original Grey.”

We all laugh as she pops her hip out and then gather our things before heading downstairs where the Escalade is still waiting to take us to dinner.

It’s almost a little isolating in the car, because the way we’re seated leaves Kate and I kind of on our own, like an island, while Gwen, Mia, Tabitha, and Grace can all talk with each other. It’s nice though, because it gives me a moment alone with my best friend that I might not get again before the wedding.

“Are you ready?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I reply, but like she always does, she picks up on the hesitation in my voice.

“Uh oh. You’re not… changing your mind?”

“No, it’s not that. I want to be Christian’s wife more than anything, that’s the thing I keep clinging to… But the wedding, it’s kind of ridiculous. I don’t know why Christian wants all of the… noise.

“You know… I’ve said to Elliot over and over again that this big white wedding you’re having doesn’t feel like you and Christian. He’s normally so private…”

“Right? I don’t understand any of this, unless… I know he still has nightmares about me leaving him again and he has triggers for things that remind him of when we weren’t together, so part me wonders if he’s doing this huge ceremony to feel more secure. He wants me to make a statement about my commitment to him, a big one, that I can’t back out of because I made that statement to the entire world.”

“But you won’t…”

“I know.” I take a deep breath and sigh. “Or maybe he’s making the statement. He’s finally tied me down and he wants the world to know I’m his. Like property. This whole thing kind of feels like a big cattle auction, and I’m up for bid.”

She bites her lip. “I don’t know… it’s weird, I’ll give you that, but Christian loves you, Ana. He probably just wants to celebrate that in a big, big way.”

“That’s what he says. And, I don’t know… maybe.” I feel the stress and anxiety I felt in the bridal shop begin to creep back over me, so I quickly shake my head and try to change the subject.

“I don’t want to talk about the wedding right now, or tonight. Tell me about you. What’s going on with you and Elliot?”

She frowns. “Nothing. Nothing is going on.”

“Why? I thought you two were making progress? He’s all over you…”

“I know, and I thought so too. He even took me to dinner a few days ago and told me he’s still in love with me. He wants to get back together.”

“Well, then… Great!”

She shakes her head. “Nothing’s changed though. He still doesn’t want marriage, he still doesn’t want kids. He’s willing to promise me forever, but it’s just a promise between him and I. I was hoping seeing how happy Christian is with the wedding coming up and with Calliope, that he would change his mind, but no. It’s just not the future he wants.”

“That’s–” I stop, not really sure what to say to her, and then sigh in defeat. “I’m so sorry, Katie.”

She pulls her bottom lip into her mouth, sucking on it for a moment, and as I watch her, I notice her eyes glassing over with the tears she’s trying to hold back.

“I don’t know what to do. I want him, Ana. It’s so hard being around him and not being able to touch him the way I want to, or kiss him, or take him home with me and just… rip into him. Being around him all the time… I’m craving physical intimacy. And I love him. I really, really love him, and I don’t want to be with anyone else. Ever. And I don’t want him to be with anyone else. When I think about him and Gia, his hands on her body, his mouth…” She pauses, hanging her head. I reach over to pull her into me so I can wrap my arms around her, but she pulls away and gives me an almost pleading look. “I think I just have to give up on trying to change him, or change his mind, accept what is, and let myself be happy. Even if it means giving up marriage or ever having a child.”

I feel that like a punch to the heart. Calliope is only eleven weeks old, but I’ve already completely forgotten what life was like without her. She’s changed me and shown me the true extend of my ability to love another human being. Even thinking about her now makes me ache to have her in my arms… The idea that Kate may never have that for herself feels devastating.

“Is that really what will make you happy?” I ask.

She shrugs. “What would you have done? If Christian told you that he wouldn’t marry you and he wouldn’t give you children, would you have walked away?”

No.

Not for anything.

Thankfully, Christian was not only willing to give me those things, but he wanted them too. And as I look at the pain in Kate’s eyes, I once again feel a wave of guilt over my reservations about the wedding Christian wants. Kate might never have any of this, and here I am worrying over the details of one day out of the rest of forever.

“I’m going to tell him when we get back,” she says, reading my answer in my silence. “If he’s really committed to me, if he’s really in this forever, I don’t need a ring and I don’t need wedding. All I need is him.”

I nod, and then lean over to kiss her on top of her head. She takes a deep breath to gather herself again, and as the limo comes to a stop, she turns and smiles at me. “Enough with the heavy. Let’s go celebrate you.”

 

The restaurant, Ra, ends up being a sushi place, which serves some of the best salmon rolls I’ve ever had. We talk and laugh with each other until Kate has everyone around the table tell their favorite story about Christian and I. Gwen’s is a little embarrassing, as I’ve only really hung out with her a few times and thus her story centers around the time she and I halfway talked about the size of Christian’s penis. Mia’s involves me falling down a mountain on skis and Christian nearly beating the shit out of Elliot, and Kate simply talks about all the times we would have dinner together in Cambridge, both from our freshman year and my senior year, and she would just stop and watch the way Christian looked at me.

“It’s an incredible thing,” she says. “Being able to see the way you love each other. It fills my heart with so much joy to know that my best friend has found her soulmate.”

“Katie…” Tears well in my eyes as I lean over to wrap her in a tight hug and as she whispers how much she loves me into my ear, we both break down into full on tears.

“Alright,” Luke says from the seat on my other side. “I think we can slow down on the alcohol a little…” He reaches over to take the cocktail in front of me, but I turn and glare at him.

“I’m getting married, I’m allowed to be emotional. You should prepare yourself, I’m going to be crying a lot over the next few days.”

“But not tonight,” Kate sniffs. “Tonight is about celebrating.” She wipes the moisture away from her eyes and reaches into the bag she’s brought along with her. “Okay, we’re going to start our night with a little scavenger hunt, and once you’ve done everything on the list, we’ll end up at a nightclub where we can dance the rest of the night away.”

“Oooh, a scavenger hunt?” Grace asks. “Fun.”

“It’s a little naughty,” Kate says, and then turns to look at Mia and Tabitha. “You two, make yourselves scarce.”

“Fine,” Mia sighs. She gets out of her chair and comes around the table to hug me. “Have fun, Ana. I can’t believe that you’re going to be my real life sister in only two days. I’m so excited.”

“I love you, Meems.”

“You too.” I kiss her on the cheek as she pulls away, and after waving good-bye to her mom, she, Tibby, and her CPO leave the restaurant to have their own fun for the night.

“Alright,” Kate says, bringing the attention back to her. “Now, Ana. I need you to promise me that you’re going to do everything on this list, exactly as you’re instructed. No chickening out, you promise?”

I give her a suspicious look. “I don’t know, Kate….”

“Oh come one, Ana,” Gwen presses me. “Live the night to the fullest!”

“I promise I won’t make you like… cheat on Christian. Well, not a lot anyway.”

“Kate!”

“Kidding! This is just meant to loosen you up and make tonight a truly memorable experience. Nothing too crazy.”

I sigh. “Alright… if it’s not too crazy.”

“Great! Then let’s get started.” She looks down at the list in her hand and smiles at me. “Ladies, who wants to go see some hot, half naked Australian boys?”

Gwen rolls her eyes, but Kate and Grace’s excitement is enough to negate her lack of interest in male genitalia, and we all return to the Escalade in a fit of giggles. I actually wondered, when Elliot finally talked Christian into letting him throw a Vegas bachelor party, if Thunder From Down Under would be a part of what Kate had planned, but when we step into the limo and I see three extraordinarily well built men sitting on the pink upholstery waiting for us, I very quickly realize we’re not going to a show.

“Kate!”

She grins, reaches into her purse, and pulls out an enormous stack of ones. “Have a seat, Annie!”

I think my face must be beat red as she forces me down into a seat, and once a very uncomfortable Luke, Harrison, and Kommer have taken their seats and closed the door behind them, music fills the car and the men get up and start dancing.

It doesn’t take long before they’re stripped down to essentially nothing, and all of the something that’s covered by nothing, is right in my face. I let out an embarrassed squeal as two of them tie my wrists down with silk scarves, and as the third one climbs over my lap and begins grinding all over me, he looks down and flashes me a white, toothy smile.

“Is that alright, baby?”

“Uh…”

“She’s fine,” Kate laughs. “She’s used to being tied down.”

“Oh dear lord,” Grace says, and as I look over, she buries her face in her hands.

“Just relax, sweetheart,” he says. “We’re here to make you feel reeeeeeeeeeeeeal good.”

I bite down on my lip as the hip thrusting and gyrating intensifies with the music, but as the two other dancers move on to Kate and Grace, I feel a little less embarrassed. In fact, by the time we reach our second destination and my extraordinarily erotic lapdance comes to an end, the inside of my thighs are heated and aching for the attention of a certain handsome billionaire, who I know is in this city, but is also out of reach.

“That was task number one?” I ask Kate pointedly, as we get out of the limo.

She smiles. “Yep. And now for task number two. I think it’s time you start collecting things? Don’t you?”

She gives me a pointed look as she hooks her arm through mine and leads me into a building littered with stands selling alcohol on either side and tiny shops that sell clothes I don’t think I’d ever dream of wriggling into… well, unless it was for Christian’s eyes only. She leads me down the open breezeway, buying me shots or drinks at every stand we pass, until we end up in a bar that isn’t quite a club, but is filled with loud music and tons of people dancing.

It’s here where we work our way through most of the list, which  entails me getting a condom from a stranger, taking a blow job shot out of some guy I’ve never met’s lap, finding a man named Christian and convincing him to give me his phone number, and getting as many free drinks out of interested men as possible. Unfortunately for my sobriety, that isn’t a hard task to accomplish in this dress.

It’s nearly 11 by the time we stumble back to the Escalade, and Luke is already practically holding me up.

“Alright, I think it’s time to head back to the room,” he says, but Kate drunkenly shakes her head.

“No, we’ve got one more thing to do and then we’re going to the club.”

“Kate…” he tries to protest, but she leans over and places a finger over his lips.

“Shhhhhh. She’s okay. Here, Ana. Drink some water.” I take the water bottle from her and then take a deep breath before I slam half of it down. It does seem to help as I come a little bit more alert, but that may also just be from the cold, not the water itself.

“Luke,” I groan, allowing my body to fall sideways so I’m leaning against his shoulder. “You’re really one of my best friends, do you know that? Sometimes I hate that you work for Christian because I don’t want you to think you’re less important to me than anyone else in this car. I really love you. Like, a lot.”

He laughs. “You are so drunk.”

“I’m fiiiiiiiiine.”

“Mhmmm… then I’m going to need you to say right now, in front of everyone, that I’m actually your best friend. Me first, Kate second. And it will forever remain law in the eyes of this family.” He gives me a teasing smirk that make me laugh, and I lean up and kiss the tip of his nose, before melting back into his side.

“Everyone is equal in the eyes of the Lord.”

He bursts out laughing as we come to a stop and then slips another water bottle into the pocket of his jacket. “Don’t wander away from me,” he says firmly, before allowing me to file out behind Kate. “If I can’t touch you, you’re too far.”

“Yes, sir,” I slur.

The last stop ends up being Caesar’s Palace, and Kate leads us all to a side courtyard with all the stealth of a spy, but while she probably assumes she’s being as smooth as 007, a more apt descriptor would probably be the Pink Panther. Or Mr. Bean.

“Okay, okay, okay,” she whispers trying to get everyone to calm down. “Ana, you’re last objective, is to take off your panties, and leave them on this statue.”

“Kate!” I exclaim. “That’s vandalism.”

“No, it’s not. Not the bad kind anyway.”

“But, these a La Perla.”

“Oh, shut up, Ana,” Gwen interjects with a giggle. “You’re going to be a billionaire in two days. You can afford to lose a pair of panties.”

“We’re going to get arrested.”

“Not if you hurry up so we can get out of here. Come on!”

“But… but…” I stand there sputtering, but under the insistent gazes of the rest of my party, even Grace who has taken to tonight like a schoolgirl on her very first night out with the girls, I eventually sigh and reach beneath my dress.

“Hurry!” Kate says, standing in front of me so no one else will see what I’m doing. I ease the lace band past my behind and then shimmy them down my legs by shaking my hips. Once they’ve pooled on the ground at my feet, I scoop them up and very quickly slide them over the tiny feet of the cupid swimming around the woman carved from stone, towering over us.

“There!” I say once I’ve pulled them up as far as they can go.

“Awesome, now let’s get out of here,” Kate squeaks, and she grabs my arm and pulls me from the courtyard as quickly as she can.

We intended to end the night at the Bellagio, but the grounds of Caesar’s Palace are so vast, that we decide it’s easier to get into Omnia here, than the club at the resort one over. Thankfully, the bouncers at the door are more than willing to let us pass the line, especially with the hundred dollar tip I fish out of my bag, and after handing my black card to the hostess, we’re led to one of the clubs most exclusive tables and brought bottle service of Skyy Vodka and Patron.

The music is loud and the ocean of people on the dance floor in front of us is obscured by confetti and glitter floating in the air and the blinding, colored strobe lights that stream through every angle of the club. Kate lays out a line of shot glasses for everyone, but as I watch her pour the clear liquid into my glass, I grip onto Luke’s sleeve and pull him close so I can shout into his ear.

“I need to pee!”

He nods, takes my hand and pulls me from the plush couches to guide me to the bathroom. It’s an interesting journey to say the least. We pass a couple pushed up against the wall and the guy’s head is beneath the girl’s dress as he squats to go down on her. I’m also pretty sure I see someone take a line of coke off the sink in the bathroom. But none of that is as shocking as coming out of the stall and finding Mia and Tabitha, reapplying lip gloss in the bathroom mirror.

“Amelia!” I exclaim. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Ana!” The tube she holds in her hand drops into the sink as she turns around to face me, shock clear on her face. “Wha–what are you doing here? I thought you were going to Hyde.”

“We changed our minds.” I watch as she stumbles backwards in her heels and then frown. “Are you drunk?”

“No,” she says quickly, but Tabitha giggles.

“Yeah.”

“How did you even get in here?”

“A Grey credit card and a pair of fake IDs.”

Mia turns to glare at Tabitha. “Will you shut up!”

“Why? She’s not your mom.”

“No, worse. She’ll tell Christian. My mom will ground me, Christian will lock me up in a tower forever and never let me out. Or worse, he’ll take away the money he promised me for Juilliard.”

“He will not,” I tell her. “But make no mistake, you are in so much trouble. Where is your CPO?”

“We… kind of ditched him in the Forum Shops…”

“Amelia…” My voice is tight as I hold back all the things I want to scream at her, remind her of the unresolved threat still looming over us and how, as one of the most important people in Christian’s life, she’s a target, and something horrible could have happened to her. Unfortunately, I’m a little too drunk for that point to come across correctly and I don’t think the bathroom of a nightclub in Las Vegas, with at least a dozen interested onlookers watching us, is the place to have that discussion. So instead, I grab her by the arm and drag her back out to the hall with me, where Luke is waiting.

“What the…” Luke begins, but I cut him off.

“James whatever his name is, he’s fired.” Mia protests as I push her forward, back to the table where Kate, Grace, Gwen, and the rest of my security team are still waiting. When I pull her down on the seat next to Kate, Grace’s eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.

“What in the world…”

“They didn’t know we’d be here. They used to fake IDs to get in.” I reach down and pick up the last shot in the line and quickly slug it down. Grace’s face turns red with anger and she immediately yanks Mia to the side to scream at her the way I wanted to in the bathroom, but Kate quickly diverts my attention, refusing to let the weight of what could have happened and the reality of what did, affect the night.

Harrison ends up escorting both Mia and Tabitha back to the room, where he will stay with them for the rest of the night, and once Luke gets the text that they’re back and safe for the night, I feel much better and am able to engage with Kate again the way she wants me to. We dance with Gwen to the booming beat, until the electric synths buzz through the club and Britney’s new song begins thumping from the speakers next to the DJ.

“Let me guess,” Luke shouts. “You love this song?”

“I do!” Kate screams, and she quickly pulls Gwen and I up onto the table. Our bodies sway together in rhythm with the uptempo beat, and as I finally lose the fight and succumb to the overpowering alcohol coursing through my system, I feel a sense of freedom and euphoria as the music pulses through my body. Everything feels so good right now, unburdened by worry about the wedding. I can feel the music in my body, moving me, and it makes me feel kind of graceful, the way only Christian usually can. A moan escapes my lips as I once again think his name, and while I grind against Kate, I feel the need for him that had been awakened earlier in the limo rear it’s head once more. That is, until the song starts to die down and I feel a hand wrap around my wrist, pulling me off the table and onto the sofa again. When I look up to see who grabbed me, I see an angry pair of gray eyes piercing into mine.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Christian yells at me, and while the extent of his anger is slightly disconcerting, I understand it when I smell the alcohol wash over my face with his breath.

“Christian? I thought you were going to 1Oak?”

“Is that why you’re half-naked, standing on a table and shaking your ass for the entire damn world to see?”

I laugh and pull him down on the sofa next to me by his shirt, then immediately move on top of him so that I’m straddling his lap.

“I thought you liked my ass?”

“I do. And so does every horny son-of-a-bitch within a hundred foot radius of you.”

“Mmm,” I hum, and then lean down and kiss him deeply, forcing my tongue in his mouth as I grind over his lap.

“Ana…”

“You want to own me, Christian? You want to put on this big show to stake your claim to the world and keep every other man from looking at me? Do it. Own me.” I kiss him again, but he eases me back.

“What are you talking about?”

“You know that I’m never going to leave you, right? You know that I love you, only you, and nothing is ever going to change that? You don’t need to the media and whole big circus, I’m already yours. But if you want to own me… own me. I want you to. Right now.” I lean down and brush my lips against his ear. “Master.

He groans and as I begin sucking his earlobe, his hands move down to my ass over my dress, but when the fabric ends and his fingers find their way between my legs, he immediately tenses.

“What the— where are your panties, Anastasia?”

I giggle. “On a baby.”

“What?!”

I grip either side of his face and kiss him again, and this time he kisses me back. Or rather, he overtakes me, dominates me with just his tongue and his lips, and it sets my libido on fire.

“I want you to fuck me, Christian.” I whisper.

He bites my bottom lip and tugs. “You’re in so much trouble, I’m not sure you really want that right now.”

I smile. “Do your worst.”

His eyes turn dark as I lean backwards, and he quickly shifts me off his lap. After helping me to my feet, he leans in to speak to Taylor and then drags me from the booth. I hear Kate calling after me, but I can’t respond. Christian is already pulling me through the tightly packed crowd, and he doesn’t stop once until we’re through the main doors, where he asks the doorman to call his car.

“The Venetian,” Christian barks at the driver, and after Taylor climbs into the front seat and closes the door behind him, we pull through the messy flow of cabs and limousines and Christian’s fingers start drumming impatiently on the leather upholstery. We’re alone, and the security partition between us and the driver is up, so I half expect him to take this opportunity to ravish me. In fact, I’m kind of hoping for it, but he doesn’t. He simply stares stoically out the side window at the break lights all around us, and continues to tap his irritation into the seat next to him with the tips of his fingers.

It takes forever to get down the long driveway from the front doors of Caesars Palace to Las Vegas Blvd, and even longer to turn into the overcrowded traffic, halted by pedestrians stumbling drunkenly through the crosswalks and across the middle of the road. I think it would have probably been much shorter to simply walk across the skybridge towards the Venetian, but the security risk of walking through this many people with only Taylor with us is too great, so… we sit and wait in the gridlock. The entire way back, Christian never speaks to me. He hardly even looks at me and I can’t tell if his silence is real anger left over from finding me in the position he did at Omnia or simply impatience. I wouldn’t blame him for the latter, my own thighs are clenched tightly together as I sit and stew in my anticipation, but the more I think about the former, the more I worry. I did tell him to do his worst…

I swallow my nerves as we finally pull up in front of the Venetian and Taylor helps me out of the back of the limousine. He doesn’t have hold of me long though as Christian quickly appears around the back of the car, takes my hand, and begins dragging me into the resort. We snake across the casino floor towards the elevators, which are mercifully empty, but the anxious grin that begins to creep into the corner of my lips at the thought of an empty elevator is immediately washed away when Taylor steps through the doors behind us. Again, it’s silent as we ride up to the penthouse and it has my nerves peaked again. When Taylor steps to the side and allows us to enter the room, finally alone, I’m almost to the point where I’m not sure I want to be.

I muse to myself what Christian’s worst could possibly look like, but when I hear the final and nearly deafening sound of the door clicking closed behind us, all thought falls out of my head and I glance up into his cold, gray eyes nervously.

“Eyes down,” he commands. I comply immediately. “You want this?”

I bite down on my lip, reminding myself that Christian would never hurt me and I’m the one always pressing for more of his kinkier predilections. With a breath, I nod.

He doesn’t respond to me, instead, his hands suddenly grip my arms tightly and push against me, forcing me into the wall at my back so that his lips can claim mine with a possessive kind of hunger. I try to kiss him back, but he bites down on my lip, making me whimper, and then begins ravishing me with his tongue again. I succumb, letting him take over and do what he’s so, so good at.

His hands find their way under my dress again and when his fingers brush against my naked lips, he growls, captures my teeth between his lips, and tugs enough that it’s just this side of painful. I groan into his mouth as first one, then a second finger finds its way inside of me, but while he pumps them fiercely in and out of me and the need for this release that has been building inside of me all night suddenly begins building out of control into a quick and hot orgasm, suddenly he stops.

“Wait, no….” I protest. He smiles against my lips.

“Oh, baby. You think I’m going to let you come now? No. You have take your punishment first.”

“Punishment?”

His hand grips tightly onto mine again so he can drag me back into the bedroom, but this time I’m so dazed from the alcohol and the still poignant ache now demanding attention between my legs, that I stumble in my heels. He catches me, lifts me over his shoulder, and continues on until he tosses me onto his bed. I turn and look at him, anticipating him removing his clothes or perhaps simply diving at me again, but he doesn’t. He sits calmly on the edge of the bed and reaches out for me.

“Come.”

Slowly, I slide off the silky bedding and move to stand in front of him. He pulls me down on top of him, with enough force that I fall, but his strong arms secure themselves around me and then, very deliberately, he lays me over his knee.

Oh…

“I’m going to spank you, Anastasia. Do you know why?”

“Because I wasn’t wearing panties.”

He lets out a dark laugh. “You weren’t wearing panties while flaunting your body to the dozens of men staring at you, coveting you. You are mine, Anastasia, and I don’t like other men having certain thoughts about what is mine. Especially, when you’re encouraging them.”

“I wasn’t, I-I–” I feel the blood rushing to my head from being splayed over Christian’s lap, and it makes the effects of the alcohol stronger, keeping me from explaining, defending myself. So, when my words cut off, he pulls the hem of my dress over my behind and inhales sharply at the sight of my bare flesh.

“Why else?”

“I… Um…”

“What did I say to you at the airport?”

“You said… um…”

“I told you not to drink too much, and then I find you hanging off of Kate on a table in a nightclub. That’s not particularly sober behavior, is it, Anastasia? Drinking I can tolerate. Excessive public intoxication on the other hand…” His tongue clicks and then his hand brushes over my backside. Even that touch stokes the fire of desire inside of me, and to my surprise, when I open my legs, his hand moves down and glides through my lips.

“Jesus, you’re already wet,” he hisses, his fingers toying with my clitoris.

“Christian, please…” I beg.

“Not yet, baby. First.” His hand disappears and then slaps, hard, against me a split second later. The shock reverberates through my whole body and yet it feeds the hunger inside of me. The part of me that craves this, that asked for this, rejoices in the brutal contact, and when his hand stops massaging my ass and disappears again, I wait for the sharp bite of pain to come again with excited anticipation.

“Yes,” I whisper, and as I bite into the folds in his slacks around his knee, he lets out a satisfied breath, and hits me again. I rejoice in blow after blow, not only for the way the heat from the pain seems to electrify my body, but in the feeling of not being in control. To put yourself completely in the hands of someone you trust and who you love is surprising liberating, almost intoxicating, and as he hits me for the final time, I find that I want more. So much more. But I don’t want to just give my submission to him, I want him to claim it.

He’s panting from need and exertion when he finally eases me off his knee. I wince slightly as I settle down onto the floor, but stop when his hand grips my chin and he forces me to look up at him.

“Enough?” he asks, his voice husky.

I don’t answer. Instead I lunge up at him, knocking him back onto the bed and kissing him hard. He isn’t stunned or taken aback, he immediately shifts me off of him and rolls me onto the bed so that he can completely cover my body with his own, effectively subduing me, and the weight of him on top of me instantly connects with all of my reward receptors.

“No, no, baby. Not tonight. Tonight, you do only as I say. Tonight, you are mine to do with as I please. Understand?”

“Yes.”

“What was that?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Mmm, good girl.” He begins moving down my body, kissing my neck and the lines of my collar bones, undressing me as he moves down my body. Once my dress is gone, and his mouth reaches my breasts, his gentle ministrations come to an end. He sucks hard on the swell of my breast, enough that I have to reach down and stop him.

“Wait, my dress… you can’t give me hickeys, they’ll show through my dress.”

His free hand reaches up and pinches my free nipple so tightly I yelp, and then his lips continue to move down over my stomach, past my hips, and between my legs.

“Oh, fuck!” I scream, and my thighs clench tightly around his head. He growls and it’s quite possibly the sexiest sound I’ve ever heard in my life. I want to reach down and tangle my fingers in his hair, encourage him, hold him in place, use him while I grind against his so, so talented mouth… but I’m not sure what I am and am not allowed to do in this moment. He’s in charge. So, instead, I lie back, panting heavily and begging for more, letting the pleasure consume me.

When it starts, it burns slow. But like a spark over dry timber in the dead heat of August, the early beginnings of my orgasm quickly spread out of control through my body. It’s too much, too powerful. Every impulse I have tells me to escape him, to pull back and collect myself or risk being torn apart by the orgasm approaching much, much too quickly. I’m not going to be able to take it, but as I try and squirm away from him, his hands clamp down firmly over my hips and hold me in place.

“Fuck! Oh… oh, fuck, Christian! I can’t. Fuck, I can’t!”

He doesn’t answer, he simply rolls his tongue over my clitoris and then sucks, hard, and I’m lost. The blood pounding in my ears as my orgasm overtakes me is so loud I can’t even hear myself screaming his name. I can only feel, and what I feel is so intense, it’s as though I’ve been pushed to a higher level of understanding regarding what humans can and cannot survive through. My entire body is alive, flowing with powerful, unrelenting pleasure, and after it pulses through me again, and again, on and on, until I think I’m going to pass out, I begin to come down, and my body starts to tremble.

“Holy shit…” I whisper, but I hardly have anytime to recover. Christian takes hold of me again and flips me onto my front, grabbing me by the hips and pulling them up so I’m on my knees before him. I hear the jingle of his belt and the sound of his zipper, but once I feel the tip of his erection brush against me, he pauses.

“I love you, Anastasia.”

I cry out in surprise as he slams inside of me, harder than I’m prepared for, and he groans in satisfaction.

“That’s it, baby. There’s no one else here. Let me hear you. Scream my name.”

“Christian!”

My fingers twist into the bedding as I search desperately to feel anchored to something while he pounds into me over and over again. Each thrust is hard, fast, and made more aggressive by his hands pulling my hips back into him each time he pushes into me. With his knees, he pushes my legs as far apart as they can go so he can take me as deep as possible. His hands probe my ass, kneading my still tender flesh. When his fingers dig into my behind, it pulls my lips tighter around him, intensifying the sensation of his ardent and relentless assault. I’m hyper aware of every movement he makes, every change in angle, every increase or decrease in his cadence. My breathing comes out in harsh huffs that match his. It’s rough, savage, and astonishingly incredible.

“You like that, baby?” His voice is tight, and I wonder if he’s getting close.

“Yes. Oh, god, yes!”

He growls again. “I want you to come with me. Will you do that for me?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Fuck, baby. You make me feel so… Mmmm. This is it, Anastasia. This is all I’m ever going to want. All I’m ever going to need. I’m home, here, inside of you. I love you.”

“I love you too, Christian.”

He groans, grips more tightly to my hips, and increases the ferocity of his thrusts. I feel a quickening beginning deep inside of me and I try to hold it off, refusing to let the heat have me until Christian finds his own release, but it’s difficult. The feel of him moving in and out of me combined with the sound of his moans of pleasure is like gasoline poured directly on the fire slowly building inside of me, and as I teeter on the edge, I’m certain there’s no way I’m going to keep my balance.

“Christian… please. I’m going to…”

“Hold on. I’m almost there. Fuck, I’m almost there.”

I whimper and bite down my hip, struggling against the waves of pleasure that threaten to overwhelm me any minute. It’s no use. There’s no way I’m going to be able to stop it. But, just as I feel my body begin to succumb, Christian let’s out a deep, guttural noise that tells me he too is on the brink of release.

“Fuck, this is it,” I hisses. “Come for me, Ana. Come for me.”

The pressure inside of me releases in an instant and floods my veins with warm, welcome pleasure. I feel my orgasm pulsing through me in time with his thrusts until he finally cries out a garbled version of my name, comes violently inside of me, and together, we are lost.

The world slows. I melt into the bed beneath me, feeling as though my limbs have turned to liquid. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so relaxed until Christian moves onto the bed next to me and wraps me in his arms from behind.

“Are you still angry with me?” I ask.

“No, and I wasn’t really.”

“Liar.”

He chuckles. “Fine, I was. Mostly though, II’ve just been thinking about fucking you like that all night and now here we are. I’ll have you here next to me, naked, in my arms for the rest of the night. Who would have thought breaking the rules would be so fun?”

“I’m pretty sure Kate was the one who insisted we shouldn’t see each other tonight. I don’t ever remember agreeing to that.”

“Mmm, it’s so sexy when you fight the power, baby.”

I giggle as he holds me tighter against him, but then freeze as we hear the door to the suite open. Christian never closed his bedroom door behind us, so we’re laying here, on top of the bed, completely exposed to whoever just walked in. Thankfully though, as we both scramble to get under the blankets, we quickly realize that the intruder has no interest in investigating what may or may not be going on in Christian’s room.

“I love you, Katie,” Elliot says, each word punctuated by the sound of a kiss. “I’m never going to let you go again.”

“Never,” she agrees. “This is it, okay? You and me.”

“You and me.” We hear them kissing again and then the door to the suite opposite ours slams closed.

“Oh my god, she really did it,” I say in a breath. Christian raises an eyebrow at me, so I explain. “Kate said that she was going to get back together with Elliot. I guess she did…”

“Oh… well, great! That’s really great.” He smiles, looking genuinely happy, and then leans forward to kiss me again, and as I fall back into the pillows, I try not to let the thoughts of what Kate is giving up to be in that room with Elliot right now ruin the last night I will spend with Christian as Anastasia Steele.

Next Chapter

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